Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why don't we do something about this?

In an interview posted in an article on social media today, another megachurch pastor confessed to suffering from depression and having suicidal thoughts.

There's a lot of REAL need for help out there!

With the tragic story of the suicide of Rick Warren's son, there has been a sharpened awareness that there are MANY people out there in our communities, as well as filling our churches, whose struggle is such that they need professional help. Their challenges extend beyond what a cup of coffee and conversation with a friend can do for them.

Why don't we get serious about doing something about this?

There are many ways all of us can take real steps in helping others get the help they need and I would encourage you to explore the opportunities available to you. I also would like to again share one opportunity I'm working on that you can be a part of.

I'm currently in the developmental phase of launching the Scott Free Clinic (check out our website at, designed specifically to offer help, without the barrier of cost, to those who are in need. One of the major reasons why people don't get the help that could make a difference in their lives is because they can't afford it. What a tragedy!

Let's change that!

The Scott Free Clinic will offer the following services, free of charge, to ANYONE:
  • Comprehensive clinical pastoral counseling.
  • Coaching.
  • Couple Communication training.
  • Fitness consulting.
  • Pastor Care (counseling for vocational and bi-vocational ministers).
  • Consulting with churches.
In order to make this help available to others, the clinic will be supported by men and women and business people who want to help people have access to getting the help they need. We need sponsors who are willing to donate to this ministry, whether it's a one-time gift, being a monthly sponsor, or giving quarterly or annually. Every donation, regardless of size, will help to provide these desperately needed services.

If you would be interested in helping make this clinic become a reality, you can make TAX DEDUCTIBLE donations to our Fiscal Sponsor, Hope Christian Church, by giving online at this link Just click on the "Donation" tab and please be sure to designate your gift for "Scott Free Clinic" or "Counseling." You can also send checks to:

Hope Christian Church
149 Grobric Court
Fairfield, Ca. 94534

If giving by check, please note on the check that your gift is designated for "Scott Free Clinic."

I'm excited about how Scott Free Clinic will help thousands of individuals, couples, and families dramatically change their lives; how pastors and pastoral teams will be supported; and how churches will be helped to become disciple-making churches.

More than anything, your prayer support would be greatly appreciated. Let's work together to help people change their lives!


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How churches have passed on a key responsibility to publishers ...

If it wasn't for curriculum published by Christian publishing companies, much of the teaching done in the church (other than that of the preacher and a few other leaders) would come to a screeching halt!

That's because most Christians are so ill-equipped in the Word of God that they don't have a biblical  knowledge from which to craft a lesson to teach to others. This is a major obstacle in recruiting Christians to serve in Christian education positions, and church leaders have to quickly assure potential "volunteers" they will be well-supplied with an easy-to-use curriculum.

"All you have to do is just follow the curriculum!" is the promise of the recruiter.

But even well-developed curriculums have a limited scope, cover only so much material, and end within a few weeks. I have often seen churches teach topics other than what they thought their people most needed only because that's what was available as curriculum.

This lack of being able to "teach from scratch" isn't a problem just among the congregation. I have worked with multiple churches where the church leaders did not have the skills to generate teaching materials needed and I was asked to write curriculums for them.

This is a glaring problem overlooked in the constant talk among church leaders about "making other leaders." The Apostle Paul spoke about making leaders, but here is what he had to say:

"You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others," 2 Timothy 2:2.

Making the kind of leader Paul writes of only takes two steps. First, fully disciple believers so they have an adequate biblical knowledge and understanding from which to share. Second, equip such discipled believers in the simple process of how to take their Bibles and craft a lesson from any topic needed.

By not doing this, and leaving your people reliant on whatever publishing houses decide to print as curriculum, is relegating to these publishers the spiritual development of your congregation. If you really want to be serious about "making other leaders," then go make the kind of leaders who can open their Bibles and teach others the Word of God.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Was that a sermon or a book report?

Are you preaching a book report or a message from God?

With the busy schedules of pastors, many have turned their sermons into research projects (some who actually have research assistants doing "research" for them) preached as a book report, rather than delivering a message from God through His Word and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

It's an easy trap to fall into. You intend on getting to prayer and study for your sermon, but something comes up that delays you getting started. And then something else comes up, followed by something else. Before you know it, very little time is left at the end of your week to put together a sermon.

But you were a competent student, you know how to open the Book, research a topic, put together your points and even toss in an illustration or two for interest. Viola! You have a sermon!

The problem is, it's not birthed in prayer and personal study, where you seek to hear the voice of God and work out with His Spirit the message of a scripture text. On top of that, you've had no time to wrestle personally with the living out of the truth you've discovered in the Word, or let the Holy Spirit illuminate you on the subject.

You've got a book report, and that's what you present to your congregation.

Such sermons are lacking the power of the Holy Spirit in them. Instead of coming from a position of, "Thus saith the Lord ..." it's a sermon that regurgitates information compiled by a student working hastily to turn in his homework.

Do you really think your congregation is going to deepen spiritually from that kind of sermon?

If you want to see lives changed, sermons must be messages from God through His Word, delivered by His messenger, as empowered by the Holy Spirit. In order to have that kind of sermon, you will have to prioritize your time and possibly have others to take care of those things that come up that try to steal away your sermon preparation time that allows for vibrant prayer, study, and working out of the Word.

Your congregation will know and experience the difference between a Spirit-inspired sermon and a book report. They will significantly benefit from just one. Now which will you give them?


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Doing this can introduce evil into any relationship ...

The most direct way for someone to be devalued in our lives is for them to behave in some way --- especially toward us --- that we don't like.

That's because most of us have schemes for how to use the people in our lives, whether those are people we have relationships with, fellowship with, or should be unified with.

You may not have thought of yourself as being a schemer, but most of us are. We play out in our minds what we want from any particular person in our lives, and then seek to get just that. We want people to turn into reality in our lives the schemes we've played out in our minds

That is a scheme, and the Bible tells us to stop scheming against each other ...

"This is what the Lord of Heaven's Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other," Zachariah 7:9-10.

While some schemes may be entirely positive in nature, many have scenarios for how that person will lose value to you if they disappoint you in bringing about the scheme you have for them. There's a level of evil in that kind of scheming, as it values people only on what they will do for you.

God hates such evil scheming ...

"The Lord detests evil plans, but he delights in pure words," Proverbs 15:26.

"There are six things the Lord hates --- no, seven things he detests: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family," Proverbs 6:16-19.

Expecting people to perform the schemes we have crafted for them is the opposite of the single way Jesus taught us to approach anyone, which is to love them!

To obey Christ is to stop scheming against others and simply love them!

Is that how you're treating others? Who do you have schemes for? How do you need to change your behavior so that the first and primary posture you have toward anyone is one of love?


Friday, February 21, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: A great book for growing old ...

When we're young, we feel like we'll live forever. Then we actually start growing old and we experience the real change that comes with aging.

But growing old doesn't have to be a bad or fearful experience. In fact, our final years can be full of rich new experiences and diverse blessings. That's not how we often think about growing old, but as our nation ages, maybe it's time we take a fresh look at what our final years really could be like.

"Rich In Years," written by Johann Christoph Arnold (published by The Plough Publishing House) is a delightful, gentle conversation on "Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life." Instead of a sterile self-help look at planning for end-of-life, Arnold shares a thick smathering of stories that encourage us to believe growing old can be as rich a part of life as any other.

Certainly, the challenges change as we grow older, and the eventual changes to our physical capacity can bring new trials for us, but living a long life doesn't have to be one of losing our sense of worth or even our sense of usefulness. Things will change, but life is always changing! And it's possible to discover continued purpose and deep peace as we live out our final decades or years.

"Many of us worry that no matter how successful our lives have been, they will fade into oblivion and soon be forgotten. Or we may fear losing our mind, our memory, and our independence. We also fear loneliness, pain, and suffering. Many worry that they have not lived as they should. But all this can be overcome. Growing old doesn't have to be a prison of hopelessness and despair. It can present us with unique opportunities, where life's meaning and purpose find fulfillment and where we can express the love we've always wanted to but somehow were never able," Arnold writes.

Arnold then walks his readers through how to turn the challenges of aging into those new opportunities that extend our purpose and bring us peace.

Not only is "Rich In Years" an excellent book for those who are currently living out their final years, it also provides valuable insight to younger readers who have family and friends entering their senior season.

When I finally put this book down, I loved the refreshing journey the author had taken me on about growing old. Without creating any false hopes, Arnold addresses the realities of aging and demonstrates for us that life's greatest blessings aren't relegated to our youth.

I received this book free from Handlebar as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Is God involved in the little things?

With about eight billion people on the planet, along with a universe to keep going, heaven to manage, a kingdom to expand, and spiritual enemies to contain, isn't God too busy to be involved with the little things in our lives?


God is big enough to be interested even in the minutia of our lives ...

"The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives," Psalm 37:23.

We're often quick to discount God from the little things in our daily experience. Kind of like the woman who was rushing home from a doctor's appointment. The doctor had been delayed at the hospital, and the lab work took longer than usual, so by the time she left the clinic she was running behind schedule. She still had to pick up her prescription, pick up the children from the baby-sitter, and get home and make supper, all in time to make it to the prayer meeting at church that evening. As she began to circle the big Walmart parking lot, rain began to fall in torrents. While she wasn't usually the type to bother God with small problems, she began to pray as she turned down the row closest to the front door.

"Lord, you know what kind of day I've had, and there's still an awful lot to do. Could you please grant me a parking space right away, oh, and close to the building so I don't get soaked?" she prayed aloud.

The words weren't completely out of her mouth when she saw the backup lights come on a car at the end of the row. It was the best space in the whole parking lot, right next to the handicap spaces and directly across from the front door. She made straight for the parking spot and as she pulled in she said, "Never mind God, something just opened up!"

God may not always handle our parking needs, but don't discount it either. Wherever you are, He is also there, and "... He delights ..." in the details of your life!

"Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens," James 1:17.

Some of those good things are little things, God displaying His love in the details of our everyday living. That's one reason why scripture directs us to pray without ceasing --- to have an ongoing conversation with God throughout our day --- because He's walking through it with us. God doesn't get bored with our mundane moments and wander off, He's with us in the casual moments as well as the difficult, challenging, trying, and exciting times.

Do you invite God into the routine aspects of your life? Do you see His handiwork in the little things? Or do you only see Him in the big moments that we think are more important?


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sometimes, it's just none of your business ...

Living in a country that is the world's shining example of freedom, we have often stretched the idea of freedom to mean we are entitled to have opinions about everything and everyone.

But that's a stretch.

While we have the freedom to think anything we want, we aren't entitled to create opinions about people that, if truth be told, put us in the position as acting as their judge.

That point reminds me of a story about John Wesley, who was an English preacher in the 1700's. Not unlike many preachers today, Wesley was considered to be a spiffy dresser. One Sunday morning he wore a bow tie that had long ribbons that hung downward. After the sermon was over a lady walked up to him and asked, "Brother Wesley, are you open to some criticism?"

He responded, "I guess so. What would you like to criticize?"

The lady answered, "The ribbons on your tie are entirely too long and inappropriate for a man of God!" She then removed a pair of scissors from her purse and cut off the ribbons.

A hush fell over the people standing there as Wesley calmly asked, "Now may I borrow the scissors for a moment?"

As she handed the scissors to him, Wesley asked, "Ma'am, are you open to some criticism?"

"Well, I suppose I am," the woman replied.

Wesley then said, "Alright then, please stick out your tongue ..."

There is a time and place for --- and genuine value in --- constructive criticism, but let's be honest, much of the criticism offered today isn't constructive and isn't offered in the spirit of a positive contribution. Instead, it's often nothing less than a personal judgment, an opinion built entirely on what someone personally likes and doesn't like and nothing more.

I recently had someone approach me about something they didn't like about their pastor. Their opinion didn't have any biblical basis for developing such a critical stance about this minister, but this person thought he was entitled to think the way he did.

He wasn't. He was playing judge, and not by God's righteous standards.

The next time you feel the urge to toss out criticism, think about these biblical instructions ...

"Don't use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them," Ephesians 4:29.

"Don't speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God's law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?" James 4:11-12.

So if you don't like the tie your preacher is wearing --- or the fact that he doesn't wear one --- remember this: it really isn't any of your business!


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Just how free are you allowing yourself to be?

So you like the idea of freedom do you? Then I assume you've learned to order off the menu.


Most choices in life are offered off a "menu," a selection of items to choose from ...

... Don't like the Republicans? Democrats are an option on the menu ...

... Don't like the Democrats? Republicans can be selected instead ...

... Don't like what cable offers? Get satellite! ...

... Don't like shopping in malls? There's lots of mom-and-pop shops to choose from ...

... Don't like chain restaurants? Choose from hole-in-the-wall cafes ...

... Don't like Ford trucks? Drive a Chevy! ...

But here's a problem. We often let someone else create the menu. What we think are the choices we have before us are often just a very few options still picked by others. The selection of choices before us is often broader than the menu others, the world, or Satan wants to provide for us. By letting others create the menu, we still operate from a constrained freedom of choices.

We think we love freedom, but many of us don't have the courage to march to the beat of a different drummer, even when that would be our first choice. That's true even in our Christian beliefs. Instead of searching the Word of God to see for ourselves the whole menu of freedom He offers, we allow others to draw up a short-changed menu for us. The result is often enslaving ourselves to the offerings of someone else's menu, something the Apostle Paul tells us not to do ...

"So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law," Galatians 5:1.

"For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don't use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love," Galatians 5:13.

Are you ordering off the menu from the whole Word of God? Or are you curtailing your freedom by letting others determine the content of your menu?


Monday, February 17, 2014

What's done is done ... right?

You've probably heard the phrase, "What's done is done."

Depending on when that line is proffered, there can be some wisdom in it. We humans have a remarkable ability to break things, from trust to relationships and everything inbetween. When we've blown it, there's little value in wringing our hands and going on and on about what we've done. Instead, we need to fix what we can and move forward.

That's often the best we can do as human beings.

But that isn't the case with God. With our Creator, the harm and damage of what has been done can be undone, just as if we had never sinned. The means for such gracious redemption comes from Christ on the cross at a time when Jesus uttered the most profound versions of "What's done is done ..."

"Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill scripture he said, 'I am thirsty.' A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. When Jesus had tasted it, he said, 'It is finished!' Then he bowed his head and released his spirit," John 19:28-30.

In all of human history, never had a rendition of "What's done is done ..." ever been more essential than Jesus' pronouncement of, "It is finished!" What was necessary to undo the damage done from sin and death was now finished, and our future --- our eternity --- would never be the same!

"He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God," Romans 4:25.

"He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west," Psalm 103:12.

"Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life," Titus 3:7.

What Jesus has done, is done! Have you received, by grace and through faith in Christ, the forgiveness of sin and adoption as children of God?


Sunday, February 16, 2014

If you miss this, your life will never be right ...

Do you know what makes God happy?

Are you having to guess at the answer to that question? Or do you know really know? It's actually a critically important issue for us to know, because knowing what makes God happy, and how important that is to us, is supposed to be an underlying motivation of all that we do as Christians.

Look at this exhortation from the Apostle Paul:

"Carefully determine what pleases the Lord," Ephesians 5:10.

If you have never done that, then chances are your pursuit in life is to make yourself happy rather than to please the Lord. In this culture where making ourselves happy is lifted to paramount status, we give little concern about what pleases God. But for the authentic disciple of Christ, what makes the Lord happy should be our greatest pursuit.

That fact reminds me of a story about a brilliant young pianist who was performing in public for the first time. The audience sat enthralled as beautiful music flowed from his disciplined fingers. The people could hardly take their eyes off this young virtuoso. As the final note faded, the audience burst into applause. Everyone was standing except for one old man sitting up front.

The pianist walked off the stage, crestfallen.

The stage manager praised the young man's performance, but the musician responded, "I was no good, it was a failure."

The manager replied, "Look out there, everyone is on their feet except one old man!"

"Yes," said the youth, dejectedly, "but that old man is my teacher."

In the same way, Paul says pleasing an audience of one is to be our objective:

"So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him," 2 Corinthians 5:9.

Is that your goal? How important is pleasing the Lord to you? What would you have to do to carefully determine what pleases the Lord, and then live a life doing that? Will you?


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Why is it so hard to make friends with Christians?

One of the reasons why "relationship evangelism" has been a big failure is that we have failed at making relationships with lost people (and when we actually do, we often still do not share the Gospel with them). Sadly, Christians often are not the friendliest people you can meet.

I've been asked by many non-believers (as well as Christians) why Christians are so unfriendly. Not that they aren't nice if interacted with, but often the complaint is that while Christians may be nice in an initial meeting, many of them often seem uninterested in going beyond that to forming an actual friendship.

I've heard many stories from non-believers who have told of trying to befriend Christians by extending invitations for interaction, only to be snubbed. One of my own true stories: I once served as Associate Pastor of a church for five years, and during that time I entertained numerous members of the church. Many of them responded to my hospitality, "We need to have you over for dinner some time ..." But in those five years, not a single member --- not one! --- ever invited me to their homes.

If they won't invite someone they supposedly like (at least, they told me they loved me!) into their homes, what do you think the likelihood is they invited non-Christians they didn't know and didn't have a shared faith with?

I recently tweeted about my first-time visit with a church in Vallejo, California that was the "friendliest" church I have visited in a long time. At least nine or 10 members of the congregation (excluding church staff) came up to me and introduced themselves, thanked me for visiting, and chatted with me. The worship service was one of the most enjoyable I had experienced in many years. Yet, even though I had provided the church with my contact information, the church made no attempt to contact me in any way after my visit.

How can we hope to have any opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those who don't know Him if we aren't willing to befriend the lost? And how are we going to be a united body of Christ without building bonds of friendship among us?

Jesus was so known for enjoying spending time with sinners that the religious leaders of His day accused Him of being a gluttonous drunkard. He wasn't, of course, but He did pull up a chair next to the most needy, and have fellowship with those He would forgive.

When Jesus challenges us to follow after Him (Luke 9:23), maybe this is part of what He meant. Maybe His call to followership includes loving the drunks and prostitutes, the cheaters and swindlers, the criminals and liars, the adulterers and homosexuals. Because He did. Why?

"I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent," Luke 5:32.

And maybe His example of the friendships He made with his disciples is an example for us to make friendships with one another as well.

"So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples," John 13:34-35.

"Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other," Romans 12:9-10.

"Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!" Hebrews 13:1-2.

"Cheerfully share you home with those who need a meal or a place to stay," 1 Peter 4:9.

Are you intentional about making friendships with unbelievers? How about loving your brothers and sisters in Christ? Is hospitality a regular practice in your life? Are you just another nice Christian to shake hands with, or do you seek for opportunities to walk into the lives of others and love them like the friend Jesus was?


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Me, too?

A distinguishing factor between knowledge and faith is that faith applies knowledge personally.

There are many people who have a reasonable collection of biblical knowledge, but they fail to believe it applies to them personally. Yes, they believe Jesus died to save the world from sin, but they don't include themselves in "the world." Yes, they believe because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, we can have forgiveness of our sins, but they don't include themselves in the "we" and "our."

Faith is believing that Jesus died to save YOU from YOUR sins, offering YOU forgiveness from all YOUR trespasses.

"Me, too?" you ask.

Yes, even YOU!

Instead of having faith that God's redemptive work applies personally to you, it's easier to rationalize God was thinking about someone else. Kind of like the story of a motivational speaker addressing a large audience. He called a man up from the audience and brought him over to a large, steel beam stretched out on the stage.

The speaker asked the man, "Would you be willing to walk across the beam for $20?"

"Sure!" the man replied, then he stepped onto the beam and quickly walked its length.

Handing the man a crisp $20 dollar bill, the speaker then asked the man, "Okay, if I took this beam and put it across two highrise buildings on the 40th floor, would you walk across it for $20?"

"No way!" was the immediate response from the man.

"Ah, now I've got him! He doesn't have the right motivation," thought the speaker. So he asked the man, "What if I had one of your children up on that 40th floor, and I told you if you didn't walk across the beam I would push your child off ... would you walk across the beam then?"

The man thought for just a moment and then asked, "Which child do you have?"

We often see ourselves as God's unruly child not worthy of His being so motivated as to save us. Maybe some of His other children, the better behaved ones, but not one so sinful as me.

But that's not what scripture says ...

"Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned," Mark 16:16.

"Me, too?" you ask.

Yes, you, too!

Do you have a personal faith, one that trusts Jesus Christ for your salvation? One that accepts the promises of God really do include you?


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

When being cool makes you ashamed of Jesus ...

A few years ago I read a string of social media posts by a few ministers who were complaining about Christians consistently posting scripture and other Christian-type things online. They had better things to post about, and they actually stated they thought "cool" people posted "normal" things on their social media pages.

Yep, that was from preachers who thought they were too cool to talk about Jesus.

That wasn't the first or last such post saying about the same thing from church leaders who are ashamed to speak of Christ in public. Oh, I know that sentence will bring an onslaught of excuses as to why they don't talk of Christ in public, most of which is based on ramblings about how our culture doesn't like it. But the truth behind those excuses is shame.

Of course, these were guys who think they're cool because they meet today's stereotype of the hipster preacher to a tee. But they really don't know what cool is. In contrast, let me tell you about a really cool guy; a handsome man who women swooned over and men wanted to be like. A guy who fought off attacks of wild beasts, someone who defeated the big bad guy, a leader of warriors, an able musician, a valiant king, and a man after God's own heart.

His name was David, and God hand-picked him to be king over Israel. What did this genuinely cool guy have to say about this issue of talking about God?

"I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak his praises. I will boast only in the Lord; let all who are helpless take heart. Come, let us tell of the Lord's greatness; let us exalt his name together. I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to him will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces," Psalm 34:1-5.

There's another "man's man" you might want to take note of in the New Testament. He was the greatest missionary and church planter in the early church. He faced more beatings and hardships than any hipster would ever have a nightmare about. His name was Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, who wrote much of the New Testament. What does he have to say about speaking about Christian things?

"For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes --- the Jew first and also the Gentile," Romans 1:16.

Is it any wonder we have a church in decline when some church leaders so elevate fear of culture to the point it silences their communication of Christ? That they think they are too cool to speak of Jesus? That they're ashamed to share the Gospel?

Folks, if your church leaders are like this, don't follow their example. Keep on posting your praises of the Lord!


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

How to be happy with life, no matter what ...

Are you happy?

The average person bases their answer to that question on one key thing --- their current circumstances.

And that's why they're often unhappy.

God never intended our happiness or the quality of our life to be determined by life's shifting circumstances. The rain falls on the just and the unjust; we will have times of comfort, peace, and plenty, and times of trials, tribulations, and need. Regardless of our circumstances, it is possible to consistently live in such a way that we are content and fulfilled with our lives.


The Apostle Paul reveals to us this grand secret ...

"How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn't have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength," Philippians 4:10-13.

Most of us can handle the "with plenty" part of life's circumstances, but don't do as well with the "or little" part, often missing that what we have at the moment can be sufficient.

We live more like the man who was envious of his friends because they had larger, more luxurious homes. So he listed his house with a real estate firm with the plans to sell it and purchase a more impressive home. Shortly afterward, as he was reading the classified section of the local newspaper, he saw an ad for a house that seemed just right for him. He promptly called his realtor and said, "A house described in today's paper is exactly what I'm looking for. I would like to go through it as soon as possible!" The agent asked him several questions about it and then replied, "But sir, that's your house you're describing!"

When we make our happiness or quality of life about our immediate circumstances, we give away our ability to be content and at peace, to be happy and fulfilled. But when we make the quality of our life completely about who Jesus Christ is to us, circumstances then lose their power over our happiness and fulfillment. It's no wonder, then, that Jesus gave us this instruction:

"Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need," Matthew 6:33.

Are you wobbling between happy and unhappy as your circumstances shift? Or have you discovered the contentment and joy in Christ that persists in any situation?


Monday, February 10, 2014

Jesus is not a cork ...

You've probably heard a preacher say, or read on a social media site, the saying, "We all have a God-shaped hole in our heart that only Jesus can fill."

There's a problem with that sentiment: Jesus isn't a cork!

This statement makes it seem as if we're almost whole except for a hole, and if we just plug Jesus into that little open cavity in our heart, then we would be complete. From this perspective, you would almost think Jesus was made for us, but that's not what scripture says ...

"Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can't see --- such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him," Colossians 1:15-16.

Instead of Jesus seen as being a little stopper to plug our heart, we need to understand He is the Creator who provides the way to change our heart from the utter corruption of sin it has undergone ...

"The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Jeremiah 17:9

We don't even begin to understand our purpose for existing until we see Christ as more than a well-meaning piece of cork, but as both Lord and Savior who came so that our hearts, and minds, and whole beings could be transformed into His likeness, truly holy and righteous.

You can't do that with a piece of cork.

Are you trying to plug Jesus into a little space in your life? Or is the purpose of your life all about Him?


Saturday, February 8, 2014

When you know you won't win ...

In spite of the "snowflake" that failed to open as the fifth Olympic ring, Vladimir Putin has declared the Winter Olympic Games open, and the first full day of competition is now in the history books.

More than 2,800 athletes from 88 countries have descended on Sochi, Russia to compete in the winter games. Yet, before ever marching in the opening ceremony, the majority of the athletes already knew they would not win a medal in their sport.

That's right, many of the athletes came to the Olympics knowing they would not win, but they came to compete. For these athletes, they know they have never had a performance that equals or seriously challenges the frontrunners. They know everything would have to go right for them, and everything would have to go wrong for many of their competitors, for them to ever have a real shot at a medal. Others might could capture a Bronze medal if they had their best ever performance and a few of their competitors had their worst. Others have a chance, if they really perform at their best. And others still know they are in contention for a medal.

So why do so many show up if they know they won't win?

They come to be Olympians.

It's about the journey they have spent their lives pursuing, and this is the pinnacle. They have won a lot to get where they are, but their best may be reached by being an Olympian, not an Olympic champion.

Although they know they won't win, they compete as if they could. It's an attitude that is forged among those who are champions in life, and it's one the Apostle Paul urged all of us to live out ...

"Don't you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified," 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

Do you run with purpose in your steps? Are you living as a champion for Christ? Or have you yet to seriously get in the game?


What does it take to stop you?

The founder of the Salvation Army, General William Booth (above, right), had lost his eyesight. His son, Bramwell (above, left), was given the task of telling his father there would be no recovery.

"Do you mean that I am blind?" the General asked.

"I hear we must contemplate that," his son replied.

"I shall never see your face again?" Booth queried.

"No, probably not in this world."

"Bramwell," said the General, "I have done what I could for God and for His people with my eyes. Now I shall do what I can for God without my eyes."

What does it take to stop you from serving God?


Friday, February 7, 2014

An idea for getting your congregation involved in scripture application ...

As vital as the Word of God is to humanity, it's useless to us if we don't apply it to our lives.

With that said, the fact remains that many preachers do little to teach application of scripture as part of their sermons. If you want to see lives changed, you must teach people how to apply the Word of God to their lives.

Why not have some fun with the application of scripture and get your congregation involved in a way that will help teach everyone how to apply the Word to their lives?

Here's one, very different approach you can take ...

For a designated period --- four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks, whatever you choose --- have three people from your congregation participate in teaching the application of the scripture you preached on for each of your sermons. Have the three people sit together and take notes throughout your preaching time. Then, when it's time for teaching the application of the scripture, announce you will now pause to worship through song (just one song) while the three corroborate their notes and divide up what they noted the application of the scripture to be. When the song is done, have each one share (maximum of TWO minutes, this is not a time for a mini sermon) their point or points on the application of scripture.

For example, if there are three points of application for the scripture, have each participant share just one point. If there are five points, divide them between the three people. If just two points, have one person share a point, and the other two divide a point.

Finally, the preacher can tie together the points made by the participants, and add in anything they may have overlooked.

This can be a fun time of getting people in the congregation more deeply involved in your messages, focus on the need to apply God's Word to our lives, and help teach your congregation how to find the application to be made from the scriptures you study together by providing them with three live examples of how people just like them developed the application to the same sermon everyone just heard.

"All scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip His people to do every good work," 2 Timothy 3:16-17.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Would you lie to benefit yourself?

A store manager overheard his clerk say to a customer, "No ma'am, we haven't had any for a while, and it doesn't look as if we'll be getting any soon.

Horrified, the manager came running over to the customer and said, "Of course we'll have some soon. We placed an order last week."

Then the manager pulled the clerk aside.

"Never," he snarled, "Never, never, never say we're out of anything --- say we've got it on order and it's coming. Now, what was it she wanted?"

"Rain," said the clerk.

Lying will eventually make a fool of you. Yet, we have made it commonplace in our lives.

As I have been working on the next ministry step for myself, I've sought secular employment for short-term sustenance while I work on developing new ministry. Unfortunately, I've ran into a long problem of constantly being told I'm over-qualifed; even the simplest positions won't consider hiring me because of my background. That has resulted in profound loss and hardship for me. During this time, I've had family, friends, and even folks from church (including some church leaders) encourage me to not tell the truth. Their rationale was that, since I was being hurt by telling the truth, that I should not tell the truth so I wouldn't be hurt.

That bad advice is the same message we get from the world: If you can't get ahead by telling the truth, get ahead by telling lies. That might be how things are done in the world, but not so in the kingdom of God.

"There are six things the Lord hates --- no, seven things he detests: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family," Proverbs 6:16-19.

"The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth," Proverbs 12:22.

"Don't lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds," Colossians 3:9.

Telling the truth may come with a cost, but it also comes with a reward; lying will cost you much more and ends in judgment.

Are you committed to living a life of truth? Or do you practice trying to compromise the truth when doing so seems to benefit you?


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Is Facebook smarter than platitude preachers?

Happy birthday Facebook!

If you're on Facebook, you likely couldn't miss the fact the social media giant is celebrating its tenth year of connecting people. To do so, they have made available to each member a short video looking back on their own personal content from when the member signed up.

After viewing my own little video supplied by Facebook, and those of several people I know, I actually found the look back to be quite touching. People post very personal and raw experiences on Facebook, and looking back provided a way of appreciating the journey and where we're all at today.

It made me think that perhaps Facebook is a little smarter than those who constantly post and preach the message of "never look back!" Sorry, but you cannot adequately appreciate where you're at, what you have and have accomplished, and what your new possibilities are, without routinely looking back. It's by looking back that we gain a fuller context of our lives.

Looking back is also something Jesus instructed us to do regularly. In fact, Jesus wants us to make a practice out of looking back, all the way back to the cross ...

"For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.' In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant between God and his people --- an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it," 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

Observing communion is kind of like our mini video of our connecting with God. Our reconciliation with God was made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and we keep ourselves on track in our walk with Him by constantly remembering the price Jesus paid to ransom us from sin and death.

The cross gives critical context to our lives, something we cannot have without routinely looking back.

When was the last time you looked back and remembered the great sacrifice Jesus Christ made on your behalf? Have you made it a practice to keep looking back at the cross?


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A devilish scheme that will ruin you and harm the church ...

Satan is not afraid of your faith.

There are churches full of people who truly believe in Jesus Christ and believe the Word of God. But Satan is afraid of believers who live out their faith and act in obedience to the Word.

That's why one of his most successful methods of defeating a real believer is encouraging "deferred service." That's when Satan motivates the believer who has a dream of living completely for God to put off acting on that dream for a more opportune time ...

"I'm too young right now. Once I get a little more experience, then I will ..."

"Right now is not a good time since I'm single. Maybe after I get married and settle down, then I will ..."

"The kids have so much going on right now and their activities take up all my time ..."

"When the kids finish school, then I will ..."

"Now that the kids are out of the house, my wife deserves some time ..."

"Once I get that promotion I'll have a little more time ..."

"Now that I've gotten that promotion, my new responsibilities keep me too busy, let things settle down and then I will ..."

"I need to study first. Once I learn more I will ..."

"Now is just not a good time financially. Once I get the bills paid off and save enough to be secure, then I will ..."

"My health needs my attention right now. Once I get in better shape, then I will be able to ..."

"I need to spend time with my grandkids right now. Maybe after they're a little older, then I will ..."

OBITUARY: "Today, Joe Believer died. He believed what Jesus said, and he believed the Bible. He just did everything other than live his faith, or obey the Word. But he had good intentions, he was going to get around to it one day."

Score one more for Satan, who robbed another life of living for Jesus Christ simply by getting someone to defer serving the Lord.

Knowing this scheme, Jesus spoke directly to what it really means to follow Him:

"Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need," Matthew 6:33.

"Then he said to the crowd, 'If anyone wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but you are yourself lost or destroyed?'" Luke 9:23-25.

The Apostle Paul chimes in on this subject as well ...

"So be careful how you live. Don't live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don't act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do," Ephesians 5:15-17.

Do you know what the Lord wants you to do? What's keeping you from doing it?


Monday, February 3, 2014

How to improve your listening skills ...

From birth to death, life is full of interactions with people. Vital to the quality of those interactions is our willingness and ability to listen to what others have to say, and that's where many of our problems start. Many of us are terrible listeners!

The story is told about President Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. His complaint about these interactions was that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." The guests responded with phrases like, "Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you, God bless you sir!" It wasn't until the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Unphased, the ambassador leaned in close and whispered, "I'm sure she had it coming!"

There are various reasons why we listen to others: to obtain information, to understand, for enjoyment, or to learn. Each of these reasons can be enriched by our sharpening our capacity to listen well to others. To help us do that, here are several tips to enhance your personal listening skills:

Prepare in advance.
Before you meet with someone, prepare yourself to be a good listener:
  • Don't create assumptions about what the person will say when you are together. Doing so can result in entertaining an entire fabricated conversation in your mind where you assume what the other person will say, complete with your feelings, responses, and judgments to what you have imagined. By the time you actually meet with the person, you're ready to unload what you have to say about the imaginary conversation you had in your head, instead of the one you should have now that they are present.
  • Unless the meeting is intended to accomplish something specific, don't create an agenda. Doing so may force the other person to talk about something they are uninterested in or uncomfortable discussing.
  • Do check your motives. If the only reason you want to meet with someone is for you to tell them something, then you have little motive to listen. A good listener has a genuine motive of wanting to listen to what another person has to say.
  • Do pray. Use the time prior to meeting with the other person to pray for them and yourself. Ask God to help you be a good listener and to be in the midst of your time together.
Make the moment about them.
Novel writer James Patterson once said, "I never miss a good chance to shut up." When others are talking, that moment belongs to them, give it to them by ceasing to talk. Don't attempt to multi-task while listening, that only distracts the speaker and conveys a lack of attention and interest on your part. Make them at ease, and then invite them to talk.

Appreciate the other person.
Listening does not always mean agreeing, but even when you don't agree with someone, listen with respect. Find something of value about the other person that you can respect, and let that influence your willingness to listen to what they have to say.

Minimize distractions.
Turn off the television, mute or put away your cell phone, have someone watch the children, put the dog in the back yard --- do what is necessary to eliminate or minimize distractions. This could also include setting the thermostat to a comfortable temperature and providing a comfortable place to sit together.

Don't dilute what the other person has to say by judging what they look like.
Our eyes interact with others before our conversations ever start. What a person looks like can have nothing to do with what they have to say. If you make snap judgments about someone based on what they look like, you will often dilute what you hear with your pre-conceived visual perceptions.

Look interested.
There's nothing that better demonstrates you're interested in hearing what the other person has to say than by physically giving them your attention. Looking away, yawning, glancing at the clock, fidgeting, playing with a pen or paper clip, glancing at the television, checking your text messages, are just a few things that convey a lack of interest. Crossing your arms often conveys a feeling of guardedness. Show the other person they have your interest and attention by maintaining eye contact, turning your body toward them, and relaxing.

Concentrate on listening.
Hearing refers to the sounds you hear, while listening requires more than that, it requires focusing on what the other person has to say. Listening means paying attention not only to their story, but how it is told, their use of language and vocal tone, and how the other person uses their body. Thus, listening requires being aware of both verbal and non-verbal messages. Listen for ideas, not just words. And listen patiently; don't distract yourself by planning your response or "talking to yourself" while the other person is talking.

Don't interrupt.
This is a general rule of thumb. There may be times where a very brief comment such as, "That's hilarious! Go on ..." or "What did she say?" or "What happened next?" or "What did you do?" is appropriate as part of your listening. Sometimes allowing for a little silence is a key part of listening; don't assume a long pause is an invitation for you to jump in and talk. In general, don't interrupt when the other person is talking. Listen!

Focus on content, not delivery.
Counting how many times someone touches their nose while they talk, or watching their hands fidget or feet shake can distract you from hearing what they are saying. Focus on the content of what they have to say.

Don't jump into their story.
This is a primary way we muffle our listening and de-value what others have to say. Often when someone is telling a story, we can't wait to jump in at the first opportunity to share how we've had the same kind of experience, the same kind of feeling, the same idea, etc. Their story is theirs, let them tell it without your comparing it and wanting to interrupt with your own story.

Demonstrate you are listening.
Provide subtle clues to the other person that convey you are listening, such as nodding your head, arching an eyebrow, smiling or other facial features, and the occasional word or sound of acknowledging you're staying with what they have to say.

Listen with empathy.
Let the other person know through your expressions that you are empathizing with what they are saying. This can be done with appropriate facial expressions, and sometimes with brief and appropriate touch and words, but make sure these are done while you listen, rather than as an interruption.

Be aware of your own body language.
Glancing away, sighing, crossing your arms, frowning, and other expressions and actions indicate disinterest on your part to the speaker. Maintain eye contact and face the other person as they talk to you so that your body language conveys interest in what they have to say.

Don't argue mentally.
Many people make the mistake of arguing mentally while another person is talking. In that case, you aren't giving the other person your full attention, which often means you'll misunderstand what they have to say. Wait until the person has fully shared what they have to say before making any evaluations.

Don't jump to conclusions.
Partially into what someone has to say we can find ourselves predicting what they will say next. By jumping to conclusions we can tune out hearing what the other person is saying and generate inaccurate judgments. Save crafting any opinions or evaluations until after the other person has fully concluded with speaking.

When fitting, take notes.
Note-taking can be inappropriate in some personal settings, but it might be beneficial in others and can convey to the speaker what they have to say is important to you.

Ask questions.
Ask questions for anything you need clarification of. Ask open-ended questions to encourage the other person to continue with what they are talking about or to learn more about their subject matter.

Respond appropriately.
How you respond depends on the purpose of the interaction. If you're having a serious discussion with your spouse or boss, you may want to practice reflective listening to ensure what you think you heard is actually what the other person said. If someone just wants you to listen to their woes, respond with empathy instead of trying to fix them or their problem; don't offer solutions unless you know the other person wants you to offer them (or ask if they would like to hear your thoughts on the matter). Sometimes the best first response is to validate what the other person has shared with you, even if you don't agree, such as, "I can understand how you can think that way, and I might feel the same way if I thought the same thing ..."

Being listened to has a powerful effect on our relationships, and on our lives. During a study conducted in San Francisco, teen prostitutes were asked, "Is there anything you needed most and couldn't get?" Their response, invariably preceded by sadness and tears was unanimous: "What I needed most was someone to listen to me. Someone who cared enough to listen to me."

Do you care enough about others to listen to them?