Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The critical topic churches avoid today ...

Why did Jesus suffer and die on the cross?

That seems to be such a simple question, for even the young child in Sunday school would likely offer a quick answer to that: "Jesus died to save us from our sins."

That's partly true.

Jesus did die to save us from our sins, but there's a deeper reason for that which we speak little of today. That's because it has to do with the issue of holiness, which for some reason is a concept avoided among pulpits like the Ebola virus these days.

But it's the underlying issue as to why Jesus chose to suffer and die on a cross for us.

The issue with sin was that it destroyed our relationship with God because it made us unclean, we became unholy. In such a state, we were unable and uninterested in having a relationship with God as He had designed. To be able to be reconciled to God, we needed to be sanctified, to be made holy, and to accomplish that Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice for us ...

"So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood," Hebrews 13:12.

Jesus didn't die just so we wouldn't go to hell, or so we could be "happy." He died "... to make his people holy"! Yet we hear little taught about God's call for us to live holy lives. The result isn't pretty.

In "unChristian," David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, shares some disheartening research concerning the failure of Christians in our day to live holy lives ...

"In virtually every study we conduct, representing thousands of interviews every year, born again Christians (talking about people who say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that they say is important and that they believe they will go to heaven at death because they have confessed their sin and accepted Christ as Savior, much more than people who just claim to be Christians) fail to display much attitudinal or behavior evidence of transformed lives. For instance, based on a study released in 2007, we found that most of the lifestyle activities of born again Christians were statistically equivalent to those of non born again people. When asked to identify their activities over the last 30 days, born again believers were just as likely to visit a pornographic website, to take something that did not belong to them, to consult a medium or psychic, to physically fight or abuse someone, to have consumed enough alcohol to be considered legally drunk, to have used an illegal non-prescription drug, to have said something to someone that was not true, to have gotten back at someone for something he or she did, and to have said mean things behind another person's back."

That doesn't sound like holy living, yet Christ died specifically "... to make his people holy ..." You would think the Apostle Paul was writing in direct response to Kinnaman's research in the following scripture passage ...

"Don't you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don't fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people --- none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God," 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

While church pulpits may be remarkably quiet about God calling us to live holy lives, the Bible isn't ...

"Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect," Romans 12:2.

"Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God," 2 Corinthians 7:1.

"God's will for you is to be holy ..." 1 Thessalonians 4:3a.

"He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. You must teach these things and encourage the believers to do them. You have the authority to correct them when necessary, so don't let anyone disregard what you say," Titus 2:14-15.

"So you must live as God's obedient children. Don't slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn't know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the scriptures say, 'You must be holy because I am holy'," 1 Peter 1:14-16.

Unlike pulpits today, the Bible is loud with the call to put to death the old man, to put on the new man, and live (through Christ) holy lives as obedient children of God.

Is living as a holy child of God important to you? Have you fully committed yourself to a holy life? Or is holiness a vague idea you don't know much about?


Sunday, September 28, 2014

What to do with a lonely person ...

I'm an intensely observant person.

Part of that comes from how God has wired me, part of that comes first from training as a journalist, then training as a therapist. It just seems natural for me that when people are around, I'm observing their behavior.

So there I was, sitting in a comfortable leather chair in a Caribou (Minnesota's version of Starbucks) when I spotted her.

Really, she just stood out, literally.

In the store there were six female college students talking loudly and enthusiastically around a large table. Two other male college students at separate tables were deep into their reading and study. There were two other pairs of ladies perched on chairs and leaning into each other, talking rapidly, appearing to be friends sharing stories. And there was a short line of people waiting to place their orders.

Then, there was her.

She was an older lady with a big multi-colored cloth purse dangling from her right arm as her hand held a large tea from which she sipped slowly through a straw. She just stood in the middle of the store, appearing as if she had no idea what to do with herself and was trying to figure that out.

She finally settled into an empty leather chair, and there she slowly finished her tea while she gazed blankly out the window. She would occasionally glance at the different people around her, somewhat wistfully, as if wishing she could join in the conversations.

As I observed her, the thought came to mind: "If Jesus walked in, I know who He would choose to talk to."

It would be the lonely woman.

I don't know this lady's story, I don't even know if my observations of her are correct. But watching her made me think that, for some people, the only way they will be loved is if someone purposely walks into their lives.

This woman may have children and several grandchildren, and lots of friends, all who love her. But a person who is routinely loved doesn't usually appear so uncomfortable and so alone those times when they are alone.

Have you ever been in this woman's shoes? In a room full of people who know each other, and are comfortable engaging in conversation with each other, but you don't know a soul there? Have you ever known the awkwardness of being the lonely person?

I have.

What a joy it is to have someone step up and say hello!

What a perplexing thing it is to try to figure out what to do with yourself when no one notices your existence.

There are a lot of people out there who are lonely. They're ignored by their family, their few friends have little to do with them, their co-workers shun them. Perhaps just because they're a little different ... shy, more quiet, reserved ... they're not naturally equipped to know how to engage strangers, or how to fit in even with people they know.

These kinds of people don't always make for the most fascinating friends, or the person you would pick first to spend your time with. But they need you, and they need me. Well, they need someone to step into their lives and just be kind to them, just be friendly to them, just love them if just a little.

These are the kinds of people who will largely go through life unloved unless others take the initiative to step into their lives.

Let's do that!

Forget about why they're so shy, or how perhaps they need to learn to be more assertive. Forget about any of that. Let's just step into their lives and offer them a little love.

Jesus would.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

The nexus of change ...

We talk about "change" in sweeping terms and poignant platitudes, but often very inaccurately.

For example, not everyone wants change. There are many people who detest change, and assert themselves against it. It's not just the guy who still listens to albums on a record player and has leisure suits hanging in his closet. You'll find CEOs, average Joe's, several pastors, and a broad mix of people who don't like to experience change.

But some (many) people do.

It's also not true that we're all afraid of change. Some people embrace change, like the early adopters to technology. These are the people who sign up to be beta testers and are always looking for what is just beyond the horizon. Some people appreciate what they've experienced, but seem to be perpetually ready to move on to something different.

Whether we like change or don't like change, whether we fight it or embrace it, we all need it. One simple example of that being a fact is the reality that none of us are perfect. Yet, God's design is for us to live a life of transformation, transitioning through life from a sinner saved by grace, to a saint living like the Son of God ...

"This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God's Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ," Ephesians 4:13.

"Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God --- truly righteous and holy," Ephesians 4:21-24.

That sounds like we all still need to make some changes!

So what is at the nexus of change?

First, we have to move beyond the "want to" stage.

Norman Cates tells the story of a guy who prayed this prayer every morning: "Lord, if you want me to witness to someone today, please give me a sign to show me who it is."

One day this man found himself on a bus when a big, burly man sat next to him even though the bus was nearly empty. The timid Christian anxiously waited for his stop so he could exit the bus. But before he could get very nervous about the man next to him, the big guy burst into tears. He then cried out with a loud voice, "I need to be saved! I'm a lost sinner and I need the Lord. Won't somebody tell me how to be saved?" He then turned to the Christian and pleaded, "Can you show me how to be saved?"

The believer immediately bowed his head and prayed, "Lord, is this a sign?"

The believer wanted to be a witness because he knew he should be since he was a Christian. The problem is, even when he was drowning in opportunity, he wasn't willing to actually witness!

At the nexus of change is the tension between what we want to do (or be) and what we're willing to do (or be).

We may want to be 40 pounds lighter, but we're not willing to change our diet or start a consistent exercise regimen. We may want great friendships, but we're not willing to invest the time in people. We may want to have great biblical knowledge, but we're not willing to do the study for ourselves.

Scripture gives us multiple examples of people who claimed they wanted to respond affirmatively to Jesus' message, but they were unwilling to do so.

But being willing isn't, itself, enough to bring about change. Once we're willing to change, we must take action. When we've moved beyond basic desire (want) to actually being willing to pay the price or do the work that change requires, we must then take action or nothing will change.

Jesus summarized this in His challenge to us for real life change ...

"Then he said to the crowd, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me," Luke 9:23.

If you really want to follow Jesus, you have to be willing to pay the price and then act by denying yourself, taking up your cross every day, and literally follow Him. You have to move past desire (want) to decision (willing), and then on to demonstration (action).

Have you moved past the want stage where you're not only willing to follow Christ, but you're acting on that decision by actually following Him? Or are you still wanting the results of change without the willingness to take the action Jesus demands?


Friday, September 26, 2014

There's nothing to it but to do it ...

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by an old habit?

Maybe you can identify with former Los Angeles Dodgers baseball manager, Tommy Lasorda, as he describes his battle with bad habits ...

"I took a pack of cigarettes from my pocket, stared at it and said, 'Who's stronger, you or me?' The answer was me. I stopped smoking. Then I took a vodka martini and said to it, 'Who's stronger, you or me?' Again the answer was me. I quit drinking. Then I went on a diet. I looked at a big plate of linguine with clam sauce and said, 'Who's stronger, you or me?' And a little clam looked up at me and answered, 'I am.' I can't beat linguine."

Some of us have no problem applying self-discipline in some areas of our lives, but many of us are very weak at exercising any kind of self-control about the food we eat. We just love our fried foods, rich sauces, big plates of pasta, mounds of barbequed delights, and loads of sweets too much to deny ourselves.

However, improving your fitness doesn't have to start with radical changes that rob you of everything you like to eat. Making simple, very manageable changes can create significant results in reducing your weight and improving your fitness over a year's time. More than 20 years ago Self Magazine was already teaching how small changes to your eating habits can produce big results over the period of one year ...

"... losing just one dietary bad habit can result in significant weight loss over a period of one year. If you just substitute high calorie offenders for similar tasting, lower calorie choices, the weight loss can still be significant. Give up one teaspoon of cream in your coffee and lose six pounds a year, or switch to a similar amount of skim milk and lose five pounds. Give up a glazed donut a day and lose 25 pounds a year, or switch to a medium-sized bran muffin and lose 11 pounds in a year. Skipping a teaspoon of butter on a daily bagel will leave you 11 pounds lighter at year's end, or change to a similar amount of cream cheese and drop five pounds. Some other items you can drop and save on are a 12-ounce can of soda a day and forget 17 pounds in a year; a 1.2 ounce chocolate bar a day saves you 12 pounds in 18 months. There's nothing to it but to do it!"

Making smarter choices, incremental changes, and gradually increasing level of self-discipline you apply to your personal nutrition habits can have you feeling and looking better in a reasonable amount of time. Add the self-discipline of a regular exercise routine and your health and fitness will see even greater results in a shorter period of time.

Improving your personal fitness level often is not as hard as we think, we usually make it harder than it really is. In fact, "there's nothing to it but to do it!"


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How would you like to be on the receiving end of yourself?

If all you got every day was the exact measure of what you gave, would you like being on the receiving end of yourself?

Thinking about it, you might be happy that God is more gracious to you than you are with others. But how you treat others isn't something you're off the hook about, it will come back to bite or bless you.

Kind of like the story of one enterprising group of college students who tried to literally manage time. At the university they attended, the rule was if a professor had not arrived in the classroom within 15 minutes of the hour, the class was considered a "walk" and the students were free to leave without any penalty for missing the class.

Each of the rooms in this university were equipped with old style clocks where the minute-hand mechanically ticked ahead after each minute. This creative group of students discovered they could cause the clock to jump ahead one minute if they hit it with an eraser collected from the black boards in the room. The professor of this class was not the most punctual, so it became a ritual for these students to make target practice of the clock. After a few well-aimed erasers hit their target, 15 minutes suddenly passed and the class walked.

At the end of the semester came time for the final exam. The professor strolled into the room and passed out the test.

"You have one hour to complete the exam," he stated.

The professor then proceeded to collect all the black board erasers in the room and gleefully took aim at the clock. When he had successfully jumped the clock ahead one hour, the professor called "Time's up!" and collected the exam papers.

Jesus often talked about how we should treat others, and here He tells us we'll receive in the same manner we judge ...

"Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard yo use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged," Matthew 7:1-2.

In light of what Jesus said, how would you like to be on the receiving end of yourself?


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

If you like lists, what would you do with these?

It was a dangerous rendezvous, but I escaped safely!

That sounds a little more dramatic than it was.

This morning I had a meeting with someone at a Barnes & Noble, and if you know me, it's a dangerous thing for me to be lured into a bookstore ... I could go broke there!

But since it was business, I mustered enough self-discipline to get out of there without any damage done.

This time.

While I was there, though, I was struck at the rows of magazines (pictured above). There were four rows of shelves packed with all kinds of magazines. With the onslaught of e-readers and digital media, I was a little surprised that there are still so many printed magazines on the market. So many of these publications don't last long, yet here were scores of them still being bought by the general public.

So I scanned the covers of several of the magazines and I noticed one thing in common on many of the covers --- lists.

For example, there was a magazine called "The Good Life," a new publication by Dr. Oz. Printed in large, bold letters on the cover were the words, "95 FAST HEALTHY CHANGES." Many of the other magazine covers also boasted lists, such as "10 days to a slimmer you," "3 secrets to 6-pack abs," or "100 ways to spice up your marriage."

Considering the number of magazines on the shelves and the number of tips they were proclaiming to offer, there had to be thousands of "secrets," steps, ideas and methods being offered from just the magazines alone in that one bookstore.

How could you not radically change your life with all that advice being splattered about?

But people don't.

We scan these lists in magazines as an exercise, seeing how many items on the lists we agree or disagree with. But it isn't often that we actually apply to our lives any of the myriad suggestions on these lists.

The Bible has a lot of lists in the form of scripture verses that offer short, direct "lists" of actions we can take that will change our lives. That's one reason why it's so common for preachers to have three (or more!) points in their sermons.

Have you ever noticed lists in the Bible? See if you identify any "lists" in the verses below ...

"No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God," Micah 6:8.

"Then he said to the crowd, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me'," Luke 9:23.

"But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things," Galatians 5:22-23.

"Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience," Colossians 3:12.

"In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God's promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone," 2 Peter 1:5-7.

Talk about a rich resource of lists, the Bible is full of them!

Do you ever study them for personal application? Do you ever copy down one of the lists from a verse and spend a week focusing on applying to your life what's on the list? Or do you just read the list like a magazine article to see what you agree or disagree with?

Most of the lists on the cover of a magazine are there to grab your attention and tempt you to buy the publication. But the lists in the Bible are authored by the very One who made you and are provided by Him to have a transforming impact on your life. I encourage and challenge you to dig into the Bible, discover these lists, and use them for the life-changing impact they can have if you do more than scan them. And just think, all these powerful lists available without the need for a single subscription!


Monday, September 22, 2014

What do you really want?

Have you heard the joke: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but the bulb has to want to be changed!

Yeah, it's a corny joke, but it has within it a kernel of truth. For people to change, they have to want to be changed. And in spite of all the talking we do about the topic, change isn't something many people want on a personal level.

It's kind of like the story of when Thomas Edison invented a vote-recording machine for use in legislative chambers. By moving a switch to the right or left, an official could vote for or against a proposal without leaving his desk. The machine would replace the tedious business of marking ballots, counting them, etc.

Excited about the prospects, Edison obtained a patent --- his first one --- and then headed for Washington. There, he eagerly demonstrated his machine to the Chairman of Congressional Committees. This gentleman, while complementing Edison on his ingenuity, promptly turned down the use of the machine.

"Filibustering and the delay in the tabulation of votes are often the only means we have for defeating bad or improper legislation," claimed the Chairman.

While we often may want our circumstances to be different, we very often don't want to have to change ourselves and how we live. We don't consider that the same thinking, the same ideas, the same behaviors that have caused us trouble will continue to do so unless we change our thinking and our behavior.

For our lives to change we have to change more than our circumstances, we have to be willing to change ourselves.

Are you trying to wade through negative circumstances with the same mindset that got you there? Or are you willing to make real change so that your life can be different?


Saturday, September 20, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: How to achieve at what matters ...

The business world worships at the alter of multi-tasking, and it's leaders are heralded when they can figure out how to do more with the same or less amount of time.

Individuals think they don't have a choice but to become proficient at multi-tasking because there's always so much to do!

And therein lies the problem ... the thought that we have to do all that stuff that could possibly be done.

Greg McKeown wants to rock your world by teaching you there's another way to think, live, and work. That other way revolves around doing "less but better," based on the concept he's an evangelist for called "Essentialism."

McKeown does an effective job teaching this concept in his book, "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less," published by Crown Business. The book is more than an explanation of "Essentialism" followed by filler. The author does an intelligent yet understandable job of explaining and making an argument for Essentialism, and then walks the reader through the essential core-mindset of an essentialist, and how to go about developing a lifestyle that pursues doing "less but better" by focusing on what is essential.

Many readers may initially be tripped up by the very concept. Life is stuffed with so many things to do and so many choices to make; aren't we supposed to see how many of them we can take on and get done?


But that's not what we've always been taught, and it's certainly not what has been modeled for us or expected from us.

What would your life look like if you purposely, thoughtfully started saying no to options and choices that were not essential to how you have decided to live your life, both personally and professionally? Chances are, your life would be very different, but the result would likely be your doing "less but better."

We've developed as the norm the idea of life being about doing a lot, and only some of those things being done very well. But life could be about doing less --- just the essential things --- extremely well and saying no to the rest. Building such a lifestyle requires changing one's thinking and being disciplined in the application of this new mindset. McKeown lays out the essential elements of essentialism with a smooth writing style, easy-to-understand terms, and relevant stories to illuminate his teaching.

Applying what McKeown teaches could result in a more unencumbered, more fulling, and even more productive life.

For that reason, I recommend you read this book and let it challenge you to assess whether you're really spending your time and resources on the essential things in life, or if you're packing your life full of every option made available to you, no matter how unimportant it might be. The contrast might just motivate you to make some changes.


I received this book free from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review. 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, September 11, 2014

We shall never forget ... or shall we?

"We shall never forget."

That was the simple post from someone on Facebook today. With today being 9/11, everyone knew what he meant.

We shall never forget those innocent people who lost their lives on 9/11. We shall never forget the image of those burning, falling towers, and heroes who ran into those buildings, charging up stairs in an attempt to save others.

There are just some things you will never forget.

But there are other things we do forget, but shouldn't.

Things like the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross.

"I would never forget that!" we like to think.

But we do.

So much so that Jesus, knowing how we would forget the single greatest sacrifice ever made for anyone --- the sacrifice of His own life on the cross --- that He instituted a ritual devised just so that we would remember what He did for us.

"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 11:23-25.

May we never forget!


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

See that door? God might be waiting for you to open it yourself ...

When working with people either as a pastor or a counselor, I often learn about their prayer lives and what they pray about. One thing stands out in the lives of many people: we routinely pray for God to do things that we should be doing ourselves.

Based on our prayers, we frequently want God to make our decisions and achieve accomplishments for us, like making us fit without good nutrition and exercise, fix our relationships without our changing how we treat people, and a plethora of other things that should be our personal responsibility to accomplish rather than God doing it for us.

This passing of the buck to God is classically captured in the wildly popular platitude about God opening some doors and closing others. We routinely fail to act until God either "opens a door" or "closes" another. We've turned God into being our personal door man! Instead of making a decision that is prayerfully considered and guided by the Holy Spirit and insight from the Word of God, we want God to create a door and open it --- or close it --- so that the responsibility falls on Him instead of us. We want God to use His limitless power to "magically" make things happen, rather than our having to learn, grow, work, and endure by using the talents and abilities God has given us to do things for ourselves.

But the responsibility for the decisions and actions in our lives belong to us.

Sometimes, God does "open a door," and sometimes God will "close" one. But God isn't going to open and close doors all the time. More often than not, God blesses us with a capable mind, wisdom, insight from His Word, and the Holy Spirit who teaches us truth. If we aren't willing to take on the responsibility of our decisions and actions with those remarkable resources, then often we'll be left with the consequences of failing to act.

It's at those times we blame God for failing to open or close a "door" for us.

There is a "Peanuts"cartoon of Peppermint Patty turning to Charlie Brown and saying, "Guess what, Chuck. On the first day of school I got sent to the principal's office. It was your fault, Chuck."

Exasperated, Charlie Brown responds, "My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?"

Peppermint Patty answered, "You're my friend, aren't you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me."

We often treat God as if we were Peppermint Patty and He were Charlie Brown, even though there could be no better influence in our lives than our Creator Himself!

If you want better relationships, do it what it takes to have better relationships. If you want better fitness or better health, do what it takes to be fit and healthy. Live life in Christ, and in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, but don't expect God to live life for you. You have to think, you have to make decisions, you have to act, and you have to take responsibility for all those things. God is willing to direct you, and walk with you, but don't treat Him like He's your door man.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

You can't achieve the extraordinary this way ...

Has God given you a great dream? That certain something that would be your greatest life's work?

Most of us have something great --- at least, great to ourselves --- that we want to accomplish in our lifetimes. Regarding that dream, you can likely count on this: you usually cannot achieve the extraordinary living ordinarily.

Wouldn't it be great to build a multi-billion dollar international conglomerate just working 9 to 5, weekends off, and a few weeks of vacation every year?

Wouldn't it be fantastic to become a world-reknowned surgeon with just a year or two of required college courses and a brief internship?

Wouldn't it be great to be recognized as an outstanding teacher without having to pour yourself into the lives of your students, many of whom aren't interested in learning and don't think very highly of you?

Wouldn't it be an incredible miracle to lead scores of people to Jesus Christ without having to lose any family time, or without having to be open to ridicule, or without having to really study and learn the Word of God?

Wouldn't it be so convenient if we could do what we really enjoy doing, the way we like to do it, and make really good money at it, and then, after we've created the life we want in the fullest way possible, to then turn our talents toward the benefit of God's kingdom and see instant results?

Yeah, it's obvious all of the above aren't just dreams, they're "pipe dreams," but they do represent how many people actually think. We may have great God-given dreams, but we want to achieve them from a comfortable position. And if we can't do it comfortably, it often will not be done.

Well, you usually cannot achieve the extraordinary living ordinarily.

Look at the stories of the lives of the great men and women in the Bible. You'll often read how they were first prepared and equipped for an extended period of time before being used by God in a great way. And you'll certainly read of how most of them paid dearly for being available to God for the extraordinary uses He had for them.

When James Garfield was principal of Hiram College in Ohio (he would later become President of the United States), a father asked him if the course of study could be simplified so that his son might be able to finish by a shorter route.

"Certainly," Garfield replied. "But it all depends on what you want to make of your boy. When God wants to make an oak tree, He takes a hundred years. When He wants to make a squash, He requires only two months."

Are you happy being a squash? Then live ordinarily. But if you dream of being a mighty oak, you'll have to endure paying the cost of growing into something so majestic.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Would you know the truth if you heard it?

There's never been a time when truth wasn't critically important.

From Eve deciding whether to believe the claims of the serpent, to knowing how to live your own life today, knowing truth is of paramount importance for us human beings.

Do you know the truth when you see/hear it?

Many don't.

There's a story about a young Chinese boy who wanted to learn about jade, so he went to study with a talented old teacher. This elderly gentleman put a piece of the stone into the youth's hand and told him to hold on to it with a tight grip. Then the teacher began to talk of philosophy, men, women, the sun, and almost everything underneath it. After an hour, the teacher took back the stone and sent the boy home.

This same procedure was repeated for weeks, resulting in the boy becoming frustrated. When would he be taught about jade? But he was too polite to interrupt his venerable teacher. Then one day, when the old man put a stone into the boy's hand, the boy cried out instantly, "That's not jade!"

Would you know if someone was speaking truth or something false? We need to know, and John wrote about our need to discern the truth ...

"Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world," 1 John 4:1.

Like the boy being trained to know the real jade stone from the false, we need to train ourselves to know that which is from God ...

"Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong," Hebrews 5:14.

In order to have truth, you must be pointed to Christ Himself ...

"Jesus told him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me," John 14:6

Better than the young boy with a wise teacher, Christians have the perfect Teacher to help us discover and understand truth ...

"When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future," John 16:13.

It is this truth that transforms our lives, as we see in this prayer of Jesus ...

"Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth," John 17:17-19.

Have you surrendered your life to Christ so that you can be made holy by the truth? Have you been trained to know the truth, "... to recognize the difference between right and wrong"? How do you discern what is true and what isn't?