Friday, October 31, 2014

Hey, spiritual warrior, you might want to consider this ...

The name Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen may not be familiar to you, but the title of the "Red Baron" probably is.

That title was bestowed upon Richthofen not just because he flew a distinctive red Fokker aircraft as a fighter pilot for the Germans during the first World War, but also because he shot down more combat planes than anyone on either side of the war. His known "kill tally" was 80.

But on April 21 of 1918, the Red Baron's terrorizing of the skies would change when he began chasing a Canadian plane trying to escape battle over the Somme river.

As the Red Baron pursued his prey, he strayed over enemy lines, and then failed to notice Canadian pilot Arthur "Roy" Brown coming up on his tail to help his comrade.

We will never know if it was a shot from the ground, or a shot from Brown, that killed Richthofen. But what we do know is the Red Baron came to his end because, as one report succinctly stated it, he made the mistake of pursuing the Allied plane "... too long, too far, and too low into enemy territory."

World War I is long part of history now, but battles still rage, especially spiritual battles. And too many Christians today find themselves shot down because, like the Red Baron, they have followed temptation for too long, too far, and too low into enemy territory.

Today, we talk a lot about wandering into the world to "build relationships" with non-Christians so that we can be the light of Christ to them. Others talk about grace to such a degree they believe they can do just about anything and be okay.

But there is still an enemy out there ...

"Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour," 1 Peter 5:8.

Sometimes we think we can roam deep into enemy territory on our mission of the Gospel, but spending time far inside the enemy camp comes with temptations you might think you can withstand, but many don't. Jesus' warning to His disciples is a good warning for us today ...

"Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!" Matthew 26:41.

Are you exposing yourself to temptation that you shouldn't be? Are you spending too much time too deep in enemy territory, exposing yourself to more than you should? How are you being alert and watching for temptation that can shoot you down?


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Would you like to make fewer mistakes? Try these tips ...

The idea that a picture is worth a thousand words struck me when I first saw the photo above. I thought to myself, "I can identify with that dog!"

I think we all can.

We've all had times in our lives when something appeared to be a good idea, when our curiosity got the better of us, and we wound up making a decision we would quickly regret.

We made a mistake.

I'm not talking about sin. There's a difference between a sin and a mistake, though we'll all commit too many of both. But like the dog above, we've all made choices that put us in a difficult dilemma and took extra work, resources, and probably some help to get out of. Kind of like these mistakes ...

... when a drum major tossed his baton in Ventura, California, and it hit two 4,000-volt power lines, blacking out a ten-block area and knocking a radio station off the air. The baton melted ...

... a bank robber in Los Angeles told the clerk not to give him cash, but to deposit the money into his checking account ...

... on his first assignment for a Chicago newspaper, a rookie reporter drove a company car to a car-crushing plant, parked in the wrong spot, and returned from interviewing the manager just in time to see the vehicle being compacted into scrap metal.

Life is just plain more enjoyable when we make fewer mistakes and more good decisions. So let's look briefly at just a few things we can do to reduce the number of mistakes we make (these suggestions also help us to avoid sin as well) ...

1. Make time to think. That's an odd sounding sentence, but if you think about it (no pun intended), we rarely make time in our day just to think. When we don't, we leave ourselves to making split-second decisions, and the more we do that the more mistakes we make. We've become very habitualized to reacting to daily circumstances rather than thoughtfully responding to them. Just setting aside a few minutes over coffee in the morning to think through our day can help us be better mentally prepared for the things we can anticipate facing. By anticipating what lies ahead, you can think through the decisions you may need to make that day, and be prepared to choose your responses instead of just reacting.

2. Be grounded in the truth. Psalm 119:11 states, "I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." Memorizing, knowing, and planting deep into our minds and hearts the truth of God's Word not only helps us guard against sin, but it also helps us prevent against mistakes as well. The Bible provides us with the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom we need to make good moral, ethical, God-honoring decisions; it provides a deep well of truth from which to draw from when we need to know what's right, and what isn't.

3. Be led by the Holy Spirit. It's easy with the hectic pace of our world to awake and rush into our day, just reacting to our circumstances as we confront them. We actually forget that, as Christians, the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in us to guide us through this life. Jesus said, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth ..." (John 16:13a). If we would make time each day to consciously yield ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we can trust that He will help us exercise better judgment than we would demonstrate by stifling the Spirit and making our own way through our days.

4. Pray without ceasing. The New Living Translation states 1 Thessalonians 5:17 this way, "Never stop praying." By constantly talking to God as we make our way through our days, we stay connected with the One who made us and wants the very best for us. An ongoing communion with God helps us to stay tapped into His peace, power, and purpose as we engage people and activities.

5. Get some rest. The studies are multiple and decisive that a lack of adequate rest reduces our capacity to make good, rational decisions. Get the rest you need to keep your thinking fresh and you'll make fewer mistakes.

Yes, it takes focus and discipline to apply these tips to your life. But it might be a mistake not to earnestly try.


BOOK REVIEW: This is one hefty study Bible!

I'm always hesitant to recommend study Bibles because they are so full of materials that are not scripture which readers sometimes take as important --- or even more important --- than scripture itself.

With that concern noted, Thomas Nelson has published the second edition of its "New King James Version Bible - Full Color Edition" that I think some readers might like.

This is one hefty study Bible! Where to start ...

Okay, I'm not one to pick the New King James Version (NKJV) for myself or others, but it's an improvement over the King James Version and is a reliable Bible. And among all the items stuffed in this study Bible, the scripture is also in there!

Along with the scripture, you'll find the following as described by the publisher:
  • Fresh new full-color page design.
  • Nelson's complete cross reference system including the NKJV translator's notes.
  • Over 15,000 clear, readable, verse-by-verse study notes.
  • Bible times and culture notes.
  • Redesigned, full-color in-text maps and charts.
  • Articles on key doctrines of the Bible.
  • Word studies with Strong's numbers.
  • Book introductions, outlines, and timelines.
  • Harmony of the Gospels, index, concordance, and redesigned color maps.
Believe me when I say stuffing all of the above into a single Bible means that the pages are overflowing with study resources. So much so many pages contain more study resources than scripture. To conduct my review, I worked through a few books of the Bible and generally found all of the various resources can be helpful, but again, they can also be a distraction to the reader.

It can be easy to get bogged down in the study resources in this Bible, but if used with focus and discipline, the study resources in this Bible can be insightful and helpful to many students of the Word.

If you just must have a study Bible, and you're okay with the New King James version, this might be the Bible for you.


I received this book free from the publisher 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.”

BOOK REVIEW: A book I wanted to recommend but can't ...

"Their Name Is Today" is a book by Johann Christoph Arnold (published by Plough Publishing House) I wanted to be able to recommend. After all, the topic of "Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World" is an important and overlooked one.

Arnold is a very good writer.

Surely, this would be a book I would be ready to recommend before even finishing reading it!

But, alas, I just cannot recommend this book to you.

The topic is aptly described on the back cover of the book: "Despite a perfect storm of hostile forces that threaten to deny children a healthy, happy childhood, courageous parents and teachers can turn the tide."

The chapter topics, and the issues raised in the chapters, are all significant --- from the world being "against" children, taking a swipe at poor education standards, the issue of pushing academics too much, the role of fathers, and even railing against technology and advertising aimed at children, along with other subjects --- all content that matters, and, I think, Arnold is mostly right about.

But it's how Arnold makes his arguments that keeps me from being able to recommend this book to you.

To state it concisely, the tone of this book is one of a person complaining. It sounds like posts you would read on Facebook griping about all these issues. What it doesn't include is surprising. Since Arnold is a pastor, I had hoped perhaps he would bring the truth of the Bible to some of the issues he raises, but this book is remarkably absent scriptural support. Okay, so how about some significant data from studies that could really make his arguments for him? Those are largely missing as well.

There are some quotes from some people, and some of those people are in positions to speak somewhat authoritatively on the issues raised, but even those are often opinions. Some sources quoted are along the lines of a teacher he knows. Quoting one teacher who believes what he does, even if it is from experience, hardly makes for a source from which to make a solid argument.

Instead, it's mostly a book from a man railing against things that affect childhood.

Some of these railings you might agree with, others you might not. Arnold seems to be against corporal punishment, not fond of technology, and generally takes an "old school" approach to raising children in 2014.

He has some good ideas, but again, the book reads like a man complaining.

I don't know about you, but I hear enough general complaining on a daily basis. Give me something that makes a substantive argument along with some substantive answers and then you've given me something I can do something with.

In this case, Arnold hasn't, and so I suggest you pass on this book.


I received this book free from the publisher 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.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

You haven't forgotten these heroes have you?

They conduct your weddings and officate at the funerals of your family members and friends.

They're the one you call at 2 a.m. when life falls apart and you need advice you can stake your life on.

They're one of the first to show up at your bedside in the hospital.

They're one of the helping hands when you move to a bigger place.

They pray over you as you bring your newborn child forward to dedicate yourselves as parents.

When you're in serious trouble, again they are there, but to help instead of shame you.

They're also the one who comes alongside you and is honest enough to tell you you're headed in the wrong direction and need to change your life. Then they offer to show you how you can do that.

This is one of the people you call on when your kids are going astray and you feel like you're losing them.

They may have been the one who introduced you to Jesus and buried you in Christ in baptism.

They are one of the most consistent and faithful at setting an example for you of what it means to be a faithful and obedient disciple of Christ.

And this is the person who spends hours and hours every week studying and praying so he can effectively teach you every week.

This list can go on and on about how your pastor serves and loves you and your family. This "hero" has the serious task of watching over your soul, and October is the month designated to show appreciation to your pastor for his life of service.

"Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit," Hebrews 13:17.

Sometimes --- maybe even often? --- we don't make the work of our pastors a joyful experience for them. But we can correct that, and there's still time left in this month to add our appreciation for all they have done.

I've heard far less about Pastor Appreciation this month than I have in previous years. I hope that's not because it's being overlooked. Let me encourage you, before the month is out, to do something special for your pastor. I won't bother to list ways you can do that, I'll encourage you to use your own creativity, but let me also encourage you to do as much as you can to honor your pastor. Pastors pour out their lives watching over your souls, so don't hesitate to "go all out" in doing something for your pastor to show genuine appreciation for all they do.

Give them a cause to be joyful that they get to serve you!


Sunday, October 26, 2014

An old strategy that is still destroying lives ...

As I was approaching the Las Vegas metro area from the northeast, I could barely make out the city skyline because of the thick brown haze that hugged the valley like a heavy wet blanket. I didn't know if it was dust or pollution that was obscuring my view, but neither made it desirable to drive into something so uninviting.

My perception changed radically once I drove deeper into the city limits.

Even though whatever it was that had originally shrouded the city was still in the air, I could no longer see it. The sky appeared to be clear with hardly a cloud to be seen. All that was visible was a beautifully bright blue sky on a warm day in the desert.

That's the problem with perception, it's often deceiving.

What appeared to be beautiful weather extending into the throes of Fall was still an atmosphere full of contaminates; it hadn't become healthier to breathe the air, but the perception that it had would have been convincing had I not first seen what I was really driving into.

That's how Satan operates.

From a proper vantage point perched upon the Gospel, we can see clearly that the world is contaminated with sin. In truth, it's ugly, it' not something healthy to drive our lives into. But it surrounds us, and it's all too easy to adjust our perception so that we take the vile as being something beautiful and welcoming. Close up, it doesn't seem so bad until you breathe it in, sucking the pollution into your life.

Originally, Satan used a false perception to lure Eve into sin. Today, there are "false apostles" who continue this strategy of destruction ...

"These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve," 2 Corinthians 11:13-15.

John warns us about these devious men who pollute leadership positions in the church ...

"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.

Such an ominous warning! So how can we tell if our perception about such leaders is correct or not? John provides an answer ...

"But if anyone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here," 1 John 4:3.

While this ages old strategy of deception for destruction continues, John encourages us with this ...

"But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. Those people belong to this world, so they speak from the world's viewpoint, and the world listens to them. But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception," 1 John 4:4-6.

How are you viewing life and what the world offers? Is it through the clear, accurate, and healthy view of biblical truth? Or have you sucked in the dangerous deception of modern-day deceivers?


Thursday, October 23, 2014

How to shortcircuit your faith and God's blessing ...

This has resulted in countless ministries never being launched ...

This has caused untold numbers of people, churches, and organizations to not take a risk ...

This has sapped the peace and joy out of innumerable days in the lives of believers ...

What is this terrible thing that deteriorates our faith into something other than truly trusting God?

It's when we attempt to turn God into a process of blessing that we try to manage.

Let me better explain that statement by sharing a powerful one-line tweet shared by Daniel Cooper: "I spend waaay too much time trying to figure out HOW God is going to provide and not nearly enough time just asking for His provision."

We may come to God and ask for our needs, or even the desires of our heart, but the problem is that we so often do not trust God with the "how" of our requests.

A couple decades ago, Charles F. Kettering wrote the following: "When I was research head of General Motors and wanted a problem solved, I'd place a table outside the meeting room with a sign: 'Leave slide rules here.' If I didn't do that, I'd find someone reaching for his slide rule. Then he'd be on his feet saying, 'Boss, you can't do it'."

We do the same with God. Using our finite, little human minds, we reduce God to our size and question HOW will God be able to come through on what we've asked for in our prayers. We need the provision and blessing of God, yet we try to manage that process by determining HOW God will provide. When we can't figure that out, we allow that human limitation to cause us to doubt God instead of trust Him.

But that's missing the point entirely, as faith is about trusting God for what we can't see and understand. It is especially trusting God with the "how."

"Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see," Hebrews 11:1.

The New Testament is full of exhortations for us to bring our requests before God, and Jesus taught us to be persistent --- to even pester God --- with our requests. But key to our asking God for what we need and what we want is trusting Him to provide. We make the requests, and we leave the "how" up to Him.

That's living by faith.

Are you living by faith? Do you make your requests known to God, and then trust Him to work out how He will provide for you? Or do you spend your time trying to figure out how God could possibly answer your prayers?


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A desperate appeal ... for Tupperware?!

The lady driving the big Suburban SUV I saw this afternoon must have exhausted all measures known to her. Finally, she had taken shoe polish and scrawled along the back window of her vehicle the following message:

"LOOKING FOR TUPPERWARE, CALL ME ..." and then she had written her phone number.

I don't know what the problem was. Did she find her cabinets full of Tupperware lids but not nearly enough Tupperware dishes to match?

Had she contributed to so many potlucks that the dishes had not been returned and now she was in lack?

Whatever the issue was, she seemed to be in desperate need of Tupperware, and so determined to find her cherished storage containers of choice that she was going public.

We human beings respond differently when we're frantically searching for something specific, and that includes when we're desperately searching for God.

What do you do when you're desperately looking for God?

A lot of people call their pastor. Others talk to a Christian friend. Still others boot up their computers and start googling. We tend to search for God every place except where He is directly.

First, God is omnipresent, He's everywhere, so He's really easy to find!

Second, the best place to "see" God is where He reveals Himself, and that's in the Bible. The Bible is the primary way God has chosen to reveal Himself to humanity. He wants us to see Him, to know Him, to understand Him --- and to be able to find Him! --- so He provided us with the Bible so that we really can know Him, learn about Him, and have a growing understanding of Him.

Third, since He is everywhere, just talk to Him ... find Him in prayer. Talk, but then listen.

And finally, if you're a Christian, then God's Holy Spirit is living inside you! Our relationship with the Holy Spirit is probably the least developed relationship in most of our lives, but why is that? Why would we not want to make knowing the Holy Spirit one of our greatest relationships, so that we have a remarkably intimate communion with the Spirit of God who has taken up residence in us?

Pastors and Christian friends and others can help point us to God, but He's not hard to find if we really want to find Him ... and if we look where we know He is.

But even when we know where to find God, we often still miss Him, because sometimes He's not who or what we're looking for.

"His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him --- though he is not far from any one of us," Acts 17:27.

God is not far from you. If you're looking for Him, look where you know you can see and hear Him, and then draw close.

"Come close to God, and God will come close to you ..." James 4:8a.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

An unscripted God ...

It wasn't that long ago someone told me I'm too spontaneous.

They don't know me very well.

I'm a planner.

I can assess, analyze, plan to the most minute detail, and be diligent about executing a plan. All of that can be good. But here's what I've also learned from living life and observing human behavior, as well as studying the Bible ...

... there are times when God just wants us to take an unscripted step of faith forward and let Him reveal His own plans to us. That is part of living by faith.

We can get so wrapped up in the dreaming, and planning, and scheming, and surmizing that life becomes all about what we've sketched out on paper and nothing about the One who holds our lives in His hands. So He often breaks into our lives to implant unscripted moments, unplanned circumstances, where we're forced to talk to Him in a different way that breaks the mold of our monotonous prayers and, at least for the moment, makes all those plans impractical.

Our plans are usually a script in pursuit of the "American dream," something that too many American Christians aren't yet willing to admit often moves us away from God rather than closer to Him. So God intervenes with some changes of His own that challenge us to again walk by faith rather than by sight, especially with eyes full of the unimportant, unnecessary, and unholy.

"We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps," Proverbs 16:9.

We can harmonize our plans with God's will by never planning without first praying. But even then, sometimes God just puts something off-script into our lives so that we have to be spontaneous, and that will quickly reveal the reality and health of our faith.

It's this kind of life Jesus was talking about in Luke 9:23 when Jesus says anyone wanting to be His disciple must deny themselves (which would include putting all those plans in submission to Him), take up their cross every day (pay the price the world will put on you for living out your faith), and follow Him along a largely unscripted path, walking by faith and not by sight.

Planning can be good, especially when it focuses on obeying and executing the will of God, to the glory of God. Is that what your plans are like? How do you respond when, in mid-step, God breaks your stride of executing your latest plan for yourself?


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Important personal prayer request ...

I am a praying man and believe in prayer. My public prayer requests are usually few, narrow, and more often than not ministry-related, and I have never used this blog for such a personal matter. But I need to ask for prayer support, yet I'm not sure where to begin. I will limit the information.

Today (Friday) I was the victim of a malicious crime.

Some people I've known and ministered to in a significant way (according to the key person committing the crime) had access to all of my personal belongs, especially all of my clothing, and they destroyed them. This included soaking them in lake water and rolling them in mud before then dousing them in paint and glitter, and finally ripping and tearing them. Other than the pair of jeans and hoodie I was wearing, not much remains besides a few gym clothes and a couple hoodies. Things like a heavy leather coat, winter leather gloves, a few suits and sport coats, slacks and shirts for times when I need to dress more professionally, jeans and t-shirts for casual wear, a good pair of wildebeest cowboy boots and hiking boots, even my 49ers cap --- all destroyed. Imagine if you had all your belongs in a room which caught on fire. A few things might remain while most are destroyed - that's my current situation.

The sheriff's department got an immediate confession from an adult female and two teens. I didn't know the teens were involved until the end of the investigation, and that impacted my decision about charges. The deputy was prepared to present them with a charge of felony destruction of property that wouldn't provide restitution but could result in jail time and a fine. I was able to meet with the father who had just returned from a business trip; he was a shocked and broken man. There is a time where justice is the route to pursue, and there's also a time for grace. I pray it was God's wisdom given to me as I chose the route of grace, as I believe this father can have an opportunity to step into this situation and bring about more real healing and restoration than felony jail time and fines would, at least at this time. He did not have the means to repay the damage. The destruction of my property may have been the tragedy that can open the eyes of this father as to how broken this family is and be the harsh wake-up call needed; if that is the case, then it is well with my soul.

But I share this request because I'm a little bewildered about how to start from here. I now pretty much have "nothing," and no resources at all to replace any of the destroyed goods. Yet, I'm grateful I have an outfit to wear, along with a pair of worn out and hole-y Nikes, and it appears my Bibles were spared. And I wasn't there to be subjected to violence. So, I say God is good, all the time! Yet I write all this seeking for your prayer support because the very human part of me is feeling some loss. I don't need much, but I do need some things, and those things are now gone. Would you simply pray with me for God's guiding from here? I trust Him with all that I am, and I know He'll lead me forward from this. I'm just not sure how to take the next step right now. He'll help me figure it out, and your prayers will be a sustaining source of strength. Thank you for reading this, and for praying for me. God bless you all!


Friday, October 17, 2014

Just how badly are you limiting yourself?

The greatest limits we'll face in life will be self-imposed. They'll come from what we tell ourselves we can't do, or from what we choose to believe about what others tell us we can't do.

So imagine the possibilities if those negative voices --- from ourselves and others --- weren't listened to.

During his first year of graduate study at the University of California at Berkeley, George Dantzig (later known as the father of linear programming) arrived late for a statistics class. He saw two problems on the blackboard. Assuming they were homework, he copied them and a few days later he turned in the solutions.

One Sunday morning six weeks later, the professor appeared at Dantzig's door, waving a manuscript. It turned out the professor had merely written two examples of unsolvable problems on the blackboard. The manuscript the teacher was waving was Dantzig's work the professor had readied for publication.

Imagine what might have happened if Dantzig had arrived to class in time to hear the professor tell his students the problems were unsolvable. In that situation, would Dantzig have tried to solve the problems? Because there wasn't someone telling him he couldn't do it, he simply did it!

We create our biggest limitations in life by the limits we establish --- by the limits we place on who we're willing to love, who we're willing to serve, what we're willing to learn, the work we're willing to do, the sacrifices we're willing to make, and the risks we're willing to take. Often these limits are far below what God has made us capable of, and constrain our lives to be much less full than they otherwise could be.

Jesus taught us to love everyone, deny ourselves, forgive constantly, serve others, work hard ---- in general, to live life within the fullness of the limits He set for us, which was designed to be a full, rich life. Are these the kind of limits you've put in place in your life? Or are you listening to the negative voices of yourself and others that keep you contained to someone less than God would have you be? What would your life look like if you lived fully within the limits God has set for us, rather than the limits you and others have set for you?


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Why the Bible doesn't talk about change the way we do ...

The first question I ask anyone who comes in for counseling is, "Why are you here?"

That question is far deeper than it might initially sound.

The response from many people is to immediately describe a terrible set of circumstances they are currently facing, or are about to face, and they say they want help with escaping, minimizing, or at least enduring those circumstances.

It's in situations like those that a highly competent counselor will help the person understand the inadequacy of their goal.

You see, real change as persons doesn't come by escaping, minimizing, or just enduring terrible circumstances that often come from our own bad choices. Real change only comes when we learn why those circumstances have occurred, and learn how to have different desires and make different decisions so that we don't continue to create the same kind of bad circumstances for ourselves and/or others.

Often, in their current state of irrational thinking, the person who just walked into the counseling office thinks, "If I just can escape or get through this okay, I'll never put myself into that kind of situation again." That may feel very true at the moment, but that thought and feeling are very often not true. In the heat of trying circumstances, we just want out of a bad situation. But it is very commonplace for people to put themselves into the same kind of bad circumstances over and over ... and over and over and over again. That's because their real goal was not personal change, it was getting out of the bad circumstances. Once they're finally on the other side of those circumstances, they continue to have the same desires, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that created those old problems, so it's not long until they have a new set of negative circumstances.

Who we are, and how we live, always generates consequences which directly impacts and shapes the circumstances we find ourselves in. If how you live routinely creates negative consequences, and bad circumstances, then you need your self changed in order to be able to live differently. For real change going forward, you have to experience a transformation of your desires and thoughts; as your thoughts change, your feelings will change, and transformed thoughts and emotions will bring transformation to your behavior.

When we talk about change, it's usually in terms of changing our circumstances. But God, who knows all things, thinks very differently about "change" when it comes to us. While God may care about the circumstances you find yourself in, He cares much more about you, and it's His desire to transform you so that you are changed forever! That's because He understands the root of the problem ...

"As scriptures say, 'No one is righteous --- not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one'," Romans 3:10-12.

Without real personal change, we will always be inclined to sin and we'll live a life that is destructive for ourselves and others. God wants to do more than change the circumstances of the choices we make, He wants to transform us from the inside out so that we have the righteousness of Christ and are made holy in Him. From that kind of change come desires, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that build a life of holiness and wholeness rather than brokenness and destructiveness. And when you live that life, empowered by the Holy Spirit living in you, then you won't have to fear the outcome of the desires and decisions made from a position of holiness.

You won't be perfect  in this life, but God does more than promise to change us into the likeness of His Son; He also promises to walk with us through this life, every step of the way, helping us to grow up into the likeness of Christ, to lead us through our trials and momentary failures, and to see us through to the completion of our earthly human experience.

In that case, which change do you really want?


Thursday, October 9, 2014

You can't always trust what you DO see ...

There's a broadly told story about Mr. Johnson, a business man from Wisconsin, who went on a trip to Louisiana. Upon his arrival, he immediately sent an email to his wife, Jennifer.

Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson forgot his wife's exact email address, so the email ended up going to a Mrs. Joan Johnson of New Jersey, the wife of a preacher who had just passed away. The preacher's wife took one look at the email and promptly fainted.

When she was finally revived by her daughter, she nervously pointed to the message, which read: "Arrived safely, but it sure is hot down here!"

There's an interesting moral to this story which is: You can't always trust what you DO see! At least, not on "face value." There may be more to the story than is visible, but to react to only what you see could cause a lot of problems for you and for others.

Scripture paints a similar picture when we're so quick to make accusations just from something we've observed ...

"Just because you've seen something, don't be in a hurry to go to court. For what will you do in the end if your neighbor deals you a shameful defeat?" Proverbs 25:7b-8.

There are times when what we see is unquestionable. But before you react to something you've observed, make sure what you think you saw is the truth. You may need to check the facts by asking questions and clarifying with others prior to making any final conclusions. Simply put, before you act on what you saw, be sure you understand what it really was that you saw.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

You will never make much of life without taking risks ...

Most of us live well below the capacity God has endowed us with because we're risk-adverse people.

Another way of saying that is, we're afraid to take risks.

To hide that fact, we become very good at explaining how we want to be responsible and be good stewards. Yet, the reality is, we're just afraid of failing.

In order to accomplish much in life, we must take risks. But it is true that the risks we take should be thought through first. At least, that's what Jesus taught when He explained that we should first understand the cost of being His disciple ...

"But don't begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, 'There's the person who started that building and and couldn't afford to finish it!' Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can't, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away," Luke 14:28-32.

By counting the costs first, we might avoid a bad risk, like starting a construction project that a little prior consideration would reveal we couldn't afford. But there are some risks worth taking, even when it costs us everything. That's revealed in the next sentence of this passage of scriptures ...

"So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own," Luke 14:33.

Jesus clearly and concisely reveals the cost of being His disciple: it will cost a person everything. But risking surrendering everything is worth it!

Pastor Adrian Rogers once said, "You have to get out on a limb, because that's where the fruit is."

To follow Christ is to risk surrendering everything and trusting Christ alone for life and all that we'll ever need. It means making available all that we have in service to Him and His kingdom. It means taking risks!

It does not mean adopting the attitude of the farmer ...

"Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest," Ecclesiastes 11:4.

We can wait so long for just the right time --- when risks are low --- that we never plant, never harvest, or never really follow Christ. There will never be a time when you can live as a disciple of Jesus Christ without facing risks.

John Henry Jowett, a great English preacher, pointed out the temptation of self-preservation and its result in faithfless lives ...

"It is possible to evade a multitude of sorrows through the cultivation of an insignificant life. Indeed, if a man's ambition is to avoid the troubles of life, the recipe is simple: shed your ambitions in every direction, cut the wings of every soaring purpose, and seek the life with the fewest contacts and relations. If you want to get through the world with the smallest trouble, you must reduce yourself to the smallest compass. Tiny souls can dodge through life; bigger souls are blocked on every side. As soon as a man begins to enlarge his life, his resistances are multiplied. Let a man remove his petty selfish purpose and enthrone Christ, and his sufferings will be increased on every side."

Hudson Taylor, the great man of faith who founded the China Inland Mission, overcame the issue of taking risks by integrating faith with risk. He said, "Unless there is an element of risk in our exploits for God, there is no need for faith."

God calls us to a life of faith, which means there will be risks. Taking the risk of following Christ will cost you everything. But making that leap of faith will be the best, most rewarding decision in your life.

What are you risking for Christ?


Monday, October 6, 2014

Are you really generous, or are you fooling yourself?

If you were in need --- real need, the kind that requires help from a friend --- how would you want your friend to respond to your need?

While you ruminate on that question, add this insight from scripture to your thinking ...

"Give and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full --- pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back," Luke 6:38.

We often pay little attention to the fact that what we receive has much to do with how we give. We tend to be more like the ambitious farmer who was unhappy about the yield of his crops. The farmer heard of a highly recommended new seed corn so he bought some. The new seed produced a crop that was so abundant his astonished neighbors asked him to sell them a portion of the new seed. But the farmer, afraid he would lose a profitable competitive advantage, refused to share.

It's too bad for the farmer that he was unwilling to sell some what blessed him because after the second year of using the new seed, he did not produce as good a crop, and when the third-year crop was still worse it dawned on him that his prize corn was being pollinated by the inferior grade corn from his neighbors' fields. The farmer's fate would have been different had he shared.

In reality, we often are not truly generous people, even though we don't want to admit that about ourselves, and we certainly don't want others to think that about us. In an attempt to get around the truth about our lack of or limited generosity, we play games with our own thinking.

You may have heard the story of two friends who met for dinner at a restaurant. Each ordered filet of sole, and after a few minutes the waiter returned with their orders. Two pieces of fish, a large and a small, were on the same platter. One of the men proceeded to serve his friend. Placing the small piece on a plate, he handed it across the table.

"Well, you certainly do have nerve!" exclaimed the friend.

"What's troubling you?" asked the other.

"Look what you've done," he answered. "You've given me the little piece and kept the big one for yourself."

"How would you have done it?" the other man asked.

"Well," replied his friend, "if I were serving, I would have given you the big piece."

"Well," responded the man, "I've got it, haven't I?"

At this, they both laughed.

But it really isn't funny when we pretend to be more generous than we are. In fact, God thinks such behavior is atrocious, and the consequences of attempting such pretense can be catastrophic. At least it was for Ananias and Sapphira. We read about this couple in Acts 5 ...

"But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife's consent, he kept the rest," Acts 5:1.

As the story goes, pretending to be more generous than they really were cost Ananias and Sapphira their lives --- God struck them down, dead!

Instead of building a veneer of caring and generosity, God wants us to truly care and be generous. So much so, He often links our giving to what we receive.

In that case, let's return to the original question: if you were in need --- real need, the kind that requires help from a friend, how would you want your friend to respond to your need? Look closely at your answer and you might find the measure of how you should give. Now that looks much more like real generosity, doesn't it?


P.S. For more insight about the topic of giving and generosity, let me point you to an outstanding little book that is very much worth buying, reading, and even sharing. It's the book called "Plastic Donuts," and you can find my original review of the book at this link

Sunday, October 5, 2014

YOU think you're trustworthy, but does God?

In is book, "Making Today Count For Eternity," author Kent Crockett tells a story about a hardware store manager who wanted to test the integrity and character of prospective employees. The manager sent a young man up to the attic to pick through a large box of old nails and screws, separating the useable from the refuse. The attic was stifling hot ...

" ... the young man spent hours looking through the box, separating useable nails and screws from things that should be thrown away. When he picked up one of the last items in the box, he noticed a twenty dollar bill lying on the bottom. He grabbed the bill raced downstairs, and said, 'Oh, Mr. Peters! Look what I found in the box --- twenty dollars! Then he handed the money to the boss. Mr. Peters ... knew he could trust the boy to work in his store ...

"He wanted to see if the boy would complete the job and keep a good attitude, even though he didn't understand why he was doing seemingly useless work. He had also planted a twenty dollar bill at the bottom of the box to test his employee's honesty. If the boy didn't report finding the money, how could Mr. Peters trust him with the cash register? And by finishing the job in the hot attic and giving the money to his boss rather than pocketing it, he proved that he was both faithful and honest. Years later, when Mr. Peters retired, he turned his business over to the young man to manage."

Trustworthiness is an important characteristic for employers to consider about their employees. Even more, it's an important characteristic that God takes into account about us! The Apostle Paul points out it was his trustworthiness that was part of why God called Him to his ministry ...

"I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him," 1 Timothy 1:12.

God has entrusted great riches to us, things like the Gospel and the ministry of reconciling others to Him (see 2 Cor. 5:18-20), marriages, children, friendships, the best interests of employers, time, earthy resources, our physical bodies, and so much more. God has entrusted a lot to you and me!

Are you trustworthy?

What are you doing with all that God has entrusted you with?

In his book, Crockett concluded his illustration with this:

"Did you know that life on earth is also a test? All our earthly responsibilities --- even the ones that seem insignificant --- are in the old juke box in the attic. God is watching us to see if we will faithfully sort through life's experiences, keeping the good, throwing out the junk, exhibiting a positive attitude when we don't understand, and finishing our work. If we prove ourselves to be good and faithful during our early test, God will grant us far greater duties in the next life."

"The master was full of praise. 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let's celebrate together!'" Matthew 25:21.

When you stand before God, will He celebrate your trustworthiness?


Saturday, October 4, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: An exciting telling of a faithful life ...

You believe God has given you a vision for ministry, so you boldly step out in faith to obey His call and turn that God-given dream into reality.

Then everything seems to go wrong, and in a very big way.

Most would turn tail and go home. David Livingstone refused to do so.

Because of his great faithfulness in pursuing what he believed his mission was, God used Livingstone in a way that impacted people around the world. Fascinating us with his telling of that story is author Jay Milbrandt, who manages to keep us riveted to the pages of his new book, "The Daring Heart of David Livingstone" (published by Nelson Books).

Most people think of Livingstone as a great missionary, yet he had only one convert who would not remain faithful. Livingstone is also thought of as a great explorer, but he never found what he was looking for. But far fewer know that Livingstone was the sole person most responsible for bringing an end to the East African slave trade. By enduring great hardships and persevering tremendous trials, God would even use Livingstone's "failures" to accomplish more than this man realized before his painful death.

Milbrandt's impeccable storytelling skills takes the reader from Livingtone's hero status in London, back onto the rivers of Africa, and winds us through the troubles, trials, and tragedies Livingstone would witness and experience before bringing us to a final triumph. Packed into the action captured in these pages is the revealing of the real man who we learn was heavily flawed and not initially very personable. But God would use the difficulties of traversing Africa to mellow and shape Livingstone into a man who only --- and desperately --- wanted to be used by God.

"The Daring Heart of David Livingstone" is a story that can inspire you to examine your own heart and inquire of yourself just what you might be willing to dare and endure for God. That's more than enough reason for me to heartily recommend this book.


I received this book free from HarperCollins Christian Publishing as part of their BookLook 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.”

Friday, October 3, 2014

Are you too proud to get help?

Even though we haven't formally or fully launched the services of the Scott Free Clinic yet, we have already been able to help many people, pastors, and a few churches. By removing the barrier of cost, this help has been available to those who otherwise couldn't have afforded it.

You would think once the barriers to getting help (like cost) are removed, people would flock to get the help they need. Many have, and many, many more will.

But some will not.

Over the years of counseling people, there have been many occasions where I've observed people who know they have real problems, and even believe they need help to resolve them, but still refuse to go to a counselor even when the service is provided for free. In the back of their minds, these people tell themselves, "I still think I can handle this myself," even though reality is vividly demonstrating otherwise.

This attitude is called pride, and scripture indicates it can cause us great trouble ...

"Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall," Proverbs 16:18.

Such was the case during the Battle of the Wilderness in the Civil War when Union general John Sedgwick was inspecting his troops. At one point he came to a parapet, over which he gazed out in the direction of the enemy. His officers suggested that this was unwise and perhaps he should duck while passing the parapet.

"Nonsense!" snapped the general. "They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist---"

A moment later Sedgwick fell to the ground, mortally wounded.

There are many who suffer from depression, anxiety, phobias, post traumatic stress disorder, failing relationships, addictions, anger management issues, and other mental, emotional, and behavioral problems, as well as the consequences of assorted sins, and find themselves suffering without relief, floundering aimlessly and headed for a fall.

Yet they still refuse to get help.

"Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall."

If you look at men and women who seem to really have their lives together in a good, strong way, many of them will tell you they have been over-confident and prideful in the past but they learned the hard way that pride can ruin them.

Golf legend Arnold Palmer tells the story of how being over-confident in his own ability cost him dearly ...

"It was the final hole of the 1961 Masters tournament, and I had a one-stroke lead and had just hit a very satisfying tee shot. I felt I was in pretty good shape. As I approached my ball, I saw an old friend standing at the edge of the gallery. He motioned me over, stuck out his hand and said, 'Congratulations!' I took his hand and shook it, but as soon as I did, I knew I had lost my focus. On my next two shots, I hit the ball into a sand trap, then put it over the edge of the green. I missed a putt and lost the Masters. You don't forget a mistake like that, you just learn from it and become determined that you will never do that again. I haven't in the 30 years since."

If your life is a broken mess, stop telling yourself you can handle it on your own. You can't. You need help.

Before dancing with pride again, just understand that everyone is broken ("... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" Ro. 3:23) and we have all, at some time in our lives, needed help. All of us need the grace and transforming love of God. Some of us have been greatly helped to overcome struggles by the loving support of family and friends, or a pastor or brothers and sisters in Christ. And many have been helped by the competent skill of an experienced Christian therapist.

So don't make it an issue of pride to seek and accept the help you need. Just go get it!


Thursday, October 2, 2014

What are you so mad about?

There's a question I sometimes float onto social media sites. I ask, "Do you think you can get through the rest of the day without getting angry?"

The purpose for the question isn't the obvious thing you might think. I put the question out to my readers because so many people today are angry --- some even seething with anger --- but may not even realize how angry they are. When confronted with the question, many are startled at the challenge when they realize how hard getting through the remainder of their day without getting angry might be for them.

There's a lot of anger out there!

I don't mean the "righteous indignation" kind of anger, either. It is true that anger can have a righteous purpose, and it is an emotion God equipped us with. Dr. David Seamands wrote the following about this:

"Anger is a divinely implanted emotion. Closely allied to our instinct for right, it is designed to be used for constructive spiritual purposes. The person who cannot feel anger at evil is a person who lacks enthusiasm for good. If you cannot hate wrong, it's very questionable whether you really love righteousness."

The problem is, much of our anger isn't that healthy emotion used for "constructive spiritual purposes," which is why James wrote, "Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires," (James 1:20).

So what are you so mad about?

For many, they have lost the distinction between an annoyance and grounds for anger, and exercise little self-discipline when annoyed by a simple disturbance.

A young girl who was writing a paper for a school assignment approached her father and asked, "Dad, what is the difference between anger and annoyance?"

The father replied, "It's mostly a matter of degree. Let me show you what I mean."

With that, the father took his cell phone and dialed a number at random. To the man who answered the phone, he said, "Hello, is Melvin there?"

The man answered, "There is no one living here named Melvin. Why don't you learn to look up numbers before you dial?" and then disconnected the call.

"See," said the father to his daughter, "that man was not a bit happy with my call. He was probably busy with something and we annoyed him. Now watch ..."

The father dialed the same phone number. "Hello, is Melvin there?" he asked.

"Now look here!" came the heated reply. "You just called this number and I told you there is no Melvin here! You've got a lot of guts calling again!" then the man hung up.

The father turned to his daughter and said, "You see, that was anger. Now I'll show you what annoyance means ..."

The dad dialed the same number, and a violent voice roared, "Hello!"

The father calmly said, "Hello, this is Melvin. Have there been any calls for me?"

Okay, I know many of you are thinking you would get angry if someone called you like that, but did you get the point? While something may be an annoyance because it's an interruption, how much of what we're mad about is worthy of all the effects of being angry?

How easily do you become angry? Do you let annoyances lead you to anger? Or do you exercise enough self-discipline to contain your anger to matters worthy of righteous indignation?

By the way, did you even realize how often you become angry?


BOOK REVIEW: An interesting read if you're an uber politico ...

Even though names for presidential candidates are already being bantered around, it' still too early for any really exciting discussions about the 2016 election.

So what to do?

Well, for all those uber politicos out there, Patrick Buchanan can help you fill the political void with his latest book, "The Greatest Comeback," published by Crown Forum.

You would have to be an uber politico to wade through this hardback, which has a very narrow topic that is stated concisely in the book's sub-title: "How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority."

Don't expect a biography on Nixon, or a behind-the-scenes look at his administration. This is the story of how Nixon surprised everyone by not only resurrecting his political career, but achieved an astonishing political comeback that made him the 37th President of the United States.

As far as that goes, don't expect the book to be entirely about Nixon. While Buchanan does tell of Nixon's rise to the presidency, a lot of the story is told regarding his own contribution to crafting Nixon's win.

"The Greatest Comeback" picks up after Nixon's loss to John F. Kennedy in 1960, and then his embarrassing failed attempt for the governorship of California in 1962. Everyone thought that was the end of Nixon's political career. It's at that point this story begins.

But don't expect an easy-flowing story. This book clips along rapidly at dishing out the nuts-and-bolts activity of developing and executing political strategy than it does at telling the story of Nixon, the person, during this time. That's why you really do have to be an uber politico to enjoy this volume; you'll be awash in names both familiar and not of politicians, pundits, political hacks, and journalists and their small or large bits in rebuilding a new majority that would put Nixon in power.

At times, I thought there's just too much minutia in the telling of this story, and no real broad, compelling story lines. Yet, I found myself reading just one more page until I had completed the book.

Maybe there's a little uber politico in myself.

That and an interest in political history, and this book might be an interesting filler until the 2016 campaign really begins to light up.


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.”

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Maybe we should stop praying this way and do this instead ...

Michelangelo --- a sculptor, painter, and architect, among other things --- was considered the greatest living artist in his lifetime. So you may be familiar with one or both of the following quotes attributed to him ...

"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

"Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it."

If you put a block of marble in front of most of us and told us to sculpt something, many of us would panic. Not Michelangelo. He saw masterpieces in his mind, and carved the stone until what he had envisioned had turned into reality,

I think God often puts "blocks of marble" in front of us in the form of challenges. Our automatic response is, more often than not, to immediately pray for God to deliver us from this challenge! Instead, God places the stone in our lives with the intent that we make a masterpiece of it.

A block of a marriage ...

A block of children to parent ...

A block of friendships ...

A large block of church family ...

A block of the least, the last, and the lost ...

A block of work ...

... lots of blocks from which He would like us to carve something. Some will be masterpieces, others more mildly beautiful. But all work to be crafted by us, but inspired by Him.

He doesn't want to deliver us from the stone, He set them into our lives so we can make something beautiful out of them, all to His glory! Again, like Michelangelo, who was also credited with saying, "Many believe --- and I believe --- that I have been designated for this work by God. In spite of my old age, I do not want to give it up; I work out of love for God and I put all my hope in Him."

So instead of always praying for God to deliver us or do something for us, maybe we should pray for the inspiration and steady hands to carve something beautiful out of what God has put in front of us. Maybe we should strive to turn the challenges God allows in our lives into art that glorifies Him.

If you did that, how could that change your life?