Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Take this thought with you into 2015 ...

It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It began by my taking a vacation to Melbourne, Australia some years ago. I was living in Hawaii at the time and had already visited Sydney, so I thought what better place to enjoy Christmas and ring in the New Year than "down under" in a city I had never visited. New Year's Eve is also my birthday, so going that time of year would just be a grand celebration!

I had a great week seeing the sights and even taking in a cricket game before the New Year finally arrived. The TV news reported about a quarter million Aussies were spilling into the streets to bring in the New Year, and I was right in the middle of them!

What a blast!

But about a half hour past midnight, I had to dash back to my hotel, grab my bags and take a taxi to the airport for my flight home to Waikiki.

Somewhere on the flight home we crossed the international dateline. What that meant was that my flight landed in Honolulu about 11:20 p.m. ... on December 31! I had just enough time to rush to Waikiki and celebrate my birthday and bring in the New Year all over again with my friends!

Most people never get the experience of having their birthday and bring a New Year twice (literally!) in the same day! That truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.

And that's my point as we're poised to roll into 2015: You only get to live each day once, and then it's gone. If the Lord is patient and gracious, He will supply you with 365 fresh new days very shortly. You'll have the opportunity to live out each 24-hour segment just once.

What are you going to do with that gift of time?

Once it's spent, it's gone for good.

Jesus considered what's really important for any human being, and He summed up what should be our greatest priorities in life like this ...

"Jesus replied, 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments," Matthew 22:37-40.

If you obey the Lord by stuffing each new day of 2015 full with the kind of love He speaks of in this text, then you'll know you spent your days as well as you possibly could.

Here's wishing you days full of the love of the Lord in 2015!


The mother of all resolutions ...

So here it is, folks, the last day of 2014!

Do you have your resolutions, goals, plans, or objectives for 2015 all written out, or are you scrambling to come up with something to make it appear like you have a personal direction for the new year?

Why not make as the focus of the coming year what God desires the focus of your life to be?

What would that be?

That you become like Christ.

There is a legend about a king who longed for a son. Finally, to the joy of the king and the celebration of the palace, a baby boy was born. But the infant was born partially paralyzed. Years went by but the young boy remained in a wheelchair. The disappointed king ordered his sculptor to make a statue of a strong, virile man and to place that statue in the middle of the courtyard. When it was finished, the boy was wheeled out to the statue and was told the statue was the image of the man his father hoped he would become some day. The boy prince straightened himself a little in the chair. Everyday he was wheeled by that statue and every day he would try to straighten himself a little more. This continued until, one day, the young prince pushed himself up from the wheelchair and, on wobbly legs, stood looking at the statue with determination to be the man his father wanted him to be. Finally, in his early twenties, the prince walked confidently on strong legs across the palace courtyard, stood beneath the statue, looked up and saw a perfect likeness of himself.

Now, God has set the image of Jesus Christ in front of us as a model of what He wants us to become one day. Even though we have been partially paralyzed by sin, if we rely on Him daily, day by day we’ll grow and one day we will fully reflect His image.

"For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters," Romans 8:29.

"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. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won't be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church," Ephesians 4:13-15.

The greatest direction any of us can have for our lives is the one God has for our lives - to become like Christ. How can you make that the central focus of your own life in 2015?


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A rock-solid foundation for 2015 ...

If you've read my blog long enough, you know I have a general disdain for platitudes, largely because they contain falsehoods that are broadly shared as truth. Well, I ran across another one yesterday, this time a quote from Wayne Dyer ...

"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."

That statement is far more wrong than it is right. Just by changing the way you look at something doesn't make what you're looking at change. It means you're changing how you think and what you think, even though what you're looking at hasn't changed.

For example, imagine that in your city, every time you pull up to a certain intersection there is a homeless man holding a sign asking for help. You might be the type of person who sits in his car with seething anger toward the man, thinking, "He just needs to get a job, you know God helps those who help themselves!" (there's another platitude that's biblically inaccurate!).

Now imagine you read a newspaper story about that same homeless man, detailing that he's a Army veteran who served with distinction and he's homeless because his house burned down, his family is dysfunctional to the point they don't care about his situation, and he's received a little food and offers of prayer from friends, but he's largely been left to fend for himself. Having learned some truth about the man holding the sign at the intersection, would your opinion of him change? Or would you still sit in your car with a seething judgment against him?

By changing the way you look at this man --- by applying truth --- who you were looking at didn't change, you changed by thinking differently.

One of the most effective ways you can build a better foundation for your life in the New Year is committing to live through 2015 by applying truth to your life, in your relationships, and through all your considerations, decisions, and circumstances.

Truth eliminates the problem of "perspectives" or faulty thinking by revealing to us the reality of people and things. Truth is the one solid foundation on which we can build our lives that will not fail us regarding people or situations. And truth is discovered in the living Word (Jesus Christ) and the written Word of God ...

"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.

"Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth," John 17:17.

Jesus directly taught that applying the truth of His teaching to our lives will be the means of having a foundation for living that will not fail us ...

"Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won't collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn't obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash," Matthew 7:24-27.

Cleveland Amory tells the story about Judge John Lowell of Boston. One morning the judge was at breakfast, his face hidden behind the morning newspaper. A frightened maid tiptoed into the room and whispered something into Mrs. Lowell's ear. The lady paled slightly, then squared her shoulders resolutely and said, "John, the cook has burned the oatmeal, and there is no more in the house. I am afraid that this morning, for the first time in 17 years, you will have to go without your oatmeal."

The judge, without putting down his newspaper, answered, "It's all right, my dear. Frankly, I never cared much for it anyhow."

For almost two decades, Mrs. Lowell lived with the false assumption that her husband loved having oatmeal for breakfast. What a refreshing change for Judge Lowell that his wife discovered the truth! Making the truth of Christ the foundation for your life throughout the coming New Year just might be the refreshing change you've needed in your life. Try it!


Monday, December 29, 2014

Sometimes, baby steps are just for babies ...

There's a time and a place for baby steps.

Take, for example, when you're a baby.

No one expects for a baby to suddenly stand up and go bounding confidently across the living room floor with the balance and grace of an Olympic gymnast on a balance beam. Quite the opposite. Taking that first step will require many attempts and many falls before there is finally a wobbling, tottering step followed by yet another fall.

Learning to walk requires baby steps.

A lot of our leaders treat the people they lead like babies.

They do this by constantly encouraging them to take baby steps forward.

There's a time and a place for baby steps, and sometimes that does include taking baby steps forward as adults.

But often it doesn't.

What so many of these leaders don't take into account is that our greatest growth, our most profound forward progress in life, often is not achieved with a baby step. Instead, it often comes with an adult deciding to surrender to the power of the Holy spirit, and to tap into that discipline and self-control that God has given us (2 Tim. 1:7), and take some grown-up steps forward.

The recovering addict reduces his forward progress to a day at a time, but only after taking that huge leap of deciding to do whatever it takes to quit his addiction.

The entrepreneur has a long list of little things to get done in her day, but that's because she's made the leap to turn a dream into a reality.

The pastor with a heart to reach the lost still encourages his congregation to invite people to church services, but he's also taken the big step of training his flock to go out into the community as an army of ambassadors for Christ to share the Gospel with people who are lost.

Making big progress in life, in relationships, and in churches and organizations always demands that we do more than just take baby steps. At some point, we must take long, full strides as adults and cover some ground!

Sometimes --- sometimes --- baby steps are just for babies, and big, bold steps are for faithful, courageous adults.

Is that you?

Or are you more like a duck?

Christian sociologist, pastor, author and motivational speaker, Tony Compolo, describes one of his favorite Kierkegaard stories, The Parable of the Ducks, in his book, "Let Me Tell You A Story":
"Once there was a town where only ducks lived. Every Sunday the ducks waddled out of their houses and waddled down Main Street to their church. They waddled into the sanctuary and squat down in their proper pews. The duck choir would waddle in and take its place, then the duck minister would come forward and open his duck Bible (ducks, like all other creatures on earth, seem to have their own special version of the Scriptures). He would read to them: 'Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you! You have wings and you can fly like birds!' All the ducks would shout, 'Amen!' And then they would all waddle home."
Campolo concluded, "How descriptive that story is of many church people. They hear of their potential in Christ. They agree with the declarations about the new life that can be there through faith commitment. But in the end, they do not act upon what they have heard. They do not make the commitment. They simply say, ‘Amen!’ and continue on in life as they always have."

Sometimes, we reduce the challenge of walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ to the slow, meandering waddle of a duck when the call is to walk like Jesus ...

"For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps," 1 Peter 2:21.

"Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did," 1 John 2:6.

"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.

As you look forward to a New Year and make resolutions and plans for 2015, are you conjuring up more baby steps? Or are you willing to take some big steps into a bigger, bolder future?


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Are you living in spiritual poverty? You don't have to ...

Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, used to tell this story of a famous oil field called Yates Pool ...

"During the depression this field was a sheep ranch owned by a man named Yates. Mr. Yates wasn’t able to make enough on his ranching operation to pay the principal and interest on the mortgage, so he was in danger of losing his ranch. With little money for clothes or food, his family (like many others) had to live on government subsidy. Day after day, as he grazed his sheep over those rolling West Texas hills, he was greatly troubled about how he would pay his bills. Then a seismographic crew from an oil company came into the area and told him there might be oil on his land. They asked permission to drill a wildcat well, and he signed a lease contract. At 1,115 feet they struck a huge oil reserve. The first well came in at 80,000 barrels a day. Many subsequent wells were more than twice as large. In fact, 30 years after the discovery, a government test of one of the wells showed it still had the potential flow of 125,000 barrels of oil a day. And Mr. Yates owned it all! The day he purchased the land, he had received the oil and mineral rights. Yet, he’d been living on relief. A multimillionaire living in poverty. The problem? He didn’t know the oil was there, even though he owned it. Many Christians live in spiritual poverty. They are entitled to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and his energizing power, but they are not aware of their birthright."

Are you one of those Christians living in spiritual poverty?

Many Christians live as if surrendering their lives to Jesus Christ and entering into a covenant relationship with Him has no real effect. They act as if they're obtaining safety for the coming Judgment Day, and little else.

But a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ is supposed to be deeply impactful personally, with the follower of Christ experiencing an ongoing inner transformation that has very real results internally and externally.

"I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God," Ephesians 3:16-19.

Your covenant relationship with Jesus Christ is the most life-changing, enriching, and enabling experience you will ever have. How different could 2015 be for you if you tapped into your "spiritual birthright" by trusting Jesus Christ? How different could your life be if you just drilled down into God's love for you?


Saturday, December 27, 2014

How to have a different heart in 2015 ...

It's that week between Christmas and the coming of a New Year when, at some point, we're supposed to give the obligatory consideration to personal change.

Often that's all it is, an empty tradition of racking our brains for a New Year's resolution that sounds good but doesn't mean much ... at least, doesn't really mean much personal change.

We tend to think more in terms of tweaking our lives rather than changing them, to adjusting for greater comfort of our ride through this life than changing our role in it. Washington Irving Collins long ago described our willingness to change as being something closer to a self-indulgent shift ...

"There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse; as I have found in traveling in a stage coach, that it is often a comfort to shift one's position and be bruised in a new place."

That's often the extent of our mini-excursions into change, just the tweaking of our posture to minimize the bruising the world gives us.

When was the last time you gave serious consideration about real personal transformation? And I don't mean daydreaming about what life might be like if others or circumstances changed. It's easy to be like the man from the mountains of Tennessee who one day found himself in a large city and, for the first time, standing in front of an elevator. He watched as an old, haggard woman hobbled on and the doors closed behind her. A few minutes later the doors opened and a young, attractive woman marched off the elevator. The man turned and hollered to his son, "Billy, go git yer mother!"

What if, instead of being afraid of or reticent about change, we embraced the idea of letting God make all the changes He desires to make in us? What if we were open to the idea of actually letting God change our hearts?

What would we look like with a heart shaped by God?

In his book, "Shaped By Grace," Max Lucado wrote about how some years ago he underwent a heart procedure ...

"My heartbeat had the regularity of a telegraph operator sending Morse code. Fast, fast, fast! Slooooow. After several failed attempts to restore healthy rhythm with medication, my doctor decided I should have a catheter ablation. The plan went like this: a cardiologist would insert two cables in my heart via a blood vessel. One was a camera; the other was an ablation tool. To ablate is to burn. Yes, burn, cauterize, singe, brand. If all went well, the doctor, to use his coinage, would destroy the 'misbehaving' parts of my heart.
"As I was being wheeled into surgery, he asked if I had any final questions. (Not the best choice of words.) I tried to be witty.
“'You’re burning the interior of my heart, right?' 'Correct.'
“'You intend to kill the misbehaving cells, yes?' 'That is my plan.'
“'As long as you are in there, could you take your little blow-torch to some of my greed, selfishness, superiority, and guilt?'
"He smiled and answered, 'Sorry, that’s out of my pay grade'.” 
Lucado concluded, "Indeed it was, but it’s not out of God’s. He is in the business of changing hearts."

If we were really serious about change --- not just tweaking our lives or shifting our posture --- but willing for God to go crazy on transforming us, even to the point of changing our hearts, what could He do?

Here's an example ...

"And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations," Ezekiel 36:26-27.

Can you imagine going into 2015 with a transformed heart? What do you think a new year could hold in store for you with that kind of change?


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord's glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. 'Don't be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior --- yes, the Messiah, the Lord --- has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.' Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others --- the armies of heaven --- praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased'," Luke 2:8-14.

I hope every one of you have a blessed and very merry Christmas!


A blue collar God ...

We've all seen it.

At the point where traffic slows to a crawl, just beyond the orange caution cones, are three or four stern looking men leaning on an official vehicle with orange flashing lights, trying to appear important as they gaze at a lone worker in a hole digging away, doing all the work himself.

Why does it seem there are so many supervisors for the one guy who is really doing the work and getting things done?

That construction scenario is a snapshot of the two kinds of people we find in the world. There are people who talk a great deal, and attempt to appear important, but in the long run don't really contribute much to the world or their relationships. Then there are the hard-working blue collar guys who strain their backs, coat their clothes in sweat, and get done what needs to be done.

I like to refer to these two types of people as INSPECTORS and INVESTORS ...

Inspectors are those people who don't really make a positive contribution in their relationships because they have no intention of doing the real work loving others requires. Instead, they're inspectors. They critique the lives of others, identify flaws, criticize productivity, demand something different or something more, but they don't make any consequential or substantial investment in most of the people they interact with. They are not there to work, they're just there to "inspect."

Then there are the investors. These are people who are constantly pouring their time, talent, and resources into other people. They labor over helping others, they sweat over bearing other people's burdens, and they produce great products of love in their relationships because they live their lives investing who they are and what they have into others.

These two types of people reflect one of two allegiances we as human beings can have. In Revelation 12:10 Satan is referred to as the "accuser of our brothers and sisters." That's because he tries to usurp the "inspector" role in the lives of Christians. He stands before God complaining about the sub-par lives we live, and making accusations against believers. Then there is the great investor, Jesus Christ, whose entire earthly experience was one of pouring into us the love, grace, and mercy of God to the point of offering Himself as a sacrifice on a cruel cross as God's great investment in us.

Who are you more like?

Do you spend more time inspecting, judging, measuring, and commenting on the lives of others without investing in them? When was the last time you got down into a friend's hole and helped them dig? Do you routinely find the flaws in the lives of others and enjoy pointing them out?

Or do you invest with abandon in the lives of others to their benefit? Do you sweat to build relationships that are great products of love? How far are you willing to sacrifice for others?


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas is a profound lesson in how to treat your enemy ...

As a kid I always thought it was fun to play with magnets.

What I found fascinating was the feeling of taking two small magnets and moving them toward each other. If the magnets weren't facing each other correctly, they would repel each other, rejecting the push to come together. I still remember that feeling of the magnets refusing to be joined.

That's how we treat people we consider to be our enemies. Our first response is to move away from them, and repel any attempt to move us toward them. We naturally tend to move away from and create distance between our enemies instead of being drawn closer to them.

Unless you're God.

He had an entire world full of enemies!

Each of us have chosen to sin against God, to be in rebellion to His sovereign rule and reign, and that made us enemies of our Creator ...

"This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions," Colossians 1:21.

And then came that first Christmas day, when God chose to draw near to us, closing the gap between Himself and those who had made themselves His enemies. Even in the midst of our sinful state, God chose to demonstrate His love toward us by sending His only Son to make His home among His enemies.

How can we understand such a choice?

In "Context," Mary Marty retells a parable from the "Eye of the Needle" newsletter ...

"A holy man was engaged in his morning meditation under a tree whose roots stretched out over the riverbank. During his meditation he noticed the river was rising and a scorpion caught in the roots was about to drown. He crawled out on the roots and reached down to free the scorpion, but every time he did so, the scorpion struck back at him. An observer came along and said to the holy man, 'Don't you know that's a scorpion, and it's in the nature of a scorpion to want to sting?' To which the holy man replied, 'That may well be, but it is my nature to save. Must I change my nature because the scorpion does not change its nature?'"

God's response to our sinful rebellion against Him was to do what was His nature to do --- to love and to save ...

"So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father's one and only Son," John 1:14.

God didn't draw near to us just to be closer, but with a greater purpose of turning enemies into friends.

In "The Grace of Giving," Stephen Olford tells of a Baptist pastor during the American Revolution, Peter Miller, who lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and enjoyed the friendship of George Washington. In Ephrata also lived Michael Wittman, an evil-minded sort who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor. One day Wittman was arrested for treason and was sentenced to die. Peter Miller traveled seventy miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for the life of the traitor.

"No, Peter," General Washington said. "I cannot grant you the life of your friend."

"My friend!" exclaimed the old preacher. "He's the bitterest enemy I have!"

"What?" cried Washington. "You've walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in different light. I'll grant your pardon."

And he did. Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home to Ephrata --- no longer an enemy but a friend.

God traveled a little further than 70 miles to draw near to us, and through His Son He did more than simply plead our case ...

"For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God," Romans 5:10-11.

Christmas is a profound lesson in how to treat your enemies ...

"But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven," Matthew 5:44-45a.

It's natural at Christmastime to draw near to family and friends, those we consider our "loved ones." But what about those we consider to be our enemies? Isn't Christmas the perfect time to act as true children of our heavenly Father and to draw close to them as well?


Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas teaches us to be little cookie people ...

If God interrupted your day today with an audible conversation and explained to you that He wants to use your life, physically and in every way, to bring great blessing to the world, but to do that, it would completely mess up your life, what do you think would be your immediate response?

We like to think we would be selfless enough to make ourselves available to God, but that part He added about messing up our lives might make us hesitate, at the least. Chances are, because of God saying using our lives would completely mess things up for us, we would probably start making excuses why we're unavailable, not the best pick, or downright not interested.

That's because we're not naturally servant-oriented. We're "big cookie" oriented.

Years ago on the television show "Candid Camera," children were used in an experiment about generosity.

The children were placed by themselves in a room with a plate of cookies, one of which was larger than the others. They were left with instructions that they could take a cookie if they liked. Of course, they all took the big one.

One boy was challenged as to why he took the biggest cookie. The TV host, Allen Funt, said to the boy, "All you left me to eat was the little cookie. I would have eaten the little cookie and given you the biggest one."

Without a blink the boy responded, "Then you got the one you wanted."

We're more naturally "big-cookie" people.

But Mary, the mother of Jesus, wasn't.

An angel of the Lord did interrupt her day with a conversation that included grand plans God had for her that would completely mess up her life. The only question she had referred to the seemingly impossible part of it --- how could a virgin could have a child? And then what was her response?

"Mary responded, 'I am the Lord's servant. May everything you said about me come true.' And then the angel left her," Luke 1:38.

Mary was a "little cookie" person. She was willing for her life to be spent for the glory of God and the blessing of others.

Mary's son would be a "little cookie" Person, also.

The lesson of Christmas is for us to be "little cookie" people. Are you one? Have you willingly submitted your life to be poured out for the glory of God and the good of others? Or are you reaching for the big cookie, and looking for a glass of milk to go with it?


Sunday, December 21, 2014

More than an astonishing story ...

David Roher once wrote about how the advent of the motor home has made a lasting impact on camping and experiencing the great outdoors ...

"The motor home has allowed us to put all the conveniences of home on wheels. A camper no longer needs to contend with sleeping in a sleeping bag, cooking over a fire, or hauling water from a stream. Now he can park a fully equipped home on a cement slab in the midst of a few pine trees and hook up to a water line, a sewer line, and electricity. One motor home I saw recently had a satellite dish attached on top. No more bother with dirt, no more smoke from the fire, no more drudgery of walking to the stream. Now it is possible to go camping and never have to go outside. We buy a motor home with the hope of seeing new places, of getting out into the world. Yet we deck it out with the same furnishings as in our living room. Thus nothing really changes. We may drive to a new place, set ourselves in new surroundings, but the newness goes unnoticed, for we've only carried along our old setting."

Some of the experiences in our lives should have a lasting impact, but we've become so addicted to our desire for comfort that even the most profound adventures and experiences sometimes are left unmined for their lasting value in our lives.

Take, for example, the birth of Jesus Christ.

Starting in Luke 2, verse 8, we have the story of an angel, with a supporting cast of a vast heavenly army, heralding the birth of Christ to some lowly shepherds. As we read on, we see their initial response ...

"When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, 'Let's go to Bethlehem! Let's see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.' They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger," Luke 2:15-16.

The shepherds were so moved by what they experienced that ...

"After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child," Luke 2:17.

So the shepherds told everyone about heaven busting loose with an announcement about the Savior being born, and about their finding the baby. How did the people respond to the gushing excitement of the shepherds?

"All who heard the shepherds' story were astonished ..." Luke 2:18.

That's it.

We don't read about Mary and Joseph being overrun with people who heard of the breaking news about the birth of the Savior of the world and wanted to come see the baby for themselves, or to come and worship as the magi would do some time later. The report is very simple: they were "astonished."

That's the same attitude experienced by millions (if not billions) of times each morning as people read, watch, or listen to the news and hear of astounding things happening in the world. They're "astonished" ... and then they finish their breakfast and go about their day. There's little to no lasting impact regarding the news they've received.

But that wasn't the case for the shepherds.

From fighting boredom and sleepiness to being startled awake with the greatest announcement to humankind ever, the shepherds didn't return to their flocks and just count sheep. That first Christmas had a lasting impact on them ...

"The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them," Luke 2:20.

Each year, families "deck the halls" with all kinds of decorations and practice a wide variety of holiday traditions, then they head out for the candlelight communion service, and then Christmas arrives. Presents, presents, presents! And finally, on New Year's Day, the tree is taken down, the decorations stored away for another year, and it's back to work.

As usual.

There's no lasting impact.

They may have been astonished at how many presents they got this year, or how much they were able to devour at the Christmas meal (feast), or how big the kids are this Christmas. But "glorifying and praising God" all shepherd-style?

For some, Christmas has a lasting impact. It does so for those who understand that the adventure of new life in Christ begins when the comfortable patterns of the old life are left behind. The addiction of longing for comfort is broken, and what they have experienced in Christ is so indelibly imprinted on their hearts and minds that life itself becomes about glorifying and praising God! The decorations might be put away for another year, but the life of worship flourishes on into a New Year.

Is Christmas just an astonishing story to you? Or has the Christmas story developed in you a life of glorifying and praising God?


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas reminds us we are born for a purpose ...

C.S. Lewis once wrote, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

It didn't take long for the Jesus born in a stable on the first Christmas to have an understanding of this, except in His case we would change the words to read that He had come from another "world."

The Gospel according to Luke, chapter two, is very fast-moving, taking us from the jubilant announcement of Jesus' birth, up until He was 12 years old, all in a single chapter. Near the end of that chapter, we see that Mary and Joseph had temporarily "lost" Jesus, only to eventually find Him three days later "... in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers" (Luke 2:46b-47).

Mary and Joseph were perplexed at this sight ...

"His parents didn't know what to think. 'Son,' his mother said to him, 'why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere'," Luke 2:48.

Jesus answered Mary ...

"'But why did you need to search?' he asked. 'Didn't you know that I must be in my Father's house?' But they didn't understand what he meant," Luke 2:49-50.

Jesus' response is such that Mary and Joseph should have thought it quite the normal (and right) thing for Jesus to be busy about His Father's business, even at the tender age of 12.

How old are you?

If Jesus thought it appropriate for a twelve-year-old to be focused on our heavenly Father's business, shouldn't you and I also know that at our ages?

What is your life's focus? What are you busy about?

A.W. Tozer once wrote, "Our problem is that we go from toy to toy rather than from glory to glory," a reference to 2 Corinthians 3:18 which indicates that we should be growing in the Lord from one level of glory to another ...

"So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord --- who is the Spirit --- makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image," 2 Corinthians 3:18.

The bigger picture of Christmas reminds us that we, like Jesus, are born for a purpose, to be about our Father's business while on our journey on this earth.

Regardless of your vocation, is the thrust of your life to be about the business of your heavenly Father?


Thursday, December 18, 2014

In today's church, this part of Christmas is missing ...

Mitchell Dillon, senior pastor of Soncoast Community Church in Boca Raton, Florida, once reminisced on Christmases past ...

"When you grow up poor, Christmas can be more about getting what you need than getting what you want. I remember how disappointed I was as a young boy the year I tore into a present only to find a package of underwear! Another year it was socks. As badly as I needed underwear and socks, that's not what I wanted to find under the Christmas tree. For most of us Christmas is about getting the things we want, not the things we need."

When God was doing all the giving on that very first Christmas, He, like a good Father, gave us what we needed rather than what we wanted.

Dillon expounded on his reminiscing ...

"The true meaning of Christmas eludes most people today because they fail to realize that they are spiritually impoverished. After all, who puts a Savior on a short list of Christmas wishes? But that's what God offered the world on that first Christmas, not because it was on our wish list, but because that's what we most desperately needed."

God's gift to us on that first Christmas may have been His giving to us what we needed rather than what we wanted, but it was also the most lavish display of a gift given in love the world had seen up to that point in human history ...

"For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son ..." John 3:16a.

The love that saturated that gift would blossom into a Savior who, like His Father, would give an astounding gift of His own life for ours. When we deserved only the justice of God, we received the benefit of love.

During the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell, Lord protector of England, sentenced a soldier to be shot for his crimes. The execution was to take place at the ringing of the evening curfew bell. However, the bell did not sound. The soldier's fiance had climbed into the belfry and clung to the great clapper of the bell to prevent it from striking. When she was summoned by Cromwell to account for her actions, she wept as she showed him her bruised and bleeding hands. Cromwell's heart was touched and he said, "Your lover shall live because of your sacrifice. Curfew shall not ring tonight!"

Curfew didn't ring on Christmas, either.

When we deserved nothing but God's judgment, we received instead the boundless gift of God's love ...

"But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children," Galatians 4:4-5.

As I look at the church today, it's that lavish, unconditional, undeserved love that is often missing from God's family comprised of His adopted children. But it's not supposed to be that way ...

"If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead," 1 John 3:14.

When we see today's church stand by and watch brothers and sisters suffer and lack basic needs and take no real action, when we expect the government and other agencies to care for the orphan and the widow and the homeless among us, when we see today's church argue and fight, when we see more culture and politics in our preaching and beliefs than we see of God's truth, when we see today's church watch people go to hell from a refusal to share the love of God by sharing the Gospel with those who are lost, it's obvious that the core part of Christmas --- God's love --- is the central part of what is missing in many churches today.

At Christmas, God lavished the world with His love, and His love is something we, as His adopted children, are supposed to continue to give away every day of our lives. Instead, many congregations today are utterly bereft of any real demonstrations of the love of Christ.

This Christmas, if you want to give to people something they desperately need, even though it might not be on their Christmas wish list, give them the love of Christ!

Christmas is a powerful reminder of the great love God gave to this world through the gift of His Son. May that inspire us as His children to give the same way, by lavishing this world with the love of Christ through us.

What are you giving this Christmas?


Of all the books I've reviewed, which do I recommend the most?

To date, I have posted 81 book reviews here on my blog, "Extraordinary Living."

Of those books, which do I most recommend?

Well, the top three are ...

Hang on just a minute. Let me clarify that these top three pertain only to the reviews I've posted here. It doesn't necessarily mean they're my favorite books of any, or that I don't recommend books not included among my published reviews. Also, there are other books I've posted reviews on that would be close rivals to these three.

But with that said, these three books are a trio that I've recommended more than the other books I've reviewed. Here we go!

1. "Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream" by David Platt. This best-seller became a best-seller for a reason: it is a strong challenge to those professing to be Christians to start living like authentic followers of Christ. That's why it remains my most recommended reviewed book, because their is a persistent need to challenge the shallow, empty Christianity so many wallow in. This is a good book to get now so that it can challenge you at the start of a new year. You can find my original review of the book here

2. "I Am A Follower" by Leonard Sweet is a strong rival for my most recommended reviewed book, and continues to be the first book I recommend to leaders who want a recommendation for something to read on the topic of leadership. Sweet understands, unlike so many in church leadership today, that our leadership relies on (and will never surpass) the quality of our followership. If we want to learn about leading in the church, we need to begin with our followership. This is a great book for both leaders and followers alike, and you can find my original review here

3. "Plastic Donuts" is accurately summed up in it's sub-title of "Giving That Delights the Heart of the Father." This is a little mini-hardback that is refreshingly insightful on the topic of giving. So much so, I recommend churches provide a copy to every member and include it in new member packets. "Plastic Donuts" quickly gets to the heart of the kind of giving that delights God, and that's something we all need to learn and practice. You can find my original review of this book here

Let my close by directing you to a book I recently reviewed that I anticipate will become a highly recommended book from me, and that is "A Dragon Slayer's Life" by John Hendee. This book packs a punch of a self-help message by sharing a powerful allegory that has inspired change in the lives of many people already, and might do the same for you. You can find my original review of this new book here

All of these books would make good reading gifts, and "Plastic Donuts" is probably small enough to fit in a Christmas stocking. But let me encourage you to give yourself the gift of reading these four books. As you do, I think you'll discover why I recommend them so often.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Giving from an overflow v. sharing ...

You hear a great deal of talk about "overflow" from many pulpits today. The fact is, if the church --- or this world --- relied on good, godly things to be done only from an "overflow" of abundance, little would ever be accomplished, and few people would be helped.

So many of the the great works done in the world are not from people writing checks and making donations based on the extra --- the "overflow" --- they have, but a great deal of the things making a difference in this world happen from people (especially Christian people) giving from what they have, period.

It's not extra. Their giving comes from what they have.

Here's the false concept behind many of those preachers who are always talking about "overflow": If we only give out of our overflow, we remove faith. If we only give out of our overflow, there's no need to include God. But it's a very different situation when you give from what you have; when you take from what is earmarked for you and yours, and give from that, you must trust God to meet your needs as you give from your base resources.

For example, this evening I had a kind, elderly, and homeless Navy veteran ask me for help getting him a sandwich and a cup of coffee on a rainy evening. I don't have the means to feed both of us, but I've already eaten today. So I was happy to help this gentlemen. Doing so requires that I trust God for my own provision, because I just shared what is needed for me with someone else.

The reason why so many people don't give, or give so little, is because they base their giving on being able to do so from an overflow. They wouldn't begin to consider giving from a part of their base resources, and that's because they don't trust God to provide for what they've given away.

Where is the faith in that? How is that trusting God to meet your need when He provides opportunities to help others? You don't see in scripture Jesus speaking highly of the financially comfortable giving within their "overflow," which means giving in such a way as to make sure they stay comfortable. What He praises are those who trust God in their giving, even if it means giving generously from sparse resources.

In fact, we see a very different mindset about "giving" in the early church. Theirs wasn't an attitude of, "Let me see what I've got, measure my resources, see what the leftover is after expenses, investments, entertainment, and indulgences, and then give from that 'overflow'." Their attitude was one of sharing what they had. This "sharing" mentality meant that there weren't any needs left among them ...

"All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God's great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need," Acts 4:32-35.

Imagine what might happen in the church today if we focused on sharing the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and had an attitude of sharing what we had because we believed it wasn't just our own. Do you think we, like the early church, might also experience "... God's great blessing" upon us all?

Is there room for God in your giving? Or do you give only from extra, to insure that you, personally, aren't touched with any possibility of lack? How could your faith potentially be radically transformed by trusting God in your giving by beginning to think in terms of sharing?


Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas introduces us to God ...

I was excited! I was full of anticipation! But I was also a little apprehensive.

It was summertime in Arizona, I would be starting third grade in the fall, and during this break in the school year I was about to experience an unusual visit.

A visit from my grandparents.

I had never met my mother's parents. Well, I may have as a newborn, so I didn't know them. My mother was telling us about them to prepare us for their visit, and I heard that my grandpa was quite the guy.

Boy was he!

We "clicked" immediately, as he was always telling me corny jokes and making me laugh. He was a kind man and I liked him.

That one visit was all the interaction I had with him, but I learned a lot about him. He was a simple man from Arkansas who usually wore denim overalls, a cheap straw hat, and carried an inexpensive Timex pocket watch on a chain that had a large safety pin on the end that he used to attach the watch to his clothing.

My grandpa and I connected enough in that short time together that when he died, my grandma passed his pocket watch on to me.

That trip he made across the country introduced me to a great man. His coming into my life allowed me to get to know him beyond the stories my mom would sometimes tell. That single visit provided the opportunity for me to have a personal relationship with my grandpa.

Christmas introduces us to God.

The trip Jesus made from heaven to earth introduced us to someone who was more than a great man, but God in the flesh, "God with us." That single visit provided the opportunity for us to have a personal relationship with our Creator and get to know Him more intimately and understand what He is like ...

"So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father's one and only Son," John 1:14.

Christmas offers the opportunity for a deeper relationship with God, one that will provide for our getting to know Him intimately. If you don't know God, this Christmas season is the perfect time to get to know Him personally.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

The cost of not caring about other people's problems ...

It's easy to think that someone else's problems don't have anything to do with you. In more ways than one, that's usually not true. The following story highlights this truth ...

A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package.

"What food might this contain?" the mouse wondered.

He was devastated to discover it was a mouse-trap. Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning: "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it."

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The pig sympathized, but said, "I am very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers."

The mouse turned to the cow and said, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse, I am sorry for you, but it’s no skin off my nose."

So the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer’s mousetrap alone. That very night a sound was heard throughout the house ... like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey.

The farmer’s wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught. The snake was furious and bit the farmer’s wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital and she returned home with a severe fever.

Everyone knows that you treat a fever with a fresh chicken soup. So the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup’s main ingredient. But his wife’s sickness continued, so friends and relatives came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.

The farmer’s wife did not get well and she died. So many people came to the funeral, the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.

The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness and said, "I warned them about the mouse trap but they did not take my warning into account...

Scriptures implores us, "Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too," Philippians 2:4.

When someone tells you about the "mouse-trap" in their life, how do you respond?


How to make a bad situation much worse ...

A young boy lived in the country. So sparse was the country living of this boy's family that they had to use an outhouse. It was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and always --- always --- smelly.

The young boy really hated that outhouse! This outhouse was located near a creek, so the boy got the wild idea that he would push the outhouse into the water. After a spring rain, the creek swelled, so the boy pushed in the outhouse.

Later that night the boy's dad told him he and the boy needed to take a trip out to the woodshed. The boy knew this meant punishment. He asked his father why, to which his dad replied, "Because someone pushed the outhouse into the creek and I think that someone was you. Was it?"

The boy admitted it was. Then he added, "Remember when George Washington's father asked him if he had chopped down the cherry tree? He didn't get into trouble because he told the truth."

"That is correct," responded the dad, "but his father was not in the cherry tree when he cut it down."

There are ALWAYS consequences for your choices and actions. A sure way to make a bad situation even worse than it is, is to try to avoid your consequences.

Over the many years as a clinical therapist, I have often seen people who have done significant damage to their lives from their own choices. The actions they decided to take hurt themselves and others, and when the consequences for their choices were coming around, they desperately wanted to avoid them.

These people who tried to escape their consequences only made their situations much worse for them. Instead of facing, and literally walking into their consequences, they tried to avoid them. Doing so means they were avoiding the needed choices and actions --- like honest confession, repentance, reconciliation, and restitution --- that would be necessary to work through their problems and move into a hopeful future.

People try to run from the outcome of their choices and actions because those consequences can be devastating, sometimes for the moment, sometimes for years to come, and sometimes some of the consequences will stay with them for life. Consequences may result in real and significant losses, especially loss of relationships, but those are costs that must be worked through as part of the consequences for your choices. You cannot heal and move forward without facing your consequences head-on, walking into them, and working through them into the future that is possible for you.

Even one of the Bible's great men, King David, attempted to run from the consequences of his sin of adultery and murder surrounding his obsession with Bathsheba. Scripture recounts how miserable David was because he tried to avoid his consequences, and it was only after the prophet Nathan called out David for his sin, and David finally confessed and faced his consequences --- which would include the death of his son he had with Bathsheba --- could David be restored and move forward.

Don't do more harm to yourself by attempting to run from your consequences. Stop. Confess and repent. Walk into your consequences and work on reconciliation and restitution. This is the only way to get through what you've done.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas raises the question, "Who's in control here?"

Charles Kuralt was a television journalist who became well-known as host of the "On the Road" segments that were part of the "CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite." Kuralt would travel the country looking for interesting tales from everyday life. He once wrote about this story:

"A woman wrote me a letter from Ohio. She said her parakeet could say, 'And that's the way it is!' (mimicking the daily closing words of famed CBS news anchorman Walter Cronkite). We went there right away, of course. As soon as she opened the door, the parakeet said, 'And that's the way it is!' While we set up the lights and camera there in the living room, the parakeet watched us from inside his cage and said, 'And that's the way it is!' We pointed the lens at the cage and started rolling. The parakeet looked at the camera and said:


"The parakeet's owner said, 'And that's the way it is!' to give him a cue.

"The parakeet said, 'Aaaaawk!'

"'And that's the way it is!' she said patiently.

"He said, 'Aaaaawk!'

"After an hour or two of this we packed up, promising to return some other time. We said goodbye to the disappointed woman who wanted to see her parakeet on Walter Cronkite's news program. We closed the front door and started down the walk to the driveway, carrying our camera and lights. Behind us in the living room, we heard the parakeet say:

"'And that's the way it is!'"

This story highlights the fact that we cannot always control our circumstances. We can control a lot about our lives, but not everything. Yet, who's in control is something that plagues us because we either insist on being in control ourselves, or we're concerned about the affects in our lives when someone else is in control.

That was just one significant issue raised by the birth of Jesus. The people living in Jerusalem had settled into accepting that Caesar was in control, and because of that, King Herod was in control of the local region under the auspices of Rome. Suddenly breaking that comfortable position were some dignitaries from the east arriving in the city asking about a newborn king ...

"Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 'Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him'," Matthew 2:1-2.

This news from the magi shattered the peace in Jerusalem ...

"King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem," Matthew 2:3.

The birth of a new king of the Jews would certainly directly impact Herod, who had the job at the time. But it would also impact all those ruled over, and so we read that not only was King Herod disturbed by such a proposition, but "... as was everyone else in Jerusalem."

The new question the birth of Christ had created was, "Who's in control here?"

Was it Caesar? Was it Herod? Was there some new threat to either of those thrones?

Yes, but not in the way people were thinking at the time.

The question of "Who's in charge here?" so disturbed King Herod that he "... sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men's report of the star's first appearance," (Mt. 2:16).

The question of "Who's in charge here?" would eventually disturbed the religious leaders in Jerusalem so much that they would insist on Jesus being put to death.

The birth of Christ does, indeed, raise the question, "Who's in control here?" It would be through the Child born in Bethlehem that every human being would have to settle the question of who's in charge. Jesus would live, die a sacrificial death, and be raised from the dead to ransom us from sin and death. The sovereign rule of God would destroy once and for all the stranglehold of sin in our lives and set us free to serve the King of kings, Jesus Christ.

Christmas raises the question, "Who's in charge here?" What's your answer? Has the baby born in Bethlehem long ago, who has become King of kings and Lord of lords, also become the sovereign ruler of your life? Or do you find losing control a disturbing idea?


Friday, December 12, 2014

A divine announcement that came with a catch ...

It had to be one of the most fearful moments anyone had experienced in human history.

There they were, sleepy shepherds trying to stay awake in order to guard their sheep from pesky wolves when ...

" Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them ..." Luke 2:9a.

It wasn't a subdued appearance, either ...

"... and the radiance of the Lord's glory surrounded them ..." Luke 2:9a.

Yeah, it turns out it was scary ...

"They were terrified," Luke 2:9b.

If you think that scared them, the visit wasn't limited to a single angel ...

"Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others --- the armies of heaven --- praising God and saying ..." Luke 2:13.

These lowly shepherds saw more of heaven's hosts and glory than most human beings who have ever lived!

It seemed like all of heaven was busting at the seams. Something was happening, something so exciting that heaven interfered and directly made the announcement to mere mortals.

But it was an announcement that had a catch to it. At least in the last sentence of the herald's statement ...

"Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased," Luke 2:14.

Notice the angel did not say, "... and peace on earth for everyone." There was a catch in this clause pronouncing peace on earth: "... to those with whom God is pleased."

That's because there is no lasting peace outside of a reconciled relationship with God. It was through this baby born that night in Bethlehem that God would reconcile the world to Himself, and God would be pleased with all who would receive His Son as Savior and Lord.

"For a child is born to us, a son is given to us, The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and it's peace will never end," Isaiah 9:6-7a.

When God is pleased with you, there is peace.

"Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us," Romans 5:1.

And not just any kind of peace ...

"Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus," Philippians 4:7.

Nicholas Ridley knew this kind of peace from God. In 1555, Ridley was burned at the stake because of his witness for Christ. On the night before his execution, his brother offered to remain with him in his prison chamber to be of assistance and comfort. Ridley declined the offer and replied that he meant to go to bed and sleep as quietly as he ever did in his lifetime. Because he knew the peace of God, he could rest in the strength of the everlasting arms of his Lord to meet his need.

Part of the good news is, so can we!

"You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!" Isaiah 26:3.

Christmas ushered into this world the Prince of Peace. Part of the gift of Christmas is peace with God, and peace from God, through Jesus Christ. Have you received His gift of peace?


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas raises the question, "Do you have the heart for it?"

One of the secret hopes of many who profess to be Christian is that they'll get through this profession of faith without having to make any real sacrifices.

But the example of Christmas is that to be used by God will demand sacrifice from us.

Look at the example of the two people God chose to bring about the first Christmas, Joseph and Mary.

As you read their part of the Christmas narrative in the New Testament, you see Joseph being asked to walk into a marriage he knew would cause him problems. Not from Mary, whom he loved, but from everyone else who would claim scandal because his fiance was pregnant and claiming the father was the Holy Spirit. Joseph's integrity, decision-making, and even his faith would all be questioned by those who knew him.

But he was willing to sacrifice all of that to obey God.

Mary's role would be all-encompassing. Her body would experience all the challenges of pregnancy while she battled the turmoil caused by trying to explain that no, Joseph wasn't the father but yes, she loved Joseph and was faithful to him but no, she had not been with another man. She knew she sounded like a lying lunatic.

But she offered all of herself to be obedient to God.

To bring the Savior of the world into the world required of Joseph and Mary the making of sacrifices with their minds, hearts, bodies, relationships, and lifestyle choices in order to obey God and be used by Him. And to continue God's mission of taking Christ to the world will require sacrifice from you and me as well. It is impossible to be faithful and obedient to God without having to endure real sacrifice. As much as you might try to avoid it, you can be sure that being true to following Christ will cost you.

Jesus would later define the scope of sacrifice required to be one of His disciples: "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. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it'," Luke 9:23-24.

Are you willing to make real sacrifices to be faithful to God and to be used by Him? Or are you one of those people secretly hoping that God doesn't ask you to make any sacrifices because you really don't have the heart for it?


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

We have a scholarship winner!

The Board of Directors of the Scott Free Clinic would like to congratulate JASON WERT for being named the winner of our free scholarship giveaway!

Jason will soon be enrolling in the "Relational Evangelism" course offered online by Hope International University (HIU) as part of its School of Advanced Leadership Training (SALT) program. The Scott Free Clinic will be paying Jason's tuition for the course.

This course will equip Jason in a specific evangelistic methodology, using a specific evangelistic tool, in order to equip him to become a highly effective disciple maker. The course is now required for HIU students, and is being picked up by a consortium of 20 other Christian colleges and universities across the country.

The evangelistic tool and methodology Jason will be learning has been used by "average" Christians, church leaders, church planters, missions, and others across the nation and around the world with great success at leading many thousands to faith in Christ and helping churches become disciple-making churches.

Jason will have the opportunity to learn directly from the originator of this evangelistic tool, John Hendee, who now serves as Chair of World Evangelism for HIU. Hendee has a long and successful ministry career of directly leading people to Christ using this effective means of relational evangelism, and has trained thousands of church leaders and Christians to be effective disciple-makers.

We're excited to provide this opportunity to Jason and look forward to praying for him and supporting him through this equipping opportunity and beyond.

Dr. James Scott, Jr.
Founder & President,
Scott Free Clinic

Christmas reminds us we really do have good news to share ...

I love the story about a second-grader named Mike. On the way to school Mike bumped his arm against a sharp edge on a seat on the bus, causing a large scrape that bled and got all over his clothes. At school, he discovered he had forgotten to put his homework in his backpack, so he got in trouble for not having it. At recess, he was hit in the mouth by another boy and lost two teeth. After school, Mike slipped on some ice on the sidewalk and broke his wrist when he fell. On the way to the hospital he reached into his pocket with his good hand and pulled something out. His father asked him what it was.

"It's a quarter ... 25 cents! I found it on the ground when I fell down. It's the first quarter I ever found. This is the best day of my life!" Mike replied with a big smile on his face.

Among all the difficulties of his day, Mike found something good he tell his dad about.

Among all the difficulties in our times, you would think by the way we act and what we have to say that there's nothing good to report. But Christmas reminds us that there really is some good news to tell ...

"That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord's glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. 'Don't be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you GOOD NEWS that will bring great joy to all people'," Luke 2:8-10.

The news of Immanuel --- God with is! --- is good news, indeed! It was then, and it still is today. It's news that can bring great joy to those we share it with. We just have to share!

We get ridiculously busy at Christmas time with all kinds of activities to the point we almost dread the holiday season because of just how busy we get. But how much of that has anything to do with sharing the good news of Jesus Christ? After all, that really IS what Christmas is about, and sharing that good news is the real way to "keep Christ in Christmas."

Sharing the good news of Jesus isn't something to do just at Christmas, but any day of the year we have the opportunity (or can create an opportunity) to do so. We have news that can transform lives, set people free, and bring great joy.

Are you sharing the good news of Jesus?


Sunday, December 7, 2014

How to get rid of the wax in your relationships ...

In ancient Rome, sculpting was a popular profession. The culture flourished with statues, as nearly every public and private building had numerous false gods represented. The market was flooded with sculptors, so quality was sometimes lacking. Less qualified craftsmen would cover their errors with wax, and frequently the customer could not see the flaw. To compensate for this practice, authentic sculptors would mark their statues with the words "sine cera" --- "without wax."

The sculptor who cared less about his art than making a quick buck was insincere about his craft. We see the same kind of insincerity today in our relationships. People want to have a lot of friends, so they make many connections they call "friendships." But many of those connections are cheap knock-offs to real friendship, there's a lot of "wax" added to them.

One way we add a great deal of insincerity to our relationships is by asking too much, acting too little, and lacking in prayer. Let me explain.

We've developed a culture where we think just asking friends who are struggling or going through hard times about how they are doing is actually acting, actually doing something for them.

But it isn't.

Certainly it's kind to express your care and support, but what I have observed in the lives of many suffering people is that there are many people in their lives who spend a lot of time asking how they are, but failing to actually do anything to help them.

"How are you?"

"How are you doing today?"

"How is everything?"

"Are you doing okay?"

They may even ask their friends what they need, or if they have all they need, but they don't respond to the answer. They just keep asking, and asking, and asking, and asking, and asking ...

But they do nothing beyond asking.

What is sincere about that kind of "friendship"?

If you want to take the wax out of your relationships, here's a simple little formula to apply to your life:


In order to determine whether or not someone in your life is in need, you only need to ask once. After knowing they are struggling and in need, the issue then is whether or not you're going to act. Some people don't have the resources to help, or to help much, but most of us can do more than what we actually do.

If you sincerely care about the hurting and struggling people in your life, stop asking the same thing so much, and DECIDE WHAT ACTION YOU'RE WILLING TO TAKE. It's not a matter of needing to know all the needs in someone else's life, it's a matter of knowing what YOU are capable of doing, and then deciding just how much YOU are willing to do on behalf of others. Then ACT! 

Ask less, act more ...

And don't forget to be praying constantly. Don't focus your prayers on what you think is the prescription for your friend's needs, but seek the wisdom and will of God for the needs of others. That will help you to have less need to ask anything, provide you with better direction on how to act, and will follow God's lead and empowerment in serving others.

Have you been packing your relationships full of wax? Why not fix that by getting sincere about the relationships in your life by asking less, taking real action, and relying on prayer to guide you?