Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Communion meditation ...

Hidden away in my files is a great story, which follows. I don't have any notes regarding the source, but I'll let the writer tell his story ...

"In 1949, my father had just returned from the war. On every highway you could see soldiers in uniform hitchhiking home to their families. The thrill of the reunion with his family was overshadowed by my grandmother's illness. There was a problem with her kidneys. The doctors told my father she needed a blood transfusion immediately or she wouldn't live through the night.

"Grandmother's blood type was AB negative, a very rare type. In those days there were no blood banks like there are today. No one in the family had that blood type, and the hospital had not been able to find anyone with that rare type. The doctor gave our family little hope.

"My dad decided to head home for a little while to change clothes and then return for the inevitable goodbyes. As my father was driving home, he passed a soldier in uniform hitchhiking. Deep in grief, my father wasn't going to stop. But something compelled him to pull over.

"The soldier climbed in, but my father didn't speak, he just continued driving down the road toward home. The soldier could tell my father was upset as a tear ran down his cheek. The soldier asked about the tear. My father began telling the stranger that his mother was going to die because the hospital couldn't find anyone who could donate AB negative blood. My father explained he was just heading home to change clothes. That is when he noticed the soldier's open hand holding dog tags that read AB negative. The soldier told my father to turn the car around and head back to the hospital.

"My grandmother lived until 1996, 47 more years."

The giving of blood at just the right time saved this woman's life.

It also gave life to us as well ...

"When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners," Romans 5:6.

With that gift of giving of blood through His broken body, we'll live forever with our blood donor.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Meander while succeeding ...

Life is more than a series of tasks to be executed.

You might not think that if you listen to the "success experts" who tell you to "CRUSH!" your day, and keep knocking out your goals one after another. There can be some wisdom in doing just that, but you'll miss what's important in life if that's all you do.

That's because a lot of these coaches and "gurus" are just talking and writing from formulas someone taught them about completing activities that achieve an objective. Most of them spend little time considering that life is also full of people and potential experiences which we need to make room for if life is going to be full, fulfilling, and more than a to-do list.

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright once told of an incident that seemed insignificant at the time, but had a profound influence on the rest of his life. The winter when he was nine years old, he went walking across a snow-covered field with his reserved, no-nonsense uncle. As the two of them reached the far end of the field, his uncle stopped him. He pointed out his own tracks in the snow --- straight and true as an arrow's flight --- and then young Frank's tracks meandering all over the field.

"Notice how your tracks wander aimlessly from the fence to the cattle, to the woods, and back again," his uncle said. "And see how my tracks aim directly to my goal. There is an important lesson in that."

Years later, the world-famous architect liked to tell how this experience had greatly contributed to his philosophy in life.

"I determined right then," he'd day with a twinkle in his eye, "not to miss most things in life, as my uncle had."

Don't misunderstand: I'm NOT saying that focus, discipline, and even expediency aren't important, but life is a little bigger than just that. Take, for example, the life of Jesus, who pursued the single most important mission any man has ever had. Some of the greatest stories about what Jesus said or did come from times when He was interrupted in the process of His earthly ministry. His mission journey was not a straight line from the carpenter's shop to the cross. His tracks meandered all over!

What do your tracks through life look like? Are you just pursuing checking off items on a never-ending to do list? Or are you making room for people and experiences beyond the tasks necessary to achieve specific objectives?


Thursday, April 24, 2014

A quick way to ruin your life ...

What's one of the quickest ways to ruin your life?

I'll tell you in just a minute. First, let me tell you a story ...

Unamuno, the Spanish philosopher, tells about the Roman aqueduct at Segovia, Spain (pictured above). It was built in 109 A.D. For eighteen hundred years, it carried cool water from the mountains to the hot and thirsty city below. Nearly sixty generations of people drank from its flow. Then came another generation, a recent one, who said, "This aqueduct is so great a marvel that it ought to be preserved for our children as a museum piece. We shall relieve it of its centuries-long labor."

They did, by laying modern iron pipes. They gave the ancient bricks and mortar a reverent rest. When they did, the aqueduct began to fall apart. The sun beating on the dry mortar caused it to crumble. The bricks and stone sagged and threatened to fall. What ages of service could not destroy idleness disintegrated.

A quick way to ruin your life is to make it all about yourself instead of serving God and others in His name. When we move away from our mission in life, and over-indulge in pleasure and excess rest and become idle, our lives will quickly begin to crumble. Such is not the case for living a life of service.

"So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless," 1 Corinthians 15:58.

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

What are you doing with your life, serving others or letting it crumble in idleness? There is a time and place for a proper season of rest, but never a time to quit your mission for Christ.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

This little light of mine ...

Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 5:16, "In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father."

That's a concept we sometimes wrestle with.

Kind of like the story of a little girl who came home from Sunday School right after studying this verse. She repeated the verse to her mother and asked what it meant.

"Well," her mother answered, "it means when you are good and kind and thoughtful and obedient, you are letting Christ's light shine in your life before all who knew you."

The very next Sunday, while in Sunday School, the little girl got into an argument with another child and created such an uproar the teacher sent for her mother to come and calm her down.

The mother was concerned when she got to the classroom and asked her daughter, "Sweetie, don't you remember about letting your light shine for the Lord with others?"

The girl blurted out in response, "Mom, I have blowed myself out!"

Sometimes we make a mess of things and "blow ourselves out." Sometimes, we let ourselves stay "blown out," making the darkness around us all the darker. The important thing is to allow the Lord to re-ignite His light within us. His light never goes out, and He wants us to be a consistent point of light in this dark world.

"This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin," 1 John 1:5-7.

Have you allowed sin to put a damper on the light of Christ shining through you? You can confess and repent of those sins and let Christ refresh you in your fellowship with the Father.

Are you being a consistent point of light in the dark world around you? What do you need to do to be more consistent in your fellowship with God so that His light shines more steadily from your life?


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

IMPORTANT VIDEO: Let's change lives together!

How would you like to help change lives, support pastors, and help improve churches?

Here's an exciting new way you can do just that!

The video below will share how you can connect with a new ministry called the Scott Free Clinic to get help for yourself, or to provide help and support to others that could be life changing. I encourage you to watch the entire video, and note that some important information is contained at the end of the video.

If you have any questions, please contact me at the contact information provided in the video.

I encourage all of you to please share this video with as many people as possible --- family, friends, neighbors, church groups, pastors and pastoral staff, anyone you can and are willing to.You can also explore our website at http://www.ScottFreeClinic.org.

Let's change lives together!

(One note: The headquarters won't be in Fairfield as shown in this video, but since this is a ministry that serves people not just at a local level, but regionally, nationally, and internationally, the placement of the headquarters isn't a limitation!).


A grossly overlooked qualification for leadership ...

Elder X always took time to talk with me every Sunday I  visited with this church (which was often, and for a time I was a member there). He seemed sincerely interested in me, and I was praying regularly about several issues he shared he was struggling with.

Elder X was such a friendly, warm guy!

So, a few times I suggested we get together over coffee, telling him I would welcome an opportunity to get to know him better.

Elder X never took me up on my offers. He limited his interaction to acting friendly and warm on Sunday mornings.

Church leaders are constantly frustrated with congregations that are friendly on Sunday, but don't have much to do with each other any other time. Leaders are routinely grappling with how to get people to involve themselves in the lives of others.

Could it be that the leaders themselves too often fail at a key qualification for leadership that could set the example for their flocks?

"So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. HE MUST ENJOY HAVING GUESTS IN HIS HOME, and he must be able to teach," 1 Timothy 3:2.

If we want Christians to be hospitable to others, we need to demonstrate hospitality by living it out in front of them. Nothing teaches more loudly than how you live your life. If you're friendly on Sunday morning, but never bring people into your home, don't expect the people you lead to act differently from your example.

But if you are hospitable to others, you model the kind of life Jesus wants us to live, and you might be surprised at the blessings that will come your way because of your own hospitality.

One stormy night, an elderly couple entered the lobby of a small hotel and requested a room. The clerk said all the rooms were filled, as were all the hotels in town.

"But I can't send a fine couple like you out in the rain," the clerk told them. "Would you be willing to sleep in my room?" he asked.

The couple hesitated, but the clerk insisted.

The next morning, when the man was paying his bill, he said to the clerk, "You're the kind of man who should be managing the best hotel in the United States. Someday, I'll build you one."

The clerk smiled politely, but soon forgot about the comment.

A few years later, the same clerk received a letter from the elderly man, recalling that stormy night and asking him to come to New York. A round-trip ticket was enclosed. When the clerk arrived, his host took him to the corner of 5th Avenue and 34th Street, where stood a magnificent new building.

"That," explained the man, "is the hotel I have built for you to manage."

The man was William Waldorf Astor, and the hotel was the original Waldorf-Astoria.

Are you living out an example of hospitality to those you lead? Do you share authentic hospitality in your home with others? Or do you just act warm and friendly on Sunday mornings?


Monday, April 21, 2014

Finding the right motivation ...

During the 90's, a convention of some of the most brilliant thinkers of our time met in Chicago to discuss the concept of motivation. After days of fleshing out this topic together, the final conclusion of the delegates was that they didn't know where motivation comes from.

That's because motivation is a very personal thing. How we are motivated, and by what we are motivated, has to do with what we believe, who we believe, and what is important to us. When something taps into those values, it often can serve as a source of motivation for us.

I'm reminded of the story about a man who often took a shortcut through a cemetery on his way home from work. One dark night, unaware that a new grave had been dug directly in his path, the man stumbled and tumbled into the open grave. For some time he struggled to get out of the seven-foot-deep hole, but finally gave up and settled down for the night.

An hour later, a farmer out possum hunting came walking through the cemetery and he, too, fell into the grave. The first man listened as the farmer struggled mightily to get out of the grave, then reached over in the pitch darkness and laid a hand on his shoulder.

"You can't get out of here," the man told the farmer ... but he did!

The Apostle Paul helps us identify a key source of motivation for us, something that fits perfectly into the values of a believer.

"Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people," Colossians 3:23.

"So whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God," 1 Corinthians 10:31.

When we make glorifying God, the One we love above all others, our source of motivation, we can propel ourselves to putting forth our best effort because they are offered for Him.

How does glorifying God motivate you in the things you do? How can it become a real source of motivation for you?


Saturday, April 19, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: I like giving, but I don't care for the book ...

If you enjoy stories about giving that pluck at your heart strings, you might like the book "I Like Giving" by Brad Formsma (published by WaterBrook Press). But if you want a book about giving that has more breadth and depth to it than just that, this is not the book for you.

"I Like Giving" is full of short stories about people giving to others in various ways ... and that's about it. Although published by a Christian publisher, you won't find any biblical teaching or direction about giving in this book. No theology of giving, not even a coherent philosophy about giving. The closest thing to that would be the idea that "giving makes you feel great, so make it a lifestyle!" There is one sentence that hints at scripture, "I heard it said that a person with a good heart cares for windows and orphans," but that's about as "Christian" as this book gets.

I suspect the purpose of printing this book was to build broader awareness of the ilikegiving.com website created by the author. In a 200-page book, it wasn't until I was 152-pages into reading this paperback before I discovered something that might be a stated motivation for writing this book ...

"A simple story can be refreshing and empowering. Stories connect people, and they give people permission to try new things. I call it the power of story. Telling giving stories can center people on what matters most and bring them back to a healthy balance in life. The cultural current often pulls us in the direction of self-focused living and empty materialism. If we do nothing, we just drift along with it. Giving stories can help us avoid that drift and move us toward doing things for others instead," Formsma writes.

So "I Like Giving" is more like the "rah-rah" of a cheerleader for giving, somewhat fun with some warm-hearted motivation, but little else. That's a shame, when the concept of giving has far more significance to it than something it encourages without providing any real understanding of the purpose and value of generosity. Instead, we get a one sentence paragraph by the author that simply states, "Remember, giving is for you --- it gives you life."

There is almost a  subtle selfish tone running through the book, as the writer routinely points out to his readers how good giving makes you feel. Additionally, the author encourages his readers to share their stories about giving, something the Bible discourages (Mt. 6:1-4).

One of the best books I've read in the last year was a book on the topic of giving; "I Like Giving" is on the opposite end of value for books of that subject nature. I really do like giving, I just don't find much to recommend about "I Like Giving."


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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

If your face was a welcome mat ...

Any competent chef will tell you that we first "eat" with our eyes. If what is served doesn't look tasty, we won't want to taste it; but if something looks delicious, we may literally salivate with a desire to try the dish.

The same goes for people wanting to get a "taste" of us. Some people project an appearance of being approachable, while others give off an appearance that you really would not want to interact with them, or doing so would not be welcomed.

The concept is called being "approachable," and a great understanding of what it means to be seen as approachable comes from a story that involves one of our founding fathers.

During his days as president, Thomas Jefferson and a group of companions were traveling across the country on horseback. They came to a river that had flooded due to a recent downpour. As a result, the swollen river had washed away a bridge. Each rider was forced to forge the river on horseback, which caused a traveler who wasn't a part of their group to step aside and watch. After several had plunged in and made it to the other side, the stranger asked President Jefferson if he would ferry him across the river.

The president agreed without hesitation.

The man climbed up on the horse behind Jefferson, and shortly thereafter the two of them made it safely to the other side of the river. As the stranger slid off the saddle onto dry ground, one in the group asked him, "Tell me, why did you select the president to ask this favor of?"

The man was shocked, stating he had no idea it was the president who had helped him.

"All I know," he said, "Is that on some of your faces was written the answer 'No,' and on some of them was the answer 'Yes.' His was a 'Yes' face."

What kind of face do you have? Is it set to your own thoughts and interests, expressing a "Don't bother me!" message? Or do you have a "yes" face that encourages others to step into your life?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Fighting someone else's battles ...

There are two wildly over-used phrases tossed around for describing small groups in churches: "doing life together" and "living in community."

Often when we use those phrases, we aren't telling the truth about what really happens in our small groups.

If the truth be told, most small groups are a Bible study that sometimes includes lively discussion but often doesn't get to the heart of applying scripture to our lives in any significant or life-changing way, along with some food, a little prayer, and leaving each other alone until the same time next week when we re-assemble to repeat the same process.

The reality doesn't come close to matching the description.

"Doing life together" is far more than talking about last week's baseball game over a quaint potluck meal before this week's Bible discussion. It's walking into someone's life to the degree that you help them take up their burdens and fight with them in their battles.

But our small groups often look more like this story told by Aesop ...

Two soldiers traveling together were attacked by a robber. One soldier quickly fled away; the other stood his ground and defended himself.

Once the robber was slain, the timid companion runs up and draws his sword, and then throwing back his cloak, says, "Let me at him, and he shall learn whom he has attacked!"

At this, he who had fought the robber answered, "I only wish that you had helped me just now, even if it had been only with those words, for I should have been the more encouraged, believing them to be true; but now put up your sword in its sheath and hold your equally useless tongue, till you can deceive others who do not know you. I, indeed, who have experienced with what speed you ran away, know right well that no dependence can be placed on your valor."

Others can't fight your battles for you, but they can fight them with you, and that help can sway the outcome ...

"Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken," Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

"Doing life together" means stepping into someone else's fight and getting bloodied with them.

Just ask Jesus.

"But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed," Isaiah 53:5.

Easter reminds us of the degree to which Jesus stepped into our lives and took up our battle. He fought for us to the extent of giving His life as a sacrifice for us.

Now it's time to live together like Jesus, entering into each others' lives by taking up one another's battles, fighting the good fight of faith back-to-back and truly "living in community" and battle life together.

Whose back do you have? Who can depend on you in life's battles?


Saturday, April 12, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Encouraging stories of God doing the miraculous ...

Have you ever read the Bible and found yourself amazed at the great things God has done or in awe of the miracles Jesus performed?

I think most of us have. And many of us have also thought that such great things only happened "back in the day" when great heroes of the faith lived lives that would later be recorded in the Bible for us to read about today.

But God hasn't stopped doing the miraculous!

To help us see how God is still very active in the lives of people today --- even in a miraculous way --- Don Jacobson and K-LOVE created the book, "It's A God Thing" (published by W Publishing, an imprint of Thomas Nelson).

This paperback book is a collection of forty-six short stories that tell of miracles people have experienced in contemporary times, or experiences that could not be explained in any way other than being "a God thing."

This is an encouraging book, as it provides testimony by people in our time of the great things God is still doing, giving personal witness to God's love and care for us and his continued direct involvement in our lives today. It's not a theological book, just one full of stories that will leave you praising God for not just the great things He has done, but for the great things He continues to do.


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, April 11, 2014

Disappointments can be fixed ...

This tweet on Twitter yesterday caught my attention:

"Studying the art of keeping in my feelings, as to not get let down. Again."

Those words drip with the pain of disappointment. My heart went out to this person, I'd been in his shoes before.

All of us have known disappointment from people, some who we love dearly and others we're barely acquainted with. But whatever the relationship, when they let us down we felt the sting of disappointment.

Considering the fact there's not a perfect human being on this planet, it's important for us to remember that given the opportunity to know someone long enough, at some point they will do something that could be disappointing. They're imperfect! And so are we; we've had our moments of disappointing others.

Fortunately, disappointments can be fixed.

You've likely seen some of the incredible images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. From the far reaches of space, we're able to get a view of some of God's breathtaking creations with the photos taken by this telescope. But do you remember in the beginning of the Hubble project, this telepscope wasn't the amazing machine it is today?

After lots of excitement, the telescope was launched several years ago and the first images we received back were blurry. It was discovered there was a flaw in the mirror.

It was a terrible disappointment!

The problem with the mirror was later corrected, but at the time there was a joke making the rounds that said the only thing NASA learned from the Hubble Telescope was to never name a project something that rhymed with "trouble." It was a huge embarrassment then, but not anymore. Today, our capacity to see the beauty of God's creation in a unique and awe-inspiring way is broadened by the images retrieved from this telescope, which is a great success.

Human disappointments can be fixed as well.

Paul and Barnabas had a falling out and went their separate ways over a disagreement regarding the disappointing behavior of Mark when they had given him an opportunity to travel with them ...

"After some time Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let's go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.' Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus," Acts 15:36-40.

Paul had been so disappointed with Mark's desertion that he wasn't willing to work with him again ... at least, not at that time. But things changed. That which led to disappointing behavior in Mark --- the guy who wrote the Gospel according to Mark --- was later corrected.

"Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry," 2 Timothy 4:11.

We will all experience disappointment from others, but that can be fixed, and they can become helpful to us. We will all disappoint others, but that can be fixed, and we can become a blessing to others.

Has someone disappointed you? Are you allowing them the opportunity to fix their error and have a second chance? Have you disappointed someone? What are you doing to correct your error so you can be beneficial to others?


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Life's great "must" ...

A gray-haired lady, long a member of her community and church, shook hands with the minister one morning after the church service.

"That was a wonderful sermon!" she told him. "Everything you said applied to someone I know!"

Isn't that how we often respond to God's Word? We see a lot of benefit in it for others, but not something to take serious personally.

But God has a different expectation for our response to Him and His Word ...

"Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life ..." 1 Peter 3:15a.

God isn't satisfied with being a mere influence in your life, He wants your entire life! And He sets as a "must" our making Jesus Christ the Lord of our lives, and our worshiping Him as such.

Do you worship Jesus as Lord of your life?


Monday, April 7, 2014

When the hype is greater than the reality ...

So great is the notoriety of the Stradivarius violin that even people who have never played a violin are familiar with the reputation of this fine instrument.

The problem is, that reputation may not live up to reality.

In a current article by CBC News, "... 10 award-winning violin soloists [were asked] to test six old Italian violins including five made by Stradivari and six new violins to find one to play instead of their own violin during a hypothetical concert tour ... New violins outscored the antique violins six to one when the researchers tallied the Top 4 from each violinist and took into account which instruments were rejected outright as unsuitable" (you can read the complete story here http://bit.ly/1kDzvt0).

The danger of a lot of hype is not living up to the reputation.

We often create that kind of dangerous hype about our church services. God will always live up to the reputation He has created for Himself in the Bible, but we often miss the mark when it comes to delivering what we say people can expect this Sunday "at church" ...

"Don't miss the message this Sunday, it will blow you away!"


Are people blown away by your preaching on most Sundays?

Do throngs of people leave your services after a life-changing experience just by showing up and hearing you preach?

Are their interactions with your congregation routinely so amazing that the hype you broadcast each week matches the real experience of the visitor? Or even the regular member?

When your hype exceeds the reality, you're asking people to start their interaction with you by not being able to trust you. Unless you deliver what you promise.

So why not scale back the hype to the truth, and trust the Holy Spirit to do what He will with that?


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Maybe that friendship should have lasted for more than a season ...

You've read the platitudes and seen the posts about friendships ...

... how some are just for a season ...

... how people pass through our lives ...

... how, if someone was supposed to still be in your life, they would be ...

... but so many of these platitudes are wrong.

The primary reason why so many friendships are short-lived is because we fail to nurture them.

Nurturing a friendship doesn't mean a ridiculous investment of time, but it does mean investing both quality and quantity of time into the lives of others.

A lot of it can be simple ...

... a text message saying you're thinking about them ...

... a cup of coffee together ...

... including someone over for dinner ...

... making some time to do something fun together ...

... a phone call while you unwind at the end of the day ...

... a mix of little and big things that allow you to love someone else.

If you're too busy to nurture your friendships, you're too busy and your priorities are misaligned.  When we're so busy to allow friendships to slip away, we're exchanging the few priceless things of life --- like friendship --- for something of lesser significance.

If a friendship is going to fade, never let it be because of neglect.

"Never abandon a friend --- either yours or your father's. When disaster strikes, you won't have to ask your brother for assistance. It's better to go to a neighbor than to a brother who lives far away," Proverbs 27:10.

Do you have a friend you need to call this afternoon? Do you have a friend you can include on your stop at Starbucks this week? Do you have a friend you can invite for dinner some time this week? Today is a good time to connect with a friend who would love hearing from you again.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

What do you see?

You need more than eyes to see, especially in the world we live in ...

"For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places," Ephesians 6:12.

1 John 5:19 succinctly paints an ugly picture of the reach Satan has around us: "We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one."

But that's not the whole picture. Through the eyes of faith, we see God is infinitely bigger than our enemy, and personally protects those who are His children ...

"But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one," 2 Thessalonians 3:3.

"The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever," Psalm 121:7-8.

These are more than poetic words of encouragement. An event in the life of the prophet Elisha reveals just how real these words are! In 2 Kings 6, we read about how the king of Aram became angry with Elisha for constantly frustrating his battle plans against Israel. After discovering that Elisha was in Dothan, the king of Aram thought he would fix the problem of Elisha once and for all ...

"So one night the king of Aram sent a great army with chariots and horses to surround the city. When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. 'Oh, sir, what will we do now?' the young man cried to Elisha. 'Don't be afraid!' Elisha told him. 'For there are more on our side than on theirs!' Then Elisha prayed, 'O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!' The Lord opened the young man's eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire," 2 Kings 6:14-17.

If you just use your eyes, it's easy to see just a lot of problems, struggles, temptations, and attacks that tear at your life. But when you see by faith, you can see the very real protection of God that shelters you and keeps you safe from the enemy.

You need more than eyes to see. Do you, by faith, see what God has done, and is doing, to keep you in perfect peace, regardless of the battles that rage around you? Or do you live in fear from what you see with your eyes alone?


Friday, April 4, 2014

Shine a little ...

Jesus taught simply and clearly, but the content of what He had to say was really big.

Take, for instance, Jesus teaching us that we are the light of the world. Wow! That sounds monumental! Here's what He said ...

"You are the light of the world --- like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father," Matthew 5:14-16.

How do we wrap our minds around something so important as being the light of world? What does that look like? Sometimes, it can look a lot like this story ...

A well-known Bible teacher had just finished speaking to a large class of business people on the Christian responsibility to be light in the world. He had emphasized that as believers we all have the obligation to reflect the light of Christ in the world.

After the class, a man who had been listening came up to the Bible teacher and shared an experience he had at home that had impressed upon him the same truth. He said in the darkest corner of his basement he discovered some potatoes had sprouted and were growing. At first, he couldn't figure out how they had gotten enough light to sprout and grow. Then he noticed hanging from the ceiling near the basement window was a brightly-polished, shiny copper kettle that was in the perfect position to reflect the sun's rays onto the potatoes there in the darkest corner of the room.

The man concluded, "When I saw that, I thought I may not be a preacher or a teacher with the skills to expound on scripture, but at least I can be a copper kettle catching the rays of the Son and reflect His light to someone."

We can do the same thing.

Go shine a little!


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Is yours an equipped church?

Church leaders who claim to be serious about leading a disciple-making church aren't going to get very far with such a claim if their flock isn't equipped. But the equipping of the saints for ministry is one of the greatest failures among church leaders today.

It's remarkable that we miss the mark regarding equipping since it is such a blatantly stated responsibility of leaders:

"Now these are the gifts Christ gave the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ," Ephesians 4:11-12.

Let's take a look at just one impact of not having equipped saints in the church. Throughout my work in ministry, I have often been asked to write curriculums. Those requests have come for a few reasons, 1) the pastor didn't have the skills to do it himself, and also claimed to not have the time to do it, 2) a lack of good curriculums on the right subjects by Christian publishers, and 3) here's one of the most important issues of all: the church not having any other people who are spiritually mature enough, and biblically literate and skilled enough to be able to take a topic and create their own lessons.

Please take note of that third point, because it wreaks havoc within the church. I have sat in on many meetings where pastors were told by others they would be willing to teach something, but only if they were provided with a curriculum. Fortunately, I have known some guys who wouldn't take a curriculum if you gave them one because they want to teach and they want to dig into the Word themselves and prepare to teach from their own direct study of the Word of God. The problem is, those kinds of willing and capable (equipped!) teachers are few and far between in the church today.

That's because we haven't equipped the saints enough to be competent in taking the Word of God and teaching it to others. If you must depend on a curriculum, then you're likely not equipped enough to disciple someone else. And if you're not equipped enough to disciple someone else, you won't be making disciples and discipling them.

That means you're not going to have a disciple-making church.

Key to equipping your flock is discipling others fully so they can take what you have taught them in the Word of God and teach others, an example the Apostle Paul set for us with Timothy ...

"Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others," 2 Timothy 2:1-2.

You don't develop a disciple-making flock by continuing to leave your people dependent on curriculums, but only by discipling them so they are able to take the Word of God and, in a trustworthy manner, be able to teach others.

Please don't misunderstand, I'm not against the use of curriculums or other teaching or evangelism aids. I equip people in how to share the Gospel using a specific evangelistic tool, and continue to write curriculums on occasion, but all to be used as just a tool. My point is, if we are dependent on them, then we greatly limit the scope of what we can "teach" and how we can teach. We need to be equipped enough in the Word of God so that we can step beyond our tools and be able to fully disciple others.

Is yours an equipped church? Can members of your flock take a subject and teach it from scripture in a trustworthy manner? If not, you've got some equipping to do.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

From center stage to best supporting actor ...

The first time I visited Universal Studios in southern California, I became a movie star.

Okay, that might be somewhat of an exaggeration, but I was able to do a few seconds of acting that was spliced into a major movie, and my name was added to the credits.

I guess I better explain ...

Back then, Paramount Theater had an event within Universal Studios that helped people get a feel for what it was like to make a movie. The first 40 or so people arriving outside the Paramount Theater were recruited for a fun time of acting, so I made sure I got there early. Sure enough, I was one of the people picked for this event, and we were herded into the theater and back stage where it was explained to us we would be "actors" in one of four video snippets that would be spliced into a short scene from one of the "Star Trek" movies.

I was then outfitted in a complete Star Fleet officer's uniform and then spent a few minutes in make-up before being taken to my assigned stage. There were four massive sub-stages on wheels, and my scene was the bridge of the USS Enterprise. I was to play a Star Fleet officer who was in the elevator and would walk out while the ship was under attack; then I was to hit a button on a console, then stumble back into the elevator. All the others on the bridge were to thrash and bounce from side-to-side as if the ship was being pelted by proton torpedoes.

So I went into the elevator, and from there I could see the other three sub-stages moving into their positions behind the one I was on. Suddenly, an announcer began speaking to the crowd while, at the same time, the sub-stage I was on began moving behind the massive curtains. When the announcer stopped talking, the curtains opened and, in front of an audience of 500 people, it was time to act.

I pulled off my scene without a glitch!

Then the curtains fell, our little stage moved away and the next sub-stage took the curtain. My few seconds in the spotlight was done. For $25, I could buy a video that had the scene dubbed into a single scene from a "Star Trek" movie, and at the end, my name had been added as being the actor who was the "Officer in elevator."

I wasn't nominated for any awards, but a whole lot of fun was had by all.

If you're a "Star Trek" fan, you know if you ever got a chance to be in one of the "Star Trek" movies, you would never want to be one of the minor, unnamed officers, especially on a security detail beamed down to some planet. Why? Because you're the one who's going to be killed off! It's not going to be one of the leading stars, they're too important to get rid of because the show depends on them. It's always the "extras" who get killed by the latest enemy on some strange planet.

As I was remembering this experience, I thought we often tend to cast our lives in the same way movies cast scenes. There are those people who are most important to us, the people who "star" in our lives, and all the others are extras who can be killed off. We don't mind if the enemy kills them as long as the key actors in our story stay around.

But life isn't like the movies.

All those other people who seemingly fill in the background of our lives are just as important to God as we are, even if we don't make them important to us. No one is "just an extra."

Not everyone will take center stage in your life, but for the fleeting seconds or minutes someone does step into your life, why not let them be a star to you, if for just a moment? You never know what they can bring to the scenes of your life, and you never know what you might be contributing to theirs. You also never know when God will add someone to your life as a best supporting actor, or when He will cast you in that role for someone new in your life.

Real life isn't like the movies because God didn't make expendable extras!

How can you show greater value to the people who spend seconds, minutes, a few hours, or a couple of days in your life? How can you become a great "best supporting actor" to others?


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Time for a personal quarterly check up ...

So you jumped into 2014 with plans to accomplish this, do that, and achieve x, y, and z. With the first quarter of the year now in the history books, it's a good time to examine where you are with all those goals, and assess any changes you may need to make if you really want to accomplish any of them.

If you're finding yourself derailed from your objectives, it's likely that you've been bargaining along the way. You know, you swore you would accomplish x this year, but as the first few months passed, you bargained away actions you should have been disciplined about for an easier way. It's likely all you got was an easier day instead, while moving yourself further away from achieving your goal.

We can promise a lot to ourselves and others, but when it comes to living up to what we've pledged and actually living it out, we often begin to bargain. That might look something like this classic clip, taken from the movie, "The End." Check it out, and see how Burt Reynolds tries to negotiate with God ...

When we sit down to assess where we're at with our goals, and realize we've bargained away the potential for a good start only to find ourselves failing at the moment, we can become discouraged and start dropping goals and settling for far less than what we were dreaming of.

Let me encourage you not to do that!

The year is still young, you have three full quarters in which you can accomplish a lot. Dropping goals because you find yourself behind on a timetable often is just giving in to not exercising self-discipline and making the tough decisions (the right way, this time). If you just drop some goals but don't learn to discipline yourself to make things happen, you'll spend the year shedding your dreams. Instead of doing that, use this time to assess where you went wrong during the first quarter of this year, then pray about and create an action plan for getting back on track so that 2014 can be as full and productive at the end of the year as you initially hoped it would.

If you're going to drop anything, get rid of the bargaining and go "all in" on making the changes you need to make to have the year God would like you to have.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline," 2 Timothy 1:7.