Thursday, April 30, 2015

This FREE consulting offer can help your church become a disciple-making church!

A ministry of the Scott Free Clinic
Any church or Christian organization who enrolls 15 people or more in the June 1 "Relational Evangelism" online course offered through Hope International University can (if they desire) receive FREE CONSULTING from the Scott Free Clinic's Partnership for Ambassador Training ministry.

The training offered in this eight-week course is the most effective disciple-making model you'll find in use today. People have used the "It's All About Relationship" model to lead thousands of people in different cultures around the world into a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. I have used this model for three decades and have introduced it to multiple churches, so I personally know its effectiveness for equipping Christians to be effective ambassadors for Christ and for transitioning churches into being disciple-making churches.

To help you successfully incorporate this disciple-making model into your church or organization, the Scott Free Clinic is offering FREE consulting to groups of 15 or more. The consulting will be provided by John Hendee and Dr. James Scott, Jr. John developed the "It's All About Relationship" (IAAR) disciple-making model more than 30 years ago and now teaches the "Relational Evangelism" online course at Hope International University where he serves as Chair of World Evangelism. Dr. Scott is Founder and President of the Scott Free Clinic, which recently assimilated John's IAAR ministry as its Partnership for Ambassador Training (PAT) ministry component.

The consulting would include learning about your current ministry and making specific and comprehensive recommendations as to how you can have a multiplication and reproduction plan for your congregation. If your ministry is reasonably close, we can drive to you, or work by phone or interactively online. If you're further away and we need to meet in person, we simply need assistance with transportation, but no charge will be made for the consulting. We will be available to consult with you through your first year of transition and implementation; we'll be there to help you successfully become a disciple-making church or organization!

The REGISTRATION DEADLINE for the next "Relational Evangelism" course is May 18 and the course begins June 1. You can click here for details about the course, including how to sign up. If you have any questions, you can click here to email Dr. Scott or click here to email John Hendee. This is an opportunity that literally can transform your church or organization, so get registered for the course as soon as possible!


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

This weekend could boost your relationship with your spouse or significant other. Find out how ...

A lot of the work I do with married, engaged, or courting couples gets very deep. But sometimes, things that add a little boost of intimacy are simple acts of thoughtfulness.

This weekend is a great opportunity for ladies to offer something to their husbands or significant others --- a thoughtful little gift --- that any sports-loving guy will love!

Even though any time we give it should be with the other person in mind, you ladies should know this idea could return benefits to you in spades! Moms, this could boost the quality of your gift for Mother's Day that is just around the corner. Wives, this could be a way to be able to pad your "honey-do" list. Single ladies, this could be a way to get a little more attention from your boyfriend.

What's the possibility?

Well, if your guy loves sports, you should know this weekend is one of the biggest sports weekends of the year. This is the kind of weekend where the male sports fan longs to indulge in spending the weekend in front of the t.v. with his remote control and comfort foods.

What's in store this weekend?

Well, actually starting tomorrow, we have the NFL draft! Also coming this weekend is the first real, BIG boxing event in a long time as Floyd Mayweather, Jr. takes on Manny Pacquiao. If that's not enough, both the NBA and the NHL have the semifinals going on, the Yankees will be squaring off against the Red Sox, and there's even the running of the Kentucky Derby.

All this weekend!

Some ladies will make the mistake of bearing down on their sportsman significant other and creating tension and distance as she insists he mow the lawn, clean out the garage, and go to her parent's house for a barbeque. Anything other than get in front of his big screen.

But ladies, here's a chance to give your guy a gift. You can tell him the weekend is his, and he'll be as excited as a little boy! And chances are, after all the events are over this weekend, your guy will step back and see you gave him a weekend to splurge in "guy stuff" and he'll respond with gratitude by doing things for you or giving you more attention, or both.

This isn't heavy duty relational science or theology of marriage, it's just basic human interaction where we give simple gifts that are appreciated by those receiving them. And as we give, we receive.

So, ladies, if your guy is a sports fan, I encourage you to give this opportunity consideration, but quickly so. After all, the draft starts tomorrow!


The man who wore his sin to Starbucks ...

Last night I was immersed in work on my laptop when I sensed someone sitting down on the padded bench next to me. When I turned to look, I saw it was a man who wore his sin to Starbucks.

He's a homeless man, and he suffers from a mental illness. Not being his therapist, and not having had an opportunity to assess him, I don't know what specific mental illness plagues him, but from his outward behavior, which routinely involves an ongoing conversation (spoken out loud) with himself, it's clear to see he has problems.

Yesterday was different.

He was wearing a sleeveless camouflage shirt with utility shorts, but what made him stand out was the reddish-pinkish --- or was it scarlet? --- ink that now covered his body.

And I do mean covered!

Every single strand of his hair was saturated with the ink.

His face was soaked with the ink.

His arms and legs were covered with the ink.

Any part of his body that was exposed was wholly stained by the ink!

Then it struck me: he had been busted trying to steal something! The only way this man was now a scarlet man was he had obviously stolen something that had an ink security tag attached, or tried to open something with a security ink tag, and it went off. The result was that it exploded ink all over him, making it an irrefutable fact that he was a thief.

The fact this man was a thief was now something he could no longer hide. He was the only scarlet man in Starbucks, and everyone noticed. As I looked at his new coloring, I was reminded of this scripture text ...

"'Come now, let's settle this,' says the Lord. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool'," Isaiah 1:18.

The ink on this man won't be coming off of him any time soon. He'll be wearing his sin publicly for a while. He was already ostracized for being homeless and obviously mentally imbalanced but now, with his sin on public display, I imagine people will shun him all the more.

Imagine if God made it so that you had to wear, in some public way, your sins of the past week to church on Sunday. Would you act any differently? Would you be treated any differently?

The only hope for this scarlet man was that Jesus Christ was crucified between two thieves. One hurled abuses at Him, the other found a Savior whom that day he would worship in paradise.

Jesus loves thieves, and everyone who's sins are as scarlet. That includes you and me. We don't have to wear our sins publicly for all to see, but they're still there. Have you turned to the One who can wash them away and make you as white as snow? It's only through Jesus Christ that the stain of sin can be removed.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"Thought leaders" keep telling us to dump people from our lives. You might want to rethink that ...

Very popular across the social media spectrum among Christians are statements urging us to purge from our lives, like a cannon ball shot from a cannon, all those people who don't personally benefit us or support our goals.

Such an attitude was completely alien to how Jesus Christ treated people when he walked this earth. It should be just as alien to us as well!

There's a story about a young boy who was sent to his room because he had been "bad." A short time later he came out and said to his mother, "I've been thinking about what I did and I said a prayer."

"That's fine," she said. "If you ask God to make you good, He will help you."

"Oh, I didn't ask Him to help me be good," the boy replied, "I asked Him to help you put up with me!"

We're quick to drop people from our lives who are just difficult to have in our lives, and we're fast about asking God to change them. It is true some people are tougher to tolerate than others. But have you ever considered this question: Do you put up with from others as much as God puts up with you?

You may have heard the story about the man who hated Christians. He did everything he could not only to make life miserable for them, but to hurt them. His name was Saul. Fortunately, the first Christians were patient with this guy; had they not been, we would never have known the great ministry of this man who had his name changed by God to Paul. We refer to him as the Apostle Paul. He would later write these words inspired by the Holy Spirit ...

"Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love," Ephesians 4:2.

Jesus set the greatest example of all when it comes to living out this statement from Paul. Instead of eliminating from His life all the people who were not beneficial to Him, He instead offered Himself as a sacrifice before God on their behalf and died for them. As children of God, we're to live with and love others in the same manner Jesus lived with and loved others ...

"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.

So what's the answer: Do you put up with from others as much as God puts up with you?


Monday, April 27, 2015

Would God call you a mule?

Attempting to be who others think you should be will likely ensure you'll never become who you could be by God's design for you.

The English writer, Somerset Maugham, once wrote a story about a janitor at St. Peter's Church in London. One day a young vicar discovered the janitor was illiterate, so he fired him because of it. Jobless, the man invested his meager savings in a tiny tobacco shop, where he prospered, bought another, expanded, and ended up with a chain of tobacco stores worth a lot of money.

One day the man's banker said, "You've done well for an illiterate, but where would you be if you could read or write?"

"Well," replied the man, "I'd be the janitor of St. Peter's Church in Neville Square."

There's no one who knows you more intimately than God, and as your Creator, He understands you better than you understand yourself! And, rather incredibly, God desires to be your personal guide in this life ...

"The Lord says, 'I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you'," Psalm 32:8.

God wants us to embrace His offer to lead us and not fight against the plans He has for us ...

"Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control," Psalm 32:9.

Are you willingly (and joyfully!) following God? Or are you like a stubborn mule that God needs to bridle?


Friday, April 24, 2015

Is it time to stop posturing?

My friend was deeply disillusioned.

He had become a "raving fan" of a particular pastor who had a popular radio program. I have to say, this guy preached some great sermons, and a couple of the many books he has written are still some of the best on their subjects that I have read.

"Did you hear?" my friend asked.

"Hear what?" I asked in response.

Then he proceeded to describe how that same minister was no longer broadcasting his radio show. It seems that some sort of indiscretion on the part of the minister had become public knowledge, and because of whatever the issue was, he was asked to resign his position as pastor and his radio show was cancelled.

That same minister is today preaching in a different church and broadcasting a different radio program, but my friend never regained the confidence he had placed in this man.

At some point in life, anyone could disappoint us, but we know anyone we put on a pedestal definitely will. That's because we're all human, none of us are perfect. Try as best we can, our imperfection will crack through the postures we offer to the public, or even family and friends.

In the original television series of Superman, our favorite superhero would confidently posture
himself, legs spread, fists on hips, chest pushed forward, while he stared down the barrel of a gun. As the bullets bounced off his chest, Superman would smile, with no thought of retreat. Then something very odd would happen. Once the rounds of bullets were spent, the bad guy, in desperation, would hurl the gun at Superman, and the caped super hero would duck! Superman, the man who was fearless in the face of oncoming bullets, would cower to avoid being hit by an empty gun!

You may portray to the world a posture of strength and resiliency, but you're still human. You can't hide that fact, it will show and people will see.

Maybe we would be better off to follow the example of the Apostle Paul, a "super hero" of the New Testament. Instead of trying to posture himself as being some kind of spiritually invincible "strong man," Paul started by boasting in his weakness.

"If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am," 2 Corinthians 11:30.

If there's anyone in the New Testament that could have struck up a posture as a super saint, it's Paul. But he goes on to tell us in chapter 12 the following ...

"... So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, 'My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.' So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That's why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong," 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10.

It's when we posture ourselves as super saints that we are weak; but when we boast in our weaknesses, we are strong through Christ!

People, in all their imperfection, will disappoint us. And we, in ours, will disappoint them. Yet, it is because of His perfect holiness that Jesus Christ will never disappoint us and thus, He is the one that we can securely place our full confidence in.

Who have you placed your confidence in?


Thursday, April 23, 2015

When the inconceivable becomes reality: Dealing with PTSD ...

Sucked in, washed up, and blown over.

What a traumatic experience!

In his book, "In the Eye of the Storm," author and pastor Max Lucado shares the following story:

"Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.

"The problems began when Chippie's owner decided to clean Chippie's cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She'd barely said 'hello' when 'ssssop!' Chippie got sucked in. The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie --- still alive, but stunned.

"Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do ... she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air.

"Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.

"A few days after the trauma, the reporter who had initially written about the event contacted Chippie's owner to see how the bird was recovering.

"'Well,' she replied, 'Chippie doesn't sing much anymore --- he just sits and stares.'

"It's hard not to see why. Sucked in, washed up, and blown over ... that's enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart."

There are millions of people who can identify with this traumatized bird in that something they have experienced has "stolen the song" from their hearts. Something previously inconceivable has pierced it's way into their reality and become a traumatic, real experience for them. Most people have stress responses after a traumatic event, but for some those responses won't fade but instead be the beginning symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly referred to as "PTSD."

Those four initials, "PTSD," have become much more familiar to us as countries have been mired in wars for years now. But it isn't just military personnel who can suffer from PTSD. Anyone can experience PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event such as combat, sexual or physical abuse, sexual or physical assault, a terrorist attack, serious accidents such as a car wreck, or the trauma of a natural disaster such as a tornado, fire, or earthquake. While going through such traumatic experiences, a person usually feels their lives or the lives of others are endangered and that they have lost control of the situation.

There are four types of symptoms for PTSD:

Avoidance - This is when a person tries to avoid any setting or situation that cause them to remember the traumatic event they experienced.

Replay - A person who has experienced a traumatic event may experience "flashbacks" where they feel as if they are going through the trauma again, or they may struggle with bad memories or suffer from mightmares.

Negative changes - Often as a way to avoid bad memories, it's common for someone suffering from PTSD to make negative changes about what they believe or regarding their feelings. They may struggle with feelings of fear, guilt, or shame, and they may no longer have an interest in what used to interest them.

Hyperarousal - People with PTSD may feel constantly alert after experiencing trauma. This is known as increased emotional arousal which can cause difficulty sleeping, outbursts of anger or irritability, difficulty concentrating, and a person may become easily startled.

Additional problems may include generalized anxiety disorder, depression, substance abuse, conduct disorder, and chronic pain; such problems often lead to additional problems in relationships and with employment.

As you see, experiencing trauma can bring new and significant troubles into a person's life. BUT there is some good news for those experiencing PTSD and it's the loudest message I want to convey in this post: THERE IS HELP TO OVERCOME PTSD! The treatment for PTSD is usually psychotherapy or medication, or a combination of both depending on the needs of the individual. But the good news is that treatment IS effective in helping people overcome this disorder.

If you suffer from PTSD, GET THE PROFESSIONAL HELP YOU NEED, it truly could help you change your life!


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A trio of trouble: Dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression ...

Have you ever felt "stressed out"?



Chances are, you're like millions of others who have had these experiences more than once, and some of you may have been plagued with all three at the same time!

While most of us understand the experience of stress, understanding from others begins to fade quickly when it comes to our experiencing anxiety (especially when anxiety becomes severe) or depression. The misunderstanding can be deep, with people you know telling you to just "suck it up" or offering their prescriptions for your woes that are anything but a remedy.

The misunderstanding regarding stress, anxiety, or depression can be like the experience of a man who, in 1835, visited a doctor in Florence, Italy. He was filled with anxiety and exhausted from a lack of sleep. He couldn't eat, and he avoided his friends. The doctor examined him and found that he was in prime physical condition. Concluding that his patient needed to have a good time, the physician told him about a circus in town and its star performer, a clown named Grimaldi. Night after night he had the people rolling in the aisles.

"You must go see him," the doctor advised. "Grimaldi is the world's funniest clown. He'll make you laugh and cure your sadness."

"No," replied the despairing man, "he can't help me. You see, I'm Grimaldi!"

One of the painful aspects of dealing with stress, anxiety, or depression is the misunderstanding others often have regarding what you're experiencing. That's because while many people are familiar with stress, they are less informed about what anxiety and depression are and how they can significantly impact a person's life. So let's get a simple snapshot of this trio of trouble and then we'll review some of the things we can do to deal with these challenges. Since ways of responding to or coping with each one often overlap, I'll provide recommendations at the end of this post.

A story is told of a woman whose little girl was throwing a temper tantrum as the two went up and down the aisles of a busy grocery store. The toddler sat in the cart screaming and flailing about. As she continued shopping, she could be heard calmly muttering, "Don't yell, Susie. Calm down, Susie. Don't get excited, Susie."

A woman passing by commended her, saying, "You certainly are doing a great job trying to calm down your little girl."

The mother responded, "My little girl? Lady, I'm Susie!"

All of us should be able to relate to stress, which simply is a response to the pressures we face in life. Whether it's going out on a first date, planning a wedding, navigating rush hour traffic, or starting a new job, stress is a response we can have in responding to the demands of living life.

Some stress can be good for us. For example, facing the pressure of a deadline can motivate us to become focused and more productive in order to complete a project on time. But sometimes stress can feel so heavy that we feel "overloaded" and wonder if we really can cope.

Too much negative stress can interfere with life to the point it begins to affect our health. Physical symptoms of stress may include headaches, high blood pressure, chest pain and heart palpitations, skin rashes, muscle aches, nervous twitches, and loss of sleep among several possible symptoms..

Since stress is a response to a particular stressor, resolving the demands of the stressor will alleviate the stress, but sometimes it takes time to be able to do that. You can reduce the impact of stress by managing the symptoms with the recommendations at the end of this post.

A bassoon player came up to his conductor, Arturo Toscanini, and nervously said that he could not reach the high E flat. Toscanini just smiled and replied, "Don't worry. There is no E flat in your music tonight." Much of what we're anxious about is like that --- unfounded and unncessary.

But it doesn't feel that way when we're swept up in anxiety!

Understanding the source of anxiety usually isn't as easy as missing a note on a bassoon. Anxiety can be a response to stress, an outcome of irrational thinking, a result of compulsivity, and it is believed by some researchers that anxiety is caused in part by a malfunction of brain chemistry.

Anxiety is usually an adverse effect of stress and a process in which a person becomes scared and apprehensive of what lays ahead. While stress is a response to a specific stressor, anxiety often has no identifiable root, thus anxiety is considered a mental disorder while stress is not. There are several different kinds of specific anxiety disorders ranging from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) to panic attacks. For a diagnosis of anxiety, symptoms must persist for at least six months.

Anxiety is when a person feels something like fear, worry, uneasiness, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation. One person described anxiety as being when a person becomes afraid of fear itself. Arthur Somers Roche wrote, "Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained."

The Mayo Clinic reports, "Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. However, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involved repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks)."

The symptoms of anxiety, in addition to feeling worried and apprehensive, can include dizziness, restlessness, fatigue, problems concentrating, tense muscles, trembling, churning stomach, nausea, diarrhea, headache, backache, heart palpitations, numbness or "pins and needles" in extremities, sweating and panic attacks. It's easy to mistake symptoms of anxiety for physical illness and become worried you might be suffering a heart attack or stroke --- a fear which only increases anxiety!

Of the troublesome trio of stress, anxiety, and depression, it is depression that is most misunderstood. Actually, it would be more correct to say that it is depression that we are most ignorant about. That ignorance has fed empty myths and resulted in painful characterizations of those who suffer from depression. Just who is it that could suffer from depression?

One of England's finest preachers was C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892). Frequently during his ministry he was plunged into severe depression, due in part to gout but also for other reasons. In a biography of the "prince of preachers," Arnold Dallimore wrote, "What he suffered in those times of darkness we may not know ... even his desperate calling on God brought no relief. 'There are dungeons,' he said, 'beneath the castles of despair.'"

It isn't just those who haven't struggled with depression who are ignorant of the topic; those who battle depression also often harbor misconceptions about depression. So the arguments between the two is one faction claiming that all depression is a disease. The other faction thinks depressed people just need to think more positively and be active. Both factions are wrong.

For example, persistent or compulsive irrational thinking can result in a mild (or sometimes even a severe) depression; the source for this is our thinking and not a disease (although some argue it still becomes a disease). There are others who suffer depression that clearly has an organic root source, which makes it a disease. Put another way, there are several forms of depressive disorders (i.e., major depression, persistent depressive disorder, psychotic depression, postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder, bi-polar disorder, etc.) so you cannot accurately think of "depression" as being just one type. The Depression Center at the University of Michigan states the following:

"Depression is a real illness that impacts the brain. Anyone suffering from depression will tell you, it's not imaginary or 'all in your head.' Depression is more than just feeling "down." It is a serious illness caused by changes in brain chemistry. Research tells us that other factors contribute to the onset of depression including genetics, changes in hormone levels, certain medical conditions, stress, grief, or difficult life circumstances. Any of these factors alone or in combination can precipitate changes in brain chemistry that lead to depression's many symptoms."

The Depression Center describes the symptoms of depression as follows:

"Depression commonly affects your thoughts, your emotions, your behaviors, and your overall physical health. Here are some of the most common symptoms that point to the presence of depression:

  • Sadness
  • Hoplessness
  • Guilt
  • Moodiness
  • Angry outbursts
  • Loss of interest in friends, family, and favorite activities, including sex.
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Trouble remembering
  • Thoughts of harming yourself
  • Delusions and/or hallucinations can also occur in severe cases of depression
  • Withdrawing from people
  • Substance abuse
  • Missing work, school, or other commitments
  • Attempts to harm yourself
Physical problems:
  • Tiredness or lack of energy
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Weight gain
  • Changes in sleep - sleeping too little or too much."
Experiencing a "stressful day" doesn't mean you're also feeling anxious or that you're depressed. But it is possible to be troubled with the entire trio. In 2015, who doesn't occasionally (or often!) feel stressed? And one study revealed that 85 percent of those with major depression were also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder while 35 percent had symptoms of panic disorder.

So let's take a moment to look at what can be done to deal with and overcome stress, anxiety, and depression. Before looking at some common and specific steps you can take, let me state very clearly that research shows rather resoundingly that most people CAN be helped to overcome the negative impact of stress, and even able to defeat anxiety and overcome depression. One of the big problems is that so many people dealing with any or all of the "trio of trouble" just don't get the help they need. GETTING THE HELP YOU NEED COULD CHANGE YOUR LIFE! So please don't hesitate to seek professional help. I can tell you from my own experience as a Christian clinical therapist that it is ROUTINELY POSSIBLE to change your life positively if you are suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, but you have to want to be helped.

There are at least five things you can do that is common to dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression. They are:

Manage your stress - It's your life! You'll need to organize it and manage it better. Learn to be able to say "no" when you need to. Don't stuff your calendar as full as possible.

Exercise - Physical activity is a proven way to reduce stress. Appropriate exercise should become part of your lifestyle, not just occasional jaunts when stress levels spike.

Nutrition - According to Philip Rice, Stress and Health department at Moorhead State University, "Eating right is just as important as managing stress because vulnerability to stress increases with poor diet." It would take multiple blog posts to adequately communicate the significance good nutrition has in the life of anyone battling stress, anxiety, or depression. Work with your physician, or a dietician, or roll up your sleeves and do the research you need to build your knowledge about good nutrition, and then build that into being the daily practice of your life. Place appropriate limits on the intake of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco, all of which can exacerbate your capacity to deal with stress, anxiety, and depression.

Sleep - A lack of sleep or inadequate sleep patterns can significantly exacerbate your capacity to deal with stress, anxiety, and depression. Learn what your sleep needs are, identify your deficiencies, and then make a correction to build the quality and quantity of sleep experience that you need.

Find support - Don't go it alone. It will be easier to battle any of these trio elements with the help and support of others who understand what you're experiencing and are willing to support you as needed.

Now a few quick, specific notes on each element of the trio:

Stress - Again, physical activity is a proven way to help reduce stress, don't make excuses to miss this great way of relieving your stress. Know your limits and stick to them. Make time for recreation. Consider learning relaxation techniques. Massage, or learning muscle relaxation techniques, can be very effective at relieving stress; it's nearly impossible to "feel stressed" when physically relaxed.

Anxiety - Basic treatment for anxiety can include medication, clinical therapy, exercise and relaxation, and nutrition. Anti-depressants are often used to help deal with anxiety in conjunction with clinical counseling. Competent counseling can change your life by equipping you with the knowledge and skills you need to defeat anxiety, so do not hesitate on getting the professional help you need. I have many times recommended the book, "The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook" by Edmund J. Bourne, which has been a very effective source for helping people make a full and lasting recovery over anxiety and anxiety-related issues. Practicing deep abdominal breathing can be an important skill to develop, and biofeedback can potentially be a very effective method of learning to relax and breathe properly.

Depression - Depression is so significant and impacting that a sentence or paragraph is an inappropriate attempt to speak to the treatment for depression. Understand that depression is a very treatable disease and the appropriate treatment can change your life, so get the help you need! There are three major components to most treatment strategies for depression: medication, clinical therapy, and lifestyle changes. It may take time, with some ups and downs, for a treatment plan to work fully, but research shows that the right treatment plan will usually result in helping a person overcome depression.

One of the points I want you to get above everything else is that getting competent professional help usually results in overcoming stress, anxiety, or depression. But in this discussion, do not miss the greatest source for overcoming that is available to anyone and everyone for anything: Jesus Christ. He made you, and He loves and cares about you. He still heals, whether miraculously or through resources such as clinicians and medications. And a committed practice of the spiritual disciplines, in themselves, can tremendously impact the life of a believer who struggles with stress, anxiety, or depression.

You might be struggling with a trio of trouble, but there's a Trinity of power who wants to see you set free from troubles and instead blessed with a peace that passes all understanding.

"I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world," John 16:33


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hurting in a cursed world: Dealing with chronic pain ...

Millions of people today can relate to the painful plight of Job from long ago ...

"And now my life seeps away. Depression haunts my days. At night my bones are filled with pain, which gnaws at me relentlessly," Job 30:16-17.

For a period of time, Job would know the misery of chronic pain, something millions of people today are suffering and struggling with ...

"So Satan left the Lord's presence, and he struck Job with terrible boils from head to foot. Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, 'Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die'," Job 2:7-9.

Job's wife observed the misery of her husband and had no patience for watching him try to endure his pain with integrity. Even the great prophet Jeremiah would know the pull of impatience with God, as he wrote:

"Why then does my suffering continue? Why is my wound so incurable? Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook, like a spring that has gone dry," Jeremiah 15:18.

There are a few reasons why pain and suffering exists in this world, which makes for a theological discussion for a different post at a different time. But pain at some point, and to some degree, is something most don't escape in their lifetimes. In the book, "Christian Discipline," Oswald Chambers wrote the following:

"Suffering is the heritage of the bad, of the penitent, and of the Son of God. Each one ends in the cross. The bad thief is crucified, the penitent thief is crucified, and the Son of God is crucified. By these signs we know the widespread heritage of suffering."

Living in a cursed world means we will be subject to the experience of pain, perhaps even chronic pain like that of Job which "... gnaws at me relentlessly."

"Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God's curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay," Romans 8:18-21.

Yes, chronic pain is a hurtful reality for humanity, BUT their is help and hope. Helen Keller once said, "Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."

Let's take a moment to look at the issue of chronic pain, and some ways of coping with it. The American Psychological Association (APA) states the following:

"Chronic pain is physically and psychologically stressful and its constant discomfort can lead to anger and frustration with yourself and your loved ones. By definition, chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than six months and affects how a person lives their daily life. While physicians can provide treatment for the physical dimensions of chronic pain, psychologists are uniquely trained to help you manage the mental and emotional aspects of this often debilitating condition.

"Several medical treatments may be used to alleviate chronic pain, including over-the-counter and prescription medication, physical therapy, and less utilized treatments such as surgery. However, these options are only a few of the pieces necessary to solve the puzzle of chronic pain. Mental and emotional wellness is equally important --- psychological techniques and therapy help build resilience and teach the necessary skills for management of chronic pain."

I want to give you HOPE that studies show --- and my own clinical experience also verifies --- that a competent, skilled clinical therapist can routinely help chronic pain sufferers improve their experience in living with chronic pain. Following are some helpful tips regarding coping with chronic pain:

There's more than a spiritual "component." Chronic pain is more than a physical experience with a philosophical exercise. We are spiritual beings who happen to have physical bodies that may experience pain and hurt. In the Word of God we can gain a greater understanding of why pain is a part of this world (the "why" often makes an impact); but even more, we discover the Great Physician who can heal us of any malady (He healed Job) or enable us to endure physical pain that persists. When pain is chronic, it is often the dogged practice of spiritual disciplines that help us move effectively and purposefully from day to day.

Educate yourself. When it comes to your body and its health, you are your best advocate. Do your homework and educate yourself about the diagnoses of the cause of your pain. During appointments with physicians, ask all the questions you have and make sure your physician(s) understand you want to be well-educated and informed instead of settling for a quick five-minute doctor appointment that raises more questions than it does in providing information or answering questions. Also, make sure you have competent medical care. If you don't have confidence in your physician(s), seek referrals and make changes until you have medical care you have confidence in.

Be a good patient. When you have competent physicians to treat you, be a good patient and cooperate with them! If helping you includes taking medication regularly, going to physical therapy or receiving other tests or treatments, make sure you are doing what you should be doing to help yourself improve your own health.

Get professional help. Data shows that competent clinical therapists usually can help people suffering from chronic pain, often in significant ways. Yet, many chronic pain sufferers will see a physician but stubbornly refuse to find a competent counselor. While physicians work on addressing the root cause of the pain, you can get real help for the mental and emotional trauma and trials that chronic pain usually brings with it.

Direct your thinking productively. A competent clinical therapist can help you learn to direct your thinking from being overwhelmed with the experience of pain to more productive thinking patterns that help you endure and even overcome the assault chronic pain has on your thought life which, in turn, impacts you in every way. Again, get professional help for this!

Manage your stress. The APA states: "... emotional and physical pain are closely related, and persistent pain can lead to increased levels of stress. Learning how to deal with stress in healthy ways can position you to cope more effectively with your chronic pain. Eating well, getting plenty of sleep and engaging in approved physical activity are all positive ways for you to handle your stress and pain."

Become active and stay engaged. Chronic pain sufferers are often tempted to "shut down" or withdraw. While that temptation is understandable, it often makes the experience of coping with chronic pain even worse. The APA says, "Distracting yourself from your pain by engaging in activities you enjoy will help you highlight the positive aspects of your life. Isolating yourself from others fosters a negative attitude and may increase your perception of your pain. Consider finding a hobby or a pastime that makes you feel good and helps you connect with family, friends, or other people via your local community groups or the internet."

Find support. It's tough enough to persist through the daily challenge of persistent pain, but it can be even harder trying to do so all alone. Let family, friends, and your church family know your need to stay connected with others and how they can help you effectively endure your trials. Search the internet or your local community for support groups that offer an opportunity to connect with others with similar experiences who can understand your needs from the perspective of their own experiences with chronic pain.

There is both hope AND help for those who suffer chronic pain. That's not an empty statement of encouragement; my own experience counseling people with chronic pain has shown that getting competent professional help can make a life-changing difference in being able to live with pain, and quality-of-life doing so. If you're struggling with chronic pain, get the help you need!


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Key basics to attaining and maintaining your physical fitness ...

You're probably more familiar with Dr. Scott's work as an ordained minister, church leader, and Christian clinical therapist. But he is also a certified Personal Trainer and certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist. He has written several articles on physical fitness but it's been a while, and many of his readers have encouraged him to write more on the topic of physical fitness. So here you go!

A retired couple decided they should walk two miles a day to stay in shape. They chose to walk a mile out on a lonely country road so they would have no choice but to walk back. At the one-mile mark on their first venture, the man asked his wife, "Do you think you can make it back all right, or are you too tired?"

"Oh no," she answered, "I'm not tired, I can make it fine."

"Good," replied the husband. "I'll wait here. You go back, get the car and come get me."

Taking stock of your personal fitness level and deciding to improve it can be a challenge, often a bigger mental challenge than it is physically. But some good news is that regular exercise toughens the mind as well as the body. After working out three times a week for six months, one group was found to be 20 percent more fit. The bonus? They also scored 70 percent better in a test of complex decision-making.

Maybe you have taken stock of your current fitness level and are thinking you need to make some improvements. If you give good attention to some key basics to physical fitness, you'll make progress! Those key basics can be summarized like this:
Appropriate physical activity, nutrition, and rest and relaxation
are keys to maximizing your physical fitness.

Let's take a brief look at each one of these fitness basics:

You've probably heard the statement that a ship is safer in a harbor, but it wasn't designed to sit anchored at harbor. Instead, a ship was designed to sail the open seas! In fact, it's harder to maintain a ship that's at anchor, as it is more prone to rust just sitting than when it's sailing.

The same is true with the physical body; it wasn't designed to be "anchored" or just to sit, but rather, it was designed to be active. Movement and activity are necessary sources designed for keeping our bodies physically fit.

God designed our bodies to be used! Historically, people used to have some level of manual labor or more active work as a part of their everyday lives. Recreation also used to be more physically active. Now, we spend long days sitting in chairs in front of computer screens before going home and entertaining ourselves in front of other screens playing video games, watching television, or indulging in Netflix movie marathons.

The result is that many of us have developed mostly sedentary lifestyles, which don't provide for an adequate, natural maintenance of our physical bodies, and so we find ourselves lacking in physical fitness and more susceptible to serious health issues.

Adding regular workouts at the gym can be a great way to begin improving your fitness, but many people who do so remain sedentary outside of those gym workouts. A single workout for an hour usually can't compete with all those other hours of sedentary lifestyle. It's great to add times of exercise and physical workouts to your week, but those workouts aren't to be the only movement and activity you have; instead, focused physical workouts should be a significant supplement to a more active lifestyle.

Thinking that a workout two or three times a week will overcome an otherwise sedentary way of living and working is an inaccurate assumption. In fact, new studies have revealed that living a sedentary life largely composed around sitting can be dangerous for our health, with one report calling sitting the "new cancer." The American Cancer Society has reported the following:

"Did you know that sitting for six or more hours daily can elevate your chances of dying from cancer and other major disease --- even if you maintain a healthy weight and don't smoke?

"This startling finding emerged from a review of data from the American Cancer Society's Prevention Study II (CPS-II). Researchers concluded that:
  • Women who sat for six or more hours daily faced a 37 percent greater risk of death as compared to those who sat for three hours or less.
  •  For men, the increased risk of death for those who sat at least six hours daily was 17 percent.
  • Those who did not exercise regularly and also sat for long periods faced even greater mortality rates --- a startling 94 percent higher for women and 48 percent higher for men."
Another study revealed that we can help prevent such serious threats to our health, and contribute to improving our fitness, by standing and moving every 20 minutes. The study found the 20-minute mark to be optimal, but the bigger conclusion we can draw is the need for us to routinely stand and move a few times each hour that we're awake.

New York Times Phys Ed columnist, Gretchen Reynolds, offers the following:

"Sitting for long periods of time --- when you don't stand up, don't move at all ---  tends to cause changes physiologically within your muscles," says Reynolds. "You stop breaking up fat in your bloodstream, you start getting accumulations of fat ... in your liver, your heart and your brain. You get sleepy. You gain weight. You basically are much less healthy than if you're moving."

With such data available, it's no wonder that federal health guidelines recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise --- such as walking or jogging --- every single day. Standing, moving, becoming more active, and adding in 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day can make a significant difference in your fitness level and your health. Personally, I think working out at the gym at least three days a week and engaging in cardio exercise at least five to six days each week are valuable targets to aim for.

A farmer once planted two fruit trees on opposite sides of his property. One tree he planted as a hedge to hide the unsightly view of an old landfill; he planted the other tree to provide shade to rest under next to a cool mountain stream that ran down beside his fields. As the two trees grew, they both began to produce fruit.

One day the farmer decided to gather the fruit from the tree nearest his house, which was the one used to provide a hedge from the landfill. As he brought the fruit inside the house, he noticed it looked a little deformed; the symmetry of the fruit wasn't good, although the fruit still looked edible. Later that evening, while sitting on his porch, the farmer took one of the pieces of fruit for a snack. Biting into the fruit, he found it to be extremely bitter and completely inedible.

Casting the worthless fruit aside, the farmer walked across the field to the other tree he had planted by the mountain stream, where he plucked a piece of fruit from it and bit into it. This fruit was sweet and delicious, so he gathered several more pieces of fruit and took them to his house.

One tree had as its source of nutrition a landfill --- its roots reached down into a dump! The other had the mineral-rich earth fed by the crystal clear waters of a mountain stream. The nutrition of the tree determined the quality of its fruit.

The same is true for us!

Our nutrition, in its purest purpose for human beings, is fuel for our bodies. If we put junk into our bodies, doing so will eventually bring about negative and even dangerous results. If we fuel our bodies with clean, nutritious foods that provide what our bodies need and want, then positive results will come from doing so.

Some simple tips for providing our bodies with proper nutrition includes the following:

Eat "clean." Instead of eating from a dump (feeding off junk food), instead provide your body with organic food. No fillers, no preservatives, no junk included just to heighten taste while infusing into your body something that isn't good fuel for you.

Put some "nutrition" into your nutrition by actually eating what's good for you You know, things like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, "healthy" fats, etc.

Don't be a glutton! Today, we simply call that "portion control." Stop eating platters of food and reduce your caloric intake to what is a healthy intake for you rather than eating emotionally, or just for pleasure. Remember, you're fueling your body, not entertaining it!

A word about "rewards" and "treats." It's ironic that so many people who desperately need to improve their nutrition and overall fitness level (if not their baseline health itself) often have as the first question to starting a new commitment to better nutrition, "What about rewards and snacks?"

The best answer is, "Earn them!"

So many trainers just let it go, and people litter their new "nutrition plan" so full of "rewards" and "treats" that they're not making any progress. We're talking about your body, and what you put into it is entirely and completely within your control (generally speaking). STOP the pursuit of pleasure eating and only allow for "rewards" and "treats" once you've earned them by developing the practice of properly fueling your body. THEN the occasional reward or treat, or even a regularly planned, properly portioned dessert can be an acceptable part of your nutrition. But as long you feed the longing for those "rewards" and "treats," you'll likely not feed your body what it needs, or at least, not do so very well.

You know the old saying: all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy. That's because all work and no play (relaxation), along with inadequate rest, burns up our energy and indeed dulls us physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually.

Regardless of how busy we are, or what our responsibilities are, to acquire and maintain good physical fitness we need an appropriate amount of relaxation and rest for our minds and our bodies.

One researcher reported what just some of the benefits are for building into our lives time for relaxation and rest:
  • It contributes to restoring our energy. Just by allowing ourselves to slow down and just relax, as well as sleep, helps our "batteries" to recharge and generate new energy that can then be applied to our work and recreation.
  • It helps to repair our bodies. God designed our bodies to repair themselves from the daily wear and tear we impose on them, and this often happens while we rest. Most of us tend to skimp on our sleep time and push ourselves beyond appropriate physical limits on a daily basis, which prevents us from achieving optimal fitness and health. If we are constantly on the move and not getting enough sleep, we are using most of the energy we have to keep going. That means our bodies cannot devote enough energy to healing, so we suffer from fatigue or illness. Building in time for relaxation and rest allows our bodies the opportunity to direct our energy to healing and restoration.
  •  It contributes to calming our thoughts and improving our focus. When we set aside time to relax, we should also focus on quieting our thoughts and letting our minds rest. This can often be more restorative than the physical aspects of relaxation.
  • It helps to lift our mood. Relaxation can simply help us feel happier! Whether we let our thoughts drift aimlessly, lose ourselves in a good book, or listen to music, just the act of resting relieves stress and allows us to feel content.
It seems obvious that sleep is beneficial for us, but that doesn't stop millions of people from severely depriving themselves of the sleep their bodies need. A Harvard medical school research project reported the following:

"Even without fully grasping what sleep does for us, we know that going without sleep for too long makes us feel terrible, and that getting a good night's sleep can make us feel ready to take on the world.

"Scientists have gone to great lengths to fully understand sleep's benefits. In studies of humans and animals, they have discovered that sleep plays a critical role in immune function, metabolism, memory, learning, and other vital functions."

So significant is the impact of sleep in more ways than one to our lives that the National Sleep Foundation recently conducted a special, two-year research project as part of it's 25th anniversary to update their most-cited guidelines on how much sleep we really need at each age. The results of that research are presented in the chart below:

It's your fitness! If you want to attain and maintain an appropriate level of fitness, you need to make important being active, getting regular exercise, providing your body with the nutrition it needs, and providing yourself with adequate relaxation and rest. The more you try to cut corners on these keys to fitness, the less likely it will be that you'll maintain the fitness your body needs for health, wellness, and the enjoyment of living life well.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

NEWS BULLETIN: Scott Free Clinic assimiliates major international disciple-making training ministry ...

The Board of Directors for the Scott Free Clinic voted at its Annual Meeting held today to assimilate
Partnership for Ambassador Training (P.A.T.), which is the support ministry for a major, international disciple-making training course taught by John Hendee through Hope International University (HIU) in Fullerton, California.

Dr. James Scott, Jr., Founder and President of Scott Free Clinic, has been consulting with Hendee for several months regarding the training Hendee does as part of his role serving as Chair of World Evangelism at HIU. This pairing of Hendee and Scott in expanding the reach and success of this disciple-making training led to the Scott Free Clinic formally assimilating the P.A.T. ministry as a regular part of the Clinic services.

The eight-week online "Relational Evangelism" course Hendee teaches through HIU and a consortium of 15 Christian colleges and universities is the most effective model for disciple-making being offered at a national and international level today. Hendee first developed the evangelistic tool used in the disciple-making model he teaches more than 30 years ago. Scores of people have been trained to use it in sharing the Gospel with non-believers and, as a result, thousands of people around the world have come into a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ using this method. The original tool and method have been revised and updated as the "It's All About Relationship" (IAAR) model for effective disciple-making.

What the formal assimilation of the P.A.T. ministry into the Scott Free Clinic means is that Hendee, as Chair of World Evangelism at HIU, will continue to teach the online course and consult with churches and organizations regarding developing an effective disciple-making and ambassador ministry to maximize a church or organization's effectiveness in making new disciples. The support work for the course, which includes recruitment, the coming launch of an Ambassador coaching and support network for course graduates, continued generation of ancillary training materials, and consulting to assist churches and organizations will be provided by the Scott Free Clinic through its Partnership for Ambassador Training ministry component.

"John and I, along with the Board of Directors for the Scott Free Clinic, share a passion to see as many people as possible come into a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ," Dr. Scott stated. "To accomplish that, we need to equip as many Christians and whole churches as possible to be effective disciple-makers and disciple-making churches. By our assimilating the P.A.T. ministry as a component of our ministry, John will be able to focus on training as many people as possible to be effective ambassadors for Christ, and the Scott Free Clinic will provide the ministry support to make that happen. John has already recruited a team of adjunct professors who are experts in the IAAR disciple-making model and HIU has made the course available as an Open Course Class which means there's no limit to how many can enroll, we could literally train multiple megachurches at once. We're ready to equip many thousands to be effective disciple-makers!"

Scott and Hendee recently collaborated on a new book, "Effective Disciple-Making for the 21st Century Using the It's All About Relationship Model" that will serve as companion material to the course and is about to be released to the general public. They also worked together to revise and update "Discipling Christians Using the Spiritual T.E.AM.," which are discipleship materials the Scott Free Clinic will be releasing as a free download to persons, churches, and organizations wanting to use the materials for discipling (maturing) followers of Jesus Christ.

"We are very excited about this ministry partnership with John and look forward to working with him to build relationships around the world with Christians, churches, church planters and church planting agencies, missionaries and mission agencies, and other Christian organizations to train an army of Christians to be ambassadors for Christ who are very effective at making new disciples of Jesus Christ," Dr. Scott said.

The challenge for the Scott Free Clinic taking on this additional ministry is that the Scott Free Clinic is still in the fundraising phase for fully launching all of the Scott Free Clinic services. You can learn more about the Scott Free Clinic by clicking here to visit the ministry website, which will be adding in the coming week a lot of information and materials for the P.A.T. ministry component. If you would be willing to make a contribution to help fully launch this ministry, or consider becoming a regular Care Partner, you can get more information or give online by clicking here.

To learn more about the eight-week online "Relational Evangelism" course, click here. The next class starts June 1, with a registration deadline of May 18. The cost for the course is only $50 per person. For more information about the Scott Free Clinic or Partnership for Ambassador Training, contact Dr. Scott at, and for more information about the "Relational Evangelism" course you can contact Dr. Scott or you can contact John Hendee directly at

Friday, April 17, 2015

Drinking from a thimble ...

Are you wise?

Would others say you have a good understanding of life?

Are you a knowledgeable person?

If you're not wise and lack understanding and knowledge, who's to blame?

In a speech titled "TiVoing the News, Googling Wisdom," delivered by Robert Steck at Miss Hall's School in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 2005, Steck shared the following ...

"Researchers have figured out that a single issue of the New York Times contains about twice as much information as the average citizen of Shakespeare's London would have come across in an entire lifetime. And that's just one issue of one newspaper from one American city.

"If you go online, of course, you can read newspapers from cities and regions all over the globe ... and that's just the newspaper websites, an extremely tiny percentage of the total ... today there are about 36 million [as of 2012 there are more than 600 million websites].

"The point is that any one of us has more instantaneous access to information than Shakespeare could have expected to see in several lifetimes. Or than Socrates. Or Moses. Or ...

"You get the point."

Steck concluded with this ...

"There's a clear difference between access to information and acquisition of wisdom ... Floods of information and too few tools to extract understanding or wisdom is like standing thirsty in front of Niagara Falls equipped only with a thimble. Make it an overriding mission ... to equip yourselves with better devices than just thimbles to sort through huge quantities of information."

The same is true for Christians. We have chains of bookstores selling "Christian" books, commentaries, and Bible study aids. Christian radio programs provide Bible teaching 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are Christian television programs, and a host of Christian podcasts. The internet is littered with Christian websites. And in most American homes, there's usually found at least a couple of Bibles.

But how wise are you in the Word? What's your understanding of scripture? How knowledgeable are you regarding what is written in the Bible? Just how biblically literate are you?

When it comes to your knowledge of the Bible, are drinking from a hefty stein full of Living Water, or from a thimble?

"Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment," Proverbs 4:7.

"Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment. Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life. If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer," Proverbs 9:10-12.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

You're the packaging, not the package ...

Have you ever noticed there's very little you have in your life that isn't packaged or doesn't come in a container of some sort?

The packaging and container businesses are multi-billion dollar industries that are essential to getting what you want or need from the provider to you.

Take, for example, a farmer who grows corn. The farmer will harvest his crop and sell it, and that
corn will make its way to a food manufacturer who will either put the corn into cans or place it in packages that are then frozen so that the cans and packages can be placed into grocery stores in a manner that you may be able to pick them up, pay for them, take them home, open them and eat the contents. To get the corn from the farmer to your dinner table requires a container or packaging of some sort.

God designed a similar process for getting reconciliation from Him to humanity, with Christians being the containers or packaging! Look at how the Apostle Paul describes this process that God has designed ...

"And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ's ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, 'Come back to God!'" 2 Corinthians 5:18-20.

Human beings were separated from God, their Creator, because of sin. God desired to reconcile all of humanity to Himself, which He accomplished through giving His Son, Jesus. Jesus carried out the Father's will by giving Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin; as Paul put it, God was reconciling the world to Himself through Christ.

Reconciliation is accomplished!

Now to deliver that to humanity, God has given to His children --- Christians --- the ministry of reconciliation. God selected Christians to be the "containers" or "packaging" of the Gospel message ("... and he has given us this wonderful message of reconciliation ..."). To be reconciled to God, people must have and hear the Gospel message, and God uses Christians to be the containers of that wonderful message. In that way, God is directly making His appeal through us!

As a Christian, you're a package of wonderfully good news! As a Christian, you're a container of the life-transforming Gospel! Are you giving that message to others and helping them open it so they can receive God's appeal to be reconciled to Him?

The world cannot know Christ unless you become an opened container of the Gospel delivered to them. Does that describe you?


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Scarred for life ...

Jim Luthy is sometimes quick to ask people if they want to see his scar.

The scar from when he was ...

Well, let Jim tell his story ...

"It was a regular work day. There were six of us in a room --- myself, two other men, and three women. One of the guys was talking about his vacation when one of the women handed him a knife and he stabbed me, right in the lower abdomen. The last thing I remembered before I passed out was the women working to control the bleeding. I woke up in a fifth floor hospital bed at St. Peter's Hospital in Olympia. You wanna see my scar?

"I think I better tell you the whole story. It was indeed a regular work day while I worked for the State Patrol, but I wasn't at work. The room was a surgical room and the five other people in the room were my anesthesiologist, my surgeon, and three nurses. They were there to perform an appendectomy, which is why the doctor stabbed me in the gut. Fortunately, he had my best interest at heart and he was nice enough to sew me up when he was finished.

"You see, if you don't hear the whole story, the act of a surgeon cutting into you with a knife can sound quite traumatic. Who would opt for that? But for someone who is sick and in need of relief, it is a welcome wound."

It doesn't take being on this planet very long before learning that life will scar you. Whether it's a skinned knee from crashing on your bicycle, a mark left from a surgeon's work, or deep emotional scars from interactions with other human beings, it's not likely you'll get through this life without collecting some scars.

The physical scars hurt but heal. I once oversaw a program at a hospital that provided wound care to people. Some people had physical wounds that had remained open for decades, but our medical team was able to help them heal from even the most difficult wounds. Their work would leave a scar, but there would be healing.

I've also counseled people who have wrestled with emotional wounds for years, even decades. And I've seen the same people be healed from such wounds, even though a scar might remain.

But there's a wound each of us bears, and it comes from the trauma that sin causes in our lives. No earthly doctor can treat it, no counselor can help bring healing for it. This wound can only be healed by the Great Physician, Jesus Christ. And guess what .... He bears the scars for us!

"Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don't be faithless any longer. Believe!'" John 20:27.

Jesus could have chosen for His resurrected body to be without blemish, but instead He bears the scars of nail-piercings to His hands and feet, and the scar of a spear puncture to His side, to bear witness forever of His sacrifice for our sins. His scars represent the story of our redemption, and spark in us a fire of faith!

"'My Lord and my God!' Thomas exclaimed," John 20:28.

Have you let the Great Physician heal you of your wounds caused from sin?


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Paul's advice to a church leader ...

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

"That was a wonderful sermon," she told him, "just wonderful! Everything you said applies to someone I know!"

It's easy to think of people we know who we believe should hear some preacher's sermon, and as the preachers and teachers who deliver those messages and present such lessons, it's also easy to think the message is primarily for the people in the audience.

At the 1993 annual meeting of the American Heart Association, thousands of doctors, nurses, and researchers met in Atlanta to discuss, among other things, the importance a low-fat diet plays in keeping our hearts healthy. Yet during meal times, they consumed fat-filled fast foods such as bacon cheeseburgers and fries at about the same rate as people from other conventions. When one cardiologist was asked whether or not his partaking in high-fat meals set a bad example, he replied, "Not me, because I took my name tag off!"

When the sermon has been delivered, the church service is over, and the preacher goes home, it's not time to walk away from the message he just delivered, it's time to make sure he's living it out by applying it to his own life!

That's part of the advice the Apostle Paul gives to a spiritual leader in Titus, chapter 2, as he instructs Titus in how to lead different people in the church. He begins by telling Titus what to teach older men (v. 2), then what to teach older women (v. 3) and what they should be teaching younger women (vs. 4-5), and then what to teach younger men (v. 6). Paul finally turns his attention to Titus as the spiritual leader, and directs him as follows ...

"And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching. Teach the truth so that your teaching can't be criticized. Then those who oppose us will be ashamed and have nothing bad to say about us," Titus 2:7-8.

Paul says the spiritual leader should be a living example of good works, and that what the spiritual leader does actually reflects an "... integrity and seriousness of your teaching." In other words, the preacher upholds his message by practicing what he preaches! A flock won't take seriously a shepherd who preaches one thing, but does another. The integrity of a leader's message is found in the application of his messages in his own life. Paul is telling Titus to keep his name tag on and set the example!

But notice that Paul doesn't conclude his instruction there. He adds, "Teach the truth ..." On the face of it, it seems odd the Apostle should have to tell any spiritual leader to teach the truth, but teaching the truth isn't always what many leaders do.

It isn't just pastors who shy away from the truth. Terry Shea, writing in AOL Autos, attempted to dispel the mystery of the ever inaccurate auto gas gauge ...

"Have you ever noticed that your gas gauge stays on full for quite a while before the needle even moves, and then it moves faster and faster as it approaches empty? And then when it gets to 'E' it sort of stays there for a while until the low warning light comes on ...?

"It turns out it's partially your fault that gas gauges work that way.

"The engineers calibrate them to do that. Why? Because you, the customer, have told them that's the way you like it ... Apparently, consumer surveys indicate that people don't like seeing the needle depart from 'F' right away either ... Customers want it to stay on full for an amount of time. This gives them the illusion that they are getting better fuel mileage or at least not immediately burning through that expensive tank of gasoline they just bought, even if they quite literally are.

"And while customers want there to be a 'reserve' of gasoline available when they reach the empty mark ... they don't want too much of a reserve. Otherwise, they will complain that their 20-gallon tank only takes 15 gallons when filling up from empty. Apparently, there is a sweet spot where customers are happy to be fooled by their gas gauges, but not too much. We customers sure are a fickle bunch.

"The engineer's job should be to make things more accurate and efficient, but in this case he has to play psychologist to keep customers happy."

What could possibly be more straightforward than a gas gauge? You'd think that people would be happy to have one that simply provided them with accurate information. Not so in our "have it your way" world.

Most pastors today can identify with the pressure to accommodate an increasingly fickle people listening to their preaching and teaching. To suggest that it is challenging in an age of relativism and theological compromise to preach the absolute, uncompromising truths of the Gospel is a gross understatement. But the greatest example of doing good works, and practicing what we preach, is empty and of no value if what we preach isn't the truth.

Paul's advice to leaders, then, is very different from the advice we often hear offered to today's church leaders. Paul would tell you to live a life that is an example of good works, practice what you preach, and preach the truth. Execute that advice consistently and you'll be a shepherd that sheep will want to follow.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Let's talk about money!

A pastor stood before his congregation and said, "I have bad news, I have good news, and I have more bad news."

The congregation got very quiet.

"The bad news is that the church building needs a new roof."

The congregation groaned and shook their heads.

"The good is that we have enough money for the new roof!" the pastor countered.

A sigh of relief was heard rippling through the gathered group.

"The bad news is," added the pastor, "it's still in your pockets!"

That simple story highlights a simple fact: the work of the kingdom of God on this earth is financed by God through what He provides to His children. The means of paying the bills to do the work of the church is in our pockets!

We talk a great deal about encouraging others, sharing a smile, and giving hugs, but a glaring reality remains that some of the most significant things the Church will ever do will require us to dig deep into our pockets, resulting in our being parted with some of our money.

Jesus was concerned about both the souls and the circumstances of people, and He spent His life meeting both of those needs. He taught us how we can have peace with God and He also fed the crowds, healed people, and served their practical needs and difficult circumstances. As the Church, we're to follow in His steps, and to do that will take some money to finance all that needs to be done.

For us to reach into our pockets, we need to first fix our attitudes so that we'll be willing to take action to reach and serve a lost and needy world.

When it comes to the concept of developing our attitudes about giving to God, I'm not going to try to reinvent the wheel. In June of 2013 I wrote a book review about an outstanding little hardback book (a small one that can just about fit in the palm of your hand) that does a great job addressing the attitude we as children of God need to have (and CAN develop) regarding our giving to God and financially contributing to the work of His kingdom. The book is, "Plastic Donuts" by Jeff Anderson, and you can find my original review here. Not only do I encourage every Christian to read this book and absorb and act on its contents, I also encourage churches to provide this book to every member of their congregation.

Our lives are a stewardship! From life itself, down to every penny we have, is a gift from God, one which we will have to give an account to God as being stewards of all that He has given us.

Godfrey Davis, who wrote a biography about the Duke of Wellington, said, "I found an old account ledger that showed how the Duke spent his money. It is a far better clue to what he thought was really important than the reading of his letters and speeches." Put another way, I once heard pastor Dr. LeRoy Lawson say, "Show me your checkbook and I'll show you your priorities."

Sometimes people become so frightened about having to give an account to God for their stewardship that they are afraid to do much of anything with what God has given them. But when it comes to our money, we can be comfortable knowing that it has been provided to us to spend, to  invest, and to enjoy.

Don't be afraid to spend some money!
Money is a practical element meant as a means to achieving something of greater value ... feeding your family, providing a home for your loved ones, clothing yourselves, helping others, and functioning in a world where doing much of anything costs something. So don't be afraid to spend money, that's why you have it!

Sometimes we over-estimate or over-emphasize what money can really accomplish for us. Someone once wrote that money will buy:
  • a bed but not sleep
  • books but not brains
  • food but not appetite
  • finery but not beauty
  • a house but not a home
  • medicine but not health
  • luxuries but not culture
  • amusements but not happiness
  • a crucifix but not a Savior
  • religion but not salvation
  • a good life but not eternal life
  • a passport to everywhere but heaven.
As you see, what is really important in life requires something other than money. Money is just a tool to use as you navigate this life, so don't be afraid to spend it.

Make sure you invest some of it!
You don't want to spend all your money at once, or squander it foolishly. Give consideration to what your needs are and will be, and invest some of your money toward those ends. Even small but persistent investment can pay big dividends over time.

According to Doug Stanglin of USA Today, a Massachusetts man's notion to pay off his mortgage in pennies started out as a joke 35 years ago, then became an obsession and finally turned into reality ...

"In April, Thomas Daigle delivered two 400-pound boxes holding more than 62,000 pennies onto the steps of Milford Federal Savings and Loan Association to make the last payment on the home he and his wife, Sandra, bought when they were married in 1977."

Daigle meticulously saved every penny he came across over the past 30-plus years in an effort to make his last payment "memorable." The Milford Federal Savings and Loan was 100-percent "for" the idea. After all, money is money!

Thomas Daigle's story demonstrates that even small acts of stewardship, faithfully carried out over time, can reap a weighty reward --- in Thomas' case, an 800-pound reward! In the end, he enjoyed the satisfaction of years of diligence and he now owns his home outright.

When it comes to investing, Jesus demonstrated the greatest investment we can make is in the kingdom of God and the lives of other people. That's where we seem to be challenged the most, as we would rather spend what dollars we have on ourselves than investing it in others.

At a church meeting, a very wealthy man rose to tell the rest of those present about his Christian faith.

"I'm a millionaire," he said, "and I attribute it all to the rich blessings of God in my life. I remember the turning point in my faith. I had just earned my first dollar and I went to a church meeting that night. The speaker was a missionary who told about his work. I knew that I only had a dollar bill and had to either give it all to God's work or nothing at all. So at that moment I decided to give my whole dollar to God. I believe that God blessed that decision, and that is why I am a rich man today."

He finished and there was an awed silence at his testimony as he moved toward his seat. As he sat down, a little old lady sitting in the same pew leaned over and said to him, "I dare you to do it again!"

It sounds so humble and pious to hear of the man giving his only dollar, but many would scoff at the idea of him giving away everything as a rich man. "It's too much to give away!" many would think.

Is it?

How much is too much to invest in the lives of others and in the work of God's kingdom? Now that the man was rich, money was still just a tool, it didn't change value because he now had millions. And he could trust God as much with his millions as when he only had a dollar.

James Miller once said, "It's ironic that we print 'In God We Trust' on the back of God's leading competitor'." We print Gods name across our money even though it is often money that tempts us to trust it rather than God. Let the "In God We Trust" printed on your money be a reminder of where you should be putting your confidence. Doing so will give you the courage to invest in others and in the work of God's kingdom.

"Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others," 1 Timothy 6:17-18.

Don't forget to enjoy it!
This might be hard for some to believe, but God really does want us to enjoy life! Doing so will require a little money, but did you notice in the last scripture that God provides for that?

"Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment ..." 1 Timothy 6:17.

We should be good stewards who spend when we need to, invest to meet our needs as well as investing in the lives of others and God's kingdom, but it's also okay to take a little of our money and enjoy life with it. Maybe that means splurging on a dinner out, going to the movies, buying a more reliable car, or taking that more exotic vacation. As long as our enjoyments fit within a stewardship of what God has given us, then don't be afraid to spend some money on enjoying life as well. Certainly not to the ignoring of financial responsibilities, or to the detriment of not caring about others, but don't allow for a sense of false guilt in actually enjoying the life God has given you. He intended you to enjoy your life! Make sure some enjoyment in life is part of your spending and investing.

"So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun," Ecclesiastes 8:15.

In his book, "I Talk Back to the Devil," A.W. Tozer reminds us of this ...

"Money often comes between men and God. Someone has said that you can take two small ten-cent pieces, just two dimes, and shut out the view of a panoramic landscape. Go to the mountains and just hold two coins closely in front of your eyes --- the mountains are still there, but you cannot see them at all because there is a dime shutting off the vision in each eye."

It doesn't take large quantities of money to come between us and God; just a little, placed in the wrong position, will effectively obscure our view.

We're to be good stewards of all God blesses us with, including our money. And when it comes to our money, we shouldn't be afraid to spend it, to invest it (especially in other people), and to enjoy it. How are you doing as a steward of your money? Are you spending it wisely or foolishly? Are you investing some in others, or are you being selfish? Are you enjoying some of it as a way to enjoy the life God has given you? What changes do you need to make to become a better steward?