Thursday, December 31, 2009

What Kind of Planner Are You?

James 4:13-17 (ESV)
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.


From this short passage, John MacArthur pulls out three points in his commentary on the book of James. He says we see people that ignore God’s will, deny God’s will and disobey God’s will. Those are interesting thoughts because we can all find ourselves in there somewhere. This passage is about business plans, but rest assured you're in there. Across the full span of our lives, we're all in there somewhere.

Are You Ignoring God’s Will?
How often are we guilty of making our plans without consulting God’s Word or even thinking them through this with Godly people we know? It seems that many times people don’t look for God’s help until they are in such deep trouble they are sinking fast. Sometimes we are in so deep that it is too late to escape the consequences of these poor choices. Put simply, it is our arrogance that causes us to live this way.

Are You Denying God’s Will?
Everything we do in life is done intentionally. Whether it is the building of a family business or being lazy and doing nothing, all of our actions require thought and decision. When we deny God’s will it is the act of not only ignoring God’s will, but of us believing there is a better way. And that better way, at least in theory, usually ends up being our way. Parents get upset when children transform a simple project into a hazardous disaster because they didn’t seek guidance. How many disasters have we created in our lives because we thought we knew best and were too arrogant to seek God’s help?

Are You Disobeying God’s Will?
The passage ends with a third option. It speaks to those that have studied and researched what God would have them do in a situation and they simply choose not to do it. Unfortunately, we all have been guilty of this. In a given day there are probably several things that we know are the right things to do and we don’t do it. There a thousand reasons and excuses for this behavior ranging from the task being too hard to me being too tired. Regardless, the Bible says that when we know God’s will and how we should act, when we fail to do so we sin.

Instead, You Ought To…
So, what do you do? How do you right these wrongs? James says, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” We should submit our plans to the Lord. We should ask for His help and guidance and we should study His Word to see if our plans will help us live lives that please Him. Are the choices we are considering consistent with God’s Word? What is the ultimate focus of our decisions? Do we desire to honor God, to help others or to exalt ourselves? Through studying God’s Word and spending time in prayer we will come to know our motives. But knowing isn’t enough. We must act faithfully and consistently with what God shows us is right.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Are Your Goals SMART?

One of the things that has caught my attention in Scripture lately is the phrase "according to His will" or "according to His purpose". God didn't create this world without a plan or purpose in place. There isn't one thing that He has done or has not done that has not served a well thought out purpose. So, as we think about living intentionally we should view it as a form of Godliness as we try to reflect His purposes in our plans.

SMARTer Goals
A few years ago a friend introduced me to the SMART goal system. It has been helpful as I've made various goals and maybe it will be helpful to you also. Here it is as found at http://www.goal-setting-guide.com/smart-goals.html

S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Attainable
R = Realistic
T = Timely

Specific

Goals should be straightforward and emphasize what you want to happen. Specifics help us to focus our efforts and clearly define what we are going to do.

Specific is the What, Why, and How of the SMART model.

WHAT are you going to do? Use action words such as direct, organize, coordinate, lead, develop, plan, build etc.

WHY is this important to do at this time? What do you want to ultimately accomplish?

HOW are you going to do it? (By...)

Ensure the goals you set is very specific, clear and easy. Instead of setting a goal to lose weight or be healthier, set a specific goal to lose 2cm off your waistline or to walk 5 miles at an aerobically challenging pace.

Measurable

If you can't measure it, you can't manage it. In the broadest sense, the whole goal statement is a measure for the project; if the goal is accomplished, the is a success. However, there are usually several short-term or small measurements that can be built into the goal.

Choose a goal with measurable progress, so you can see the change occur. How will you see when you reach your goal? Be specific! "I want to read 3 chapter books of 100 pages on my own before my birthday" shows the specific target to be measure. "I want to be a good reader" is not as measurable.

Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of each goal you set. When you measure your progress, you stay on track, reach your target dates, and experience the exhilaration of achievement that spurs you on to continued effort required to reach your goals.

Attainable

When you identify goals that are most important to you, you begin to figure out ways you can make them come true. You develop that attitudes, abilities, skills, and financial capacity to reach them. Your begin seeing previously overlooked opportunities to bring yourself closer to the achievement of your goals.

Goals you set which are too far out of your reach, you probably won't commit to doing. Although you may start with the best of intentions, the knowledge that it's too much for you means your subconscious will keep reminding you of this fact and will stop you from even giving it your best.

A goal needs to stretch you slightly so you feel you can do it and it will need a real commitment from you. For instance, if you aim to lose 20lbs in one week, we all know that isn't achievable. But setting a goal to loose 1lb and when you've achieved that, aiming to lose a further 1lb, will keep it achievable for you.

The feeling of success which this brings helps you to remain motivated.

Realistic

This is not a synonym for "easy." Realistic, in this case, means "do-able." It means that the learning curve is not a vertical slope; that the skills needed to do the work are available; that the project fits with the overall strategy and goals of the organization. A realistic project may push the skills and knowledge of the people working on it but it shouldn't break them.

Devise a plan or a way of getting there which makes the goal realistic. The goal needs to be realistic for you and where you are at the moment. A goal of never again eating sweets, cakes, crisps and chocolate may not be realistic for someone who really enjoys these foods.

For instance, it may be more realistic to set a goal of eating a piece of fruit each day instead of one sweet item. You can then choose to work towards reducing the amount of sweet products gradually as and when this feels realistic for you.

Be sure to set goals that you can attain with some effort! Too difficult and you set the stage for failure, but too low sends the message that you aren't very capable. Set the bar high enough for a satisfying achievement!

Timely

Set a timeframe for the goal: for next week, in three months, by fifth grade. Putting an end point on your goal gives you a clear target to work towards.

If you don't set a time, the commitment is too vague. It tends not to happen because you feel you can start at any time. Without a time limit, there's no urgency to start taking action now.

Time must be measurable, attainable and realistic.
Everyone will benefit from goals and objectives if they are SMART. SMART, is the instrument to apply in setting your goals and objectives.
--

One thing to remember in setting goals is that we are to wisely consider what God would have us do and how we can best honor Him through our goals. The people in James 4:13 are rebuked because they were making their goals apart from submitting them to God's will. They were not chastised because they were making goals, but because they were only relying upon themselves in making the goals. As you think through your goals make sure to submit your plans to God's will for His glory and your joy.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Living Intentionally

We’ve begun the discussion about taking down the Christmas decorations at our house. Now, our attention begins to turn from the anticipation of celebrating Christ’s birth to enjoying the remainder of the break and looking forward to a new year. Sound familiar? Maybe it’s a similar theme at your house. Perhaps you’ve already been mulling around your resolutions for 2010. I know I have.

An Intentional Steward
My thinking keeps returning to one theme though. That theme is to work harder at living intentionally in 2010. None of us are promised another year, month, week or day. Whether we receive 50 more years or only 50 more minutes God has given us much freedom in making the most of what we have. Even more, He expects us to make the best of what we’ve been given as He calls us to be good stewards of our time, talent and money.

What Should You Do?
What do you need to take on intentionally? Are there people in your life that you need to intentionally forgive? Are there people you need to intentionally encourage? Is there something you should intentionally share with someone else? I’m sure something comes to your mind. Hardly anything happens accidentally in life. There are times we seem to be in the right place at the right time, but most often we are there because of preparation and hard work. We must be intentional if we are going to live a meaningful life.

Tonight as we prepared for bed one of my seven year old sons asked me to mark in his Bible where we were reading. He said he wanted to remember it after I died. Sounds a bit grim I know, but it reminded me that if I am going to choose the mark I make on his life I must be intentional about it. Oh, you can be sure that I will leave some sort of mark on his life no matter what, but if there is something I want to teach him or pass along to him I must be intentional about it. I took advantage of this wonderful opportunity.

How about you? What is an intentional change you should make today? How can you take your thought, make a plan and put it in action?

Monday, December 21, 2009

What Do You Expect?

Do you realize that we all approach life with some intentional perspective? Even if you try to make it through life with no perspective at all, you must be intentional about that perspective if you are going to consistently live this way. From the way you dress to the way you talk to the way you think of other people, there is intent behind it all. We frame our lives to fit our perspectives. That’s why you might be annoyed with family members at holiday gatherings this year. Not necessarily because they are annoying, but because they are behaving outside of the perspective you have perceived as acceptable. Whether or not you receive what you wanted or not will determine whether you’ll be happy or sad when you see the gifts you receive. Our perspective shapes our expectation and we live accordingly.

Are All Perspectives Equal?
From my standpoint, though, not all perspectives are equal. Jesus says in Revelation 22:14-15 that those who “wash their robes” in His truth will receive forgiveness and welcome entry into the Kingdom of God. What does it mean to wash your robes in His truth? Well, it means to seek the restoration that Christ offers to us by forgiving our sins and then leading us to live in a way that is pleasing to God as we grow in our love and dependence in Jesus. It is an ongoing process of becoming purer and purer as we follow Him and grow in our love for Him. On the other hand, Jesus says that all those living by their own falsehoods will be left to live outside the city gate. The city He refers to is the New Heaven and the New Earth and the falsehoods are all of those perspectives that have been created by us. You know, that we are smarter than others, that we are wiser than God, that we know best, that we can control and direct things ourselves. Ever lived by any of those? One day we will all see how false these perspectives are. And if we have allowed them to govern our lives it will be costly.

An Important Examination
Perhaps that seems harsh to you. Indeed, it is direct. But, as we said before, it is important to realize that our perspectives shape our lives and we live accordingly. Why not take a moment to examine which perspectives on your life and the world around you are shaping your expectations? It will be worth your time.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Learning to Trust God

Over the past few weeks I have been teaching and encouraging people to focus on the sovereignty of God. This has come in the form of lectures on Wednesday nights at Immanuel Baptist and it has come in the context of many private conversations as people have had to deal with various personal struggles. One of the aids God has provided to me (and countless others) is the book Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. It is a great summation of what God's Word has to say about learning to trust God when times are at their most difficult. In addition, it answers questions that help us understand how God is still good to us even when our lives seem to be at their worst. You can find lectures delivered by Bridges here that help lay a foundation for his book.

Trusting God is a difficult task for us, especially when we are struggling to make sense of life's events. I hope you'll take time to read or watch these videos and find the great comfort I did as we learn to rest in God's sovereignty.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Where Are You Looking?

For many people the holiday season is especially difficult. Perhaps this is the first Christmas without your spouse, children or parents. Perhaps this Christmas is a difficult one because the economic downturn has had a deep impact on your family. To add to the hardship, I think people feel bad when they worry others will see them as “the person we have to contain our joy around because we know they’ve had it rough this year”. Most people don’t want their tragedy or difficulty to define them, but they feel more now than ever that people are watching them because of this circumstance. So, there is no way to get around the fact that the holidays are a difficult time for many.

Where Does Your Mind Gravitate?
God’s perfect word gives us real pictures of people facing difficult circumstances. Psalm 63 wasn’t written for Christmas, but David wrote it during a time when he knew the reality of hardship. I believe you’ll be able to identify with him in this psalm if you will listen for a moment. He says, “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”

We long for satisfaction. We look in a thousand different places for it. We desire joy. We lie in our bed or sit on the couch and long for strength and help. David did the same. Where did he look? He looked to God. He saw God as the One who would ultimately bring deliverance and healing. He knew that when he stayed close to God’s “wing” he would find the support he needed so desperately.

A Simply Cry for Help
What does this longing sound like? Perhaps like a simple prayer saying, “God, please help me get through this family gathering without totally breaking down.” Or maybe it sounds like, “God, please help me appreciate the past, but not be stuck there. Help me be thankful for what you have provided for me today.” Friend, as David has said, I will recommend and pray that you will desire to cling to God and seek His strength if you find that the holidays are not so merry and bright. God knows where you are. He doesn’t waste our hurts, but desires to draw closer to Him through them. In the wake of your pain, where are you looking?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Required Listen -- Behold, The Lamb of God

I was introduced to Andrew Peterson's Behold, The Lamb of God a few years ago by some good friends. Little did I know at the time how this was going to impact my life. The project is an amazing God-centered Christmas project unlike anything else I've ever experienced. Not only did it make Christmas come alive, but it helped to make me appreciate God's promises and faithfulness is a much greater way. So, to sum it up, yes, I would highly recommend you buy or download it right now. This Christmas will be merrier if you!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Great Christmas Reading

Perhaps the Christmas season will allow you some extra time for reading. Here's a book that has been a great help to me in 2009. It is The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller. It is based on the story of the prodigal son found in the Gospels. Keller does a wonderful job of describing how God is the true hero of the story as He is the true Redeemer. This book will change the way you view the story of the prodigal and it might just give you a great view of God.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Considering God's Wrath

Over the past four Wednesday nights we have been thinking about the greatness of God. Tonight, we will finish our study by looking at the wrath of God and the love of God. We are quick to seek out and study the love of God, but we cannot fully appreciate it until we see the wrath of God. Seeing His justice and wrath should cause us to quake with fear, and long for deliverance. This is what I will present tonight on God's wrath. Later I will post on God's love. Friends, prayerfully hear and consider the truths of God we learn from His holy and perfect Word.

God’s wrath is not a Divine blemish on His character.

Yes, many there are who turn away from a vision of God’s wrath as though they were called to look upon some blotch in the Divine character or some blot upon the Divine government. But what saith the Scriptures? As we turn to them we find that God has made no attempt to conceal the facts concerning His wrath. He is not ashamed to make it known that vengeance and fury belong unto Him. His own challenge is, “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand. For I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, I live forever. If I whet my glittering sword, and Mine hand takes hold on judgement; I will render vengeance to Mine enemies, and will reward them that hate Me.” (Deut. 32:39-41) A study of a concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury and wrath of God than there are to His love and tenderness. Because God is holy, He hates all sin; and because He hates all sin, His anger burns against the sinner. (Psalm 7:11) -- A.W. Pink

God’s wrath is a display of His holiness and justice.
The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of Divine equity against all evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence which He passes upon evildoers. God is angry against sin because it is a rebelling against His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty. Insurrectionists against God’s government shall be made to feel how great that Majesty is which they despise, and how dreadful is that threatened wrath which they so little regard. Not that God’s anger is a malignant and malicious retaliation, inflicting injury for the sake of it, or in return for injury received. No, though God will vindicate His dominion as the Governor of the universe, He will not be vindictive. -- A.W. Pink

The wrath of God received by evildoers is not revenge, it is justice.

God’s wrath should call all people to careful meditation and personal reflection.
The wrath of God is a perfection of the Divine character upon which we need to frequently meditate. First, that our hearts may be duly impressed by God’s detestation of sin. We are ever prone to regard sin lightly, to gloss over its hideousness, to make excuses for it. But the more we study and ponder God’s abhorrence of sin and His frightful vengeance upon it, the more we are to realize its heinousness. Secondly, to beget a true fear in our souls for God: “Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:28) We cannot serve Him acceptably unless there is a due reverence for His awful Majesty and godly fear of His righteous anger; and these are best promoted by frequently calling to mind that “our God is a consuming fire”. Thirdly, to draw out our souls in fervent praise for our having been delivered from “the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

God’s wrath will be a source of rejoicing at the judgment.
“After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.’3 Once more they cried out, ‘Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” (Rev. 19:1-3) Great will be the rejoicing of the saints in that day when the Lord will vindicate His majesty, exercise His awful dominion, magnify His justice, and overthrow the proud rebels who have dared defy Him. - A.W. Pink

God's wrath is reality for all those that have not turned to Christ for forgiveness. At the cross He absorbed the wrath of God for all those that will love Him. Today, you are offered the free gift of the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. Will you receive it?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Value of Patience

Waiting is hard to do. We always want the answer now. We always want the problem fixed now. We always want the promised gift now. And the answer we often receive is wait.

When we ignore this call to wait we pay a price. We miss the lessons and experiences that happen during the time of patience. We miss the important lessons of obedience and are left with the sour fruit of disobedience.

Today, wait upon the Lord. He knows the struggle. He knows the answer. He knows what He desires to teach you.

Psalm 25 (ESV)
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
3 Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.

6 Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!

8 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

11 For your name's sake, O Lord,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
12 Who is the man who fears the Lord?
Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
13 His soul shall abide in well-being,
and his offspring shall inherit the land.
14 The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
and he makes known to them his covenant.
15 My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.

19 Consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20 Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
for I wait for you.

22 Redeem Israel, O God,
out of all his troubles.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Heaven's Sacrifice

Elvis wonders as he sings, “Why can’t everyday be like Christmas?” Certainly Christmas is filled with the hustle and bustle of busy calendars. And, yes, we often view the busyness as a burden. But, when we look closely, more times than not our calendars are filled with things we enjoy doing. If we didn’t think the dates were important we would just stay home.

Though we may feel rushed and a bit pushed, most of us secretly enjoy every minute of it. Christmas brings a time of special activities, special food and seeing people that we either don’t see very often throughout the year or that we get to see in a different light during the holidays. It isn’t often that people open their homes or have lunch gatherings like they do during Christmas.

People don’t typically open their bank accounts during the year like they do during Christmas. For the most part we cheerfully part with our money as we buy gifts for family and friends. We are on the lookout for kettles in front of stores where we can deposit change in our pockets and we hear people specifically ask about helping the less unfortunate. They look to share money, gifts, food and even time with those who find themselves in a difficult place during the Christmas season.

Is there a common theme on your calendar and in your checkbook during Christmas? Yes, it is sacrifice. During Christmas we are willing to be busier than other times of the year. During Christmas we are willing to share our homes and lives with others. During Christmas we are willing to offer a word of thanks or encouragement. During Christmas we are willing to look for those in need and act on that need. All of this requires sacrifice. During this brief season we are willing to inconvenience ourselves for the betterment of others.

Perhaps you’re wondering where we learned this. It doesn’t come naturally and I say it goes beyond the human spirit and a desire for goodwill. No, sacrifice is at the heart of Christmas. We see it best personified as God takes on flesh and comes in great humility to be born to a teenage virgin among the livestock on a night that causes angels to sing with joy. Sacrifice is best seen as God draws near to make a way for us to be with Him. Sacrifice is Christmas. Sacrificial love, service and generosity. It is the joy of Christmas.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Caution: Memories May Be Dangerous


I’ll admit that I struggle while watching the scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation when Clark Griswold is trapped in the attic and ends up watching old home movies from Christmases past. As the tears roll down his cheeks I can’t help but be carried back to memories from my own childhood where traditions were established and memories were made. Reminiscing is good, but it can also be dangerous.

Listen to what Ecclesiastes 7:10 says, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” The passage is found in the context of someone who is struggling. The writer is cautioning them in this verse to keep from looking to the past for escape, and in the next verse he cautions them to avoid to looking to the future for their inheritance which would be another form of escape. It is quite remiscient of what Jesus says in Matthew 6:34, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious about itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” However, our point here is thinking about looking back, not ahead.

Why is it dangerous to look to the past or to the “good ole days” for our rescue? I can think of a few reasons.

Our Rose-Colored Glasses
First, the past is usually not as rosy as we remember it. Sure we have memories of hard things that have happened in life, but when we look back upon our good memories they tend to get better with age. We forget about the stress or inconvenience that was really going on at that time. As we think we think about those holiday gatherings or momentous occasions we tend to forget that there was great tension in some part of it. Often our memories of the past are not quite accurate because they have been swayed by our sincere desires to make them better.

God Is At Work Today
Second, looking back may cause us to lack appreciation for what God is doing in our lives today. By nature we are contrastors. I like this brand of peanut butter better than another. I like this song better than another. You get the idea. If we don’t guard ourselves in this type of thinking we’ll convince ourselves that God was better to us then or life was just better back then. Again, that is probably not the case. Remember, there was sin and struggle back then as well. Perhaps we have chosen to forget about that element of the memory. God is faithful. The Bible says that He does not change. He desires to actively work in the lives of His people today. Don’t miss how He wants to work in you and through you today because you can’t get your eyes off of the past.

Please hear me here, I am not calling you to forget the past. But, I am calling you to make the most of the moment God has given you to glorify Him and love others.

So, this is a blog and not book and I am only going to give you two of my reasons. What are some reasons you can think of that make the truth of Ecclesiastes 7:10 true and relevant for you?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

When Life Is Not Fair


That’s not fair,” has become a war cry at our home lately. Someone says it at least daily and there seems to be many things considered foul on a regular basis. Last night we were reading Philippians 4 together as a family and came across this verse, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.”

Are You Lenient?
Later on I began looking at this word reasonableness and found that it actually points to fairness, but also mixes in the ideas of patience and leniency as well. Paul continually points the readers of Philippians to be kind to one another and long suffering with one another because of the kindness and leniency Christ has shown them as believers. That is consistent, then, when we think of being reasonable because the Lord is at hand. He is aware of the situation and knows your real needs (and motives). Paul then instructs us to deal with anxiety and being treated unfairly through prayer, supplication (telling God our requests) and thanksgiving.

Are You Dependent?
The Bible is teaching us that we don’t have to be consumed with whether something is fair or not when we are depending upon God’s strength and deliverance. Is our trust in what we can accomplish, what others can do for us or how Christ will deliver us? When I am trusting in Christ to care for me and meet my needs I am able to show patience, mercy and forgiveness to others. In fact, when I am fully depending on Him I am not overwhelmed when someone takes advantage of me. Lord, please move me to this way of living. Will you ask for this same help from Christ today?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Greater Miracle

What is the greater miracle? The fact that from Heaven above God could have started and extinguished the fire of the burning bush or the fact that He sustained the bush without the fire devouring it? (You can read the account in Exodus 3 if you would like to hear the whole story.) I would say the second choice is my pick. How overwhelming to think that God would sustain the integrity of the bush as it burned without being consumed.

What is the greater miracle? For God to heal someone or to give them the strength to endure great difficulty while maintaning a loving heart, a quiet spirit and a mind of perseverance. Certainly it is a wonderful miracle to see someone healed and returned to their typical routine; but isn’t it more inspiring for us to see someone persevere with their faith not only in tact, but stronger at the end of the difficulty? Which of the two has the greatest long-term impact on family members and the church? Yet, which one do we prayer toward most often? I think I might be guilty of praying more for healing rather than this great perseverance.

What is your struggle? How are you suffering at this moment? How are you praying for those that are struggling? As you suffer, as you pray and as you seek and give encouragement remember God’s words to Paul as he struggled with a “thorn in his flesh”. God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12) Pray for greater dependence on God’s power and that He may be magnified even through your struggle. Then, don’t just pray, seek to glorify Him with your attitude, words and actions.

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. 13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. 2 Timothy 1:8-14

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Impact of Reading God's Word Aloud

When you hear Scripture read aloud, how does it affect you? When was the last time you heard the Bible actually read aloud? If you're a church-goer you probably hear it read at some point in the service. Do you hear it read any where other than there? If you do hear it read in the service, how is it read? Is it the entire congregation reading it together? Is the Pastor or someone else reading the passage to you? If so, how do they read it? Does it sound exciting and engaging? Or, does the reading sound fairly plain...like it's being read to simply set up a sermon?

Over the last few weeks I've been reading Max McLean's book Unleashing the Word and it has had a strong impact on me. McLean who is best known for his recorded readings of the Bible makes the case that too many churches do not value the public reading of Scripture. He makes a strong Biblical and historical case to show the great power of the public reading of God's Word. For centuries much of humanity was illiterate and they were dependent upon God's Word being passed down orally. With this in mind, much of the Old Testament was written to be read aloud in story form. Many of the New Testament letters were written to be read aloud when the church gathered corporately. Yet, when I hear Scripture read in services it is usually read only in short segmented verses and it often lacks very much passion or zeal. Certainly we don't want to go too far and make our corporate Bible reading a performance every Sunday morning, but shouldn't there be something that grabs our attention as we hear God's Word read? I know there are times when I view Scripture very differently after I've heard it read aloud rather than when I've read it silently. To a greater degree the Bible comes to life when I hear it read aloud.

Think about those questions listed above. Let me hear from you. I wonder if you think much about the impact of hearing God's Word read aloud.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Are Your Tears in God's Bottle?

Don’t we all spend time thinking that no one knows the trouble we’ve seen? We’re quick to say that we know other people have it so much worse, but in our hearts we are twice as quick to begin sending invitations to our own pity party. Yet, trouble is a very real part of life. For a Christian or anyone else to say that life can be trouble-free is simply not true. Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

When we look closer at the verse though, we see more than just an acknowledgement of the presence of trouble; we see Jesus directing our attention away from the trouble and calling us to place of focusing on Him. He means for you to find great comfort in those simple words, “But take comfort”. He offers you a place of rest in your struggle.

Psalm 56 is another place where we see this redirection. The great king David was no stranger to turmoil. He had many enemies through his life. Some of them were even created by his own hand. In Psalm 56 we see a pattern that is common in many psalms. David names his enemy, speaks directly to God concerning his struggle, but continually turn his focus to God’s strength and help. In Psalm 56 he is so aware of God’s care that he says, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” David believes with all of his heart that God is very aware of the delicate condition of his heart. And he finds great comfort in this truth.

Perhaps as you read this you disagree. “If God knows my trouble He certainly doesn’t seem to offer help,” you might be saying. In both of these passages there is a great window of human responsibility that has been opened. Jesus calls people to place their trust in Him. David shows us that he makes a real choice in turning his gaze away from the trouble and putting his focus on God. If you are to know the peace and resolve offered by God, you must intentionally turn to him. Not only that, but you must humbly turn to him. This humility leads us to surrender our agenda and time table.

In your prayers and crying out to God, are you bring trust in God or simply a list of demands? It’s most natural for us to come to God with the rescue plan already figured out and expect Him to put it into action. That isn’t what God desires though. Nor is it how He typically works. He is looking for faith and trust. He is at work to change your perspective. Especially when you struggle.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Spiritual Examination

Many times we wonder how we are doing as followers of Jesus. We want to know how we can measure our maturity or spiritual growth. Dr. Donald S. Whitney, a professor at Southern Seminary, has written numerous books on the spiritual disciplines and how followers of Jesus can grow in their spiritual health. He's just published a video on YouTube that introduces his book Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. I would encourage you to spend the four minutes watching the video and then consider reading the book.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Pursuit of Peace

We hear much about world peace, don’t we? Every night the cable news shows are littered with those who would offer recommendations on how to bring peace to the conflicts on the Earth. We have lucrative prizes awarded to those who put forth effort toward and ideas on peace. And don’t forget, world peace is what most beauty queens want to bring to the universe.

But what is the best definition we can come to in regard to peace? For many, it is the absence of war. But how is that to be achieved? “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace,” said our first President, George Washington. While that may be true from a military standpoint, is it really true peace?

Real peace is not simply the lack of aggression toward another, but the ongoing act of showing kindness to others. It is making sacrifices of one’s self for the betterment of others. Whether we are speaking on the scale of nations, human relationships or humanity’s relationship with God we know a life of peace is not the typical experience of humans. It just seems out of our reach.

The question to ask here is why. The most honest answer is a fairly obvious one though it may be difficult for us to admit. We lack peace because we are usually more concerned with self than we are about others. Whether on an interpersonal level, a national level, or in your relationship with your Creator we are all centered upon self unless outside action is done to redirect our hearts. Therefore, a life of peace must be aided by the power of God.

Jesus Christ is called the Prince of Peace in the Bible. He is the One who is able to bring real change to our hearts so that we will both desire and pursue a relationship with God and peace with others. According to the Bible, there is no other path and there are no substitutes.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Waste No Words

It makes for an interesting read when every word matters. Authors of well-known and best-selling stories and novels spend untold hours toiling over every word that appears in print. Can you imaging spending that much time reviewing every single word and its placement in a 500 page novel? Simply amazing. Too often I am guilty of wasting words. Maybe you are too.

When it comes to this sharp accuracy, though, many times we don’t think of the Bible in this way. We lose sight that it is actually the written and recorded words of God. Yes, it was delivered to this world through the quills of many different authors, but it is God’s ultimate revelation of Himself and how we can know Him and live at peace with Him. With God as its supreme author the dictations given to Moses, David, Peter, Paul and the other writers were thought through like no other publication.

One such area that we encounter the thoughtfulness of the Bible is in the comparisons found in the Psalms, Proverbs and New Testament. More and more I am impressed with the thoroughness of the New Testament writers when they help the reader understand the real and practical application of God’s truth. For instance, if you notice in 1 Corinthians 13 there are phrases used as Paul talks about the qualities love contains and the ones it does not. Every phrase includes simple words that are grouped together containing such power.

Take what Paul says in verses four and five when Paul says that love is not arrogant or rude. When someone is arrogant they believe they are better than others. When someone is rude they treat others as if they are better than them. In a matter of a few simple words we are instructed to look at our internal attitude and how it manifests itself externally. Two seemingly small words deliver a tremendous blow to the way we think of ourselves and treat others. They leave us with the need for hours of self-examination.

So here’s the challenge. First, read the Bible. Second, go back and read it very slowly. Sure there are parts that are not are not meant to be dissected word by word because they are narrative or historic genealogy, but the Bible has much more power than we have ever imagined. If you just take those words we mentioned above -- arrogant and rude -- you will see how God will use His word to bring correction and guidance in your life. It’s a lot to think about, but isn’t that the point?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Love Defined

Our society has love all wrong. In modern times love is often expressed in terms of praise for physical beauty or some personal attribute. In other circles it is defined as a “force” that keeps the universe in balance. I’m sure you could look around and define love in many different ways. Some of those definitions are wonderful and some of them are not so great.

Yet, love is important. The Bible says that it is even more important than faith and hope. Perhaps because faith in God and hope toward God must be rooted in love from God. In fact, it is God’s display of love toward humanity that is to shape our love toward one another. That love is best displayed by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, coming on a rescue mission to Earth. He came to rescue us from walking away from a the ultimate relationship we were created to enjoy, a relationship with God where we could know Him and share in His love.

How would I define love, then? I believe it is a commitment to serve. Maybe that sounds kind of dull and boring to you, but there is more there than meets the eye. The Bible uses words like covenant or promise to describe commitment. Love’s commitment is sacred and long-term. It is not wavering and it is constantly consistent. The other important word there is serve and I use it to remind us that we are are to regularly put others above ourselves. We are to look toward the good of others before we look for the benefit to ourselves. That’s hard to do. It’s especially difficult if we aren’t committed to the other person or persons.

Hopefully, this definition moves us in an entirely different direction. This definition of love calls us to focus on the other person, and their good, with abandon to our own good. The definitions I used in the beginning are ruled by what is pleasing to our eye or what will bring us the greatest benefit. See the difference? Many times real love costs us dearly because it demands that we make personal sacrifices for the good of others. Real love is indeed a commitment to serve.

Whether you agree or not I hope you will at least consider your own definition of love. Is its primary motive is to see what you might receive from others or what you can share with others as you genuinely serve them?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Prayer Request

I do voiceover work for WKCT radio in Bowling Green, KY. I do this for the opportunity it gives me to share a God-centered message on a news/talk radio station. As a trade for my work they give me airtime to contribute my own commercials.

This is one that I have just sent them and it should be aired soon. Please pray that God would be honored and would use it in a mighty way. It is a bit more direct than other commercials I have offered in the past. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Would You Lie to A Friend?

Would you lie to someone? I mean would you look them square in the face and tell another person a big, fat lie? Hopefully not. Now the truth is that we have all lied to another person at some point in our lives, but most of us try to avoid making lying a regular practice in our lives.

Now, may I ask you another question? Have you ever told someone one thing and then told another person the direct opposite? Have you ever told someone a particular situation was fine and when asked about it by another person responded by belittling the other person, the request they made or griping about the situation in general?

Let's connect these two questions. Would you agree that when you tell one person that you agree and are in favor of a specific situation or decision and then complain about it to another you are lying? Think about it for a moment. If you tell two people two different things one must true and the other must not. Ouch, we are all guilty of this aren't we and maybe we didn't even think of it as lying.

Why would we do something like this? There are a number of reasons. Perhaps we don't like conflict so we just go with the flow rather than voicing our true opinions. Only to be left to “vent” to someone else and believe our venting is an excusable relief of frustration. Maybe we enjoy the drama and look for the opportunity to create conflict at any given opportunity. I suppose there is also the chance that we have adopted griping into our daily routines and vocabulary. So, being truthful is something we don't regard highly because we are accustomed to complaining on a regular basis.

Now listen, I'm not giving you license to blast away every time you disagree with a decision. No, I'm calling you to speak the truth. There's more to truth-telling, though. The Bible says that we are to speak the truth in love. In fact, the Bible says that we are to speak words that builds others up and to avoid words that tear others down. This takes a careful, methodical approach. When we are critiquing a comment or decision, we must remember to be intentional in kindly sharing our thoughts. But we must share them those true thoughts. If we don't, we aren't being honest and that is lying. Yes, it is more difficult. But, honestly, aren't the most meaningful things in life usually the most difficult?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cheer Carefully

When did the fan base of a sports team become a nation? I was given a game schedule recently for a university that you would know well and it proudly called this team’s nation to action. I first heard of a fan base being referred to as a nation a few years ago by a group of fanatical sports types in professional football. I thought it was something that only happened out on the West Coast. Now, it seems that every team has a nation that is following them.

Last year I had the chance to travel to New York to attend a professional football game. The game featured a huge rivalry and the debut of Brett Favre in his first, of many, revolving uniforms. I was overwhelmed at the spectacle of the thousands of fans and their gigantic emotional response to every single play. These fans spent their entire Sunday outside of the stadium, inside the stadium and on their way home from the stadium. Their investment was not Sunday alone, mind you, as I listened to them talk I realized they had spent countless hours learning statistics and other facts about both teams playing in the game. Their investment was not time alone, either. They had greatly invested in clothing, hats, blankets, jewelry, and, don’t forget, face paint.

Listen, I like sports. I’ve played sports nearly all of my life. All year long I look forward to coaching my kids in various sports. But there seems to be something dangerous about our fascination with a recreational event when it takes on the status of being called a nation. As you prepare for the bowl season and the madness that comes in the spring, take an inventory of your commitment level to your team and then measure it against your commitment to your family or your faith. I know we would never believe that our hobbies carry more weight in our lives than our families or our faith, but it’s worth your consideration. Do you spend more time preparing to watch the big game or encouraging your wife? As you think of all of those stats you have stored in your head I wonder how they measure up to your knowledge of the Words of our Creator. When you hold the accomplishments of a magical October Classic or the joy of March Madness in light of eternity, how much weight should they carry in your life? Go ahead and cheer, but don’t lose sight of the most important things in life.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Building the Future

I had lunch with my kindergartner for the first time today at Highland Elementary School. I've been to several programs at school and dropped her and her brothers off every day, but I have never encountered a moment like today. Since I was considered a special guest we had the opportunity to sit at a private table in the back of the cafeteria. We talked about how the day was going and what she was learning. We discussed the kids that came in the cafeteria and which of the “big kids” she knew. We just chatted up a storm. It was simply delightful.

And somewhere in the conversation between bites I caught a glimpse of a little girl who was not so little any more. Where was the toddler and preschooler? How has almost six years passed so quickly? Through her facial expressions and in her eyes I could see flashes of the future. It was quite sobering. It was a wake up call. This cute little girl will soon be a lovely young lady who will become a beautiful woman. The challenge is that her beauty is something her Mom and I can influence. Yes, from a physical standpoint she will be beautiful like her mom, but we're looking for more. We're looking for beauty that comes from within. The beauty that Proverbs 31 calls excellent and worth more than rubies.

In that flash of a moment I realized that I must be intentional. Quiet conversations need to be filled with chit chat, but there must be more. There must be pointed character building questions and answers. I must help her understand where her beauty originates and how it is defined. These conversations will not happen magically or by chance. I need to prepared for every opportunity I get to help her in becoming the woman God has created her to be.

The truth is, God has given all of us opportunities like this with people in our lives. We make an impact on everyone we talk to. Sometimes we miss the opportunity and the person walks away thinking that we don't have much to say. Sometimes they walk away thinking we are foolish in what we share. But sometimes they walk away from our conversation and their lives are shaped forever by the words we just exchanged. If you want to be this person who makes an impact you must be intentional. How will you make your words count? How will you intentionally build someone up today?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Questions that Matter

Are there questions that you wonder if the Bible has an answer for? Take a moment and email your question to me at brandonp@ibcglasgow.org. We'll try to think through the answer and post it in an audio format. I'll try to answer a few per week.

Hope to hear from you!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

I Wander As I Wonder

I Wander As I Wonder

No purpose of the Lord can be thwarted. That’s what Job said as the great calamities of his life came to an end, human reasoning was put aside and he turned to God for help and comfort.

Except, his turning to God wasn’t gentle. No, initially it looked more like demanding than turning. Job said that many men would listen to him and receive his wisdom. He said that there were many who would simple walk away heeding his advice after he spoke. He thought God was going to do this as well. He believed God should clearly display His reasoning for the sorrow that had come and grant Job full understanding.

God did not.

No, God took Job on a long journey through the creation pointing out the beauty and majesty of the land, sea and skies. Could Job truly feed the goats on the highest and most remote span of mountains? Could Job swim to the depths and tame the mightiest fish in the sea? Could he bring the rain or snow in their proper time?

It is true that Job suffered much. It is true that initially he remained steadfast in his faith. But even Job wandered from his security in God’s goodness as his friends cast doubt on his belief. Yet, there is kindness after the storm. After his friends finished their homilies, Job was left to wonder. And, yes, there was time when his wondering caused him to wander.

But God came to his aid.

God did not provide answers though. He did not give reasons as to why such great tragedy had occurred. Instead, He provided evidence of His sovereignty. He provided proof of His greatness. It was enough for Job.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Daily Focus

Meditation is something that is intimidating for many Christians. I think it's because it has become associated with Eastern religions, such as Buddhism, in our modern culture and that makes Christians believe that it is not for them. Yet, the Bible is clear when it calls us to meditate on God's Word throughout our day. It is the call of passages such as Deuteronomy 6 and Psalm 19:14. God's call to meditate is not empty your mind of every thought, but to fill it with the truth of God's Word and to consider these truths throughout the day.

So, how do you meditate on the Word of God? Simply put, you think about what you've read all during the day. I'm sure there are a dozen things on your "to do" list in a given day and you certainly cannot give all of your time to reading or even thinking about Scripture. However, there are times when you're mind goes to neutral. We all reflect on something throughout the day. Whether it's the great play on SportsCenter, or the upcoming shopping trip or vacation...there is something that comes back to your mind when you go to neutral. Reading and thinking about a Scripture passage early in the day will give you the opportunity to continue thinking (meditating) on it throughout the remainder of the day.

Here's an article from Dr. Donald Whitney at the Center for Biblical Spirituality that will help you think more about meditating on God's Word throughout your day.

Monday, September 28, 2009

You Will Leave a Mark

Do you ever wonder what your family or friends might write on your tombstone? You may have some things you hope they will write on it, but the greater mystery is to know what they would actually say about you. It will certainly be an indicator as to the kind of a mark you have left on them and this world. Clichés abound for the good we intend to do but never accomplish. So I’ll ask in a simple question. Will you be remembered as a person with many good intentions, or as a person of noble accomplishment?

Most likely, the latter is where you want to end up, and that begs the question, how do you get there? Before you can accomplish all of these deeds that will leave society better than you found it, you need to open your eyes and look around. As you drive around town do you think about what you could do to make this a better place to live? Too often we’re in such a rush to get from point A to point B that we never think of how we can make an impact on our families, our neighborhoods or our community. What could you do in your home that it would be a better place for all who live there? Unfortunately, we’re so self-absorbed that it is often major work to think of anyone other than ourselves. If you ‘re going to make a mark on the world you must start looking around, asking questions, and seeking out the needs of family, friends and fellow citizens. This work begins with a desire to care more for others than you care about yourself.

Yes, it will take sacrifice and effort, but all worthwhile projects include those characteristics. We have been created in the image of God. Jesus said that He did not come to Earth to be served, but to serve. We reflect His glory greatest when we think much of God and others and little of ourselves. Thinking and living this way does not make you worthless. In fact, you’ll find just the opposite to be true. Giving and serving lead to finding our greatest worth and accomplishment in life.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Can't I Just Stay Home?

In recent days I have encountered a few people personally and heard a few more stories about people who do not believe that international missions is something that local churches should be pursuing. Most often the case is made that there is plenty of need here in our community or in our state, and we should let people take care of themselves in other parts of the world.

So, I’ve set out to think about this a bit. I’ve come up with five quick reasons of why we should pursue missions internationally. By no means do I consider this an exhaustive list, but it’s what comes to my mind quickly. Here we go…

1. Jesus tells us to go.

In Luke 24:46-49 Christians are told to proclaim the Gospel to every nation. In Acts 1:6-11 Jesus commands Christians to make disciples from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. The concentric circles of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth show us that missions is not to be exclusively about our own backyard. Followers of Jesus are given a picture of a circle that grows until it encompasses the entire globe.

I believe people lose sight of the fact that missions is first and foremost a Gospel ministry. The primary mission is not meeting physical needs. Meeting those needs is important, but they are secondary to sharing the Gospel. When people tend to think of missions as only a meeting of the physical need then it might make sense that we should spend all of our time helping poor people in our town. But missions is more than that. It is primarily about sharing the Gospel.

2. There are people that have not heard the Gospel.
According to the Joshua Project there are over 6,000 people groups on the planet today that have not yet heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is hard for people to believe that own numerous Bibles and can purchase a Bible in the check-out aisle of your local supermarket, but is true. There are millions of people that need to hear the Gospel not for the sixth or seventh time, but for the first.

3. People’s needs are the same all over the world.
Just this week I stood on the Mexican banks of the Rio Grande and talked with a missionary who was working with people in deep poverty. We discussed what was going on in their lives, their physical needs, and, most importantly, their spiritual needs. I was very moved by the fact that the core needs of the people there were the same as the people who live in my nice, clean neighborhood in Kentucky. Sin takes us on different paths, but it leads to the same longing in our hearts. The longing for redemption, healing and direction. Don’t be fooled by those who tell you that you can’t relate to someone who speaks a different language and lives in a different culture. You have much more in common with them than you think.

4. Followers of Jesus are encouraged by the work of other followers of Jesus.
As a pastor I am often lifted up by others working alongside me in ministry. Whether they come to lend a hand in the work God has given me to do or simply report on what God is doing through their work, their encouragement is always invaluable. It has been such a blessing to talk with pastors in Honduras and, now, Mexico to hear how the Holy Spirit faithfully works among God’s people and calls the lost to repentance. I believe that if I am encouraged by others I can be an encouragement to others. It is well worth the time and energy to offer this encouragement.

5. American Christians are some of the most financially blessed people in the world.
Many Christians around the world do not have the resources to leave their home countries to travel on short-term mission trips around the world. God has blessed many, if not most, American Christians with the financial ability to go to the uttermost parts of the earth and share the Good News. How are we stewarding our money? Is it being used for the sake of the Great Commission or the American Dream?

That’s my quick list. What do you think? Disagree? Can you add anything to it? I would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Avoiding Easy Street

Sacrifice is not something we seek on a regular basis. At least I don’t. “How can I deny myself for the good of someone else?” That isn’t a question that automatically pops into my head. No, too often I am headed for that path of least resistance. You know, it is sometimes called Easy Street. Looking for that road today?

Yet, sacrifice often produces immeasurable results. Think about the results produced by your mother in giving birth. Her sacrifice was great and you have her to thank for your life. What about the sacrifice of teachers (whether in a classroom or not)? They pass on the wisdom and knowledge they have gained even when it is hard to show continual patience to the learner.

What about the sacrifice of the soldier? Remember the blood that has been shed and the life that been forfeited for the past three centuries by those wearing an American flag on their shoulder to provide the freedoms you enjoy. Soldiers, and their families, have given much for you to pursue this path of least resistance.

Which makes me wonder if I should be pursuing this path at all?

Think of the sacrifice of the man who is also God, Jesus Christ. He freely gave His innocent life so that we may find restoration and hope in Him. If even the Creator made a sacrifice, shouldn’t the creation? Are we above Him? If Jesus provided the example of the life that is pleasing to God, and it included sacrifice, shouldn’t I be considering how I might sacrifice for others?

It isn’t for me to tell you how to make a sacrifice for others in your life. It might be easier to figure out than you may think, though. Open your eyes. Take a look around your home. What might you do to help those that live there with you? What about in our community? Are there needs that you could meet? Yes, it might cost you money or time, but isn’t the difference worth the investment? What about in our state, this country or our world? It’s far easier to gripe than it is to make the sacrificial to bring change. But no one ever remembers gripers, do they? At least, not in a positive way.

In fact, I would encourage you to avoid Easy Street altogether. It only seems to be a dead end. Why not take a ride down Difficult Lane? It is more strenuous to navigate, but those who travel this road make a difference in life.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Proper Emotional Response

Here's a question I received via email concerning the message on True Worship from Sunday morning, September 20. I thought it was a good one and thought you might benefit from the dialogue...

Question:
You speak of a soulful heart, yet I truly believe that my heart could be soulful in any setting because the intent and the feelings arise from me despite the setting. I could be in a catholic church and choose to find and feel the soulful intents of that setting as I could do the same in an all black church downtown New Orleans. The settings are indicative of the culture of the people, the soul finding comes from me! Yes? Therefore variety and spunk and praise and a solid AMEN are simply the culture of IBC goers, or has the culture calmed down on purpose and I just need to change?

Response:
I'm not sure what you mean exactly, but if you're talking about the word "soulical" that was used in the quote yesterday from A.W. Pink I can explain that. Pink was talking about emotionalism. There is no doubt there is emotion when it comes to God working in our lives, but we must be careful to not be swept into emotionalism. Emotionalism, what Pink called being soulical, is when a leader works to get the congregation stirred into a frenzy based on emotion alone. There have been many times I have experienced a pastor, especially at the end of the service during the invitation, try to get everyone in the room to respond emotionally so he uses everything from sentimentality to guilt. This skates very closely to the line of manipulation. Worship in spirit and in truth comes from a heart felt response to God for the work He has done through Christ for us and in us. There is a difference between this emotion and emotionalism.

It could be hard to distinguish this difference by looking on the outside of a person. We don't know if someone is in tears for show or as an authentic sign of gratitude toward Christ. So, it is not mine to judge the motive of others' hearts. However, as a leader, I do bear the responsibility of trying to protect our corporate times of worship so that they point to Christ and aren't used to simply produce an emotional response alone. And, as a pastor I am called to remind the member to examine their heart to make sure their emotion is gratitude and worship toward Christ and not emotionalism alone.

So, yes, I do think you could worship in spirit and truth wherever the truth is being sung and preached. And, no, I'm not looking to remove anyone's emotion from the service at Immanuel Baptist when it is aimed in the proper direction. It has been amazing to me how there have been times of emotion filled worship on the mission field where I don't know all of the words of the song, but I know enough to know the truth we are singing about.
--

What do you think?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Joy Realized

Being a baseball coach over the past few years has been a great learning experience. I have found many of the phrases and baseball terms that I take for granted were unknown to five, six and seven year old children. I would say something like, “Take a knee,” and they would just look at me. Then I would explain and they would gather around on one knee. We had to learn where each base was located, and to make sure we ran to them in the proper order. Sure many of the mistakes made in the learning process made for cute home videos, but not great baseball play.

From this experience I learned quite a bit about assuming. I discovered that there were many things that I had known for years that I took for granted. I forgot that I only knew them because someone taught me along the way. I also learned how joy changes at different stages in life. Now, that I cannot play Little League anymore, I find my joy in teaching kids the rules and flow of the game. When a player does well or the team plays to their potential I find satisfaction in knowing that I have played some part in the learning process for them. There is great joy in the transferring of knowledge that has been passed down to me.

Our faith is similar. There are many people who have been Christians for a long period of time. The Christian life, with its supposed routines and terminology, has become old hat for them. They take for granted that everyone else should know what to do within the life of a local church. Once this stage is reached there is a tendency for the faith to become stale because the individual has what they believe is a sufficient working knowledge.

We need to be nudged, though, to carefully avoid reaching this place in life. Christians must remember that there are many who do not have an accurate understanding of Jesus Christ and will not gain this understanding unless it is explained to them. Our joy should not be in the security of our own salvation alone, but in the sharing and explanation of our faith with others. In addition, our personal love and worship for Jesus Christ must not become stale with complacency. How could we ever know all there is to know about an infinite Creator? We must be active in maintaining that childlike curiosity and pursuit of learning about God. An increase in understanding is not enough, though, we must do the work of enriching our love for Christ.

Yet, be humbled to know that Christians do none of these things alone. It is God who has directed our understanding. He is the one that has shown patience to us. He is the one that has supplied teachers to us along the way to provide the explanations we need. He is the one that has loved us first. As we grow in an understanding and love of Jesus Christ we are called to share our joy with others because it has been shared with us.

Where are you in this process? Are you bored? Do you need to fan the flame of love and curiosity again in your faith? Have you experienced the joy of sharing your knowledge of Christ with someone lately? Please be careful to avoid making assumptions or drifting to the point of becoming stale.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Satisfaction Sought

Why can’t I seem to find satisfaction? I’ve looked and looked, but every road seems to be a dead end,” she said, “I’ve been married more times than I care to remember and none of those guys delivered the love or joy they promised. How could they? They didn’t even stick around long enough to see if we could find it.”

Outwardly she looked fine. She was a model employee at work. She had even been recognized for her hard work ethic and high levels of achievement. But inwardly, she was a mess and she knew it. She lived with the fear of how their opinion would change if they knew that her hard work on the outside was only a cover for the pain on the inside. She couldn’t let them see. It must remain veiled. At times she didn’t know what was worse – the lack of satisfaction or the fear that her masquerade would be uncovered.

One day she struck up a conversation with a man at the water cooler. She was surprised that he was just talking to her as a friend. She was used to men always trying to lead the conversation in a way she was tired of going. He was different though. Over the months they would bump into one another at the water cooler and he would ask about her life, her family, her frustrations and he remembered them. From time to time she would be surprised by the way he remembered the details of her life. He seemed to care about her rather than what he might be able to get from her.

“Why is he different?”, she often wondered, “Why does he care?” He said it was because he had someone that cared deeply for him and he knew how important it was to be loved. He seemed to have joy and satisfaction she was always missing. He said it didn’t come easy. It wasn’t because his life was problem free. No, it was because he had a friend. Who was this friend? Was this friend looking for any other friends?

Being a pastor, you probably know where I am going with this story. Yes, I am headed toward Jesus Christ being this mysterious friend. The story above is an adaptation from the New Testament passage found in John 4:1-30. I would encourage you to read it and think about the satisfaction Christ offers. The satisfaction He offers is something we all long for. Do you have it?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Navigating the Political Climate

In the United States we are being bombarded with discussion and debate concerning a issues such as health care and economics. These are important discussions indeed, but what is the source of your opinion? Listen to this and see if it leads to a helpful source.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Words that Build

Have you ever been around someone that found something positive and encouraging to say about every situation? Do you know a person that could find something refreshing about even the most draining experience? I have a friend that is able to do just that. When I’m with him I try to just listen. I try to learn to think the way he does, to see life as he does and speak like he does.

Listen on and don’t make a quick dismissal of what I say. He is laden with responsibility, deals with difficult people and faces challenges all day long. But somehow he finds the hidden sunshine on the most overcast days and, even more, he shares its beams with others.

He embodies what Scripture says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Eph. 4:29) Corrupting talk is made of words that tears down. We’re good at that sort of thinking and speaking. It comes naturally for most of us as it seems to roll out of our mouths before we’ve given it a second thought. But a second thought and second look is worthy of our attention. The second thought in the verse above says our talk should be good for building up. There is always something encouraging to be said even in the most difficult situation. Encouragement can always be found when it is sought. Building up takes work, but it is a noble task.

So, to my friend (you know who you are), thank you for your encouraging words. I am not only thankful for when they have been aimed at me, but I am thankful for all of the times that I have heard them aimed at others. And even more than being thankful for them, I have learned from them. They have caused me to do the work of thinking before I speak and looking for the beam of light behind the darkest cloud. They have indeed given me grace and called me to show grace. And now for you, reader, will you take the time to give thought to your words? We’re listening.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mistaking Pride for Wisdom

Have you ever wanted to shield someone from information you thought would be harmful to them? Sometimes family members won’t let one another know about illnesses until they have passed because they don’t want the other person to worry. This doesn’t make sense to me. Deep down we long for relationships because we were created for relationships. So why do we hide from relationships?

Some times we hide because of our pride. We don’t want other people to see us when we are weak or failing. We want to hide behind the fig leaf of invincibility. True is, everyone knows you are not invincible because they are not invincible.

Some times we hide because of faulty wisdom and reasoning. We believe that if we just handle the problem we will shelter others from heartache and frustration. Truth is, we (and others) often grow best through adversity. Usually, relationships are strengthened and wisdom is developed through difficulty. When we deny the appropriate people the chance to help us we both lose.

In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul calls followers of Jesus to rejoice with those that rejoice, weep with those that weep and to avoid being wise in your own eyes. It would seem obvious that you cannot rejoice or weep in the right way, then, without others. But what about the wisdom part? To avoid being wise in our eyes we must have someone else thinking through the problem with us. If we simply act on our own hunches, theories or solutions we might fall into the trap of believing we are so wise that we don’t need any one else to help us. Is that real wisdom? If I hear someone proclaim himself as wise I usually steer clear of him because I fear that person is mistaking wisdom for prideful arrogance.

So, the next time you have a significant struggle in your life, don’t go it alone. Turn to those you see as caring and wise. Let them be a part of the solution. Most likely you will figure out a better solution, and you will give the other person an opportunity to grow as a follower of Christ.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Redeeming the Days

I put a bottle of water in the freezer. I want a bottle of cold water. Not a bottle of ice. And I sure don’t want an icy mess in the freezer either. Cold water is what I want. Better watch the clock to make sure time doesn’t slip by. I better be intentional.

What are you trying to accomplish with your time? Do you have some goals? Are there some things you want to accomplish in life before time runs out? It will slip by, you know. The clock is ticking even now.

We aren’t looking for mere busyness though. We’re looking for effectiveness. We should be looking to redeem the time. Have you really considered how you will use your time to bring results? Good marriages don’t just happen. Neither do raising children of character. Growing in your faith doesn’t just happen either. It takes time and even a plan.

The Bible calls us to redeem our time because the days are evil. Now saying the days are evil doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to do something immoral or illegal if you don’t plan to avoid that activity. Evil days are wasted days. We’ve all had those days. You come to the end of the evening and you really don’t know where the day went. You’re left frustrated because nothing of value has been accomplished.

Redeemed days are those where righteousness has been accomplished. You had some solid conversations. You’ve spent some time thinking about your life and how it compares to God’s way of living. You served someone. A major project is out of the way or maybe at least begun. Rest even holds redemptive value. Are you planning for these things to happen?

My water bottle is going to freeze in the freezer. It is a scientific fact that my time is limited. If I forget about it and fail to plan accordingly I’ll just have a regretful mess. Life is the same way. You may not know how many hours and days you have, but it is set. When it ends will look at it and see some of those achievements that were intentional or will you be dealing with a regretful mess? Redeem the days.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Would You Listen?

If I were to create a 2-3 minute devotional thought a couple of times per week, would you listen? It would be something you could stream or download so it would be easily accessible.

Let me hear from you to know if you would listen on a regular basis? After all, I'm not interested in just talking to myself. I do that enough any way!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

True Religion is...

On Sunday morning we read from Isaiah 1:12-20. In the middle of this passage God calls His people to, "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; ​cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; ​bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause." There are many meaningful calls to action in this passage, but I was (and still am) thinking about bringing justice to the fatherless.

As many of you know, our oldest boys, Maddox and Isaac, are adopted. They were born in Kazakhstan. Monica and I had the opportunity to bring them into our family when they were only six months old. Now they are seven years old and it seems that adoption process happened a lifetime ago. At times I forget that they are adopted. While that is good on one hand, I don't want to forget they were adopted.

The adoption of children is such a beautiful picture of what God has done for Christians through Christ. Paul makes the direct comparison in Ephesians 1. The love I have for my boys reminds me of the love God has for me.

Adoption is important and should be remembered by more than those who face infertility issues. It is something that all Christians should hold as a priority. I am thankful that there are many churches across our country that are bringing adoption to the forefront. There is now a conference called Together for Adoption that seeks to bring attention to adoption. I pray that God will lead many to care for the fatherless through adoption.

Of course, orphans are only one category of children that are fatherless. There are others that are fatherless. Some of them may even live on your street. How will you care for the fatherless this week?

Monday, August 24, 2009

See Through Their Eyes

Sometimes I follow senior adults. That’s right; sometimes I try to follow them at a very close range. Before you think bad thoughts though, let me explain. Years ago I was talking with a senior adult lady who was sharing her frustration with younger people who are impatient with her because she moved a little slower than they did. She told me she wanted to move faster, but with knees, hips, ankles and feet that were feeling the wear of many years she just couldn’t move any faster. She said that if they could feel the pain in every step that she feels maybe they would understand and be a little more patient. I had never thought of that being the reason some people move slower than others. To remember that conversation occasionally I will intentionally walk up stairs or down a sidewalk behind a senior adult so that I will be reminded that life won’t always move at my pace. Seeing this senior adult’s reality I am reminded I need to be patient.

How often do we consider other people’s perspective on life? Too often I find myself expecting everyone to move at my pace and, honestly, wanting them to move at my command. Until we slow down long enough to consider where someone else is coming from, we won’t know how to serve them.

For instance, if I don’t slow down and try to understand where my children are coming from I won’t be able to help them. If I don’t understand why they are frustrated or what they do not understand I won’t know how to truly help them remedy the issue at hand. Sure I could just fix the problem, but I won’t be able to help them learn how to solve problems on their own.

As a pastor, if I don’t know the struggles of the people I am supposed to serve I won’t be able to serve them well at all. I have to be able to see the world through their eyes. That is the point of God coming to earth and becoming flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ is able to understand the human experience and care for us not only from the Creator’s viewpoint, but from the vantage point of someone who has shared in the human experience as well.

When was the last time you looked through someone else’s eyes? Why not have a conversation today and really listen to make sure you understand the other person’s perspective. Then, you might be able to serve them in a way that will make a lasting difference in their life.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Hypocrite's Confession

I lost it. I really did. Fortunately, it isn’t my mind I’m talking about, but my temper. I was faced with some choices in dealing with a difficult situation and I chose poorly. I was guilty of letting my pride get the best of me and a great display of anger was unleashed. To add to it, the storm had rumbled early in the day and I was left to watch the replay in my mind over and over all day long. After watching for a few hours, my anger turned to hurt and frustration that I had blown it once again.

It's not the end of the story, though. There is hope. God did not turn away. In fact, He used the remainder of the day to teach me about this early morning conniption.

First, I was set to talk with a man about a struggle he has having. What might this struggle be? That’s right, anger. I’m having lunch to talk about this man's anger and all I could think of was mine. Ever been there? Needless to say as I listened to the biblical wisdom I was giving him, I wondered if I would heed my own words.

After I survived the lunch of conviction salad, I returned to the computer to finish some work. The phone rings and it’s another friend seeking some advice in a different counseling situation. As our conversation rolls on he says, “Isn’t it funny how God uses the things we tell other people in counseling to deal with our own problems?” No, it’s not. At least that’s what I wanted say. By this time I was really starting to get the point. God had seen my little display earlier in the day and was now at work correcting me. There were no lightning bolts or voices from Heaven, just nudges throughout the day to get my attention. He got it.

You’ll be happy to know that I did return to the scene of the crime. I did seek and receive forgiveness. And, I did leave with a desire to learn and grow from the experience.

But I also left wondering how often God weaves people and conversations through our day so that we will ultimately think of Him. Do we truly realize that God is at work all around us? Have you taken notice of how active He is in your world?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What's In Your Schedule?

What’s on your schedule today? Why is it there? As you made your plans, have you considered how they impact the Kingdom of God? Would you be able to recognize the Kingdom of God? Do you have a desire to live within the Kingdom of God?

These questions do matter because Jesus has told us that we are able to live within the Kingdom of God even now.

In John 3 Jesus says that the only way you can see or enter the Kingdom of God is to be born again. Questions may arise through that phrase “born again”, but let’s first consider what the Kingdom of God is.

In Romans 14:17, Paul says, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” So, the Kingdom of God is not as much a physical place as it is a state of being. It is a place of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. It could be said, then, living in the Kingdom of God is to finding our joy as we live in an understanding and application of God’s ways of living.

How do we do this? It comes down to the lenses by which we view our world. To one person something is weird. To another it is normal. Where do you find your definition of normal or different; right or wrong? What is our goal of success? What is our goal for joy? Where do we seek our joy and satisfaction? I know you’re looking because I am too. Are we looking for God’s wisdom in our decision-making? Or, are we looking to our own wisdom or to what everyone else seems to be doing around us? The competition is fierce. There are many that are vying for your attention. At the end of the day, though, not everyone’s wisdom is equal.

As Paul says, finding righteousness, peace and joy in God comes only from God.

Are you seeking it?

In our next blog we’ll talk about how you can find it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Peace and Quiet

Will you help me? I've been asked to write an article for the Barren County Progress and I want your feedback on my first submission. Here it is. Read it and let me hear from you...

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The peaceful and quiet life. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Yet, we know it is elusive. It’s probably something people do in some other town. Our lives are active and busy. There are always errands to run, chores to be finished and deadlines to meet. And, even if we aren’t on the go that much our minds are always racing. There is little doubt that we can become overwhelmed quite easily. We don’t like this fact, but many find it true more often than not. Does it have to be this way? What causes us to be this way?

There must be something that motivates our busyness. The calendar doesn’t dictate our lives to us. We hold the pencil in our hand. We allow ourselves to be overwhelmed and driven until we are run ragged. But why? Could it could be that our fear of what others think of us drive us to this maddening pace? We don’t want to be thought of as the bad son or daughter, the parents that are always lagging behind or the neighbor everyone talks about at the end of their driveways. We don’t want to be the employee that seems to underachieve. Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t work hard and take care of our responsibilities. Indeed, we should. What I’m saying is that I often take on too much because I’m worried about what others are thinking of me. And I think you might as well. In my pursuit to be perceived as living the peaceful and quiet life I create waves of chaos to keep the illusion flickering on the screen of life.

Is there a solution? Paul, an author of the New Testament of the Bible, offers a suggestion. Prayer and humility before God are what he recommends. Prayer forces us to acknowledge that God is working all around us. Whether we are asking God for wisdom or provision, or thanking Him for what He has given we are forced to realize that He is the Giver and we are the receiver. He is the Need-meeter and we are the needy. The humility we discover in 2 Timothy 2:1-7 tells us that we are, ultimately and supremely, to be concerned with pleasing God. And there is that notion of pleasing again. It’s interesting that when we please God many of the people mentioned above are pleased also. Not all, but many. Then, maybe we’ll find that peace and quiet we desire.