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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Just for Fun...



On December 11, 2011, members of my leadership team and I decided to poke fun at ourselves with common misconceptions of what church leaders "do all day." I hope this will put a smile on your face today! Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Not Just On Sunday

"If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home - so that when you come together it will not be for judgement..."
(1 Corinthians 11:34).

God bless "Sister Betty."  She was a dear woman that attended a small country church in a rural Texas town.  On one Wednesday evening that I had been asked to speak during their service, Sister Betty had been asked to introduce me.  She began by welcoming all those who had ventured out on this "middle of the week" night.  As she was speaking, she told the small congregation how much she needed to be there herself.  "I need to be in church on Wednesday to get my blessin' to hold me over 'til Sunday."

I've never forgotten those words.  Not for a minute do I think that dear sweet Ms. Betty was the only one to ever entertain such a though.  "...to hold me over 'til Sunday."  I'm certain you understand what she is referring to.  There are those who's entire relationship with God hinges on their attendance to church on Sunday mornings.  Their entire communication with God unfairly rests on the pastor.  They depend entirely on him to meet all of their spiritual needs, to be the voice of God, and resolve all of life's confusion all in less than an hour and a half on one day a week.  Wow!

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul is addressing the issue of communion.  There are those who have come to worship and to break bread, but have come hungry, literally hungry.  They begin to eat the communion bread to satisfy a hunger, to use it for a purpose it was never intended.  Communion was to celebrate what Jesus had done and for them to remember both the sacrifice He gave and the surrender that they had returned.  Paul told them to eat at home.  What they were to be doing together was to be a culmination and confirmation of what they had been depending upon God for at home.

Imagine if you ate a meal only on one day a week.  If your entire week depended upon the nourishment you received one day a week, you would become weak, unhealthy, and ineffective.  Making times to spend with God and to "eat" of His Word, the Daily Bread of Life, will make such a difference in your life.  Make time in His Word and in His presence a priority in your everyday life.  Don't rely on a pastor, a teacher, an evangelist, or even the spiritual maturity of a good friend.  Be nourished on the goodness of God everyday.  Psalm 34:8 reminds you to "...taste and see that the Lord is good...blessed are you who take refuge in Him."  There is great health, successful effectiveness, and much blessing when are making our dwelling place in the presence of the Lord.  Let Sunday be the day where you celebrate all that God has been doing in your life all week, and allow the preached Word confirm what He's already been speaking to you.  God desires to be an active voice in your everyday life.  Not just on Sunday.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Straight Ahead

"Are we trying to arouse the Lord's Jealousy?  Are we stronger than He?" (1 Corinthians 10:22).

Have you ever noticed that the word "player" has culturally evolved into something to proud of?  It has become a badge of honor.  For a man to cheat and to be with more women than he is able to count is seen, in many circles, to be something to honor, look up to, and respect.  In the year 2002 I made a covenant to the woman who was and still is my very best friend.  I vowed to her before God that I would honor her and cherish her, keeping myself only for her as long as we both shall live.

What I vowed to my wife did not lose its potency or relevancy at the conclusion of the honeymoon, or during the times that we may have been at odds with one another.  It was a vow that surpasses emotions, desires, frustrations, hurts, and temptations.  If I falter in a way that I veer off the course that I vowed to journey with my wife, I am both breaking that vow, and provoking her heart to jealousy.  I made a promise.  I entered into covenant.  I did so before God.  For our marriage to be successful, we must, together, keep our eyes on Jesus and focus life straight ahead.  No turning back, no turning around, and no turning away.

So it is in our relationship with Jesus.  It is not uncommon to see people who call themselves "Christians," yet choose to live in a way that reflects little regard to Him.  They don't honor Him with the choices they make, the words they speak, or the direction they travel.  They worship the idols of self-interest, self-preservation, and self-centeredness.

Paul sought to hit a home-run with this message to his audience.  Each moment you live is to be lived as an act of worship to God.  You life is to be a living sacrifice - given in total surrender and humility.  Every aspect of your existence is to be a song of passionate worship, intimately expressing your love, commitment, and dedication to Him.  When you choose not to spend time with the Creator of time, then you are choosing to worship your will at a greater level than the heart of God.  He is greater than anything you can possibly seek to understand.  He desires to be your all-in-all.  Let your life reflect a heart that beats passionately for Him.  Resist the distractions.  Focus on Him.  Walk with Him straight ahead.












Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Running to Win

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it" (1 Corinthians 9:24).

One of my favorite and inspiring football movies of all time is the sports classic, Rudy.  It's the story of an undersized, middle class young man of meager means, but great ambition.  Competitive as a high school football player, he was clear that he was more gifted with heart and passion than with size and skill.  His dream was to play with the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.  He was turned down at every twist and turn, only to find himself serving on their practice squad.  By the end of the movie, you find that Rudy gets a once-in-a-college-career shot of playing on the field with the team of his dreams.  With determination in his eyes and passion in his heart, he is triumphant in succeeding to bring down the offensive player with the football.  The crowd erupts!  The cheering was not so much for one who would be famous for his skill, but for one who would not give up, but who would fix his eyes on the prize, endure through the pains and disappointments, and purpose to obtain it.

Though life is more complicated than a sporting event, it is a competition.  Paul likened it to a race, invoking the imagery of the Olympic games of his time.  We are not in competition with each other.  We do, however, face an everyday battle with those things that would seek to hold us back from the obtaining the prize that God has for us.  Victory in our lives will not just happen.  Spiritual growth is not random.  It is strategic, on purpose, and with great determination.  Jesus did all that needed to be done to make it available to us.  He has given us the ability.  We have to use it.  We cannot live as though our choices don't matter, our thinking doesn't matter, or that we don't matter.  We are to run as though we intend and expect to receive all that Christ has desired for and made available to us.

Each day you are running a race against your desires, against time distractions, against negative feelings, emotions, and insecurities.  God has placed an aim, a passion, a vision, a dream in your heart.  He desires you to run victoriously in this life, a winner, successful, and blessed.  There is nothing you can do to earn or deserve such a prize.  He has already won it and has now placed it before you.  The question you must answer is this: "How bad do you want it?"  Are you willing to live a life of discipline, passion, and endurance?  Are you willing to let go of everything that would seek to pull you back?  Are you willing to rise above the pain, the weariness, and the fear; to trust Him for what you don't have, and to focus on Him who is calling you to a greater prize than you can fathom?  Run to win.  You don't run alone.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Arrogance

"Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that 'all of us possess knowledge.'  This knowledge puffs up, but love builds up"
(1 Corinthians 8:1).

Paul, in this section of his letter to the church at Corinth, was addressing the problem of legalism and spiritual pride.  There are those that love to showcase what they know and how much they know to the point of becoming critical and judgmental.  As Christians, we are called to be advocates of the truth, while at the same time, living in honor of Him who is the Truth.  We were never called to arrogance, but to love.

Later on in this transformation letter, Paul gives greater definition to what love is.  In one of the most often recited passages on love, Paul writes that love is "patient, kind, not rude, not self-seeking, does not boast..."  Unfortunately, the way most people argue has become synonymous with arrogance.  It becomes arguing for argument sake, seeking to prove right and prove wrong, and about winning a debate, rather than living in a way that reflects the love that we claim to be changed by.  Our adoration for Jesus will always be a better argument than our arrogance, intended or perceived.

"Knowledge" puffs up.  It makes us feel bigger than we were ever designed or intended to be.  Love builds up.  It is focused on others more than ourselves.  We are called to teach, not trample.  We are meant to disciple, not destroy.  We are to reflect the love of Jesus, not the legalism of arrogance.  Yes, we are to speak the "truth in love."  However, let's not twist that scripture to become the blank check that allows us to say what we want to.  Let us remember what and Who love is.

Allow this to be a reminder in your life.  It is not about you, but about building up others in their faith, and in their relationship with others around them.  If you build up yourself, then you're not lifting up Jesus.  Exalt Him, and He will lift you up.  If others are not persuaded by the truth you are presenting, don't result to futile and volatile arguments.  Live out the truth.  Let the love of Jesus be more persuasive than your ability for words.  He is truth.  He is love.  Love is more persuasive than arrogance.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Resolve.

"Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him" (1 Corinthians 7:20).

Years ago I had learned of a man who had struggled greatly with lust and become grossly entrenched in the bondage of pornography.  Longing desperately to be separated from this long-time struggle, he mistakenly assumed that getting married would set him free.  Not only did he find that he was in error in his thinking, he found that the fight would continue.  There would be no "easy way out."  He would have to engage with the power of God and depend upon that strength to endure.  And that, he did.

Like this man who found the freedom he desired in Christ, yet found it through the process of dependance and endurance, so are many.  Paul addresses an issue here in the context of many things.  He's addressing marriage, slavery, ceremonial obligations and traditions.  The point he makes is clear and applicable both then and now.  When someone comes to Christ, there is NO GUARANTEE of immediate resolution of all struggle.  The fight will continue.  However, the source of your fight will change.  It is no longer you, your will, or your strength.  Rather, it is your surrender unto Jesus.  He, then, gives you the resources you need and the resolve you will depend on in your quest to see that freedom realized. 

It was for freedom that Christ has set you free.  This is true.  What is also true, is that everything you need for that freedom is found in Christ and is finished in Christ.  But what is further true, is that you have to daily walk it out and work it out in fear and trembling.  You have to take captive every thought and imagination that would attempt to exalt itself over the knowledge of Jesus Christ.  You have to depend upon Him and lock-eyes with Him as the author and perfecter of your faith.  Don't be afraid of the struggle.  You are free in Him.  Though you may continue to feel the barrage of that struggle and the temptation to return, rely upon the strength of God, and He will not only give you the resolve, but be the resolve that you need.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Re:Defined

"And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of the our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Hypocrisy.  It's cited as one of the leading reasons that many people have either walked away from God, the church, or both, or either have steered clear from either/or altogether.  It's easier to judge than it is to be judged.  It's easier to hold the gavel than to hear it being slammed down, unjustly sentencing you based on opinions, ideas, ideals, expectations, and standards that the "sentencer" doesn't hold themselves to.  Of course, it is also easy to become overwhelmed with cynicism that we, too, decide to check out, criticize, and allow bitterness have a fighting chance at overtaking our mind.  So, where does that leave us?

"And such were some of you..."  Paul is referencing statements he has just made concerning the types of people who will not inherit the kingdom of Heaven.  He even mentions some of the "hot button" sins that we like to capitalize on, separating ourselves from the same responsibility to God over our "lesser" offenses.  He lists them and says, "...and such were some of you..."  None of us are without a past, without sin, without stains upon the fabric of our hearts.  Without God at the forefront of our lives, we are all tainted.  God doesn't level and categorize sin in the same manner that we do.  He condemns it all.  Yet, He has made away to remove the stain from our lives in a way that leaves all of the power of "oxy clean" wanting!  We each have struggled, failed, and failed again, but God, through the power of the blood of Jesus Christ, has washed us, made us new, and has redefined us by His grace so amazing.

There are areas that you have undoubtedly struggled and failed.  But, those areas no longer have to define you.  Why?  Because, you have had the opportunity to be redefined by the power of the Spirit of God.  You are a child of God.  In Him, you can be made new, clean, pure.  Restoration can be more than an ideal.  It can become a reality in your life.  You, however, must choose to receive the grace and mercy, each day, that He has for you.  Choose today to live each day with the knowledge and confidence of who you are in Christ Jesus.  Don't judge yourself by who you've been or by how you feel, but by who you are in Him.  You are made new.  You are forgiven.  You were created in His image.  You are His.  And while you're at it, allow that grace that you are desperate to receive from Him also flow through to others.  After all, "...and such were some of you."  Oh, but for the grace of God!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Small Things Matter

"...Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?"
(1 Corinthians 5:6).

Let's get something straight right off the bat.  I am a big baby!  I am a wimp when it comes to pain.  God blessed me with a variety qualities, but a tolerance for pain was not in the package.  A few years back, my wife and I owned a small house in a town where we were in ministry that had a deck on the back.  This deck, like many decks made of wood that has been around a few years, baking under the son, and enduring the various elements of the seasons, was complete with its share of splinters.  I am one who enjoys being barefoot and going where my feet take me outside.  I love the grass in between my toes, and my toes take advantage of the opportunity to breathe! 

Let me bring it home:  old decks plus bare feet equal splinters!  You might not think much of a splinter to look at it.  It's small, skinny, and bends; nothing to be so concerned about.  However, when this foreign object makes its way into my foot, my entire body eventually responds.  It may take time, but infection attempts to set in.  How important it is for me, regardless of the pain that may be involved, to deal with what may seem "small."  It's the small things, when ignored, that wreak the greatest havoc in our lives.

In 1 Corinthians 5. Paul is making the point that a "little bit" really does matter.  It is so commonly easy to think that just a small amount of something is OK.  Perhaps it is not even a "bad" something.  But, what effect is it having on the most important things in our lives.  Sometimes it is the small things IN our lives, and other times it's the small things that we're leaving out of our lives.

This is the question you should ask, answer, and apply in your life.  Ask :What are the "little things" that are making their way noticeably into other areas of my life?  What am I choosing to ignore?  Answer: __________________________________________.  Apply: Choose to be strategic and purposeful in your response to the answer to the question you've asked.  When you begin to realize that the small things matter, and deal with the small things, you will find greater success in the big things.  You can't focus on the big things when you're having to deal with small things that have now become big things.  Ask God to give you the understanding to see what needs to be seen, the wisdom to know what to do, and the strength to follow though and do it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reflections

"I urge you then, be imitators of me" (1 Corinthians 4:16).

One night after dinner as my wife and I were cleaning the kitchen together (and yes, I do help clean the kitchen), I turned around and looked at my oldest son, who was six at the time.  I asked him, "what are you doing?"  He said, "Hi, I'm Pastor Chris!"  He was wearing my suit jacket, a tie of mine he found in the closet (those rare occasions that I do wear a tie), and was in my size twelve dress shoes.  He said, "I want to be like Daddy."  Now that we've had our 'awwwwe...how cute moment,' let's allow the powerful truths of such an impacting moment to set in.  No matter what we do, there are people that are watching us, learning from us, and imitating us.  What they see is a reflection of who we are.

It is essential and key to have good examples in our lives, and in turn, to be an example that is worthy of being followed.  Popular Christian leadership author, John Maxwell, packages this idea in a 'must-remember' simple definition of leadership.  "Leadership is influence - nothing more, nothing less."  Everyone is a leader.  Everyone influences someone.  The question everyone has to answer is whether or not they are leading by and leaving an example worth following.

Each morning you wake up, stumble to the bathroom, and at some point in time, you brave yourself enough to look into the mirror.  Who is looking back at you?  Quickly we respond with, "well, of course it's me looking back."  If you are satisfied with that answer, then the focus of your influence on others will be that they look like you.  We must understand that we are inadequate, but there is One who is greater, One in which will only increase in our lives as we decrease.  You were not called to be the best looking "you" that you can be.  You were called to be a reflection of Jesus.  It's not you that is to live, but Christ that lives within you.

This is a pledge that we must faithfully make each day.  A pledge that declares: "I will live in a way that will honor God as someone else follows my example."  Our desire is to be able to, with great integrity, speak loud with our everyday lives to "be imitators of me."  "Follow me in my work ethic, my marriage, my parenting, and most importantly, my relationship with Jesus."  So, when you look in the mirror, are you seeing less of you and more of Him?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Exposed

"...their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person's work"
(1 Corinthians 3:13).

As a teenager, I succumbed to the great curse of the runaway zit!  I know.  Gross.  Please.  You have no idea!  I used to think that perhaps I could make some extra money by renting out my face to parties as a portable rock-climbing wall.  Either that, or traveling topographical map of the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado!  Because I was so focused on becoming one of those smooth-faced guys that seemed to have faces that were perfectly chiseled from a rock, I tried everything to hide and to "fix" my face.  I discovered a skin colored cream that I would use to try to mask what was there.  It seemed to work for a while.  But then, I tried one of my Grandmother's "cures."  Before bed one night, I covered my face in toothpaste!  Try sleeping with fluoride all over your face.  Not sure what it was supposed to do for my complexion, but it did wonders for my pores being minty fresh!  The next morning I was HORRIFIED!  It brought everything that I had been trying to hide to the surface.  There was no hiding.  However, because it all came to the surface, it was now able to be confronted, cleansed, and cured.

Paul speaks of a fire that exposes all that is hidden.  Fire will test the strength, the durability, and the purity of whatever element it comes into contact with.  Paul was encouraging the church to take notice of their own "work."  What was the condition, the foundation, the results of all they put their hands to?  How easy it would have been, and unarguably still is, to mask what we are doing, what we are saying, and what we are thinking, with what we actually do.  But, God knows all, and all will be tested to show it for what it is, so that it might become the pure and valuable element He desires it to be.

Is this a tough one for you?  Many people have come to closeness with the reality of this truth.  The fact is, there are a lot of things in most of our lives that would not stand the heat of the fire.  Although the situations that God allows in your life may be uncomfortable, allow Him to use them to reveal what has been beneath the surface, deal with it, and begin again to live in the purity and strength of Jesus in your everyday life.

Let me offer a prayer that, in different ways, has become a constant in my life.  "Lord, My God.  I ask you to purify my heart.  Remove from me all that is standing in the way of Your love for me.  All I want is You."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Things I Really Know

"For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2).

November 9, 2011 will be a day that many people will forget.  November what?  Exactly.  However, there is at least one man with great ambition that will continue to relive an "oops" moment in his mind for what at times may seem like an eternity.  It was the Republican primary debate in Rochester, Michigan.  Texas Governor and presidential hopeful Rick Perry began to try to astound his audience with his bold and quick answer of what three government agencies he would seek to eliminate upon being sworn into the chief leadership role of the United States government.  He rattled off one, then, two, but by the time he attempted to relay number three, his mind went blank.  He tried again.  He could not remember.  No matter how hard he tried, he received a harsh reminder in humility.

What do we really know?  We quote statistics, rattle off information, debate various arguments, but how will that really change you?  Not that there is not an element of relative importance, but how will it effect eternity.  All that we know in this life and on this earth will pass away.  There will be a moment in our existence where we will come face to face with the reality of the futility of all that we thought was so important.

For Paul, it wasn't about how he could "wow" those who were in his "audience" with his words, his speaking skills, or his lack thereof.  In fact, he wasn't a good public speaker at all.  But, he knew Jesus personally and intimately.  He had made it his passion to be intimately familiar and connected with the crucifixion of Jesus.  This is what knew.  This is what mattered.  This is what he preached, and it was this that would change the hearts and the lives of many.

Whatever it is that you know, it's inadequate.  Don't allow yourself to get tied up and sucked into to useless arguments and debates where you try to win with your knowledge.  The only thing that matters is that you breathe, speak, and live a life that is evidence of being changed by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Is He the main subject of your life?  Your daily target is to not be right in the eyes of people, but to live right before God, to live crucified with Christ, that the life you live is His life living through you.  This will be the greatest sermon, the most influential argument, and the most relational invitation the world will ever see.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Trophies & Tales

"Therefore, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'"
(1 Corinthians 1:31).

Trophies, medals, ribbons, awards, and certificates.  We like to win them, display them, talk about how we got them, and what it means to us.  Have you ever watched the Oscars, the Emmies, the Grammies, or number of Prime-Time award shows?  They are filled with speeches that more times than not, speak of their accomplishments, how they deserve this, how they've worked hard for this.  Sure, there have been those that have said they didn't deserve it.  Did they give it back?

Of course, there is nothing wrong with winning achievements and sharing the story of the journey that led you there.  I'd like to think I have a few stories to share along the path of my own walk through life to this point.  The question, however, is whose glory is it for?  It is very true that God chooses and uses people to accomplish great things in our world.  Let's not forget the key truth.  It is God.  He uses the abilities, talents, gifts, and skills that we have at the very grace of His own hand.

He is the source of life.  Let all boasting begin, end, and be filled with giving glory, credit, and honor to Him who is above all things, who brings us through, over and in spite of so much.  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from the Father.  Every breath that we breathe is a testament of His strength to get us through another day.  In spite of a economic woes, political woes, emotional woes, and hardships that are more plentiful than a spread at your favorite Chinese buffet, His faithfulness endures, His love endures, and peace is all that gives us rest.

There are times of temptation to say, "I did this."  "Look at me."  But, what can you really do on your own aside from Him?  It is possible to have good things and success without God, but equally without true and complete fulfillment.  If you are successful, know that it is by the hand of God.  If you have not yet reached the level of success that you aspire, stop looking at yourself as the source or means of that success.  Look to Him.  He is the author and the perfecter of your faith and all things good.  He has purposed a plan for your life.  Don't get caught up in the plan or the results and rewards of the plan. Focus and seek first the One who is the Author of that plan.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Skeptical Faith?

"They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus" (Luke 24:2).

I believe in Jesus.  I believe He is the savior of the world, the Son of God, and IS God (a lot of theology here, save for another time).  I believe He healed the sick, walked on water, raised the dead, and showed the great power of His own Deity in conquering the grave by rising from the dead and ascending into Heaven.  I believe it.

I doubt.  Though I say I believe, when faced with a trial that challenges that belief, I respond in ways that contradict my faith.  With my attitudes, I rewrite the premise and definition of faith from believing and hoping in that which cannot be seen, to faith is substance of what I want and believed upon the evidence of what I see.  As a Christian, the two ideas are incompatible.  If I say I believe, and I doubt, how can I really believe?  My faith is tested by that which attacks my belief.  Faith is when I can celebrate even when what I see is less than what I believe.

The disciples and followers of Jesus came to the tomb and found exactly what gave the evidence to what Jesus had spoken.  He said He would rise again.  The stone was rolled away.  He was gone!  They did not believe.  They entered out of doubt, not out of celebration.  They found Him not to be there.  The word found is a word that signifies seeking.  They saw the open tomb and expected to find Him there...still dead.  He was gone.  It was as though they still didn't believe what Jesus had said.

When you see God begin to do the amazing things that He's promised for your life, believe Him.  Don't get distracted by what you do see or what you don't see.  Keep your eyes lifted to Him.  Stay focused on His eyes.  When all you see is Jesus, everything else begins to fade into its proper place.  It is not up to you to prove it right or wrong, check it out, or to give it your stamp of approval.  It is up to you to believe and to celebrate by faith all that He's promised.  Remember, faith is when you can celebrate even when what you see is less than what you believe.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Power to Forgive

"Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing...'" (Luke 23:34).

It has been said that to forgive is to serve eviction notice on one who has been living rent-free in your mind.  It's not so much that it frees them, but that it frees you.  As anyone who has lived in this world for longer than a day, it is complete with a roller-coaster array of trials and troubles and people who can be both the trial and the trouble!  It is inevitable that we will face times of hurt, rejection, betrayal, discouragement, and disappointment at the hands of those we hold or have held with close regard.  Of course the common sentiment in our culture is to get even, or "get first before you get got!" 

How interesting it is that we are so quick to dismiss psychics and clairvoyants as scam artist, yet we accuse those who have hurt us of knowing exactly what they've done to hurt us, how bad it hurt us, how they should have known what we'd think even though we haven't spoken, or or better yet, we assume what they know, what they did, and why.  We desire and are desperate to be forgiven for what we have done and how we have hurt others with the hopes that it can be let go and we can all move on, yet we, in return, hold on until we are certain that the offender is experiencing as much pain as they have inflicted, and with interest.

Think about this.  Jesus had been mutilated, humiliated, and was in the midst of being executed like that of a common criminal.  He had done exactly as the Father had asked.  He never once veered from the great plan that was essential for the redemption of all those that would seek it.  He had been the source of great truth, healing, provision, and life to many.  Instead of appreciation, He had received attitude, agony, and attack.  Now on the cross, Jesus had a choice to make.  Forgiveness isn't so much about what happens to you, but how you respond to what happens to you.  Rather than spewing "justified" curses down upon these offensive and obscene people, He pronounced forgiveness.  He declared that they did not fully understand what they were doing, thus clearing them with a pardon that would open the door for the redemption He was came to give.

How often have you allowed a bad moment turn into a bitter season?  How many times have you held a grudge, even if only for a minute because you were certain that someone else knew exactly what they were doing?  Have you ever been so sure as to accuse another, even within the secrecy of your own heart, of their premeditation in attacking you, offending you, or causing hurt to you?  Jesus forgave.  He didn't argue with them based on why they said what they said or did what they did.  The details that belabor conflict and controversy within relationships today didn't matter to Him.  He chose to forgive.  Choose today to forgive, to cast your hurts, cares, and offenses on Him who understands.  Ask Him to give you the strength to forgive, a strength that only exists in full surrender of all of our concerns to Him.  He is able.  His forgiveness with unleash a great power in you, and through you to forgive.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Held in the Hard Times

"'Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.'  An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him"
(Luke 22:42-43).

Faith in God, in Jesus, can feel the toughest during times that challenge that very faith.  Recently I was able to walk at the beginning of a journey with a family that has and will continue to challenge them and attempt to shake them to their core.  The hopes and dreams that are a part of bringing in the first born seem to vanish before them as quick light bulb that has burned out, leaving nothing but darkness that the eyes have yet to adjust to.  As we gathered together, there were many questions that surfaced.  "Why?"  It's a question that has universally plagued the world many times over as people, good people, God-fearing people, have faced such a place of challenge.  Even during that time, there were prayers, many prayers that were lifted up to the Creator of the Universe; prayers of healing, restoration, and even resurrection!  To no avail?  It would appear that way.  But wait.  There is so much more to God and to the plans of God that we just cannot understand.  And when we come face to face with these twists, turns, and pitfalls on the journey, He is there.  He comforts.  He holds us.  He holds us together.

Jesus poured Himself out before the Father.  he knew what needed to be done, and He knew what it would fully entail.  And, in His humanity, He asked God if there might be any other way.  It wasn't His desire to encounter the weight of the sins of the world, to experience the full force of the humiliation, the mockery, and the ultimate betrayal and rejection that was surely to come.  However, He did not beg or complain.  He vowed His own faithfulness to the purpose and plan of the Father.  He surrendered His will - His choice, determination, preference, purpose, desire, pleasure and inclinations for that of the Father.  This had not been the perfect plan of the Father.  Sin was never to be a part of the existence of creation, but choice was.  Choice brought pain.  Pain brought consequences.  Jesus came to bring restoration and redemption.  But, it would cost Him.  He surrendered to the journey that God had called Him to.  And, at that moment, God sent an angel from Heaven to strengthen Him - to revitalize, to reinvigorate, to prepare Him to stand up and persevere the path He was to travel.

There are times when we ask God for another way.  We pray and ask Him to make ways, open doors, close doors, and perform miraculous works of breakthrough.  Never-the-less, it is not our inclinations, pleasures, preferences, or purposes that's going to lead us.  It's surrendering to God, through Jesus Christ, in spite of all that hurt and don't understand, knowing that His love is greater, will comfort us, hold us close and together, and, in time, bring the restoration and healing that we are increasingly desperate to receive.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Value of "ALL"

"All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on" (Luke 21:4).

The rich gave out of what they had. It didn't really cost anything. They didn't have to assess it, and they didn't really miss it. This woman gave out of her poverty- out of her deficiency, her failure, her suffering, her lack and her want. She gave out of the essentials of her existence and well being. She gave her all. She was all in. She held nothing back. Nothing else mattered than living in total surrender, complete trust and uncompromising obedience.

Nothing valuable will ever mean more to you than what you're willing to pay.  Salvation is a "free gift" from God the Father through Jesus Christ.  However, how we receive that and live the fruit of that gift determines the effectiveness that gift will have in our lives.  Giving out of our plenty is doing what we can, still being in control, not really feeling the effects of that cost.  Giving out of our poverty, our deficiency, our lack, is to give out of our desperation.  It's to say, "I'm giving it all to You, because I need all from You.  I am nothing without you!"

This is how God has called you to live your life. You can't try to analyze- just accept! You can't over think- only trust! Living for Jesus will cost you everything. If you don't give everything you haven't really given anything. Choose to be ALL- IN! This is for keeps!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Integrity: Acting In Line With Your Beliefs

"They were unable to trap Him in what He said there in public.  And astonished by His answer, they became silent" (Luke 20:26).

Have you ever noticed that for some, arguing is like the very air that they depend on for breathing.  If they couldn't argue, they couldn't live.  I lived much of my growing up life in the same way.  It was once said of me that I would argue with a fence post!  Of course, I immediately developed a well thought out opposition detailing how I would never, nor could ever, argue with a fence post.  OK.  I proved THEIR point.

Turn on the TV, watch a presidential debate, listen to an afternoon radio talk show, or any one of the panel shows that have become synonymous with daytime television.  Arguing has become a way of life.  Its entertainment.  It sells.  However, the "payoff" comes at a great cost, "arguably" a cost that can't come close to reconciling what is "gained" with what is lost. Relationships are weakened, humility is sacrificed, integrity is forfeited, and credibility put out to pasture.

From the time Jesus walked the terrain of this earth in human form, there had been those who whose very goal in life was to seek out and find contradictions in Him.  To disprove Him would somehow eradicate themselves of personal responsibility in regards to what His teaching represented.  They tried.  They failed.  They could never formulate an argument, regardless of the attraction of its fabrication, that could trap Him.  He didn't argue in the way that our current culture understands the concept of argument.  He didn't become defensive.  He didn't counter with a verbal assault.  He spoke Truth.  He lived Truth.  He was Truth.  Truth will always stand, will always endure, and will always serve as the best argument and the most worth while defense.

Believe it or not, you do not have to argue in a competitive, defensive, or aggressive fashion concerning any area of your life.  So many people make an argument over their politics, their morals, or even "arguing" about who Jesus is.  Your best argument will always be the life of integrity that you live before Christ.  That will speak louder than any word that ever escapes the boundaries of your lips.  That is the argument that will be the most believable.  Your best effort in "arguing" this truth is to live it out and to all that TRUTH to be evident in you.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Loving My Community

"As He approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it"
(Luke 19:41).

Compassion is a powerful thing.  We are moved by stories and pictures that open our eyes to an awareness of human struggle and suffering.  Our heart strings are connected to our purse strings and we give because we connect with a need that is greater than who we are.

Recently, I led a team into the second largest city in the United Kingdom.  We partnered with an incredible and growing church who has such a heart of compassion for their city.  We themed our joint venture "LovingBirmingham."  The entire time together was about a heart for a city filled with people that need the love of Jesus.  The week was powerfully filled with instances that were fulfillment of the joint goal we had set.  But, as I was there, and as I have been to other countries and other places since then, I began to think of something that continues to transform my heart and my thinking.  Do I ache for my own community as I do for those around the world?  Have I grown so use to the routine of my American culture of materialism, instant gratification, and the "american dream" that I am only affected by that which is in places unfamiliar to me?  Yes, we are to have a heart for the world around us, but never at the cost of ignoring the world right in front of us.

The closer Jesus got to the city that was overwhelming with potential, purpose, prophecy, and promise, He was overwhelmed with great emotion.  He was who they were now, and what they had become, but also who they could have been and were still yet to be.  He wept over the city.  He poured His heart out in regards to the people.  He cried aloud.  His passion and burden for this city was not secret, nor was it silent.  He refused to hold it in.  His love was loud.

When you drive in your city or in your community, or when you pull into your own neighborhood, are you ever overwhelmed with emotion for its potential, its purpose, or its people?  Do you have vision for what God can do in your own neighborhood?  Begin, even more than ever, to ask God for a greater vision and passion for your city, your community, your workplace, or your school.  Cry aloud!  Make your heart known and continue to be a presence of His presence, and an influence for the purpose of God.  If you want to see a change, be willing to be a part of that change.  Now, that's loving your community!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Honestly Aware

"But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God have mercy on me, a sinner'" (Luke 18:13).

In stark contrast to the Pharisee who spoke of himself in comparison to others, this tax collector prayed with great humility, self-awareness and recognizing himself, his shortage, and his source.

He knew who he was.  He was a inner.  He wasn't trying to defend, justify, or compare.  He knew what he needed.  He needed mercy.  What he deserved was condemnation - nothing more, nothing less.  And, he knew who could supply all that he needed.  He approached God.  He called on God.  He surrendered and humbled himself before God.

We can never think that we are greater than who we really are.  It is so much easier to compare ourselves to others in order to either feel better about ourselves, or to not have to focus on our own realities.  On our own, there is nothing great about us, about who we are, or even what we are capable of doing.  We must be aware of who we are, and who we are not.  Aside from the grace and the purpose of God, we are nothing.  But because of His grace and purpose, we are children of God, planned by God, and called by God.  All that we are and all that we do is because of who HE is.

Regardless of any title, occupation, or success that you may achieve in life, you are a sinner.  We all are.  You are in need of the grace, mercy, and love of Almighty God.  Recognize that it is Jesus who is the source of all you are lacking in your life.  Depend on Him.  Rely on Him.  When you are honestly aware of who you are, you can truly appreciate who He is.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Choose to Praise

"One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice" (Luke 17:15).

"Every blessing you pour out I'll, turn back to praise.  When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will praise...Blessed be the Name of the Lord!"  It's become a very popular song.  It can be heard in the car on the radio, in more than a few mp3 players, and in many churches across the globe.  But, is it more than a song?  Is it as quick to be lived out as it is to be sung?  Unfortunately, there are many, and I am sure that if we allow honesty to prevail, we will find ourselves guilty of the same, that are quick to ask God for a breakthrough, but not as quick to give Him thanks when His faithfulness comes to pass.  In everyday of our lives we choose to praise or to hold back our praise. 

Ten lepers were cleansed, but only one came back to give thanks to God.  Have you ever thought about what happened to the other 9?  But the one - He recognized what God had done in his life.  He returned - he approached the presence of Jesus.  He rejoiced - shouting and praising Jesus for the great things He had done in his "all-but-doomed" life.

Each day, you have the opportunity to commit to being like this one.  Choose to recognize what Jesus has done in you and is continuing to do in your life.  Choose to be the one who "returns."  Approach Jesus in His awesome presence.  Rejoice!  Give Him praise!  Shout with Joy for the great things He has done and for the great God that He is!  Choose to praise!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Trusted?

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much" (Luke 16:10).

Jesus nails it!  So many people have great desire for the big things in life, yet they struggle deeply in their responsibility of what they do have now.  Jesus is saying that how you handle the little we do have now is a fairly accurate indicator as to how more would be handled later.

With this idea in mind, what does that say about you?  It's important to realize that every little thing in regards to who you are and what you do matters.  It really does matter.  How you handle hwere you are now is key as to whether or not God can trust you with even more.  Your daily goal and committment is to leave each day and each moment, and with each hour, making hte most of the time and opportunity God has given to you.

As God sees the faithfulness you live out with however much you do have, He will bless you.  This doesn't just apply to money, but certainly it includes it.  Why would God bless anyone with more of what they don't show to be able to handle?  More never makes a problem go away.  It only enhances it, like gasoline poured over a fire trying to put it out!  For one who struggles with time management, it's not more time that they need, but better use of the time they have.  It applies to time, money, responsibility, relationships, and the list goes on.

What are you doing with what God has given you thus far?  Would you trust you with more?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Authentic Attraction

"Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus" (Luke 15:1).

The Pharisees seemed to attack Jesus and use against Him the very reason He came.  They confronted and challenged His living example of what they had failed to follow.  The "sinners," the ones rejected and reviled were drawn to Him.  Jesus was a magnet to people, not because He condemned them, but because He loved them.  He was more interested in getting to know them than pushing Himself onto them for them to know Him.  The Pharisees wanted to be seen.  Jesus wanted to see them, for them to know that He cared, that He could look past all they had done and all the places they had been.  He saw, not who they were, but who they could be. 

He was sincere.  This was His attraction.  He represented something so different than the lives they were living, and different from the lives of those who were more concerned in judging them.  He loved them.  He was complete, secure, fulfilled, and they desired it.  They were attracted.

Oh, to be more like Jesus.  Is this your daily goal?  This is to be your heart's desire.  Ask Jesus to help you to become more like Him.  Those that Jesus loved were drawn to Him.  Ask Him to enlarge your heart and breathe on the fires of your passion for Him, that others would be drawn to the love of Jesus in you.  Resist the temptation to be judgmental, condemning, and assuming.  Choose not to surround yourself with people who serve to further your own comfort or convenience.  Be one who, because of the light of Christ shining within you, becomes a beacon of that light draws, attracts, and connects to those who are longing for that light.  Let your life be that which reflects a peace and fulfillment that you have found and continuing to discover in Him, that they, too, are hungry for.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Selfless: When Love Becomes Our Only Motivation

"But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed"
(Luke 14:13a).

It was Christmas time.  My family was in a season enjoying the red and green colors of a holiday that involves, trees, gifts, family, and reflections and focus on the coming of Christ.  As we were preparing for our annual Christmas Eve service, I began to sense God speaking to my heart to include and invite someone in our church to be a part of our Christmas Eve tradition.  Oh, it's nothing fancy, but one that I have quite enjoyed over the years, taking me back to my days in high school.  It's simple.  I go home after the service (of course now, I have children, so it's getting them to bed), setting out some wonderful food that I shouldn't be eating, taking out the gifts that have yet to be wrapped (all of them), and sitting down in front of the television to watch It's A Wonderful Life for the upteenth time!

But, there was this man, this quiet man.  He didn't look the same as everyone else.  He kept to himself, and wasn't one for many words, yet God was speaking to me.  I invited him to our home after Christmas Eve service.  He accepted.  He came.  The time we spent together was an education and blessing.  I learned so much about his life, what God had brought him through, what God was teaching him now, and how happy he was just to be alive.  I was blessed by this refreshing approach to so many things that, in the busyness of life, and especially during that season, is so easy to lose sight of.

In Luke 14. Jesus was taking on a cultural attitude that has stubbornly held on throughout the generations.  Jesus challenged, not so much the "who" of their invitation, but the "why."  They were given to inviting people with the hope and selfish expectation of being invited in return.  It wasn't so much of what they could give of themselves in a particular banquet or occasion, but what they might profit or benefit from in return at a later time.  One who was seen as "lesser" in society would have nothing to offer, thus truly exposing the motivation of the heart.  Jesus called them to see beneath the surface of what one physically has to offer.  The blessings and the benefits that we miss out on because of our selfish motivation is great.  Jesus called them to look at those who have also been hand crafted by God in the image of God.

Don't forget that you have nothing offer Him who has invited you into His presence.  His motivation was not based on what He could get out of you.  Romans 5:8 says, that while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you.  This was His demonstration of love.  His demonstration what His motivation.  You are called to the same.  He saw in your what others would not see and what you could not see.  You are worth it.  Purpose to love others in the same way.  As you see in them what Jesus sees in you, you will be blessed (supremely blessed; by extension of the One from whom all blessing originate!).

Monday, October 17, 2011

Don't Miss an Opportunity

"Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as He made His way to Jerusalem" (Luke 13:22).

"I just don't have time!"  Ever said that?  It has become our trump card excuse for just about, well, everything.  It applies to housework, taking time off, doing something extra with the kids, volunteering at church, or even spending time with God.  It is also an all-time favorite when it comes to reaching out to people and sharing part of our faith-story - how we came to know Christ, what God's done in our lives, or just about the peace that we can now live in.  It seems that instead of falling off into the quick-sand frustrations of reinventing the wheel, we should look at what is already in existence.  Jesus didn't have to make time and "find" opportunities to share the love of the Father, He opened His eyes and took advantage of the ones that were right in front of Him.

Jesus had a goal, a destination in mind, but He wasn't so focused on that goal that He missed all the opportunities leading up to it.  It is so easy to get so focused on what is in our sights that we get tunnel vision, neglecting everyone and everything else.  We miss the fact that God may have placed us in the path of someone else for a specific reason and at a specific time.

Don't miss anything on the path He's called you to walk.  It is great to be a person of excellence, to be highly motivated, and to be purpose-driving and goal-oriented, but don't limit God to "that" goal.  There are so many lessons to be learned and lives to be loved along the journey.  Don't get so focused on yours that you miss what God wants to do in you and through you in the life of someone else that God has placed right in front of you.  Where ever you may be, the coffee shop, the office, in the line at the grocery store, or walking to your car after work, open your heart to God, open your eyes to see, and open your life to others.  Life is busy, but don't miss an opportunity to bless the lives of others.  At the same time, you, too, will be changed!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Learning to Rely

"For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say"
(Luke 12:12).

There was a time when I received a call from a close friend of mine who works a job in "Corporate America."  He asked for prayer.  He was to give a presentation to a large group in the company that he worked with.  This man is intelligent, wise, and very talented in many areas.  However, public speaking, like many people, makes him nervous.  As we prayed together, we prayed that the Holy Spirit of God would speak to him and through him.  Yes, even in the workplace, if we rely on Him, He can calm our nerves, speak to our soul, and enable us to speak with boldness in any situation.  This applies to all aspects of our lives whether it's at work, addressing a tough issue with a friend, or reaching out to others and sharing your faith.  You don't have to do it alone.  Rely on Him.

Jesus is speaking in Luke 12 of giving an answer when facing persecution.  But, the even greater truth He is emphasizing is the dependance upon the holy Spirit.  We were never intended, nor expected, to konw it all, have it all, or do it all.  We are dependant beings.  We are to rely upon the Holy Spirit, His wisdom, and guidance.  At the right time, in the instant we need it, He will give it to us.

Even if you're quick-witted and unafraid of speaking in most any situation, your gift is inadequate.  It can never replace the need you have for relying on His guidance.  The moment you begin to rely on your talent alone is the moment you begin to decrease your openness to Him, to His voice, and to His direction in your life.  Be open to learning to wait, to listen, receive by faith, and to apply with immediate obedience.  Grab hold of this truth and you will see the pressures of fear and anxiety melt away.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Followed: Know Where You're Leading?

"Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge.  You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering"
(Luke 11:52).

John C. Maxwell, well known author and speaker on the concepts and precepts of all things leadership, once penned this sobering truth: "You teach what you know, you reproduce who you are."  This phrase connects hand in hand with another short quip that hangs on the walls of my mind.  "Leadership is influence.  Nothing more.  Nothing less."  The long and the short of it is this:  we are watched and observed, and the example we set is the model that is learned.  What we do in our private life affects those we influence in our public life.  If we are not open to seeking the face of God, open to being challenged to live according to His righteousness, and not open receiving the Word and Truth of God, then we are depending upon our own selves, logic, and understanding to be the basis of our influence.  God help us.

These "experts" were being charged, not with being experts on who God is or what God was saying, but on their own misguided interpretations that were based on preference, tradition, and personal agenda.  Because they shut themselves off from receiving life-changing revelation, they "locked-up" that opportunity, thus robbing it from others in whom they influenced.  And, for this, they would be held accountable.

"Seek the Lord."  It's a phrase you can't escape in Scripture.  "Seek Him while He may be found."  "Seek the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength."  "Seek first the Kingdom of God..."  If you're not seeking the Lord, and in the fear of the Lord, you will be held accountable by the Lord.  He has a purpose and plan for you that is dependent upon a continual and consistent connection with Him.  Continue to seek the Lord and be intimate with the knowledge of who He is.  This is the key, the foundational principle by which you can truly be an effective influencer, allowing others to enter into that same level of knowledge and understanding.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Commissioned

"'Go!  I am sending you out like lambs among wolves...'"
(Luke 10:3).

I'll never forget standing at the altar on my wedding day.  The doors opened and in walked the most incredible display of beauty I had ever laid eyes on, dressed in white, and walking straight towards me.  My excitement was also mixed with nerves and determination.  The nerves, in addition to the normal feelings and desires to make her happy for the rest of her life, were a result an awareness that the statistics were against us.  My wife and I both come from divorced families.  The thoughts and the fears of repeating history had made their attempts to crash against the strength of the hopes and dreams that I had for a marriage that would maintain its integrity on the foundation of the words, "til death do us part."

Of course, we were aware that there would be challenges.  We knew there would be days when the feelings would run as high as they did low.  We knew that there might even be temptation in our minds to give up if or when situations became more than what we thought we had bargained for.  But, I don't put my trust in statistics, thoughts, or imaginations.  I knew on that day with determination, that God had commissioned me to marry this woman.  And if I believed that, then I was confident that God would provide everything and always for every situation and scenario we might face.  If we would be committed to Him, then He would also be committed to our success.

Jesus prepared His disciples well for the divine task He was giving them.  He had told them what to do.  He said "Go!" - depart, get to it, lead yourself under the authority that I lead you.  He told them what to expect.  He told them they'd be like "lambs among wolves" - it would appear intimidating at times, pointless at others, and sometimes illusion of inevitable defeat.  But, He also told them what to rely upon.  He assured them, "I am sending you" - they weren't going on their own.  They were sent - commissioned on purpose by and with His authority and all the power, presence, protection and provision that would come with it.

Be encouraged!  Right where you are in your life, He is with you!  God has commissioned you.  He's told you what to do.  The only response that results in the accompanying blessings is to do it.  He's told you what to expect.  Embrace it.  There will be moments that appeal to a trace of uncertainty that may try to surface, but be confident in Him.  If you are facing what He said you'd face, then be sure that He has a plan to bring you to victory through it!  He's told you what to rely upon.  TRUST HIM.  He is right there with you, and with Him, all things are possible!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Prayer Changes Things: Starting with the One Who Prays

"As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightening" (Luke 9:29).

There are many people in the world who have become incredibly disillusioned in regards to the subject of prayer.  They've prayed their hearts out, cried their eyes out, and believed their guts out for situations to be changed, jobs to be saved, sicknesses to be healed, loved ones to be changed by the power of Jesus.  And many times, there is no change seen.  So, why pray?  If there are is no seemingly evident power to prayer in what we see, why pray?

When Jesus prayed, He wasn't merely reciting words.  He wasn't speaking aimlessly or without purpose.  His purposed goal wasn't even to see life-changing results regarding those He prayed for.  His purpose was to connect with the Majesty of Heaven.  All else would be a by-product of that connection.  And as He prayed, what was seen in the natural was being changed and transformed by the Supernatural...starting with Himself.  His being in prayer was noticed, because prayer was changing Him.

Isn't it true, that when you pray, sometimes if not many times, the focus is in prayer is on changing others, changing your circumstances, or even changing God's plan that seems to contradict your own preferences?  Yes, you are to pray for others, and yes you should pray for God to intervene in the situations and things that matter to you.  But, are you changed when you pray?  Is your purpose to see change or to be changed?  If your heart's focus is on connecting with Jesus when you pray, you will always see change, starting in you.  When there is change in you, then there lies the evidence of the power in prayer to see change in others.  When you pray, as you seek to connect with the heart of God, there is power to change.  It starts within you!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Seeing Past Where Others Just Stop

"Jesus asked him, 'What is your name?'  'Legion,' he replied, because many demons had gone into him" 
(Luke 8:30).

Here was a man who had become a great factor of intimidation and inconvenience to all those who came across him and who knew of him.  His appearance was grotesque, his behavior was erratic, and his behavior was that of a barbarian.  He had lived chained, guarded, and condemned to live among the dead in the tombs.

Jesus asked him his name.  He looked past all that had become of him.  He didn't recoil at his look.  He didn't cower at the smell.  He wasn't shocked by his behavior.  He could still see the original heart and the purposed and destined identity that had been designed and created in the image of the Father.  Jesus looked past where others just stopped.  He didn't judge him.  He loved him.  He didn't offer him condemnation and rejection.  By asking his name, he offered him a dignity that he had long given up on.  It was the beginning of a moment that change the rest of his life.

Though it's not always easy, don't give into the intimidation that seems to rise from certain people based on their past, background, current behaviors and lifestyles.  Be like Jesus who extended that personal touch by connecting with one's identity.  He didn't condone.  He loved.  He didn't embrace the behavior, but He did embrace the heart.  Never forget that we have been saved by Jesus, the same Jesus who looked past the demonic possession of one who had been left to the dead and saw who he really was, the one created in the image of God, is the same Jesus we are called to represent.  Don't be quick to judge.  Don't be quick to react at the lifestyle choices of others to the point where you distance yourself where the love of Jesus wants to close that gap.  Judgement doesn't bring people to repentance and the life-changing power of God.  But, love does.  It did for me.

Monday, October 3, 2011

People Matter

"There was a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die" (Luke 7:2).

It's not always in our own contemporary culture of corporate hierarchy that those in authority reflect a heart that values those who serve them.  It's not often that you see people show honor, deference, and overall loving kindness to others without it somehow being calculated in regards to how it will benefit them.  We live in a world where it's about do what it takes to make "me" matter the most.  We've become too quick to give into what has become the proverbial cliche of throwing one "under the bus" if that's what it will take to help us to rise to the "top."

This centurion regarded his servant as valuable, which is a Greek word that means precious, dear, and worth a great price.  This servant was as good as dead, yet his master was moved and showed great concern, care, and compassion.  He honored his servant in the presence of Jesus.  To the centurion, his servant's value was based on more than what he could do, but of who he was.  He valued his worth more than his work.  More than a servant, he was a person...and he mattered.

Don't give into the quick-sand trap of selfishness.  Don't allow your concern for yourself to desensitize you to the feelings and the hearts of those around you.  Be sure to understand that people matter more than what they can do for you or what you can get out of them.  They are precious, valuable, and worth great price because they, just like you, have been made, fashioned and purposed in the image of God.

Are you living as though people matter to you, or are you striving to matter to people?  God honors those who are humble in heart, seeking to honor others over themselves, and who don't allow their own pride to become the motivation for the choices they make.  Ask God to show you who, in your life, that perhaps you haven't shown them that they matter.  Give them a call.  Shoot them an email.  Tell them you appreciate them, that you're thankful for them.  Let them know that you value them, even if you haven't shown it.  We usually share our criticism more than our care, and our grief more than our gratitude.  Make the choice today to make an impact on the people that God has placed in your life.  Because, people do matter.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Becoming A Traitor

"Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor"
(Luke 6:16).

Have you ever noticed that we live in a society that gravitates toward the frightful?  Think about, horror films are still made.  Why?  Because people keep going to see them.  Video games that instill fear continue to be produced, stocked, sold, and new orders put in for more.  And, that traffic that you can't understand where it began, is many times passersby who absolutely must slow down and see the results of some undoubtedly untimely circumstance.

What's scarier than anything Hollywood, Nintendo, or the interstate closest to you can produce or host, is when we, perhaps as Christians, live in such a way as though what we have in Christ really doesn't matter.  A dangerous road we travel when we being to take our eyes off of Jesus, slip into "cruise control," veer off from time to time to indulge the pleasure of the moment, and check the map from time to time to see if we're still headed somewhat in the right direction.  Scary.

Judas became a traitor because that is who he was, or at least it is who he chose to be.  He remained with Jesus and the other eleven disciples, sat under the academics of Jesus, participated in the activities of Jesus, but never really engaged in the application of Jesus into his heart and everyday life.  He buckled under the weight of his own pride and pleasure.  He was right there, and yet was so far away.  Why?  Because, it was of his own refusal to surrender fully and to abide in the presence of God.

Choosing, regardless of what "season" you find yourself in, to abide in the presence of Christ, will continue to be the to success in your personal spiritual growth.  Be diligent with the academics - study, be in the Word, learn what it means to really be a disciple of Jesus.  Stay committed to the activity - be an active part of what God is doing, as an overflow from what He's showing you.  And, be diligent to apply it - live it out.  As you draw closer to Him, and He to you, you will find yourself being blessed day after day by the power of His presence and the faithfulness of grace, mercy, and love.  As you abide in Him, becoming a traitor will not be scary.  It will become non-existent.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Going Deep!

"When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, 'Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch'" (Luke 5:4).


Jesus had been sitting in the boat with Simon in shallow waters. Even there, Simon saw Jesus do amazing things, speaking to such a large and spontaneous crowd. And then He challenged Simon to go out into the deep for a catch. He called Him out into the "mystery" of the unknown, a place that seemed so vast where uncertainty was the only thing that was certain.

It's not so hard to hold back and tread water where you know you can closely touch, but God called you to put out into the deep, to trust Him in the mystery of the unknown. When He calls, your uncertainty is irrelevant because you can be certain that He is faithful and you can trust Him. Therefore, you cannot allow fear and intimidation of deep places to keep you trapped in shallow water!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Developed in the Desert

"Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness" (Luke 4:1).

Sometimes I really find Christians a humorous lot!  Yes, I place myself in the midst of that generalization.  I think of some of the things that we think, say, and do, all in the "name of" or for the "glory of."  We believe gluttony is wrong, so we don't do that.  Of course, we are of no shortage for church dinners where we eat more than our fair share.  But it's not gluttony.  It's "fellowship."  And, we believe gossip is a sin and would never get caught up into something so destructively evil.  But, we don't mind sharing everyone's business with everyone else.  But, it's not gossip.  We call it "sharing the truth in love."  Or, better yet, "prayer requests!"  And of course, one of our most popular one, is how we love to "rebuke the devil" over everything in our lives that is not in line with our preference, comfort, or desires.  The truth that we have to allow God to speak into the depths of our shallow understanding is that it's not always the devil.

Jesus proves in Luke 4:1 that everyone faces a desert season in their lives.  Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness - a place that was desolate, deserted, and solitary.  It was dry and it was lonely.  Jesus wasn't being punished, for He was the One who was without sin and knew no sin.  Yet, He was being led into a season of testing.  His response in the midst of this testing would be the supreme example to the world.

It wasn't the devil that initiated this season of struggle.  It was the Holy Spirit.  God had a plan, but the humanity of Jesus needed to be tested so the plan of God could be promoted.  It was during this season that He faced the poster child or evil, Satan, for forty days, though we are only given record of three temptations.  Each time, Jesus responds by quoting the Truth of God's Word, and when it was all said and done, the evil one left, and the angels ministered to Him.  The Spirit had shown Him the way there, supplied Him with all He needed, and sustained  Him.

You face testing in your life.  It's a given.  It is for a lifetime.  Testing is not just for punishment.  It is also for promotion.  If God's desire for your life is to take you beyond where you are, then you must be prepared for testing.  Don't fight it.  Embrace it.  Depend upon Him through the process, and He will lead you into the place of victory that is only possible by being led to and through the desert.  The desert is not meant to demote you.  It's to develop you!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Even in the Desert Places

"...during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness" (Luke 3:2).

It was in the wilderness that John received the revealed word from the mouth of God.  It was in the desolate place, the desert season.  It was in a period of aloneness and aparent isolation that he heard this revelation from God.

We should never discount, detour from, or be discouraged by the wilderness times in our lives.  It is there that we are brought to the end of ourselves.  It is there that we have a greater opportunity for dependence, openness, and revelation.  It is there that we are prepared to receive all that God wants to show and do in our lives.

No, it doesn't make the desert seasons and the wilderness periods more enjoyable, but it reminds us of two great things.  One, the desert doesn't disqualify us from being able to hear from God or to be used of God.  And two, sometimes it takes the desert for us to be able to be alone enough to hear what He wants to speak!  So, how do you approach and appreciate  the wilderness moments that are inevitable in life?  Thank God for them!  Open your eyes and heart to the opportunity to root deep in the waters of His presence.  God hasn't called you to live in loneliness, but to "aloneness" with Him, embraced by the peace, the power, and the preparation of His presence!  Only there can you get past the distractions of a busy life, a busy mind, and a busy past, and truly hear the voice of the Lord for the answers and directions that you are desperate to receive.

Don't underestimate the grace of God in the desert!  Just listen...He's speaking!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Excited?

"The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told"
(Luke 2:20).

The shepherds had been told some incredible, even unbelievable things by these heavenly beings that had startled them, completely taking them by surprise!  Imagine hearing a choir singing like angels, and really being angels!  And, they were told of this promised Messiah that had been born that very night, and where He was.  The angels were excited.  They had something to shout about, to sing about, to declare at the tops of their lungs!  The excitement was contagious!

The shepherds went beyond their natural and limited comprehension, exercising a faith and a hope in what they had heard.  They saw for themselves not only the awesomeness of God, but the God of all awesomeness!  This led to their own rejoicing, praising, and declaring.  They were excited that they had encountered the God of all creation who had entered their world.  What love they had never before encountered.  He was here.  They, too, had something to shout about!

This is how it should be!  Are you aware of the love that Jesus has for you?  Do you live in the knowledge of what He has done for you, entering into your world, saving you unto His?  Do you realize that you do have something to shout about, to be excited about, to jump up and down about?  You have a hope in Jesus!  You have a peace that passes all understanding in HIM!  You have a freedom that is only found in Him!  He gave His life so that you could LIVE!  He rose from the dead so that you would know that in Him all things ARE possible!  Excited yet?

Of course, though all of these truths are without question, you must choose whether or no to live in the reality of such incredible blessings.  It's too hard?  You can't?  You've tried?  Well, it's time to get excited again, because the Apostle Paul declared it with gusto, "His strength is made perfect in my weakness.  When I am weak, then I am strong."  You can do all things through Christ!  Be excited!  Tell somebody what Jesus has done in your life!  Your world will never be the same! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Expect to Encounter God

"When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear" 
(Luke 1:12).

Zechariah had been chose to offer incense before the Lord.  It was his appointed time.  It was an honor and an opportunity not to be taken lightly.  There was something gravely exciting about approaching the holiness of God in this way.  As he was behind the curtain, he encountered the supernatural presence of heaven in a way he had never known.  He was startled.

It is startling how easy it can be to have a good heart, but low expectations, surrendering more to the ceremonial traditions of religion.  In various parts of our world there is no shortage of churches, people who call themselves "Christians," or other institutions of religion.  What there is a shortage of is a people who live in great expectation of who God is and what He desires to do in their lives.

There are so many people who live lives of low spiritual expectancy.  They "believe" in God, but don't necessarily believe that He's going to do anything in their lives.  When Zechariah went behind that curtain, though he should always have had a fear of the Lord, should not have been startled that the presence of the Lord was there.  He should have expected something out of the ordinary, something so much greater than he could possibly accomplish on his own.  We, too, should approach God with great expectation.  He's able.  He's more than able.

Don't hope for an experience.  Choose to live, abide in the everyday expectation that your God is alive, that He's aware, alert, and that He is always around you.  Know that He is active in your life.  The question for you, is whether or not you will activate the faith you profess to have, and apply that expectation.  Take Him at His Word.  Believe that when you approach Him, He is there.  Be confident that when you are crying out to Him, He hears you, and He will answer you.

Be reminded of the humble, yet passionately expectant words that David prayed to the Lord: "I pray to You, because I know you will answer, O God" (Psalm 17:6).