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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.