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Monthly Archives: June 2011

Great Christians Develop Great Gratitude

Summer is a hazy, lazy type of season for most of us here in the USA. But a quick perusal of the headlines reminds us that this is not the case for millions of persons throughout the world–or even in our own nation. Reading a newspaper can turn into a depressing experience as soon as your eye catches the front page headline. To combat this affect you must develop a heart brimming with thankfulness for what God has given you. You might think you have a meager portion in this world. But many have a good deal less.

Why does a good and sovereign God allow such horror in the world? The honest answer is we don’t really know. Anybody who thinks he or she does should know better. The old hymn tells us that God moves in mysterious ways. Indeed, He does, but it’s more than that. God moves in ways that sometimes are beyond our understanding; His actions are of a different species than anything we encounter on planet earth. When this occurs, faith takes center stage. Faith sees us through the tough times. Isn’t it a shame that we often forget about God during the good times?

We often get hit with what I call “moments of un-faith” when reading about an evil person taking advantage of a helpless child, or of a people suffering some needless tragedy. A picture some years ago nearly crushed my spirit. A publication had a photo of an African boy weeping over his family’s home that the government had destroyed in a “clean up program”. The house was nothing more than a shack, really. But it was his home. Probably the only one he’d ever known.

Sometime this month—maybe when it’s very hazy, very hot and very humid— take a few moments and thank God for the fan, or the air conditioner, or the cool glass of water you just poured. Say a prayer for some unknown girl whose entire family has just been killed in some civil war in some remote part of the world. Say a prayer for the little boy who has to work 16 hours a day in some Third-world factory to pay off his family’s debts. Then say a prayer for America. Pray that we remember God’s kindness as we’ve been blessed beyond measure. May God have mercy on us all. Enjoy the remainder of the summer. But remember that it’s awfully hot and unpleasant for a lot of folks out there. Be grateful for all that God has given you in Christ.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Choose A Plan, Hit The Target

What do you want from life? I often wonder if many of us have an actual goal. A life plan that we have either implemented or could enact if we so desired. Most families compose a shopping list for the weekly groceries; most families get a map from the Internet or an atlas for the big family vacation. Life is obviously more valuable than a stroll down the aisles of the supermarket or a trip out of state. So, do you and your family have a plan for this life? I hope so.

Sometimes I wish I could make time stand still; other times I want to go back and re-live the past—and take a pass on mistakes I’ve made. Neither of those options is available to me. Neither will you discover them irrespective of how hard you hunt. This shouldn’t cause regret or self-recrimination. The realization that our life spans are limited should spur us on to decisive action. Think about the last disagreement you had with someone. Honestly evaluate it; honestly evaluate your actions, attitudes and emotions during the encounter. Now ask yourself some questions. Was it worth it? Did it honor to God? Did it bring glory to God’s name? Did it further God’s kingdom in the world? I promise that if you honestly access the previous five arguments you had with another person you’ll discover at least four of them were a waste of time, energy and opportunity.

Time is your family’s most valuable possession—outside of God and one another. The Bible makes it clear that we are to use time wisely (Ephesians 5:16). It makes perfect sense to shelter this precious resource.  We usually keep valuable family heirlooms in a safe place. Where is the hourglass that God has given to you and your family? Weren’t you just eighteen last week, or was it last year? You and I cannot turn back the clock, and to play the game of “what if” is a losing proposition.

I know each of us wants our life to count for something. If you don’t have a target, you’ll hit nothing when the arrow flies. Pick your target. Then go sharpen those arrowheads. I hope the rest of the summer is profitable and enjoyable. Remember. Autumn is on its way.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Moment By Moment

As the heat of summer begins to burn the grass a sickly shade of brown, and the hostas withstand the wilting process I’m reminded that life is a constant process of alteration and adaptation. We all change as the days and years go by. That is not up for discussion. What is in question is if we are aware of either the progress or regress of our souls. Some of us wither under pressure while others seem to thrive on stress. The trick to all this is attention. It takes discipline, but the key to your success is developing the ability to monitor your development on a moment-by-moment basis.

This is no call to morbid self-introspection, but rather an encouragement to triumph. Believe it or not, God wants you to triumph. The events in your life (or anyone’s) will not always be on an upward arc; sometimes we go through deep, dark valleys, and these times try our souls. However, there is an important aspect of your life that can always be on an upward curve. You are in control of this aspect, too. Do you know what it is? It is your attitude. We had a saying in the car business back in the mid-80’s: Attitude Determines Altitude. None of us can soar with the eagles if we crawl around with a crabby outlook.

Too many Christians experience life as a never-ending circle. They fight the same battles on the same turf year after year. Why is that? Well, it’s very possible that they are not learning the lessons God requires of them. God is a loving Father, and, as such, He will continually provide opportunities for His children to grow. If they refuse, He simply gives them the same opportunity over and over again! That manner of experience is neither fun nor very satisfying.

As a pastor I want better for you and your families. The choice is there for each of us to make. If life seems like a big circle going nowhere fast, if you have the same situations crop up time after time, then it might be wise to take stock of your life. Are you resisting God’s goals for you? Are you refusing to learn His lessons? Is your attitude the same as it was last year or ten years ago? If so, then give yourself a brief examination and see where the problems might be. God wants you to change—for the better. The responsibility for deciding is yours.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Don’t Mind Flying Coach

So, you’re special in the eyes of God as we discussed in the last blog entry. Christians are a different breed from non-believers. But before we get too grandiose an idea of ourselves let’s remember that God grants us that exalted status via His grace. We did not work our way into his favor for one very simple reason: We can’t. Christ has to get us there and He gets us there by bathing us in His redemptive blood.

Humility is a core value of Blue Chippers. They understand that pride and arrogance are two qualities that God utterly hates (Proverbs 8:13). They also realize that it makes no sense to acquire personality traits that the Lord despises. Where’s the percentage in that?

First Class folks don’t mind flying coach. They know that each person on the planet is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), and that each man, woman and child on the earth is a sinner (Rom. 3.23). So much for egotism. These twin realities must force you to reevaluate any feelings of superiority you might harbor within your psyche. Any feigned pomposity you have of is discordant with scripture’s clear injunctions (Rom. 12:3). When you begin to see yourself as a sinner redeemed by grace humility will take hold of you. Why? Because you’ll realize that you’re in the same boat as those around you. Once you get a grip on this fact then you’ll appreciate that grace is all that gets you through.

I want you to read the next paragraph carefully—maybe give it a few re-reads. Humility isn’t synonymous with playing the doormat for anyone. Anytime. Anywhere. It is undignified to let others use you. Jesus NEVER acted in that manner except for those horrific hours when He took an eternity’s worth of punishment for the sins of His people. He allowed himself to experience the humiliation of Calvary because the mission demanded it. He did it for His covenant people. Read the Gospels and you’ll notice that Jesus defends himself in every situation except the final encounters with the Jewish authorities and before Pilate. Even in those situations He verbally trumps them.

If the need arises for you to abase yourself for the good of someone else and the progress of the gospel then, of course, you must deal with the degradation. But it’s hard to glorify God with a boot heel on your face. Great men and women harness their God-given power to help others and themselves. That’s humility in action—having your power under control, submitting yourself to the will of God and putting others needs before your own. Take the high road to humility.

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Know That You’re Different

We’re taught from the cradle to not rock the boat, to go with the flow, to conform. We develop a herd mentality and when that occurs we begin to behave like livestock instead of the reborn Image Bearers of God that we are in reality. We grope about the pasture of contemporary life and once in a while we give a good “MOOOO” to a passing spectator as if we’re meat on the hoof.

Sadly, the church has perpetuated this non-biblical viewpoint. Therefore, we have droves of faceless, ineffective and bored to tears believers. The church in America has done a fine job, for a long time proclaiming from the rooftops the gospel of cultural conformity. It’s a disastrous philosophy that has no demonstrably positive affect on church visitors and zero effect on the culture. It goes like this: You’re welcome here, please give us a try and if you do then you’ll discover we’re just like you!

I don’t think so. God disagrees, as well. Certainly the church must welcome the unbeliever, but we have neither the mandate nor the right to make the unbeliever too comfortable in our presence. Not for a too long anyway. When a non-Christian enters a room filled with Christians he or she should instantly feel the hand of the Almighty. No matter the status or worldly accomplishments of that person, the power and light of God must overpower and extinguish all rivals.

God tells us point blank that Christians are extremely different from non-believers. Listen to Jesus speak in Matthew 5 and prepare to have your worldly self-image bombarded.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

The message of cultural conformity attempts to enervate the words of Messiah. I think we should place our allegiance and trust in the words of the Savior who gave His life for us. Take a pass on concealing the glorious truth of your identity in Christ. Be humble, however. Realize that it is God who grants you this identity. You didn’t earn it.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Handle the Critique

Everyone’s a critic, so proverbial wisdom goes. Indeed. As a minister I know a bit about criticism; I’ve heard more than my fair share. Sometimes criticism is necessary, other times it is unwarranted. A person can dish out necessary criticism in an abysmal manner. On occasion, unwarranted criticism is given in the most gracious way. Regardless of either the merit or method, criticism is painful. The stuff hurts.

I think we can forget about the unwarranted criticism. Unnecessary critiques of our character and actions say more about the other person than us. But what about the criticism that is truthful? Now, that’s a different kettle of fish, isn’t it?

When we receive a needed reproof we must develop the mettle to not only take it in stride, but to take it to heart. The Lord frequently works through others to refashion His image in us. In fact, if we look closely at ourselves we’ll realize that criticism is often good for us. It toughens us, forces us to examine ourselves and gives us a grand opportunity for growth. If we take the proper steps.

A pastoral colleague once told me of a family in the church he served that was nearly merciless and relentless in their hounding of him. In fact, he almost quit the ministry because of them. He wasn’t good with the youth; his sermons were too long–and light on doctrine; he neglected visitation; his teenage daughters acted wild at times; he dressed too casually. He admitted, in retrospect, that much of what they said was accurate. Not all, but much. He told me that when he finally acknowledged that this family had legitimate concerns, he was able to grow.

A Christian who wants to be an adult, rather than a child, will take the critiques of others seriously. Maturity demands an inward glance to see if what others say about us is true–even if it is couched in vicious terms and with the callous of motives.

Make it a goal to seek the Lord the next time someone offers you “constructive criticism”. Ask Him if there is a grain of truth in what was said. If there is, then thank them! And thank the God who created you for the blessing! Handle the critiques that come your way. They’re inevitable. If the criticism is unwarranted, then pray for the person; if the criticism is needed, then lift your eyes to God and offer a prayer of thanksgiving. His grace has given you a golden chance to progress in your Christ-likeness. You do want that, don’t you?

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Take the The First Step

Christians who are serious about growing in Christ-likeness, who want to advance in their sanctification know how and when to take the first step to change. They take ownership of the spiritual direction of their lives. In this respect, they imitate the Lord.

When God decided to create the universe he didn’t wait for it to appear spontaneously. He spoke it into existence by the Word if His power. When the time of fulfillment was at hand Jesus took on the likeness of sinful flesh. When the apostolic church needed divine power the Spirit blazed down on Pentecost. When all the pieces are in place Jesus will return.

The point? God takes the first step. Think about it. Before sinners can trust Christ they need to be convicted of their sin. Notice the grammar of that last sentence—it’s in the passive voice. We are passive in our effectual calling–the aspect of our salvation where God’s Spirit convinces us that we’re sinners and in desperate need of divine grace. Sinners cannot convict themselves due to the moral blindness that sin causes. God does the convicting and the convincing. Then we do the crying and the crawling.

Blue Chip prospects always live with God’s glory in mind and they understand that they best glorify God when imitating Him. It’s called being an Image Bearer. So if God is proactive what should you do? You’ve got it—imitate Him. Take the first step. When I got the idea for this chapter I was hungry. I’d just come back from a late night hospital visit. I was tempted to put it off. Then I decided to write myself a note. Then I decided to put a chapter heading in a computer file. But when I booted the computer up I decided to go for it.

It doesn’t matter what you did yesterday, or last year, or an hour ago. If you sinned confess it, repent and move on. Let’s say you overeat. When’s the best time to take a proactive step toward God-honoring nutrition? The next meal. Don’t stall. Believers who aspire to greatness know that now is the time to change. If you procrastinate and you know you’ve put off an important phone call then put this blog down immediately and make the call. You’ll feel better about yourself not because of some pie in the sky positive-thinking hullabaloo but because you actually accomplished something. In reality you’ll gain confidence because you glorified God by taking things in hand. If you start with small steps you can create unbelievable momentum as a catalyst for great change.

So get out there and get proactive. Take the first step. Even if it’s a small one.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Feed Your Soul

Spring is upon us. The time of year when many of us look forward to the signs that God is replenishing nature and making things new again. Even though God’s providential care is year-round, we can learn a valuable spiritual insight from the general populace’s annual desire to retreat from winter. The principle is that God is the fountainhead of all growth.

If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold all things are new (2 Cor. 5:17). If you have trusted Christ as your Lord and Savior then God has given you a new birth. Do you feel like a newborn? Probably not. But feelings are rather deceptive at times. I once had an horrific chest cold during a beautiful spring season; my throat begged for mercy, but all it received was unremitting pain. This state of physical health affected my state of mind and viewpoint. For instance, although I was ecstatic that my children could run in the yard and swing on the swings, I couldn’t seem to muster the joy needed to participate in their exuberance. I felt awful, yet the external reality of my family was a blessing.

Even if you don’t feel new, God says you are. A Christian is a walking miracle. God has cleared the dark and fog surrounding you and enabled you to see the light. The next time a skeptic asks you for proof that God is in the miracle business tell him (or her) to take a good long look at you.

Growth is natural, but no one expects a plant to grow without nourishment. Appropriate water and sun are necessary for a healthy plant to flourish. The same fact applies to our spirituality. The nourishment of Bible study, prayer, fellowship and partaking of the Lord’s Supper are the God appointed means for the garden of our lives, our families and our churches to grow. Some years back, my family went on vacation and my wife left me a list of  “housekeeping” duties. I am still befuddled at how how I forgot about that green plant in the dining room. At least it was green when my family left. After all, it stared at me over my morning coffee. Upon the family’s return the poor thing looked like a parched, droopy banana tree.  Don’t miss what’s staring right at you. Take some time to water and feed your soul.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Embrace Change, It’s Inevitable

My son turned 11 last month and I must admit that I’m more than a bit terrified. Where did those years go, and what could I have done differently in my role as father? Change can haunt us if we allow it the pleasure. One day it’s sunny. The next day it feels like December. And the next? You get the picture. At times it’s difficult to make plans because of inconsistent weather. But life resembles weather patterns. You never know what’s coming next.

When I lived in Grand Rapids, MI, a major body of water–Lake Michigan–was only forty-five minutes west of downtown. Boy did the “Big Lake” ever play tricks on us. A popular bumper sticker around town was this gem: “If you don’t like the weather in Grand Rapids, stick around. It’ll change in ten minutes.” The bumper sticker’s obvious humor wasn’t far off the mark. One day I saw it sunny, snowy, cloudy and rainy—all during daylight hours! And this during April.

Do you sometimes feel like a television weatherperson; trying desperately to gauge the weather only to discover that some prankster had played with the Doppler equipment? We each must develop the flexibility and maturity to handle what life throws our way. When we see an individual remain composed under duress we can’t help but admire the person. But we often forget that such qualities are like gold: they are purified by fantastic heat. The dross and impurities only dissipate when the thermostat goes up. Way up.

Read through the great heroes of the Bible, including our Lord, and you’ll see that God used adversity and triumph and disaster and repose to clarify their characters. He’s doing exactly the same thing with you and me. So you can tell we’re in excellent company. Dress for the weather and bring an extra umbrella—or a scarf. You never know when God will change the direction of the wind or cancel the latest weather report.  Remember that life favors the one who is well prepared for the changes.

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Live Consciously in God’s Presence

I was in 3rd grade, playing catcher for the BP Bombers in Orange Park, Florida, just outside of Jacksonville. I was excited because I was certain I was the next Johnny Bench—who was just entering his prime. But something was askew. My dad was absent. I was a catcher because he’d been a catcher in his youth. I wanted to emulate him so badly; I wanted him to see me play. Nothing else mattered.

Suddenly a foul ball soared directly overhead. I ripped off my mask and looked to the sky, focusing on the ball, which appeared as a tiny piece of cotton against an azure sky. In a flash it was in my glove as I bounced off the backstop. Who do you think was standing right there? You guessed it—my father—with a grin about a yard wide! He’d been behind me the entire time. He’d been late getting to the park and made his way through the crowd to watch me. I asked him after the game why he didn’t call my name when he arrived. His answer? “You don’t need distractions behind the plate.” Indeed.

God is present everywhere and anywhere we travel. The technical word for this aspect of His being is omnipresence. But we often forget He’s there. The distractions of daily life block the frequency and we get mixed signals. It’s not that God isn’t speaking to us. The problem isn’t on His end. It’s on ours. We focus on the television blare, the traffic jam and the demand that tomorrow’s report be finished yesterday. It’s altogether too easy to let the world drown out our conscious awareness of God’s presence.

If you long to grow in the Christian life, if you want to achieve Blue Chip Christian status then this is, without question, the only place to begin. Devise some way to remind yourself at least every hour to focus on God’s presence. Use your cell phone, wristwatch or anything you can utilize to remind yourself of this essential fact. If you know God is within and around you, then the hectic pace of today’s world will become manageable.

Once you get the hang of this the calm and poise it brings to your interior world will amaze you. As the internal benefits overflow to your external actions everyone will begin to take notice. All this brings glory to the God who redeemed you through the blood of His Son, and glorifying God is what a Blue Chipper is all about.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2011 in Uncategorized