Friday, December 28, 2012

A New Year Challenge

New Year resolutions are a lot like new cars.  At first they are shiny and impress but how quickly the new wears off.  Without daily maintenance and consistent payment, that new car quickly runs out of gas, breaks down, and is repossessed.  The new usually wears off everything when the first payment is due.  God doesn’t want your New Year dreams and plans to be repossessed.  He wants you to possess them!  But don’t be deceived about newness and change.  New cars are not maintenance free and occasionally have breakdowns.  You have to pay the price to have the new life you want in Christ.  You will have to give up bad habits and sinful actions.  Positive, wishful thinking isn’t the key to newness and change, daily living for the Lord and dying to self is the key.  This doesn’t mean life will be perfect in 2013 – it will not!  But living in Him will bring great peace, joy, hope, and fullness.  The new will never wear off of your relationship with Jesus – His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23)!

One of my favorite quotes by Corrie Ten Boom is "Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God."  While 2012 may not have gone as expected, you can have a greater year in 2013.  I want to issue you a challenge to trust the unknowns of 2013 to God.  How do you do this?  It is more than just hoping everything will work out next year.  It is more than taking a “wait-and-see” approach.  You will get out of 2013 what you put into it.  Having a great year consists of more than setting the same New Year resolutions as you have the last few years.   2013 has 365 days and what you do with the first part of the year will set the pace for the entire year.  I want you to take the 21 day challenge with me to grow closer to the Lord.

You need a daily plan to accomplish a better life in the Lord this year.  The key word is “daily”.  A daily relationship with the Lord is the path to a new life in Him.  The Lord wants to make all things new in your life this year.  Isaiah 43:19 needs to be your theme verse this year.  See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  But remember the “I” in this verse is the Lord, not you.  Yes you are doing a new thing but only through the power of the Lord.

Before you do anything, make sure you have given your life fully to Christ.  You cannot add God or seek Him in troubled times.  You must make Him Lord of all of your life – which means all of your life revolves around Him and His agenda.  In order for you to grow in Him, you must first be born again (Read John 3).  Here is the 21-day challenge. First, read a chapter of John each day.  Apply what you have read to that day.  Second, pray throughout each day.  David said, “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice." (Psalm 55:17).  Third, fast something that distracted or stole from you in 2012.  This could be television, social media, sweets, etc.  Replace the time spent on this with steps one and two.  Fourth, repent of any habitual sins.  Make a daily decision not to fall back into this each of the 21 days.  Get accountability on this if necessary.  Fifth, forgive those who caused you the most pain last year.  Last, commit yourself to the church.  Don’t just be an attender but really invest in your church by serving, giving, and connecting with other members.  I pray your New Year will be productive and prosperous as you seek the Lord and His will. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Naming God's Son

My wife and I are having our third child in May and are very excited.  We will find out January 2 if it is a boy or a girl and have been going back and forth on names for him or her.  People put a lot of thought into the name of their children these days.  Some choose names after family members, others because of their popularity.  Another good reason to choose your child’s name wisely is so kids will not make fun of them in Jr. High (some kids are cruel and can make fun of any name – trust me on this one).  The classic way of choosing a name though is found in its meaning.

Jewish culture chose names based on definition.  This was not something taken lightly nor done at the last moment.  A person’s name conveyed their nature and character.  It was chosen in hopes their life would reflect their name’s meaning.  Jesus was given the name “Jesus” because He would save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  I’m sure Mary and Joseph would have chosen a great name for Jesus but they didn’t get the chance like most parents.  Instead, they were given the name long before He was born.  The angel Gabriel told them to call Him Jesus (Luke 1:31).  Think about this miracle – it was the first ultrasound!  People generally chose two names; one for a girl and one for a boy because no one found out early what the gender would be.  That happened only at birth.  Jesus had a miraculous ultrasound – one that science and medicine cannot produce today.  His gender and nature was revealed earlier than anyone in history – prior to conception by the Holy Spirit.  Gabriel said, “You will conceive and give birth a son and will call His name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).

He was also named “Immanuel” which means “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23).  He was called Jesus because His mission was to save us.  He was called Immanuel because He saved us by being God with us.  Jesus was God fully (Colossians 1:19; 2:9; Ephesians 3:19).  Jesus is more than a baby in a manger scene on a front lawn.  He is the Son of God who came down to dwell among us and save us from our sins.  Yes He was in a manger but He was also on a cross and in a tomb that could not hold Him.  He is more than the centerpiece of a cute Christmas play.  His birth divided history in B.C. and A.D. and His death forgave mankind of their sins.

The names “Immanuel” and “Jesus” both show how much He loves us - “Immanuel” in its meaning and “Jesus” in its commonality.  Before the incarnation of Jesus, the Jewish people viewed God as holy but distant and unapproachable.  Relationship was not synonymous with God.  The name “Jesus” was a common name of the day.  This name showed He truly identified with common man.  He took on the name of many of their brothers, dads, and cousins.  God became a man who had all things in common with us.  He even took on a common trade of a carpenter.  Hebrews 2:17 says, “Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people.”  If He had not become one of us He could not have saved us.  Jesus is now more than a common name.  It is the name above every name (Philippians 2:9) and the only one that can save us (Acts 4:12).

Friday, December 14, 2012

Making The Possibliy Impossible Possible

What in your life seems impossible?  Not difficult, impossible.  There is a difference between difficult and impossible.  Difficulties seem to have solutions while impossibilities lack them.  Difficulties still have hope while impossibilities do not.  We tend to think we can handle difficulties if we just hang in there long enough.  Impossibilities cause us to give up.  God wants to work in your difficult and impossible situations.  Lord Coggan said, "When God intends to make something wonderful He begins with a difficulty. When he intends to make something very wonderful, he begins with impossibility."  Only God can make the possibly impossible possible and create very wonderful out of miserable.
Many have experienced difficulties in pregnancy.  Jesus' birth was not just a difficulty, it was an impossibility.  Mary was a virgin.  We see Mary's response to the angel Gabriel's announcement of Jesus' birth in Luke 1:34-37.  “Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.  Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren.   For with God nothing will be impossible.’”  It was not new information that a virgin could not have a baby.  It was not something that was difficult to make happen, it was impossible!  But the angel reassured Mary God could do anything – with Him nothing will be impossible. 
I’m reminded of God’s ability to make the possibly impossible possible throughout Scripture.  Ephesians 3:20 tells us, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”  It is God’s nature to do the impossible.  He is still the God of miracles.  Only God can create life.  The conception of a baby is a miracle in itself.  But God stepped up the miracle of birth with the impossibility of a virgin birth.  Only God can breathe human, sinless life into the already existent divine second person of the Trinity through the womb of a virgin.  Only God can orchestrate Jesus being fully God and fully human at the same time!
Remember when Abraham and Sarah were awaiting the promise of a son?  They were old, too old to have kids as they were 100 and 90 respectively, but God promised and delivered the impossible.  God told them, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14).  Remember when the Israelites were complaining about their food source and God told Moses He would feed almost a million of them for a month?  God asked them, “Is the Lord’s power limited?” (Numbers 11:23).  Job recognized God’s ability to do the impossible when he said, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” Job 42:2).  Isaiah said the Lord’s hand is not so short it cannot save and His ear is not so dull it cannot hear (Isaiah 59:1).  Jeremiah said, “Nothing is too difficult for You” (Jeremiah 32:17).  Jesus said about salvation, “with man it is impossible but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). 
What is your impossibility?  Is it too big for God?  Absolutely not!  God can accomplish through you what you have written off as impossible.  God can change the impossible circumstances in your life but the biggest thing He wants to change is you.  You are not impossible.  Never say “never” when it comes to what God can do through and especially in you.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Wrappings

I love Christmas presents!  Some people will go to great lengths in giving this time of year.  Some will give extravagant and expensive presents while others will not be able to give anything.  I recently read about some of the most expensive presents from Neiman Marcus.  Nothing says Merry Christmas like a $90,000 gaming machine, a $99,500 water-propelled jetpack, a $250,000 private dinner for 10 featuring four famous chefs, or his and her submarines for $587,000. 
Scripture says it is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).  I always have my wife’s gifts wrapped professionally as opposed to my amateur attempts at wrapping.  Ladies listen up.  Wrapping paper for men is just an obstacle to either keep us from what we really want or a tool of Satan to get us in the flesh as we try to keep an expensive present looking that way.  God gave us the greatest present.  In fact, the wise men were not the originators of the Christmas present, God was!  Luke 2:12 tells us, “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” God did not wrap Jesus in royal garments and lay Him on silk sheets in a gold baby bed.  Jesus came in simple swaddling cloths.
Swaddling seems like a cute word.  But it really means “strips”.  Jesus was wrapped in strips of cloth, not a whole baby blanket (which did not even exist at the time).  Traditionally, Jews would carry strips of cloths around with them wherever they went.  They were not to touch a dead body and in case they came in contact with one, they would pull out the cloths strips to move the body.  On long journeys, Jews would also take along thin, gauze-like cloth and wrap it around their waist many times beneath their clothing.  It was reserved for injury but mostly death.  If someone died during the journey, their friends or family would remove the "swaddling cloth" and wrap it around them to complete the journey.  Many women and babies died during childbirth during that time.  These cloth strips would be used to wrap the dead mothers and stillborn babies before burial.  In fact, Rachel, Jacob’s wife, was buried in Bethlehem and every Jew knew that (Genesis 35:19).  Perhaps Mary had the thought that she was being sent to Bethlehem for this great honor of birthing God’s son but then she would die.  She was prepared with strips of cloth ready for her death.
Instead, Jesus was born and wrapped in these swaddling cloths.  Jesus was wrapped in burial clothes.  Joseph also had these cloths wrapped around his waist.  How appropriate.  At His birth, Jesus was wrapped in the very type of cloths He would be buried in.  Amazingly, the baby Jesus was wrapped in the death clothes of his earthly father Joseph, and thirty three years later was buried in the tomb of a different man named Joseph. Another amazing point is the Magi brought the young boy Jesus gifts of gold representing his kingship, frankincense symbolizing his priestly role, and myrrh prefiguring his death and embalming (Matt. 2:11).  While they celebrated Jesus’ arrival as king, they recognized His reason for coming to earth. He came to die.  Luke 2:12 tells us the swaddling cloths will be part of the "sign" to everyone of His true identity as the Savior.  The greatest wrapped gift of all was Jesus.  He was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger so that we could be wrapped in His righteousness and go to heaven.

Friday, November 30, 2012

It’s All In Perspective

During WWII General Creighton Abrams found himself and his troops surrounded on all sides. With characteristic optimism, he told his officers, "For the first time in the history of this campaign, we are now in a position to attack the enemy in any direction."

Perspective is everything. It will keep you from giving up in the midst of overwhelming obstacles. Are you in some discouraging circumstances? No light at the end of your tunnel? Here is a verse for your circumstances. Hebrews 13:15 says, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” Praise God and be thankful continually? Does that mean in all circumstances, even the horribly bleak ones? Especially the bleak ones.
Paul and Silas faced a very terrible situation more than once in their lives. On one occasion, they were arrested for preaching the Gospel. They were beaten, thrown into a hole in the ground. Prison today is the Hilton compared to their dungeon. Most had no windows, no light, and no restrooms. There were no regular meals and the ones they got were sometimes rotten or extremely small in portion. Most prisoners were chained directly to the ground with minimal or no clothing. There were no protective laws, prisoner’s rights, or fair trials. You certainly couldn’t have any visitors and privileges were breathing and sleeping. Acts 16:24 tells us their feet were fastened in stocks, which were excruciatingly painful.

So how would you respond? When you read Acts 16:25 you will see something extremely remarkable and surprising. They were praying and singing hymns. I probably would have been praying (mostly selfishly and likely not for the Lord to use me in the situation) but probably not singing. This really shows us their perspective and resolve. This shows us the true definition of sacrificial praise. When you have absolutely nothing to be excited about and your situation looks hopeless, praise the Lord anyway. If it had been Stephen (me) in this situation and prison, you may have heard moaning and groaning, whining and complaining more than praying and praising (although I would like to think better of myself). Some may even have cursed the jailers for what they had done and God for what He had allowed.

Now listen, Jesus knows all about your pain. The crucifixion was excruciating (we get that word from crucifixion). He knows what it means to be in agony, pain, torment, and torture. He came to earth and was fully human, born to die our death for our sin (Romans 5:8). He hungered, thirst, bled, grew weary, cried, and experienced every human emotion – but never sinned (2 Cor. 5:21). “Yeah, but He was Jesus”, you say. Being fully God yet fully human at the same time showed us we have options in how we respond to our circumstances. Jesus chose not to sin as a human. He was tempted, but overcame temptation in the worst of situations. We too can choose not to sin in our circumstances and temptations. 1 John 2:1 says, “I write these things to you so that you will not sin.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Perspective is everything. Here’s one to leave you on. “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31). Still need another? “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Friday, November 23, 2012

Yes Men Will Kill Your Organization

I love it when people agree with me.  After all, I’m always right?  Right?  Everyone likes their ideas being affirmed but having someone always agree with you is really counterintuitive.  I know I don’t always agree with those who lead me so what makes me think those under me are any different.  I’m not talking about insubordination or rebellion here.  Should people in the same team always agree with each other?  Do you always have to agree with your boss?  I would suggest the best team is comprised of people who have varying opinions.  Not in overall vision or mission (not that those can’t vary some) but mostly in strategy and implementation.  Actually if your team is made up of only “yes men” (you know those who say yes to your face) your team is really just a bunch of minions carrying out mindless objectives.  They are secretly dying on the inside and when a better opportunity comes along (or the hope of being on an actual team), they, well, in the words of Duck Dynasty, “They gone.” 

“Yes men” may look good at first because they do what they are told and don’t buck the system.  But over time they will buck the system because they feel unappreciated and aren’t being used to their full potential.  When you allow them to become “yes men” you are creating people who are only concerned with themselves.  They just want promotion, perks, and to please the boss.  You can stop the “yes men” at your organization by creating an environment that allows your team to lead with you.
Every good leader becomes a great leader through a team of people whose giftings, abilities, and ideas complement them.  Just because someone doesn’t agree with you doesn’t mean they aren’t loyal to your team and vision.  Maybe their ideas are better?  I’ve found this to be more often true than not.  Someone telling you no may not mean they hate your ideas but that they actually want to make them better.  Hearing no from your team actually is a good thing.  It means they are thinking and being creative.  I’m not sure I’d trust someone who always told me yes.  Allowing “no’s” is also a reality check that you don’t know it all and actually function better in team.  Key point here – this goes both ways.  Just because your ideas are on the table doesn’t mean you’ll always get to do it your way.  In the end, the boss must make the final decision to benefit the whole team and organization.  If someone always has to have it their way and get upset when challenged, its best they go their separate way before they separate your organization.

People on my team who tell me no actually do me a favor.  I don’t need “yes men” and “no men”.  I need truth men.  Truth men let me know when I’m wrong and right.  The worst judge of me is me.  I need others looking out for my best interest by telling me my great ideas may not actually be that great.  The statement, “your problem used to be someone’s great idea” applies to me also.  Also, when I allow my team to tell me no it makes their “yes” so much sweeter.  Why?  I know they are telling me the truth.  This is good for me because sometimes I’m real hard on myself – my worst critic.  I tend to think less of my ideas than anyone else.  Someone I trust who validates my ideas encourages me to plunge forward.  Key point here – someone who always tells me no is not part of the team just like someone who always tells me yes.  Even when they get their “no” in they don’t help grow the team.  They just want to be right but don’t want to help build the team or organization. 
Telling me no doesn’t initially mean outright rebellion (although someone who consistently does this could be guilty of rebellion).  I have to keep in mind that they can hear from the Lord and that He gave them talent, ability, and wisdom as well.  I need pushback on my ideas because it slows me down to ensure I’m not wasting my time, talent, and treasure.  I don’t know about you but I don’t want to waste my time on things that will not work if I can help it.  Asking me “Why?” can be a good thing.  Everything needs defined purpose not just, “Because I said so.”  Pushback keeps me from thinking I am greater than I really am and makes me validate what I do.  Bosses who only like “yes men” are typically insecure and like to hear “yes” more than the truth.

Not having “yes men” also brings unity to your team.  While that may sound ironic, it is actually healthy.  Unity is a good thing in any team.  Uniformity will kill your team.  Unity means we agree in the majors even if the minors don’t always come together.  There is a difference between arguing and discussing.  There is more than one way to get somewhere.  What is the purpose in the trip?  Is it a scenic route?  Are you in a hurry?  Back roads are as good as main highways as long as you get there and accomplish your main goals. 

Allowing your team to say no validates them.  They need to dream with you, not just fulfill your dream.  Yes, it comes down to the leader making the call but your team needs to express their ideas, even if they aren’t used.  Throw everything on the table, sort out the good and bad, and be productive.  When people on your team cannot express their ideas they get frustrated.  When they get frustrated, they actually start working against you even if they don’t realize it.  They start venting to each other and never to you.  They stop dreaming and start maintaining.  When your team begins to die, your vision is as good as dead.  “Yes men” aren’t leaders, they are followers.  If you want more leaders, let your people lead.  You want people on your team who make your organization better, not those who just make you look better. 

Sure, your team needs direction, job descriptions, and leadership.  Yes, you’ll have to be the one who ultimately makes the decisions.  Your team needs you to say, “Here is what I want and don’t want.”  I’m not talking about voting on everything (leadership by consensus).  You’ll never get anything done that way.  Allowing your team to lead with you instead of barking orders at them will grow your organization faster than you ever could alone.  When you don’t let them function you actually are doing it alone.  Maybe this is why your turnover is so high?  I’m learning this over time.  Encourage healthy debate and alternative solutions.  Allow them to constructively critique your ideas and come up with their own.  You’ll find this approach will not only grow your organization but also grow their hearts toward your organization and you as the main leader because they are now co-owners not hirelings.  Allowing them to lead with you actually confirms and builds your leadership.  They will follow you anywhere when you allow them to lead with you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Give Thanks To The Lord

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” - Psalm 100:4
The signs of the Christmas season seem to come earlier every year. Christmas decorations were already out at Halloween this year! While Christmas celebrates the birth of our Savior, we can very easily forget Thanksgiving if we are not careful. The Bible says that whatever you do, do it in the name of Jesus and give thanks to God. (Colossians 3:17) We should have an attitude of gratitude.  Gratitude is more than saying thank you.  It is a personal quality that molds and shapes our lives, not just something we do or say. One way to have gratitude is to remember the true meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday.

During the winter of 1610, the settlers of Jamestown were reduced from 409 to 60. The survivors prayed for help, without knowing when or how it might come. When help arrived, in the form of a ship filled with food and supplies from England, a prayer meeting was held to give thanks to God.
The Pilgrims set sail for America on September 6, 1620 and were at sea nearly two months. When they arrived at Plymouth Rock, they had a prayer service and thanked God for being with them during their journey. Nearly half of them died as they struggled to build shelters and survive the cold New England winter. When spring came, Indian friends assisted them in reaping a great harvest. Because the Pilgrims were thankful, they declared a three-day feast in December 1621 to thank God. 
Thanksgiving was originally established as a Christian holiday by President George Washington in 1789.  Because Thanksgiving wasn’t celebrated consistently, President Abraham Lincoln set aside the last Thursday of November 1863 for a day of gratitude. He declared: “We are prone to forget the Source from which the blessings of fruitful years and healthful skies come. . . . No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God.”

Presidents continued to annually declare a national Thanksgiving Day until 1941 when Congress permanently established the fourth Thursday of each November as a national holiday.   Of course, Thanksgiving is also about gathering with friends and family and having a feast. Some will watch football and parades while others enjoy time off from work and school. But sometimes at this particular time of year, we can forget about how thankful we ought to be. We need to never forget that God has blessed us. After all, God sent His son Jesus to be our Savior! (1 Corinthians 15:57) The Bible urges us to give thanks to the Lord. We are told in Psalm 106:1, "Praise the Lord! Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever."
Thanksgiving may be tough for you this year.  Maybe you didn’t agree with the presidential election or lost investments in our economic troubles. Perhaps you are struggling with fear, rejection, anger, or bitterness?  Some may have lost their jobs and even their homes. Maybe you lost a loved one and this is the first Thanksgiving without them.  In the midst of trouble there is still room for thanksgiving. 

Thanksgiving should be about God, not our circumstances. It’s easy to give thanks in good times, but what about the bad?  Instead of giving thanks for our circumstances, maybe we should give thanks to God for being with us in the middle of our circumstances?  Sometimes worship and thanksgiving can be a sacrifice because we have to push past our despair and disappointment. Maybe hardship or tragedy has hit your life in some way and giving thanks may seem tough. The Bible doesn't say, "Give thanks to the Lord, because you feel good." It says, "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!"

What are you thankful for?  Do you have an attitude of gratitude? A better question is to whom are you giving thanks? In the busyness of your Thanksgiving holiday, don’t forget the source of your blessings. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Stop Giving Your Money To The Church

Recently I was blessed in a huge way. Someone mysteriously bought me new tires for my vehicle, another person gave me a really nice gift for my home, and another gave me some metal to finish a shed in my back yard. I was humbled and grateful for them all. I had been saving for new tires for about a year and each time I got close to the amount I needed, God told me to give it away. Once I gave it to the church as a special offering and two other times I gave it away in portions to people or organizations that had need. Now I didn’t give because I hoped I would get anything in return but because I saw the need to invest into the church and the lives of others.

I have tithed, given the first 10% of my income, to the church since I started working at age sixteen. I also consistently give an offering to the church and to other Christian ministries. When I receive a gift of any kind I always tithe on it (I tithed on the value of the tires, home gift, and the metal for the shed). Why? Because I believe God is my provider. He does it through my job and people but He is the owner who funnels it through them. I’m very thankful to the people but even more thankful to God. Tithing reflects a grateful heart that wants to give back to God a portion of what He has given us; in reality, what is already His. Tithing is our opportunity to show God that He is first in our lives. James 1:17 says that “every good and perfect gift is from above ...,” so we have an opportunity to tangibly show God He is the “owner” of our finances by giving back to Him the first of what He gives us.

There are three reasons why we should tithe. First, tithing reflects our heart. What is the most important thing to you? Jesus said in Matthew 6:21 that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We can see the reality of that in the world today and the exaltation of the financially successful, and more personally you can see that by looking at your own checkbook. Secondly, tithing is biblical. Long before tithing was a practice of the Israelite people, Cain and Abel, the second generation of the human race, brought an offering to the Lord. The Lord blessed Abel’s offering, but rejected Cain’s. Abel brought the “firstborn of his flock,” while Cain brought “some of the fruits of the soil” as an offering. God wants to be first. The following scriptures show how tithing is biblical. See also Malachi 3:10, Genesis 14:18-20; Genesis 28:22, Deuteronomy 26:1-2, and Leviticus 27:30. Thirdly, tithing is a benefit. God’s kingdom is built on multiplication, not division. God uses the tithe as an investment where everyone involved gets a return on the investment. Obviously, the church and the kingdom are blessed, and yet God’s nature is to also bless the giver. For more on how tithing benefits you and those you give to through the church, see 2 Chronicles 31:4-10.

Some don’t tithe because they’ve seen churches and pastors abuse it. But tithing has nothing to do with that…it is between you and God.  We show God we trust Him, not our church or pastor. Stop giving your money to a pastor or a church - give it to God to a trusted church and pastor and let Him deal with how they deal with it.  2 Corinthians 9:6-7 says God loves a cheerful giver. This means a hilarious giver. We should give out of our hearts for Christ and His Kingdom work, not reluctantly or because of duty. When we sow bountifully, we reap bountifully. Don’t give to get, give to worship. God will reward but it may come in different form than how you gave.

Ephesians 4:11-13 in a nutshell

Apostles -Lift & lead the church
Prophets -Align it
Evangelist -Expand it
Pastors -Care for it
Teachers -Develop it

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guy On A Buffalo - Episode 1 (Bears, Indians & Such)

Ever wish someone created a video of a guy on a buffalo?  Well today is your day...hilarious!  Be sure to watch all the episodes. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Real Men

Real men get baptized in the snow.

What My Kids Need From Their Dad (Who Just So Happens To Be A Pastor)

What do my kids need from me?  How is being a dad any different because I'm a pastor?  Here's what I came up with:

1.  They need me to be a dad before they need me to be a pastor.  They need to see me, play with me, hug me, and spend time with me apart from the pastorate.  If I make time for people who need counseling, shouldn't I make time for my kids?  They need my full attention on vacation and days they are out of school - Lord, help me with this one.

2.  They don't need me to preach to them; they need me to talk to them.  I preach to a congregation, not to my kids.  I must ask them how their day was in detail.  They don't need three points and a poem from me to succeed.  They need me living out Scripture right in front of them. 

3.  They need me to be interested in what they are interested in.  I love reading books by pastors, listening to sermons, and writing.  My kids could care less about any of that.  When do I do these? When it doesn't rob from them (after they are in bed, during office hours, etc.).  When I was working on my Master's Degree I only worked on it after they were in bed or before they got up.  This was sacrifice on my part but worth it to keep involved in their interests.  Kylee loves cheerleading and Abby gymnastics.  Personally, I don't consider either a hobby or interest but if they do, I must. 

4.  They need me to be real with them.  No one can spot fake like a wife and kids.  They need the me at church and the me at home to be the same man.  They don't need religious phrases or churchy actions.  They don't need their pastor to walk into the room.  They need the real Stephen Harrison, their only daddy, to stand up. 

5.  They need to be first.  Of course, Haley is first.  I take her calls regardless of who I'm meeting with or how serious the meeting is.  They need the same attention.  I must be willing to drop everything for them if they need me.  While I must block out undivided time for them, they never need an appointment.  They don't stand in line to speak to me at church.  They need full access to their dad at all times.

6.  They need the ability to fail.  I offer grace to others in their failures - my kids need it too.  All too often pastor's kids are expected to be perfect.  They live life under a microscope.  Or at least please don't embarrass me, I'm the pastor.  I must care about their spiritual restoration and condition more than my pastoral reputation.  No matter how much my kids may fail they deserve grace from me and unconditional love - especially if I'm going to preach it.

7.  They don't need to be bounced around.  A pastor's life is made up of many meetings.  If I'm not careful my kids can be in childcare due to my meetings more than they are at home.  I have to protect my nights at home by scheduling as many meetings before 5pm as possible.  We must eat supper together at our own table several times a week. 

There are many more things my kids need from me.  Most importantly, they need me.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Go After Them

When I was in college I had a friend who committed suicide. When I heard he was in trouble, I immediately left my dorm room and searched for him but got there too late. About a month later, I had another friend who had cheated on his wife. He felt like life was over and tried to commit suicide as well. My roommate woke me up in the middle of the night and we ran to find him through the maze of cornfields that surrounded the campus. I found him and we wrestled for awhile, which gave me a black eye. We finally got him in the back of my friend’s truck and raced towards the hospital where they pumped the 100+ pills out of his stomach.

What did my friends need during that time? A lecture? Did they need me to go around talking about their condition? They needed me in the flesh going after them to save their lives. Did they want that at the moment? Yes and no. They ran because of sin they were in but deep down they did want someone coming after them. What do Christians do when someone is caught in sin? Galatians 6:1-3 in the Message says this, “If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.”

Put yourself into this person’s difficult position. What would you want and need? Rumors spread? Christians putting distance between themselves and you, the “horrible sinner” (For all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory – Romans 3:23). Scripture tells commands us to go after those we know are in sin to help restore them to Christ. We forgive them and lovingly walk out restoration with them as they repent. That’s the goal anyway. Sharing their burdens doesn’t mean posting it on Facebook or gossiping about it to others. It means carry the burden with them. Hurt when they hurt (Romans 12:15). Sadly most of us are so out of touch with godliness that we have an immediate reaction to either ignore it or gossip about it. Truth be known, we are our brother or sister in Christ’s keeper. We are to be responsible in helping others to be holy. Iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17).

No one needs a sin referee with a striped shirt and a whistle. What they need is a friend who understands forgiveness, mercy, and love because they’ve experienced it from the Lord and desire to do the same to others. We must speak truth but in love. When we do this, Ephesians 4:15 says we help them and ourselves to grow up in all things and look more like Christ. If we know of someone in sin and do not go after them to help restore them we are also guilty of sin and may lose a brother or sister in the process. We shame people out of church when we don’t help them get free (Romans 8:1-2). I had a lady recently tell me that she thought about getting an abortion because she didn’t want to tell the church. What! She obviously was either deceived in the church’s potential reaction or she had seen the church not be Christ-like before. James 5:19-20 remind us, “My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.” Love someone enough to not quit on them. Go after them.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Ugly Prayers For The President

Whether your candidate won or not, 1 Timothy 2:1-4 is still in the Bible.  "I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people;  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."  Praying for those in authority over us - from the president you don't like to the boss you despise, is Biblical.  And our prayers should not be those of sarcasm - you know, "I pray they fail..., I pray you sick em God..., etc.).  Verse three says it pleases the Lord when we pray for our leaders.  Ask yourself, "Is God pleased with the prayer I am praying (or lack of prayer) for our president and leaders?"  Verse two tells us when we pray we will live in peace and quiet in godliness and holiness.  That is my prayer - more than lower gas prices and more jobs.  We must begin praying for all our leaders.

I saw someone post a Scripture reference on Facebook about praying for the President (after President Obama was reelected).  I looked it up and was shocked.  It was Psalm 109:8, "May his days be few, may another take over his position."  At first glance it seemed innocent enough.  Obviously their candidate didn't win.  Then I began to think about it some more.  What is their heart like in this?  Then I asked the Lord about my heart in posting Scriptures.  We should never post Scriptures to meet our agendas.  That is not only taking Scripture out of context, I believe sin.  Scripture is intended to meet God's agenda.  Is God caught off guard when someone we don't like is elected?  Is He shocked?  Is He not sovereign and provident?  I think He is shocked when His people pray for harm instead of wisdom and salvation of our elected officials. 

What really hurt me is the next scripture in Psalm 109.  I hope this person missed this scripture as they took this whole chapter out of context.  Psalm 109:9 read, "May his children be orphans and his wife a widow."  What?  That is no prayer to pray for anyone!  Read the rest of the chapter as well.  That verse in context with the whole chapter is an ugly prayer for our President.  The entire chapter of Psalm 109 is about the death of an evil person.  Is God an executioner of those with whom we disagree?  I do not agree 100% with any politician, policy, or party.  Does that mean I pray harm on them?  There is no place for ugly prayers for the President in our faith.  God isn't on a candidate's side unless that Candidate is wholeheartedly for the Lord.  Governor Romney is a Mormon, which believes God came as a man from another planet, he has a goddess wife, Satan is Jesus' brother, you can become a god on your own planet (many gods), the Trinity is three separate Gods not one, salvation is not by grace through faith, and baptism of the dead - where you can be baptized in someone else's place for their salvation.  Does this mean I pray evil upon Governor Romney?  No.  I pray 1 Timothy 2:1-4 (especially verse 4).  It pleases God, who wants all to be saved and come to a knowledge of truth.  Is Obama saved?  Some say he's a Christian.  Some say he's a Muslim.  He's said both.  But God is the judge of salvation and I pray for his salvation and knowledge of Divine truth as well as that of Governor Romney.  I pray, if they haven't, they will give their lives to the Jesus of Scripture, repent of their sins, and surrender their lives to the entirety of the Gospel under the Lordship of Christ Jesus alone.  I pray this prayer for all alike, not just the President or a hopeful President-elect.

I will pray for President Obama and all elected officials and authorities.  Even if I didn't vote for them and disagree with their policy. He is the leader of this nation, and thus he is my leader.  I may have differences with Him but am mandated by the Lord to sincerely pray and honor him. 

Here is my prayer for the President and all elected officials and authorities:

Lord, I pray for the President of the United States, his cabinet, our Congress, and State and local authorities. Give them wisdom, integrity, and love for people as leaders. Help them to be great husbands/wives, fathers/mothers.  Let them have a heart for those who are truly poor, weak, and voiceless.  Let them act out of love for our nation and it's people and uphold the Constitution to it's original intent.  May they also act out of truth and wise counselors to make good decisions.  Help them to defend the unborn, Biblical marriage, and religious liberty.  Help them to serve the Lord with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength.  Help them to be people of daily prayer as they become students of your Scripture.  May they be quick to forgive, quick to repent, slow to anger and speech, quick to listen.  Give them humility to admit fault and change their minds.  Lead them to your cross so they understand love, grace, mercy, and truth.

I pray that they will be voices of unification in our country.  We have so many divisions.  Whatever differences you have with the other party and politicians, please put them aside and seek the common good.  Surely we have more in common that in difference.  Please reach across the aisle to bring unity to our nation.  Let all you do bring hope not division or despair.  Do not blame others but work with them for a common good.  Make a difference, not just your point.

I truly respect the offices you hold and my prayers are not swayed by your actions and policies.  You have them.  I pray that your actions and policies will honor the positions and people you serve.  I humbly and compassionately obey the admonition of God’s Word to be committed in my prayers for you.  I know you face great responsibilities and challenges and cannot do it without the strength and wisdom that only the Lord provides.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Who Not To Vote For

We should all be praying for our nation as this election approaches.  With less than a week away, many new and current politicians and policies will be voted in - and out.  I love our Nation's election system.  Every person has a say.  I always say, if you didn't vote, don't complain about who is in office.  I believe it is not only the right but the responsibility for all citizens who are eligible to vote to do so.  Even more I believe that Christians should vote if they truly want a Christian led nation.  Christians are to be salt and light in this world and must stand and be counted in their voice and vote.  But who do you vote for?  Who do you vote against?

I urge all Christians to vote their beliefs and convictions and let those come directly from Scripture.  Don't vote for a party, a promise, a union, tax issues, favorites, race, or gender.  A Christian's allegiance isn't to any of these but to the Lord and His Scripture.  Christians must uphold Biblical principles and values.  The Bible and Lord is against abortion and the redefinition of marriage.  We must vote in alignment with Scripture.  If the Bible is against it, we are too.  If the Bible is for it, we are too.  No matter the candidate.  No matter if we stand alone.  Don't vote for those who consistently violate and disregard the Lord and His Word.
America has lost its way.  The voice of the Church has been almost silenced but the Church must awaken once again.  We must first repent, seek the Lord, pour over His Scriptures and reflect the truth of them in our voice and vote.
There is no perfect candidate or party.  I'm disappointed with both major political parties.  Smear tactics, lying, promises they know they can't keep, and a host of other things are driving me crazy.  Who is fact checking the fact checkers?  I watched the Presidential "Arguments", as I saw it, and was saddened by a Nation divided in many ways.  No one can save America - only the Lord can do that.  With that said, Christians must intelligently and with much prayer not bow out of an imperfect system but wholeheartedly and unswervingly uphold Jesus in their vote.  We can't give up as Believers in an unbelieving world.  Christians should hold politicians accountable and responsible to representing their constituents.  That is why more Believers must stand and be counted.  Christians must stand up and run for offices be it local, State, or National.  Church, we all know what we are faced with in our Nation.  Economically, we are suffering.  Spiritually, we are suffering.  Morally, we are suffering.  Educationally, we are suffering.  In suffering, we are suffering.  There are many issues at hand.  We must rise up and let the voice of Christ be heard.  Compromise of Christian values is what has led us to where we are today as a Nation.  We don't need any more compromise from Christians in their obligation to uphold the Word.  While some blame is to be given to politicians, the majority of the blame must rest with the Church itself.  I believe we are in a war with the Church that refuses to take a stand and get up off of laziness and procrastination.  When Believers do not vote their Christian values they ultimately destroy our Nation by letting those with values against God's moral law control our government, law, and lives.   

Psalm 33:12 says, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD."  Over half of registered voters did not vote in the last Presidential election. Only half of the people eligible to register to vote were registered.  Many died for the right to vote and we don't even bother to register, much less vote.  Way less than half of Christians who are registered to vote did so in the last election.  Christians must stand up and be counted.  “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light.” (Luke 8:16, NIV).  We must stop hiding our faith - specifically, because it is upon us, in the political arena.  Let your light shine and vote Christ's values. 

25 Things You Should Keep Saying To Your Kids

Having kids can be fun, joyful, scary, and downright unpredictable at times. Parents have a huge responsibility to be good stewards of the kids God has entrusted them with. I really want to be a good dad. In order to do that I know I must carry on meaningful conversations with my kids. I saw a statistic once that most parents only spend 10-15 seconds of meaningful conversations with their kids daily. Yes, seconds! This statistic excludes any statements like, “pick up your room, stop doing that, etc.”

We don’t need a degree in parenting to talk to our kids. You especially don’t need a seminary degree to talk to them about the things of the Lord either. Parents must be themselves and share with their kids out of their relationship with the Lord and live life with, not separate from, their kids. Being real is what relationship is all about! Sunday morning isn’t the only time you can talk to your kids about the Lord. Deuteronomy 6 tells us the four most influential times of everyday to talk to our kids about the Lord and life. “And these words that I command to you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Bedtime, morning time, travel time, and house time. These are times that all of our minds are more idle and contemplative and are very crucial times to building relationships. Parents, you should plan to speak great things into your kids during mealtimes, sit around the house times, bedtime and getting ready for the day times.

Conversations truly develop as you go about doing life with your kids. Every moment in life is a teaching moment and an opportunity to invest into your kid’s life. They need to see you spending time reading your Bible, serving someone, and being involved in your faith, but what about reading the Bible to them or taking them with you to serve? Those are great times to disciple and build relationships. There will be many opportunities to teach them a lesson about the Lord. How they see you respond to crazy traffic, hectic schedules, and even cooking dinner will impact them greatly. Your actions speak a lot about you and your faith in the Lord. Maybe they speak more than words?

So what should you be saying to your kids? You must realize the importance of starting conversations with your kids. Why wait till they speak to you or ask you questions? I came up with twenty five statements all parents, no matter the age of your kids, must keep on saying out loud to their kids.

Here we go in no particular order: I love you. I forgive you. Will you forgive me? I’m sorry. You are valuable. Of course I’ll play with you. I’m proud of you. Jesus loves you. I’m never too busy. I love you enough to discipline you. Let’s go to church together. It's OK, everyone messes up. Do what honors God. Can I pray with you? Respect others. Let’s go have some fun. Love others more than yourself. You are beautiful. No matter how much you mess up, I’ll always love you. I mess up. I’ll never leave you. Serve others. You are good at ______. Yes, I’ll be there. Respect others, especially those in authority. How was your day? OK, that’s more than twenty five, but I could go on and on about this. But you and I both need to go and say these, and more, to our kids.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Free Stuff

Free stuff today only in honor of Happy Reformation Day! You know, Martin Luther, 95 Thesis, Church at Wittenberg...

Friday, October 26, 2012

10 Reasons I'd Never Come Back To Your Church

As a pastor, I would hope everyone who enters our doors would love our church just as much as I and many others do.  I have to remember to keep seeing things through the eyes of quests.  We've all heard of secret shoppers before.  I wonder how we'd do if there were "secret church attenders" (not to be confused with those who say they go to church but never actually do). 

What would turn visitors off from church?  Here are some things that would definitely turn me off from coming back to a church.  I'll try to be as generic as possible in case these are from real situations I've witnessed in my own church - probably not - after all, our church is perfect, right? 
10.  Can you dress a little nicer?  It is the Lord's Day after all.

If you set the standard of suit and tie that's all you'll attract.  Present a "come as you are" atmosphere.  Guests shouldn't feel as if they have to "come as I am or don't come at all." What if that is their best and they wore it because they already knew it was the Lord's day?

9.  Take that crying kid out of here...

Sure Jesus wept and He loved kids...but crying kids - hades no!  A crying baby can be distracting during church but the situation must be handled with extreme love and understanding.  No one can predict when a kid will cry.  Yes, we have a nursery but some mothers feel uneasy about putting their kids in a new nursery.  Some kids are apprehensive as well.  Never call them down from the pulpit if you are the pastor.  Never surround them with all your security team.  Don't attack them at first cry.  Usually moms know enough to step out.  They are probably trying a few things before making a move toward the door since it takes an act of congress to lug a baby, diaper suitcase, bible, purse, etc. out from the middle of the row.  Gently offering them a crying child room or a place to sit in the foyer where they can still hear the message is best.

8.  Children's ministry...I have no idea if we even have one of those...

While we are on the topic of children, all leadership, welcoming team, and anyone else in a serving position should be familiar enough with the preschool and children's ministry to tell a guest about the basics.  Don't just point them there either.  Walk them to the appropriate area asking the children's names, ages, etc. so you can introduce them to the people you hand them off to.  Even waiting on them so you can escort them back to the sanctuary to find a seat is a great way to say welcome!

7.  I'm sorry, we are full. 

This is otherwise known as, we weren't ready for you.  Some services like Easter and Christmas may have this problem more than not.  Pastors should keep an eye on the congestion levels of their congregation.  New services should start when you are at about 75%-80% capacity consistently for about 4-6 weeks.  Don't wait till you are maxed out.  Starting a new service or providing an overflow room could help a ton to keep your welcoming teams from being put in this position. If people see you have a plan for growth they will deal with a little congestion.  If they don't see you a moving, they'll be a leaving.

6.  Pass the offering plate multiple times.

Take up offering once during a service - building fund, tithes, special funds, etc.  Always tell guests they are not obligated to give anything but to be blessed.  Instead of hounding or shaming people into giving, teach on it.  Maybe a message once a year or a 3 minute talk before the offering.  Don't be ashamed of this act of worship but don't come across as a church who is only concerned about money either.

5.  My pastor isn't usually like this. 

Knowing you will have to explain why your pastor is the way he is (be it obnoxious, loud, long, etc) because you know a guest will have a problem with it is a problem in itself.  Pastors must come across as real people.  They must tell personal stories, preach like they talk in real life, and be friendly in the pulpit.  They do have the responsibility of rebuking, correcting, and upholding truth but this can be done lovingly.  If it always seems they are rebuking, mad, unorganized, etc. and many others have noticed it as well, it is time to confront your pastor lovingly in private.

4.  Fill out this paperwork again and again and again and again...

Ask for their info once and be responsible with it.  Don't have them fill out something for every member of the family.  When checking in children, have forms organized to include multiple children.  You hate paperwork as much as they do.  A few more tips...don't abuse their info.  Don't start spamming them 50 newsletters before they leave the parking lot.  Contact them, but don't intrude.  Don't just show up at their house unannounced either just cause you know how to plug their address into Mapquest.

3.  Don't smile at them or speak to them.  After all, they are new...

Church is not a clique.  Don't stare at them like they are out of place - they already had fears of being out of place and you are making them come true.  Don't stand around and only talk to those you know.  Make it a point to meet 3 new people each week at church.  Greet guests with a smile before they get out of their cars with a great parking team.  Why not invite quests to lunch after church?  Welcome them with your greeters and information desk assistants.  Have your ushers help them find a seat.   Have directions to your restrooms and children's facilities clearly labeled.  Have a warm atmosphere in your foyer - maybe serve coffee, unless you like leading church in the stone age or hades.  Your welcoming team (greeters, ushers, info desk assistants, parkers, leaders, etc.) should be loving and think about people, not rules, regulations, and requirements. 

2.  Tell people you preach the truth and if they don't like it they can find another place to worship.

They will take you up on that.  We should always preach truth and uphold the entirety of Scripture.  Never apologize for speaking the truth but do it in love or you'll be apologizing for being a legalistic Pharisee who doesn't love people.  Jesus was only confrontational and in people's faces when they were religious.  He never acted that way with the sinner.  He didn't scold Zacchaeus for climbing in a tree during service.  He loved on him and ate lunch with him.  He didn't appear to be unapproachable as a pastor with 12 body guards religiously named armor bearers.  The pastor should be out front greeting before and after the services not locked away in a greenroom because he is not a commoner.  Jesus let the woman with the issue of blood touch his garment and then he healed her.  You can and must speak the truth to new people but it must be done lovingly.  Truth sets free, not turns off. 

1.  Appear more concerned about the condition of your facilities than the condition of their family. 

"Get your foot off that wall" sure sounds less inviting to a first time guest's kid than "What is your name?"  Why not follow them around as they drink coffee with a mop?  Yell at their kids for dropping candy wrappers in the hallway.  Gripe when church is over because lots of people made a mess - lots of people always make a mess.  These are all sure ways to keep a great facility that no one comes back to.  You can always repaint and clean the carpet.  But you cannot make another first impression.

Are there more than ten?  Let me know by posting a comment below on my blog.

How To Know God's Will For Your Life

Is knowing God’s will for your life sometimes a little blurry? It would be awesome if He wrote out His will for us on billboards around town or just sent us a message on Facebook or Twitter saying “Here is My will for you today”. There are certain Bible verses that tell me His will in general principles (1 Thess. 5:18; 1 Peter 2:15; John 6:40; 2 Thess. 4:1-8; etc) but what about specific decision I have to make like should I take this job, should I marry this person, should we have a baby, or should I move my family?

First you must ask yourself what does God want from every person. His general Biblical principles tell us many things that every person should be doing. When you do these first and let them guide you, it is easier to make decisions about things the Bible doesn’t specifically address. One of these general principles is life is about God, not you. You were made to serve Him and others, not yourself. You are in for an uphill battle if you make decisions based solely on you.

Sometimes I want quick answers without learning a lesson or growing in Christ-like character. I just want to get past the decision even if the decision is less than satisfactory. I’ve found this out over time: God’s will usually isn’t instantly revealed and develops through a process. God wants more from me than the ability to get past a decision. He desires discipleship and character formation. More than that, He desires a relationship with me. Knowing every answer immediately would require no faith, no trust, no character, and no relationship with Him. God is not trying to keep us in the dark. He is not caught off guard by our circumstances. He didn’t mess up. That thing we are struggling with may just be God’s will for our lives. Praying through a few questions will not only help you find answers but strengthen your faith and relationship with God.

The first question is, “Is this a distraction from God’s ultimate call on my life?” Satan is trying to steal, kill and destroy your life (John 10:10). If Satan can’t get you to sin He will attempt to distract you by keeping you busy with good things that don’t fit into your calling. God desires great, Satan desires good enough. Maybe the decision you’re facing doesn’t involve sin or violate Scripture. It just has the potential to lead you away from God’s ultimate call for your life.

The second question is, “Is this decision sinful or am I in the flesh?” Does this present an opportunity to serve only your interests? Are you violating Scripture directly or indirectly (I’ve played the “Scripture doesn’t specifically say that is bad” game). Is it the easy way out? Will it cause you to be lazy or avoid character building circumstances? If you did this thing, would it cause you to be further away from your God-given relationships: Him, church, family, small group, etc.?

The last question is, “Is God in this?” If it isn’t distracting you from you calling and it isn’t sinful, is it possible it could be part of your calling. Could this decision serve people better? Will this build the church, your family, or your ministry? Is this a way God could use you in new and fresh way?

Whatever you do, get counsel from someone wiser and stronger in the faith. God speaks through your opportunities – good and bad. Everything requires faith. He will not lead you to something that violates Scripture. Maybe instead of asking, “Is this God’s will for my life” you should ask, "Does this cause my life to bring glory to God?”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pretty As A Princess

My daughters love to play dress up and be princesses. Pink and sequins are the new gold and diamonds as far as they are concerned. As a father, I must realize that true beauty cannot be gained from playing princess. As innocent as it is to dress up as a princess, nothing is so innocent that our culture cannot use it to harm. My daughters must gain their view of beauty from Scripture. While it feels good to dress up with all the glitter and sparkles, those things can never give an assurance of true beauty. The fantasy of the Disney princesses is that they are all beautiful, always overcome, all live in castles, all marry a prince-charming type, all are rich, and all live happily ever after. What happens when our girls can’t achieve those standards? They must know their beauty lies in the Lord.

I’m not picking on Disney here. Our entire culture sends our daughters damaging images with which they struggle. Beauty can be reduced to materialism and makeup, which will eventually leave our daughters unfulfilled. I desire to raise my daughters to know that true beauty comes from the Lord. Their image of beauty must be rooted in the beauty of Jesus and how He sees them not in how they see themselves in comparison to a world of Photoshop and starving models.

Our culture defines feminine worth by how women live up to societies’ standards of physical appearance. If men find you attractive then you are beautiful in the world’s eyes. My wife is very careful when it comes to choosing clothing for our girls because most clothing is about showing off their bodies. They are in elementary school! The world has perverted beauty and it devastates girls and women alike into insecurity and sometimes broken relationships.

God is beauty. Scripture tells me that God finds beauty in the heart, not in outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7). A memory verse I’ve taught my girls is Proverbs 31:30: “lCharm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” True beauty is how God sees you. You are more beautiful in His eyes as you fear and praise Him! You look beautiful when you look like God! Beauty begins with purity of heart and growing in Christ-like character. Exploiting women’s bodies for lust is a perversion created after the Fall of man.

Some will read this and think all efforts in dress and appearance are sinful. There is nothing wrong with looking nice and being modest in your dress. There is nothing wrong in enhancing one’s outward appearance – as long as self-worth and the perception of beauty do not come from them. The only thing that corrects skewed beauty is the Gospel. We must teach our daughters that God loves them and designed them exactly as He wanted them. We must remind them often that we, especially fathers, love them. I do not want my daughters growing up and searching for the love and affirmation they were supposed to get from me and their mom. I must teach them that sexuality is from God and designed to flourish inside of marriage. I must continue to guard my daughter’s environment including what hangs on their walls, what they see me watch on TV, and what we approve for dress. I will take my daughters on dates because they need to see a man of God in action and avoid anything less. I must pray daily for the Lord to save them, guard them, teach them, and open their eyes to Jesus. God, give me the wisdom and grace to lead my girls, Your princesses, in Your ways.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Your New Name

The most popular baby name in 2012 for a boy was Liam and for a girl was Emma. I’m sorry to say Stephen has never been in the top five names since 1910 but I’m hopeful for a strong showing in 2013. I'm happy with my name and glad it wasn't Harry (Harry Harrison is crazy - sorry to all the Harry Harrison's out there -  and Johnny Johnsons, Sammy Samsons, Phillip Phillips, etc.).  Parents in the western culture usually name kids based on preference. Most eastern culture names have great significance attached to them.  For instance the name Sophia means “wisdom” and the name David means “beloved one”.  Meaning of names worked out pretty well for my daughter Abby, which means “Her father rejoices.”  That makes me smile. My daughter Kylee’s name means “boomerang”. That makes me laugh.

Names are precious and can reveal who we are. They can show a person’s character or uniqueness. In the Bible, names are very significant. God’s name is great! Psalm 8:1 says, “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth.” At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). We gather in (Matthew 18:20), have salvation alone through (John 1:12), and pray in (John 14:13-14) Jesus’ name. God’s name is wonderful (Judges 13:18), to be worshiped (Genesis 21:33; 26:25), and holy (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11). Just like David did, I praise the Lord with all my heart and bow only to Him. I praise His name for His unfailing love and faithfulness (Psalm 138:1-2).

God believes your name is also important. Maybe there is no real significance in the name your parents gave you, but there is great significance in who God wants you to become. When God saves us He changes our identity. We become His children – His family. We are adopted (Romans 8:14-17). God knows your name. Better yet, He has a new name for you. He did for Jacob. In Genesis 32:24-28 He basically told Jacob it’s time to come out of being a swindler, thief, and a lifetime of sinful behavior and start living for God. His new name would be Israel and He would become the foundation of the twelve tribes of God’s chosen people. He told Abram he would become Abraham, the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5). He told Simon it’s time to be set apart and more than just a fisherman. He would become the first in every list of disciples, radical in his faith, and a leader of the first century church. His new name was Peter, which means “rock”. I like to call him “Rocky”.

Jacob tried to talk God out of his new name. Being honest and transparent, he was coming clean and owning up to his past. He was just admitting who he had always been. How could he ever be anything different? God’s response was and always is, “Great. Thanks for admitting you are a sinner and have a past. Everyone is like that. Now, let me tell you who you really are. Let me tell you who I am making you into. Let me give you a new identity.” When we try to go back to who we were, God wants us to remember that in Him we are a new creation with His name attached to us. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 the old life has passed away and everything is now new in Christ. In Christ we are a new creation, have a new life, new spirit, new heart, new identity and a new name!

What has God called you out of and in to? Are you trying to live your new life in Him by reverting to who you used to be? Do your past failures and former way of living attempt to steal your new identity? Stop letting the world tell you who you are and choose to live in the new name and identity God has for you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Converts or Disciples?

The Christian life is designed by God to reproduce other Christians who live whole heartedly for Christ. Granted, you don’t save anyone – Christ alone, by grace through faith, does this by His work on the Cross. It takes anywhere from five minutes to an hour for a Christian to tell someone about the Gospel and for them to begin a relationship with Christ. But that short time span will never make a disciple out of them. It takes on average anywhere from twenty weeks to a couple of years for that new Christian to get on a road to maturity in Christ. Finding victory over habitual sin and problems of years past cannot be solved in a one minute prayer to receive Christ. That’s where discipleship comes in. A new Christian must be shown how to live a life for Christ and not just pray a prayer to receive salvation, a prayer ironically that isn’t listed in Scripture.

Here’s something you may not have thought about when it comes to discipleship. The moment you begin discipling someone you just doubled your ministry. Now, you have someone else you are growing in Christ other than yourself. A new believer in Christ needs someone to guide, warn, and instruct them in reading the Bible and living it out. I would say that when you are actively discipling someone in Christ you more than double your ministry. You teach them how to do just what you are doing. The result is they also disciple someone and the cycle continues. How much more effective is a disciple than a convert? How much more effective is a child who has been raised by loving and caring parents than a baby who is left alone after birth?

It is not enough to just lead someone to the Lord – we must train them to walk with Him by our example and edification. An effective Christian is one so is fruitful and multiplies. Making disciples is the true litmus test of personal discipleship. If you don’t have any then you probably aren’t growing yourself. Before his name change and New Testament writings, Paul spent a year with Barnabas at the Church of Antioch (Acts 11:25). This year long discipleship was the catalyst that launched Paul’s ministry, causing him to do greater works than Barnabas.

All believers must see the Biblical mandate of making disciples. Matthew 28:18-20 tell us to make disciples and baptize people. The latter is easier (or rather takes less work) than the former. I believe the discipleship process happens as we take someone on one-on-one and do the next statement of the Great Commission – teach them to obey all I (Jesus) have commanded you. That takes a while. It can’t be summed up in the sinner’s prayer and “hope you can join us for church”. We must follow hard after Christ and chase harder after new believers if we desire to see them go beyond conversion to discipleship. The only reason they aren’t discipled to the level you expect them to be at is because you haven’t taken them there.

Question: who are you discipling? Who are you intentionally and consistently meeting with for the sheer purpose of growing in Christ? Who are you pouring over Scriptures with? Who are you warring in prayer with? This isn’t a meet-and-eat or an occasional “catch up session”. It is a strategic union of two believers who desperately desire a relationship with Jesus as His disciples and know it only comes through discipling one another. I praise God if you’ve gotten someone to say a prayer or walk an aisle to initiate a relationship with Christ. Keep that up! Just don’t leave it there. Where is that man or woman now and are you leading them closer to the Lord or have you abandoned them at rebirth? We are commanded to be fruitful and multiply. We should be reproducing. If you aren’t, then ask God why you are spiritually sterile.

We must ask God to empower us to win people to the Lord and disciple them. This is the essence of the true Gospel message. While our salvation doesn’t come by works nor is it kept by works, we should work hard to fully devote our lives to Christ and disciple others to do the same. One discipled believer has a greater impact on the world around them than twenty who simply make a superficial commitment to Jesus.