Friday, April 29, 2011

Another great Max Lucado devo

This is one every believer should read.

The Centurion at the Foot of the Cross
by Max Lucado

The day began as had a hundred others—dreadfully. It was bad enough to be in Judea, but it was hell to spend hot afternoons on a rocky hill supervising the death of pickpockets and rabble-rousers. Half the crowd taunted, half cried. The soldiers griped. The priests bossed. It was a thankless job in a strange land. He was ready for the day to be over before it began.

He was curious at the attention given to the flatfooted peasant. He smiled as he read the sign that would go on the cross. The condemned looked like anything but a king. His face was lumpy and bruised. His back arched slightly and his eyes faced downward. “Some harmless hick,” mused the centurion. “What could he have done?”

Then Jesus raised his head. He wasn’t angry. He wasn’t uneasy. His eyes were strangely calm as they stared from behind the bloody mask. He looked at those who knew him—moving deliberately from face to face as if he had a word for each.

For just a moment he looked at the centurion—for a second the Roman looked into the purest eyes he’d ever seen. He didn’t know what the look meant. But the look made him swallow and his stomach feel empty. As he watched the soldier grab the Nazarene and yank him to the ground, something told him this was not going to be a normal day.

As the hours wore on, the centurion found himself looking more and more at the one on the center cross. He didn’t know what to do with the Nazarene’s silence. He didn’t know what to do with his kindness.

But most of all, he was perplexed by the darkness. He didn’t know what to do with the black sky in midafternoon. No one could explain it.… No one even tried. One minute the sun, the next the darkness. One minute the heat, the next a chilly breeze. Even the priests were silenced.

For a long while the centurion sat on a rock and stared at the three silhouetted figures. Their heads were limp, occasionally rolling from side to side. The jeering was silent … eerily silent. Those who had wept, now waited.

Suddenly the center head ceased to bob. It yanked itself erect. Its eyes opened in a flash of white. A roar sliced the silence. “It is finished.” (John 19:30 NIV) It wasn’t a yell. It wasn’t a scream. It was a roar … a lion’s roar. From what world that roar came the centurion didn’t know, but he knew it wasn’t this one.

The centurion stood up from the rock and took a few paces toward the Nazarene. As he got closer, he could tell that Jesus was staring into the sky. There was something in his eyes that the soldier had to see. But after only a few steps, he fell. He stood and fell again. The ground was shaking, gently at first and now violently. He tried once more to walk and was able to take a few steps and then fall … at the foot of the cross.

He looked up into the face of this one near death. The King looked down at the crusty old centurion. Jesus’ hands were fastened; they couldn’t reach out. His feet were nailed to timber; they couldn’t walk toward him. His head was heavy with pain; he could scarcely move it. But his eyes … they were afire.

They were unquenchable. They were the eyes of God.

Perhaps that is what made the centurion say what he said. He saw the eyes of God. He saw the same eyes that had been seen by a near-naked adulteress in Jerusalem, a friendless divorcée in Samaria, and a four-day-dead Lazarus in a cemetery. The same eyes that didn’t close upon seeing man’s futility, didn’t turn away at man’s failure, and didn’t wince upon witnessing man’s death.

“It’s all right,” God’s eyes said. “I’ve seen the storms and it’s still all right.”

The centurion’s convictions began to flow together like rivers. “This was no carpenter,” he spoke under his breath. “This was no peasant. This was no normal man.”

He stood and looked around at the rocks that had fallen and the sky that had blackened. He turned and stared at the soldiers as they stared at Jesus with frozen faces. He turned and watched as the eyes of Jesus lifted and looked toward home. He listened as the parched lips parted and the swollen tongue spoke for the last time.

“Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit” (Luke 23:46 NIV).

Had the centurion not said it, the soldiers would have. Had the centurion not said it, the rocks would have—as would have the angels, the stars, even the demons. But he did say it. It fell to a nameless foreigner to state what they all knew.

“Surely this man was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:54 NIV)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

He is Risen

As the sun rises in Minnesota, my heart beats emphatically knowing the Son has Risen everywhere and the Holy Spirit has risen within. 

Now go and tell the world...

Saturday, April 23, 2011


I really love the very notion of encouragement. With it, people can do amazing things. Without, everything falls apart like a house of cards.

Today, I'd like to share another Bayless Conley devotional with you. It's another one of those puzzle pieces God puts together, as my wife and two of our very good friends were just discussing this very topic less than 12 hours ago.

I pray it encourages you:
The Most Important Quality
In 1 Samuel 16:6-7, when Samuel came to Jesse's house to anoint the next king of Israel, we see the criteria God uses to choose people for service to Him,
So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, "Surely the LORD'S anointed is before Him."  But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at his physical  stature, because I have refused him.  For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." 
This is a fascinating story with a very strong lesson I want you to understand.  Right after these verses, Jesse parades each of his sons before Samuel…except for David.  Jesse knows why Samuel is there, but he doesn't even bother to get David.
David's own father had written him off.  His own father didn't see enough potential in him to call him before Samuel.
But David was anointed king that day.  Not based on what Jesse thought was important, but on what God thought was important…David's heart.
Maybe your own father has written you off.  Maybe your parents said you would never amount to anything.  Maybe your teacher said, "Look, you're not going to amount to much.  You just better get yourself a minimum wage job."
Only God can see things in your heart that your father can't see, that your mother can't see, that your teachers didn't see, that your family doesn't see, that the people around you don't see.
It is not that God overlooks ability or talent or training.  All of those things are important.  But God looks first at the most important quality for service, and that is the heart.
Don't let someone else write your history before it happens.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Praise Request

It’s Friday.

Good Friday.

Before I came to Christ I used to say “Of course it’s Good Friday, Friday is always good if I don’t have to work on Saturday.” Now I know how much better this particular Friday is for everyone… something much better than sleeping in on Saturday, that’s for sure.

Last weekend, the awesome Elementary Pastor I volunteer under at Eagle Brook Church’s Blaine Campus mentioned how the attacks always come this week. It makes sense that this week more than any other the roaring lion is out to devour us. But, he’s already lost and Sunday’s coming.

So far this week, we’ve heard of our good friends’ little girl coming down with leukemia  and we’ve prayed with another couple over the news they lost their unborn child. Please join us in lifting both of these families up to Him.

Thankfully, both families know God is good, all the time. So, instead of grumbling, fretting, wringing our hands and gnashing our teeth on Good Friday, which is exactly what the enemy wants, we all need to Praise God for all the blessings he’s bestowed on us.

For our family, I want to praise God for the following:

•    Our eternal salvation and all the Grace that comes with it
•    Our health, hope and happiness
•    Each other: I don't know what I'd do without my beautiful wife and don't know how I lived without our amazing little boy.
•    Our daily provision: God has always met our needs, no matter what the enemy might try to convince us of otherwise.
•    Hope in Him
•    Our wonderful extended family
•    The many blessings of having so many wonderful friends
•    The ability to live in a free country, where worshiping our Lord isn’t a crime
•    The handful of great churches we follow: Eagle Brook Church, Gateway Church, Mars Hill Church, LifeChurch, Palm Valley Church and more.
•    The amazing free teaching we partake of on the internet and TV from Mark Driscoll, Craig Groeschel, Greg Rohlinger, John Burke and shows like Creation on the Web.
•    Our mentors: Tom and Moe
•    Our jobs
•    Helping bring others to Christ and helping other Christians grow in their faith
•    You

Sure it’s easy to fixate on the negatives, but I reject the idea that the enemy gets to decide where our vision falls. It’s up to us to look to Christ and from there, we’ll see so much more. For, who sees the horizon when they’re staring at the ground?

Look up. See Him. Praise Him.

Father God,
Your awesomeness exceeds the ability of any human language to quantify. Your love for us is greater than we’ll ever know in this phase of our existence. Your sacrifice for us on Good Friday goes far beyond anything any of us could ever endure. For all of that, I want to thank you, praise you, hold onto you and beg you to always hold onto us.

I say these things in your Son’s holy and precious name,

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Father God,

You created DNA strands, black holes and little girl’s smiles. From the Grand Canyon to Alpha Centauri to the way my son’s laughter moves the air molecules to my ear in such a manner that the corners of my mouth can’t help but curl upward every time I hear it. The width and breadth of all you’ve created is too vast for my simple human mind to grasp. But the more I try the more in awe of You I am.

Your love is all consuming and I have to admit I fall short of deserving it weekly, daily, hourly. I covet things, grow angry with others, withhold love and engage in more sins than I’m even aware of. Please forgive me, Father. Please.

I want to thank you for all that you do for us, every moment of every day. From the air we breathe to the roofs over our heads to the love of family and friends to the ultimate parental sacrifice you made for us so long ago. Each day, no matter how much we grumble and complain, You meet our needs. We don’t deserve it, can’t earn it and fall short of it, yet you persevere and offer it to us infinitely. Thank you.

Today, Father, I would humbly ask that you soften the hearts of everyone we all come in contact with as we move through the next 24 hours. That you would lift the scales from their eyes so they can see Your Glory through us. That each child of yours reading this prayer might bring everyone they encounter one step closer to coming home with You.

This world has far too many unsaved souls who diligently resist salvation. Today, please let us all save as many of them as possible. Let today be a day that impacts the eternal lives of more than we’ll ever know with Your Grace and Love.

I ask that you carry this request through this Sunday, so that Churches all over the world bring record numbers of Your children back home. And carry that wave of everlasting life forward into the eternal future we all have waiting for us, thanks entirely to Your Love.

I ask all this in Your Son’s precious and Holy name.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pride Vs Humility

Watching God work always sends shivers up my spine. For instance, I recently did a little self-examination and found myself grappling with character flaws that, to my earthly singular viewpoint, seemed unrelated other than they arose from within me.

Pride and anger were the two main flaws I found myself focusing on. It’s no secret I had anger issues for most of my youth. Thankfully, with God’s help, I got them under control a long time ago, but every once in awhile the red tide seeps up through the floorboards.

A few weeks ago I got incredibly angry with two business associates: one for damaging behavior towards me and my family - the other for damaging behavior towards others we do business with regularly. Maybe one was selfish anger and one was righteous anger, but both weren’t good expressions of healthy emotions.
Be angry, and do not sin.- Psalm 4:4
At first, I wasn’t so bothered by the fact I’d gotten angry in the first place, but more so because of how fast I did and how powerful the emotion was as it washed over me. One resulted in an outburst on the phone in front of my son. While he didn’t even seem to notice, it really hit me hard that I was sending a message to him that it was okay to be visibly angry and borderline out of control. While I won’t go so far as to say I’m a terrible father for doing that, it was certainly far from my best moment in Dad-ville.

Another flaw I’ve been wrestling with for far longer is pride. To a major extent, after countless hours of self-examination over the course of many years, I think my pride is more overcompensation for a poor sense of self worth. Both of my parents sent the message when I was very young that I was worthless and no matter how the rest of my life shapes up, that little boy inside me will always feel worthless.

To combat that, I’ve strived over the years to overachieve in ways that are far from mundane. Instead of going and getting a normal 9-to-5 job like my peers, I joined a band and started touring and recording. Certainly that would prove my worth, right? When that came to an end, I sought another route to stardom through writing. Between the two paths, I have achieved a fair amount of success. Sadly, I forget from time to time that the success was given to me by God. I didn’t earn it.

While my earthly parents devalued me, my Heavenly Father was trying to teach me I mattered to Him.

My beautiful wife and wonderful in-laws always speak love into my life, which has shored up a lot of the damage done early on, but there are times I allow that to fuel my pride, instead of building my confidence.

In examining both of these flaws, I’ve also spent a fair amount of time trying to cultivate a sense of selflessness. After all, it’s not about me… it’s about Him.
Disperse the rage of your wrath; Look on everyone [who is] proud, and humble him.-Job 40:11
Before I get too far off track, I’ll circle back to the opening and re-iterate how watching God work really tingles my toes.

In the middle of this self-examination, my father-in-law told me his small group, wonderful people all, were doing a new study called From Pride to Humility. I asked about it, told him I believed pride was a big problem for me and asked if I could check out his book. Well, he went one step further and brought me a copy.

So, I sat down and started reading it. When I came to the section on how pride manifests in our lives, it really convicted me.

Here are some of the 30 symptoms of living with too much pride (which in essence is living selfishly):

•    Anger – A person most often becomes angry because his/her expectations are not met.
•    Perfectionism – People who strive for everything to be perfect do it for their own recognition.
•    Talking too much – Proud people talk too much because they believe what they have to say is more important than what others have to say.
•    Seeking independence or control – often rigid, stubborn, headstrong and intimidating
•    Sarcastic or degrading – Belittling others is usually a way of raising oneself above the rest.
•    Voicing opinions when not asked – voicing these things without consideration for what others want/think/feel.
•    Minimizing/maximizing sin – What I did wasn’t so bad compared to what you did.
•    Impatience/irritability with others – Concerned that others might ruins my plans or schedule.
•    Not having close relationships – Thinking the trouble of close relationships outweighs the benefits, proud people often see themselves as so self-sufficient they have no need for close relationships.

Those are just a few that seemed to ring true in my life at one point or another, and often all at the same time. It’s interesting that I never considered any of these issues to be pride related, but they all stem from a variety of things rooted in selfishness.
“I don’t want to hear ‘Not so well done, my unfaithful servant…’” –Mark Driscoll.
Fast forward to the section on humility and sadly, I don’t see nearly as many points resonating in my life.

•    Recognizing God’s character – this person trusts God far more than a proud person.
•    Serving – Humble people are on the lookout for ways to serve and assist others.

While there are several others in the humility list that ring true from time to time, they don’t hit me when reading them with the same truth I feel when looking over the pride ones, which might even tie into another issue of pride:

•    Focusing on your lack of gifts or abilities – Some proud people may not come across as proud at all, because they’re too busy focusing on their shortcomings. This is still pride, as focusing on one’s self over focusing on Christ or others is selfish, not selfless.

One thing I can commit to, however, is praying God continues His work in me, which strips me of my pride issues, fills in the holes with humility and helps me to strive to always be selfless, always growing more like Christ and always shining his love in humility, generosity, caring and service to others.

If you could take a moment to pray I overcome these flaws, that would be great, but I’d rather you pray that we all embrace the humility Christ embodies. After all, it’s not about me, it’s about Him.

And, to take the pride/humility issue one step further, I’ll point out how this whole post has been all about me. ;)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Prayers wanted

For those of you who are the praying type (which I hope is everyone reading this), I'd like to ask you to lift up young Nadia James in prayer.

Nadia's parents, Eddie and Jeanie, were Angie and my best friends in Phoenix and while we've grown apart since we moved away, we still love them.

A few days ago, we heard through the grapevine that their beautiful little girl Nadia was sick, and yesterday it was confirmed that she has acute Leukemia. Please pray for her and her family. When she gets to Heaven, she'll have a new and perfect body, but in the meantime she must overcome the flaws of her earthly body.

For more on what's going on, so you can pray specifically, earnestly and humbly, here's a link to a blog her parents have created to detail the journey:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sometimes Bad is Good

“Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”

I’m not sure, but I’d be willing to believe that’s the most often asked question in regards to our Lord. We’ve all wondered why God would let a good person die young. Why children are stricken with disease, why people suffer mental and physical abuse at the hands of others, why corporations can take our livelihood, our money, our homes and our sense of security.

Well, the answer to that is greatly reliant on the question itself. First things first, there are no “good people”. Sure, my wife’s grandmother is possibly the sweetest woman I’ve ever met. Sure my son makes me smile so big I think my face can’t handle it. Sure I’ve witnessed people giving selflessly to the point of injuring themselves. But, we’re all still sinners. We all do things, daily, that separate us from God’s holiness.

So, does that mean God just brushes us off as bad people, deserving of the bad things that happen in this life? Ha! Not at all.

God loves us with a perfect love that far exceeds anything we could ever imagine while saddled with these flesh and blood bodies.

Ephesians 2:4-5 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,
made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

But, what about the times when we don’t feel so loved? Is God holding back his love, like we sometimes do when we’re angry with a loved one? Have you ever realized you were acting in an unloving manner to a member of your family or one of your friends? How about a random stranger? I’m ashamed to admit I have… far too often. It’s this bad behavior we engage in that can erroneously form our opinion of how God behaves.

Thankfully, God never acts like us in that manner. He NEVER stops loving us.

So, then, back to the question of why do bad things happen?

We need to remember God is good, all the time not just when He feels like it. He isn’t good only when we think we deserve it. His love isn’t restricted to the moments when we’ve done some random act of kindness or treated others as Christ treats us.

God’s love is all the time. 24/7. Eternally. God’s love never stops for coffee, steps out for minute, takes a nap or closes for lunch. He’s never too busy, too distracted, too overwhelmed or too mired down in circumstances to love us unconditionally. Ever.

God’s love can’t be any more complete, any more “always on,” or any more permanent. So, with that in mind, we need to compartmentalize “bad things” into two categories. The first being bad things with no apparent upside. The second being bad things that lead to good things, kind of like the pain you feel after a good work out.

The bad things with no apparent upside can come from our own poor decisions, which are more consequences of our free will than a lack of God’s love. It’s not God’s fault we got burned when we stuck our hand in the fire.

They can also come from spiritual warfare, as the enemy strives to dishearten you, attack you and drag you down while planting things in your mind that blame God. Think of the initial question “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?” By its very nature, that question is blaming God for the circumstances, even though the blame for them might fall on Satan’s shoulder’s or our own.

But, one thing God loves to do is take Satan’s trifling and turn it into something good. For instance, my beautiful wife recently gained a lot of weight. I’m sure the enemy was overjoyed at her pain. But, God turned it back on him, giving her the strength to slim down and then using her weight loss to inspire a host of others to fight back with their own physical struggles.

Something bad, turned into something good.

When faced with “bad things” always remember: God is good ALL the time.

The second aspect of bad things is those with an upside that we might not see at first. These can come about from a number of things. For instance, as my good friend Steve pointed out the other day, when our children get sick, it’s a necessary “bad thing” that builds their immune system. God is pruning their immunities so they can grow stronger.

The term “pruning” sounds painful. The first time I encountered it in a spiritual sense, it was brought to my attention in the form of gardening, where a gardener chops off branches. Consider a rose bush, full and lush. The gardener must periodically chop off so many branches that it ends up looking small and pitiful. If someone chopped that much off of me I’d be in agony, crying out to God asking why He let this happen to me. But, by the next season, the bush grows back, fuller, stronger and more beautiful than ever. And, so do we.

Pruning is painful, but necessary.

While a lot of bad things have answers and eventual upsides, we must also remember that there’s no place in the bible that promises us a wonderful life while on Earth. There are no prophesies that speak of things getting exponentially better before we move on to the next life. Nowhere in scripture is there a single passage that unequivocally states life will be constant joy and freedom from sorrow. But, it does tell us how we can have an eternal perspective, that reduces earthly sorrows to what they really are: a momentary blip on our eternal radar.

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

In fact, that promise is laid out in the context of God’s eternal love for us. Interesting how He ties it all together, isn’t it?

Going forward, when bad things happen I’m going to make a great effort to look for the upside. And, if I can’t find one, I’ll refocus on the eternal horizon, because there will be a time with no sorrow, no pain, no “bad things” and when that comes, all this will be nothing more than pruning of my eternal spirit.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Never Stop Learning

I encountered something on a work related web site today that made me flinch. It was a rant from someone who is very worldly, very broken and very hostile to the gospel. Oddly enough, reading it was like a slap in the face and I caught myself physically wincing more than once. It's strange how words can affect us…

Well, after sitting there for a minute processing what I’d read, it occurred to me I needed to wash my mental mouth out with some Godly Listerine, as in, find something biblical to read in order to replace the bad taste with something sweeter.

So, I pulled up an interesting page on Pastor Max Lucado’s site and dove in.

It made me forget about the other site quickly, as I’m enamored with Pastor Lucado’s wordsmithing (Yes, I’ll say it, I have a writer’s man-crush on him).

The article is about studying the bible.

After reading through, it made me think of two different types of people I don’t quite understand.

1)    Those who have never read the Word for themselves yet assault it with a zeal that gives the impression the Bible itself has injured them grievously.
2)    Those who profess to love God but never pick the book up. Never take time to study it.

Now, as I detailed earlier, we should never judge others, but I’m far more puzzled by people who judge things they know nothing substantial about. How can someone condemn the Bible and all of Christianity, if they’ve never read the book?

How can someone claim to love God, yet fail to take time to learn about him? I love science fiction and you can rest assured I’ve spent countless hours immersed in it. I love my wife and have studied her since the moment I knew she existed. Could I truly say I love God if I spent less time learning about him?

Before I go further, I’d like to let you read a few bits of Pastor Lucado’s words for yourself.

The Bible is a peculiar book. Words crafted in another language. Deeds done in a distant era. Events recorded in a far-off land. Counsel offered to a foreign people. This is a peculiar book.

It’s surprising that anyone reads it. It’s too old. Some of its writings date back five thousand years. It’s too bizarre. The book speaks of incredible floods, fires, earthquakes, and people with supernatural abilities. It’s too radical. The Bible calls for undying devotion to a Carpenter who called Himself God’s Son.

Logic says this book shouldn’t survive. Too old, too bizarre, too radical.

The Bible has been banned, burned, scoffed, and ridiculed. Scholars have mocked it as foolish. Kings have branded it as illegal. A thousand times over the grave has been dug and the dirge has begun, but somehow the Bible never stays in the grave. Not only has it survived, it has thrived. It is the single most popular book in all of history. It has been the best-selling book in the world for three hundred years!
Let me pause right there and let that sink in. Moby Dick? Didn't sell as well. Huck Finn? Not even close. Harry Potter? Are you kidding me? As a writer with dozens of books in print, I’m keenly aware of sales charts, trends and the hit or miss nature of the written word. Knowing the bible has been the best seller since before anyone bothered tracking such things is a true testament to how powerful it is. No one on Earth could pull off that kind of sales campaign, even if an army of the best publicists ever born were hired to make it so.
But how do we use the Bible? Countless copies of Scripture sit unread on bookshelves and nightstands simply because people don’t know how to read it. What can we do to make the bible real in our lives?
This is a head scratcher for me. It’s as if some people think they’re Godly by osmosis. “If I have a big bible on my bookshelf, surely God will let me into Heaven.” Sadly, it doesn’t work like that. Owning a bible doesn’t make you a Christ follower anymore than owning a med school textbook makes you a brain surgeon. Thankfully, though, God offers us all a degree in Christianity that we don’t need to earn, but we do need to ask for and pursue. Pastor Lucado goes on to tell us how:
Before reading the Bible, pray. Invite God to speak to you. Don’t go to Scripture looking for your idea; go searching for His.
Every parent reading this knows the need we all feel to teach our children. How much stronger is that with God and his children (that's you and me!)? Whether you have kids or not, we can all benefit from more Biblical wisdom. Ask, and ye shall receive.
The truly happy people are those who carefully study God’s perfect law that makes people free, and they continue to study it. They do not forget what they heard, but they obey what God’s teaching says. Those who do this will be made happy -James 1:25.
For more on Pastor Lucado’s bible studying tips, check out this link.

Now, go, get off the internet and go read your bible.

You Know What Your Problem Is?

I don’t.

I can tell you what my problem is, however. In fact, I can tell you a lot of problems I have.

The one I want to explore today is my problem with looking at other people’s problems. When I was a kid, I remember putting my full trust in a friend, only to have him let me down. My mom, in her own way, was trying to turn it into a teachable moment and told me “You put too much trust in other people.”

All my life, I’ve been like that; friends, relatives, businesses, landlords, other church members. And, all my life people have let me down. On the surface that sounds like I picked a lot of wrong people to trust, or my life has been full of bad people. The reality of it is that I just shouldn’t put all that faith in other people. Only God is deserving of 100% faith and trust.

That sounds harsh too, doesn’t it? No one out there, not you, not me, not some of the people I love the most in this world are worthy of 100% blind faith. That’s not a judgment on those people, or myself, but putting that sort of trust in people opens the door to pass judgment. We’re all flawed, we all drop the ball here and there, it’s just the nature of being human.

My friend Tom said last night “You should never put yourself on a pedestal, because as soon as you’re on one, you’ve set yourself up to fall off of it.”

My mind immediately flipped that to the thought that as soon as I put anyone else on a pedestal, I’ve set them up for a fall. And, honestly, that’s not fair or showing them God’s love.

Here’s how it always seems to roll out; the details are unique in each circumstance, but the overall series of events is the same, time and again:

•    I meet someone, get to know them, begin to really like them and elevate them in my mind to a place only Christ deserves.
•    Inevitably, they disappoint me. Not through any maliciousness, but simply because we’re both human and often my expectations don’t jive with theirs or they simply drop the ball, as we all do.
•    Little voices in my mind, (you hear them too, I’m guessing), start pointing out that persons flaws and fallacies. Suddenly, I’ve set myself up as their judge. “I can’t believe they did/didn’t do that!” “What’s wrong with them?” “I would never…” and so it goes.

Pretty soon, I’ve taken someone God placed in my life for a reason, wronged them and dishonored God by setting myself up as their judge. Sure, it wasn’t my intention to do that, but it happens, time and again.

That’s what my problem is… or at least one of them.

As the saying goes, recognizing the problem is half the battle. So, here’s how I hope to win this battle: Grace. God is trusting me to do things He wants done that only I can do (and He’s trusting you in the same way). But, when I drop the ball, God doesn’t sit back and say “What an idiot! I can’t believe I was stupid enough to trust that bozo! I should have known Mike would screw that up!”

Thankfully, God pulls me into His lap, offers consoling thoughts and, in His own way, turns it into a teachable moment. It’s taken me a long time to learn from those moments, but I think, with His help and more effort on my part, I’ll put this problem behind me and learn to treat everyone as they are: Children of God saddled with a sinful human existence.

Next time I engage with someone, I need to remember they’re one of God’s kids. Not God, not Jesus. Even Peter dropped the ball when he denied Christ three times. If a guy who walked with our Lord for three years stumbles, why in the world would I ever think someone who hasn’t would do better?

This also ties into the old “Judge you on your actions, but judge me by my intentions” flaw I have. Honestly, I’ve come to recognize this as a universal sin: something everyone I know struggles with daily. But, that’s a discussion for another time.

For now, I’m going to strive to keep others off my mental pedestals, so that when they do fall, they don’t have so far to go before they hit the ground. When I think about it, I would never sit my son on a wall and walk away, because I know he would fall and get hurt. So, why would I put anyone else up there, knowing they’ll eventually fall?

Matthew 23:9 And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Moderation of Indulgence

We entertained a nice couple last night. Two very good people who sought our counsel in regards to Angie’s recent weight loss. During the conversation, Angie illustrated her views on gluttony and while I was very well aware of them, and the sound, God honoring logic behind them, I don’t know that it had ever clicked so well in my mind as it did last night.

The early church identified seven deadly sins: Lust, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride and… yes, Gluttony.

Gluttony, as defined by Merriam-Webster is excess in eating or drinking, greedy or excessive indulgence.

I think we can also expand that definition to encompass anything from cooking to video games to scrap booking or sports; anything that takes more of our time than is necessary and/or healthy. Overindulgence is to do anything to an excessive degree. Anything.

It’s pretty obvious God doesn’t want us overindulging, especially in light of passages such as:
James 5:5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self‑indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.
By indulging in overeating we:

·         Devote a significant portion of our attention to food. Attention that could be better spent in the Word, or doing His will. 

·         Devote a larger than necessary portion of our time and resources to food; time and resources better spent on Godly things.

·         Harm our bodies, and decrease our body’s ability to perform as God designed it to. By harming our bodies, we drag down our spirit and emotional lives, for the spirit is anchored to the flesh, and if the flesh is already weak, how much weaker does it become when subjected to overindulgence?

·         By dragging down our spirit and emotions, we become less effective for God, missing the opportunities to do things for Him at our full potential. God puts others in our path that we might shine His love on them, but how much are we shortchanging those people if we’re not at 100% because we overindulge in food?

·         Our weakened body, mind and spirit become easy prey for those engaging in spiritual warfare. If God designed us to be spiritual prize fighters, yet we turn our bodies and spirits into those of couch potatoes, how easy is it for a fit enemy to defeat us?

Like everything sin related it’s a slippery slope that begins with baby missteps. No one wakes up one morning deciding to get physically, emotionally a spiritually unfit, instead we think, “It won’t hurt to grab some fast food for breakfast” Or “I’ve had a tough week, I deserve some comfort food” Or “We all have to eat, right?” or “one more chip won’t hurt anything…”

From there, it moves from “just this once” to “Well, I’ve done it before…” to “That’s what I do…” and pretty soon, our bodies, minds and souls are in worse shape than we care to admit or even realize. We’re soldiers in the army of the Lord trying to fight a war with broken down, poorly maintained equipment while telling ourselves we deserve this, selling ourselves on the notion that overindulging in food is a reward. A reward our society sells us daily. And we buy that sales pitch willingly.

I understand overindulgence more than most, I would guess. As a child, I was forced to endure hunger and often a lack of the creature comforts many of my peers took for granted. What this led to was a desire to escape my perception that my life was so much less than those around me by diving into a beer bottle. From there, I swam deeper into the waters of alcoholism and did so as if my ability to drink anyone I knew under the table was a badge of honor: Sure I didn’t have a nice car or awesome home life, but I could down a fifth of Vodka and still beat a sobriety test. Pretty soon, I didn’t drink for fun, or drink to blow off steam, I drank because it’s just what I did. I was a drinker; no longer a guy who drank, but a drinker… then a drunk.

After my awesome wife came into my life and I put that aside, I simply traded one overindulgence for another and turned into an eater; a full blown foodaholic.

From society’s point of view, I’d overcome this terrible vice of alcohol and straightened my life out.

From God’s point of view, I’d merely replaced one deadly sin with another.

Thankfully, I’ve overcome that too. Well, let me rephrase that, God has overcome that in my life. Without Him, nothing is done that has been done.

So, my question to you is: Are you moderating your indulgence? Or, are you worshipping at the altar of a false idol and rationalizing it as a reward for yourself, a deserved pleasure, as “just what you do,” “something I enjoy” another “where’s the harm in that” endeavor?

Maybe you spend too much time focused on food. Too much energy invested in a hobby. Too much time taken away from God and given to an indulgence that might be legal in man’s world, but by the very nature of your relationship with it, is illegal in the Kingdom.

If you don’t think this applies to you in any way, that’s awesome. You rock. But, before you decide it does, pray that God would show you whether your thinking on this matter is correct. If He shows you otherwise, turn it over to Him and watch as He transforms you into the son or daughter He had in mind when He knit you in your mother’s womb.
Philippians 3:20-21 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. 

In a World of Unbelievers, Do You Live Like You Believe?

This is something I struggle with from time to time. I used to be much worse about it, but thanks to the grace of God, I think I have a much better handle on it these days. Still, there are times when I slide back into my old ways, and by doing so, I'm sending a message to some that the gospel is uninviting.

Double Standard- by Bayless Conley
I would like for you to read again the Scripture we read yesterday, Titus 2:9-10,

Exhort bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well pleasing in all things, not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.

We make the gospel unattractive when we live contrary to our beliefs.  The gospel becomes unsavory and unattractive to those outside the church when our lives do not match up to what we say we believe.

Take the verses we read here.  Paul says, in effect, that we make the gospel unsavory when we pilfer (which means stealing items of small value) or talk back to our boss. 

You do not adorn the gospel when you show lack of respect for your boss, rip the company off, use the phones and computers at your job for personal business, take extra long lunch breaks, steal paper, take staplers, steal pens, or whatever you can get your hands on.

You should not dress the gospel in rags and then pass out tracts to all your coworkers or invite your boss to church.

This truth does not just apply to work.  Do not live contrary to your beliefs anywhere.  Do not live a double standard at home.  If you do, it will turn your kids away from wanting to serve Christ.  If you are into sports and you curse a lot, cheat, or have a bad temper, you dress the gospel in rags. 
In 2 Corinthians 3:2 Paul states that, You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men.

The truth is, we are the only Bible some people will ever read.  They are looking at our lives.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Leader of the Back

It’s very true some people are born to lead. While there are a handful of books on leadership that detail how leaders are built, not made, the overwhelming evidence when examining a multitude of leaders show they all share a number of personality traits and gifting, with rare exception. So the term “born leader” is certainly not a misnomer.

However, not all who are born to lead are meant to lead in every circumstance. A leader who excels at vision casting may not be the right one to lead “mundane” day to day affairs.
A leader who excels at organization and administration may not be the perfect choice to launch a new initiative. The leadership style really needs to achieve justification with the task at hand for harmony to exist between the leader, the led and the path they all tread.

In some cases, it’s simply better for a leader to be led, depending on the circumstances and their gifting or even depending on what season they’re experiencing in life. For sake of conversation, I’ll call this “following leadership.”

What a great boon to the leader, if there are other leaders following along. If things get rough and the leader needs help, following leaders in the group can step up and help keep the boat from taking on water. If a following leader excels at encouragement or discernment, and the leading leader leaves, comes under a life storm or simply goes off the rails, the group or organization is far better equipped to weather the uncertainties they soon face.

I know this because I’ve had a ringside seat to an inspiring act of following leadership from my beautiful wife. An organization she’s part of has started to go off the rails lately. Not due to the fault of any one person, or necessarily the fault of the actual leader; it’s more under the heading of “life is messy.”

As the organization has gone sideways, they’ve found themselves not being led at all. During this time, however, my wife has reached into her grab bag of spiritual gifts and brought forth some exceptionally wise and God honoring leadership for the other members of the organization.

She sought wise counsel before acting; consulted the Word before deciding. She prayed on the decisions placed before her and then presented her findings and feelings to the other members of the group in love, firmly founded on faith that God would honor the group as long as the group honored Him. It's been educational and inspiring to watch. Especially since I've had a ringside seat to witness far too many "leaders" who only know how to do it wrong, time and again, in the course of my life.

Those types of leaders believe they should lead by their own will, their own understanding and their own whims. They believe the organization exists only to act as an extension of themselves, only to achieve their desires and strive for their own edification. This is why so many organizations in our world are ineffective in achieving their goals. And why so many ultimately fail.

This problem is exponentially worse if the organization has one or more following leaders who feel the same way. This can, and will, literally tear a group apart.

A true leader leads by placing their own thoughts, feelings and desires to the side and applying God’s desires to the task at hand. Especially when they’re engaged in following leadership.

Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding

While I’ve never been in a position where I have to always follow my wife’s lead, as I watch her lead from behind, it fills me with confidence that should that day come, she’ll lead us exactly where God wants us. Every time.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Freight Train’s Coming – Get Off The Tracks!

Angie and I watched an excellent message from Pastor Mark Driscoll yesterday called Heaven and Hell. In the message, Pastor Mark discussed God’s wrath and how despite the fact that He is the God of love, there are many who live in the path of his wrath.

Angie and I took Zach for a walk a few hours later and we ended up walking down some train tracks, due in part to Zach’s current fascination with trains. The whole time we walked, the idea of God’s wrath hurtling down the tracks at all of us ran through my mind.

When I was a teenager, a friend and I were walking down some train tracks in Maryland late one Friday night. I remember hearing a small noise behind us and turned to see what it was, expecting to see a stray cat, dog or something equally mundane. What met my eyes was a fully loaded freight train, less than twenty feet behind us and coming fast.

I instinctively jumped off the tracks and yelled for my friend to do the same. For some reason, he didn’t react and stayed on the tracks. Thankfully, God had blessed me with a fair amount of athleticism and I jumped back onto the tracks just in time to pull my friend to safety as the train hurtled by, missing us by only a few feet.

It’s hard not to look back on my life and see the analogy there. For a long time I walked down the tracks, completely oblivious to the fact that God’s wrath was bearing down on me. Thankfully, a few people in my life were blessed with the spiritual athleticism to pull me out of the train’s path. But, there are some who refuse to get out of the way.

It’s like some people are determined to get run over when the freight train roars past. And, be assured, it’s coming whether you or I want to believe it or not.

Later on last night, we watched the first half of Pastor Max Lucado’s 3:16 video (a companion series to his book of the same name). Pastor Max unpacked John 3:16 in several ways, looking at each keyword in the verse.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

God doesn’t want any of us to live on the tracks. He doesn’t want any of us to get run over. In fact, his need to snatch us from the path of wrath is so strong, he sent his only son to die a horrible death in order to pull us out of harm’s way.

As we walk down the tracks, all we need to do is look over and we’ll see Jesus reaching for us, ready to pull us to safety. Hopefully, if you're reading this, you've already taken His hand.

But, maybe someone we know is like my old teenage friend, oblivious to the danger, even after we’ve jumped aside. Rest assured, Jesus wants us to get their attention and pull them over to Him.

Sure, God can do anything, but the sad truth is some people don’t trust Him enough to take His offer of salvation. But, maybe those people trust you or me enough to allow us to bridge the gap. Maybe, we can model our trust in him by stepping out in faith and always modeling a Christ-like testimony, so that our friends, relatives and acquaintances take notice. Maybe we can talk to them, when the time is right, and let them know what's hurtling down the tracks. Maybe we can pray that God would soften their hearts and provide us with the opening to tell them about God's love. Maybe we can get them to take His hand.

I sure hope so.

The other option is to stand and watch as they get run over by a freight train that’s heading no where anyone wants to spend eternity.