Thursday, December 27, 2012

Change One Word - Change One Year

New Year’s resolutions are upon us. In the past I have attempted great changes such, “Become fluent in a language other than English.” I have given up trying to be fluent in English.
Then I changed the nature of the resolutions to be small actions committed on a regular basis such as, “Read through the One Year Bible” with which I was a bit more successful.
I just read something that is so simple I am embarrassed I did not think of it myself. Keep Believing Ministries suggests all we need to do is remove one word from our vocabulary: “Can’t.” We use it all the time, don’t we? We say, “I can’t lose weight.” “I just can’t seem to save money.” “I try and try but I can’t find the time to read the Bible.” “After what she did, I can’t forgive her.” “No matter how hard I try, I can’t change.”
Now for you literalists I know there are appropriate and functional times to say “can’t.” “I Can’t save myself,” is a fine example. However, on the main, this little word dulls motivation, shifts responsibility, and, in its most insidious use, denies reality.
When I say “I can’t" – especially with reference to the problems of life – I am just giving up without an effort. Without suiting up and walking onto the field I have admitted defeat without even trying, because, after all, I have decided, “I can’t.”
I am not suggesting we become the little engine that could, that does not always turn out to be possible. I am suggesting that we eliminate the word “can’t” from our vocabulary this year.
Paul writes in Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” When I put the divine “if” in this passage I am able to remove the “can’t.” The divine “if” refers to placing “if it is God’s will.” God’s will is that everyone come to Him and those who are in Him bring them. This year you can do everything God intends for you to do. No matter how hard, no matter how difficult, no matter how impossible things may seem right now. If God wants you to do it, in 2013 you can!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Out of the Dark

As I reflect on the tragic and terrifying mass murder of the most innocent of our world, I cannot add to the power of this prayer offered by well known Pastor & Author, Max Lucado:
“Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas.  But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod’s jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty.  Dark with violence. Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene. Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won’t you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger. This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.”
Hold your loved ones closer. Repair relationships quicker. Reconcile with anyone you have hurt sooner. Few hurts done to you will be healed by breaking relationship with another and much joy will come to you through forgiveness.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Is Happy Holidays really that bad?

This piece was heard on National Public Radio's Morning Edition on November 2, 1988: "In 1958, America's first commercial jet air service began with the flight of the Boeing 707. A month after that first flight, a traveler on a piston-engine, propeller-driven DC-6 airliner struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger. The passenger happened to be a Boeing engineer. The traveler asked the engineer about the new jet aircraft, whereupon the engineer began speaking at length about the extensive testing Boeing had done on the jet engine before bringing it into commercial service. He recounted Boeing's experience with engines, from the B-17 to the B-52. When his traveling companion asked him if he himself had yet flown on the new 707 jet airliner, the engineer replied, "I think I'll wait until it's been in service awhile."
I share this old story to remind us enthusiastic conversation is not enough. Clear headed understanding of the basis for our belief is not enough. Involvement in helping other believers in their understanding is not enough. An active faith requires we put our lives where our mouth and mind are.
I mention this because so many believers become animated about the “Happy Holidays” greeting that has replaced “Merry Christmas” in the marketplace of America. I confess my dismay at the loss of that tradition, but, if I insist on the tradition while berating cashiers, pushing into line, attempting to have the most expansive Holiday Party, then my mouth is writing a check that my life is not able to cash. I have a suggestion – when an opportunity comes up to voice our passionate belief, before opening our mouths, let’s first give thought to an action which may precede or follow the comment which speaks for us the love Christ brought to earth over 2000 years ago.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Are you an Enthusiast?

I have found the holiday season to be a time when many Christians feel out of touch with people around them. As followers of Jesus we truly want to be focused on glorious gift of Immanuel – God with use. The problem too often is that we do not seem to feel “God in us.”
The Greek word for “God in us” is the word enthousiasmos which has as its base the word entheos, or, possessed by God. The more common word was enthousiazein which translates “to be inspired by a god.” Now it is true that the our English word “enthusiasm” no longer carries with it the deeper reason for the, “Great excitement for or interest in a subject or cause,” [The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000] but we can still reclaim it.
Writing to a very unenthusiastic church scattered and thinly spread over the world the Apostle Peter writes,
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. {7} Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. {8} Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. {9} Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. {10} And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. {11} To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen (1 Pet 5:6-11).
I take five habits of the enthusiast from this text:
Develop the habit of being a Team Player – “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (6). We are not in this alone and cannot maintain our enthusiasm without affirmation from others. Your service to LHCC as leaders of Growth Groups is an exceptional gift to our members who may find their enthusiasm waning this month.
Develop the habit of Trusting God Completely – “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (7). Just as I can move much faster and with more agility when I loose a few pounds, so, you and I as followers of Jesus have a lighter heart when we let God have our worries and frustrations.
Develop the habit of seeing Sin as Evil – “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (8). Sin doesn’t sneak up on us – Satan is so sure of his prey that he brags from the bill boards, tv stations, movie theaters and even the places we shop and eat. I find I have to identify the activity I am about to take part in as sin before I get to it. “Deliver us from evil” was part of the prayer our Lord gave His followers for a good reason. We have to get ahead of the Evil One.
Develop the habit of being Accountable to the church – “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (9). Just knowing that I am joined in my desire to filled with God rather than the focus of this world by millions of other followers, many facing far more worries than I, gives me another reason to be enthusiastic rather than apathetic.
Develop the habit of Glorifying God – “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen” (10-11). When my first words in the morning honor God and welcome Him in my life I know the last words of the day will be in thanksgiving for his providence. Now that is the way to face each and every day with enthusiasm!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Encouraging Today

Hebrews 3:13, calls on all followers of Jesus to “…encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
When is it never “today?”
I remember my brother Bob, the youngest in our family, arguing with Dad over “tomorrow.” Bob had said he would do what Mom had asked “tomorrow.” Dad challenged him with, “But tomorrow never comes.” For five minutes – that was when Mom called a halt to the circular conversation – Dad would ask when is tomorrow to which Bob would say, “tomorrow” and Dad would say, “Then tomorrow will be today so you should do this today because today was tomorrow yesterday.” Obviously too much for a five year old to grasp in his very concrete world, but, Paul gives us another conundrum when he asks, “When is today not today?”
Today is always, today. We may have been encouraging yesterday, but, that is not today. We may plan to be encouraging tomorrow, but, we are called to be encouraging today. So when tomorrow becomes today, we will have been encouraging yesterday, which right now is today. I think I need an aspirin, and, a word of encouragement for someone in my life. Maybe that is why in 1 Thessalonians 5:10-11 Pail writes, “He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
When we are encouraging because it is today, then we can say, “I am going to encourage you just as I have been encouraging you.” Ah, that sounds much better.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dealing with the stress of the holidays

I have discovered that there is no deeper wound than the one that comes as a result of your greatest passion. I have mentioned many times in the past 20 years that the holiday season lends itself to the ‘perfect emotional storm.’ Putting these two together, especially for leaders, makes this time of year a time we can expect to feel the highest highs and lowest lows. So I want to share a couple ideas with you. 
General Ferdinand Foch, regarded as a World War I hero, sent the following dispatch to his superiors at a time when his army was in deep trouble: Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I attack.
Foch's words illustrate courage instead of fear, faith instead of capitulation, and resolve instead of paralysis. His counter-intuitive counter-attack successfully thwarted a strategic enemy advance. We can do the same.
The desire to be all God has called us to be while everyone around us is struggling with ‘too muchitis” (too much fun, too much spending, too much celebrating, and, too much recovery from celebrating) often lead us to one of two options. We could circle the wagons and pull in on ourselves or charge. Jesus chose both at different times.
He often went off by himself to pray which is a model we want to us even more than usual these next couple months. He also charged ahead with his mission, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).
Be resolute in your personal mission to help yourself and your family to understand the reason for this season and to also get out and 'be' the reason for this season. Ask God for His guidance and grace to heal your hurts no matter how deep they may go.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bold in All Seasons

In each year we experience different seasons. Typically we call them Spring, Summer, Fall, and, Winter. In Zimbabwe, my home as a child and later with Judi as a mission family, there were only two seasons, wet and dry. Here in California one wag as commented we have four seasons, fire, floods, earthquakes, and, riots. Our days are planned according to the annual seasons of our local. As I write this I am preparing the sermon series to be presented during Christmas of this year and one to be presented for the New Year. Seasons help us be prepared.
Life too has its seasons that go from birth to death. These seasons seem too often to catch us unaware. It takes an experience to cause us to see our sweet infant has become a demon two year old. The first time we cannot read the menu in a restaurant we realize we have entered middle age and need “cheater” glasses or grow longer arms. But, the seasons that catch us most by surprise are the seasons of tragedy, hardship, separation, and, loss.
These seasons we seem to fear when we would be better served by preparing for them. These seasons we ask God to remove rather than accepting them as seasons through which we will learn, grow stronger, and even, benefit from. While God has given us seasons He did not give us fear of those seasons. Paul, in his last days, reminded Timothy that he had given us power to get through these seasons. He had given us love so we could share these seasons and not bare them alone. He had given us common sense so we could figure out how to use them for our strength, security, and, peace (2 Timothy 1:7).
Fear causes us to be self preserving, while God asks us to rely on His Spirit of power, love and common sense - with no safety net. I want a promise of no pain, that is my safety net. I want a promise of financial security, another safety net. Maybe you want a new job, house, degree, child, or, healing – those would be your safety nets. Whatever your safety net is, it is not enough to take you through your seasons ready to build on that last season.
It is when we tell God how we want a season to end that we become the most separated from the very power given by God to see us through the season. When we do not open our hands to God so he can take what He wants and give us what we need then our seasons become a way of life most miserable. My sister Pamela Markey stood at the bedside of her youngest child whose prognosis from a severe head injury was bleak. She told me it was not until she gave him to God did she find peace and the strength to face the coming challenges. He lived.
A decade later she sat by the bedside of her husband knowing she had to do the same thing again. Again she found peace and the strength to go through the many problems in getting George home to Indiana from Kyrgyzstan for special treatment. He died.
Did God forsake her? She testifies to the pain of that incomparable loss while confessing she could not have survived it had she not given that season to God.
Pray not to have the season removed. Pray rather to be bold for God during what ever season through which you are journeying.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Waiting for a delivery

I am waiting for a delivery.
While I wait I finish a sermon, watch a soccer match, finish a book on reaching the unchurched and checking the door.
I am waiting because the delivery has to be sign for or it will return to...well, someplace to which I have no access.
The delivery isn't for me - it is for a family member who plans to pass through and needed a place to drop stuff off that could be picked back up easily - for them.
I feel frustrated - there are other things I could be doing but I can't do any of them until I do this.
I wonder - does God feel this way waiting for my prayers? Sure He gets stuff done while waiting, but, He can't do anything else in my life until He gets the next delivery. He can't do His part till I do my part.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fearless & Free
How do I move fearlessly into an unknown future given my experience with the known pain, effort, and, failures of the past?
Donald A. McGavran, who served as a missionary to India and then held a Chair on Evangelism at Fuller Theological Seminary, wrote, “We have Jesus Christ our Lord. We have no one else. We have the Bible. We have nothing else. In the light of revelation we can go fearlessly forward.”
Could it really be that simple? Great truths usually are stated simply when the underlying basis is known and the underlying basis for Dr. McGavran’s thesis is found in our commitment to the authority of God’s Word. The greater our acceptance of the Bible as God’s inspired collection of faith and practice, the greater our sense of peace in the actions we plan for tomorrow. Since God is our ultimate source of authority. He is he self-existent One not dependent on anything or anyone outside himself. He is the one we can rely on for our standard of belief and practice. Since we cannot know Him who is eternal we rely on His revelation.
His general revelation in creation (Psalm 19:1-6) and His special revelation in His Word (Psalm 19:7-14). Through general revelation all people everywhere can know Him through His creation. However, since our knowledge is overlaid with our assumptions of creation fed to us in our culture He has given His special revelation to tell us about himself and His Truth that we could not discover on our own. It is in special revelation we find the truth from Jesus, “if you have seen me you have seen the father” (John 1:14. Now we see God in human existence showing us a way to live we can reach for and finally touch even though we can never truly know Him in all His glory. We can know Him and be able to glorify Him in our daily lives.
We can live a fearless life as we rely on God’s special revelation to make clear His general revelation as a set of principles by which we conduct ourselves day to day. When our practices come out of our principles derived from God’s revelation – we are assured those actions will contribute to God’s peace and rest in the world around us. No longer fearing the outcome of actions which is God’s job we make decisions to His glory and our peace.
Then when we choose to enter any arena of life our passion for His principles keeps us focused on speaking of His behaviors rather than ours. We focus on proposing His truths rather than ours. We no longer need to control outcomes, God’s domain, but only speaking the truth in love, our domain.