Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Two Sides to Every Coin

“But I will stay at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” 1 Cor. 16:9 (emphasis mine).

Perhaps all candidates for admission to bible schools and seminaries should be required to write an essay about this verse as part of the application process. Better to enter your chosen (hopefully called and anointed) profession with eyes wide open, minus the rose colored glasses. Ministry isn't for wimps. Don't believe me? Ask a pastor. He/she's the one with the knife sticking out of their back.

A quick overview of Acts 19 fills us in on Paul's adventures at Ephesus. This city wasn't just a door of opportunity, it was a great one. The work was very effective. Many were saved, miracles occurred and they all lived happily every after! Opps, wrong version.

The successful preaching of the Gospel raised up a solid core of opposition. Most don't like the status quo being disturbed and the Good News shakes things up. Paul initially preached in the synagogues and promptly received the left foot of fellowship. Undeterred, he set up shop at the lecture hall of Tyranus.

The Jewish leaders weren't the only ones unreceptive to Paul's message. The silversmiths, creators of shines to Artemis, experienced an economic recession when their client base got saved. Paul had both Jews and Gentiles mad at him. A full scale riot was avoided only when cooler heads prevailed.

Ministers must see and accept both sides of the Gospel coin. There are the exhilarating episodes when lives are dramatically changed for the good. However, usually sooner rather than later the battle lines are drawn. Be prepared to be misunderstood, misinterpreted, maligned and accused of things you have or have not done. The greater the impact you make, the stronger the push back.

This didn't stop Paul and it shouldn't stop us either. It's part of the territory. Even Jesus wasn't well received by all. As ground is gained opposition will rear its ugly head and bring its bag of dirty tricks. It's arrival is no reason to back off.

Have you attempted to follow God's lead only to run face first into brick walls? Have you been tempted to quit when stymied with adversity? Remember – GREAT opportunities come with increased resistance. Jesus has already won the war so stand firm and win your battle.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Spiritual Worship

“God is Spirit and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24 (emphasis mine)

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” Romans 12:1

Worship is more than a set list played and sung on Sundays and midweek services. It's not just goose bumps and tingly feelings. It can be downright painful.

When I offer myself as a living sacrifice (which God already considers holy and pleasing) I remove myself from center stage – ouch. No longer is it MY way, MY plans, MY bright ideas, MY purposes. You get the drift. These become inconsequential when I surrender my will to my Lord. In this process He has freedom to scrutinize the motives and intents of my heart, which may or may not be so pure. Anything He finds offensive or defective has to go. As a living sacrifice I step down from the throne of my life and let Him be Lord. That's worship.

This doesn't sound or feel as warm and fuzzy as eyes closed, hands raised and swaying to the music which is also worship. As good as that is, there's so much more. Regardless of our preferences, it's important to do things God's way.

The purpose of a living sacrifice is not a avenue to get sins forgiven; that was accomplished at the cross. It's an accountability issue. We all goof up at times. Quick to excuse and justify behaviors in ourselves, we judge others more harshly for the same things. At times we do the right things for the wrong reasons unaware of what's really driving us. When Jesus examines our life He'll point out the good, the bad and the downright ugly. If we listen, He'll show us how to avoid those pitfalls in the future reducing the bonfire of our wood, hay and stubble.

Facing the truth can hurt. We aren't by nature good people; that got corrupted at the Fall. We're self-centered, opportunistic, greedy and so forth. Just watch kids at play. No one taught them how to look out for Number One, it came naturally.

When we enter into a relationship with God all this can change – if we let it. He's eager to help us discover and discard old coping and defense mechanisms for Kingdom principles that work right now. As we permit Jesus to daily check us out and surrender to His leading, He'll mold us into His image and likeness.

How about you? How does Romans 12:1 change your concepts of worship? Try laying your life down as a sacrifice. Ask Him to set your agenda, direct your steps and keep a close watch on the motives behind your actions. You may learn some things that are hard to accept but you'll enjoy the beauty and benefits of true devotion.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Preferential Treatment

“Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”  
1 Corinthians 8:13

The last time I came upon a sacrifice burning on an altar to an idol was....never. Probably most believers in the U.S. are in this category. We've heard about them, but never encountered one up close and personal. Still there's a principle to learn and apply to our lives – preferential treatment, not for ourselves, but for others.

Paul didn't extol the virtues of vegetarianism. He simply indicated the length he'd go to so he'd not be a stumbling block to someone else. Paul was willing to and encouraged all believers to esteem and honor others above themselves.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in love.” Romans 12:10

Let's be real, none of us has all the answers. No one possesses the 100% Right Way to do everything, every time. The apostle reminds us that courtesy toward others is essential, not optional. I doubt Paul would give a passing grade to much that is considered political correctness. He stood by his convictions and often paid dearly for his beliefs. Neither rude nor obnoxious even when right, Paul wouldn't flaunt his freedom to the detriment of another.

This same letter contains the famous Love Chapter (13). For Paul, love was the greatest thing to pursue and attain. Not self-seeking, love is conscious of others and not itself. Love chooses the welfare of another at the expense of it's own liberties and freedoms. To be inconvenienced for the benefit and betterment of others is love's life style.

The motives and attitudes behind our actions are supremely important. If I do something to enhance people's perception of me, or to score points with God – forget it. Martyrdom and even altruistic endeavors meant to win public approval and affirmation are wasted effort – wood, hay and stubble. Paul talked about genuine self-sacrifice, to place others before and above ourselves because of love.

How would your life change if you chose to prefer others ahead of yourself? What difference could this make to your family relationships, marriage, work place, school, business and church life? How could this be a greater way of getting the message of God's love to other's who haven't heard?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Holy Place

“The nations will realize that I God made Israel holy when my holy place of worship is established at the center of their lives forever,” Ezekiel 37:28.

In context this verse refers to Israel's future. The bible teaches God's rule on earth will be established and emanate from Jerusalem and Israel. Nations will flock to worship Him there. I've found another nugget of truth applicable to all believers, Jew and Gentile.

Want to introduce others to God and to His ability to make people and things holy? Establish a place of worship to Him at the center of your life. With God firmly enthroned in your heart, the core of your being changes. You don't fix yourself, He does. Forget the long dresses, no make-up and bee-hive hairdos (why is it always women who have to look weird) unless that's your preference. On a mission to anoint the future king of Israel, God warned Samuel against making snap judgments based on looks. Men focus on what's visible; God looks at the heart. Outward appearances don't mean squat.

When God totally captures our hearts others take note. This doesn't mean we never trip up but those instances diminish greatly. Transformed from the inside out, our behavior and demeanor take on a new persona. We don't try to act holy, it happens naturally and people can distinguish what's real from what's contrived. True holiness is the antithesis of the world system, counter-culture to the max. No need for neon lights, blinking directional signs, three piece suits and a hearty amen. A holy person shines like a candle. Automatically and effortlessly they dispel the darkness.

Relax, ditch the behavior modification and self-improvement programs. They may produce some change but the effects will be short lived. Make your heart a place of worship where God resides and alters to fit His liking. Live a life of worship and gratitude and you'll be a living, breathing, walking advertisement for the holiness of God, AND you won't look goofy!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Faltering Faith? Take a Break!

For He spake in a certain place of the seventh day on the wise, 'And God did rest the seventh day from all His works.' And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:” Hebrews 4:4-6 (KJV).

For my Facebook friends you know I recently embarked on my own version of Extreme Make Over – Backyard Edition. Three tons of pea gravel and a few hundred pounds of river slate later my yard's no longer a giant mud puddle when it rains. The work's been satisfying but physically challenging. After many hours of labor I'd drag myself inside, thoroughly drained. The most I could do was collapse in my chair in an exhausted stupor. Ask me a question and I'd just stare through eyes glazed over like two Kripsy Kreme donuts. My brain was mush and ill equipped to take on any serious thoughts. Muscles I didn't know I had, along with some old favorites reacted with boisterous complaints. I ached all over and needed down time.

Rest and faith are interconnected. Inadequate time-outs affect our ability to believe and stand in faith. Guilt and a performance mentality on the other hand, gnaw at our need to rest. This is easy to see in the natural realm. Over-tired and over-worked, productivity diminishes. When it's hard to concentrate mistakes are easily made. Fatigued, our emotions are more apt to over react. The problem...we're worn out. Take a day off, are you kidding? We're too busy!

Sick or injured bodies need time to recuperate. Failure to get proper rest slows and delays the healing process. Recovery takes longer than necessary (ask me how I know).

The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and His understanding no one can fathom.” Isaiah 41:26

God never runs out of energy. After six days of creating He didn't say: “I'm bushed! I need to take a break!” He did however, take a day off. If the only Perpetual Energy Source took time to sit back and relax, should we ignore His instructions to follow suit? It was so important, He even made this a commandment – one of the Big Ten. Sorry sports fans, God coined that name first.

Just as our bodies need to rejuvenate, our spirits and souls need to refresh and replenish. It's easier to endure hardships when spirit, soul and body isn't worn to a frazzle. Unfortunately our culture and society provides endless activities and distractions. Nights and days are filled with must-do stuff. Sadly, many reach the end of life filled with regrets. Too many really important events were missed and relationships dwindled away. The tyranny of the urgent won out over what truly mattered.

For me to carve out a day of rest takes discipline. Recently this scripture caught my attention.

Without faith it's impossible to please God.” Hebrews 11:6

If taking the proper time off for rest helps keep my faith strong, I'd be a fool not to do it. If you've felt guilty about your need to step off the treadmill, there's a scripture you can rest on. We're human be-ings not human do-ings. Jump off the hamster wheel, sit back and catch your breath. Enjoy the Lord and a good day off. Your faith will thank you for it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Hint of Resurrection

“For dust you are, and to dust you shall return,” Genesis 3:19

Spoken graveside these words do little to ease the pain and grief of a loved one's death. I believe God had something else in mind besides a final benediction. He called for a resurrection. “How so?” you ask.

If this appears to be a stretch, bear with me. In verse nineteen God said Adam was dust now and in the future would return to dust. How’s that possible…a change in molecular structure.

At that moment, the dust which comprised Adam’s composition was corrupt and subject to decay. At creation that wasn't the case. Before sin Adam and Eve's spirits were alive. Clothed with God's glory, all changed with one bite of the original un-Happy Meal. Instantaneously their spirits died, the glory departed. They were naked and ashamed.

God prophesied in verse nineteen a future return to their original state. His words foretold of salvation through Christ's death. God and man would be reconciled. Paul, the apostle, understood this mystery. In his letter to the Colossians he wrote:

“Since you died with Christ,” Col. 2:20;

“For you are dead and your life is now hidden with Christ in God,” Col. 3:3.

The recipients of Paul's letter were alive naturally but he called them dead men. Why? They hadn't expired physically and been resurrected. They were now the new creatures Paul described in 2 Corinthians 5:17.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone the new has come!”

The church at Colosse experienced a metamorphosis. Their once dead spirits were brought back to life. They surrendered their lives to Christ, died to self, and received new life through Him. They returned to their original condition as living, breathing, speaking spirits. The transformation process was in place. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul talked about a future resurrection of our physical bodies. The apostle wrote that these would be raised imperishable, in glory, in power and also as spiritual bodies. Adam and every believer will return to the original dust of creation.

Christians understand that death does not necessarily mean a permanent separation – it can be a temporary state, painful but not eternal. Those who've receive God's gift of salvation through Jesus experience resurrection of their spirit from death. In due season the entire package: spirit, soul and body will be returned to God's original intent. Death is not to be feared, its stinger has been removed. Like Paul we can confidently confess:

“...to live is Christ and to die is gain,” Philippians 1:21.

How about you? Can you look death square in the eye confident that it's not the end but the release from life in this temporal world? If not, why not? Why wait another moment to accept God's free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. It's more than just fire insurance, it's admission to what is really the “Greatest Show on Earth” and in Heaven.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Make Them An Offer They Can't Refuse

“Freely you have received, freely give” Matthew 10:8

A few months ago I attended my first new age expo. Note to “the church,” go where the fish are. A friend who participates in street and marketplace ministry took out a short term loan and in a step of faith, rented a booth for this event. He recruited volunteers from various churches and fellowships to help. At the suggestion of his church he asked those working the booth to chip in $20 a piece to help defray expenses. God had a better idea.

Two days before the expo a local prayer group was asked to pray for those who would minister at the outreach. Besides praying that God's love would be poured out in great measure, they took up an offering. Almost the entire entry fee was collected!

My husband and I were scheduled to work the first shift on Saturday morning. Rising early, Joe went to spend quiet time with God. He anticipated serious resistance and was pleasantly surprised when the Lord said that this would be a Holy Ghost fun time. So much for the doldrums, break out the party hats.

When we arrived, the Original Territorial Spirit came with us and He immediately established supremacy. From the opening we had a steady stream of people who took advantage of our free services: healing (physical, emotional and spiritual), spiritual cleansing (salvation), spiritual alignment (deliverance), spiritual readings (words of prophecy and wisdom) and spirit art. As the day progressed the crowds swelled and spilled out into the aisle and the empty space across from the booth. The keynote speaker, presenters, vendors and their customers all came to receive ministry.

My friend Arvin flows freely and powerfully with words of wisdom and prophecy. He opted to walk around and engage vendors at their booths. On practitioner offered him a check up. She was accustomed to “cutting cords” from people, but Arvin had none. “They” told her that he needed an alignment, but she couldn't see anything out of whack. She also specialized in resurrections but Arvin assured her that he was already resurrected!  Arvin then asked the woman who “they” were that she made reference to. She replied she had two spirit guides: a shaman and a gypsy fairy. She was astonished that Arvin could see and describe her shaman.

Curious she asked why we did everything for free. She paid for any information gleaned from her guides. When Arvin asked what they charged she avoided a direct answer. He discerned that every time she got something, they took a piece of her mind causing her to have difficulty “connecting the dots.” Her husband and daughter confirmed this was true. Arvin explained to her that we have a river that flows freely out of us all the time. There’s never any lack and because we receive freely, we give what we have away at no cost. The vendor next to our booth told Arvin he needed to be grounded. Arvin responded that he was firmly grounded on The Rock. This vendor wanted Arvin to send his excess energy back into the earth because he sucked it out of those he came in contact with and interfered with their abilities.

For two days we freely shared God's love to people who not only paid an entry fee to the event but who also were prepared to spend money for help. Some received healing, others words of encouragement, comfort and direction. Some even received Jesus as Lord. Many were surprised to find Christians in that type of venue and doing the kinds of things we did. When my friend went to purchase the booth the promoter told him that he anticipated Christians to show up and make a scene. That didn't happen but God came and He stole the show.

Most of the attendees and vendors we interacted with were sweet, gentle people looking for something they should find, but often don’t, in most churches. Many sampled a form of Christianity they never knew existed, and they liked it. Put down the placards and discard the angry rhetoric. They don't work. Make people an offer that's hard to refuse. Pick up the love of God and give it away liberally, for free. You'll be surprised how well it will be received.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The "F" Word In Church

For several months my church's mid-week service was a cover to cover reading of Clark Whitten's book Pure Grace. One night we talked about our notions of what God is like.

First we looked at Holy Spirit. Truth be told, there's no scripture that says He's a gentleman. He can be grieved but He's not so super sensitive and fragile that any little deviation sends Him into a tizzy. A situation was shared where the “F” word was used several times and Holy Spirit didn't tuck tail and run. A little profanity didn't keep Him from healing that hurting individual. He's got pretty tough skin, after all He has to deal with us.

We turned our attention next to our Heavenly Father.

While most Christians agree that God is our Spiritual Father, they do not think He is a very good one. Many think He is demanding, stern, distant, unyielding, uncaring at times and more interested in our good behavior than anything else. If truth be told, many of us believe He is unfair in His judgments and often rewards people who are not as deserving as others. He punishes us when we sin and withholds His presence and fellowship as a means of correcting us. He is always serious, and having fun is beneath Him. His sense of humor is strongly controlled at best and absolutely lacking at worst. He is big and fearsome, and scary and unknowable. He demands deference and humility if we show the temerity to come into His presence. Many see the 'Fear of God' as the one human quality that impresses Him most. Frankly speaking, He seems to be unappeasable and almost abusive in His relationship with His children. He always demands a little more than we are presently giving or doing, and we see no end to it until we get to Heaven.”
Clark Whitten, Pure Grace page 152

After reading this paragraph one participant chimed in, “Looks like the “F” word in church should be fun!” How sad and true. For many the church is like the NFL – the No Fun League. God the Father's been relegated to the role of a grumpy old ref who has nothing better to do that eagerly search out infractions and administer punishments. What a gross misrepresentation of the truth.

Our Heavenly Father invented “Name It and Claim It.” He speaks and expects what He says will come to pass. Psalm 32.7 states that God will, “surround us with songs of deliverance,” not gloom and doom.
Zephaniah 3:17 elaborates on this. He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”

The word rejoice in Hebrew means to spin around (under the influence of any violent emotion), be glad, be joyful, and to dance. God dances over us with singing – so much for Grouchy God.

Much ado was made over the laughter that broke out during Rodney Howard-Browne's revival meetings. Imagine, people laughing hysterically in church – sacrilege! For many who attended, their merry hearts did them more good than any medication.

I'm not advocating throwing the baby out with the bath water. There is a proper place for quiet and reverence, but not to the exclusion of God's mirth spilling over and touching people. It's time for the church to let the “F” word be the original, unmentionable, not-fit-for-use in any company word and allow fun back, in it's rightful place, within the four walls. Our Father God knows how to have a good time. Shouldn't we?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Final Divorce

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and become united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”
Matthew 19:5 (NIV).

“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness...” Matthew 19:9 (NIV).

A cadre of Pharisees stood off to the side and observed. The upstart religious phenomenon's popularity grew with a combination of homespun tales and slick tricks. The former carpenter turned rabbi lacked the necessary credentials for them to take him seriously, still He possessed remarkable wisdom and insight concerning God's laws.

In an effort to entrap Jesus, the teachers of the Law approached Him with a question concerning divorce. On the surface it appeared as an honest inquiry. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” Matthew 19:3 (NIV). They awaited His response, ready to pounce. Surely He'd give them something to use to silence Him. What they got was just the opposite.

With an answer more orthodox than expected Jesus caught His opponents off guard. Quoting Genesis, He reminded the Pharisees of God's original intent – no divorce at all. When they married, a couple became one flesh and no one was to severe that union. Jesus continued to correct the experts. It was Moses, not God, who permitted divorce and only in response to their hard-hearted condition. End of discussion; the snare set for the prey entrapped the hunters.

I sense a deeper meaning beside the issue of marriage and divorce; our relationship with God. The union between a man and woman is sacred and permanent – they are one. Like a groom, Jesus left His Father's home to pursue His bride. He reconciled the world (the good, the bad and the ugly) to Himself through the crucifixion and resurrection. God and man are back in relationship and are never meant to be separated again.

Jesus stated infidelity is the only grounds for a marital dissolution. Concerning God, everyone has the choice to accept the reconciliation already in place. To reject Him for any reason is akin to unfaithfulness. Jesus said we could only be for Him or against Him. No middle ground and no neutrality; we're either with Him or we're not. Any decision to reject God's free gift of love and relationship will bring about the final divorce and the right to live eternally without Him – in hell.

God's always faithful, He never walks away from anyone. He respects us and the choices we make. If you don't realize that right now you're in God's good graces, today is your day! Is there any good reason preventing you from accepting what's already yours? I hope not. God is only a prayer away. Don't miss out on the deal of a life time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith” Hebrews 12:2

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim.
In the light of His glory and grace.”

As a new Christian the words of this song brought comfort and reassurance. There was just one little problem – how did you do it? I wanted to actually see Jesus like the chorus suggested. Would my everyday cares and problems evaporate at the sight of His face?

I didn't know anyone who'd ever seen or would admit to having seen Jesus. Forty plus years ago if I'd stood up and testified that I'd really seen the Lord I may have received a polite, tepid response at best. If I persisted in my belief that I'd had a personal encounter with God I may have found myself in the Pastor's office for a sit down, or worse, received the left foot of fellowship. Sound far-fetched?

Oral Roberts was one of the forerunners of the healing revivals that swept this nation. No fly-by-night kook, Brother Roberts had a proven, documented track record of miracles and healings. When he announced that he'd seen a nine hundred foot tall Jesus the secular media blasted him (no surprise there). The Christian community crucified him, present company included. The audacity – someone claiming to see Jesus! If he couldn't see Jesus what made the rank and file think we were any different. We mocked, laughed and kept right on singing that same old chorus.

Because you have seen me you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” John 20:29. This verse and 2 Corinthians 5:7 “we walk by faith and not by sight” seem to exclude the possibility that we can see into the heavens. It's more necessary than I once thought and it's totally in the realm of possibility.

Jesus said in John 14:12 that we would do not only what He did, but even greater things. The Apostle John told us that if everything Jesus did had been written down there wouldn't be room enough to contain all the books that documented His activities. The Lord accomplished a lot in that three year span of time. The dude was busy. Jesus Himself said that He only did what He saw the Father doing and only spoke what He heard the Father saying, John 5:19 (emphasis mine). If it worked for Him, why are we busy testing out new methods?

Christians like to brag that New Testament believers have a better covenant than those who lived under the Old. Genesis eighteen records Abraham's first hand encounter with God and their discussion concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses spoke with God “face to face,” Exodus 33:11. Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and the seventy elders went up, saw God and ate with Him, Exodus 24:9-11. Before there was either an Old or a New Covenant, Enoch “walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” Genesis 5:24. Abraham's personal interaction with God didn't exclude him from the Hall of Faith described in the book of Hebrews. For us New Covenant folks, Paul not only encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus but also visited heaven on at least one occasion. Those experiences didn't seem to dampened or diminish Paul's ability to walk by faith.

Sounds like I may be venturing onto some slippery, theological territory. Am I implying that we can actually “fix our eyes on Jesus,” as the scripture says? I may get stoned but I say, “Yes it does.”
This may sound controversial or even New Age-ish. For the record, there isn't anything new about the New Age. Everything they have is a counterfeit of something real that belongs to believers. Do a cursory search of early church history and you'll find that supernatural experiences weren't unusual. In may parts of the world outside our Western, logic, reason based mentality, spiritual things are as real if not more so than what is seen in the natural. They're normal. If that's so, we could benefit from that kind of normality here.

How about you? If you could see Jesus face to face, what would that look like to you? What in your life could take on more importance when you looked into His eyes? What would keep you from pursuing that kind of relationship with Him right now?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Are You Ready For Some Football?

“Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing (rightly handling and skillfully teaching) the Word of Truth”
2 Timothy 2:15 (AMP).

Fall means cooler temperatures. Leaves fall and pigskins fly high. In the South, football is serious business. The elongated weekend begins with the Thursday night NFL game. Friday night, high school players take to the field and the hometown fans jam stadiums to cheer their team on to victory. Saturday is dominated by college football. The pros take over again on Sunday afternoon and the weekend winds up with “Are You Ready For Some Football?” - the Monday Night Game. Personally, I miss Hank Jr. doing the intro.

As a life long Eagles fan I'm happy, my team has started out strong this year (condolences to Nancy Pike and other Giants fans, I know your pain). So far there's room for cautious optimism, but hey, it's still early in the season. Philly fans are known for two things: booing Santa and the exceptional ability to endure repetitive disappointments.

Two weeks ago I discovered an interesting fact about Christians and now I think I've discovered the root cause of my team's propensity to fail. Only 20% of the players read the playbook! Check out the numbers.

The final roster of an NFL team is 53 men. 20% of 53 is 10.6 so for ease of math I'll round up to 11. This figure happens to be the maximum number of players a team can have on the field at any given time. If all of a team's prepared members are defense they'll be brilliant in comparison to the ill-informed offense and vice versa. If the number is split between offense and defense, both will be equally mediocre. What if those 11 players are bench warmers? How can any coach effectively call a game if no one on the field understands what he's saying? This might explain the erratic performance of my hometown heroes – and the church.

There are those rabid fans whose lives revolve around their team. The rest of us realize that the morning after the Super Bowl, the BCS College Championship, or any other game of importance, based on which team won, only a small microcosm of the world's population awakens with a new view of life. Both the elation of victory and the sting of defeat are short-lived. Soon things return to normal.

Football doesn't change the world. If 80% of the players fail to prepare the contest will be a bore but the earth will still rotate on its axis. None of the problems, threats or challenges that can upset the fragile balance of peace are resolved by any game's outcome.

Should we not be surprised that Christianity's impact on the world isn't more profound when only 20% of its adherents read their playbook, the bible? Unlike football, Christianity can change the world. If 80% fail to prepare is it any wonder that success is so elusive and results sporadic?

Which group are you part of – the 20% or 80%? What changes could you implement to be ready when The Coach sends you out into the game? There's one thing you can do to help ensure victory. Read the playbook.

Video from youtube

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fragile Handle With Care

“A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not put out.” Isaiah 42:3

Do you feel like an empty, brittle shell of your former self? Failures, disappointments, missed opportunities, unmet expectations, unrealized dreams and visions have drained the balance of Your Life's Meaning Account dry. Would the hint of the gentlest spring breeze shatter you into millions of irretrievable pieces? People are cruel and unforgiving, unfortunately. Your biggest fear – falling into the hands of an angry God who surely disapproves of you and your life as it now stands.

One meaning for the word reed is measuring stick. We treat ourselves like these all the time don't we? How do we compare to where we should be (wherever that is), where others are and what God expects of us? Do we make the grade? Discouraged, we admit we've fallen short – again. The solution - TRY HARDER, a program that wears us down and causes us to drop even further behind.

“This Little Light of Mine,” remember that one? “Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” Now the flame's all but extinguished and of little help to you or anybody.

Good news, the Savior isn't coming in the form of the Heavenly Street Sweeper to gather up the refuse and debris of our lives for disposal in the celestial dump. He's not out to eradicate the final remnants of our miserable existence, quite the contrary.

Isaiah knew all about the Messiah. In those tenuous, friable, teetering-on-the brink of implosion moments we have nothing to fear from Jesus. He handles the broken with the tenderest care. Battered and at the breaking point, He won't sweep us under the rug, out of sight to be trampled underfoot. Jesus wraps his arms around us and coaxes us down off the ledge to safety. After the punches are piled on and we're beaten to a bloody pulp, left for dead – the Savior never abandons us. Caught in the arid wasteland of frustration and defeat, Jesus refreshes our soul like a frosty glass of ice cold lemonade. If our light's nothing more than the ember on a smoking wick, He re-ignites us to shine brightly again. His touch heals. Recovery often includes some discomfort but He's not about to inflict needless suffering. Jesus doesn't kick those who are down, He raises them up instead.

If you fear His gaze would be the final, fatal, crushing blow, look again:

whoever (that includes you) comes to me, I will never drive away” John 6:37 (emphasis mine);

He has pity on the weak and needy, and saves the needy from death” Psalm 72:12-13;

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” Psalm 147:3;

But I will restore you to health, and heal your wounds, declares the Lord, because you are called an outcast” Jeremiah 30:17.

Jesus is interested in putting people back together not writing them off as a hopeless case. Let these words flow over the tattered remnants of your heart like a healing ointment. As you do, entrust yourself to the One who wrote the instruction manual on “Fragile, Handle With Care.”

Photo Google Images

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Radical Transformation

“Moses said to the Lord, “Oh Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue,” Exodus 4:10 (NIV).

“Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, for mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people... And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do his people,” Exodus 32: 12, 14 (KJV).

To some, having to speak in public is a fate worse than death. Ask someone to stand up and say a few words and many would rather die than face an audience. Glossophobia plagues many people. Jerry Seinfeld popularized the idea that people would rather be in the coffin than give the eulogy at a funeral. Statistics proved him wrong. If you grapple with glossophobia, you're in good company. Moses suffered from this same malady. When God afforded him the opportunity to fulfill his long awaited dream, Moses balked. He even looked for excuses to pass. When God rejected them Moses played his trump card.

“I have never been eloquent...I am slow of speech and tongue.”

As a young prince of Egypt, Moses tried physical force to achieve his dream. It earned him forty years as a shepherd in the backside of the desert. When it was time for him to act the Lord took a different approach. He bypassed Moses' natural skills and talents and focused on his weaknesses. From Moses' perspective, it was a recipe for disaster.

Between chapters four and thirty-two things changed dramatically. Moses went from a stammering wallflower to a man with the audacity to tell God to repent. His words were authoritative, to-the-point and effectual. God repented!

Something happened during this time frame. I suspect it was directly linked to the Who Moses associated with. Moses spent long periods of time in the Tent of Meeting and God rubbed off on this good ole' boy and transformed him.

When we hang out with God we'll change. No longer afraid of our own shadow we have boldness to approach at His invitation. We fellowship at His throne of grace. Timidity and insecurity gone, we respectfully and reverently come and make our requests. We're empowered to step out in faith. If we miss it we're confident He'll correct us and get us back on track – no fear involved.

We're impacted by those we associate with. Why not spend time with God, the genius Creator and greatest mind of all time? His door is always open. Like Moses, we may discover some long thought dead dreams are resurrected. Packaged differently than we'd originally planned, the new format may initially feel uncomfortable and the temptation to walk or run away strong. Why not learn from Moses and take one step at a time? Keep in direct, passionate fellowship with God. He'll provide all the insights, plans and strategies needed to succeed. In the process we'll be radically transformed – that's what we need the most.

How about you? What dream, vision or promise is so long overdue it appears to be dead? How would you feel if God opened that door but required you to act on your weaknesses and things most feared? What would you need from God to make that kind of leap of faith?

photo - www.levelupliving.com

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Curious George

There is nothing new under the sun” Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV).

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of the heavenly lights” James 1:17 (NIV).

Same old same old. The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Solomon may have chosen those words if he was wrote for today's audience. Looks as if life back in his day wasn't much different than ours. I think there's more here than what appears on the surface.

How do you know if you're under the sun? Look up! You and all earth's inhabitants qualify. What we define as new really isn't that at all. Everything existed somewhere else first outside of this natural realm.

James said the source of new things is not a place, but a who. God's creativity is the womb that produces what we consider innovative and revolutionary.

George Washington Carver was a brilliant scientist committed to helping the farmers in the South. The boll weevil infestation brought an end to the reign of cotton as king. Dr. Carver developed 105 recipes for peanuts including peanut butter. He also devised over 100 products: cosmetics, dyes, plastics, gasoline and nitroglycerin. His findings were never patented, freely available for all to use. His work gave Southern farmers markets for this new alternative crop that ultimately outstripped cotton's popularity and profitability. How did he do it?

Pastor Bill Winston of Living Word Christian Center attended Tuskegee University, founded by Dr. Carver. Pastor Winston states that the doctor's secret of success was simple. Dr. Carver took his bible into to his lab and prayed. I've yet to discover the formulas for peanut butter or nitroglycerin in the bible so how did Dr. Carver get these wonderful inventions?

Dr. Carver knew the author of the Bible, the One who created all things and upholds all things by His word. Seeing the plight of Southern farmers “Curious George” went to the originator of peanuts and tapped His knowledge. Based on what he learned Dr. Carver unlocked the hidden potential of this little legume. Through fellowship with God, Curious George brought practical solutions that changed farming and the economic status of the South. So much for the power of prayer and a personal relationship with God.

How about you? Are you facing a dilemma that appears hopeless? Have you looked at your situation and thought, “There's got to be a better way!”

Go to God and discuss the matter with Him. The Creator of the Universe is never at a loss for solutions but it may take a wild imagination to envision what He tells you. God's not tapped out when it comes to “good and perfect gifts.” Who knows, like George Washington Carver your discovery may save a region, a nation or even the whole world.

Photo - Google Images

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


“Peter said to Jesus, 'Lord it is good for us to be here. If you wish I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah'” Matthew 17:4 (NIV).

Being part of the inner circle has its perks, but on days like today I'd settle for the chance to forgo the hike. James, John and I dropped to the ground. Winded from the trek, it felt good to finally rest.

Unfamiliar voices caught my attention. There's no one here but us. Who's that talking with Master?

I blinked, then blinked again. The altitude must be playing tricks on me. Not one but three shining individuals stood just feet away engrossed in conversation. I squinted into the brilliant light and made out the form of Jesus. The other two were strangers.

I inched closer and strained to catch tidbits of their discussion. Moses! Elijah! Did I hear correctly? Unbelievable!

Overwhelmed with excitement I blurted out, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one....”

Before I could finished my sentence the atmosphere changed. Engulfed in an iridescent cloud a thundering voice spoke. Seized with terror the three of us hit the dirt.

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Matthew 7:5 (NIV).

Glamping! Ever heard of it?

The newly minted catchphrase is a combination of glamor and camping. If an oxymoron can be a contraction of two words, glamping fits the bill. No devotee of roughing it, I'd need serious over-the-top luxurious accommodations to coax me away from a comfy bed in a climate controlled environment with cable or satellite TV. So, what constitutes glamping?

I first heard the term used in this scenario. Synonymous for high priced, ocean front properties, not all the residences in the Hamptons on Long Island, NY are McMansions. There are some normal homes also. Situated on beach front property is a modular home resort, a fancy name for an upscale trailer park! That's right, a trailer park in the Hamptons, hard to believe but true. The photos I've seen show a well kept facility. Some residents of the Hamptons have found a way to cash in on their home's location and still enjoy life by the beach. They sub-let their properties out for the season and glamp at the trailer park, I mean resort, and pocket a nice profit to compensate for any inconveniences.

Simon Peter wanted to glamp before the locals at the Hamptons thought it up. His version was glory camping. Can you blame him? A simple hike yielded an awesome spiritual encounter with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Who'd want to leave a manifestation of glory like that?

Peter fell prey to the same snare the church has been tripping over for – forever. God moves in an unusual way. The assumption is made that this is it – the Holy Grail of God's interaction with men. Things begin bumpy, the forerunners and visionaries pay dearly for leading the charge. Those who spear-headed the last move of God usually fight the hardest to maintain the status quo. After all, in their estimation, they already have God's Final Design. Eventually God's new plan gains wider acceptance. By the time the majority adopt it God has moved on and the cycle starts again. The last pioneers now become the new persecutors.

Society today is more mobile than ever. People move cross towns, countries and continents for a job, retirement, education and so forth. When it comes to the things of God – well, “Gimme that ole time religion!” is our mantra. Something has to stay stable – doesn't it?

We're not pleasantly surprised when the God who is supposed to never change jams a stick in the spokes of our apple cart's wheels and upsets it. We can learn valuable lessons from the Israelites' wilderness camping excursion. How would you like to live out of a suitcase for forty years? At any moment the signal sounds and you're on the move – again. Where you're headed and the length of your journey is a mystery. How long you'll stay at the new location is an unknown. God isn't telling.

As soon as the church as a whole gets a grip on what God's doing and settles in for the long haul – it's too late. God's already packed His bags and moved on. It takes a while before we realize He's left us behind. How should we respond to His new direction? We can stay put, maybe even trash talk this new thing we don't like or understand or we can adopt a more inquisitive “what if” position. Instead of digging our heels in the sand of our comfortable, indisputably correct posture we could be like the Bereans. When faced with controversial issues, they endeavored to prove these items right and not wrong. Who knows, maybe glamping isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Photo - Google Images

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Bereans vs. Pharisees

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” Acts 17:11 (NIV).

How do you spell Pharisee: pompous, haughty, arrogant, rude, ingratiating, sarcastic, educated, egotistical, snob? It's unfair to paint them all with that broad brush, but many that Jesus tangled with fell into this category. The largely uneducated Jewish population were under the tutelage of these religious teachers of the law. Unlike us, the Jews had no other options. We can at least change churches.

Mark Virkler described the difference between a Pharisee and a Berean. Pharisees look to prove someone wrong; Bereans look to prove them right. What would happen if Christians as a whole took a more Berean approach toward those who threaten to tip over their personal sacred cows? Would this methodology put us in a better frame of mind to investigate challenges to our belief systems? It might.

To entertain the remote possibility that you just might be wrong can be grounds for serious heartburn and possible excommunication (just kidding...maybe not). If our foundation's not as firm as believed isn't it better to adjust as opposed to pretending our concrete footers aren't grounded in quicksand?

To clarify, there are basic non-negotiable tenets of the faith. These aren't the issues I'm talking about (although some may disagree). We all have our pet doctrines. As I look back over forty plus years of being a Christian I've revised my position on subjects I once thought were indisputable. That said, in the coming years I'll probably make even more changes as I grow in the knowledge of how ignorant I really am about God.

I've come to accept that God is so much bigger and complex than my personal theology can handle or even dream up. Daily I'm reminded how small my understanding is. He constantly challenges my shallow thinking and I've become more comfortable not being a know it all. I get lots of opportunities to grow and prove myself wrong.

If I chose to explore a different idea as opposed to defending my own (and of course correct) position, my study habits change. Rather than search for arguments to bolster my case, with fresh eyes I can look for and find things I've missed. I may come to the conclusion that my original premise is sound and intact. My attitude, however, will be very different. I can ditch the haughty I-told-you-so demeanor and experience the let down that comes when you root for the underdog who doesn't pull a “Rudy” off in the final seconds of the game. If you don't know who Rudy was, Google him. Hint: he played Notre Dame football. My heart has changed. There are no longer any quacks or adversaries, just those I agree to disagree with. No corresponding feelings of superiority are needed.

The world and the church could use a lot more Bereans and a whole lot less Pharisees. Do you think the pre-Christians would take note if we didn't name call and fight over incidentals? What if we sat down and investigated conflicting claims in an effort to prove the other guy right? Think that might garner some attention? Much of what we come to blows over has nothing to do with the key issue – salvation through Christ alone.

How about you? Has someone yanked your doctrinal chain? If so, will you react as a Berean or a Pharisee?

Photo from Google Images

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Devil Is A Liar

“...he was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar, and the father of lies. John 8:44

The shining one eased his way toward the woman, so far so good, no signs of alarm or apprehension.

A sulfuric hiss, “She's beautiiiifullll.” Black eyes narrowed to a slit, “But not as much as me. No one compares to the Anointed Cherub.”

A questioning whisper engaged her. “Has God really said...?”

Eyes flickered with doubt. Bait taken, hook set, he reeled her in for the kill.

“Easy prey,” he mumbled gleefully.

Staring intently, he studied the man who now pondered his wife's offer. Would he be as gullible? He swooned with the delight as the man ate the fruit. The earth and mankind were now his. “Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.”1

How was the devil a murderer from the beginning? A liar, sure – the father of lies, that's a no-brainer.  A murderer, how did he earn that distinction?

Beginning in John 8:44 is the same word used in John 1:1. “In the beginning was the Word.” Before Lucifer was created, God knew he'd rebel. Not a part of some cosmic scheme of intrigue and deception, God's original intent for this now fallen angel was glorious. God knows the end from the beginning and He's always prepared for what happens.

Satan invented the lie – the antithesis of the truth. He can't help himself; it's who he is at his core. Lies are his native tongue. Satan also understands the power of words better than most Christians.

“I killed you with the words of my mouth” Hosea 6:15.

“But that's just God,” you may say “He can do anything.”

Proverbs 18:21 reminds us, “the tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Let's look at the first recorded murder to see just how words can kill.

“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Genesis 2:17

Adam received explicit dietary instructions. The fruit of one particular tree was off limits. Eating it carried a death sentence. Satan desired to rule the earth. The only thing in his way was man who had dominion over the planet. The solution was straightforward; kill the man and take control. How did Satan do this? He used words - lies.

We know the story. Satan picked the weakest link – Eve, not because she was a woman but because she operated on second hand information. If her response to his question was what Adam had told her, her husband hadn't paid attention to God. Regardless, Eve bought the devil's lie, ate the fruit and promptly handed it to Adam, who stood beside her. He partook also and immediately they both dropped dead – spiritually.

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends; with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” 2 Peter 3:8

God's timetable is very different than ours Peter reminds us. One day to God is equivalent to a thousand of our years. Adam only lived 930 years. So, per God's calculation of time, Adam died the same day he disobeyed. The lie he believed was a deadly as a knife in the heart.

“...he who pours out lies shall perish,” Proverbs 19:9

What goes around comes around. God's law of sowing and reaping never fails. The devil will eventually receive a harvest for the lies he's sown. We should learn from his bad example and monitor the words that come out of our mouths. Will we speak life or death? The choice is ours – choose wisely.

P.S. For all my computer friends, according to Larry Randolph the real reason Adam and Eve fell was this...they ate the Apple and were supposed to be Word (Microsoft) people. I was tempted to put in the Apple logo for a photo insert but decided against it. Thought you'd appreciate the humor.

(Photo from Google Images)

1    Milton's Paradise Lost