The Principle of Spiritual Readiness

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It’s HERE!  Tomorrow I’m co-teaching a seminar with Nelson Searcy called Maximizing Easter.  Why I’m so excited about this opportunity is this.  The teaching in this seminar can help churches reach and keep more unchurched people for Jesus!

Want to know the coolest part about it?  The proven strategies will work in any church culture (I’ve seen it myself.) and help you as a pastor/leader disciple your current people.  If I sound like a commercial I don’t mean to.  I have watch us break our records for attendance and salvations on Easter over and over because of the teaching we’ll give tomorrow.

I’m only hosting this event to help other churches.  I want to see all the churches that are preaching the Bible, grow.  I want to see your church reach more people. We are losing money on this seminar ($25/church) just to get this information out there.

One of the point that will be taught is the Principle of Spiritual Readiness. Jesus comes to fisherman, guys that has been mending their nets and cleaning their nets…you know… getting ready to catch fish.  Not getting ready to fish more that day because they had fished all night and caught nothing. (Luke 5)

Luke 5:3-4 tells us AFTER he taught them. He told the fisherman, let down your nets for a catch.

Same boat (same church)
Same leaders (Peter, James John)

What was different?  Jesus taught and then told them where and how to cast their net.

Maybe you’ve grown tired, fishing with no results.  Maybe you say we’ve tried some church growth strategies that didn’t work.  Try again.  Listen to teaching again.

Our job is to get ready.  To clean and prepare the net (the local church).  The Principle of Spiritual Readiness says if we prepare, He will bless.  It we are ready when comes, He will bless. I don’t understand it all but if we aren’t ready when He comes to us, He’ll pass by like the 5 foolish virgins. (Matthew 25)

The fisherman had prepared the net.  They didn’t know Jesus would ask them to fish so soon but because their net was ready, He could bless them in abundance.

Is your net ready for His blessing?  If not, teaching can help. Come this event or

Contact me.

 

 

 

What’s wrong with a Hipster Christmas Anyway?

If you haven’t seen this Hipster Nativity Set, it’s a real product for sale. It’s so popular that even with a pricey $129.99 price tag, they are flying off the shelves, and limited to three to a customer.

The set takes the traditional nativity figures and gives them a distinctly hipster form. Joseph has a man-bun and is taking a selfie. Mary is holding a Starbucks latte in one hand, making a peace sign with the other, is dressed in a sweater that is off one shoulder and is of course making a duck-face for a selfie.

The Magi are arriving on Segways with Amazon gift boxes under their arms. The shepherd is working his iPad. The sheep and cow are even involved: the sheep is wearing a hand-knitted sweater and the cow, eating gluten-free feed, bears a “100% organic” seal.

If you’re not hip to the Hipster vibe, let me explain…Hipsters are ‘cooler-than-you’ because of their independent thinking, counter-culture attitude, appreciation of art & indie rock and their ironic clothing choices.

Listen, I find this whole Nativity Set hysterical and eerily accurate. (I would love one as a Christmas gift…hint, hint) It’s a satire on how far out of control our lives are. BUT why does this Nativity upset so many of my Christian friends?  I truly don’t believe it’s meant to disrespect the holy family or Christmas.  It’s mean to be funny.

I think what upsets so many people is, that it’s too true!

We have the pressure to get the right gift from Amazon, to keep up with the latest organic and fair trade trends, upgrade to the newest ‘must have’ technology and capture all of it in a selfie on our new phone.

None of these things are wrong but be careful not to overspend (another blog for another time) and not miss the meaning of Christmas.

Before you think I’m an old fart, getting on the young hipsters, there are many ways to miss the meaning of Christmas.

When asked the meaning of Christmas, the most common response is ‘spending time with loved ones’.  While I think that’s important, the meaning of Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth.  How do you do that?  Start by reminding yourself of the story of the first Christmas.  One way to do that is at church.

You’re invited to recapture the meaning of Christmas at House of Praise in person or on-line: NoPerfectPeopleHERE.com

Check out the website for time and direction.

Oh, and have a Happy Hipster Christmas, just remember Jesus in the midst of it.

Your Story Matters

It’s important to tell your story. It matters.  There are people waiting out there that will be encouraged, helped, inspired, motivated and maybe even saved by your story. Why? Because your story is unique.

Your Story Matters Because It’s Unique.

No one else has the exact same story to tell.  It’s not that your story is better or worse, it’s simply unique.  We have to avoid the trap of comparing our story to other people’s story.  Helping others with your story is not about telling a better story or a more shocking story than someone else.  It is simply telling your story in your unique way.  Someone who wouldn’t be touched by my story or my style is waiting to hear from you.  Have trouble believing that?  Well it’s true.

I remember sharing my story of how I came to be a follower of Jesus.  Here’s a summary: I had a great job, a company car, an apartment the company paid for all in my mid 20’s but something was missing.  I thought it was a long-term relationship, that didn’t help. I visited a church a friend invited me to and found something different from the church religion of my youth.  God was real and present today.  I kept saying “He’s real.” over and over again.  I actually cried at the altar and I hadn’t cried since I was young. I said to God, “I always want to be this way. Open before you.” I have never looked back since.  (I even cry at extreme home make over now, but that’s another story.

When I shared this story of how my life changed, several people came up to me and stated that they though only people with serious problems had ‘testimonies’.  They told me that they never felt like they had a story to tell.  Now they did.  It’s not always the bottom that brings you to turn to God sometimes it’s the emptiness of success or every day life.

This leads me to the next reason you should tell your story:

Other People Will Identify With Your Story.storytelling_quote4

I have a close friend who once told me they could never share their story in public because it was too painful.  My friend also felt no one else could identify with what they’d been through and she didn’t want pity.  You see, she’d been rape repeatedly as a child by her own father.

Who could understand this horror story?  Certainly no one could benefit.  You can probably guess the rest.  She finally did have the courage to share her story and the response was amazing.  Many woman (and a few men) came forward to say they were also molested by a family member or other person.  One woman even contacted her to say, “I never thought I could tell someone my story because they wouldn’t believe it.”  She also had been raped by her father.

In the years to follow, my wife and I had the privilege of providing spiritual counsel (alongside professional counselors) for 4 woman who also have lived through this same horrifying experience with their fathers.  What if my friend never told her story?  These other woman wouldn’t have received the help they needed.

You Can Learn to Easily Tell Your Story.

The easiest way to organize your story is to answer these four questions:

  1. What was you life like before?
    (I had a great job, new car, apartment but wasn’t fulfilled.)
  2. What happened to cause you to change?
    (I felt empty, like there was no purpose.)
  3. What happened at the moment of life-change?
    (My friend invited me to church and Jesus became real to me.)
  4. How is your life different now?
    (I now feel fulfilled and have given my life to help others.)

Conclusion:

There’s a lot of ways to improve the world; volunteer, give to charity, acts of kindness, stand up for justice…but I think the most powerful way is to simply share your story.  It will travel far beyond that moment through the life of the person changed.

Be a Difference Maker today.  Tell your story.

 

 

7 Leadership Lessons from the Olympics

Here are 7 Leadership Lessons from the Olympics focused upon the United States athletes.  Whether you’re an athlete or not we can all learn leadership lessons from high-achievers in any field.

1.   Success Comes from Hard Work, There is No Short-Cut

“We’re confident because of the hard work.  We’re consistent because of the hard work.” – U.S. female gymnastics team captain Aly Raisman

Yes, Olympic athletes must win the gene pool to have some God-given talent to start but then they also out-work their peers.

2.   Don’t Confuse Effort with Achievement

No participation trophies here. Yes, there’s pride in simply making it to the Olympics because so few people ever do.  However, they don’t give Gold Medals to the person who ‘tried hard’.  In an era where people want to treat all players as the same, not keep score and give both teams a trophy, the Olympics stand as a stark difference.  “Oh, you’re the 2nd greatest in the world at this sport?  You get a silver medal.  Please stand one step down from the person with the gold.”

I think we set our children up for disappointment and confusion in life when we tell them they can do anything they want.  It’s simply not true.  Success takes talent and hard work.

The balance between points one and two are important.  You must work hard IN AN AREA WHERE YOU ALSO HAVE TALENT. People spend far too much time working to improve their weakness instead of working on their strengths to make them great.

If Michael Phelps spent all his time trying to be a better runner because he was terrible at it, we’d have never heard of him.  Delegate your weaknesses, enhance your strengths.

3.   Expectation Drives Preparation

A mentor of mine, Nelson Searcy teaches the ‘Law of Spiritual Readiness’ to churches.  He says, “If you prepare for guests, you’ll receive more guests.”  Guess what?  We bought more bibles, made more guest bags and began to pray for more guests and doubled the number of guests coming to our church!

There’s an old saying in boxing, “The fight is won in the gym.”  Champions train like champions. When you’re throwing things together at the last minute it shows.  Do the work.  Prepare like a champion.

4.   Take the Time to Begin Well

When you look at any racer, sprinters like Usain Bolt, swimmers like Michael Phelps etc. they understand the importance of beginning well.  They spend time practicing the start.  They make sure their feet are set perfectly.

My dad used to tell me when building anything, “Measure twice, cut once.”  This goes along with lesson #3, there is no substitute for proper preparation.  I’d rather spend extra time planning a project then rush into unforeseen mistakes.  Sometimes 5 extra minutes preparing saves you an hour down the road.

5.   Leaders Don’t Quit

“I just knew I had to really dig deep.  That’s the closest I’ve ever come to throwing up in the middle of a race.” – U.S. Gold Medal Olympic Swimmer Katie Ledecky

We often hear about ‘heart’ or ‘digging deep’ for champion athletes.  What does that mean?  At means when competing at a very high level, at some point we all want to quit. To get an easier job, to move to a better city, a spouse that will treat me better…everyone faces that moment where they just want to give up.  When it gets really hard, the great ones push harder.  No one ever got a gold medal for quitting.

6.   Leaders Make Their Teams Better

I’ve always detested the athlete that pads their personal statistics at the cost of the team victory. The Olympics seem to build such team unity that I can never remember seeing that.

“My job is to win the game for the U.S., and I’m going to do everything possible to do that.” – basketball player Kyrie Irving

7.   Leaders Don’t Do it for the Cheers

Kim Rhode becomes first woman to medal at six straight Olympic Games. Wow!  You would think that would be a huge story even with the great US gymnastics team and the crazy Michael Phelps gold rush.  Actually it’s one of the least covered stories.  Why?  Shooting isn’t that popular as an Olympic sport and guns are a controversial subject in US.

The point is this, if you wait for the cheers you’ll be disappointed.  For all the medals won in the Olympics we will only read stories on a small number of the gold medal winners. So why do all the other Olympians do it?  Not for fame but to achieve the goals that are important to them.

A proverb from the bible says, “Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth.” Proverbs 27:2

Don’t seek fame as a leader, seek success.

 

Please comment below on which leadership lesson from these Olympic athletes impacted you the most or share something else you learned watching the Olympics.

 

New U

New U_PP SCREEN-JUST THE EMBLEM-02

Welcome to the New You.  We hear this talked about every January.  The gyms become full, people make new promises to themselves (or sometimes the same ones as last year) and ‘resolve’ to change.

Here’s the truth, half us don’t even make New Year’s resolutions anymore.  After years of not keeping them, we give up.

  • Of the people that do make resolutions, 1 out of 4 quit within two weeks!

The majority of 40+ year olds don’t even bother anymore.  Maybe we’re happier with ourselves.  If you’re over 40 like me, we don’t need a new job, we’ve found our career.  We don’t have to find love, we’ve loved, we’re on our second marriage. We don’t need to get healthier because we’re not trying to impress anyone.  Ok, even I didn’t believe that one.

Yes, most people in their 20s still make New Year resolutions but maybe it’s because they are still optimistic. You believe in true love. You believe you can find a career you’re passionate about. And yes, you can get in shape. 30 somethings…you’re split, half will-half won’t.

Here are the…

Top Three New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Lose weight/get healthy
  2. Get organized
  3. Improve finances.

These are good goals, life-improving things.

Why we should all believe we can change and make New Year’s Resolutions.

  • Of the people who DO make New Year’s resolutions only 17% keep them all year.

Pretty bleak. Why even try?…because 17 out of 100 people do actually make life changes and they’re no better than you and me.  What do these people who keep their resolutions have that most people don’t?  A plan.  Plain and simple, a plan to change.

Success is built by making a few right-decisions, daily.

My wife Joanne and daughter Christy made a simple resolution to not drink soda for a whole year. Their plan was simple. First, get soda out of the house.  Second, decide on alternatives now before going to restaurants (iced tea or water). Bring water or flavored water when you go to friends’ houses. Last, keep each other accountable.  Don’t underestimate the power of someone helping.  For fun, I provided an incentive. $100 on New Year’s Day when you complete it.

Here’s the thing, they both can drink soda now, but really don’t desire it any more.  One year gave them a good health change.

When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed. Proverbs 16:1-3

It’s not too late. If you’ve never been successful with a resolution (or any other goal) try again.  If you made a  New Year’s Resolution and already broke it, it’s just a date on the calendar. Start again, but with a solid plan this time.

1. Write Your Resolution Down

2. Make a Plan

3. Get an Accountability Partner

4. Make the Decision Daily

Don’t think about the whole year, one-day-at-a-time works. I’m going to work out today. I’m going to organize my inbox today. I’m going to put money into savings today.

If you say, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” tomorrow never comes.  It turns into a new today where we say, “I’ll do it tomorrow.”  Think about today and before you know it, a year will go by.

And before you know it, you’ll be a New You.

Star Wars…Awaken the Force in YOU

Star Wars: The Force AwakensMany people believe in an unseen force, a universal power that connects all life. This search for a ‘higher power’ connecting us is a reoccurring topic in all the Star Wars films. Anyone has watched any of the Star Wars franchise can tell you it’s called ‘The Force’.

The question is what is that force?

STAR WARS: The Force Awakens is officially the biggest box office smash of all-time passing Avatar, as I predicted its opening weekend in my last blog.

Toaists call this energy ‘Chi’. New age gurus and biometric feedback healers will refer the ‘energy of life’.  Shamans and Reiki practitioners call it the ‘Universal Life-Force’. It is most likely a combining of these ideals in these sources that shaped the idea of The Force for Star Wars.

100px-Yin_yang.svgSTAR WARS includes the Buddhist concept of Ying and Yang.

This is the belief that there is a connection between all opposite or contrary forces.  In good there is some evil, in evil some good.

Star Wars Director, George Lucas, while raised Methodist was largely influenced by this Buddhist belief. He called himself a Buddhist-Methodist.

The title for STAR WARS: The Force Awakens, gives hope to the universe, saying, “There’s something coming that will combat the evil in the universe.”  Christians feel that same way about the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

The Universal Life-Force in the Bible

Would it surprise you to know there is a universal-life force talked about in the Bible?

The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Genesis 1:2

In the beginning there was a force that created light, that created life!  The Holy Spirit hovered over the water waiting for the word from the Father, it’s time, “Let there be light!” and there was light created.

The Holy Spirit also live in the followers of Jesus. (1 Corinthians 6:19).

An invisible power that brings light, creates life from nothing and dwells inside us? It sounds like the force to me! But it’s not, in fact the Holy Spirit is not an ‘it’ at all but God Himself.

Nine times in the New Testament Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as ‘He’ of ‘Him’ never once it.

I will send you the Comforter—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me. John 15:26

Jesus clearly refers to God’s Spirit as ‘He’ and states that ‘He’ will tell you about me. (Jesus) 

There is little doubt that Jesus can’t be referring to some enigmatic energy.  He is describing a living being who speaks.  At other times the Holy Spirit is described as having emotions and a will, these are not characteristics of energy.

To the Christian, that means that God Himself flows throughout the universe.  The greatest hope is that He can dwell in us!

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. Romans 8:11

This is a promise to all who follow Christ. The Holy Spirit will live in you.

Want to awaken the force in you? Just ask.

Your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. Luke 11:13

Want to learn more about the real force running the universe…The Holy Spirit?  Contact me in a comment below or go to:

NoPerfectPeopleHERE.com

Read previous post: ‘Twas the Night Before Star Wars

‘Twas the Night before Star Wars…’

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

That’s right they gave them a pre-release day on Thursday in most theaters. This could be the biggest movie of all time. Why?

STAR WARS contains the two biggest themes in story telling. First the classic good vs. evil and second the search for significance.

Good vs. Evil

The STAR WARS movie series uses the imagery made famous in David and Goliath. The smaller, weaker, people are oppressed by the larger, stronger, evil empire.  Good people often feel like underdogs, unable to make a difference in an evil world controlled by people stronger than them.  From the abused child to the traveler worried about terrorism there’s this sense of helplessness. At some point in our lives we all feel like the underdog.  STAR WARS taps into the message that there is hope for good to win, for the little guy to knock down the evil empire.

The Bible is full of stories where weaker, common, people did extraordinary things, overcoming great obstacles, and defeating great odds with God’s help.  You can win over the injustice in your life and you don’t even need a light saber!

The title for STAR WARS: The Force Awakens, gives hope to the world.  It says, “There’s something coming that will combat the evil in the universe.”  Christians feel that same way about the Christmas Story. There is a ‘force’ (the Messiah) that awakens in the world bringing hope.

The Search for Significance

In the original STAR WARS movie, Luke bemoans his existence on a nowhere farm.  He thinks, “There has to be more to life than this.”  How many people feel as they go to their daily routine?

STAR WARS taps into humanity’s search for significance.

All people want to believe life has meaning. Most believe that there’s some ‘universal force’ that is controlling things. It’s not just a religious thing. Many atheists believe in a ‘universal mind’ or some other life force linking us together.
Why?

We were created with knowledge of the eternal and the divine by our creator.  Something that tells us that there’s something bigger than us, more than what we can see.  The Bible says, “Even nature shows us that there is a Creator.”  In addition to creation, The Holy Spirit is all around us, bringing us life and guiding those who choose to follow His ways. He tells us there’s something more out there.

What can we learn from STAR WARS? 

That there is a desire in all human beings to know the meaning of life.  To know that there’s hope beyond their daily frustrations.  To know that good can win, especially when it looks like all is lost.

That is the message of Christmas.

It may look dark and hopeless now, but a star in the heaven announces that a force for good has awakened in the world.  The one foretold in prophesy, the Savior, the Son of God…Jesus.

Looking for Hope this Christmas?  Go to one of the STAR WARS Christmas Services at House of Praise, in person or on-line.

NoPerfectPeopleHERE.com

Go to Next Star Wars Blog: Awaken The Force in YOU

Leadership Lessons from Jurassic World

JurassicWorldJurassic World: Everything a blockbuster movie should be.  Big actors, lots of action, huge sound, rotten villains, surprising twists and fun. Oh, and did I mention dinosaurs?! But that’s not why I’m writing…
Whether you’re a dinosaur fan or not, we can learn leadership lessons from this movie. How you may ask? Here’s an example:

      The movie caught my attention immediately by using the classic musical score from the original movie.  As a fan of Jurassic Park I smiled and whispered ‘nice’. Throughout the movie, there were several call backs to the original. This reminds leaders that to build the future we must respect the past.

In leadership today, it seems that we often don’t honor the ‘giants’ whose shoulders we stand on.  Honoring the past helps us avoid arrogance.  I attended a conference I Dallas, where Steven Furtick, pastor of the Fastest-growing church in the US made this point beautifully.  Steve said to Ed Young (pastor of Fellowship Church) and Tommy Barnett  (pastor of First Assembly Phoenix) “I should go farther than you because I stand on what you’ve done. Thank you for what you’ve done for me.”

Humility mixed with a desire to do greater. Brilliant.

Jurassic World respected Jurassic Park and the foundation built by the franchise. Now let’s see what other leadership lessons we may glean from this blockbuster.

Here are some direct quotes from Jurassic World and the leadership lessons we can learn from them:

      “Beware treating the awesome as ordinary.” – One of characters, Claire, said, “No one’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore. Consumers want them louder, bigger, more teeth.”  Remember the wonder of one life changed, of hearing God’s voice, of the privilege of leading others. Not everyone has those experiences.  Don’t ‘play marbles with diamonds.” Get just as excited about the 100th person as you did the first.

      “We have to get people’s attention.” – Claire also stated, “Every time we unveil a new asset, attendance spikes.”  To attract new people to church, we have to surprise them.  It can be as simple as telling them they don’t have to dress up.  Several surveys of unchurched people stated that the biggest objection to going to church was ‘nothing to wear.’  We launched a “These are my church clothes” mailing campaign for Easter.

These-are-my-church-clothes

The ad featured a ‘come as you are’ feel.  The results were our largest attendance ever.  We caught their attention with something different than they expected and leveraged that into overcoming an objection we knew they had. Marketing 101.

      Leaders Should Be Humble – “Jurassic World exists to remind us how very small we are.” – CEO character Simon Masrani. When leading His church, we must always remember that God plan is so much greater than our little piece, and His Kingdom is so much larger than our individual church.  Reminding ourselves that He is in charge, not us, can help avoid disasters.

      Remain teachable – Trust the experts, not the crowd.  Another character, Owen, was a behavioral specialist and had trained velociraptor since they were born, but people refused to listen to his insights on their behavior.  Some of the most scandalous leadership fails could have been avoided completely by simply listening to others.  We all need those “emperor has no clothes on[1]” moments.

      Consider the Perspective of Others – When confronted about creating a ‘monster’ hybrid dinosaur in the film, scientist Dr. Henry Wu responded, “Monster is a relative term.  To a canary, a cat is a monster.  We’re just used to being the cat.”  A good leader should always consider the perspectives of those without decision-making power.  In churches leaders are often surrounded by other ‘core church people’ who think like them.  A ‘groupthink’ results and other perspectives are not considered.  For example: if you want to know why some people don’t attend church, you have to talk to some non-church people.

I could keep going, but you get my point.  Get the DVD/Blue-Ray of Jurassic World and watch it again looking for leadership principles.

Share your thoughts in the comment section below and enjoy the movie.

 

Coming Next Week: What does the Bible say about dinosaurs? Were they real or made up by scientists with vivid imaginations to prove evolution?

______________________

[1] The Emperor’s New Suit by Hans Christian Andersen, http://hca.gilead.org.il/emperor.html

How Introverts Can Easily Start Conversation

Left out of Group discussion

How can an introvert be involved in group conversation?

One of the most difficult things for an introvert is to begin a conversation with a group of people they don’t know. In this article I will give you tips on how to do just that comfortably…without sweating or hyperventilating.

I’m an extrovert, I freely admit that.  My four daughters joke that I “could make friends in an elevator.”  I was going to object but in fact I have made friends in an elevator on more than one occasion.  What I mean is, learning about their family, their name, occupation and sometimes even exchanging contact info, in a 3 floor ride!  I enjoy it.  If you don’t, let me help.

My goal is NOT to make you like me. My wife is an introvert.  It’s part of her charm.  She won’t raise her hand for a free gift or make eye contact with strangers. After 24 years of marriage still whispers “Don’t embarrass me or draw attention to me.” as we enter parties or group settings.  I understand how introverts think and how anxious group situations can be and have some practical conversation guides you can easily use.

Let’s talk about how you can OWN a group conversation.

1. Don’t Use a Greeting Alone, 

Don’t say: Hi, Hello or some other greeting.

Don’t use a greeting alone because the person doesn’t really need to respond, and if they do choose to respond it will most likely be a one word answer.

“Hi”     —     “Hello”

“Good morning”     —     “Good morning”

Yawn…I can hear the boredom already.  Feel your palms starting to sweat as you slowly try to find a reason to walk away?

2. Don’t Ask Simple Questions

“How are you?”     —     “Good”

“Where are you from?”     —     “Dayton, Ohio”

“What do you do?”     —     “I’m a computer analyst”

Gosh!  This guy just doesn’t want to talk!  I’ve asked several questions and nothing. Simple questions, solicit simple answers. Simple answers leads to awkward conversations.

Remember: Complex Questions =
More Comfortable Conversations

3. The SECRET is… Ask For Stories, Not Facts

Instead of asking…

“Where are you from?”         ask…
“What’s the strangest thing about where you grew up?”

Instead of asking…

“What do you do for work?”         ask…
“How did you get into your line of work?”

They will tell you, “I’m an air traffic controller. I got into that because I was trained to do that in the Navy.”

Response: “Wow, tell me what you liked best about the Navy.”

Instead of asking…

“How was your weekend?”         ask…
“If you could go anywhere, where would you go and why?”

Stories develop better connections.

BONUS: Want to be a Black Belt in Conversation?

4. Give Unexpected Responses

If someone says, “How was your flight?” instead of responding, “Fine.” try this:

I would pay extra to fly on an airline where the seating was based on IQ!

or for the very brave…

“I read about a Continental flight in 2007 where the airplane bathroom reversed its pressure! There was a 3″ deep stream of waste water running down the aisle in coach!  So I guess compared to that, mine was pretty good.”

If someone says, “Isn’t it nice weather today?” instead of responding, “It sure is.” try this:

“This is the same weather it was during the moon landing, if that actually happened.”

Now you’ve provoked someone into taking a stance on the subject or running away screaming, but they’re not bored!

Try some of these techniques and come back to comment on how they worked please.

I look forward to hearing your stories.

4 Things Avengers 2: Age of Ultron Taught Me About Effective Teamwork

Avengers Age of Ultron, A Lesson In Teamwork

Avengers Age of Ultron, A Lesson In Teamwork

I just saw Avengers: Age of Ultron (View the Trailer HERE.) for a second time! When watching this film, as multiplied millions have, one can’t help but notice the effective teamwork.  The reason the Avengers exist is to “fight the foes no single super hero can withstand.”

As a comic book geek I know that an ever-changing team roster becomes a theme in the comic book Avengers but teamwork was always emphasized.  This comes through in Age of Ultron and is an important lesson for us.

Don’t click away! You don’t have to like comic books or even Marvel movies to read this blog. This film contained some important lessons about effective teamwork.  Here are a few:

1. Effective Teams: Meld Together Diverse Personalities.

The team is made up of wildly different individuals: a billionaire arms manufacturer, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.); a fabled Norse god, Thor (Chris Hemsworth); a raging monster/mad scientist (a modern-day Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde) The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); a WWII war hero, Captain America (Chris Evans), a cold-war, Russian spy, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); and expert marksman who was a former thief, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). They are under the authority of a mysterious leader Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) who is the director of a government covert ops organization. Wow, how could they ever get along?

Any team needs people with diverse personalities and skill sets.  The key to being an effective team, is melding those individuals into a unit whose skills compliment each other.

In order to do this, creating a team identity is paramount. When a sports team for example shouts “Wildcats!” as they break their pre game huddle, they’re reminding themselves that they win or lose as a team. The effective team player may pass on personal glory or accomplishment for the better of the team. Any effective team must learn that we win or lose as a team.  A great player knows it doesn’t matter if I get my points if we lose the game.  An effective team member realizes it isn’t just about me doing my job but about all of us pulling to accomplish our team goals. As the old cliché says, “There’s no I in team.”

Leaders cast vision for the team and create situations where we win together. [Leader read Servant Leadership to learn more.]

2. Have a Clear Chain of Command

Tony Stark (Iron Man) at one point says, “I just pay for everything and design everything, make everyone look cooler.” A  shield agent had called Tony ‘boss’. Tony points to Captain America saying “He’s the Boss.”  While there is resentment in his voice there is something more important for effective teamwork, CLARITY.

There is no doubt about who has final decision.  I believe in the synergy or group input and discussion but in the heat of battle, someone has to make the final call. Have a clear team leader and give then the authority to make decisions.

Side note: That leader must have humility as a dominant character trait or the team will become discouraged.  A good leader shares the credit for success and motivates their team to work harder.

3. Give the Team the Information They Need to Succeed 

Tony Stark (Iron Man) is trying to create an artificial intelligence that will protect the world from alien attacks.  He accidentally creates Ultron who decides after some brief contemplation, that the Avengers (and humanity) are the problem with the earth. “I know you’re good people. I know you mean well. But you just didn’t think it through. There is only one path to peace… your extinction.”  Ultron becomes the Avengers greatest foe.

(Geek note: In the comics Henry Pym aka, Ant Man creates Ultron.)

Here’s where it all went wrong.  Tony Stark decides to work on the ‘Ultron project’ with Dr Bruce Banner but decides not to tell the rest of the team.  He didn’t want to hear their objections to this dangerous project.

An effective team communicates with each other to avoid their projects and activities hindering or harming the other team members!  Over communicate.

4. Take Time to Celebrate the Cool Things and Have Fun

As Tony Stark is searching the Hydra base (a terrorist organization) he mutters, “Please be a secret door. Please be a secret door.” and yells, “YES!” when the wall moves and he discovers one. This billionaire inventor gets excited about a secret passage hidden in an old stone wall.

We begin every meeting with “What went well this week.”  We take time to celebrate the good things, the fun stories, the lives being impacted and the successful executions.  Celebrating team success is an important key to being an effective team for the long-term.

I sincerely hope 4 fun facts about being an effective team taken from the Avengers: Age of Ultron will help your team become a super team!

_________________

Read the first two installments in the Avengers inspired blogs: 5 Marvel Marketing Tips, and 5 Leadership Lessons from Avengers 2: Age of Ultron

5 Leadership Lessons from Avengers 2: Age of Ultron

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron

I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron (View the Trailer HERE.) Friday at the IMAX in 3D.  Wow, I was instantly 12 again.  I haven’t enjoyed a movie this much since the first Avengers. It was so well-written, a modern-day twist on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

As I viewed this special effect wonder, it occurred to me how many great one-liners were in this picture.  However, you don’t have to like Marvel movies to read this blog. Most interesting about this film was it contained some great truths about leadership and life.  Here they are:

1. “You never have to recover from a good start.” In the opening scene the Avengers are attacking the Hydra base and this line was uttered touted the importance of beginning well.

Church planters have learned that successful church plants start well.  If a church can ‘launch’ big and start with a healthy culture (see Nelson Searcy’s book Launch) they are far more likely to exist 5 years down the road.  A general leadership principle is proper planning saves pain during implementation.

[also read Someday Syndrome to avoid procrastination]

2. “Teams are only as strong as their weakest link.” – During the battle with Hydra, the evil Baron ordered, “target the weak ones.”  His strategy to distract the others. They shot Hawkeye, the super-accurate archer who has no super strength or other power.  The others stopped to care for their fallen comrade and to evacuate him.

Any organization can come to a grinding halt when there is a weak staff member, leader, or team member. I experienced this when we had a staff member who was mistreating people and needed constant monitoring.  This led to many meetings, hours of discussion, and increased stress. The result was our church didn’t grow for the first time in years.

Plan ahead, put more time into your hiring and promotion processes to make sure you have the right team members. Don’t settle for people who have talent but character flaws, they’ll distract the whole team.

3. “Everyone creates the thing they dread.”  Ultron quoted this as he mused about people attempting to avoid destruction by make greater weapons of destruction.

We must be fearless when leading.  If we fear failure, we will surely fail.  For example the more I’ve tried not to offend people the more people seem to be offended. When I simply lead, explaining the vision, there are actually less roadblocks from people.

4. “I tried to create a suit of armour around the world but I created something terrible.” As leaders we must realize that our actions affect others.  We can’t make decisions in a vacuum.  It’s important to take a moment and think worst case scenario. This is hard for me as a positive, glass is overflowing kind of guy, but we must remember the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  In our haste to help others we may actually hurt them.  Ultron told Stark, “I know you meant well but you didn’t think it through.”

[Ever felt this way? Read this devotional on regrets.]

5. “Sometimes exactly what I want to hear is exactly what I don’t want to hear.” Bruce Banner (Hulk’s mild-mannered, scientist side) said this quote.  It is a great contrast to prideful attitude of Tony Stark (Iron Man) who isolated from his friends when creating Ultron.  Stark didn’t want to hear the ‘what ifs’  from the ‘caution crowd’.  His lack of accountability lead to creating a monster. The Bible says in the multitude of counselors there is safety.

Have people on your team that will tell you what you don’t want to hear.  I don’t mean negative people who stop progress but honest people who aren’t impressed by you. People who ask the question, “Have you considered this?”  We all need those people.

BONUS QUOTE: “I just pay for everything and design everything, make everyone look cooler.” Tony Stark (Iron Man) corrected the shield agent who called him ‘boss’ pointing to Captain America. “He’s the Boss.”

The person who is the leader isn’t always the most talented or even the most valuable. Every person on the team has a critical function. The caution is, team members must be willing to follow the leader and their vision, even if their pride says, “I’m more talented (or smarter, harder working, etc.) than the leader is.”

I sincerely hope these leadership quotes from the Avengers: Age of Ultron will inspire your team to heroic accomplishments!

3 Reasons to Read Your Bible Today

As we’ve been studying the Book of Acts this summer, we’ve learned how good actions can cause a great chain-reaction. During this series, many people have told me they enjoyed reading an entire book of the Bible. This made me decide to write to you today.

I’ll be straight with you – I want to challenge you into doing something. My powers of persuasion rarely work to talk my kids into cleaning their rooms, but I’m hoping for better results with you today.

I’m hoping to convince you to read the Bible every day this week. 7 days in a row. Here are three reasons I think you should:

1. There’s interesting stuff in the Bible.
Don’t ever let someone tell you the Bible is boring. If someone says that, they aren’t reading it right. A fish vomiting up Jonah, all the animals on Noah’s Ark, David and sling vs. Goliath, Samson and Delilah, wars and conquest, love and marriage, miracles, oh, and a dead man coming back to life…I could go on and on. There are some incredible stories in the Bible.

2. The Bible is not like any other book.
This might surprise you, but the Bible isn’t really a book at all. It’s a collection of 66 small books and letters. It was written by 40 different authors across a couple of continents, spread over thousands of years, and in three languages. It’s been collected, organized and preserved for us by the Holy Spirit and God’s servants.

3. The Bible has influenced the world like no other book.
The Bible has shaped more lives than any single thing ever! – It’s influenced Presidents and Kings as well as shaping nations.  Before I was a Christ follower I wanted to read the Bible because of it being the most widely read book every written.  Now, I read it because I know it’s the word of the Living God.

I know reading the Bible seems overwhelming…but did you know if you read just 15 minutes a day, you can read the whole Bible in about a year. If you read God’s Word for just 15 minutes a day, I think you will benefit.

SO, WHERE DO I START?

I know this sounds weird, but if you want to start reading the Bible, I don’t recommend starting from the beginning. (I told you the Bible wasn’t like other books…can you imagine starting a novel from the middle?)

If I were you, I would start with the New Testament, specifically the Gospel of John. It’s all about the love of Jesus, and it was written by one of his best friends.

So what do you say? Will you give it a try?

God Bless,
Pastor Lon

P.S. If you want to read online, or on your tablet, try youversion.com. It’s free and you can follow one of their reading plans or just dive in to the Book of John.

Abortion is Racism

ABORTION IS EPIDEMIC – New York commits the second highest number of abortions in the nation (California being first killing over 214,000 children by abortion every year). Over 100,000 New Yorkers are aborted every year (102,678 in the latest year reported), There is no doubt that it has reached epidemic proportions, one of the largest causes for ending lives in the United States but did you know one of the driving force behind abortion is racism?

Let me share some facts with you…

In NY City, more black babies are aborted than are born alive! You heard me right; more than ½ of all black babies in NYC are killed prior to birth. The NY State Department of Health reports[1] that in 2011 (latest year for available NYC stats) for every 1,000 black babies born alive, 1,223 are aborted. In fact black babies are aborted at ratios up to five times that of the majority population!

You may think, “That’s awful but is it really racially motivated?”

Margaret Sanger is the founder of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. Margaret was a racist elitist who believed that birth control was “nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defective” (quote from Chapter 18 of Margaret Sanger’s “Women and the New Race”).

Margaret was a Eugenist. Eugenics is the belief and practice of improving the genetic quality of the human population.It is a social philosophy advocating the improvement of human genetic traits through the promotion of higher reproduction of people with desired traits (positive eugenics), and reduced reproduction of people with less-desired or undesired traits (negative eugenics). Sound familiar? Hitler and the Arian Supremacist believed in selective breeding as the next phase of evolution to insure a pure white race. These beliefs were greatly influenced in the Eugenics Movement of the 1920s.

In the 2nd International Eugenics Conference, Eugenics was identified as the “Self Direction of Human Evolution”. This belief system drove Margaret Sanger to found Planned Parenthood to help control the population of those undesirable races. She wanted to eliminate the racial elements that were a hindrance to the breeding of a ‘race of thoroughbreds’. 3“Pivot of Civilization”, Margaret Sanger, 1922

That is why all the early branches of Planned Parenthood were in low-income housing areas that were predominately African Americans…so that the “undesirables” that these racists were trying to eliminate would have easy access to kill their unborn and sometimes newly born, babies.

Today, Margaret Sanger would be thrilled to know their secret agenda to eliminate the races she called undesirable was working. She wanted abortion to control the population of those deemed “less evolved” by the white supremacist of the Eugenics Movement. In New York City where more black babies are killed than are born, that satanic agenda seems to be working.

Planned Parenthood: half a billion dollars a year of your tax money given each year to fund the racist murdering of unborn, black, babies.

I thought you should know how racist abortion is.

____________________________________________________________________

[1] http://www.health.ny.gov/statistics/vital_statistics/2011/table23.htm

Dept. of Health, Abortion Ratios by Race/Ethnicity and Residency, Table 23

Repetition (part two): 7 Biblical Truths That Need to Be Repeated

1. Jesus Christ is the only Savior.

Pastor and leaders, keep telling the church — over and over again because the lie of “there are many roads to heaven” is creeping into the Western Church.

Parents and guardians, keep telling your kids that Jesus is the only way to heaven.  They spend most of their time away from you in a world that teaches them the opposite.

Christians, keep telling the world Jesus Christ is Lord.  He’s their only hope of salvation.

Always stay focused on The Lord Jesus with people.  People aren’t offended by the word “God” but use the name of Jesus Christ and many are.  Why? It’s because there are many gods, but only one true and live God!

2. The church is an essential part of the Lord’s plan, for all followers of Jesus.

I am referring to your local congregation. The church of Jesus Christ is more than our local assembly, I know.  However, it is impossible for world-wide church or universal church to carry out God’s will without strong local churches.  In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus tells His followers to go and make disciples.  This includes baptisms and teaching them to obey God’s word.  The most effective place of discipleship is a local church.

Many people claim to be able to live for Christ better without the church but I’ve never known it to be true.  Left alone, nature always moves towards the wilderness.  To produce much fruit a tree needs to be pruned, watered, fertilized etc.  The local church is the means Jesus created to disciple us.

NO ONE who followed Christ in the New Testament church stayed on their own.  They were “added daily” to the local church (Acts 2).  When you read the New Testament 90% of verses that talk about the church refer to a local gathering.  All the Epistles of Paul were written to a local assembly.  The word church itself means “those called out to assemble.”  There is a move today to make it unimportant to be part of a local church and the result is carnal, weak, immature believers who have not been properly discipled.

3. The Bible is the inspired word of God.

Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” David said the godly man’s “delight is in the Word of God and in that Word (law) doth he meditate day and night.”

We must combat the lies that the Bible is a collection of good stories or that the things in the Bible didn’t really happen but as simply allegories.  When it says Jonah was swallowed by a big fish or Peter walked on water, those things really happened to real people!

People have tried for years to disprove scripture, even the history of the Old Testament, to disprove that is was divinely written.  No one ever has disproved on verse.  A great book on this subject is Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell.  It’s not easy reading but the facts are great. Josh set out to disprove the Bible and became a preacher after realizing he couldn’t!

As far as the Bible itself.  Repeat verses to yourself and your kids.  Memorize passages. Repetition is a great teacher. In fact, it may be the best teacher on the planet.  If the Bible is the Word of God then let’s do our best to learn it.

I know you’re thinking “WHAT?  There are only 3 truths here!”  Well, it was getting long so the rest will come next blog.  Follow me so you’ll be notified!

Repetition: The Frustrating Father of Learning

A few days ago I spoke to my daughters basketball coach after a loss in a tournament.  (Being a Syracuse University alumni and fan I can sympathize.)  He bemoaned, “The things we just went over in practice two days ago they completely forgot!”  As a coach, I know that frustration, when you practice and practice a play then the players don’t do it in the game.  Any leader runs into this in any area of life.

I recently spoke to someone who asked me for advice about the very topic I had preached upon only two weeks before.  I asked him if he’d missed that Sunday but he replied that he was in that service. I repeated the instruction I had given while preaching and he said, “Wow, that’s really good.  It helps a lot, thanks.”  I stopped him as he began to walk away and asked, “Did you listen when I said those exact words only Sundays ago?” He looked at me bewildered.

In truth, he had heard, but the lesson had not penetrated. Maybe he was distracted or didn’t take notes but more likely he just needed to hear it again.

This is the thing most pastors, leaders and teachers…and dare I say parents, are most frustrated with.  “I teach a great lesson but they don’t remember it two weeks later.”

I remind teachers and leaders often that teaching someone an important truth once is never enough.  The only way to change their behavior is for you to say it over and over again.

Repetition.  No one enjoys it. Some students  will check out, “I’ve heard this before.”  The teacher is bored because they have taught the information before. The problem is repetition is the single best way to invoke change.  If you lift a weight once, nothing changes (except maybe a hernia) but lift that same weight 100 times a day, every day, and you will see great changes over time.

Repetition is the Frustrating Father of Learning but better to endure some frustration than to miss an important truth that should be learned.

“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift that is in you … ” (II Timothy 1:6).

“Of these things put them in remembrance … ” (II Timothy 2:14).

I understand we can’t repeat everything but here are something that need to be repeated over and over and over…well you get the point, ad infinitum.  In part 2 of this blog tomorrow, I will give 7 Biblical Truths we pastors, leaders and parents need to keep repeating in the hope that eventually we will get it.

How to View The Son of God Movie

I went to see the newest movie by Hollywood power houses Roma Downey (Touch by An Angel) and her husband Mark Burnett (Braveheart, Survivor, The Voice, and more).  This dynamic duo gave us the great TV series “The Bible” so I was excited to see what they would do with our Savior’s life.

As we talked with friends afterward someone made a joke that was actually profound given the circumstances, “It’s hard to like a movie after you’ve read the book.  The book is always better.”  Well in this case, the book is everlasting word of the living God, so it’s hard to compete. After a brief chuckle, I shared my thoughts about how to view a biblically based movie.

Before going to the Son of God, I thought, “As a person who has given the majority of his adult life to studying, even memorizing the Bible, it would be easy for me to pick part the errors.”  Yes, I could wow my friends with the inconsistencies I would catch as I rattle them off like a ‘theological blooper reel’ played after the credits. That would be one way to view the film with a “critics eye” but is that what God would want me to do?

Another option would be to approach the movie to see if it’s a quality film by Hollywood standards.  For too many years Christians have settled for substandard writing, stiff acting and cheesy scenery by hiding under the banner of “at least the truth is being preached.”  I thought, “If I see one more feminine acting ‘Jesus’ who stares off into space like an 1970’s stoner I’ll scream!”  After some slow breaths it occurred to me that they have Hollywood Critics and Christian Journalists who already break down the film in these areas.  If you want my opinion, it was very well done and Diogo Morgado is excellent as the Son of God Himself.  

No I didn’t go to scrutinize the Biblical inaccuracies nor to see the cinematic quality of the film.  Instead I decided that the best way for me so look at this film was to ask the question, “How does it represent Jesus, the Son of God?”  In answer to that question, the film did an excellent job!  

Jesus was portrayed as joyful and caring when with the people, frustrated and confrontational with Jewish Leaders the Pharisees.  He acted on his disgust when finding money changers cheating people inside the Temple as he overturned their tables.  The film gave us an excellent glimpse into the anguish in the garden as Jesus prayed but correctly included his commitment to the Father’s will in that moment.  While I felt the Passion of the Christ gave us a far more powerful portrayal of the scourging and crucifixion of Christ, The Son of God certainly showed us that Christ suffered and died a brutal death.  I do believe some of the gore was intentionally avoided to gain the PG-13 audience.  I love that this film gave us some time with the risen savior, even if it was brief.

In summary, my opinion is this.  Go to this movie with the question on your mind, “How is the Son of God portrayed?” If you’ll do that, you will leave with a thankful heart that there is another major Hollywood film that gives the world a favorable snap shot of the Son of God who loved them.

2013: A Personal Review

I don’t usually write about personal topics.  I prefer to write about leadership, church growth or our church itself.  I thought I’d make an exception today and tell you how 2013 was for me personally.

In 2013 (after much prompting from my caring wife) I focused on getting healthier.  
I lost 58 lbs, had my knee repaired and got orthopedic shoe inserts to adjust pronation, all of which caused me to walk better.  I worked to bring high blood pressure down to normal by controlling salt and caffein intake.  I then had a medical procedure to fix an irregular heart beat that had gone into chronic AFIB…wow.  I didn’t realize until I wrote this how many medical issues I had.  I had neglected my personal health to focus on improving our church’s health.  Never a good trade off.

The only thing that changed was my decisions.  i decided to make subtle changes and seek help.  As a goal-driven leader, in years past I felt that I could fix my health issues myself.  Once I admitted I needed help, it really wasn’t that hard.  I followed my friends Deb & Tony’s success into Medifast and it worked great for me.  I stop procrastinating doctor’s care that I should have pursued years ago.  That’s all it took, a couple simple decisions.  

We often make personal change look like an insurmountable obstacle.  Don’t look at the 100 pounds you have to lose, start by choosing your strategy. Then commit to do it for one week, no cheating.  At the end of the week, evaluate.  It’s very similar to the highly effective 12 step programs that encourage “one day at a time”.  Look at your next step only.

In ministry we had some great moments in 2013.  Our church is doing really well and it was a good year spiritually.  We saw thousands saved through Joel Osteen’s Albany Night of Hope and made some great connections with him personally.  We had the biggest Easter and biggest Christmas services ever.  I believe our church is now positioned for the greatest growth in it’s history.  We will do what we need to do in 2014 to prepare for what God is going to do.

Like any year, there are set backs and victories, deaths of loved ones and new births.  You can only control how you respond.  What decisions will you make?

Personal goals for 2014 you ask?  Well I’m committed to this year being my break out year in ministry personally.  I’m committing to get published and to begin traveling to speak again.  I have already booked a couple of speaking engagements early in the year.  (Don’t worry House of Praise.  I will continue my commitment to be in the pulpit at least 40 Sundays a year.)

That’s all for now.  2014 is going to be a great year.

The A-B-Cs of Faith

People often ask about faith.  Faith is often mentioned in the Bible but it is one of those subjective topics that people have various opinions on.
What are the basics about faith that we can learn from scripture?

It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him. – Hebrews 11:6[1]

We see that faith is important to God.  In fact, it’s impossible to please Him without it.  Hebrews chapter 11 is filled with people who received God’s blessing through faith.  What is faith exactly?

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. – Hebrews 11:1

Faith believes confidently that what we are hoping for will exactly happen for us!  It’s more than a wish or a dream.  It’s a confident assurance in an expected answer.  We have faith in things all the time.  We have faith that when we sit the chair will hold us up.  (Unless you struggle with a fat-guy fear.)  We expect a certain behavior.  Biblically God expects us to have faith in Him to behave in a way that He promised He would.

It’s not about GREAT faith, but child-like, mustard-seed-size faith.  We have all been given a measure of faith and it only takes faith the size of a small seed, to move mountains.  Therefore, it’s not about how great your faith is, just if you have any.

How can we exercise faith?  Here’s a simply A-B-C how to guide:

Always Agree with the Word of God.

Don’t worry about not having enough faith, simply agree with God’s word.  The old bumper sticker said it best “God said it.  I believe it, and that settles it!”

If you’re not going to agree with God’s word what are you going to agree with? The negative reports?  The nay-sayers?

We have faith that if we accept Christ’s work as our salvation we shall get to heaven.  Then we should also believe all the other promises He makes us in His word.

Boldly Believe that God rewards those who seek Him.

We have a wrong belief that God is aloof or uncaring.  He loves us and desires to bless us. If we agree with God’s word and we believe He loves us then we will expect His blessing when we seek Him!

If you believe something, you have to act like it.  Be a doer of the word, not a hearer only (James 1:22).  When God told Noah there was going to be a flood and to build an Ark, Noah believed Him.  How do we know?  We know because Noah spent the next 100 years building a giant boat in the desert!!

Side note:  This doesn’t mean be foolish.  The devil ask Jesus to prove His belief in God’s word by jumping off a building (Matthew 4:1-11) but Jesus replied “not to teat God.”  Don’t let the devil get you to take a ‘leap of foolishness’ thinking it’s a ‘leap of faith’.

Confidently Confess the Word of God aloud.

The tongue is like a rudder steering you to where you will go.  Eventually what keep saying will come to pass in your life.  If continually tell yourself you can’t do something, you can be sure you won’t.

Note: Speaking something isn’t all that take to get somewhere, there is also obedience, aligning with God’s will and more but you can be sure that if you confess you won’t, you won’t.

In John chapter 1 people ask John the Baptist who he is.  John’s responds in humility (not worthy to unstrap the Lord’s sandle) and confidence in God working through Him (I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.)  It’s not arrogance to confidently confess that God is going to do for you and through you, exactly what He said He would do…it’s faith!

It’s my hope that this simple ABCs of Faith will bless you an


[1] All scripture references are quoted from the New Living Translation unless otherwise noted.

7 Unspoken Questions People Ask About Their Church

1. Will I be accepted?

This is biggest and most immediate question of every new person. Answering that question involves all that you do. Having different races, ages and styles of people greeting, in our videos, on the platform etc. sends a message that we welcome diversity.

The best way to answer this question is by establishing small groups where people of similar interests, struggles or backgrounds can find and relate to each other. Everyone needs a niche and small groups play a crucial role in meeting this need. You must show people that you have a place for them.

2. Will I find friends at this church?

People are looking for opportunities to connect in new relationships. People aren’t just looking for a friendly church, they are looking for friends.  Encourage your people to greet someone they don’t know each week but also to invite new people over to their house.  Again, small groups are a great way to be intentional about this.  We divide our small groups into semester, forcing people to break for a few weeks to keep groups from devolving into cliques.  If people don’t make 3 meaningful relationship connections in a church within the first year, they usually stop attending.

3. Will I make a difference at this church?

People want to their lives to count. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. When you can show people that they can make a difference with their gifts and talents, they will want to be involved.  Not everyone wants to be a singer, usher or small group leader so we try to offer a diversity of positions so there is a place for everyone to serve. We want our church to be a creative place where people may express their talents and abilities in various ways.  Of course, feedback and appreciation are key.  Simply telling volunteers they are appreciated or showing how their serving builds the church goes a long way in making people feel valued.

4. Will I Feel Safe?

In our society today people often feel unsafe.  Anxiety is at an all time high.  We must create a culture where people are never belittled, gossiped about or abused.  If a new person hears someone being spoken to harshly or gossiping about someone, they tend to believe they will be treated the same way.  Make a person feel unsafe and they will run for the door.  In addition, if they don’t feel their children are in a safe environment with loving teachers, they will leave quickly.

5. Will there be a lot expected of me?

This is a tricky one. It’s true that in American society today people are afraid of being overwhelmed.  Sometimes people don’t join a church because they don’t want to commit to being there every week. However, the other side is also true.  People want to be a part of something important and they understand it requires commitment.  The answer is simple, cast vision and have reasonable requirements.  The key is letting people know that their commitment matters and avoid having outrageous requirements.  Gone are the days of requiring members to attend service mid-week, Sunday and Sunday night.  Now the multiple services gives people options as to which one they attend.

Expect people to keep their commitments as volunteers and hold them to it but keep the time commitment low.  Don’t expect perfection but encourage spiritual growth.

6. Will I benefit from joining this church?

People are inherently self-centered.  Ultimately we want to know what’s in it for them.  Why should they choose your church over others or sleeping in on Sunday? First, clearly explain the biblical, practical and personal reasons for local church membership in literature, from the pulpit, in small groups, in video announcements, every opportunity you can.  Next share testimonies of changed lives, stories of how the church was used by God in an individual’s life.  The truth is, we know people can improve their relationships, health, career, finances and more from being mentored in a church. Don’t forget to illustrate that.  Of course, don’t forget the greatest benefit, a closer relationship with God.

7. Will I connect to God more at your church?

The greatest benefit of being part of a local church should be strengthening our connection to God.  Not everyone feels more connected by listening to a teaching on Sunday.  We must have a variety of ways to connect through avenues like music, art, prayer, support groups, baptism, Holy Spirit activity, how to study scripture and yes, practical pulpit teaching. Most importantly, teaching on how to connect to God.  Many churches talk about discipleship which means growing in following Christ but never explain how to do that.

Are you helping people answer these 7 questions about your church?

Like Easter Every Day

We had an awesome Easter at House of Praise.  In fact, it was the best Easter we ever had.  More people attended that service than we’ve ever had for an Easter service and 11 adults accepted salvation.  The drama CSI: Jerusalem brought the resurrection into a modern setting with understandable evidence that Christ, in fact, did die and rise again.  Amazing, awesome…a day that reminded me why I wanted to go into ministry in the first place…but what about now?

After the wonder of the wedding, there’s a ‘honeymoon phase’.  We are still enjoying the big day but soon reality sets in.  Like the newlyweds returning to work that first Monday, we all will soon be hit with the reality of arguments, bills and the daily challenges of life in general.  In addition to that we will all have friends that we invited to the Easter service and ‘love the church’ but haven’t come back.  How can we keep the momentum of Easter going every day? Do what we did to prepare for Easter, every week!

First Pray. Pray for you job, your family and for those who came to church with you.  Pray God’s will and presence into your life and ask God to draw our friends back to church.  We were all praying for God to move during the Easter services and to draw loved ones to Himself before Easter.  Don’t stop now!

And Jesus said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of His name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ – Luke 24:46-47

Next Follow Up. The power of the resurrection is the hope of forgiveness.  Call your friends and remind them that God has a plan for their lives.  Invite them to come back to church (or those that didn’t make it to Easter to come for the first time).  We were excited about Easter so we left our comfort zone and reached out, do it again this week.  Especially follow up on anyone who met with Christ in a real way.  Gently remind them that repentance involves change, so create a new habit of going to church.

If God spoke to you during the Easter service, follow up on what He told you to do.  Stop worrying about the small stuff and focus on the eternity after your resurrection.

During the forty days after His crucifixion, He appeared to the apostles from time to time, and He proved to them in many ways that He was actually alive. And He talked to them about the Kingdom of God. Once when He was eating with them, He commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift He promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 1:3-5

Last, expect God to do what He promised. Expect God’s Spirit to be present in your life.  We can experience the power of the resurrection every day through the Holy Spirit.  Pray for others for miracles and bring God your own needs.  Jesus promised to pour out His Spirit on the original disciples as they waited in Jerusalem. I think the same applies to us today.  As we wait expectantly after celebrating His resurrection, we can experience His power like Easter every day.

Best Easter Ever

This year at our church (House of Praise) we set out to make Easter the best Easter we’ve ever had.  We produced a 15 minute CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) style drama with professionally done video and scenery as a background.  The sermon followed the theme by investigating the scripture on the resurrection. The music team brought excellence and creativity to the service. The Children’s Department set up a cafe style setting and had fun things like a bouncy room.  Our volunteers were on point, greeting, seating and treating people well.  We gave gifts to guests and then we did everything we could to get people to come. We mailed out 12,000 oversize post cards, we challenged our members to invite 10 people each, and the outreach team handed out hundreds of invites at the local Wal*Mart.  The results?  Best Easter Ever!  Why do I say that?

  • 0ver 430 people attended (Our highest ever!)
  • At least 10 people accepted Christ for the 1st time (filled out a card to tell us)
  • At least 7 people rededicated their lives to following Christ
  • Many people returned to church
  • Many stories of life change already coming in

What this means is all of us didn’t just have a great service but lives were changed and the Kingdom of God advanced!

You can still make it your best Easter ever by committing to let the resurrected Savior run your life.  You can decide to live differently that before Easter, to expect God to be present in your life. You can expect God to flow through you to help others meet the risen Lord.

Make this the best Easter ever in your life by taking the power of the Resurrection with you into the rest of the year…expect new life ahead.  Best Easter ever…

How YOU can make sure Guests do NOT come back

Subtitle: how to turn guests in to one-time visitors

In our church we call new people guests not visitors.  To understand the difference, think of your home. A visitor shows up unexpectedly, uninvited and doesn’t stay usually.  A guest you’ve invited, you expected them, you’re glad to see them and you want them to stay.  You want guests to enjoy themselves and feel welcome.

We prepare at House of Praise for guests.  We’re glad they came, we’ve invited them and we want them to feel so welcomed that they want to join the family.

If you want visitors to just visit and leave, here’s what you do as a church member:

  1. Don’t talk to them.  (Remember it’s US and THEM) Look at them awkwardly and quickly walk away. Only talk to people you already know and most importantly, don’t welcome them.
  2. If you see someone who hasn’t been to church in a while (A Creaster- Christmas and Easter only) point that our to make them feel awkward.  Say “Wow haven’t seen you for a while.” Or even better, “We’d like to see you on more than Easter and Christmas.”
  3. You wouldn’t think this matters but it does.  Make sure we all dress in suits and expensive clothes so guests feel under dressed.
  4. Don’t help guests find their way around. (Think “It’s not my job.”)  If they do dare to ask where something is, just point in the general direction and say, “that way.” Or something so complicated “Louis & Clark couldn’t find it such as,  “Our kid’s ministry is out those back doors, to the left, then another left turn, down a hallway, then turn right, go outside into the other building.”
  5. Mistreat their kids.  Yell at the guest’s kids for something kids normally do like running or taking a 2nd cookie.  If you’re volunteering make check in a long and painful process. Help make the kid’s areas dirty, cluttered, & poorly with extras from the Walking Dead at the door. If a baby cries in maim service, immediately kick the family out of the sanctuary.  They won’t be back!
  6. Keep tension in the air.  Argue or speak rudely to someone in front of the guest. They won’t know it’s your friend you’ve been feuding with all week.  They’ll think we all treat everyone like that.
  7. Above all, Don’t invite guests back.  Don’t speak to them as they leave and don’t follow up on them later in the week to see what they thought

If you will do these simple steps it will keep your church from being filled with new people.  More people will give up on church so their lives won’t improve and yes more people will probably also give up on God and go to hell BUT you can keep your church a comfortable size where you know everyone.

Of course, if that’s not important to you…in our church we treat new people like honored guests.  We include them in conversations,  walk them to where they go, make sure their kids love it, let them know there are NoPerfectPeopleHERE, tell them we are glad they are here and invite them back.  If they’re our friends we may even call them next week to see how they’re doing. Why? Because we genuinely care about them improving their lives and their eternity.

Whose Smile Are You Looking For?

In a recent tender moment with my youngest daughter Alayna, I looked at her and said, “You make me smile.” “Why Dad?” she inquired curiously.

“Well, I always smile when I see you just because I love you but what I mean right now is because you do nice things for Daddy. That shows me your heart.”

“Like what Dad?” she quickly retorted. “Well… like bring me my shoes or pick up my plate, when I don’t even ask.” She smiled and went about her day. Our conversation made me think of how we should be serving simply for our Father’s smile. Not rewards on this earth or in heaven, not for recognition from people, certainly not for position or power, but simply the make the Father smile.

Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, he said, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” – Galatians 1:19

Paul had decided whose smile he wanted. He was ‘performing’ for an audience of one.

That night after dinner Alayna grabbed my dirty dish and brought it to the dishwasher. No one else noticed, but me. Across the dinner room I mouthed “thank you” and gave her a big smile. I believe her smile back to me was bigger.

#makeGodsmile

Do you know you’re at war?

ImageThere is a battle raging around you right now…a battle for souls. There are two opposing forces fighting over your soul and the souls of all the people you love.  There is no neutral ground. We can’t decide not to be in the war because WE are what the war is over!

Then the dragon became angry at the woman, and he declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and confess that they belong to Jesus.
– Revelation 12:17

The devil has made it his purpose to destroy you.  Really Lon?  We’re going to talk about the devil?  Well, think of it this way.  There is a force that works daily against you wanting to follow God.  Some of my Christian friends will say “It’s the flesh.”  According to Galatians 5:16-17 that’s true.  We have a fallen nature that is at war with our spirits.  Our old sinful nature wants to do evil and our new nature from God want to do right.

Other less “churchy” friends might say, “Well, it’s really the influence of culture, society and peer pressure.”  It is true, the message of the Christianity has always been counter-culture and the moral relevantism of our culture today is completely against what scripture teaches.

So why choose to talk about the devil?  It seems so medieval.  The reason is because the devil doesn’t want people to think he’s real or at least active in the earth today.  The truth is satan is real, he’s active in the earth today, he hates you and has declared war on you.

His weapons are espionage, stealth warfare.  He engages in a propaganda warfare.  Satan tries to get us to believe he’s mythical, a fairy tale. Then we let our guards down and he begins to question all of scripture, because if satan isn’t real, then the Bible is just a book.

How do we win this war?  We win by

  1. Not believing the lies of the enemy – this is accomplished by learning the truth  (Eph 5:25-26) and not dwelling on thoughts we know aren’t true (2 Cor 10:5)
  2. Not seeing people as our enemies – Our battle is with the devil not the people he’s deceived (Eph 6:12).  We must forgive all sins against ourselves to keep the devil from having control of out lives.  (Matt 6:15)
  3. Take the fight to the devil – No war was ever one being defensive only.  At some point we must do damage to the enemies forces.  There is no greater damage then saving a soul from hell.  By bringing the truth to those deceived we rescue them from satan’s power but we also diminish the amount of people he controls.

 

A Night of Hope

It was a great experience to be part of A Night of Hope. It was amazing to see 12,000 people pack a stadium to hear about Jesus and sings songs to Him.

Part of the message that Pastor Joel Osteen shared was on “Being a Now Person“, which was about the trouble procrastination brings.  I was convicted.  I have allowed the “Tyranny of the Urgent” to keep me from the important and the enjoyable.  I like to blog.  Some people actually like to read them…(go figure).  So I decided to stop making excuses and just start blogging again.

Don’t get too excited, this is it! Ha ha.  But if the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then I’ve at least begun again.

More blogging to come soon.

God bless,

Pastor Lon

A Letter of Gratitiude

A few weeks ago (during our “Go Fish!” I asked the entire church to write a letter to thank the person who “hooked” you for Jesus.  I know, corny, but the lesson is great. Even if you never send the letter or the person is deceased, the exercise of writing it will help you remember how much you were impacted by that person sharing their faith.  That fact will in turn help you to share your faith with others, brilliant.  Thank you Andy Stanley for the idea.

If have never done this…DO IT TODAY.  Here’s my letter to a young lady who simply invited me to church.

Dear Annie,

I am writing to thank you. It was 24 years ago this month that I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

I remember it started with me asking what I could get you for your birthday and you said, “I just want you to go to church with me.”  It took you continually asking me until October when I finally went!  I said, “If I go with you ONE time, will never ask me again?” and you agreed.  You told me years later how you had people pray because you were nervous this would be the only time I would go.

We went to Agape Christian Fellowship for a Sunday service. (You told me later you didn’t want to bring me to your dad’s church for my first time because he might embarrass you.)  You and Joanne picked me up so I couldn’t back out.

Before I left my parent’s house, my father told me how to know if it was a cult. He said if the people had beady eyes and there were guards at the doors, it was a cult.  I laughed but when I got there, the preacher, Jason Peebles from Tulsa, had beady eyes!  I looked around and there were guards at the door.  (They called them ushers but I know what they were!) I started to panic, my dad wasn’t joking. This is a cult.  There are no statues of saints, not even a cross!  It’s a warehouse with some chairs and a stage!

People were raising their hands and swaying to the music, I heard some of them give this weird chant in another language!  I thought, “What was that, Latin or Wiccan?  I started to plan which “usher” I could knock over to run out an exit when everyone sat to hear the preacher.  I couldn’t tell you one thing he said, but at the end I found myself answering an altar call and asking Jesus to forgive my sins and take control of my life.

Although I was raised in a traditional church, I felt the presence of God’s Spirit for the first time in my life that day. I just began to say, “This is real.  He’s real.”  I had believed God was real before but had never met Him.  I started to cry for no reason.  I never cried!  I was a tough guy.  I prayed, “Lord I wan to always be this way, tender before you.” I still cry today when I feel God’s Spirit moving.

My life today is wonderful.  I lead a growing church with a wonderful group of people who actually want the reality of God in their everyday lives.  I wouldn’t be in the ministry today if you hadn’t prayed for me and invited me to church. Hundreds of peoples lives would have never been impacted by Joanne & myself in ministry.

I been privaledged to travel the world bringing the gospel to Brazil, Argentina, Curacao, Mexico, Kenya, England, Wales and Canada.  I have watched God heal many people including blind and deaf as I prayed for them.  I have watched God set hundreds of people free as we cast our demons and many, many salvations.  None of which would have happened if you didn’t share Christ with me.

My proudest achievement is as a godly husband ad father.  We have a great home and our four daughters all serve God.  Each has seen friends turn their lives over to Christ.  You also introduced me to Joanne.  We wouldn’t be married nor these girls be here, if you didn’t share Christ with both of us.

Like the image painted by the words of the old Ray Boltz song “Thank You”, only when you get to heaven will you understand the impact you have had on thousands of lives because you invited Joanne and myself to meet God.  Thank you.

Write your letter today.  It will help you to remember how important sharing your faith is.  If Anna had never invited me to church, none of the great things God has done in my life would have happened.

Gratitude for Salvation Letter

Hello Everyone,

Two weeks ago as we began the Go Fish! series  I asked you all to do something important.  We called it “homework”.  I asked that each of us write a letter to the person who helped us Connect to God or “hooked us”.  Perhaps you met the Lord as a kid and the reconnected later, write to the person who helped you reconnect.

This is an important exercise.  I believe that as we write these letters, God will help us answer the question, why we should share our faith.  This homework will also help us focus our attention on the eternal things God has done in our life.

Don’t know what to say?  Here’s a few tips for guidelines but remember, it’s about what you want to say, not some formula.

  • Begin with gratitude, something like “I am writing to say thank you for helping me connect to Christ as my Savior.”
  • Recount something God has done in your life: “God delivered me from fear or addiction” or “I now know God loves me.”
  • Remember the benefits of sserving God: “I know have a wonderful family.”   “I’m blessed with a great church.”
  • Encourage them: “If you had never shared Jesus with me, I would have a very different life.”

Remember, write the letter like you’re going to send it, but you don’t have to.  it might not be appropriate to send and for some of us, the person who influenced you to Christ might not still be alive.  It’s an exercise for you.  If you choose to send the letter to encourage the person you’re writing to, that’s a sweet bonus.

I hope you will write your letter by this Sunday.  I shared part of mine last week.  Think about sharing parts of the letter in Connect Groups to encourage eachother.

I wouldn’t be here leading this wonderful church if a girl named Annie hadn’t shared Jesus with me.

See you all Sunday.

Love,

Pastor Lon

 

Laughter is NOT Optional

The joy of the Lord is your strength. – Nehemiah 8:10

We’ve been laughing a little more lately. Why? Because our new Children’s Pastor (J Travis Montoya) has worked as a stand up comedian and he makes us laugh. Had a hard day? You know what helps? Laughing about it.

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength. – Proverbs 17:22

My wife Joanne and I have had our share of people betraying us, lying to us, lying about us, fighting against us as leaders, or just plain hating on us, in the last twenty years. How do you through it? We get through it by laughing with friends and kids. Laughing refreshes us. Have you ever noticed that people that never laugh have trouble forgiving others? They become so focused on the problem, that life happens around them without them noticing.

One time someone came up to me and said that four years before they had left our church over some offense. To their credit, they felt bad about it and wanted to make it right. They stated, “I know this has been a thing between us for years.” The sad fact, I didn’t know who they were or what they were talking about. Have you wasted precious time stewing over someone who isn’t thinking about you? Move on.

Allow your spirit to be lifted by laughter. It will improve your responses to people, it will make your faith walk sweeter, and it will change your church. There are good, clean comedians, funny sitcoms and movies…laugh, forget, heal.

King David knew how to have fun.

But as the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David skipping about and laughing with joy, she was filled with contempt for him. – 1 Chronicles 15:29

Like Michal, a lot of people can’t even enjoy the presence of God because they are too worried about what others think. (More on that in a minute.)

I smile as I read this story of David because I recently tried to skip. You heard me right. We watched an episode of a little known TV show called the Middle starring Patricia Heaton (Deborah from Everybody Loves Raymond) and Neil Flynn (Janitor from Scrubs). It’s kind of a Malcolm in the Middle rip off but I still like it. But I’m on a tangent…back to topic.

In an episode of the Middle, the mom has a thought “Why do we ever stop skipping?” She muses that we were all happier as children and it’s because we skipped. She decides to skip everyday and she, in fact, felt happier. The dad in the show would not skip. “Too girly.” My children commented that I would not skip either but mom would. I was insulted! “I’m a fun guy.” I objected. They didn’t believe me so I got up to skip.

I could not skip.

That’s right. I don’t mean I wasn’t willing or was too embarrassed to. I was physically unable to. It was pathetic. I tried over and over but it was more like a gallop. All my daughters howled and shrieked with uncontrolled laughter. Joanne (my wife) wept actual tears as she fell out of the chair laughing. (I don’t believe I have ever actually seen someone ROFL before.) It was an unbelievable melee for twenty minutes.

My name is Lon Dean. I possess a high IQ and advanced degrees. I won the Presidential Physical Fitness award in High School and played several varsity sports. I have spoken to thousands of people around the world, AND I AM SKIP CHALLENGED.

Instead of being embarrassed about this fact, it became our little “pick me up” in the Dean household. If Joanne had a hard day or the girls wanted a laugh with friends over…”Watch this. Skip for us Dad.” would be the request whispered through already growing giggles of anticipation. I skip, or gallop, whichever you wish to call it. It still gets big laughs months later and refreshes us all.

Some final thoughts:

When David returned home to bless his own family, Michal, the daughter of Saul, came out to meet him. She said in disgust, “How distinguished the king of Israel looked today, shamelessly exposing himself to the servant girls like any vulgar person might do!”

David retorted to Michal, “I was dancing before the Lord, who chose me above your father and all his family! He appointed me as the leader of Israel, the people of the Lord, so I celebrate before the Lord. Yes, and I am willing to look even more foolish than this, even to be humiliated in my own eyes! But those servant girls you mentioned will indeed think I am distinguished!” – 2 Samuel 6:20-22

When David came back from skipping and praising God, he wanted to bless his family but his own wife mocked him. If you’ve got a skipper, leaper, laugher in your house, encourage them. Don’t dampen their joy. I might just become your joy too.

If you are enjoying life and laughing don’t let haters get you down. Find other gigglers to skip with and U B U.

++++

A post-blog update: My 7 year old wants me to have the fun of skipping in my life. Even though she thinks, “It’s hysterical, whatever it is I’m doing.”…she is secretly giving me skipping lessons. As of the time of this blog I can skip short distances with her, if she holds my hand. No success on my own but I am hopeful.

Beyond Redemption

A few weeks ago I preached a message on how the church should treat gay people.  I called it Out of the Closet and Into the Church. (http://sc.fhview.com/sc_customplayer/seriesitems/1/118751) The goal of this message was for the church to examine our attitudes towards this particular people group.  After the message an elderly woman approached me.  She was wearing oxygen and walking with a walker.  I must admit I thought, “Here we go.”  I expected her to rebuke me for not condemning homosexuality during the sermon.  Much to my surprise she asked a simple question…

“What about murderers?” she inquired.

There was an unexpected brightness in her eyes, a curiosity and vigor for life one wouldn’t expect given her frail frame.

“Excuse me?” I muttered.  Really it wasn’t that I didn’t hear her, I just needed a moment to collect my thoughts.  I was prepared for an onslaught of fire and brimstone senior saints, not an inquisitive truth seeker.

After all, I had just preached the most controversial sermon of my career.  I opened with “If you came here expecting me to condemn homosexuality today, you will be disappointed.” I chastised the church asking why we celebrated a straight couple who was sexually active, even living together, coming to church. We allowed them time for God to work on them without judgment but let a gay couple walk in holding hands…whoooo.  They weren’t welcome.  I did my best Jesus imitation calling us hypocrites.  The church just nodded.  I the weeks to follow, not one letter or disagreement.  I’m so proud of our local church and their Christ-like love.

Anyways, here I was after that sermon, expecting a fight, instead facing a sweet senior saint who still wanted to grow and learn in her last years on this earth.  Humbling.

“Excuse me?” I muttered.  “Murderers.” She repeated more forcefully. “They are much harder to love and accept than homosexuals. What about murderers? Can they be forgiven and go to heaven?”

I explained that the Apostle Paul helped to kill early Christians before his conversion and that god didn’t just forgive Paul but wrote 2/3 of the New Testament through his hands.  I excitedly told her that Michael Franzese was coming to answer that very question.  To tell her how a Mafia Boss, a murderer, can be forgiven…and that no one is beyond redemption.

Three weeks later, my eyes lighted upon a pair of bright, excited eyes in a back section of a packed sanctuary. She was back to hear the former Mob Boss’ story of redemption. She smiled at me as she pointed to a row full of her family.  Full of confidence in God’s love for all sinners, she had brought her family to hear that there is no one beyond redemption.

The First Tool for Life

I’m reading a book called The Ultimate Checklist for Life and it causes me to ask a question.  Are you prepared for life’s unexpected turns?

Life is a journey of twists and turns that take you around blind curves not knowing what’s around the bend. There are perils and pleasures, advances and set backs, obstacles and opportunities (sometimes the obstacles are the opportunities!) Fear if the unknown or fear of failure could paralyze a traveler on this journey called life.  How can we minimize anxiety and maximize success?

As any seasoned adventurer will tell you, it’s best to adopt the Boy Scout motto and “Be Prepared.”  To be prepared one must know the right tools to take.  Campers take things like tents, compasses, matches, water, bug spray, first aid kits, even things like emergency flares or a gun for protection. What are the right tools to take along the journey with you?  How can we be prepared?

The most important tool is the word of God, the Holy Bible.

I know it sound cliche but it’s true.  And I know, it is God’s love letter to humanity, and it is the story of God’s relationship to us, but it is also a guide book.  It is the instruction manual written by the creator of life on how this whole thing operates!

Your laws are always right; help me to understand them so I may live. – Psalm 119:144

His word helps us to understand this life He’s given us so that we may live.  Scripture talks about almost any topic you need, relationships, work, money, sickness, heartache, forgiveness, education, family, love, lust, even interest rates and cosigning a loan! (Bet you didn’t know that was in there!)

To be prepared for life, start with God’s instructions for how to live.

Life is God’s novel. Let Him write it. – Isaac Bashevis Singer

Next Week: Tool #2

Celebrating Bin Laden’s Death

Like most American’s I was interesting in the news on May 1st that Bin Laden was finally dead. My first feeling was one of relief. I remember thinking “finally.” That feeling was later mixed with skepticism when hearing the circumstances surrounding the body (no photos of corpse, hurry up burial at sea etc.) but this is not a blog about conspiracy theories.

As a Christian, the more I more I saw people celebrate the more convicted I became. I thought, “What is the appropriate response for me as a pastor and even more importantly as a follower of Jesus?”

I’m not presuming to tell you how you should feel. I’m just trying to make us all take a breath and think for moment.  A little WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) time.  Doesn’t God sorrow even when evil men die?

Now I understand the concept of a just war.  The Bible is filled with people being put to death for rejecting God or attacking Israel. There must be the concept of a just war in society to defend the weak or stop those committing evil. My questions come because I also Jesus weeping over the people who have rejected His salvation. (Matthew 23:37)

Look at this warning from the Bible…

Don’t rejoice when your enemies fall; don’t be happy when they stumble. For the Lord will be displeased with you and will turn his anger away from them. – Proverbs 24:17-18

This verse teaches us to be careful not to rejoice in death. I would think, especially not to rejoice that someone was sent to an eternal hell.  I celebrate our troops who serve selflessly to preserve our freedom and safety.  I even celebrate that fact that Bin Laden’s death will probably save many other lives.  I can even feel a sense of satisfaction that justice has been served. I just question the celebration.

Psalm 37:28 says, “The Lord loves Justice.” I know you’re thinking, “This terrorist finally got what he deserved.” and it’s true.  However, I don’t want God to give me what I deserve because we all deserve hell. (Romans 3:10-23)

The Apostle Paul was a murderer, so was King David. When they repented God forgave them.  I have had the privilege of ministering to murders before and the main message I bring is always grace and forgiveness for all we’ve done.

The question that bring this situation into focus is this…Would we have celebrated as much if Bin Laden had repented and accepted Christ?

Now again, I’m not pointing fingers and trying to tell you what to feel or that your feelings are wrong.  I’m just asking myself…”Should I celebrate the death of anyone, no matter what good comes from it?”

It’s just a simple question.

7 Principles for Sharing Christ this Summer

I don’t normally share other people’s articles but this said everything I would like to say in a better way…
The summer months provide excellent opportunities to cultivate relationships with unbelievers and tell them about our Savior. However, finding time to do so can be a challenge. After all, our summers are often filled with vacations, outdoor events, children’s activities, etc.

How do we take advantage of the summer months to impact the lost for Christ even in the midst of a busy schedule? Here are some principles to remember and put into practice:

  1. Be balanced – How balanced is your life between non-Christians and Christians? There is nothing Biblical about spending all your time with believers.  Jesus Christ spent time with sinners. He was even known as their friend (Matt. 11:19). We cannot have personal evangelism without personal contact.
  2. Be proactive— View relationships with the intent to see the unbelievers come to have the greatest relationship there is – an eternal relationship with Christ. Go to them. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Consider the broad base of non-Christian contacts you already have including:
    • Immediate friends and family
    • Neighbors, co-workers, employees, landlords
    • Newspaper carrier, mailman, barber or hairstylist, grocery store checker, waiter or waitress
    • Car dealer, insurance agent, accountant, attorney, banker
    • Doctor, dentist, nurse, pharmacist
    • Plumber, electrician, mechanic
    • Teacher, professor, coach, classmate
  3. Be intentional—Take the initiative. Look at everything you are doing this summer. Then ask, “Could this be done with a non-Christian included?”
  4. Be sensitive—People that take time to listen are rare in our fast paced culture. Take the time to give someone your undivided attention. Letting them know you care may provide an opportunity to tell them about Christ.
  5. Be prayerful – We are totally dependent on the Holy Spirit in evangelism. Pray that the Lord will provide opportunities, give you the sensitivity to recognize them, and give you boldness to share the gospel.
  6. Be prepared—Move into the gospel presentation as God gives you the opportunity. If you don’t know what to say, EvanTell offers free on-line evangelism training at www.act111.org. Get trained so that when God gives you the opportunity, you’ll be ready.
  7. Be creative – For practical tips on how to develop relationships with non-Christians during the summer check out this blog series (Summer Evangelism IdeasMore Summer Evangelism IdeasAnd More Summer Evangelism Ideas).

Do you have any strategies to add to this list?  Send them to me.

God bless

Pastor Lon

Breaking Religious Taboos

Did you know that Jesus didn’t follow all the religious rules of His day? His methods weren’t welcomed in the established places of worship.  He hung out with the wrong crowd.  He overcame social and cultural barriers to reach people.  Jesus had to break many religions taboos to make a way to the Father for all of us.

In John 4:1-30, there is a story of the brief interaction between Jesus and a Samaritan Woman at the town well.

Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”  He was alone at the time because His disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. (v7-9)

Samaria was conquered Assyria 722 BC. The Samaritans intermarried with the foreigners. Therefore they were not regarded as fully Jewish. At the time of Jesus there was a lot of hatred between them. Jesus’ dealings with this woman illustrates His ministry breaking down barriers between Jews and Samaritans.

Jesus broke several taboos with this meeting.  He broke the racial prejudice that Jews had against Samaritans.  He broke the religious bias towards the Samaritans as being inferior Jews or ‘unclean’.  Last Jesus tackled the chauvinist view of women that was prominent in His culture.  Jesus often broke taboo as to how women should be treated.

Mary Magdalene; Joanna, the wife Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and other women traveled with Jesus contributing their own resources to support Him and His disciples. (Luke 8:1-3) This was scandalous for a woman to leave her homes and travel with a rabbi.  Unheard of!  Unthinkable!  Yet Jesus had several woman travel with Him throughout His ministry time.  In the orthodox, first century temples women and men were separated by a screen.  Jesus was one of the world’s first feminists treating woman as ‘joint-heirs’ of salvation.

Why is this important to us today?  Because to truly follow Jesus we must break down the social, cultural and even religious taboos we have been taught.  These things keep people from following God.  More next blog.

Lent and Self Examination

I was raised Catholic and always participated in Lent growing up.  I would give up candy, not eat meat on Fridays etc. While I know longer participate in the ritualistic practices of Lent, I appreciate the idea behind the Catholic Sacrament that takes place during the season. Abstaining from certain pleasures and foods for the purpose of getting closer to God is a biblical practice I often do called fasting & prayer. In the Catholic Sacrament of Lent, they also set aside time for mourning ones sin.  I’m not advocating that part because we don’t need to mourn sin that God has forgiven. If we’ve repented we’re clean (1 John 1:9).

There is Biblical reference for Lent, I do however think the practice of examining our lives and praying with fasting during the days prior to Easter is a good habit to get into.

We are fasting and praying for people to accept God’s gift of salvation this Easter.  Our church is fasting and gathering the Wednesday before Easter to pray together. I cancelled our satellite TV subscription for a while to spend more time reading and praying.  (Extra bonus, the kids are actually playing outside.  No joke, really, it’s true.)

I encourage you to turn of the T.V., skip a meal and pray more between now and Easter.  You may find yourself ‘mourning’ for  someone who hasn’t yet accepted God’s grace or maybe even ‘mourning’ and repenting a sin in your own life you didn’t even know was there.  I know I will.

Did Jesus Talk about Hell?

I have never liked fire and brimstone preaching.  It is His kindness that causes us to turn to Him.  I believe that when people understand the love of God, that is the fact that draws us to Him.  However, if we read the rest of this verse there is a warning of the dangers of rejecting Christ.

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. – Romans 2:4-5

Talking about Hell isn’t pleasant. No one should enjoy it, but it is important.  In over a dozen years of preaching I’ve never devoted a sermon to the reality of Hell.  So we decided that it was time to address the reality of Hell.

As an introduction our media team did “on the street” interviews in Albany.  In over an hour during the First Friday celebration, they could not find one person who believed in Hell.  Our Youth Director Michael commented in his blog that it saddened him. A friend of his then publicly rebuked him on Facebook for his condemning people.   She was doing what she accused him of, condemning Michael for his views.  Here’s my problem with it…it’s not Michael’s view.  It’s a biblical fact.

Described in many places in scripture as a place of fire (Mark 9:43-45, & 13:49-51) and torment (Revelation 14:10-11) Hell wasn’t meant for us.  It was created for the devil and his demons (Matthew 25:41).  God doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell (John 3:16). It is our rejection of Christ that causes us to go to Hell.

It’s like this, light can’t exist in the darkness.  You turn a light bulb on in the room darkness is expelled.  God is light. He is holy.  Sin or darkness can’t exist in His presence. It’s expelled.  We are all sinners (Romans 3:22-23) and therefore can’t enter heaven on our own.

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that was thrown into the water and caught fish of every kind. 48 When the net was full, they dragged it up onto the shore, sat down, and sorted the good fish into crates, but threw the bad ones away. 49That is the way it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the righteous, 50throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 Do you understand all these things?” – Matthew 13:47-51

We are all wicked but some are made righteous by the blood of Jesus.

The response to a discussion on Hell is sometimes, “But Jesus taught about love and forgiveness, not hell.”  Actually, the quote above from Matthew 13 is Jesus talking.  He never wanted anyone to go to Hell, that’s why He came to make a way for us to heaven.

Gates: Directions and Decisions

For those of you who asked for it, here’s the gates from Nehemiah 3.  Each gate had a purpose for Israel and I would like to say they have and application for us today and even the order is interesting.

Sheep Gate – We need to become part of the sheep fold.  First build relationships Christ through slavation then with other believers who will strengthen our faith. – 1st gate rebuilt: Connecting to God & Church. Decide to follow Christ and connect with other sheep.

Fish Gate – After salvation we need to become fishers of men. – 2nd  gate rebuilt: Reaching Others. Make a decision to be actively sharing Christ with others.

Old Gate – it means, Long remaining. To me a symbol of remembering the ancient ways taught in scripture.  It also makes me think of returning to our  first love. Rebuild the gate of making decisions based on scripture and God’s will.

City Gate – This is the place of commerce.  The caravans would stop and trade at the city gates.  It was also where the town meeting happened, the government help public meetings at the city gate. We need to be involved in our city and have God involved in our Financial Decisions.

Valley GateHumbleness, Jesus was the “Lily of the Valley”. This is a picture of  prayer, illustrating our dependence upon God.  Don’t make any major decisions without prayer.

The valley gate was the one I forgot last Sunday, sorry.

Dung Gate – The place of the removing of refuse, throwing away the useless things.  What’s taking up your time, wasting your energy or distracting you from you destiny?  Decide to eliminate waste.

Fountain GateHoly Spirit; Springs of Living Water, refreshing.  We need to be led by The Spirit. Listen to the still, small voice and follow God’s leading in our decisions.  

Water Gate – This reminds me of the washing of word. This was the only part of wall that was still standing when Nehemiah went back to rebuild.  The word is eternal build your life on it.

East Gate – Adam & Eve we put in a garden called Eden in East.  When they were cast out, they were sent East of Eden. They were sent out because of their sin but sent with a prophesy of hope. Eve was told that her offspring would crush the serpent’s head.  Even when we sin, as sun rises in the East, His mercy is new every morning – It’s a Gate of Hope. Decide to go on when you sin because there is hope.

Horse Gate – Horses many times in scripture are used as symbols of war. This is the Gate of Spiritual Warfare. After rebuilding all the other things in our lives we can’t neglect spiritual warfare.  We are in a battle whether we want to be or not.

Inspection Gate – After the other gates are all rebuilt in our lives we understand how to inspect things to make good decisions. – Gate of Wisdom

Get started building these gates in your life today!

Excellence is an attitude not an ability

Excellence is an attitude not an ability

I walk into an unusually tidy bedroom to see one of my daughters.  “Wow, you’re room looks great.” I commented surprisingly.  She explained that mom had said she couldn’t leave her room until it was clean.  “How long have you been up here working?” I inquired.  “Oh, not long.” she replied.  The Sherlock Holmes in me became instantly interested.  “Not long” I thought.  “Not long!  I’ve seen this room.” I investigated the closet.  The door was pushed out off the track and it was nearly impossible to open, even for me.  I then noticed several items of close and toys protruding from under her bed.  You know what happened next. I proceeded to explain that stuffing piles into the closet and under the bed wasn’t what her mother had in mind when she used the word ‘cleaning’.  Over the whines and objections I calmly and loving instructed about doing your best, doing things with excellence.  I don’t think she got it but neither did I, the first hundred times my mom explained it to me.  “Sometimes you do the right thing just because it’s the right thing.” my mother with exclaim in response to my “But Whyyyyyyyy?”

Doing things with excellence is an attitude.  It’s about personal pride in a job well done.  It’s about knowing you answer to a higher standard than most. “I don’t care what others kids do…” my mom would teach, “we don’t behave that way.”

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. – Colossians 3:23

When you’re on your job, in you school, or serving at church.  Do you best because you are working for God and because it’s the right thing.

My daughter can’t clean her room as well as adult and we don’t expect her to.  We do however, expect her to give her best effort. God doesn’t say we have to BE the best; we just have to give God our best.  He’ll make up the lack to multiply it.  After all, He’s never been impressed with our ability, but He is keenly concerned about our attitude.

This Sunday at House of Praise, (www.NoPerfectPeopleHERE.com) we’ll look at Giving God Your Best.  I hope to see you there.

 

Jesus’ Prayer Model

In response to the inquiries of His disciples Jesus teaches them how to pray.  He offers up a prayer model when He says to them, “Pray like this…”

Matthew 6:9-13 (nlt)

Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us today the food we need for today, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

This isn’t meant to be a prayer to be memorized and mindlessly repeated.  In fact, right before these verses Jesus tells us not to repeat the same prayer over and over like the heathen, who think they will be heard because of their much talking.  It’s a model.

The prayer is broken down into a sequential order that will help Christ’s followers pray more effectively.  6 requests to God the Father are featured.

First 3 requests are about God:

1. May your name be holy,
2. May your kingdom come,
3. May your will be done

This structure addresses all parts of the Trinity; Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  God the Father, whose name is holy; Jesus, who brought God’s Kingdom to earth; and The Holy Spirit, who leads us into God’s will today.

Next 3 requests are about Us:

1. Give us our daily food,
2. Forgive our sins,
3. Keep us from temptation, which rescues us from the evil one.

Again the Trinity is addressed in these petitions for God’s help. The Father supplies our needs, Jesus paid the price for our sins to be forgiven, and the Holy Spirit leads us away from temptation and into righteousness.  The point?When we pray we should involve all three parts of God.

Another huge lesson here is to begin with God and then move to our needs. The first three requests are great.  They are about God: His holiness, His Kingdom, and His will…huge, monumental topics.  The second set of requests is small, ordinary, and everyday.  They’re about us, normal, everyday people.  We NEED food, we NEED forgiveness (and to give forgiveness) and we NEED God’s help with temptation and the devil everyday.  “Lord help me not to fall into that old sin habit again today.“

There is such a huge truth hidden in these four little verses.  We must first rehearse the immensity of God’s nature but then remember He cares for my little needs because of who He is.  Pray that His name would be hallowed or revered in my life, that His Kingdom would dominate me, and that His will would be performed.  If that happens, the three requests for my needs are easy.

Another truth revealed in the passage, is that we should begin praying about the eternal, the Kingdom stuff, and then turn our attention to our needs. Oh, let’s not be falsely religious, we’re not beggars, we’re His children, we need to pray for our needs. Jesus used the word Father so we wouldn’t be afraid to go to Him who loves us.  My point is, let’s put God’s Kingdom first in our prayers, then our needs.  Let’s focus on the eternal more, the temporary less.

In heaven with a holy name gives us the balanced view. Yes, He’s your daddy but please don’t forget He is also the Almighty One.  The angels around the throne of God in heaven don’t cry love, love, love. They cry “holy, holy, holy!”  That is His dominant characteristic.  It is our job to make sure we reverence His name.  His name, refers to who He is, His character, His personhood. Before anything else we pray, we need to declare His holiness in us and in the world.  The beginning of the book Ephesians echos this process.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…v3

God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure. v5

All the praise should go to The Father because He cared enough for us to save us.  After we’ve hallowed His name (separated it as unique, lifted it above all others), prayed for His Kingdom and His will to come, then we can run to Him with our problems!

At some point, your whole life shrinks down to your problem.  Financial pressure, “God I need bread!”…”Lord I messed up my life with sin!”…”Or God I’m overwhelmed with this struggle.”  We try to focus on God but the sickness, death, relationship problem, abuse, sin or other worry pulls our attention back to what’s right in front of us.  It’s not wrong to cast your cares to God, He tells us to but there is an additional prayer strategy here.

Draw your attention first, to the first three requests of the Lord’s Model Prayer.  Lift your prayer up to heaven, to the glory of God, to the greatness of who He is.  When we forget to start there, that’s when we lose our ability to stand in the face of our issue.

There is more strength, more forgiveness, and more provision in praying for God’s name would be made holy, that His Kingdom would come and that His will would be accomplished than any request for a specific situation we could pray.  We need to do both, but let’s keep the order correct for the power to be released.

Before closing, I would like to change focus for a moment. It sticks out like a single tree in a vast, open field. Forgiveness is the only request that is listed conditionally.  If we don’t forgive sins against us our sins won’t be forgiven.  Later Jesus would explain that His shed blood purchases forgiveness for all.  If we say we don’t want this person forgiven we say don’t apply the blood!  If the blood isn’t applied to one, it’s not applied to any.  Remember as you pray for forgiveness that you choose to forgive those that have hurt you.  If we don’t, then we are putting ourselves on God’s throne and saying we want to be the their judge and that He never tolerates.

It is my prayer that this blog helped you to organize your prayer time and pray more effectively by following the pattern Jesus gave us.  God Bless

Stress Reducing Tips

As I think about stress it occurs to me that most of my stress is caused by not responding properly to unpleasant situations.  I eat.  Some people need a drink or cigarette to calm down.  These coping strategies may temporarily make us feel better, but they cause more damage in the long run and therefore ADD to our stress longterm:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol (needing one glass to relax is still dependency)
  • Overeating or under eating
  • Zoning out for hours in front of the TV or computer (a screen’s a screen)
  • Withdrawing from church, friends, family, and activities
  • Using pills or drugs to relax
  • Sleeping too much
  • Procrastinating
  • Filling up every minute of the day with busyness to avoid facing problems
  • Taking out your stress on others (lashing out, angry outbursts, violence)

So what are proper responses?  Well teacher says you can get an A+ for these healthy steps to reduce stress:

Absolve – Forgive. It’s that simple. Let go of the hurts of the past and move on.

If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. – Matthew 6:14-15

Unforgiveness is like strapping the person to you back and carrying them with you forever, letting them hurt you again and again. Forgive someone is for YOU.  It puts you back in right standing with God.

Not forgiving yourself for a failure or sin is just as destructive.  God forgives you, don’t call unclean what god calls clean, you.

Adapt– Most stress can be reduced responding properly. Adapt your strategies in a hostile environment.

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. – Proverbs 15:1

When one of my kids says, “I hit them because they made me mad.”  I respond that no one can make you mad…you choose to respond in anger.

Manage your time better. Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you’re stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you’re under.

Adjust–  Make reasonable goals. Perfectionism is a major source of stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, by learning to accept “good enough.” I’m not talking about not doing your best and making excuses, I’m talking about not obsessing over every detail.

The hopes of the godly result in happiness, but the expectations of the wicked come to nothing. – Proverbs 10:28

Admire–  Choose to be an optimist.  That glass is half full! When feeling stressed, reflect on all the things you’re thankful for.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving; go into His courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise His name. Psalm 100:4

Avoid– I’m not talking about procrastination. Putting off unavoidable stress such as studying or confronting a difficult person actually increases your stress level. I mean avoid unhealthy situations or relationships.  Example: “Every time I hang with my old friends I drink again.”  Then don’t hang out with them!

Avoid people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you can’t turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship entirely.

I hope these simple five simple “A’s” help you have less stress in the New Year.

Some new things to learn from the Christmas Story

Most of us know the Christmas story. However, a couple new things stuck out to me when reading the Christmas story this year:

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing Him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. – Luke 2:16-18; 20

Most people talk about the worship aspect, how the shepherds were low on the socio-economic ladder, or even how there was no room at the inn, but how many of us focus on what the shepherd did AFTER meeting Jesus?

First, the shepherds told everyone what they had experienced.  Don’t skim over that.  Hearing the good news and seeing the Savior caused them to share their experience with others.  One thing we should learn from the Christmas story is those that hear the good news of the Messiah and meet Him should tell everyone they know.  Some will reject the message but some will be astonished and seek Him for themselves.

The second thing, that is a very simple truth yet may be profound, is the shepherds went back to their flocks.  This statement by itself it seems so unimportant.  No one would make it their memory verse yet there is a profound truth here hidden in the mundane.  God has already placed you in your mission field.

Many people want to be in “full-time ministry” but the truth is you already are.  The shepherds, were shepherds.  They went back to their jobs and we may infer, continued to tell everyone they met about Jesus.  The Metalsmith who made their shears would hear, the other shepherds they would pass in the fields also.  Maybe the farmers whose lands they would buy water rights from would end up seeking the Savior or the tent maker’s wife would hear the good news.  The point is this, they went back to their simple lives and brought the wonder of that first Christmas with them.

We need to do the same.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 27: We Are Ambassadors

Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. – 2 Corinthians 5:11

A “fearful responsibility to the Lord” Paul wrote to the church at Corinth.  Words to take notice of.  We have a responsibility that we should fear not fulfilling!  What is this awesome responsibility that is so important the Holy Spirit would choose those words to record it for all eternity?  Persuading others to follow Christ.  I know, you’re thinking “We know, we’re supposed to share the good news with people.”  It’s more than that.  If you were in your last 30 days to live and asked “What should I do to make sure I’m right with God?” We might talk about forgiving others or repenting of sins but probably not “go tell someone about God’s love.”  Yet this is exactly what this verse is saying.

Later in the same chapter the Holy Spirit (through Paul) reminds us of our purpose on this planet.

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to Him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And He gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17-20

We love to quote the verse 17, “We are new!  The old life is gone.” but WHY? So that we can be Ambassadors for Christ.

An ambassador is an official representative of something. Paul tells the Church in Corinth that We Christians are Christ’s ambassadors. His official representatives. Christ has sent His message to us and through us for the world to hear and see. We are sent with Christ’s message of reconciliation. So your title is “Ambassador of Reconciliation.” Now that is a calling. So what is reconciliation? Reconciliation according to the Encarta Dictionary is a “renewing.” The “ending of conflict.” So Christ came to reconcile us with God….. renew us with God, so we would not be condemned to death. And as Christ’s ambassador we are called to encourage other to become renewed…. In faith, and focus on God.

If the time we had left on this planet was less than 30 days we should spend them representing the one who is calling us home to His heavenly country.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 26: Overcoming Doubt

I apologize for falling behind with these devotionals.  Between going to Syracuse to see my mother-in-law and being home sick for a couple days myself it couldn’t be helped.  I will try to catch up…let’s talk about doubt.

Some people have the wrong idea about faith.  Faith isn’t the absence of doubt but real faith overcomes doubt to believe in something yet unseen.  Thomas needed to see Jesus to believe but Jesus told Him “blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.”

As a person faces the last 30 Days to Live, sometimes they will have doubts about God.  That’s ok. Real faith overcomes those doubts to focus on their faith.  It was like that for James the brother of Jesus.

James didn’t believe his brother could be God.  “MY big brother?  No way!”  He didn’t believe that the Son of God had grown up right in his own house.

Jesus’ brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even His brothers didn’t believe in Him. – John 7:3-5

James had his doubts, we all do.  Sometimes it’s hard to believe, it’s ok.  We just can’t STAY there.  We have to remember we have met the Risen Lord who we can trust in.  James saw Jesus after the resurrection and then He believed. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

Mary had doubt about Jesus even being born.  As the angel told her she would conceive and bear the Messiah, she had a question.  “How can this be since I am a virgin.”  As the angel explained that all things are possible with God and that the miracle birth would happen via the Holy Spirit, Mary’s response shows her faith.

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” – Luke 1:38

It wasn’t that Mary didn’t have questions or even doubts, it that she overcame them by focusing on the word that God had given her.

In conclusion, James and Mary show us the keys to overcoming doubt and walking in faith, meeting the Risen Lord and believing His word.  You may be facing overwhelming obstacles or even a crisis of faith, remember when you met Jesus and rehearse His words to you.

Prayer

Lord, I admit that I sometimes doubt. I know you love me but sometimes I doubt that you’ll protect me or that you’ll provide for me.  Help me to remember the way I felt when I first accepted you as Savior.  Remind me of the scriptures you’ve shown me.  I choose to trust you and help me to believe your promises more than what I see.  In your name I ask, Amen.

Thoughts

  • Do I doubt that God will protect me?
  • Have I come under condemnation during times when I doubted?

Action

  • Memorize 1 promise from the bible.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 25: Enduring Trials

As a person is told they have 30 Days to Live, they face a trial few living today can identify with.  It would be the ultimate testing of one’s faith, facing eternity.  How we endure a trial like this ultimately clears up any questions about whether our faith is real or not.

This Mother’s Day was a difficult one.  It was the first Mother’s Day without my mom (see Facing Forever) and we went to see my mother-in-law who is in the hospital losing her battle with cancer.  What happens to your faith when real trials come?  My mother-in-law, while always having been a religious person, has turned to reading the Bible daily and praying more.  Is she afraid? Sure, but her faith has increased through this trial and she is actually being brought closer to God through it.

My wife and I are asking God for a miracle for her mother, but if one doesn’t come, our faith will not be shaken.  Why? Because we trust in God’s word that when a love one faces 30 Days to Live, the Lord is there.

Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. – Psalm 23:4

Our faith is not real if it cracks in a trial.  Good time faith isn’t really faith at all.  Even death can’t separate real faith from the believer.  Death is just another trial to endure and conquer.

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.  And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and He never tempts anyone else. – James 1:12-14

No one sells books on “patient endurance” and it wouldn’t be a most popular sermon download on YouTube but it’s a key to God’s plan.  When we close our eyes on this planet for a final time, the crown of eternal life is given to those who have endured through their trial and still have faith in Christ in the end.

The last words I ever spoke to my father as he laid dying in a hospital bed were “Keep the faith.” and those are my last words to you today.  Even if the trial you face is death itself, keep the faith.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, help me to remember that no matter what the trial is, you haven’t left me.  Help to remember also that you didn’t send me this trail but you will bring good things out of it, even if the trial is death.  I will patiently endure all hardship because I know you will carry me through it.  I love you.  Amen.

Thoughts

  • Have I lost faith during past trials?
  • If I were to face the death of a loved one would I blame God?

Action

  • Pray this week for those whom you know are in trails that they may not lose faith.

___________________________________________________

Written May 2010: prayers for Fran and our family gratefully accepted.

30 Days to Live – Day 24: Reality

Today the reality of 30 Days to Live hit us in a very personal way.  My wife (Pastor Joanne) found out that her mom (Fran) has terminal cancer.  As Joanne sat in the hospital room with her mom and other family members, the doctor told Fran to “get her affairs in order.”  Her response was, “So this is a death sentence.”  It is one thing to be writing about facing your final days on this earth it’s another when death actually is right in front of you with someone you care about.

While we are praying and asking for God to do a miracle, first responsibility is to make sure your loved one is ready for life after death.  Fran has believed in God and has been attended church regularly so there was no need to convince her of her need for God’s forgiveness.  Instead Joanne focused on forgiving others.

The truth is we are all under a death sentence.  Maybe not as brutal and short as the one my mother-in-law just received, but this life is short and we are not promised tomorrow.  We must all “get our affairs in order” to make sure we are ready to meet our Savior.  One place people usually overlook is forgiving those who have hurt you.

As we prepare for the next life we want our sins to be forgiven and if we want to be forgiven for our sins we must forgive others. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray He gave us an example that has become called The Lord’s Prayer.  In it Jesus prays this:

Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. – Matthew 6:12

As Jesus was teaching His disciples to pray effectively He knew that our prayers are useless if we refuse to forgive others.

Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. – Luke 6:37

Why is this such a big deal to God?  Because HE is the Righteous Judge.  If we decide to judge others we are in effect saying we want to sit on God’s throne and do His job.  He has never tolerated that, just ask an angel named Lucifer.

Prayer

Pray this 3 Step Forgiveness Process:

  1. I take back any authority I gave the devil in my life through unforgiveness, especially towards ______ for what they did to me.
  2. I choose to forgive this person for what they did to me.
  3. I ask you God to help me to forgive this person, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thoughts

  • Who has hurt me?
  • Have I chosen to forgiven them?

Action

  • Forgive all the people who have hurt you, now.

___________________________________________________

Written May 2010: prayers for Fran and our family gratefully accepted.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional Day – 23: Assessing Your Finances

As we looked at assessing our life yesterday we focused on general happiness and career.  In this blog we’ll look at how our finances and our relationships affect our emotional health.

As we’ve looked how we would respond if we had 30 Days to Live we discovered that finances are looked at differently.  Money is no longer a goal but a tool.  If you missed that e-Devotional please review it.  When departing from this world the only financial worry people may have is not leaving bills for their loved ones.  In assessing our lives, financial pressure can play a huge role.

1. Do my finances cause stress in my life?

Really Pastor Lon?  Doesn’t finances cause stress in everyone’s life unless their rich?  No, they don’t.  There are people out there who live within their means including a budget.  I know we’ve done it.

Financial pressure is a major cause of divorce, suicide, domestic violence, heart disease and much more.  My wife and I had periods of our life where the financial pressure was overwhelming (either because of sickness, unemployment or poor financial decisions).  We had to make some hard decisions to change our lives.  First, I decided to go back to school and change careers. Second, we began to adjust our spending.

Now before you give me “you don’t understand” comments.  I went back to school when I was 30, married and had a kid.  I worked, volunteered 15 hours a week in my church and carried a 3.9 gpa in college.  I’m not saying that to brag, simply to say stop making excuses!!  I should have gone to school two years earlier but kept talking myself out of it.  “We can’t afford it.”  “I don’t have time.”  Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.  Once I got fed up with my situation, I sucked it up and did what I HAD to do to be happier.

Having said that, a new career or more money isn’t always the answer to financial pressure.  It has been my experience that people with poor spending habits will always stretch the finances to the max not matter how much they make.  I have counseled people making over $100,000 a year that were in worse shape than couples making $18,000.

2. Do I have a budget I FOLLOW?

Solving financial pressure is NOT about getting more money.  It is about having a spending plan.

A budget is a dirty word to some people.  They think of it as restraining and rules to make them unhappy.  I don’t agree.  It’s simply a spending plan.  There’s guilt free freedom when you go out to dinner and know it’s in your entertainment budget.

A budget needs to plan for monthly expenses, emergencies, debt reduction and savings.  You need a plan no matter how much you make.  Usually people wait until they are so far in debt they feel hopeless before trying a budget.  Don’t wait!  There isn’t time in a blog to explain a budget but here’s a good resource.

Crown Financial is a ministry with great articles and lots of free resources including a budget sheet. (http://www.crown.org/GettingStarted/)

3. Do I tithe?

People will say, “I’ve prayed and asked God help me with my financial problems but nothing happened.”  If you don’t acknowledge God in your finances then you have no right to ask Him to help you.

“You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me.  You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” – Malachi 3:8-10

If we call ourselves believers but don’t tithe then we have put a curse on ourselves.  the good news is this, as with any sin, we can repent and be forgiven.

Did you notice the last two sentences in this bible passage?  It is the ONLY place in all scripture where we are told to test or try God!  Any other time putting God to the test is a sin. God tells us tithing is so very important that actually tells us to give it a try and see how big His blessing will be.  Seven different times I’ve challenge people I was counseling to try tithing for 90 days.  I told them if God didn’t bless, I would give their money back.  That’s right a money back guarantee on God!  You know what?  Not one person asked for their money back.  Every one was amazed at what God did.  One man got a promotion, another a new job. One lady paid a huge debt off with less than half what she owed! A different lady got an unexpected inheritance.  God doesn’t lie and His scripture is the key to success in your finances.

Prayer

Lord, help me to live within my finances.  I know you provide for all my needs as I put you first in my finances through tithing.  I ask in faith for your help and thank you now that you will answer.  I am confident in your provision and refuse the pressure financial issue can bring by trusting in you.  In your name I pray, amen.

Thoughts

  • Do I tithe in faith, expecting God to provide?
  • Do I know what I spend?

Action

  • Create a budget this week.
  • If you’re not tithing, commit to for the next 90 days.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional Day – 21: Traveling Light

We just returned from an eventful trip to Los Angeles, CA.  I took my wonderful daughter Moriah to check out a challenging college program at the Dream Center called ‘The Movement’ but that’s not what this blog is about.

Have you ever noticed that experienced travelers travel light?  You don’t hear them say, “I should have brought more.”  No they have only brought the necessities.  Experiences travelers realize that there is a cost for ever bag and a weight limit also.  It’s the same way in this journey we call life.  We don’t need heavy baggage slowing us down, delaying us from getting to where we want go.

When someone has 30 Days to Live, they readily drop the heavy bags as they prepare to depart for their final destination.  The emotional and spiritual baggage holds us back from living for the eternal.  Take ONLY the things that help you get to heaven.  Those essentials are the people, things and decisions that equip you to face the challenges ahead or push farther on your journey.  You want to leave behind the people, things and decisions that slow you down, offer no return on investment or even harm you.  How do you know what or who to take with you and what/who leave behind?

Three E’s to Take

  1. Energize – Keep the things that motive you or foster an atmosphere of creativity, people that are enthusiastic for life, and then renew your energy by doing things that refresh you.
  2. Excite – Keep the things that make you happy even if they seem silly or sentimental to others.  You know that special someone who makes your heart skip a beat or that friend you can’t think about without smiling?  Spend more time with them.  Do what you are passionate about.  Why waste your time in a career you hate?
  3. Empower – I know…it’s an annoying word but educate didn’t seem to cover it fully.   Keep thing that challenge and teach you.  Spend time with people who are willing to share their knowledge, experience, and skills and THEN challenge you to go farther with that knowledge. Take the actions that will catapult you further in your relationship with the Lord and others or in your career.

Three D’s to Leave Behind

  1. Drains – You know what they are.  Those things, people and actions that when you are done with them make you feel like a video game warrior who has taken too many body blows and whose life force is depleted.   Don’t let them suck the life out of you until it’s gone!
  2. Depleters – Things, people, and action that aren’t necessarily hurting you but they don’t help either.  These are the time wasters that deplete your resources (time, talent and treasure) without giving a return-on-investment.  You only have so many resources to give, put them where there is the greatest return.
  3. Destroyers – These are the things, people and actions/decisions that can damage us physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially or in our reputation.  There isn’t much to say, run away!

I know some of my faithful readers are thinking, “Can you be more specific?”  No, I can’t.  These lists are very personal and yours are yours, mine are mine.  What energizes you may deplete me and visa-versa.  If you will honestly evaluate the three E’s and 3 D’s for yourself you make great leaps towards the person you want to be.

Prayer

Dear Jesus help me to travel light.  Help me to take with me things and people and make decisions that energize, excite and empower me.  Help me to make the hard decision to walk away from the things, people and actions that drain, deplete or destroy me.  I thank you for giving me the ability to make these changes in my life to become the person you created me to be.

Thoughts

  • Am I happy?  If not, what are the Three D’s I need to remove?
  • Am I productive?  If nor, what can I do to better leverage the Three E’s?

Action

  • Dump one D and begin one E this week.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 20: A Risk-Taking Church

We heard a challenging word from Pastor Matthew Barnett this morning.  He spoke one becoming a Risk-Taking Church.  I found that amusing since I had written on taking risks that morning.  Today’s blog is based off the notes I took during that sermon.

Churches start out as Risk-Taking Churches.  The word to describe them would be DARING.  We’ve heard the stories. They left the comfort of jobs, friends, and families to run after a dream God gave them.  The focus is vision or calling.

Matthew Barnett did that.  He left one of the largest churches in America that his father led in Arizona to start the Dreamcenter in downtown Los Angeles. He was 20 years old and had 7 people with them.  Then when they were still small but growing, they purchased a 4 million dollar hospital when their weekly income was $1,500.
Everyone told him it was foolish.

There will always be well-intentioned people telling you why you can’t do what God has told you to do during the daring phase.

Then the church gets buildings, salaries…there is more to lose.  This the Care-Taking Church.  The word that best describes this is the word DUTY.   This church focuses on maintaining property and programs.  They care most about meting the needs of its members. The problem is if you’re not going forward in God you are in fact backsliding.  You can’t maintain.

The Care-Taking Church becomes the Under-Taking Church.  It becomes a dying memorial to what God had done.  They talk more about what God did in the past than what He has called us to do in the future. They study history and work to amass the knowledge of scripture. The word that best describes this is the word DEAD.

Here’s what will blow your mind.  The Under-Taking Church isn’t always a dead church meaning; no miracles, no presence of God.  Under-Taking is a death of vision a death of the Great Commission.  Sometimes this church focuses on the ‘next experience’ with God but the gift is emphasized over the giver.  It’s not about what God wants us to do when we leave His presence but simply the next experience I can have personally.

Reading Hebrews chapter 11 we see the ‘Heroes of Faith’, God’s Hall of Fame.  They were all Risk-Takers!  Noah had no support when he responded to God’s word.  Noone believed He had heard God.

You can’t walk by faith and walk safe.

“How to” becomes the question of safe walkers, trying to manage miracles.  You can’t manage miracles.  You leap into the unknown and pray God catches you.

Jesus risked the salvation of all mankind on 12 fearful, dysfunctional, difficult underachievers and one of them was a traitor!  That’s taking a risk.  What if they didn’t do what they were called to do?

Our problem is that we want security more than glory.  You can never be great without taking a risk.

In closing let me say this, failing to take a risk is a sin.  If we care more about our image than advancing the Kingdom of God, it’s a sin.  God’s plan for you is bigger than your potential!  God’s vision for our church is greater than we can even comprehend.  We certainly can’t make it happen without Him.  Give God the chance to do great things through you.

Don’t be afraid to go where God has already gone.

Prayer

Dear Jesus help me to be a risk-taker not an excuse-maker.  Help me to fear missing your destiny more than what others will think if I fail.  I choose to take a leap of faith rather than playing it safe.

Thoughts

  • Is our church playing it safe or taking a risk?
  • How can I support my friends in their Risk-Taking adventures?

Action

  • Take a risk by praying for a stranger who need a miracle.
  • Start a ministry for God that needs His supernatural touch to succeed.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional Day 19: Taking a Risk

Taking a Risk

As a person faces death they often regret certain things in their life.  They may regret the hurt they caused a loved one or not spending more time with their family.  Yes, moral failures or relationship failure are regretted but not usually the adventure tried and failed. What do I mean?

You don’t usually hear people say, “I regret trying a new business or trying to make a difference in ministry.”  No, it’s usually the adventure NEVER tried that is a regret.  “Wish a wrote that book.”  “I should have gone back to school so my family would have a better life.”  “I should have tried that business idea.”  “I should have tried to save my marriage.” “I wish I would have done more for God.”  Those are some more common ones.

At the end of their life people regret risks not taken. Often it is the fear of losing something that keeps us from taking risks.  God wants us to trust Him enough to live like that now.  To live like we have nothing to lose. There is story of 4 men in scripture who had nothing to lose, so they took a risk.  They found that God’s blessing often lives on the other side of a risk taken.

In 2 Kings chapter 7 is a story of 4 leprous men.  They have shunned by society because of their contagious skin disease and because they are considered cursed by God, religiously unclean.  (The closest thing we would have in our society today is a homosexual person with full blown AIDS.)

Now there were four men with leprosy sitting at the entrance of the city gates. “Why should we sit here waiting to die?” they asked each other.  “We will starve if we stay here, but with the famine in the city, we will starve if we go back there. So we might as well go out and surrender to the Aramean army. If they let us live, so much the better. But if they kill us, we would have died anyway.”

So at twilight they set out for the camp of the Arameans. But when they came to the edge of the camp, no one was there!  For the Lord had caused the Aramean army to hear the clatter of speeding chariots and the galloping of horses and the sounds of a great army approaching. “The king of Israel has hired the Hittites and Egyptians to attack us!” they cried to one another.  So they panicked and ran into the night, abandoning their tents, horses, donkeys, and everything else, as they fled for their lives. When the lepers arrived at the edge of the camp, they went into one tent after another, eating and drinking wine; and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and hid it. – 2 Kings 7:3-8

As the 4 lepers took a risk to change their situation God intervened for them!  If they had done nothing they would have died where they were wondering why God had never helped them!!

Have you ever wondered why God usually shows up right at the end when we can’t make it?  I don’t think it’s because He likes to make us wait.  I believe most times it’s because we wait until we’re desperate to take a risk and make a move.

When God blesses it usually more than expected.  The lepers were hoping to survive but God gave them more than they could carry.  This abundance caused them to think of others.  (Usually when you’re hurting it’s hard to think of blessing others.)

Be a risk-taker not an excuse-maker.  Risk-takers fail more but they also achieve more.  Noone ever gained ground in a battle by watching from the sidelines.  You have to get in there, fight, bleed and risk it all!

Finally, they said to each other, “This is not right. This is a day of good news, and we aren’t sharing it with anyone! If we wait until morning, some calamity will certainly fall upon us. Come on, let’s go back and tell the people at the palace.” So they went back to the city and told the gatekeepers what had happened.- 2 Kings 7:9-10

The reward to the risk taker is meant to be shared with others.  We are blessed to be a blessing.  Don’t wait until your last 30 Days to take that life-changing risk. Risk takers accomplish more for God and also take others around them to new levels in God, thereby gaining bigger blessings themselves in the process.  To fulfill your destiny on this planet you can’t play it safe.

Prayer

Dear Jesus help me to be a risk-taker not an excuse-maker.  My desire is to fulfill your destiny for me on this planet and I know I can’t do that by playing it Safe.  I give my fear of failure, my insecurity about what others may think of me and yes even the lack of trust I have in you.  Point me in the right direction and I will take a leap of faith knowing you’ll be there to catch me if I fall.

Thoughts

  • When is the last time risked failure to achieve a life goal?
  • When is the last time I took a risk to accomplish something BIG for God.

Action

  • Ask God for a vision that is too big for you to accomplish on your own
  • Take one step towards your impossible dream today.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional Day 18: 30 Days to Glorify God

Bill Morgan gives us a glimpse of what he’ll be teaching this Sunday.

Isaiah 43:7 – Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory.

When one is facing the end of their life their entire perspective changes. One of the questions that comes up is “Did my life count?” For those of us who know Christ, given 30 Days to Live we can make our life count.

First we must recognize that God makes it simple. It is man who complicates the gospel for his own gain. The prophet Isaiah spoke the words of God plainly, “I have made them for my Glory.” Who is the “them” in this verse it’s those who “Claim Jesus as their God”. I have asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins and I “Claim” Jesus as my God therefore I was made for God’s Glory.  If I was made for His glory then how do I give glory to God?

There are many answers to that question, many ways to glorify God. Anything that I do to further, promote, or expand the Kingdom of God brings Glory to God. When I read the bible and begin to change my thinking into the thinking of God, I give God Glory. When I love like 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, I give God Glory. When I feed the hungry, cloth the naked and give a cup of water in Jesus name, I give God glory. I know understand that the list is endless.

If I were to sum it up it would be this;

Matthew 6:33 – But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and its righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

If the question is, “Did my life count?” I could say, “Yes it did.” Why? Because I talked to someone about Christ and I lifted up a brother in need. I helped the poor whenever I could.

In the Song of Solomon it says, “Catch us the little foxes who spoil the young buds on the vine”. The buds become flowers and the flowers become the fruit of the vine. It’s not the big things that spoil the entire vineyard; it’s the small things. Likewise, Jesus says that if we are faithful in the small things we are worthy of bigger things. Giving God glory is not about the big things it’s about the little things. Offering to pray with someone who is down, inviting someone to church and even simply stopping in the middle of your day and thanking Jesus for being a part of your life. All of this brings glory to Him who made you.

When we give God Glory we are fulfilling the purpose of why we are here, we are making our life count.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, show me how to glorify you today.  Make me aware of the opportunities I pass by daily unaware.  I want to glorify you in every way.

Thoughts for Today

  • What did I do to bring glory to God yesterday?
  • Do I put God’s Kingdom first?

Action List

  • Ask one person if you can pray for them today.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 17: Dying Young

Hi everyone.  While I’m on the road, Randy Hartwig is filling in with these profound thoughts on dying young.

During Isaiah the prophet’s lifetime, God’s chosen people, Israel, were backsliding. In other words, they were not living for God and were far from Him. Their value system and the things they were concerned about were so messed up that they didn’t care or even ask, “Why?” when good people died before their time.  Here’s the direct quote from the prophet: (Isaiah 57:1)  Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why.

In our culture, when someone good dies “before their time” it can cause a lot of people to struggle and question God. As we consider death in this series we have to ask ourselves, what is my attitude concerning death in this type of  situation? The fact is good people DO die young. Even some godly people die seemingly before their time…..preachers, parents, young children, famous church leaders. What if you find out you will die young or if it happens to someone you love dearly? How will you respond to God

Read the rest of what Isaiah said in this verse! “No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come.” That is really interesting. Does God take people BEFORE their time to protect them from evil? Well, if we believe the Word to be true, that’s exactly what it says. That can shed a whole new perspective on death. It doesn’t necessarily bring instant healing of the grief you feel when you lose someone young or godly, but it sure can give you something positive to focus on. My loved one will NOT suffer the evil that is to come.

In the next verse Isaiah gives this promise: (Isaiah 57:2)  For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.  The paths we should choose while we live should be those that cause us to act godly – like God. We need to ask ourselves, “If God was in the same situation I am in, what would He do?” Then we determine to do the right thing, the biblical thing, the thing HE would do. The result is godliness and that brings peace.

So as you face death everyday, choose those things that will keep you on the godly path that leads to peace. Death is not something to be feared. It is rest. It is an exit from a world full of evil to an eternity of joy in the physical presence of the Lord.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, I don’t always understand why somethings happen, especially why some people have to die when they’re young.  Help me to give my grief and questions to you.  I choose to trust you even when I don’t understand.

Thoughts for Today

  • Have I ever thought about how death can be a relief from suffering?
  • Do I have questions and grief over the death of a loved one I need to give to the Lord?

Action List

  • Begin to live like I have 30 Days to Live because we are not promised tomorrow.
  • Share Christ with those I care about before it’s too late, even if they are younger.