Living fully alive

Taking truth from scripture and applying it to our daily lives so that we may live from our calling and experience life to the fullest.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Power Of Perspective

There is one crucial thing you must do when trying to find and live the truth, one thing that most people neglect. It's the same as what it takes be a great putter in golf. You must get a correct read of the green. Will the ball go straight or break to the right or left? What is the slope and speed? To best determine all of those factors, it is crucial to see the line you are putting on from all sides. 

I've been lazy at times and just looked at a putt from where my ball rested. When I missed the putt by several feet, I couldn't believe how bad I misread the green. Then I'd walk to the other side and see that the green sloped down a lot more than what it looked like from where I was putting. You would be amazed how different a green can look from different perspectives depending on where you are standing. The green can actually look like you are putting uphill from one side of the hole and downhill from the other!

Life is much like that also. Problems and life circumstances can look a lot different when viewed from a different perspective. So it is always important to keep that in mind and always try to look at an issue more than just from your own eyes. 

For example, when I tend to complain about my circumstances, I just have to put myself in the shoes of those I have encountered around the world and realize how well I have it. One reminder is this fact sheet to help us put life into perspective:
  • If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep… You are richer than 75% of this world.
  • If you woke up this morning with more health than illness .. You are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week.
  • If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation… You are ahead of 500 million people in the world.
  • If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death… You are more blessed than three billion people in the world.
  • If you can read (and apparently you can)… you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world that cannot read at all.
  • If you have a little money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish some place… You are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.
When we walk in another person's shoes, as the saying goes, or look at the problem, disagreement or issue from the eyes of another person or place, we can always get a much more complete picture.  Sometimes we get confirmation that our view is correct. But more often our reality changes. That is what the prophet Nathan did with King David to convict David of his sin, by telling Him the story of the rich man taking the poor man's only lamb. David's perspective was shattered and corrected.  2 Samuel 12.

To get a more complete picture we should:
  • Start with a Biblical perspective. This gives you a foundation of truth and God's perspective.  
  • When you are in conflict with another, set aside a time to talk about the issue. Each person must listen to the other, without making comments. Then repeat back what you heard them say.  Once done, then you can work on solutions to the problem.
  • Build relationships with those who are different from you, older, younger, from other ethnicities, or from different places. Listen to their stories!  
  • Expand your world. Travel.  Go on mission trips. Serve others. Discover how others live. 
We have little to lose and much to gain by taking the time to view life from all sides. Then we see and can better understand truth.   "Another Man's Shoes" poem.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

What pastors can learn from Tim Duncan

I'm a huge Spurs fan.  So I was saddened to hear about Tim Duncan's retirement after 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs on my birthday no less! I spent the day reflecting on the character of one of the greatest power forwards ever and what we can learn from him.

Tim was obviously a very talented basketball player, a 15 time all star, leading the Spurs to 5 world championships.  But what made Tim great even more than his basketball skill was his character and leadership traits. Few can be what he was talent-wise on the court but we can be like Timmy in the areas that made him so respected. Pastors would be well served to study his leadership skills and learn from them. Here are some of the traits I so admired.

Tim was a team first guy. In a sport that highlights the individual, Tim was the consummate team player, "the ultimate teammate", always sacrificing self for what was best for the team, whether it was taking a reduced salary or a reduced role on the court. He could have made so much more money if only he would have become a free agent and gone to a big market team. Yet he stayed in San Antonio and helped build a dynasty. You would expect the same from pastors but it's not always the case.  

You see many pastors moving from church to church, climbing the latter of success on the backs of church members instead of staying in one place and building a dynamic church. Three years and they are gone to another church. Then there are those who stay and continue to take raises that would shock you even while their church is declining in membership. Thankfully many of the young pastors I coach have taken a modest salaries or in some cases no salary at all so that their church could give more to missions. Maybe times are changing. Wouldn't it be great if all pastors were as selfless and humble?

Tim was a mentor to many. He took the off season to mentor and teach other big men, not just his teammates but those from opposing teams as well. There are stories from other players on opposing teams who recount how Tim would instruct them even during games. Etan Thomas tells about the time Tim told him during a game after Tim blocked his shot, "that was a good move but you have to get more into my body so you can either draw a foul or not get the shot blocked." Then a few plays later Etan explained, I did it again but he didn't block the shot and he looked at me and said, "much better".

One problem I find many pastors struggle with is insecurity. I'm not sure why it is that a pastor is so protective of his senior pastor position. It could be the expectations from members and the pressure he feels to live up to those. I seldom hear about a pastor who mentors another pastor to step into his shoes or to start another church. Shouldn't all pastors be training one or several young pastors?  If a basketball player can give instructions to an opposing player, you'd think a pastor could do the same for a fellow pastor. After all, we are on the same team. 

Tim was a quiet humble leader.  He lead by example more than words. Tim was fun to be around, someone who never took himself too seriously but took his job seriously. He set an example for others to follow.  He didn't have to try to be a leader, it was just who he was. He seemed very comfortable in his own skin and never tried to be anything but Tim. Players looked up to him and were willing to follow not because of position but because of who he was.  

Many pastors lean on their position more than quality leadership to influence others. Some are often too quick to make changes, demanding the congregation follow without laying a foundation for change with leaders of the church. Leading from a relationship of service, humility and authenticity would be so much more effective. 

I'm sure there are other characteristics of Tim that could help all of us in life. I'm thankful I've gotten to watch him play basketball all these years and I'm sure he will continue to be an influence on others in the years to come. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Falling From Grace: how to recognize when we are on the verge

One of the greatest dangers for Christians is to literally "fall from grace".  I'm not talking about the world's definition, an idiom referring to a loss of status, respect, or prestige. No, I'm referring to the biblical definition apostle Paul expressed in his letter to the Galatians. In chapter 5:4  he wrote that the Galatians, having accepted God's grace were in danger of returning to the bondage of legalism thereby "falling from grace". We face that same temptation as Christians today. We can easily say bye to the grace life and slip into religion.  And it can be so subtle that often times we don't even realize it. 

The best way to tell if you've "fallen from grace" is to ask yourself am I ruled by precepts or am I living by principles?

Let me explain the difference because we can easily get confused. Principles are inward beliefs and motivation for behavior. Precepts are outward actions, training the mind in order to regulate behavior. Chuck Swindoll explained it this way. When you drive down the road and see the "Speed Limit 35 Miles an Hour" sign, that's a precept. If the sign reads, "Drive Carefully," that's a principle.

It is easy for a new Christian or a person seeking God to believe that he must obey a long list of precepts to earn their standing before God. But that is a religious trap and nothing could be further from the truth in the life of Christ.  And it is easy for a long time believer to slip into that trap also.  We can understand and accept God's grace for salvation and then fall back to living by works.  

The Jews based their faith on keeping God's precepts and also created hundreds more to try to regulate behavior.  Even the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament initially meant book of instruction. The Jews later changed the meaning to books of law. Jesus realized that even though the Jews were inclined to follow the letter of the law, their hearts were not right. The rules had the opposite effect, driving their hearts away from a loving relationship with God.

Jesus told them, “You have heard it said, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ (precept), ’‘but I say to you, ‘if a man looks on a woman to lust after her, he has already committed adultery in his heart’ (violation of principle).
When he was asked "what is the greatest commandment?” (precept), Jesus answered with a principle, 
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the laws are based on these two principles.”  

Jesus constantly taught the need to live from principles as opposed to precepts. He warned the Jewish leaders, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence." God desires to change us from the inside out. That is what grace does.  A believer who is living by God's grace is characterized by principle living.

Religion focuses on polishing the exterior and making sure all the rules are kept.  The right kind of obedience to God comes after a heart has been changed on the inside by grace.  Simple religious behavior modification doesn't glorify God it glorifies self. 

Here are some signs that indicate that you may be falling from grace:
       You are overly concerned with what people think about you, so much so that you don't feel free to be yourself and instead feel a need put on a righteous facade. 
       You get discouraged easily and feel like a failure when you make minor mistakes and don’t live up to the rules exactly. 
       You find yourself often judging others outward appearances and actions, either thinking critically or feeling envious. 
       You see most everything in black and whites and judge others by that standard. 
       You set the bar high for those you have authority over and are overly harsh when they fail to meet your expectations. 
       You get a feeling of superiority when you have kept a precept.
       You substitute rules for relationships. You sacrifice relationships for "being right".

Don't allow yourself to fall from grace!  Recognize the signs and seek God. Repent and fall back into a life of grace.  When you understand the principles of the faith and instill those principles into your soul, experiencing the freedom to make choices in life based on those principles, you will begin to experience the abundant life Jesus promised. 

John 8:36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

What are the most important principles that you follow in your life? 

Why do you think people gravitate to following precepts over principles?

When are you most susceptible to obeying precepts instead of following principles?  

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Long And Winding Road...lead me to your door!

Have you ever chosen a path that you believed was God's will only to end up in a completely different place than what you expected?  Christians want to know God's will for our lives. But we have so many choices in life, so many paths that we can take. How do we know which is the right way, God's way? I believe one reason Christians have a difficult time making decisions and discerning the will of God is that we don't quite understand what it is that God most desires for us. 

God, why did you take me here and on such a painful journey? Didn't you promise to make my path straight? Did I take the wrong turn, make the wrong decision? Often when facing a difficult choice or one of several roads, it is natural for us to pray that God show us the way, preferably the shortcut. We often think that the straight path is the less painful and pray that God directs us to the path of least resistance to a wonderful place where I am successful and blessed beyond measure. 

Yet, the difficult winding journey is more likely the path God will lead you on and usually to a place you never thought you'd be. Why is that?  Is God hateful, mean spirited? Think about the path the Israelites traveled to get to the promised land. It was certainly the long (40 years) and painful way to go. King David certainly had a rough road to becoming King. The apostles all struggled with difficult times and ended with sacrificial deaths as they spread the Gospel. Why would a God who loved us send us on these wild goose chases? Why doesn't he just give us a sign and direct us on the shortest path to where we need to be?

Because where God wants us is not a certain place of prominence or position of great accomplishments. No, what God desires most is just us. He wants the road to lead us to Him. His desire is for each of us to love Him and to love others.  And usually it is the difficult journey that develops our relationship with God and our relationships with others. 

I've recently had two discussions with men who have gone through chemotherapy and radiation for cancer. One was for throat cancer and the other stomach cancer. Both are in remission now and seemed to have won the battle. And both said to me almost the same thing about their battles with cancer. 

Each told me that through their struggle their relationship with God has grown immensely. One is a very close friend who told me, "John I would have never made it through without God. My relationship grew significantly deeper with Christ as the treatment got more difficult."

The other one with cancer shared boldly that if he had to do it all over again he wouldn't hesitate.  "I wouldn't trade the experience for another because of the growth of my faith and the relationships that have grown deeper because of the cancer." That's a pretty strong statement which I'm not sure most would say. But each guy acknowledged that without cancer their life with God would be nowhere near where it is now.

Pain and loss transform us.  While they can test us, they can also push us to a deeper life with God than we ever thought possible. They make us rest in God alone. Not what we can do or achieve for him. And not what He can do or achieve for us.

I've certainly discovered that during my recovery from heart bypass surgery. I better understand that God's will is for me to be in a deep, loving relationship with him.  That is why He took the long and painful journey himself, coming to earth, sacrificing his life so that we might have that opportunity to live with him for eternity.  

Pray that God's will be done in your life and when the road gets steep and treacherous, accept what path He leads you on without complaining. Know that God is with you every step of the way. Lean in and learn to love God more, because you might never be the person God wants you to be taking the short and easy route. 

More about finding meaning in the midst of suffering I suggest reading Phillip Yancey's book, The Question That Never Goes Away: Why?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Real Problem With Political Correctness

Political correctness is the attempt by the power in control to influence a culture's values to fit their agenda, often one that benefits their cause or helps them stay in power. Values are critical to any society because they determine our actions. Our culture, traditions and actions are all shaped by what we value.  Our values are based on what we believe. Beliefs, values and actions form a pyramid. Beliefs are the base, core values rest upon them and actions on top.  

What is disturbing is how far and fast our society is burning away the values that have been the foundation of western society, in particular the United States, the Judeo-Christian values which shaped our culture for the past 300 years. 

In the late 60's and 70's our values, the things that meant the most, faith, family, honesty, hard work, freedom and individual rights, the core of our ethics and ideals established from the Bible, began to be challenged. Now we have an all out assault and have exchanged a code of ethics based on moral absolutes for one that is based on situational ethics. As a result:
  • Faith has been deemed unnecessary and even unwanted in the public sector.  Faith in God has been replaced with a faith in the government and self. 
  • Marrige has been redefined from the union between a man and woman to any two persons. 
  • Honesty is an old value that has been replaced by doing or saying whatever needs to be said in order to please those in power or get what we want. 
  • Our value of hard work, a belief that every adult needed to earn his provision, has been chipped away until many believe the government is obligated to provide our needs. A good percentage of our population is willing to give up their freedom and give the government more control as long as they get some extra benefits in return. 
What is even more disturbing is that the new political correctness is not just replacing our long honored values but is actually blaming those values for our society's problems. In reality, as our values have moved away from Biblical to situational ethics, people have increasingly begun to act in manners detrimental to others and more destructive to society in general. Immorality has its consequences. It breeds bad behavior. So it's no wonder that those in authority and those who have influence (media) have begun to realize a need to correct this bad behavior.  Their solution is to establish a new code of conduct, one that deals with the symptom rather than the cause.

The new code of conduct against the "rape culture" on college campuses is an example. For hundreds of years our moral code set guidelines against sex outside of marriage. Along came the sexual revolution and our values were changed so that sex before marriage was condoned. Experts proclaimed it to be physically improbable for a young person to have the discipline to resist sex. So our schools taught that it was acceptable as long as one protected themselves. The consequences have been a huge increase in unwanted pregnancies, sexual diseases, and an increase in rape and abuse. Once again, immorality has its consequences. Is it any wonder that we have a problem with rape on college campuses?

So it's terribly frustrating to watch society try to fix the problem by dealing with the symptom instead of the cause.  Investigations, blame and shame on institutions and programs especially through social media has replaced simply teaching the values of purity, fidelity, respect and marriage.  Political correctness muzzles honesty, silences debate and diverts us away from the real root cause.  

Maybe it's time to put political correctness aside, deal with our problems once again at the root and re-establish the values from the Bible that have served society well for hundreds of years. 
“So then, where does that leave the wise? or the scholars? or the skillful debaters of this world? God has shown that this world's wisdom is foolishness!”
1 Corinthians 1:20 GNT
Here is a great video of another example of political correctness masking the true problem. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

God's Flea Market Flip

One of the cable shows I enjoy is Flea Market Flip where two teams go head to head to see who can make the most money transforming unexpected diamonds in the rough they find in flea markets into higher dollar gems. 

What fascinates me is the creativity of the teams, turning what is often old worn out or broken furniture into unique, useful pieces of art, all in one day.  As I was watching the show, it dawned on me that this is a great picture of how God works in our lives.

Think about how God searches for us, undervalued, hidden treasures, wanting to redeem and transform us into masterpieces for His Kingdom! Yes, he purchases each person with his blood, restores us and re-purposes us in such a way that we become much more valuable for His Kingdom! 

In my case, I was living for myself, my objective just to be happy.  When God redeemed me, He gave me a whole new purpose and reason to live. I began to serve God by ministering to others, using my unique gifts and talents. It took much longer than a day, but over time, God sanded off much of my pride and selfishness and gave me a whole new life in the ministry.

I've heard personal story after story of how God has taken a person off the scrap pile of life and restored them into a whole new life.  Drug addicts, ex cons, broken marriages,  people who were basically thrown away, being restored and "flipped" to new life and purpose for Christ. 

Comedian and game show host, Steve Harvey is an example.  He recently shared his story to a college audience about being homeless and living out of his car for three years before God re-purposed his life.  Read his story here.

Even more so than the teams on Flea Market Flip, God's creativity is incredible. But different than Flea Market Flip, God wishes to re-purpose every life, not to sell to someone else but so that He can use and cherish us for His great purposes!  2 Cor. 5:17 

How has God re-purposed your life?  

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Empowered By The Holy Spirit!

Picture courtesy of
I've had a great amount of time to reflect on my bypass surgery while trying to recover. You do a lot of talking to God in the process. And one of the blessings from this difficult time is being able to experience God through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Bible states that the Holy Spirit is one of the main ways we experience God today, and the fruit of the Spirit is what is manifested in and through me from the Holy Spirit's power. Galatians 5:22 tells us the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These attributes should be what you experience. 

So I realized early on through the surgery and recovery process, that I was relying on the Holy Spirit and there were numerous times that I felt an overwhelming sense of the various fruits of the Spirit being manifested in me. Right from the beginning when I was told I needed surgery and rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, then waiting two days in the hospital before the surgery, I experienced a peace beyond comprehension. I was not anxious or worried, but confident that I was receiving a blessing, to be able to fix my heart before I had a major stroke or heart attack that led to death. I remember telling someone that I had felt a lot more anxious about organizing a church event than bypass surgery. I don't think I could stay so calm without the Spirit's power.

During this process I also seemed to come alive. I had a lot of visitors and I felt energized and had a quicker wit and sense of humor than normal. I was experiencing the joy of the Spirit in a time when I should have been very sad.  

I also recognized a supernatural ability to be kind in a time where everything seemed magnified. Almost everything and everyone seemed to get on my nerves. I sized up every nurse and attendant and could easily identify their idiosyncrasies, many of which seemed to irritate me.  There was the overly talkative, extra perky nurse with the fake southern accent who proclaimed, "you're in good hands now" when introducing the new nurse. Followed by, "Isn't there a commercial or something about being in good hands on tv?" Yes, she was blond! Then there was the male nurse who couldn't seem to understand how any of the machines worked.

Through it all, Barbara can attest to this, I was kind and gentle to all of those who poked me every half hour. I sensed a self-control beyond my power to hold my tongue during some tormenting times. I was not going to be the grumpy patient! Even when my heart went into a-fribilation, feeling as if my heart was going to explode and the nurses couldn't get the EKG machine to work, I was able to stay calm when I wanted to exclaim, "what are you ignorant fools doing? I'm fixing to die!" God continued to give me patience, peace and self-control through two agonizing hours of a heart going crazy in my chest.

I pray that I remained faithful to God through the experience. I certainly felt God's love and the love and support of so many who were praying for me, visiting, bringing food and keeping up with how I was progressing by phone and on social media.  One of the most consistent and faithful who called me almost every day was a friend who had recently gone through a major battle with throat cancer. I think because of his experience, he could so easily identify with what I was going through, that he was aware of my needs.
So this experience has brought me closer to God and closer to my friends and those with whom I have a chance to minister to as a chaplain and coach. Until this time, I could not point to a very difficult period in my life. I think I'll have a lot more empathy for others who are going through a painful period. I pray that God's power through the Holy Spirit continues to be manifested in and through me.  Thank you, Jesus!

By the way, I recommend a couple of books I've had a chance to read during my recovery. The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg and Cast of Characters by Max Lucado.  The Auschwitz Escape is a great historical fiction novel about the famous Nazi death prison. I read this while in the hospital and was reminded that I had it very good compared to those in the death camps. Cast of Characters is a good devotional book (chapter a day)  that could also be used in a small group discussion.

Also, here is a link to a great sermon about living by God's grace from Jeff Harris at Grace Point.  Watch it here.