Wednesday, May 24, 2017

This is what's missing for many Americans today!

A recent study showed that more Americans than ever before are suffering from depression, stress, and anxiety. It doesn't go into the reasons but I can surmise that it has a lot to do with hope...the absence of hope. It only goes to reason in today's crazy politicized, immoral, violent, and super charged society, where every ounce of bad news is made known almost instantaneously, that there is a very real sense of gloom and despair. Often when the future looks hopeless and you find yourself in a no way out situation, you can experience anxiety, stress and even depression.

My wife and I experienced that on a small scale during our recent vacation to Yellowstone.  We had flown to Denver, rented a car and drove to Yellowstone, spending time in Grand Teton National Park on the way up. It was a fantastic trip, but while we were in Yellowstone an unexpected storm dumped a large amount of snow throughout Wyoming and Colorado.  On our way back to Denver, we stayed overnight in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

We got up early the next day to drive the remaining 300 miles to Denver only to find that Interstate 80 was closed because of the huge amount of snowfall.  So we programmed our GPS to give us another route and we headed out on a state road south of Rock Springs that was the fastest course to Denver.

I had a half a tank of gas and had planned to get gas in Colorado, figuring it would be cheaper. But as we traveled away from Rock Springs and began to examine our route we realized that we were out in the middle of nowhere. There were no towns, not even farm or ranch houses, and there were few cars on the road, which was fairly clear except for some spotty ice.  We only had a map of Wyoming and a slim part of northern Colorado.  When we lost connection for our GPS, I really began to become anxious. The further we got from Rock Springs the more worried I became. I didn't want to turn back and waste all that time but the path ahead was very uncertain and I didn't know if we had enough gas to get to the next town and we couldn't even see another town.

When we hit the Colorado border the highway turned into a dirt road!  I'm thinking, they closed an interstate highway and I'm on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere and there are storm clouds ahead! Now I had gone from anxious to near panic mode. I had lost most all hope because I didn't have any confidence in where I as going, no road map or clear path.

So even though we had driven for a full hour, we turned around and went back to Rock Springs to try another route. As we headed out of Rock Springs a sign declared, "road closed ahead, take alternative route," so we turned back again and sought some advice at the visitor center.  We were told there was a third route which required us to backtrack even further but it seemed to be open and the road was a state highway.

Off we went after filling the gas tank, and headed to Denver a third time. It took us a lot longer but the route was clear and the scenery was spectacular.  Having a full tank of gas and a confident path, knowing my destination made all the difference in the world. All the stress and anxiety was lifted and I could enjoy the trip and the incredible mountains and canyons of Utah and Colorado.

I was reminded of the verse in 1 Peter 3:15 which says "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 

Having hope, knowing the destination, and that no matter what we are going through, Jesus is with us and we will be victorious in the end makes all the difference in how we live our lives today. Without hope, it is difficult to have joy and peace.  With hope we can enjoy life even when we go through the storms of life.  It is this hope that is missing in so many of our citizens today.  Everyone needs the hope of Jesus Christ and the assurance that even death is not our final destination.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Learning from the Spurs way: TRUST AND OBEY


The San Antonio Spurs did it again, shocking the basketball world and doing what few thought possible, winning a playoff series against Houston without their two best players.  Not just winning, but blowing away the Rockets on the Rockets home court by a record amount. No one saw this coming.
I love the Spurs not just because they win a lot, but how they win and how they so often provide such great life lessons in the process. 

As I often do, I try to analyze what the Spurs do and find the parallel principles that I can apply to life.  The lesson from the win last night was pretty profound, simply trust and obey. It's like that old gospel hymn, trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. 

I can imagine coach Pop telling his players before the game that if you trust our system and your teammates and do what we've told you to do, follow the game plan, we can win even without Kawhi and Tony.  You all have certain abilities, great skills or you wouldn’t be playing for the Spurs.  And the coaches have put you in position to win. If you play hard and smart and follow the game plan, you will win! Just trust, obey and play! And what a great motto for life in Christ also!

Jesus said I've come to give you, not just an ordinary life but extraordinary, abundant life.  This is a life of joy, fullfillment, significance and contentment.  I've given you all you need to succeed.  You are a masterpiece, created to do good works that I've already prepared for you to do and given you the skill and ability to do them (Ephesians 2:10).   Now if you would just trust me, follow me, obey the instructions I give you, you will experience that victorious, abundant life.  Proverbs 16:20 – Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.

I know that the playoffs are not over.  Am I saying that the Spurs are guaranteed a championship? There is no guarantee. They certainly won’t be the favorites against the Golden State Warriors. And chances are they won’t win. Even when we trust and obey, victory over every battle is no certainty. The Spurs won’t win every championship and just like in life, this fallen world has a way of knocking us down at times. However, if we trust and obey, especially in the difficult times when we've been knocked down, received a set back like losing our best player, we can turn a sure loss into an incredible victory.  Trust, obey and go play! 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The power over worry and anxiety

Photo by John Hain Pixaby.com
During the early morning hours I often find myself thinking the most pessimistic thoughts. I’m not sure exactly why it is, but it's in the waking up period as I contemplate what I have to do that I seem to have the most anxiety. The self talk focuses on the negative and I have to fight the mental battle to stay positive. Once I'm up and going, I don't seem to have a problem.

One way I’ve discovered to overcome the early morning anxiety is to remember what my purpose is, what I was created by God to do.  I remind myself with a statement asking God to go with me and declaring my faith and trust in Him. Meditating on that statement and spending time in prayer helps me overcome my worry.

David Guinn recently posted what the men and women of the Bible might have said as they readied themselves to take on the day.  We can use these examples to help us with our personal declaration. When we start each day off on a positive note, it helps relieve our anxieties and makes our day much more productive.

● Moses would say, "Lord, if You don't go with us or before us, we are not going anywhere."

● Abraham would say, "The Lord will provide."

● Jacob would say, "I won't let go of You unless You bless me."

● Joshua would say, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

● Samuel would say, "Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening."

● Nehemiah would say, "The joy of the Lord is my strength."

● David would say, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." and "This is the day that the Lord has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it."

● Solomon would say, "Trust in the Lord, oh my soul, and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path."

● Isaiah would say, "Arise and shine for my Glory has come." and "No weapon formed against me shall prosper."

● Jeremiah would say, "The Lord has plans to prosper me and not to harm or fail me."

● Jabez would say, "Oh, that you may bless me and enlarge my territory."

● Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would say, "We will not bow down to any image but will serve the Lord."

● Ezekiel would say, "Any dry bones in my life, live again."

Choose your daily statement of faith. Meditate on it! Speak it over your life every morning! What is your daily declaration? Mine would be, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength!"

Friday, April 7, 2017

Is your church growing an audience or building an army?

One of the greatest hinderances to the expansion of God's Kingdom is the failure of churches to develop new leaders, pastors and missionaries. We have been pretty good at gathering an audience to worship services and even into bible studies and small groups but are very poor in discipling leaders who reproduce other leaders. When asked in a recent leadership study, 92% of the 2,000 pastors surveyed said developing leaders was critical to the health and development of the church.  Yet only one in four churches said they had any plan to develop leaders.

For many pastors, missionaries and leaders, their path to the ministry was that they participated in ministry and were inspired, felt a call by God or conviction to serve full time and "surrendered" to the ministry.  They were the bi-product of ministry.  For me, I was offered an opportunity to get paid for what I loved to do in an area of ministry (sports). As I developed my faith and leadership skills another door of ministry would open and I simply walked through it.

But for me, and many others, there was never an intentional effort from my church to develop me or anyone else for ministry beyond the specific needs of their church. And even when we needed a paid staff position, we never looked to the members who were being developed because none were. No, the staff just sent out a search comittee to interview candidates outside the church and hired the best one. I was the exception, one of the few members who went from volunteer to a ministry position.

I was fortunate to have had a mentor that spent countless hours pouring into me, but I was never exhorted to develop others or pursue a calling outside of my ministry at this church. I learned by osmosis and when I led our Singles ministry, I developed leaders in our Singles ministry because I needed young adults leaders to attract and disciple other young adults. I didn't really know what I was doing or had any plan. I discipled out of a need and did what my mentor had done with me. I had the pleasure of investing my life into many young leaders and continue to this day.

In most churches that I am familiar with, the pastor or the staff does all the leading and most all of the ministry in the church.  Yet, there is really only one job description in the Bible for pastors.  Ephesians 4:12 tells us that we are to equip the saints for ministry. And even when a church makes an effort to do just that, equipping the saints consists of teaching and training. We tend to either dump ministry upon volunteers (tell and command), or delegate (teach and train).  But there is a higher level that gets neglected because of a lack of time or incentive to develop leaders (mentoring, modeling and coaching).

There is little immediate benefit in developing so for most pastors, the weight of the desire and or need to grow the church, to get bodies into seats, money in the plate and volunteers into ministry positions takes precedence. The developing takes time, investing hours into another’s life.  Yet it is critical for the long term growth of the church and the Kingdom that pastors make a priority to develop leaders. Not out of a selfish, what can this person do for my church motive but for sake of the Kingdom.  Every leader in the church should always be mentoring, encouraging and developing at least two or three people who can be sent wherever God leads them to serve, minister and multiply other leaders.

If you are in ministry in a church or non-profit, what was your path to ministry? What part did your church play in your development?  Who are you developing now?  What strategy does your church employ to develop leaders?

For a great perspective on developing leaders in your church, check out this Carey Nieuwhof podcast.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Learning from the Spurs Way

"We don't talk about MVP awards. We don't talk about any awards," Gregg Popovich said, when asked if Kawhi Leonard should be MVP. The buzz was all about Kawhi and his amazing late game heroics in the Spurs come-from-behind victory over the Houston Rockets. "We don't talk about championships. We just play the game. Everybody tries to do what they can to make the team better, and whatever records or awards or wins that come, that's the way it is," Coach Pop exclaimed to reporters.

The San Antonio Spurs do things differently in the NBA. While most of the teams pride themselves in having flashy players and promote their players as MVP candidates, the Spurs intentionally keep out of the limelight and focus on one thing: playing their best.  Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs soft spoken forward certainly has risen to become one of the top players in the league and a Most Valuable Player candidate this year.  But you won't hear coach Gregg Popovich promoting any Spur for MVP.

What is refreshing in this world that keeps detailed statistics of most everything and celebrates records of every sort, comparing individuals and teams, the Spurs don't care about any of it. They focus on each player doing their best for the good of the team. Their attitude is that we can't control all outcomes. The only real thing we can control is our effort. When we focus on effort and execution, then we can let go of our need to control the outcome.

I'm reminded of the scripture in Colossians 3:23, Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. When we focus on doing our best for Jesus, we can always be content with the outcome even if we come in second. Sure we want to win but our world doesn't fall apart when we don't.

Our true measuring stick should be our own capacity to excel. There will be others who are naturally better and we will not win every contest or challenge in life. But if we do our best for God, we can always hold our heads high and be encouraged to press on.  The awards may or may not come on this earth, but far greater awaits us in heaven.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Study shows Christians influence in the U.S. declining rapidly. Is the church responsible?

A new survey released last week revealed just 10 percent of Americans truly have a biblical worldview, despite four times that amount believing that they do. *The American Culture and Faith Institute, headed by pollster George Barna, interviewed approximately 6,000 people from the general population and in church leadership in early February.
The ACFI survey determined that only 10 percent of the 6,000 surveyed answered the 40 question survey regarding biblical principles and lifestyle in a way consistent with a biblical worldview (way of understanding the world).

Using 40 questions on both belief and behavior, 20 on each, the researchers determined that someone with a biblical worldview answered positively 80% or 16 out of 20 questions in both belief and behavior categories.  A large percentage of those who claimed to have a Biblical world view answered questions that would not be consistent with the Bible.

For example, among the views adopted are a belief that people are basically good (74 percent) and having faith matters more than what faith a person has (66 percent). Other indicators that are consistent with a biblical worldview include a belief that moral truths are unchanging and absolute; that God created man in a miraculous event (not through evolution); and the Bible is totally accurate in all the life principles it teaches.

The survey indicated that the younger an adult is, the less likely they are to have a biblical worldview. Among adults 18 to 29 years old – commonly referred to as Millennials – just 4% were described as having and living out a biblical worldview. The number rose to 7% among those in the 30-to-49 age bracket; doubled to 15% among the 50-to-64 year olds; and peaked at 17% among those 65 or older.

The study gives a bleak view of the future of Christianity in America and indicates that our churches are failing to disciple. We may be drawing crowds but the big question is how many of those that are attending church are really being discipled?  Can you disciple a person who comes to an hour service an average of twice a month?

One of the problems Christians face is the declining belief that we are responsible for sharing our faith. (1 Peter 3:15).  As many as 25% of the most theologically conservative pastors did not embrace this statement.  Perhaps we are being silenced by the wave of culture which demands that faith is only personal and must be kept to oneself while trumpeting their secular worldview to anyone.

The truth is that the secular world is discipling 24/7 through education, government, media, arts and business.  The two mountains of influence that Christians have, religion and family are having less and less of an impact while education, government, media and arts (film and entertainment) are increasing rapidly. This is nothing new but perhaps this is the greatest challenge the church faces today because we have been swimming up stream in a rapid current for many years and falling further and further behind. This survey helps us take our heads out of the water long enough to see just where we are in the river of culture.

I’d love to hear from pastors and laymen.  As a pastor and follower of Christ, what can you do to counter the secular current of ideas and worldview?

*The American Culture & Faith Institute is a division of United in Purpose, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The mission of United in Purpose is to educate, motivate and activate conservative Christians to engage in cultural transformation, in ways that are consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The organization does not support or promote individual political candidates or parties.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Life Giving vs. Life Saving

We all have been told when talking about finances that saving is critically important. Yes, in the world's economy, we must save a certain percentage of our income for the future.  When it comes to Gods economy, we take this same mindset when considering our spiritual lives as well.  But nowhere does God tell us to save our lives. He tells us to give it away, Luke 6:38

Our natural tendacy is to save, protect and preserve our life.  So when God leads us to give our life away, we tend to avoid any risk so as not to experience rejection, failure or anything that might bring us physical or emotional pain.  Go on a mission trip overseas?  No way, it's too dangerous!  Share the Gospel with a neighbor? No, I'm afraid I might be thought of as a zealot. Get involved helping a friend whose son is on drugs and spinning out of control? No, I don't want to get involved in that drama. No telling what might happen. Spend a day working and sweating in an impoverished neighborhood?  Nope, I'd rather watch my favorite football team and rest up for church on Sunday. 

I love how Paul describes his life in his second letter to Timothy 4:7, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." He had spent his life serving God, enduring all manner of hardships, from beatings and stonings, to imprisonment to shipwreck.  There was no consideration to save his life. God had saved him so that he could spend his life on something much greater than himself. 

When I get to the finish line and come face to face with Jesus, I'm surely not going to talk about how I saved my life.  I'm not showing him my wonderful collection of rare coins I saved or my cool baseball card collection. No, I think Jesus will be much more impressed with the battle scars from sharing my faith, and the blood, sweat and tears shed from taking risks and obeying Christ when he was leading me to give my life away. Then I can say as Paul did, "I've fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith." 

I was created so that I may be spent.

This is what's missing for many Americans today!

A recent study showed that more Americans than ever before are suffering from depression, stress, and anxiety. It doesn't go into the r...