Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Keys To The Abundant Life

I recently had the opportunity to teach a large singles class at Hill Country Bible Church for three weeks and the topic was the abundant life.  I explained how Jesus told us in John 10:10 that he had come to give us the abundant life, life to the fullest.  So we talked about what this life was here on earth and and what it wasn’t. We discussed whether or not we personally had experienced the abundant life and whether you could say that God had done more in your life than you could have asked or imagined (Eph. 3:20). Or, had you felt that life had never met your expectations.

I asked the singles to help me come up with a list of the characteristics of the abundant life we experience while we are living.  And through our discussions, these are the characteristics mentioned:
  • Purpose and meaning
  • Gifts of the spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control
  • Receiving and giving Forgiveness
  • A new perspective of living for God and not self
  • Contentment
  • Power to overcome sin
  • Hope
  • Healthy Relationships with others
  • Grace-filled life
  • Healing
  • Generosity
  • Security and freedom (Bible is our road map and the Holy Spirit our guide)
And a few things that the abundant life is not:
  • Material things, prosperity
  • Status and power
  • The American dream
  • Life free of trouble
  • A perfect spouse. 
We also talked about obstacles that prevent us from experiencing the abundant life and decided the four most important were:
  • Disconnection from the vine John 15
  • Faulty Expectations
  • Living outside the boundaries God established (Seven deadly sins)
  • Living from fear instead of faith 
We discussed how sad it is that some Christians never realize the life God would have them live.  And yet many have experienced this life, whether for a moment in time or for long extended periods. And those times when we experience the full life are when we choose to die to self and walk through the doors of faith.  God gives us opportunities and choice. But to experience the abundant life we have to say yes to God often.  This usually takes risk and lots of faith and trust in Him. Those choices are not always the most logical ones and most of the time they require us to move from the security and safety of our comfort zone and to make changes in our lives.  When we live from the purpose he called us to live, with passion from the unique talents He has given us, to love and impact others, we can and will experience this abundant life!

Keys to experiencing more of the abundant life:
  • Stay connected to the vine. Prayer and reading the Bible
  • Stay within God’s boundaries 
  • Dream God-size dreams that require risk and stepping out of your comfort and security zone
  • Say yes to God often when He presents you with opportunities
  • Choose people to join you on the journey who will encourage, direct and help you. You can’t do anything great by yourself! 

Monday, August 7, 2017

How to choose the right path

“This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. ‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭6:16‬ 

Life pretty much consists of thousands of decisions, from the routine such as when to get up in the morning to the paramount like choosing your friends or picking a career. We often stand at the crossroads and must discern between right and wrong, good and evil, the godly way or the unrighteousness path. The choice we make can determine the course of our life.

Sometimes the choices are clear but more often than not, we can't see where the paths lead. Most of the time there are multiple paths, so many that we get overwhelmed and confused. And just like in a good detective movie or Sherlock Holmes story, there are obstacles and unseen impediments that muddy the waters and make the best choice unclear. So we must use our analytical skills to determine what is the best path to travel.

This verse in Jeremiah tells us to choose the ancient paths, the roads marked by the timeless truths given to us by God from the beginning of time. But the culture we live in is constantly challenging that ancient path, enticing us to take the newer, shinier, fancier road. It promises that this path is designed just for you, the one that will lead to happiness and success. But the end is always destruction. As Jesus says the thief comes to kill, still and destroy, but I have come to give you life, abundant life. John 10:10.

The ancient path is the road that leads to a full life.  Yet, how does a person know which path to take when there is no sign declaring "God's path"?  How do you choose the rocky, steep “old" trail when there is an alternate newer, smooth road beside it with a neon sign proclaiming "the road to happiness"?

Every believer struggles with discernment and the prince of this world's goal is to deceive us and keep us from taking the right path. But God has not left us defenseless to make the correct choice.  He has provided every believer with a road map and the power to make right decisions. 1 Corinthians 16:13 tells us to "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love."

So when making a crucial decision, you can be confident of making a wise choice if you:
* Be on your guard. Be aware of the deception of this world.  Don’t be tempted to take the “in” path.
* Stand firm in your faith.  Choose the ancient path, the one that most aligns with your Christian values and principles.  
* Get on your knees. Communicate with God asking him to give you wisdom to make the right choice. He has given you the Holy Spirit which helps you make the wise decision.
* Read the Word. The Bible is how God communicates with us. His Word is the road map to making the right choices that lead to an eternally abundant life. Become familiar and follow the road map!
* Go to the wise. Discernment is better caught than taught. Seek counsel from experienced men and women of faith and follow their advice.
* Be courageous and strong. Taking the ancient path instead of the socially popular choice takes courage.  

What if I make a wrong choice?  We all make bad decisions from time to time and oftentimes we will suffer the consequences.  However, for the child of God there is no decision that will prevent you from being in God’s will.  We think that if we venture off God’s path by making the wrong choice we are doomed to forever trying to find our way back to God’s will for our lives.  But because of the cross and Jesus’ sacrifice, we don’t have to go searching for his will.  Jesus plants the ancient path right in front of us, every time that we have strayed far from that path.  He moves it so that our next step, our next decision, can be made to follow Him and that is God’s will.

So when making a choice, choose the ancient path and don’t look back.  Know that God will be with you even if you should choose unwisely.  And when you do make choices, do everything in love.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Who are you in 25 words or less?

Ask that question to someone today and see if they can answer.  I’d bet most people couldn’t do it in 25 words.  Can you? If you are a follower of Christ, you should be able to answer that question and the answer should include your purpose for living.

Baylor’s new head football coach, Matt Rhule was asked at a conference recently, “If you could have every one of your players wake up in the morning and think of one thing, what would it be?”  He answered. "I think the biggest thing that I want to talk to our players about all the time, if I can get them to think about, is ‘Who am I? And what’s my purpose?”

Knowing your purpose and living from it is a crucial element to experiencing the abundant life that Jesus said he came to give us.  But we often confuse our purpose with our passion. Coach Rhule explained it this way. “My purpose in life is not to be a football coach. That’s my passion. I love it. I would do this, but I would do this for free. My purpose in life is to minister to kids, that’s what God put me on this Earth to do, is to work with young people. My passion is to do it through football. And our kids sometimes think that their purpose is to play football. No – it’s their passion. What their purpose is, is to be wonderful fathers, and sons, and people to grow in their walk with the Lord.” 

Most people when asked “who are you?” answer by describing their job, what they do for a living and perhaps their marital status and family.  It’s interesting what defines us.  But the greatest thing that should truly define a person is the answer to the question, why am I here on this earth?  What is my purpose for being?

If you are on Facebook or LinkedIn, you have an area where you can describe yourself in your profile.  On Facebook you are allowed only to use 100 characters in the initial intro to describe yourself.  Here is a great place to state your purpose but it is difficult to get into 100 characters.
The point though is to describe yourself with a purpose statement and make it short enough where you can remember it, share it and live from it.

As a follower of Christ, my purpose comes from my relationship with Jesus.  My passion is how I live out that purpose.  When you get to serve in an area of passion, and fulfill your purpose through your passion, you will experience the abundant life Jesus said he came to give us.  Know your purpose and live it out through your passion!

Here are links to other blogs I posted about purpose and calling.
The Power of Purpose talks about how purpose determines our path in life
Find Your One Thing talks about God's purpose for the Jews during Moses' time
The Most Important Thing talks about what is really important in our lives

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Abundant Life or Redundant Life, your choice

Joey on the left, Brandon in the middle and team Heart of Texas
Jesus said as recorded in John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

This verse came to my mind while reading the testimony of Joey Kelly.  Joey is my wife’s stepbrother’s son.  He posted his incredible story on Facebook recently to expound on a story alluded to on the NBC show Spartan: The Ultimate Team Challenge. Joey is competing with his adopted brother/cousin, Brandon, in the competition which is aired on Monday nights.  Joey’s sister Ally won the American Gladiator competition several years ago, and turned that into a successful business, Camp Gladiator. So this is a very athletic, physically fit family, made for a team competition like the Spartan team challenge.      

During their team’s introduction, the show makes a brief statement that Brandon lost his mother and brother in a fire when he was a teenager.  Well that wasn’t totally true and it's hardly the whole story. His mother and brother were killed by his father, John Brickley with a butcher knife and his father set the house on fire to cover up the crime, setting himself on fire in the process.  Joey, age12, at the time was there at the house, spending the night with his cousin Mikey when the attack occurred.  

It is a miraculous story of how Joey avoided death but also overcame years of pain, heartache, and psychological affliction dealing with the nightmarish experience in which he witnessed his cousin stabbed to death and survived an attack. It beautifully illustrates Jesus' statement in John 10:10.

Joey decided to tell the whole story and he has written beautifully on Facebook about what actually happened and how his faith in Christ saved his life.  He writes in detail how his cousin Mikey died and how close he was to dying also.  Joey said he watched as the father stabbed Mikey and he couldn’t move.  He wanted to save Mikey but perhaps something held him back because he would have probably been killed also if he had tried to rescue Mikey.   

Joey wrote, I couldn’t and didn’t move even as John, the father, got up and slowly walked over to me. He slammed me against the wall and I vividly remember thinking “I’m about to die...this is how I’m gonna die.”

I closed my eyes and had my arms up in front of my chest like I was trying to curl up into a ball. This was ridiculously divine as John attempted to stab me in the chest, but accidentally stabbed me through my arm and the knife just barely scratched my chest right over my heart.

Not only was I thinking about how I was about to die, I remember a feeling of complete acceptance of that notion and I gave up even attempting to survive. A grown man had me pinned against the wall and had a knife in me. I just wanted to die quickly. He took the knife out and tried to stab me again. God intervened on my behalf. This is really hard for me to explain, but it’s true. I blinked...and I was gone. I was about 10 feet away from John. I remember opening my eyes and thinking “how did I get over here?”

I know it sounds crazy, but God pushed me out of the way or something...whatever it was, I know with everything in me that it was a miracle. There is absolutely no way I should be alive today.

He chased me downstairs and we went around the bottom floor for a while. It’s hard to judge time in that situation. I don’t know if that went on for 5 minutes or 30 minutes, but I do remember thinking I might bleed to death. I did a lot of begging for my life and he never said anything. He was determined to kill me.

However, I heard him go back upstairs and felt it was my chance to make a break for it. I escaped to the neighbors, told them what happened, and they called the police.
A few minutes later, the house went up in flames. John accidentally lit himself on fire too and was rolling around in the front yard.

In no time police and fire trucks were there, followed by my parents. That is the true, full story. Phyllis and Mikey were stabbed to death, and then burned. I’m also a victim of domestic violence and by God’s grace had my life saved.

Joey goes on to tell how he grew up in a Christian home and gave his life to Christ at the age of 7 but the tragedy pushed him away from God, not understanding why God would allow this to happen.
He writes in his story, In high school, I was also holding on to that bitterness towards God. Considering what I had been through, I felt that I had the right to act go “crazy” I did just that.  My senior year especially, I chased anything and everything but God. Partying, girls, popularity, etc. I was living life for me and lost sight of my identity in Christ.
Those were the problems on the surface. Along the way I battled a slew of issues...depression, post-traumatic stress, survivor’s guilt, guilt that I didn’t try to save Mikey, and unforgiveness towards my uncle.  I chased all of those shallow things to distract me from dealing with all of those issues and to fill the void of not living for God.

At that point, the thief was winning the battle. Satan had stolen whatever abundant life Joey had, but the story didn’t end there. Satan would not be victorious over Joey or Brandon.  Joey's turning point was early on in his freshman year in college. 

I was attending Grace Bible Church and I can’t even remember the message, but it hit me like a ton of bricks that God had saved my life for a reason and that for the most part, I had been wasting my second chance by living for myself. God wanted me to live for him.

Joey sought Christian counseling, getting the help he needed to deal with all of the trauma, pain and guilt and turn his life around. He started putting his life and faith in Christ, trusting Him, walking with Him on a daily basis, and began to heal. He is now experiencing the true abundant life, fully alive, living for God and sharing his story so that others might choose the abundant life over the redundant life.  He explains it this way in his post. 

Chasing things outside of what God had for me was pretty much always fun in the moment, but always left me feeling empty and unsatisfied. In a weird way, I’m glad I experienced a lot of earthly pleasures, because now I know for sure that nothing compares to living for the Lord. Ever since turning my life around, I’ve never experienced so much joy and satisfaction.  Life is meant to be about loving and serving God and people. I have never looked back.

The apostle Paul wrote similar words in Philippians 3:8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.

Paul too contrasted life before Christ with that after his encounter with Christ, and like Joey, expresses that there is no comparison.  His other life, of self-righteousness, power and prestige was “dung” when compared to what he is now experiencing.  And Paul is writing from a prison cell!  

Many Christians today either take for granted the “riches in Christ” they have or just never access them.  As Paul says, they are unfathomable, deeper and far greater than we can imagine. Many of those riches can be quantified, and they include purpose, direction, identity, freedom, hope, wise counsel, love, forgiveness, security, comfort, spiritual gifts and the ability to love and forgive.  Joey received every one of these as he began to wade into that relationship with Jesus.  And the deeper he waded in, the more of the blessings he received.  

Joey's cousin and adopted brother Brandon’s story is just as compelling.  Brandon was asleep at his dad’s apartment when all this occurred.  He was awakened early in the morning by the police and his uncle Neal to be told that his mother and brother had been killed and his father seriously burned in a fire.  Brandon seemed to make the transition to his new family (he was adopted after the tragedy by Joey's family), without the rebellion and depression. His faith and walk with Jesus was strong and helped him overcome the grief and pain.  Brandon served several years on the mission field and has shared his heart-rending story of overcoming tragedy and evil to many around the world to bring them to Christ.   

All of the blessings of an abundant life and more are available to all Christians. But the interesting thing is we cannot realize the abundant life by pursuing the blessings.  The only way we can realize this amazing life is if we pursue the Blessed One, Jesus.  

Actually, the relationship with Jesus is the greatest blessing.  As Max Lucado so eloquently wrote, the cache of faith is Christ! Fellowship with him…walking with him…pondering him. The heart-stopping realization that in Christ you are part of something endless, unstoppable, unfathomable! And that he, who can dig the Grand Canyon with his pinkie, thinks you’re worth his death on Roman cross!  Jesus Christ is the reward of Christianity!

It’s your choice, though.  Abundant life or a redundant life.  

Joey and Brandon’s team, Heart of Texas, won their first challenge and will compete again Monday, July 10 at 9:00 pm on NBC.

Monday, June 12, 2017

A new low on violating religious freedom in the USA

I read in dismay this past week about a powerful senator indicating he would vote no for Russell Vought, President Donald Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, because of his Christian Faith. Bernie Sanders challenged Vought's belief that those who reject Jesus Christ are "condemned" as being racist and Islamaphobic.  Sanders indicated that Vought was not qualified for this government post because of his belief that those who did not believe in Jesus were "condemned".

As I read more about the questioning, the more upset I got. This senator had taken political correctness to a new low, way past the realm of politics.  He has insulted all authentic followers of Jesus, claiming that their faith is dangerous to the country. Sanders said Vought's belief is "indefensible, hateful, Islamophobic, and an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world."

The idea that our faith is racist is indefensible. All of Christianity rests on Jesus' statement, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father but through me," The crux of Christian doctrine is that everyone falls short of God's standard for salvation. (Romans 3:23).  The Gospel is that God's son, Jesus, came to this earth to pay the price for our sin so that we would have a way to be reconciled and receive salvation through Jesus Christ.  Our faith is built on this truth and millions of Christians live their lives so that others will come to the life giving relationship with Jesus Christ. Our motivation is out of love for our neighbors and respect for every human being created in the image of God.

It is hard to believe that a former candidate for president would take this kind of position.  To say that this Christian belief is somehow racist, hateful and dangerous is in itself extremely dangerous. You can certainly have your own views on theology but when you as a government office holder representing the people including millions of Christians, decide which theology is correct and make it some kind of litmus test for public office, you have crossed the line.  This is indeed a violation of Vought's first amendment right of freedom of religion and threatens all Christians and people of all faith's religious rights.

Perhaps this is just another sign of the end times.  But I promise it will not deter my faith and my desire to share the Good News of the Gospel to those who do not have a relationship with Jesus.

One of the few things you can do to voice your disapproval of Sanders' action is to sign The Family Research Council's petition drive stating “Our Constitution guarantees there will be no religious litmus test. Americans should never be forced to choose between their faith and public service.”

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
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.

Friday, February 3, 2017

When seeking a miracle from God; Pray. Believe. Pursue.

Ben Chapman's church plant is growing and flourishing. Luminous church located in San Antonio near the University of Texas at San Antonio caters to college students and young adults and meets in a movie theatre off of I10.
When the the two year contract for their use of the theatre was not renewed, Ben and his church faced a dilemma. They needed a church space large enough for 200+ people close to UTSA, because of their campus ministry. Available properties in this area are rare and expensive. Ben says that the theatre wasn't a good option anyway since they had upgraded their seating to the new high backed recliner chairs. He explained laughing, "they may be great while watching a movie but try preaching to a crowd of people practically lying on their backs. So we were contemplating moving when the theatre management informed us they would not be renewing our contract."

Ben Chapman encourages risk
So Ben and his congregation had no option but to move and prayed for a miracle. A church filled with college aged adults is not going to be able to afford the type of space they needed.  Yet, they believed God would come through some way, somehow and started the search. 

Ben was led to a property within the 15 mile radius of UTSA which they had set as their target. He explained to the owner their predicament and the owner replied, "yes I know, I'm a member of your church!  I just recently started attending." When he told Ben what he was asking to lease the property, Ben's spirit sank.  No way could they afford it.  He explained to the owner that the space was perfect and everything lined up except the price and left feeling as if that door which seemed like a miracle had been closed. 

A few days later the owner called back with a new offer, exactly the amount that the church had set as "affordable". Ben had not told the owner their price thinking it was too low. God however, using the faith and generosity of another believer, delivered the miracle. Luminous Church is moving in March and praising God for a miracle! A great reminder for us all when seeking a miracle; pray big, believe, and then pursue your dream! 

For more stories of God's miraculous movements go to Miracles on the Mission Field.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The biggest obstacle to accomplishing your goals

I was in a men's small group discussion about our new year's resolutions. We were asked to come up with and share one word for the year, a word that would sum up our personal goals and pursuits for the next few months. There were many great words like focus, family, faith, service, availability but as we went around the group sharing, there seemed to be a common struggle that everyone was addressing. The biggest obstacle to achieving our goals was busyness. Almost every man wanted more time to read his Bible, pray, serve, spend time with family and the excuse was that there just didn't seem to be enough hours in the day to do what we all deemed "vital" to our joy, health and quality of life.

Everyone seems to be busy now days. Even my 89 year old dad complains about not having enough time to get done what needs to be done each day.  But busyness is not the problem.  How we manage our time is the issue. I know that It's become even harder in today's high tech, faced paced world to carve out time for God.  It's ironic because we thought all these hi tech gadgets would give us more time. Instead it seems to be just the opposite. We can easily get pulled away from the very important activities by the tyranny of the urgent.  Our co-workers and friends have instant access to us by way of smart phones and we become slaves to our computers. But we don't have to be controlled by all of this. It's just a matter of the will and priorities. 

We can use those same tools that make us busy to manage our time and accomplish the vital. There are countless Bible reading apps and programs for your smart devices that will help you be consistent in a devotional time.  You can listen to the audio Bible, podcasts, or Bible studies in your car to and from work each day. You can set a timer to go off periodically on your phone to remind you to stop and say a prayer.  Yes, we can overcome our busy, out of kilter life if we so choose. Busyness should not be an excuse. We have the ability and time to do whatever we really need to do if we set our priorities and make time for them. 

Jesus set the example of one who had to accomplish his father's will in an incredibly short amount of time.  And yet Jesus took time to be with the father and to get away from the demands of the crowds to spend time alone in prayer. On the night Jesus died in his great prayer of John 17 he said to his Father, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do".

We can accomplish God's will also without sacrificing the "vitals".  Actually we can't do the Father's will without it. The graphic is a great tool to help prioritize our time. The four boxes categorize our time. Most people spend a majority of their time in boxes III and IV.  Box II is the one we neglect the most and it is the most important. Here are are some steps to take to help manage your time and accomplish the life you really desire. 

* Decide what and who is important. Outline what is vital, your priorities. These are usually things in box II, those that are not urgent, like prayer and Bible study, personal development and family time. 
* Discover where your time goes. Make an inventory of the activities that you do each day and which categories they fall into to. Making a list and then color coding activities to the box categories is a good way to visualize where you spend most of your time. 
* Get into a routine of spending a certain amount of time each day on the "vitally important" things. 
* To achieve this, cut back on the things in box III, those that are not important and not urgent, like watching tv, surfing the Internet or playing video games.  
* Don't allow the not important but urgent distractions (box IV) like email, texts and phone calls to interrupt your quality time. Put your phone away while you are spending time with your children, spouse or friend. 
* Use your high tech tools to help you spend more time in box II. 
* Find someone to hold you accountable.
The new year brings new opportunities. What is your one word for the year?

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