Monday, July 13, 2020

Created uniquely in God’s image

In the beginning God created mankind in his own image. In the image of God, He created them male and female.  Genesis 12:26

All men and women are created in God’s image! Whether black, brown, red or white, we are all created in His image.  And we are all created uniquely, designed for His purpose. No one is better than the other and we are loved equally by God. Just like children are different in every family, we all are different with unique skills and abilities and opportunities to do what we were created to do. 

In 1 Corinthians 12 we are reminded that in the body of Christ there are many parts, toes, hands and eyes etc. All are needed and valuable in God’s world and none are more significant than the other. 

Our sin comes when we start comparing ourselves to others. It is only natural to compare but when we measure our lives against others, we can sin in one of two ways. We can become prideful and feel superior like the righteous brother of the prodigal son, or we may become envious of others and feel cheated or a victim of unfairness.  

In Galatians 5:25-26 we read “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.” The Message translation. 

I was perplexed at first when I was told by some of my black friends that we weren’t supposed to be “color blind”.  I had been told most of my life that to be “color blind” to all races was the goal.  Over time I began to understand their viewpoint.  The goal is not to ignore differences but to acknowledge and celebrate our uniqueness. 

Galatians 5:26 addresses this issue. We should realize there are differences in all of us and it is not a sin to recognize those differences. Differences are actually what make the world interesting. Ethnic differences extend way beyond the color of our skin, to cultural and values. I’ve been all over the world and enjoyed the unique cultures. One way to help you better understand this biblical truth is to take a mission trip to another country and work along side of the people in that country.  Get to know them and experience their culture first hand. It is especially refreshing to experience the different culture but discover how bonded you are by the same biblical values. 

Our struggle is how to live out of God’s reality that we are all created uniquely and different but no one more significant, while living in a world that constantly evaluates people and every action.  We live in a world that loves to compete, and compare, reward or shame. 

Perhaps the best way to fight our urge to compare is to not focus on our shortcomings, hardships and insecurities, but instead count our many blessings and focus on and be thankful for life itself and for what God has done for us individually.

Beyond our blessings of eternal life and a relationship with Jesus, we should also thank God every day for living in the greatest time in all of history, with the greatest opportunities, the most resources, food, tools, digital gadgets at our fingertips to make our lives safer, easier and more convenient.  We can travel all over the world quickly and relatively cheap, communicate with anyone anywhere at anytime. 

Yes, and if you live in the United States, no matter your race or financial status, consider yourself privileged! We have more opportunities and freedoms to be successful than any country in the history of the world. Even if you are in the lowest income bracket, consider yourself fortunate because you could have lived in Europe in the 14th century during the Black Death or Bubonic plagues or any other country or time in history.  

In Christ, we are created with unique gifts to do amazing things and because we live in America in the 21 century, we have all the opportunities and everything we need at our disposal to accomplish God’s unique calling given to each of us. Let us focus on how we can best use our gifts to love God and love others. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Rare Leadership

A pastor recently recommended a book to me in passing, Rare Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits For Increasing Trust, Joy and Engagement in the People You Lead, by Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder. I cannot remember a book in which I resonated with more and one that I have actually applied to situations in my life. It's as if God provided me with a special tool that fit just the occasion at just the right time.

In Rare Leadership, the authors Dr. Marcus Warner, a pastor, and Dr. Jim Wilder, a Neurotheologian who has studied and taught on brain science, share through stories, examples and looking at brain science, how to lead well.  What I liked about it was that I received from both scripture and science not only important information but also very practical ideas on how to lead effectively.

Warner and Wilder contrast left brain leadership with right brain leadership and explain why leading from the right brain (relational) instead of managing from the left brain is so critical. The authors observe that leaders are usually hired solely on their skills and intellectual IQ.  Seldom do employers and leaders take into account a person's emotional IQ (maturity) and people skills. And most leaders default to a very task-oriented, management style, motivating those under them through fear and control.  But rare leadership sets a priority in being a healthy, emotionally mature person and is concerned more about who you are and not just what you do.

The authors describe four uncommon habits that define a rare leader as they lead their team, company, church or family: 1) To remain relational, 2) to act like your best self, 3) to return to joy, 4) and to endure hardship.

The book explains that through the study of Scripture and brain science, that joy, that feeling of well-being in the deepest part of our soul is what we most desire.  Wilder explains that the brain is a joy-seeking machine, seeking joy above every other human experience. And joy is experienced primarily through relationships.

Leaders with emotional intelligence and relational skills always create joy around them.  And the leadership that neglects joy rapidly becomes management instead of leadership. When we lead from joy, our relationships are bigger than the problems we face.  Employees and team members work better when there is an atmosphere of joy in the workplace.  You'll create a joyful workplace when there is a clear group identity, an awareness, and understanding of the purpose of the group, and a caring for each individual. This applies not only to businesses and churches but families as well.  When a family lives in joy and the parents lead with joy, children grow up healthier, knowing their purpose in life, understanding who they are (identity), and that they are loved and appreciated for who they are.

The book makes note that we will never be able to avoid difficulties and pain. Leading requires us to work through trials, but in those times of trouble, stress, and conflict, rare leaders will always give the relationship priority over the problem.  They will act like their best self in the middle of the problem (not blowing up with anger or melting down emotionally), and return to joy in spite of the pain and suffering.  Rare leaders operate with greater love, peace, patience, and self-control and those under their leadership appreciate them more and respond better to their leadership.

I can look back over my 40 years of ministry experience in two churches and clearly see the times when pastors and administrators led from a left-brain management style and the times when we were led from a right-brain relational style. The years where I really enjoyed my work, and there was a great sense of joy in the ministry team, and the church, in general, were times when I had relational leaders.  The difference in the amount of joy was remarkable.

In the middle of reading this book, a college student called to ask my advice. This young man is an incredibly talented and dedicated Christian who is on his church's college leadership team. He explained to me that he was having difficulty with the person who is in charge of leading their college ministry. He went on to say that the college minister was greatly admired for his great preaching but his leadership of the students was severely lacking.  He said that in the two years under the ministry of the college minister, he had never met with him one on one. In fact, few of the men or women on their leadership team had ever met with this minister.  They had leadership meetings once a week, but the college minister never attended, only the interns. No one knew him at all. My friend wanted to meet with and address this with the college minister and asked my advice on how to broach the subject with his leader.  He said that it was his desire not to admonish him but to learn as much as he could from the college minister and he couldn't without getting to know him.

My mind went to the book and I recall thinking, my this could have been an illustration right out of the book.  My friend really gets it and the college minister seems to need some encouragement to lead better through relationships. I shared some of the points in the book with my college friend and suggested that he read the book before they met and perhaps refer it to his college minister also.

When I saw him recently I asked how his meeting went with his college minister.  He said it actually went well and the college minister seemed to take his concerns seriously. He said a few days after the meeting the college minister emailed all of the leaders and invited them all to his house for a fellowship.  I gave my friend a high five.  The conversation that my friend had with his college minister just may have changed the whole course of this man's ministry.

Perhaps this book will change the way you lead also.  Check it out.  Rare Leadership

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Greatest Gift

Ephesians 2:8-10
For it is grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s masterpiece, created to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 

This past week I was preparing a sermon and I was trying to think of a way to illustrate God’s wonderful gifts we find in this incredible passage. In my office I glanced up and saw a nesting doll that I had bought for my wife during a trip to Russia. This is a hand painted figurine of Vince Young of the Texas Longhorns. And he comes apart and inside is another player, Jaamal Charles and in that doll is another player, etc.   I was shocked that I would find a Texas Longhorns doll in Russia!

It suddenly occurred to me that the nesting doll is a great illustration of God’s gifting as illustrated in the scripture passage. 

Eph. 2:8 tells of God’s greatest gift; salvation, a relationship with Jesus for eternity. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works,

There is so much to this relationship and when we open the gift of salvation, we find another gift, that of identity (For we are God’s masterpiece). 
When we understand that “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me,” and live from that new identity, we soon discover the gift of purpose (created in Christ Jesus to do good works). I now know my purpose comes from God and why I was put on this earth. 

As I live from my purpose, I discover my calling, the way I fulfill my purpose (which God prepared in advance for us to do).

As I live out my calling, I discover my unique spiritual gifts that help me do what God has called me to do. 

Just like the nesting doll, within each gift is another gift. But we must open each gift and apply it in order to realize the next gift. 

So often we receive the gift of salvation and never exercise the faith to realize the riches in Christ that come with salvation. 
Many search for an identity other than Christ and live for self rather than from their created purpose and never discover their calling or utilize their spiritual gifts. 

Jesus said I have come to give you the abundant life and we can realize life to the fullest when we open each gift given to us. 

Who, Why and How 
Identity: Who we are
Purpose: Why we are here 
Calling: How we fulfill our purpose

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.

Created uniquely in God’s image

In the beginning God created mankind in his own image. In the image of God, He created them male and female.  Genesis 12:26 All men and wome...