Are You a Christian?

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Are You a Christian?

This is not a rhetorical question. It is a very simple question with a one word answer. It needs no qualifications or explanations. If a simple "yes" is not your answer, it's possible you need to re-think the meaning of the question. In fact, if your immediate answer is much longer than that, the person asking will already know more about you than you could take the time to explain in the awkwardness of the moment.  

If you have never met the man in the picture above, then maybe you have never been asked this particular question. But if you met him for the first time as a stranger, there’s a good chance you had to come up with an "on the spot" answer.  

Bob Behn just went to heaven a few days ago. He will be greatly missed by his wonderful wife, Bonnie, and family and friends. His devoted life is a great loss. But the greatest loss is a dying world that is without a clear confrontation of the bold truth he was willing to give.

Bob was actually a man of quiet personality. He was not the first to speak up in a group setting.  He did not control the atmosphere with his presence. At first, you might not even know he was there. But busy in that heart of his was the keen sensitivity of the people around him, knowing there was a divine appointment in the making. Then, without hesitation, without fear, and without argument, the question would come...  

"Are you a Christian?"

If you did not know what made the question an easy one, you might have fumbled a little with the answer. Maybe you would have said, "I think so," or "I hope so." Maybe you would begin to explain how long you've gone to church or that your family belongs to a certain Christian denomination. Maybe you would have said, "Well, I believe I am. I would like to think that I am a good person."

Bob heard it all. And then, with a prayer behind his response, he would say whatever came to his heart. He might move in a little closer and ask more specifically, "If you were to die today, do you know without a doubt that you would go to heaven?" Then, if the immediate answer was not a confident "yes," Bob would explain exactly how you could have that peace in your heart. He might even give you the opportunity, right then and there, to pray and receive.  

Or, he might feel that his job was done, and leave you with those four unforgettable words. He knew that sometimes the Holy Spirit could take it from there. As important as the question was, even more important was his sensitivity to the leading of the Lord.

In honor of Bob this week, I'm sensing from that same Spirit to be clear and direct.  

Are you a Christian?

Have you said yes to the love of God, who gave His son to die on a cross for your sins and mine?  Jesus said, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever (that's you) believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  

Do you believe... in your heart? Have you said "yes" to the call of Jesus to follow Him?  Can you call Him "Lord?"  

If you do, and have, and can... then Jesus says you’ve been converted. You are no longer a person walking in the foggy darkness of this world. You have been re-made into a child of the Father, who is God. You are a son or daughter of the one who made you and has redeemed you. You now belong to Him!

This did not happen because you went to church, or are a "good enough" person. This happened because God initiated His love toward you; and you have responded with worship.  The Bible calls that grace. You didn't deserve it. You can't achieve it. You will never be good enough. Really... that should be obvious!

No, you have simply received it. It is a gift, given by God to you. I know this is hard to imagine.   But God never expected you to be able to live up to His standards... not without His love and grace. Truth is, He makes you able to live a full, meaningful, and even righteous life by His power that dwells in your spirit... His presence in you. It is your response to that love that makes it possible to live it.  

You don't have to understand or even convince anyone else it’s true. You simply have to receive.  And when you do... well, that is when you will begin to understand. Don't make this complicated. Just believe. The pieces of the puzzle will come together as you learn more of His love and goodness.  

Then answer Bob's question with a confident, one word response. "Yes," followed with a smile.  And I would add (because I can never keep my answers short), "I am. And you must be also, or you would probably not be asking me that question."

Bob Behn has been the real deal. He has lived it. He has shared it. He has boldly confronted the world around him, whenever and whoever.  

If you would have said "yes" to Bob's question, I have a second question for you (and me).  Are we willing to ask the same question to whoever stands in our path? It might come out a little differently. We don't have to copycat Bob. But are we looking for every opportunity to share the love of God with a hopeless world?

Bob, I know you are dancing in the presence of your Heavenly Father. But we want to say, "Thank you!" Thanks for living such a bold life. You have challenged the rest of us. It will be hard to match what you have left behind. I just hope we can keep it that clear, that simple, and that confrontational.  

Are you a Christian?

If your answer is "yes," pass it on.

Let's change the world together!

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O Say, Can You See?

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O Say, Can You See?

The following is an open letter to Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, who recently decided to remain seated for the national anthem before his games to protest problems in America with prejudice and hatred toward minorities.  

Dear Mr. Kaepernick,

I have always respected you for taking a stand as a Christian. And I also respect you for wanting to help us face the issue of bigotry, hatred, and mistreatment of the black community.

Certainly, I am not a qualified spokesman for the issue. However, I have always been aware of the problem, and have always tried to make a difference by taking specific actions that I have had control over. There is still much work to be done to eradicate prejudice.  

I love you. In fact, I wish I could sit down and chat. It would help me better understand where you are coming from.  

This letter is an attempt to help you understand why people are reacting the way they are. To many, what you are doing is not clear, not appropriate, and certainly not helpful.  

Why would you disrespect a whole nation now known for voting in an African American president for two terms? That doesn't make sense to many of us.

Why would you disrespect a flag for which both black and white blood has been shed in order to protect the freedom for which it stands? It appears as if you do not understand the values the flag and national anthem stand for.  

America, as a nation, is not holy or righteous, by any means. I too am shouting "foul" on actions and directions that we are taking. But the flag and the national anthem, saluted and sung by all Americans, are not the same as the confederate flag, unless someone like you leads a successful movement to change its meaning.

The principles they represent have fought for your rights, your freedoms, and on many fronts, have won your causes. The same flag that you will not stand up for overthrew a confederate flag in a war to determine if all men, were in fact, created equal.  That means that thousands of men gave their lives to declare that the American flag was yours as much as it is mine.  

Your desire to bring attention to a real issue is admirable. But may I submit that you have made what your profession refers to as, “a rookie mistake."  Instead of helping the problem become better understood, you have lowered it to further misunderstanding and rejection. You have thrown the long bomb into the wrong hands.  

May I make a suggestion while there is still time? If you want to lead us into change, I suggest the following:  

1) Humble yourself, admit your bad play, and shift your strategy to something more substantive.

2) Show us how you have overcome the problems of prejudice in your lifetime. Certainly, you are an example of one who has overcome.
 
3) Show us that you intend to make a difference in the lives of the people that matter. Work with smart people who have real answers and support their efforts. You have been given the blessing of success by a nation which afforded you the opportunity. Now use that power and resource to change the lives of those who both need it and will do something about it in a positive manner.  

4) Try love instead of hatred. Your anger is in the face of many who are trying to understand.  This has pushed them back into a more defensive stance. May I quote a scripture verse?  

Love never fails.

I will close by sharing with you a powerful story. I am a white pastor in a suburban community.  One day a man in our church invited a friend from work to a special event we were having.  He was African American.  I later discovered later was a well known man from our city.  I don't remember who all was in attendance that day. But certainly, he and his family were a minority, and possibly the only black faces present. He and I chatted for no more than a half-hour.

The next day or so he called me and said something to me that has changed our lives.  He said, "Pastor, I love you, and there ain't nothin' you can to about it." That was a good five years ago.  It is the motto that we now trumpet. We don't care about our political differences or our cultural differences. We respect one another and are committed to love one another to the end.  

I'm not saying that it is on the black community to initiate the love.  Without going into detail, for many years, I was already reaching across my cultural barriers and taking action that has challenged the thinking of my white suburbanites.

I'm all about taking a stand. But the key will always be unconditional love... from both communities.

Love is a powerful message. It never fails.  Give it a try. You might find an army of people who are sitting on the fence that would join you in the cause.

Let's change the world together!
 

Craig McLeod

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The Movement

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The Movement

This coming Monday, Carol and I will be flying to the other side of the world to serve the King where His light is dim to many. I will not share the location in order to protect the work at hand. Carol will be there for two weeks teaching two women's conferences. And I will be there for five weeks, beginning a new adventure. 

Two years ago, as I left the same location, I was so on fire with fresh vision that I wrote a declaration of my inspiration. 

I was so motivated that I produced a brochure about it and made it the official church brochure. The only problem was that it wasn’t about one local church. It was a bigger vision than that. And now, two years later, I’ve realized the inspiration was a call to me personally to take a bold leap of faith and begin taking this message to the whole world. 

Most of you are aware that I have taken that step. Peter Jankowski is here at Life Church Buffalo as co-pastor, with the call to become lead pastor by next Spring. I have already begun working part time with a global team that is out to change the world. My trip over the next month will give me a deeper education on the task at hand. 

This Sunday, I will be sharing my "declaration" and challenging believers to step up their game. My message will be the most important message I have given in 39 years of ministry. That's a big statement, but I believe it is true. 

How will we change the world? Is it "revival?" Or is it something bigger than that? 

Below is my declaration. Following that, you will see a strategy for prayer via the scripture that will help us get on page with the heart of God in His desire to ignite us back to the fervor of His mission. 

The prayer strategy is a forty-day challenge. Join me in praying those scriptures for 40 days together beginning this coming Monday.  Then watch Facebook once a week for my updates. 

Remember...  when you pray, draw a circle around yourself and pray that God answers your prayer inside the circle first. If what you pray does not happen inside you first, it’s wishful thinking at best. Besides, you don't want to miss out. Who wants to sit in the stands when you have been equipped to get into the game and make a difference?

Here you will find the declaration, and the prayer strategy. Pray daily for 40 days. Then, schedule Sunday, August, 28th to be at Life Church Buffalo and hear some of the answers to your prayers as I will have returned from my excursion.  

And be careful - God answers persistent prayer!

Let's change the world together!

40 DAYS TO PRAY...

"THE MOVEMENT"

1000 Year Prayer Before the Movement
"God be merciful to us and bless us, And cause His face to shine upon us, Selah! That Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations. Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You. Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy! For You shall judge the people righteously, And govern the nations on earth. Selah!  Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You. Then the earth shall yield her increase; God, our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us, And all the ends of the earth shall fear Him." - From Psalms 67:1-7

Our Prayer Response Today 
Lord, You have been merciful to us, and have caused the face of Your Son to shine upon us, that Your kingdom may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.  Let all peoples discover your praise through the witness of your people, including me.  Reveal Yourself through me today.  By faith, I look for the earth to yield her increase.  The Lord will bless His people.  And all the ends of the earth will revere Him.

Jesus Declares Prayer for The Movement
"The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."  Matthew 9:37-38

Our Prayer Response Today
Lord, people are ready and waiting for the truth of Your love and salvation.  But there are so few of us actually helping them to discover that truth.  Lord, I pray, send Your people into the lives of those who need to hear.  And let it begin with me.  Show me today where I might have an impact on people in my personal world, in my regional world, and in the whole world.  Help us do what you have called us to do!

Jesus Commences The Movement 2000 Years Ago
"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."  Acts 1:8

Our Prayer Response Today
Lord, You have begun a movement.  You have given us power.  Your Holy Spirit has come upon us.  Therefore I am a witness to You in my sphere of influence, in my home location and region, and to the ends of the earth.  I am a partner with that movement.  Connect me to the body of believers across the globe.  We have been sent to finish what You have started.  Show me today how I might participate at home and abroad.                              

Jesus Challenges The Movement Today
"Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent."  Rev. 2:4-5

Our Prayer Response Today
Lord, I bow my face, draw a circle around myself and pray that You would revive the movement inside that circle.  I am a walking demonstration of the original revival of the book Acts.  I remember the heights of your love for me.  I will never leave my first and primary love.  I walk in the repentance of a renewed mind to do the first and most important works so that the lamp stand under my leadership will flourish and multiply.  I will not allow the enemy to steal the joy of my purpose and mission.  I completely and wholly give my life to You afresh today. Have your way with me oh God!

Reminders:

-       Pray for 40 days with others who are joining us and don't be surprised if God, in time, answers your prayer!
-       Schedule Sunday, August, 28th to be at Life Church Buffalo and hear some of the answers to your prayers!

Let's change the world together!

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Where God is Not

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Where God is Not

In one sense, God is everywhere... omnipresent. On the other hand, God's "presence" cannot be found in a number of people, places, or things. Is He with you, or not? Is He in you, or not?  In our message series at Life Church Buffalo, we are asking the question, "Where is God?" There are two weeks left. Come and get some answers. 

But consider the opposite question... Where is God not?

God is not in your self-centeredness, unforgiveness, arrogance, lust, or "sin" in general.  He is not in government corruption, love for money, or power hungry leadership.  He is not in murder, hatred, or the oppression of the poor.  He is not in laziness, deception, or exaggeration. The Bible says, "God is light and in Him is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5)

The truth is, He may exist in the heart of any of those who participate in the above. But He will never claim involvement in their actions of this sort. He is in you if you are a believer in Christ. He is in your heart, in your life, and involved in the circumstances of your personal world. He will never leave you or forsake you. 

But do not count on Him to be with you in activity that is not a part of His character or nature. He will be true to Himself and call you higher to live in who He is. Jesus can be in your heart yet bound by the prison bars of your dealings with darkness. He may be there, but you are shutting His voice and ways out of your mind and heart in order to do your own thing. 

You don't want that.

This happened while Eli was priest. Eli had let his two sons mishandle the presence of God in the temple so much that, while in battle with the Philistines, his two sons were killed and the Ark of the Covenant (God's presence) was taken by the enemy. It was such a tragedy for God's presence to leave them that Eli fell over backwards and died.  When his daughter-in-law heard about it on her death bed, she was more upset about the Ark being taken than she was about her husband's death. As she was dying, she gave birth to a son and named him "Ichabod" which meant, "The glory has departed." 

My mother tells me of two ladies in her church when she was a child that were very controlling and manipulative.  Nothing happened there without one of them saying that it could. Even the pastor's hands were tied unless he just did what they told him to do. 

But one day the two ladies were on different sides of an issue and collided head on. People took sides and the church was splitting down the middle. The church was having a series of revival meetings with an evangelist who was from another town. When he caught wind of the problem, he confronted it head on from the pulpit and challenged the two women publicly, along with the rest of the church, to repent. They did. They came together, admitted their wrong, and forgave one another. My mother says that revival broke out in that church like never before. The power of God was restored, many came to Christ, and the unity of the Holy Spirit brought the church back together, better than before.  

If you are a believer, God is in you. But you really want Him to be with you in all you do and say. His grace leads you to a life that is rich in His presence, and His favor follows your obedience to walk in His ways. 

Do not accept the name "Ichabod" into your heart or into your church. Learn to walk with God every day. Learn to connect with His presence in you. Learn to enjoy the blessing that comes with staying in that place with Him. 

There is no substitute. 

Life is a whole lot better when God's presence can flow freely in and around you. Learn the power of worship and God's Word!  Learn to fellowship with Him all the time. Learn to lean on Him under pressure. Learn to walk in humility and forgiveness. You will never be disappointed. You will never regret it.

Be where God is! Not where He is not!

Let's change the world together!

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Do We Really Want Revival?

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Do We Really Want Revival?

Before you turn me off, hear me out.

This is a call to the conscience of the church of America. Our nation is spiraling out of control and is in need of a kind of change that goes deeper than a temporary experience, lively church meetings, or even miracles. Remember that the same people who received the miracles of Jesus crucified Him.

I believe in miracles. I need miracles. I'm praying for miracles. But that is not the end goal. I have seen what we call "revival," and it has not lasted. I have seen miracles, and most people go back to their lethargy. I have experienced revival and still wake up in need of something deeper.

Hang in here with me. I'm going to answer the question of what America really needs, and what you and I really need.  I am not against revival. I challenge your thinking, however, on what you think that means and if it is really the answer that God has given us.

I am a Christian. I come from the particular Christian culture that is always saying, “America needs a revival!” “Pray for revival!” Hey, I've said it many times myself. The problem is that what most people mean by that (at least in my circles) is a blowout spiritual atmosphere in a church service or series of church services that allow people to experience the power of God in a way that overwhelms us and makes the hair stand up on the back of our necks.   

What is revival, really?

It is an Old Testament word that does not appear in the New Testament at all. It is mentioned in the Psalms a lot. But the scripture that I would like to show you is Hosea 6:2. It says...

"After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight."

There are two words in that verse are the exact same Hebrew word, but used in a different context, and therefore different English words, within the same verse.  The word revive and the word live are both the Hebrew word “chayah.” The first time it is used (revive), it means "to revive, restore, or refresh". The second time the same word in a different context (live) means "to live, have life, continue in and sustain life." The first is revival. The second - to use a word not in the dictionary is "vival." In other words, this revival the prophet Hosea speaks of is one, when it comes, that will lead to a way of life that will produce a continuing, sustainable life.  There is no need for another revival.

This is a foreshadowing from Hosea of something that would come after his time. We know now that he was prophesying the coming of Christ and the life that He would give us. Jesus, on the third day, would "revive" us, bring us back to life, resurrect us from the dead. The cross, the resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit was the time in history that God planned for the revival. One revival, one visitation has been given to us for all time.

That revival (chayah) came "that we may 'live' (chayah) in His sight."  In other words, what Jesus gave you through the cross, resurrection, and Pentecost is a life that is to be lived to the fullest every day. If revival becomes an event that we wait for, a movement that only God can instigate, we have missed the boat altogether.

In fact, this thinking may be the very reason that our nation is in the condition that it’s in right now. It's like waiting for God to do something before He will do something… when He has already done it.

The revival Christ gave us over 2000 years ago was given as a sustainable, continuation of that same life. You were not given something that dies and lives, dies and lives.  I know we are talking about semantics and you may argue with me on my terminology, but don't miss my point:

There are many people in my circles who are waiting for God to do something that He has already done.

They are praying for God to finally allow for another revival in their church or nation, by His providence and timing, in order to restore us to something we used to be.  What they are really praying for is something that they will hear about, go and observe, and then go home and celebrate.  They are not praying for this to be something that radically changes their own life.

And while we pray in waiting, our nation is falling apart. We stand by and watch, all the time disappointed in God for not showing up.  Has God not shown up in the believer's life already? Has He not already given you the grace to access His love, power, and goodness? Has He not already given you the charge and responsibility to walk in repentance and change the world? If our country is falling, are we going to sit here and blame it on God's will and timing?

Jesus said, "Go and make disciples"!  When we obey that call, has He not already given us the power and grace to do it effectively. Am I waiting for God to revive me before I win someone to Christ? Am I waiting on God to revive me before I grow into a mature believer. Am I waiting on God to revive me to love my family or serve my community. Am I waiting on God to revive me before I go and make disciples.

I'm sorry, but this does not make sense to the New Testament Church. That church thrived when the pressure was on. That church did not pray for revival - they lived it every day. They were walking, talking, Spirit-filled revivals wherever they went and whatever they did. The culture, the circumstances, the condition of the nation, had no bearing on who they were or what they did.

Don't get me wrong… I need one level of revival every day when I get out of bed. I don't wake up ready to take on the world. But what I have been given by God since day one is the continual power of His grace to walk in that original revival immediately. So I don't have to wait for it. I have to go get it. I know what to do, so that by the time I leave the house each day, I am revived!

Someone said, "If you want to start a revival, go home, lock yourself in your room, kneel down in the middle of your floor. Draw a chalk mark all around yourself, and ask God to start the revival inside that chalk mark. When He has answered your prayer, the revival will be on."

I know there are seasons of refreshing and revival in our lives. But these are not withheld from us for special occasions. They come with the territory. Peter told us in his second sermon in Acts 3:19, "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord..." There it is. The presence of the Lord brings refreshing. I have access to His presence 24/7. …What am I waiting for?

How can God improve on the cross, the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit? The access we have right now to all that God has for us by His grace is all we need to change the world. He told us to go and do it. What are we waiting for? To wait for a movement before we move is disobedience to God. It is our movement that perpetuates His original movement.

Watching our nation fall by the wayside while waiting for "revival" seems to be a good plan from hell to de-motivate God's people from fulfilling the purpose we’ve already been anointed to fulfill.

Actually, revival is not the end goal. The goal is a living demonstration (witness) of Christ on the earth in every community, city and nation (Acts 1:8). If what we are calling revival produces that, then I'm in. But many revivals, at least what we call revivals, do not. They crash and burn.  The leader crashes and burns. There is no repentance, simply excitement for a season.

Where is the thriving, sustaining work of God in our world? Ask yourself the following: 1) Does my community have evidence of an alive people of God perpetually shining the light of God's presence and goodness? 2). Are the majority of believers in a community gathering regularly for prayer, worship, ministry to one another and acting on strategy to reach their community for Christ? 3). Are people coming to Christ regularly, being assimilated into the fellowship of the Body of Christ, and carefully discipled to grow as a believer?  And 4). Is the community in which this is happening changing for the better? Are there signs of less crime or more employment? Are answers being discovered to solve community problems? Is the impact of sin lessening and of righteousness growing?

If what you are calling revival produces the above, then I'm all for it. If it is the real deal, then it is happening outside of the four walls of the church building.

Don't be that person who is waiting for something to get excited about before you do anything. Shake off your lethargy and walk in the perpetual revival you already have. If America is not changed, it will be because we did not take the first and permanent revival - the one with an empty tomb - seriously enough to fulfill the plan of God to change the world.

You belong to a kingdom that is alive in you and in the other believers in your life. Get together with them and pray for action, then take action on your prayer.

God's plan is to change the world and to do it through you!  Don't miss it!

Let's change the world together!

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The Power of Diversity

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The Power of Diversity

What if someone were replacing you at your job and it was your responsibility to train them, only to discover that they had a different personality and different skill sets - some of which were better than yours?  In fact, they’ll probably do a better job than you, even though you have many years experience over them. On top of that, they are younger, more energetic, and better looking. (smile)

Well, that is exactly what is happening to me (except maybe for the "better looking" part... smile Pete!). And to think it was my idea (but really God’s) that this is taking place.

Go to school with me on this.  We might learn a thing or two.  

Peter Jankowski preaches his first sermon as co-pastor this week at Life Church Buffalo. You should come if you live anywhere nearby. It will be a great day. (Check out our website for times.)

Peter has been in staff meetings now for only two weeks. It’s become quite obvious that this man is loaded and ready to change the world. What I mean by this is:

1). He is loaded and ready in his heart. He carries the constraining burden of seeing people's lives changed by the power of Jesus Christ.  

2). He is loaded and ready in his head. Even though he has only been on a church staff full-time for four years (Crossroads in Columbus, Ohio), Pete has been involved in ministry all of his life. Pete’s dad was a pastor. Pete worked in the business world for many years successfully leading a sales force. He was a key leader in our church at its very beginning ten years ago. And the fast growing church where he has been serving has done a lot of things right.  

Pete has been a big part of that. He developed a small group ministry that grew from 13 to 85 groups under his leadership. There is no lack of knowledge when it comes to church life and what’s needed to make it successful.   

3). He is loaded and ready to lead. He is a leader by nature, by calling, by schooling, and through ongoing study.  Pete says a leader is a reader and a reader is a leader. He studies the subject constantly in books, pod casts, and seminars. I know of few men at 38-years-old who are as equipped and prepared to lead a church as Peter Jankowski.  And at 38, he is not unseasoned. Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon at 38-years-old. Pete is shooting for a different moon, but he is equipped to get there.

However, what you will discover in time is, though Pete and I know each other quite deeply, and think alike in many ways, we are not the same person. We do not have the same personalities, gifts, talents, or abilities. We are different.  Imagine that! We love each other. We respect one another. We have eachother's backs.  

But we are different.  

How we approach a need, attack a problem, or change something for the better is going to be done differently by each of us. How Pete relates to people, how he orders his day or week, and what gift motivates him to excel will be different than me. His love language is different. His personality traits are different. His spiritual gifts are different. His experience in life is different.

Some pastors might be intimidated by this, when passing the baton. For me it is exactly the opposite. I am thrilled we are not the same for two reasons.

1). Peter is beginning a new day, a fresh gift from God for His church. We have been praying for revival (a resurgence of life). We have been praying for a younger generation to catch the fire of God and pour it out on this current culture. For us, Peter Jankowski is a major answer to that prayer. For this generation to move in revival, we need leaders to lead them. God has given us a good one.

2). The future of Life Church Buffalo is in good hands. When I transition out of my current role completely next spring, I will have installed someone as pastor who will lead the church into a future of spiritual power and a reach into the community that will lead many to Christ. Peter will disciple a new generation of world changers. In effect, Peter will build on the foundation that I have built and make it stronger, more effective, and more successful. The apostle Paul said, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase." (1 Cor. 3:6). Hallelujah!

The fact that Peter will do things beyond my accomplishment is one of the greatest rewards of my life. It becomes a part of my legacy. Why would I be afraid of that or intimidated by it?  

3). We have the opportunity this coming year to demonstrate something. The blending of our personalities, gifts, talents, and abilities, along with the rest of our leadership, will team up to accomplish far greater things than we ever have before.   

God makes us all different with various slants on life for a reason.  

I discovered this when Carol and I were first married. On the one hand, we experienced some "clash" as two different people were getting used to living together. But the up side is that our individual weaknesses were being strengthened by the positive characteristics of the spouse "opposite" of us. And our strengths were discovering their purpose and depth in ministering to our new partner's needs. This is why opposites attract. God actually planned it that way. He needed us to need others.

It is never His plan for anyone to be self-contained in their ability to function healthily, grow fully, or be successful in life. I'm not just talking about marriage. I'm talking about your ability to exist as a healthy person. Neither you nor I have all we need to make it. Every area of life requires teamwork.

But how does this happen?  

How do people of different strokes paint a picture worth admiring? Often, when we try teamwork, we are greatly pained and disappointed. People are people, and people tend to give up and crawl back into the oblivion of self-preservation and alienation. We reject the hardship of working things out. Just look at the brokenness of relationships in our current culture.  

The answer is in the "head" of the body and all of its different parts. Of course, if you are a believer in Christ, you know what I am talking about. There is joy in diversity when, under the Lordship of Christ, He causes that diversity to be unified through love and purpose. These two characteristics will forge the power of unified diversity.

Love accepts the diversity of another as a gift to give strength to my weakness and growth to my lack. Love is always the answer. However, love is not based on the feelings that the other person can or cannot give to me. Love is based on what I have to give to them. Love is hard work - well worth it, but hard work just the same. It will plow through the walls, the disappointments, the unlovely days, the negative responses and even unforgiveness. Love will give mercy and grace and allow for second, third, and fourth chances. Love never fails.

The other thing that unifies diversity is purpose.

Purpose moves diversity toward a common goal, forcing it to work toward something bigger than itself. When the purpose is big enough, there is room for everyone to participate and expend the energy each has to give. Rather than our differences getting in the way of one another, we find ourselves working together to reach the common goal. We appreciate our differences and long to embrace the usefulness of each person's gifts. Then, when we reach the goal or accomplishing the mission, the level of success is bigger, the celebration is bigger, and the rewards are far bigger than if we had done it alone.  

Open your hearts to the fresh wind of diversity, the divine orchestration of God's multi-faceted body, and watch God increase the impact of our efforts to fulfill His purposes.

"For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. for as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.  Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them..."  Romans 12:3-6a.

Let's change the world together

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Life is Not Fair

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Life is Not Fair

Friday, June 10th, Orlando... "Voice" contestant Christina Grimmie is fatally shot at a concert.
Sunday, June 12, Orlando...  50 are killed and over 50 more are wounded in a mass shooting at a night club
Tuesday, June 14, Orlando... 2-year-old killed by an alligator at Disney.

That’s just Orlando in the past week. 

Saturday, June 11, at Letchworth State Park, New York, near where I live... seven people fell over the lower falls and two brothers, ages nine and six, lost their lives.

And in this same period of time (less than one week), over 400 innocent civilians throughout the world have been killed due to religious or politically motivated terror attacks. (Wikipedia). In June alone - that's right, a month that is only half over - the terror attack death total around the world is 1,394. Most people are not aware that terrorist attacks are now common worldwide.

Innocent people become casualties to a fallen world every day - including children. There is nothing good about this, nothing right, nothing justifiable. The tragedy at the night club is not ultimately about sexual orientation or a twisted form of religious justice. 

What happened there and everywhere else in the world brings us back to the condition of the world itself. The evil sides of mankind and the world (including the beasts of the world, i.e., alligators and gorillas) are the result of evil and sin entering the world thousands of years ago. 

The "serpent" Lucifer was able to deceive mankind and steal the dominion that God had given to man over the earth and "every living thing that moves on the earth" (Genesis 1:28).  As depressing as this may sound, tragedy, evil acts, war, sickness, yes, and even death itself, became a part of the world's culture as a result. 

I know that everyone is wondering why God does not fix the problem and prevent these things from happening any longer, especially when it comes to children. 

The psalmist in Psalm 77:9 said, "Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Selah." His reflection is the same as ours.

I do not claim to have all of the answers. And I know that what I say here will not be enough. 
However, I can tell you what has helped me get a grasp on these things. 

When God created us, He gave us free choice and the responsibility to lead and rule the world His way. Now that we have thrown that plan under the bus, He has given us the even better plan of redemption through Jesus Christ, His Son. In Him, we have life and have it more abundantly. In Him we have eternal life. Not even death can keep us down. In Him we have peace. We have more love than can be imagined. We do not "want" for anything when we walk with and have faith in Him. 

On top of all of that, He has called us to be a part of the answer instead of the problem. The world is waiting for us to change it. And if we die in the process... He promises even greater reward.

I know this sounds contradictory, but we have to keep our perspective. God did not promise that we would not be confronted by all that Hell has to throw at us. In fact, He promised quite the opposite. Jesus said, "In the world, you will have tribulation."

But He also said, "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!" (John 16:33)

Please do not misunderstand. If your loved one has been the victim of a tragedy, there is nothing to "cheer" about in our natural state. My heart grieves with every parent, every brother or sister, every grandparent, uncle, aunt, cousin or friend who has had to endure the tragedy of their loved one.

And so does the heart of God. 

The condition of this world and all of its destruction and death, not just the parts that you and I experience, are breaking His heart by the minute. Jesus, after going back to heaven, made it clear to Saul, the terroristic persecutor and murderer (before He became the apostle Paul) that his actions were as much against Him (Jesus) as they were against His people. Jesus personally felt the pain of that persecution and death over each of His saints. 

God is not immune to the tragedy. God is with us in every circumstance. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, and you become the victim of such happenings, remember the following truths...

...  You are destined for eternal life. Heaven is waiting for you!
...  God is with you now, by His grace, and this will never change.
...  If you are a survivor of tragedy, you have a purpose from God that is waiting to be fulfilled.
...  You have power over evil to rise up in victory. Make the devil wish he had left you alone!
...  It is now your job to help others who do not know Christ. 

How can you comfort, serve, heal, and help? How might God use you to lead someone to Christ while their world is crashing down around them? An eternity in hell is the worst tragedy of all.

The answers are there for us. But we have to have an open heart to receive and know how to respond in the middle of it all. 

Think practically:

...  Pray for those who are facing tragedy.
...  If you know them, or can get to them, help them. 
         Make a call, send a text, email or Facebook them.
...  Take food or money to help them through the initial stages of the pain. 
...  Be there after everyone else is long gone. Be their friend. Love and bless them "big."

You cannot fix every tragic circumstance. If it is your tragedy, then you will need the grace from God and help from others to be strengthened and restored. But if it is someone else's tragedy then you can be there as an agent of healing and restoration. 

To them, God may be far away. But to God, He is right there in and through you to bring His love, His healing, and His peace. 

And don't forget... Jesus is still the answer!

Let's change the world together

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What Ministry Looks Like

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What Ministry Looks Like

Shout it from the housetops: Peter and Kelly Jankowski have moved back to Buffalo, New York.  Pete is now the co-pastor at Life Church and in transition to become lead pastor next spring.  Look out Buffalo! The kingdom of God is on the move and invading darkness with light!

As we move into this new season, let me strike the iron while it’s hot and share with you some insight on what ministry should look like, and what we hope to demonstrate.

What comes to your mind when you hear the word, "Ministry?"  There are probably as many answers to that as there are people. Some will even have negative feelings because they had a negative experience. To some it looks more like a business than a church. To others it smells of hype or manipulation. And some have been members who have felt used or even abused.

I hope you have positive thoughts, because that word "ministry" identifies what Jesus Christ is up to and is doing all over the world through His people. We humans can mess it all up. But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. 

The answer to the question has some flexibility. The ministry of the apostle Paul and the ministry of the apostle Apollos were very different. Each had different gifts and different styles.  In fact some people were divided on who they’d follow because they liked one more over the other. Sound familiar? That is not unlike how things are in today's church world. 

The truth of the matter is that God gives each person different gifts, talents, abilities, personalities and even background experiences. We have been raised in different families, cultures and even nationalities. What each individual has to offer will differ from person to person. When it comes to churches, the leader's personality and leadership gifts will lead that church in proportion to his/her particular leanings. Hopefully as leaders we can be smart enough to balance our leanings with the gifts of others. But that is why every church is different, even if it belongs to the same denomination, etc. 

There are some things about ministry that will always be identified as pure, right, and biblical. I will not try to list all of them. Certainly God Himself, His word and our personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the center of all ministry.

However one obvious dynamic that is often overlooked and ignored, even by leaders, is the characteristic of "family." 

We are family. 

God is our Father. Jesus is our elder brother. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are family. If you are a believer in Christ, you are the member of a family, a worldwide "children of the same Father" family. You may not like the part of the family that surrounds you. You may not be very good at family dynamic yourself. But you have been "born" into family. Deal with it!

What this means for my purpose here is that ministry should always flow out of a "family" mentality. Before we are leaders in the church, before we have certain jobs or titles, we are simply family members in "blood" relationship with one another (the blood of Jesus flows through our spiritual veins). So we need to see ourselves in that light. It doesn't matter what local church you belong to or how big or small that church is, or even if you meet in a building or not. If ministry is going to be what it was meant to be and flow from the right heart, then it will always flow out of a heart for healthy family-oriented relationships. 

When we deal with one another, work together, or even if we are on the leadership team or staff together, we need to treat each other in the same way Jesus treated his disciples... as family.

It is true that a local church has to operate with strong business principles and have corporate strength. But so does family. A family is not altogether different from a business or corporation.  Every family needs administrative structure, financial accountability, vision for the future, plans for growth, and facilities with which to meet - whether a house or a hut. 

It is not only what is happening that is important, but also how it happens. I would never treat my children as though they were simply my servants or corporate staff down the hall. They are my family. They may need correction or discipline. They may need clear communication. They may need teaching on how our family operates. But how I communicate and follow through with the people in my family is usually quite different than how the corporation deals with its employees. 

Church, in that sense, should be more like family than what we often see in the business world.  Because we are family. 

Ministry flows out of relationship. If you are just sitting in a pew somewhere on Sundays, you may not experience a spiritual family dynamic at all, except that you are hearing from the head of the table what the leader of the home is teaching in a one-way conversation. In and of itself, that’s not bad. But where are your relationships and how valuable are they in the scheme of things?

Life Church Buffalo is going through a transition. We did not interview people for this new role. I am passing the baton to a younger man who has been a part of my life for more than ten years.  We have prayed together and played together. We discuss what God's Word says and we go to movies together. We have watched and yelled at more Buffalo Bills football games on a Sunday afternoon than I can remember. We are family.

In our leadership roles, we treat people like family. Some family members may not be as close to a leader as others. But, as is the case with distant relatives, we relate to people with the dignity of carrying the same name.  

Don't just go to church. Be the church! Be a good family member of an awesome family. Don't only look to be served. Be family and look for ways to give and bless your spiritual family.  Connect relationally. Help one another grow. 

Usually the leader of a spiritual family cannot relate personally to everyone. The immediate family is too big. So you have no choice but to relate to other people in order to meet that need.  It may be a small group. It might be a particular ministry that you are involved in. But connect and develop family relationships. 

If you are a leader, treat people with the dignity of belonging to the family. You may not be able to be close to everyone, but you can treat people with that kind of heart. 

It's called love.

True ministry flows out of heartfelt family-oriented relationships. That takes work and time. But in the end, it is worth it. 

Pete and Kelly and Carol and Craig, in the picture above, are family. We are not related in the natural sense. But we have paid the price of becoming family. Their kids call us Marmee and Pa. It didn't just happen… We've worked at it over the years. 

That's ministry. That's what it looks like. That is what we demonstrate. 

Shift your thinking and belong to the family, enjoy the family, and treat people like family. 

It's a good thing. It's a God thing! And the closer to each other a family is, the more it will multiply!

Let's change the world together!

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Let go!

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Let go!

There are major moments in your life that define your ability to trust God. Can you "let go?" 

My daughter, Joni, leaves for India on June 15th for 12 months. I am about to face one of those defining moments. 

On the one hand I see the beautiful, mature, savvy, organized, intelligent, responsible, experienced woman that seems to get whatever she chases after with faith and sheer determination. (Okay, so her biased dad is writing the blog, deal with it!). Yet, I'm also having difficulty not seeing her as if she were still my 10-year-old baby with freckles and thick glasses, heading to the other side of the world for a whole year alone.

Can I let go?

Yes, I will drive her to the airport and kiss her face with tears flowing and hearts aching. I will probably get back into the car and have a momentary lapse and say to Carol, "Why did we let her do that?" What were we thinking?!    

But I will have to let go... Partially for her sake, but mostly for mine.

What does this mean anyway? Does letting go mean that I forget about her, don't think and pray for her, or don't feel responsible for her as a father?  Of course not. There is a difference between letting go and cutting off. 

I will still be there for her. I will love her more than ever. I will carry the burden of intercession (relentless prayer) for her hourly. I will encourage her, bless her, counsel her if called upon, and stand with her in faith. I will long for text messages and FaceTime.

But I will let go. I will trust her care to the hands of God. I will not worry or fret. And if I do, I will pray until my anxiety becomes anticipation for God to prove Himself faithful and true. I will believe for the best and have faith for the impossible. 

Letting go is an attitude of the heart. It is a place of trust and faith. It is in that place that you find peace and strength. It is there you know the ultimate purposes of God's will and can lean on His proven character.

Letting go is freedom! You are no longer entrapped by the bondage of fear and anxious worry.  You no longer listen to the voices of catastrophe or failure. You trust. You believe. You are no longer the ultimate control. 

As a spiritual concept “letting go” can easily be misunderstood. It is often referred to as "Let go and let God." If I "let go and let God" in my finances, it does not mean I will not balance my accounts and pay my bills. To "let go and let God" is mostly an issue of trust, not usually complete detachment. But it will change the way you think, talk, act, and treat others. Your attitude will be different. Your heart will be different. 

The most compelling and gruesome example of this is in the story of Abraham offering his son, Isaac, on the altar of sacrifice in obedience to God. Talk about letting go and letting God! The Bible says that Abraham believed God would raise him from the dead, since He had also promised him descendants through Isaac. It’s hard to fathom that kind of trust. He raised the knife and the angel of the Lord intervened with the good news that it was just a test. He was told that God now knew that Abraham "feared" Him. In other words, he so revered God that he was more afraid of not letting go than holding on and not giving God what was His in the first place. 

That's trust. Letting go gets you out of the way. Trouble begins when you don't let go. And when you do let go, God replaces what you released with a better version of the same. The more you let go, the healthier relationship you’ll have with that which you gave. The power of the Bible truth, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" comes to life!

For Joni, I do not want her to be burdened by my lack of trust. If I do not trust God (and her) then she could carry the weight of my distrust. It could become a burden for her. I don't want that. I want her to be free... free from dad's grip, free from a controlling spirit, free from undue guilt and regret. That is pressure I do not have to give her. I can let go and let God. Then Joni will be free. She will be free to grow without the hindrance of my grip holding her back. She can call on me at any time. I will give her my life without taking hers from her. That's keeping trust without losing love. 

In fact, our love will grow stronger. By getting out of the way, I leave space for us to come closer together in a healthier relationship. I will then receive the benefits of letting go. By letting go, our bond will actually grow. 

I don't know what is going on with you right now, but I can guarantee there is some area of your life where you are finding it difficult to let go. Go ahead... do it! Do it with a heart of trust. God is faithful. He will bless you. Whatever you lose for His sake, from Him you will gain far better. 

Let's change the world together!

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The Life-Giving Life

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The Life-Giving Life

To what are you giving your life?

I'm not sure everyone faces this question, or even knows what it means. Certainly, it is easy to just live your life for reasons you assume are right and good. Without thinking about it or even being able to identify it, you get up every morning bent on giving your life. You move toward something. You are motivated by it. You commit to it over and over.

It might be your happiness, success or financial increase. It might be your family or a particular person that you love.  It might be peace, comfort, or the absence of anxiety and responsibilities. (Just a week of that would be nice). It might be pleasure. Or it might be a self-centered "me, myself, and I" mentality. But you give your life to something every day, week, and year. What is it that ultimately drives you?

This blog is not about Memorial Day. But it is a great example of what I’m getting at.  

This holiday is ultimately about something deeper than war, fighting, or even America. It is about a special group of individuals who were willing to completely give their lives for the people they loved and for people they did not even know - including you and me. Most of them were in their teens or early twenties.

They died.

They knew when they signed up there was a good chance that they would die. They were given to it. They paid the price of their futures, marriages, future children or using their gifts and talents to make a living and enjoy the fruit of it.

They lived with the sentence of death in their hearts.

They gave their life when they signed up. Then they marched to the frontlines and gave their life in death. And the ones who survived had done exactly the same thing. In their heart, they gave their lives; to the extent that afterwards, many of them did not know what to really live for anymore. Now that they had given it, they didn't know how to get it back. Some have lived aimlessly - but not because they are lazy or irresponsible. They had simply given their life completely to something, and have found nothing to match the depth of that measure of giving since.

I'm not sure we understand that kind of "life-giving" anymore.

My father was born between two world wars. He was in elementary school as thousands around him got on ships to go and die for the freedom of the whole world. It was a way of life that most everyone then understood. No wonder, when he became of age, he served in the Navy and then twenty years in civil service on a military base as a fireman.  He did not fight on the front lines of a war or die in battle. But Daddy understood the concept of giving his life. He had learned it from those around him who had.

The apostle Paul once listed the level of sacrifice with which he lived his life. He said he was constantly in danger of death: beaten times without number, stoned, shipwrecked, in thirst and hunger, and was constantly attacked byenemies and people who used to be his friends.  He was whipped with sharp metal 39 lashes the same as Jesus, except that happened to Jesus once.  It happened to Paul five times.

Paul was no longer a military man, fighting in a war or defending the nation of his citizenship. He had certainly done that as a Roman soldier and defender of Israel. So what was he willing to give his life for that equaled or even exceeded the risks of fighting for his country?

What he said at the end of that dramatic exposé reveals the answer. He wrote, "Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern (love) for all the churches." (2 Cor. 11:28)

The hardships, the sacrifices, the unrelenting danger that sought to destroy him only identified the external consequences of what was deep within his heart; that is, to give His life so that others could discover the true life that was in Christ. He would give His life to the same cause for which Christ gave His.

Jesus gave His life, not just so that we would live forever, but so that we would have life. He gave life that we might have life.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."  It was not just about "never dying," it was about having life and never losing it.

He not only gave it at the cross in death; He gave it when He signed up to live it. Jesus gave His life, and He has called us to do the same. So Paul was doing it. He knew for what he was giving his life. And it so motivated him that he would go to any extreme to give it.

It was not just a "cause." It was love. He had discovered the depth of the love of Christ in his own life and was compelled to give the same love to others that God had given Him. He had been given such a powerful life of love, it had to be given away.

This life, in Christ, made him a "life-giver."

The cry of my heart is to live like that. I know I’ve not always done so. But I'm still striving for it. How about you? Are you a life-giver?

"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

Let's change the world together!

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Shift

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Shift

You've heard of being stuck in a rut...  how about stuck in a gear? 

The other day, Carol and I were in a rental car that had the option of either automatic or manual transmission. Oh course, I chose manual. I love it! Just pop that gear handle when you're ready, and it changes gears at your command. Oh, the feel of power when you're in control (seems to be mostly a man thing about cars). Then Carol woke me up out of my dreamland with, "You're acting like a teenager!" The car was in second gear and the RPMs were running as high as they could in that gear. 

I was feeling the rush of a race car driver pulling into the lead at the Daytona 500. However, what we all know is: You can't stay in the same gear forever. You’re not actually going that fast, and the noise level of your ride is annoying. Eventually, without a shift, your engine will burn out. 

Welcome to my world about a year ago. Maybe you can relate.

I love what I do. I love the ministry - pastoring a church, that is. I love the challenge of being ready to teach and preach God's Word without excuse, whether I feel like it or not. I even love all of the demands that come with wearing so many hats. They make my to-do-list longer than humanly possible to complete, but I enjoy the ride. It's exhilarating and power-filled. However, for the past couple of years although my RPMs have been revving high and making a lot of noise, they haven’t really been getting me where I need to go any faster or more effectively. 

After a very intense few months, I found myself on the edge of burnout, not just from a phase of busyness, but from running so hard in the same gear and not making headway in reaching my destination. How could I have gone so long in the same gear and not realized that the annoying noise was coming from my almost-burned-out engine in need of a shift?

I needed to shift gears, but I was not paying attention to the sound of the engine. The key to changing gears is to learn to hear that sound. As the RPMs get louder, you know you are entering a phase where you should shift to the next gear, before everything begins to fall apart.

But God, faithful to break through the toughness of my narrow determined mindset, at the end of last summer, convinced me to push in the clutch. (That's what we used to do with manual shifts before all of this newfangled technology). In other words, I put things on "pause" and began to listen to Him in the quietness of prayer and meditation. Then, in a moment of clarity, I heard something that I least expected. 

"It's time to turn these wheels over to the next driver." Well, that's not exactly what He said, but that's one way of explaining it. The work I had done to plant Life Church ten years ago and make it a solid and healthy spiritual family was at its end. It was time to pass the baton to the next generation. I was now spinning my wheels trying to do something that was intended for the next driver to accomplish.

So I picked up the phone and called the man who had always been on my mind as the possible "next lead pastor" of Life Church. Peter Jankowski, who was serving on staff at a church in Ohio, was in shock at my inquiry. And when he called me back after fasting and praying with his wife, so was I… God had spoken to them and they were open to the idea. 

I kid you not, it actually happened this way: I hung up the phone, sat back in my office chair on that quiet evening and said, "Lord, now what am I going to do with my life?" Immediately I heard His voice say softly, "What is in your heart to do?" I had not thought about this in the context of life goals in a long time. I was simply plowing forward where I was, as hard as I could. 

In the moment, I did not know the answer. Yet within 10-15 seconds, my mind and spirit shifted with an "aha!" realization. I knew exactly what was in my heart. Two months before I had returned from my fourth trip in five years to the other side of the world on missions adventures. While there I had preached and taught for 38 hours in 19 days – but I was not the least bit burned out from that challenge. Every time I return from engaging in "global missions," I can hardly be contained. People around me want to put me in a straight jacket and throw me in a padded cell. I come back ready to change the world... All of it

What was in my heart? That was in my heart. But it had not occurred to me once before that moment to shift from what I was doing to accomplish that desire.

Now God was giving me permission to think about it and pursue it. The next day, I wrote an email to the leader of the mission that I was connected with and asked a simple question. "If I were to raise my own support, like a missionary, how could I serve the ministry that you lead?"  That email changed the course of my life. 

Today, I am (along with my family and church) in a one-year transition to pass the baton of leadership of Life Church to Peter Jankowski and drive toward my destiny of helping fulfill the Great Commission: The mission of God to reach every person on the planet with a life-giving witness of Christ and His kingdom. 

I am now wearing two hats...  1) Working with the new co-pastor to take the lead role within the next 12 months, and 2) Receiving the title of "Director of Church Mobilization for Global Impact" from the missions group I’m also now serving. I am beginning to help churches across America roll up their sleeves and connect with the global church in fulfilling the Great Commission. 

I am shifting gears.

I cannot tell you what this has done to the health of my personal engine. The roar has subsided.  The movement is quicker. And the engine is no longer in danger of burnout. I have not lessened my work load. In fact - I have increased it. I am working two jobs at once. Responsibilities have doubled. But the ride is smoother than it has been in several years. How do you explain that?  It's simple: I shifted gears. 

Where are you in your journey? Are you in need of a gear shift? I'm not telling you to quit your job or change anything overnight.  I am, however, challenging you to hear God's voice.  He knows better than you where you are and where you need to be. Maybe you need to change the way you approach your job, your marriage, or your finances. Maybe you need to add a ministry involvement to your life. It's not just about going on vacation or taking some time off. It is about the still small voice, the clarity of hearing the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Whatever you do, don't stay where you are in your process of growth and fulfillment. That is where your engine will eventually burn out. 

Jesus, early in His ministry, had achieved complete success in the city of Capernaum. The entire city was coming to him, seeking His help, wanting His leadership. But Jesus departed to a "solitary place" and prayed. When the disciples found Him, they said, "Everyone is looking for you." Jesus was winning the whole city. What a great church that would have been! But after hearing the still small voice of the Father, Jesus said to His disciples, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth."

Jesus shifted gears. So have I. So can you.

Don't just be the thrill-seeking kid behind the wheel. Listen to the sound of His voice. Shift gears, and get on with your destiny. Let's change the world together!

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See the New Me

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See the New Me

Have you ever wished that some people in your life would stop treating you as though you were the same person that you used to be, when they know you are no longer that person?  You have changed. But how they look at you has not changed. Wouldn't it be great if people wouldrelate to us on the level of who we have become now or, better yet, who we are becoming? 

A few years ago, I went back to my hometown and attended a function where I sat around the table with some old friends I’d grown up with and had not seen since. After reconnecting, someone said to me, "You haven't changed a bit. You are still the same person after all of these years." I know they meant well. I know it was intended to be a compliment. But something inside of me said, "NOOOOOOOOOO! That is not who I am and neither is it who I want you to think that I am. I have been through the growth pains of living life and have gained a little insight and wisdom. My perspective of life, God, and others is totally different than that person I used to be.  My values have gotten better. My understanding of grace and love have hopefully improved.” 

There is a scripture we often quote that we like to apply to ourselves but was actually intended for us to apply to others. It is in 2 Corinthians 5:17. "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." But you need to read the verse before it to understand why this statement was written. Verse 16 says, "Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer." Then comes the exhortation to understand that you should see "anyone" in your life who "is in Christ" as "a new creature;” the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

The issue here is not just how you perceive yourself, but specifically how you look at others.

One letter written by the apostle Paul, contained as a book in the New Testament, is shorter than this blog post. The intent of the letter is to convince Philemon that his former slave, Onesimus, whom Paul led to Christ and has discipled, should no longer be viewed as his slave, but his brother in Christ. Onesimus, who only a brief time ago was a heathen slave, is now a new creature in Christ, and should be received and treated that way. 

I know we think Philemon should be able to do this easily since he is a mature believer. …Why does he own slaves anyway?  "Pull it together man!" But we have to take into account the culture and what was accepted and allowed. I'm not saying that we should allow him to treat his former slave like a slave. But I am being realistic in that, for Philemon, this was not going to be easy. He had some changes to go through in his mind and heart. 

I find it difficult to see my own children as more than children sometimes. And they are all adults and living on their own. My job as a father is to give them the rite of passage to become the best adult version of themselves. But I'm not finding it easy. I find myself repeatedly apologizing to my son-in-law for calling my daughter whom he married last year by her maiden name (that's mine, not his). The other daughter who just graduated from college is moving to India for a year.  It's difficult not seeing her as that little girl with freckles and thick glasses getting on an airplane to go to the other side of the world all alone. 

It is our job as believers in Christ to see one another differently than who we used to be. Not just the difference from non-believer to believer, but from who we were yesterday to who we are becoming today and tomorrow. If you knew me a year ago, I am no longer that person. In fact, even since yesterday, I have changed my thinking on some things and am approaching life a little differently. All I am asking is that you give me a chance to become the new me I know God is making me to be. 

In a few weeks, Peter Jankowski, one of the founding members of Life Church is coming home after serving four years as a staff pastor in a great church in Columbus, Ohio. The question is, will we allow Peter to be who he has become and is becoming? Or will we see him as we used to know him? He was our friend, our "buddy." He was known as the "son of the house." But I have been getting to know the new Pete over the last few months. And I am thrilled with the new man who will eventually become the leader of the house. But will we (beginning with me) allow him be that new man? Or will we hold him back from walking in his newness with our lack of expectation and grace? Will we demand that he stay in our comfort zone of relating to the old Pete? Or will we respect and follow the leader that he has become?

I will leave you with these two lists to make this a little more practical.

First, how do I adjust my treatment of the people around me to encourage their growth of becoming who God has called them to be? 

1). You must stop what you have been seeing and allow new thoughts of who they are to form.
2). You must overlook the remnants of who they were in the past. 
3). You must change how you look at them.
4). You must change what you say to them.
5). You must give them the opportunity to build trust in others in who they are becoming.
6). You must believe that they will continue to grow and become all that God has for them.

What will happen if you make the adjustment?

1). They will respect you for respecting them.
2). They will want to spend more time with you because you believe in them.
3). They will ask your advice on how to further develop into the new them.

Open your eyes to expand your vision of the people around you. 
You will be glad you did... and so will they!

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Every Woman a Mother

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Every Woman a Mother

Mothers’ Day can be one of the most wonderful days of the year. 

Or not.

It can be one of the most challenging. There are those who have strained relationships with their children and may not even hear from them on this day, which only accentuates the pain. Worse, there are mothers who have lost their children to an early death.

Then there are those who have never had children, those who have a difficult time getting pregnant, or those who have lost babies in miscarriages as my wife has five times. 

Let's not forget those who have had an abortion and still face the pain of their decision. 

This can be a very tough day for more than you know. 

I have two words of encouragement.

To the men and boys in this world...  "Love the mothers!" 

First, love your own. If you ignore your mother on Mothers’ Day (and I know some by name who will, intentionally), you are in danger of associating yourself with the lowest of the low and the worst of the worst. I don't care if your mother hates you (which she most likely does not since the umbilical cord is never quite completely cut), the Bible says to love your enemies. You are without excuse.

Next, love the "other mothers" of this world. Be appreciative for the often thankless job of motherhood. Even after their children leave home, the moms of this world carry more fervent prayer power for their children than anyone else on the planet. 

For all the women of this world, especially those facing a difficult day on Mothers’ Day, I would like to humbly present an alternative, a hope that will help fulfill your call to motherhood, a challenge to joyously serve with your gift in the kingdom of God.

Within every woman is the ability, the call, and the need to be a mother. You were born with the potential of motherhood. There is plenty of opportunity for you to pour out that gift in a loveless world.

There are three kinds of people in the world. 1) Those without their mother, 2) Those who have their mother, but one who doesn’t believe in the Lord or has very little positive influence, and 3) those, like me, who have been blessed with a great mother who loves and leads with the grace and the strength of the Lord.

The fact is all three kinds of people need "other mothers" in their lives. It was never God's plan for anyone to only be influenced by just their parents. 

There are most likely many people - both children and adults - in your life right now that need the love and encouragement only a "mother" can give. You have the gift of unconditional love and nurturing. Pray for God to lead you to the people in your world who need that gift. 

It could be your next door neighbor or a nephew or niece. It could be a foster child or even a child in need of adoption. What about the child in school who could use a tutor or a big sister?

The need right in front of you is that of your church's Sunday School. There are scores of kids waiting for you to love, encourage, and teach them things about Jesus Christ and His love, while you’re wondering how God might use your gift of motherhood. 

As stated, I have been blessed with the most incredible mother, a wonderful mother-in-law and a wife who knocked motherhood out of the park. Yet, especially in my younger years, I was greatly influenced by at least fifty other mothers - maybe one hundred or more. Some of these were relatives, school teachers, nursery and Sunday School teachers. Others were the mothers of my friends, or the women who had no children but mothered the children around them anyway. 

My earliest recollection of this was one of my first days dropped off in the toddler's class on a Sunday morning at church. I was so young I have very little memory of that phase of my life. But that morning was so traumatic, I remember it implicitly.  As my parents dropped me off at the door of the classroom, I went into panic mode and began to scream and cry. For a child, it was like being left behind or abandoned. 

Fear gripped my little heart as I thought I was in danger... for about one minute. Then Alice Revis picked me up and held on to me as tight as a momma bear. She had a smile on her face that could sell ice to an eskimo. She had a strong but soothing voice that just took over the atmosphere of the room, including my emotions. That day, Ms. Alice was my mother, and the mother of every other kid in that toddler class. She exuded joy and laughter. It was infectious. 

After that, every time I saw Alice Revis, even when I became an adult, I looked at her with a kind of admiration and affection a child would have for his/her own mother. I could grab her and kiss her. I knew I could trust her. I knew that she was special. All she did was love me a few moments every week. She was simply herself, and used her gift of mothering. 

When I was a teenager, I worked in a clothing store. My boss's name was Jack Marley, and he was also the mayor of our little town. His wife's name was Nancy, and she was a mother of three. But more than that, she was a mother to the whole town. I had the privilege of being one of her projects. She listened to me, gave me her strong opinions, and even sweetly corrected me when I needed it. Recently, after all of these years, she received an award for being "Woman of the Year" in that same town. She continues to be a mother to her community, even though her kids are as old as I am. The gift just keeps on giving. 

Jesus called this out in Matthew 12:46-50. He was speaking of all believers, when He said, "Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother." Even Jesus recognized the gift that lies within every believing mother. And He Himself was not one to reject it.

Happy Mothers’ Day!

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Win the Race!

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Win the Race!

What race am I running and how do I know when I’m winning it? 

Some would never compare life to a race. It implies a competitive spirit where someone wins and someone loses.  They’d say that's okay in sports, but not in real life. Love and humility and being a "sweet Christian" would never involve you excelling above the norm, out-doing your neighbor, or having the appearance of being above and beyond other people in your life. 

I get it. I grew up in a religious atmosphere where humility was equal to self-degradation. 

…Then I grew up. 

Self-degradation is not humility, but rather self-focus and self-righteousness. The person who is constantly speaking of themselves as not one who is worthy, significant, or special is, in fact, "constantly speaking of themselves." Self-degradation is self-elevation. They proudly present themselves as humble servants. (And they want you to be sure and know that this is true.)

True humility is knowing who you are and not making a deal out of it. False humility is not knowing who you are and making a big deal out of it... over and over. When you are confident of who you are in Christ, what He made you to be, and what He wants you to do with your life, then you know that you cannot do it without Him. What He wants you to be and accomplish is far greater than what you can do in your own strength and power. What He has called you to be and do is more than significant… it is world-changing.

That is the race. 

And that requires more than what I have, in and of myself, to get the job done. Staying focused on winning that race keeps me humble and in need of the grace and power that only comes by submitting my life to the King of kings and Lord of lords. 

Truth of the matter is... God has called you to run a race that only you and He together can win. You have a destiny, a finish line to cross, a measurement of what you have done with what you have been given. 

(I just took a break from writing this article and saw a quote on a friend's Facebook page and then realized it was authored by my own wife. She said, "You exited the womb a very significant person. You got the job of being you! God has no backup plan!” - Carol Burton McLeod. I guess we are on the same wavelength today.)

We are not competing against others, attempting to beat them in a race against each other. This is about the race of life. You are competing against yourself. You are challenging yourself to be the best that you can possibly be. You also have an enemy, and you’re running against all the obstacles that he puts in your pathway. God has a plan for your life… and so does the devil. Which plan will win? That is a daily decision that you will have to make if you are going to win the race. 

My fifth and last child, Joni, is graduating from college with honors this weekend with two degrees. If you hear a bit of pride in that last sentence, you got it right. I am extremely proud of her (and humbly so. :) She will receive a prize that others will not have accomplished. But she was not competing against her classmates, she was competing against her own expectations of the vision and excellence that God has put in her heart. She battled through every challenge and roadblock. Not only that, but this win is not the end. She’s now preparing for the next lap in her race as she will be moving to India for 12 months to minister to the people of that nation. 

Your race is your destiny. What race are you running, and are you winning it? Do you know who you are in Christ?  He made you and then made you again through the redemption of the cross and resurrection. Then He gave you the Holy Spirit, the wind in your sails, to accomplish all that He puts in your heart to be and do.  

Pray for a detailed description of where you are in your life, what the race looks like and what it will take to win it. It may be finishing school or raising children. It may include winning your neighbor to Christ. It might be loving your spouse with a heart of servanthood every day. Then there is the job, the skill, the talent and knowing how to make it better. While you are at it, don't forget to include the demonstration of your character and how you treat other people. 

I have a list of seven things that define my race. I read it regularly as a part of my daily discipline. I'm trying to keep my eye on Jesus and the race He is giving me and making sure that I win it.

How about you? What is your race? Are you winning it?

"...In a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize... run that you may obtain it." (1 Cor. 9:24)

 

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Behind the Bold

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Behind the Bold

I admire boldness in a person, don't you? 

Have you ever considered what it takes to arrive at that point and then live it out once you have committed to it? Anyone can talk boldly. Anyone can take the first step. Anyone can announce it. But what does it take to finish the task, complete the mission, and succeed?

In fact, the thing that we don't admire is someone who declares boldness, but does not consider the cost of time, effort, commitment, or even the money involved. They talk big before they count the cost and prepare their minds and hearts. Then, when it becomes clear that they have spoken too quickly, they have to come up with excuses, when, in fact, they had not considered the implications of their heated excitement in the first place.

By the way, don't for a moment think I’m talking down to the guilty. I have a sanguine personality, and get excited about everything. I can formulate a vision in a moment’s time. Sometimes it’s just me dreaming. Other times it is the Lord speaking. But either way, a behind the scenes process is usually required before I can make big announcements. No matter your personality, your experience and wisdom will eventually catch up with you. Getting burned a few times will temper your over-reach. It did mine.

Over 25 years ago I planted a church with a handful of people. That was bold… and it was right.  But be careful when you are in the mood to be bold. After coming back from a big pastor's conference only weeks after starting the church, I boldly (stupidly) announced that we would grow 500 people in one year. What an exciting day! ...What a disappointing year. I had no clue as to what that meant. I had no plan, no strategy, and no substance in my mind or heart. I was just excited about planting a church. 

Now there are times when you don't have a choice. Life Church Buffalo, which I now pastor, was planted overnight - literally. The process of me thinking about it, discussing it, the belief that I should do it, the decision to do it, and the official public announcement of it, all happened between a Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon, the next day. And we are here ten years later, planning for an even bolder future.

Now you’d call that bold. But what you don't know is that it was the agreed solution to a complicated need. It was an obvious "God thing." It was discussed, confirmed and acted upon in cooperation with proper authority, albeit "fast and furious." I was well-equipped to plant a church. I had done it before. Without any planning on my part, God had arranged the pieces and had prepared me without my even realizing it. 

For me, it was simply obeying what I knew was right on that very day. Some said I should have taken more time to pray about it. But why pray about something you already have the answer to, and the faith for? There are circumstances where you don't have time to think about it. You just have to be ready in your heart to act boldly in the moment. 

When you do, be sure you are clear in your heart before you open your mouth. The Lord gave us such powerful confirmation, we knew that we knew that we knew it was the right thing to do. 

Carol McLeod, my wife, is the founder and CEO of Just Joy! Ministries. This weekend she is hosting a conference for Women called "BOLD." Every seat in the house will be taken by the female gender. Women will come from five different states to participate. Jesus will be worshiped. The Word of God will be taught. Ladies will be prayed for. Lives will be changed. 

Now you can't hold a conference called "BOLD" unless you know what you’re talking about. 

Can I be a proud husband for a minute?

I live with this woman. She is not just "bold" in the sense that she talks big. She is bold behind the scenes. Her faith is big and strong, but always calculated with planning and team work. She studies. She prays. She gathers leaders and trains them. She dreams big and then plans ahead. When she announces something, it usually has had months of undergirding before the general public even knows about it. 

Carol is currently publishing her sixth book, with more on the way. She is a hostess on a major Christian television network. She produces radio nationwide. She travels America and the world speaking at women's events and conferences. She teaches weekly women's Bible studies. She writes articles for a major Christian magazine and devotionals for a worldwide internet application. And did I mention that she is a pastor's wife, a mother of five, and grandmother of seven? Oh, yeah… She also has a husband to take care of (her toughest assignment).

How did she get here?

All of it is the result of hard, focused work. Yes, it takes boldness to get out there and be confident with people, publishing companies, and ministries and convince them she is the real deal. It takes boldness to speak in front of thousands of people or meet with leaders of national ministries. 

What you don't see is what I see every day. Behind the scenes, she is one focused lady.  She does everything with purpose. If it does not fit the purpose, then she does not have time for it. That's not an easy way to live. Both Carol and I often have to say no to things that we do not have time to do because our schedule is full of the things it takes to make good on the bold actions that we have committed to. Not everyone understands that - or necessarily likes it. But it’s the way it is. 

Jesus lived that way. He acted boldly. But behind the bold, He stayed focused and prepared.  He was known to stay up all night praying, even it meant missing the boat launch to travel across the lake. So He walked on water to get there. I wonder how many miracles we miss because we do not live effectively behind the boldness.

Jesus left large, demanding crowds of needy people to get to the next city when He knew God was calling Him. He narrowed His close friendships to only a few. He spent most of His time training those who would take His ministry beyond His tenure. He was bold in the public arena.  But that would have never been effective if He were not focused in His private world. 

If you are going to be bold, then you have to live bold behind the bold. Because in the end, it is not the excitement that sustains... it is the purpose fulfilled, the people impacted, and the lives changed. That's the reward of not just talking bold, but living bold behind the bold.

What God told Joshua before conquering the Promised Land reinforces my point.

Joshua 1:6-9
6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.
7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.

8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

In other words, be bold, but do what it takes behind the scenes to sustain your boldness, finish the mission, and have good success. 

To be bold, you must be bold behind the bold!

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Christians in an Election Year

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Christians in an Election Year

Here we are. The New York primary is next week. What a wild election year… it seems that despair, confusion, and hatred reign. Presidential elections are now void of quality leadership.  The American political process is being exposed for what it really is. And the presidential candidates remind me of playground kids in junior high school arguing over who is the most popular kid in the class.  

I have been greatly disappointed in the candidates this year. But the thing that has affected me the most is how so many Christians are responding to it all. I see three characteristics that reveal a certain level of immaturity in the people who represent Christ on the earth.

1) We decide to "like" a candidate based on personality, one-liners, and confidence.  We seem to be forgetting character, values, and leadership ability. 

2)  We are angry at each other for favoring a different candidate than ours. I have seen people almost reject their Christianity because of how other Christians are voting. 

3)  We are giving up hope for America, concluding that we no longer have influence. Many Christians are depressed and ready to throw in the towel. 

To those three points, for what it is worth, I have a response.

 

1)  The support of a candidate:

Until just a few years ago, no president could be elected if a) he had an immoral past that had not been resolved to the satisfaction of the electorate, b) his belief in God came into question, or c) he could not control his tongue, language, and name calling. It seems we have shifted to lower standards in morality, godliness, and leadership skills. This is a direct correlation to the influence of the church in the world, or the lack thereof. We have encased our beliefs within the four walls of buildings and forsaken our call to be the "salt of the earth." 

The believer in Christ is the witness, the representative of Christ to the world. We are not first members of political parties, supporters of political candidates, or even Americans, for that matter. 

I love America. I believe in being involved in the political process. I admire people who volunteer for political candidates. But we are, first, people of the kingdom of God. Our allegiance is to Christ and Christ alone. It is our highest priority to allow the presence of Christ and His Holy Spirit in us to strengthen us to stand our ground on the real issues. These are things like character, morality, integrity, compassion, and proven mature leadership. Regardless of the candidate, these are our soap boxes.  

2) How we treat each other: 

Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) Distancing yourself from believers because they support a different political candidate is a poor witness to the world. We are the ones who should be learning to pray together and seek truth and answers to the problems of society. We have the answers.  Certainly, we cannot compromise the Word of God. But we can be respectful and listen with open hearts to other believers in Christ who may think differently than we do. We don't have to be close friends in order to love and respect one another.  

Some have even threatened to disavow their faith over the actions of other Christians, i.e., voting for candidates that seem to go against the grain of Christian values. I will admit that I too am bewildered by this. But disavowing your faith reveals the true nature of your faith. Is your faith in God or in man? Will you disown Christ in order to make a statement about someone else's political views?

I have for many years been affiliated with a particular political party and platform. But when it comes to my relationship with other believers, I never let that become the issue. Our unity is not based on American politics, but on Christ and His Word. If we can begin there, we can go a long way together without getting tripped up by our political orientation. And for the record, I'm not very happy with any political party at this point. I'm a Christian - not a Democrat or a Republican. 

A number of years ago, I co-hosted a television program with Pastor Garland Hunt, the founder of Raleigh International Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. RIC was a church of many colors.  Garland is African American, a former member of the Black Panthers (before he came to know Jesus as His savior). The name of the program was "The Gospel in Black & White." We would take a current racial issue from the news and begin discussing it. Then about one-third of the way into the program, we would open our Bibles and say, "What does the Bible say about this?"  We had a blast. He received hate mail from the black community and I received hate mail from the white community. We never had such fun!  It was our discovery that both political parties and races fell short of Biblical wisdom and instruction. 

Jesus' charge to "love one another as He has loved us" may take a little humility and servanthood as opposed to arrogance and rage. It is up to us to demonstrate to the world how real life works - the abundant life that Christ has given us to live. 

3)  The future of our nation:

Don't miss this! We are living in the most exciting time in history. Don't be moved by the shaking of the American Dream. 

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, "No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ..." and that "each one's work will... be revealed by fire." Then the Hebrews writer indicates in chapter twelve that there will be a "removal of things that are shaken... that is things that have been made, in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire."

In other words, you are experiencing the crumbling of things man has made that have been manipulated, misused, and abused. Just because it is American does not make it good or best.  Your call is not to a restoration of American values. Your call is to the pure foundation of Jesus Christ and His kingdom. Since that is our orientation, we should not be moved by the struggle around us. Realize that hearts are being exposed and truth is being revealed. It's not pretty. But it is necessary for us to see the problems so that we can begin to fix them, if we are willing to be a part of the answer.

Jesus said in John 16:33b, "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."

It is in the middle of darkness, confusion, and decay that the light of Christ and His people shines the brightest. Get out of depression. That is exactly where the devil wants you. Put on "praise and thanksgiving." Lift your voice of hope for the future. Lead people to the way of Christ and His love. That is the way to a changed person, a changed family, a changed community, a changed nation and world.  Change your attitude, change your strategy to victory, and you will change the planet!

Let's change the world together!

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Visible Proof of the Invisible God

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Visible Proof of the Invisible God

God is invisible. Or is He? 

In last week's blog, I mentioned Adam and Eve probably seeing God face to face before sin got in the way of His righteousness. Then there is Jesus, who was "the image of the invisible God." And the apostle Paul left us with no excuse by pointing out that the invisible attributes of God are clearly seen in all of creation. Every time I see a newborn baby, I say, "There is a God!"

But...

...the boldest visual of God known to mankind is right under our nose, and we don't even realize it. 

Have you ever asked yourself, "Why did Jesus leave the planet after the resurrection? Why didn't He, the Son of God, finish the job of convincing people that God was real? It seems that in His resurrected state, it would be a shoe-in. 

But that was not God's plan. 

If He did that, you would no longer be needed. Your very purpose would be eliminated.

Jesus went to the cross and died and conquered death so that God would no longer have to separate Himself from us. Actually, it was not His ultimate goal to be "with us" as He was with Adam and Eve, or as Christ was "with us" in the flesh. He did not want to be "with us" as He was with Abraham, Moses, or David. 

The goal of God was to go beyond the realm of "with us" and make it so that He could dwell "in us." The night before Jesus died, He told his disciples that He would go to the Father, but return through His Holy Spirit. He said that "We" (the Father and Him) would come to us and make Their home with us. (John 14.  esp. vs 23).

Who needs God in front of them when He is dwelling inside of them?

But that's not the end. The end is not "in us." The mission is "in and through us."

We (believers in Christ) have become the visible proof of the invisible God.  He reveals Himself through us.

Now you will say, "Well, so much for that! Doesn't seem that we are doing too well in that category."

But I didn't say that we are God or that if we are good enough, we will reveal Him. No, let me be really clear.

We are the visible proof of the invisible God. 

"Now you are the body of Christ..."  (1 Cor. 12:27)

Like it or not - even with all of our imperfections - we, believers in Christ, are the visible proof. 

We are not perfect, especially if you judge us individually one by one. We have all sinned. We have all failed on some level. We have all deserved hell like everyone else.

…Which is exactly why this visual of God is so spectacular and miraculous. 

Some of us are so familiar with it we do not even recognize it when it happens. It has helped me to travel to the other side of the world and see it in other cultures. The power of a believer's faith and love shine the brightest in the darkest of places.

God's plan, from the very beginning, was that man would become the visible demonstration of who God is and what He does. It is through us that God has chosen to reveal Himself. This is our very purpose in life.

Jesus said, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."  (John 13:35)

I could spell out many different ways this is true. But most people will only see it if they have enough relationship with believers in Christ to see Him up close in their life. 

There is the unbelievable peace that cannot be understood, and the love of God that conquers fear and hatred. There is unspeakable joy that empowers us to endure all hardship, and is, in and of itself, our strength. All of this and more are the supernatural attributes of God in the believer. 

It is how we treat each other: the grace and mercy, the kindness and consideration, the giving and blessing of others.

But the best way to describe it is to see it. I leave you with this true story that changed my life.

When I was in the 7th grade, I was coerced and deceived into committing a horrendous, demoralizing, wicked deed. It was a year and a half before the integration of black and white would finally reach our school. Tensions were high. Someone dared me to throw salt in the eyes of an African American woman who was washing the dishes in our school cafeteria.  

I was a Christian, but I wanted too much to be accepted by the boys in my class. Peer pressure can cause you to do things you don't really want to do. 

But by the end of the afternoon, after lying to the principal about it (hell getting hotter), I fell on my face in repentance, called the principal from home and confessed. I told him that I would apologize to Mrs. Ragland. 

That was on a Friday. Riding my bicycle to her house Monday afternoon was one of the hardest things I have ever done. For one thing, it was rare to see a white face in that neighborhood, even though it took me only about two or three minutes to get there. 

When I knocked on the screen door (hoping no one was home), she peeked through the doorway of her kitchen and saw me at the front door. She went back into the kitchen and said curtly, "Come in, the door's open."  I came in, wondering why she didn't come to the door, and sheepishly walked toward the kitchen.  Here she was, up to her elbows in dough and flour, making biscuits. 

She kept working, staring at the bowl, waiting for me to say something. Finally, knees shaking, and heart pounding, I said, "Mrs. Ragland, I'm the one who threw salt in your eyes the other day. I'm really sorry. I hope you can forgive me." Without hesitation, still kneading the dough furiously, that woman looked up at me with eyes that bore a hole right through my heart and said, "Honey, I forgave you the moment you did it!"

I cannot describe to you what happened in my heart that day. Officially, I’d become a Christian when I was six years old walking the aisle of my Baptist church at an evening revival service. But it was this day, at 12-years-old, that I knew what it meant to encounter God in the physical realm.

This day I saw God as visibly as He can be seen on this side of heaven. He revealed Himself through the spirit of a black woman covered in white flour. It was real. I felt it. I knew it. I saw it with my own eyes. God revealed Himself… from her heart… through her action... to this undeserved excuse of a Christian... right into my soul, desperately in need of healing.

I was forgiven. And she had made it happen. I was free. She had fixed my sorry, dark soul. 

It was her. It was God. It was God through her. Mrs. Ragland was visible proof of an invisible God. 

I had been taught that God forgives, but now I knew what it really felt like. I had seen it in her eyes. That love was from God. But it showed up in her face... and I can still see it today.

I have seen visible proof. Have you?

More importantly, can the people in your world see the visible proof of God in you? You may be the only visible connection to God they will ever have. 

Jesus said, "You are the light of the world, a city set on a hill cannot be hidden!"

He was talking about me and you.

Let's change the world together!

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Why Can't I See God?

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Why Can't I See God?

"Why can't I see God?" is one of the most asked questions in all of history. "Is He playing 'hide and seek?'" Great question. And it should be answered.

When I was in high school, a girl walked up to me in the hallway between classes and said, "Why doesn't God just show Himself to me? If I could see Him with my own eyes, I would believe in Him." Our exchange sent me on a lifelong quest to be able to answer that question. 

Here is what I know so far.

1) It started out that way.

"And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day..."  (Genesis 3:8)

God and Adam and Eve seemingly had a face-to-face, open relationship. But immediately after they embraced sin, they heard God's footsteps and hid themselves so that He would not see them naked and in their sinful state.

That was the end of that. 

The condition of sin separates us from a righteous God.  Adam and Eve were put out of the garden. The face-to-face relationship was no longer possible - at least not for now.  A sinner seeing God's face would be like standing close enough to the sun to touch it. You would be the first... and the last. (Can you say “fried?”)  That would be the end of you.

God loves you too much for that to happen.

2) He became visible through the physical presence of His Son.

"He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation."  (Col. 1:15)

"For in Him (Christ) dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily..." (Col. 2:9)

God wants to be visible. He wants us to see Him, to know Him, and to have a relationship with Him. He went to the extreme to reveal Himself to us face to face through the physical presence of His Son, born into our likeness. 

Jesus said, "If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father." 

But there's more...

3)  Jesus, in the flesh, was not a long-term, practical solution.

His capacity to relate to us personally was hindered by the limitation of being a single human.  His ability to have close friendships was limited to about the same as it would be for any of us. 

He could only relate closely to twelve.  Then there were three - Peter, James, and John - who were more intimate. He even had a "closest" friend... John, the disciple, was the "one that Jesus loved." 

Even if God made Himself visible to us and were here on earth sitting on a physical throne, your belief in Him would be based on scientific fact. You would believe because you could see, not because you know Him personally. 

God does not want that. He wants you!

4)  "Inside" is closer than "beside".

Jesus left the scene (ascended to heaven) after the resurrection for at least two reasons. First, He had paid the price for sin on the cross and had defeated the power of sin and death through the resurrection. The way was paved for a personal relationship with the Father again, like Adam and Eve - except better. This time He would not just walk with us, but would in fact, live in us. 

We think the disciples had the edge on us because they had Jesus with them, in the flesh. But I guarantee they would tell you that having Him in them by the presence by the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, was far greater than having Him within tangible reach.  Inside is closer than beside

5)  If God can be seen, then you are not needed.

The other reason Jesus left us physically was to get out of the way - literally. The plan of God for created man, from the very beginning, was that we would become the demonstration of "who He is and what He does" for all of heaven to see firsthand.

The following scripture has opened my eyes to a bigger picture.

"...To the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places..." (Eph. 3:10)

One-third of the angels had been thrown out of heaven with Lucifer because of their misunderstanding of who God is. (By the way, they could most likely see God visibly. It didn't seem to make a difference.) God's plan to reveal who He was to rest of heaven, for whatever reason, was to create us and demonstrate this in and through us, by Christ through His Holy Spirit.

It is why you were created in the image of God and created again, "in Christ Jesus."

Jesus was our example. We are now to become like Him, and reveal what He and His kingdom are all about, i.e., the way we live, the way we love, the way we serve and change the world.

You would not be needed if you weren’t allowed to be the instrument through which He would reveal Himself. It's your purpose and destiny.

6)  We are Jesus to the world. 

"...You shall be witnesses to Me... to the end of the earth."  (Acts 1:8)

Jesus now lives His life in and through you and me. 

"He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being..." (Acts 17:27-28)

By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is able to accomplish so much more in and through His people. That was the point in the first place. 

You are the "visible" part of God to those who do not believe. 

"Now you are the body of Christ..."  (1 Cor. 12:27)

It is you that must be seen! 

"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden."  (Matt. 5:14)

7)  And yes, God is playing hide and seek.

"...Seek and you will find..."  (Luke 11:9)

He does not want you to simply acknowledge His reality and believe in Him from a distance. He wants intimate, personal relationship with you... the kind that can only be discovered in the deepest part of your heart: your spirit. 

When you allow Him to take up His residence there, you will have the capacity to know Him more closely than you thought possible. 

That's what He wants... and it's what I want.

I want His presence on the inside. I want to know Him in my heart. I want the resulting power of His presence in my life. I want to fulfill my purpose and my destiny. I want to be an instrument through which He can live and work and accomplish His plans.

God wants you to seek Him with your heart! He does not want you to see Him with your eyes at a distance. Even a few inches would be too far away. He wants you to know Him from His position in your spirit, from the inside out, not the outside in.

And that takes you seeking Him daily, moment by moment, which is what He wants.

Here is what I learned in my marriage. I do not want Carol to just be in the same house and say she loves me. I want her to seek me out... to discover what is in my heart.

I want her to desire to be with me enough to discover who I am.  By the way, she would say the same thing about my relationship with her. We both love that phone call during the day, when we are not actually with one another. 

You can say you’re my best friend all you want. But if you are not seeking me out, then I know your love is from a distance. And that's okay. We can only be intimate with a few. But don't call me your best friend if you are not seeking me out, and don't say you really know me if you are not discovering who I am on a regular basis. 

That's what God wants. 
That's why You will not see Him visibly in front of you.
Yes, He really is playing "hide and seek". 
That is exactly His plan!

By the way: open your eyes. You will discover Him in all of creation. You will discover Him in the scriptures. You will discover Him working in your life. You might even discover Him in the people around you.

Seek and you will find!

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It's Up to You!

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It's Up to You!

It's up to you!

It all comes down to this: Either it really happened or it didn't. 

And it did. The proof is more than sufficient. So the real question is... 

Do you believe it? 

"He is risen." The Jesus of the Bible, the Jesus of historical record, the Jesus billions of people refer to as their Savior... that same Jesus died and rose again on the third day. 

He is alive!

Either you say it is true, or you say it is not. To say you don't know is like saying you don't know if Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. You may not know the details or have seen the proof yourself, but for some reason you have a hard time denying it. Or maybe he didn't actually go to the moon. Maybe it was all staged in Hollywood, and you've been sold a lie all of these years. 

Of course you will not say that unless you are stupid (excuse my French). The evidence is clear and overwhelming. You didn't see Neil Armstrong do it, but there are a lot of people who testify to seeing him board Apollo 11 with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, which then blasted off into outer space. The rest you will have to believe because NASA says so and the evidence looks real. They can prove it, but you still have to believe it. You didn't see it yourself.

If you say, "But the resurrection story happened a couple of thousand years ago and there is not enough evidence that Jesus rose from the dead." Then you also must say that there is not enough evidence to prove that Christopher Columbus crossed the ocean and discovered America. You see there is just as much historical evidence, if not more, that the one happened as much as the other. There are over five thousand documents that affirm the truth of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. Like any other historical "fact" - the proof is there. 

If it is true (and it is), then you have a critical decision to make. See, this thing we call Christianity lives and dies on this one question: Did Jesus rise from the dead and is He alive today?  Everything else hinges on that one fact. If He did not rise from the dead, then all of us who believe are fools. Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic, and so were the thousands who knew him, the hundreds who were close to Him and saw Him in His risen state, and the many who wrote about it. I know this raises a lot of questions, but let's keep this simple for a moment, because it is just that simple.

Either He did or He didn't. Either He is or He isn't.

It's up to you whether you believe it or not. 

If you say you don’t believe, are you being honest that you have fully investigated the evidence?  Have you been open-minded enough to read a book or two from scholars who give you the information you need? Google the names Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell. Those guys leave no stone unturned (pun intended). Then there is the Bible, which is one of the most - if not the most - comprehensive historical document of all time.  

Here is the reality... If it is true, then everything He said is true. Everything we know about Him is true. Everything He did for us is real.  If it is not true, then nothing about any of it is true.  It is all a lie.

But if Jesus rose from the dead and lives today, you can have the life that He has created for you.  Your sins are forgiven. Your guilt is gone. You are loved by the Father, who is our God. He loved you enough to give His Son to die for you. This death on the cross paid the price for your sin and mine - a sin condition that should send you and me to an eternal hell. Jesus came to ultimately clear the way for a close, intimate, personal relationship with God, whose love for you and me never wavers and never changes. 

The truth is that just reading a book about it will not necessarily convince you. The truth is that there is a battle going on for your heart. The key to understanding (or at least experiencing) this truth for yourself requires faith. God has given you this capacity to believe by faith. But you will have to use what you have been given.

It's that simple. Believe and you will receive the presence of Christ and eternal life. Believe and you will receive God's love that never changes. Believe and you will begin the adventure of all adventures. You can discover your original purpose. You can know God personally. You will discover a power that you did not know existed. You will find freedom in your heart to live without fear. You will discover the blessing of life from the inside out. You will find strength to live, and to die when the time comes. You will discover a peace that cannot be understood. 

Jesus is real. The resurrection happened. Love has been demonstrated. Life has been given.

But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  (Romans 10:8-9)

It's that simple. Will you believe?

It's up to you!

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Had Jesus Gone Mad?

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Had Jesus Gone Mad?

Don't you wish for once life would just be stable, predictable, sane... and stay that way?  It seems as though when I finally get through one thing and settle into a routine, my world goes crazy again. Or sometimes it seems obvious that God Himself changes my life and rips my comfort zone right out from under me. 

Personally, my ideal day would be to get up early and have a great personal worship time with God. Then I would go to the office to write my articles and sermons in the morning, and then meet with people in the afternoon. To top it off, I would go home to have dinner with my wife and sit in my recliner to catch a little of March Madness before going to bed. I would much rather watch someone else's madness than have to deal with my own. Now that would be a great typical day. If only. …If only there were such a thing as “typical.”

You think your life is being tossed in different directions. What about those first followers of Jesus?

The disciples must have gotten up every morning with absolutely no expectations of "typical." When Jesus wasn't on a boat crossing the sea of Galilee to yet another location, he was casting a legion of demons from a wild man into a herd of pigs, who proceeded to go bezerk and rush to drown themselves in the lake. Once He waded through a crowd that was pressing in with demands that made him too late to save a little girl from death... so He raised her from the dead. 

Some days He gave the multitudes parables they could not understand with no intention of explaining them except to his disciples. Then there was the day he told a rich man to sell everything he owned if he really wanted eternal life. Is that the way to salvation? Or why did He heal the sick and then tell them not to tell anybody? Think about it. How do you do that? 

But at this particular time, they thought He really had gone mad! They had retreated to the back side of the desert since the Jewish leaders were now intent on His destruction. Raising Lazarus from the dead was the final straw. And then one day, out of the blue, He turned toward Jerusalem and started walking. (Mark 10:32-34)  They were in shock. He set out in front of the entourage that traveled with Him and led the way. That was not the usual plan. They knew He was making a point. He was set like a flint, as if walking to His certain death. It was almost suicidal. 

Had Jesus gone mad? 

Up to this point, He had told his disciples not to tell anyone who He was. He told many who were healed not to associate Him with the healing. He had even shut up demons from calling Him the Son of God. 

Now it was as if a switch had been turned on in His head. When He got to Jerusalem He openly rode in like a king - albeit on a donkey. He would not quiet the thousands of people from shouting out praise to Him as the new leader of their religion. The Pharisees were wetting their pants, demanding that He tell the people to desist with their blasphemy. He said it would require the rocks to cry out. 

He was no longer in hiding.  He would no longer be stealth, covert, no longer elude His identity.  He not only marched into Jerusalem announcing His kingship of the Kingdom, but He boldly marched right in to the temple with a whip and chased out the deceiving money changers. He demanded they return the mall back into a house of prayer. The leadership was in a rage, demanding He substantiate His authority to randomly walk in and take over everything.

This was the passion week. And man, did it start out passionately. Is this the same Jesus who so often turned the other cheek, would not answer obvious questions, seemingly avoiding trouble to keep things moving along? Is this the peacemaker, the forgiver, the one who never forced anything on anybody? 

Had Jesus gone mad?

If you’ll take a few moments to think outside the box, instead of inside your idea of a perfect world, you will realize that this is exactly how life is always going to be if you are following a king into battle. And this particular king is intently driven on re-capturing the hearts of mankind and restoring the kingdom to its original purpose. There are times of training and development.  There are seasons of personal growth and even retreats. But then there are days of reckoning, days of intense battle, days of determined victory.

God never promised us a tamed existence, dodging every bullet and avoiding every confrontation.  In fact, with proper perspective, you might discover that He is actually calling you to lead the charge, force the issues, and in some cases, start the struggle. 

I'm sure that my recent announcement has some heads turning. Over the next year, I will be transitioning to global missions, traveling all over America to help the church world work together to fulfill the Great Commission. 

How could I leave the pastorate, pass the baton of leadership and end the security of a dependable salary? And what about the close relationships, and the church’s comfort with my way of leading? Change?!  Nobody likes change - at least not at first. 

I'm 60 years old. Nobody should be thinking about adding madness at this point. Most at my age are planning for less. But having been in a position of having to hear God's voice for every future plan, I'm actually not surprised at all. This is what I signed up for. This is what it's all about. 

Paul, at the end of his life, told Timothy, "I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:6-7).  In other words, Paul never had a retirement plan. He had given his life all the way to the end because Jesus had given His. That's why he said, "I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:14). 

Jesus rose up, not just on Resurrection Day, but on any given day.  He never settled into a lethargic routine. He was ready for action. He was ready to answer the call. Every day was a change of direction because every day He was focused on one direction... to do the will of God.  He was focused to sacrifice His life for the cause of redemption - to save your life and mine so we could demonstrate the kingdom of God to the rest of the world.

The battle is on to live that life and spread that news all over the world and in our personal worlds. Throw your routine out the window. Forget about finding a soft, painless experience.  I'm not saying, "Don't enjoy life."  I'm saying, "Go make the most of life." That's what Jesus did.  That's what the disciples did. That's what we are called to do.

Have you gone mad? 

So be it!  You will find yourself in good company.

Let's change the world together!

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