God or Man?

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God or Man?

God to Moses: 
"But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it."  (Exodus 14:16)


God told Moses to divide the Red Sea....   Really?  

This does not make sense at all.  Five verses later it says, "Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided."

So who divided the Red Sea, God or Moses?  

Before you answer too quickly, ask this question, "If Moses had not lifted his rod and stretched out his hand, would God have caused the Red Sea to go back?  

I think not.  In fact, later on there is the story of Moses, a rock, and need for water.  And because Moses did not do exactly as God said, Moses was refused entrance into the Promised Land.  It is obvious that obedience has consequences.  

What some have made into the inexplicable theological argument of the sovereignty of God vs. the free will of man is not a conflict at all.  In simple spiritual terms, God created man to be the instrument through which He would reveal Himself and accomplish His purposes for all eternity through a demonstration of the kingdom of God on earth.

God works in and thru us.  It is a partnership... not an equal partnership, but a partnership none the less.  

The more you read the Bible, the more you will see it.  Through our dynamic intimacy with God, we discover a "working together" where God speaks, leads, and directs us to fulfill His plans.  It may be an encouraging word that you give to someone, or a bold act where much faith is required.  

I grew up in a religious mindset that portrayed a self-degrading atmosphere of false humility.  In this culture, I could never take credit for anything.  If I achieved something, and was congratulated or given credit, I immediately said something like, "Well it was the Lord, not me."  

Yes, it is true that without Him, I am nothing.  Even the breath that flows in and out of my nostrils came from God breathing His breath into Adam and Eve in the beginning.   And we know that even the faith we have to obtain His grace came from God.  But it is also true that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  "I can do all things..." states that I am a part of the process.  Yes, the glory belongs to God.  But the glory is in us!

Paul said it this way in Ephesians 3:20-21.  "Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen"

The power is His power to do the incredible.  But that power is in us.  The glory is His.  But the glory is in His people.

Recently, I heard of someone giving their car away to someone else who really needed it.  The person in need was praying for a car.  The person giving it was praying for God to show them that this was the right thing to do.  Looking from the outside in, no one would necessarily say that God was involved or would give Him the credit.  So, on the one hand, is it fair to say that God provided the car?  The person giving it knew of their need.  It wasn't on the level of a biblical miracle or divine healing.  And on the other hand, can the giver really say that they had a part to play in this, if, in fact God was telling them to do it?

Yes, God provided the car.  Give Him the glory!  However, He provided it through one person to another.  Does that giving individual deserve any credit?  Well, of course!  Wasn't Abraham's faith accounted to him as righteousness? 

When the person in need receives the car, they need to do two things:  1) Thank God for the provision, and 2) Thank the giver for their heart of generosity and/or obeying the voice of God.  The giver should also do two things, 1) Receive the thanks from the receiver.  "I appreciate that" would be entirely appropriate.  We need to learn how to say "Thank You" when someone high-fives us.  Not to do so is frankly quite rude.  Then to say something like, "You know, I prayed about this.  And I really felt that God was giving me the go ahead to do it.  Isn't it amazing how He puts all of this together in and through us?"

The glory is God's.  But the glory is in the church.  

Who divided the Red Sea?  Was it God or Moses?  Well, it was God through Moses.  After all is said and done, when asking "Who did that: God or us?", the answer should be "God through us".  

Be careful though, to give the glory back to God.  Like I said, it's not an equal partnership.  Jesus is still Lord!

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Quick Change!

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Quick Change!

The Art of Fast Transitions

Have you ever been on the fast track of change?  Is your world spinning?  Have you been uprooted, or had to change jobs?  Are you moving and forced to start all over?  Or, are you facing a circumstantial change you have no control over?

My son, Chris McLeod, his wife, Liz, and their children (our grandchildren), Amelia (almost 4) and Jack (7 months), just announced that they are moving to New York City in a couple of weeks.  We made it public this past Sunday.  This will come as a shock to some.  They have only been here in Buffalo since January of this year.  Chris came here for a local job with a media company.  He has also been leading our worship at Life Church Buffalo.  A series of circumstances (and God) led Chris and Liz to make some career decisions which required moving to the BIG City (Amelia's term).

You think you are in shock?  We finally get grandchildren in Buffalo and they turn around and leave.  (Maybe we could work out a deal where the parents go but the grandkids stay :)

Seriously, I knew in my heart that they would not be here forever - maybe two years.  Both Chris and Liz are very talented and well-trained people in their thirties.  They are both chasing dreams.  And they both have had it in their hearts to live in New York City.  I'm an experienced dad with five children.  And I have been through my own episodes of fast turnarounds in my lifetime.  I get it.

Fact is, change - and the transitions that it produces - are a part of life.  We want it and we don't want it.  

When the news became public, you could hear the sound of shock and awe.  Change, initially, is the hardest for those who did not plan for the change.  We are just getting used to their being here.  Chris's stable style of leadership was beginning to be appreciated and felt.  And it felt good.  Liz's passion for people in need and her determination to embrace life to the fullest is contagious.  She was on the fast track of multiple friendships.  Then: "Bam!"  They’re leaving.  Then there's Amelia and Jack.  And Craig and Carol feel that "rip" more than anyone else.  

Chris and Liz, on the other hand, are carrying the burden of their gifting, callings, hopes and dreams; not to mention the responsibility to provide for their family.  It is their life and future that is at stake.  Therefore they have the grace for the unexpected change of direction.

But the hard work of change, for them, has only just begun.  For us, it is a difficult, but short-term adjustment.  For us, it is a part of our life that is shifting.  For them, it is their whole life that is transitioning.  They are about to experience the challenges of a new location, developing new relationships, getting started in new jobs and discovering where they fit in the new connections to Christ's body, the church.  

This article, by the way, is not really about the McLeods.  Though my writing gives you a chance to be informed of their move, let's ride the wave of their decision.  Answer the question of how to go through change and transition with grace and with determined purpose.  

When going through the uprooting and ripping of change and transitions, I would suggest a few considerations that may help in landing safely on the other side.

1) Stay focused on the hope of fulfillment.  What is the ultimate and most valuable purpose in your new venture?  Ask God to give you a specific "word" that you can hold on to as you "go through it."  What is it that will please God, bless others, and fulfill your destiny?  Set goals that lead you to that end and start meeting those goals.  Giving your energy to the right stuff will give you the resilience to overcome the pain of the “tear” of your current attachments.  

2) Stay unified with those who are making the change with you, such as your family.  Understand and encourage one another.  Keep your eyes on the mission together.  Remind each other of God's leadership and affirmation.  Get excited about the good things.  Give counsel to one another through the difficulties that come with change.  Cry together when it hurts.  But look for opportunities to laugh together whenever possible.  And if you are alone in the transition, don't be!  Pursue the development of positive relationships that will bring challenge, encouragement, and balance to your life.  

3)  Love the people who are affected by your change.  You are not an island.  There is a ripple effect to your course’s redirection.  Have compassion on those who are dealing with it.  Keep your eyes on the end goal.  But help others along the way.  Jesus, knowing that he would physically leave this world and his disciples behind, spent many intense hours helping them prepare for it, even though they would not initially take it to heart.  However, later, after the dust settled, they found their footing on what He had told them beforehand.  Plant the seeds of understanding.  It will produce for others the substance to chew on after things calm down. 

4)  Live with your decisions.  Even if you later think you could have done things a little differently, own it.  Keep your eyes on the Lord and on the ultimate purposes at hand.  Don't let the challenges get the best of you.  Don't waver in your determination to do what you believe is right and good.  Don't let others feed you negativity or discouragement.  Hold your head high.  Stay humble in relationships, but confident in your calling to fulfill your God-given mission.  

Change and transition - wanted or unwanted - are a part of life.  God's grace, mixed with your faith, will see you through.  Find it! Believe it!  Go for it!  There are new horizons to conquer, new adventures to embrace.   Hold on to the word of God and fulfill it with all of your heart!

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Waiting on Go

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Waiting on Go

"For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”  (Hab. 2:2, ESV)

In other words, "Hurry up and wait!  Here it comes!  Don't miss it!”

Have you ever felt like you were on the starting line year after year after year?  Your car is fast and furious; your engine is firing; your patience is growing "thick" with the smoke of burning rubber in standstill position.  It seems to take forever, but once the light turns green, you better be ready to fly.  The race will not wait for you to fill your tank with gas.  

You're "waiting on go."

Every dream or vision from God has its own life dynamic, its own sense of timing, and its own measurement of risks, failures, and successes.  There are so many sides to its fulfillment.  God gives you hints of it.  He may blast you with clarity, and then not fulfill it for years to come.  There are other people involved, historic timing, and your own maturity development.  But when your dream comes, it comes hard and fast, and changes your life.  

Last November my daughter Joy got stuck in Oklahoma on a three-day trip that turned into a week, due to the seven-foot snowstorm happening back home in Buffalo, New York.  Here in the Buffalo area, we call it "Snowvember."  On what should have been her last day there, she ran into a young man she had dated years before.  They had pleasant words and left.  But after he realized that she was stuck in Tulsa, he asked her out for coffee.  When I heard he had called her, I said to Carol, "It's over. They'll get married."  And so they did, eight-and-a-half months later.  Everyone was saying, "Wow, that was fast!"'  But I would reply, "No it wasn't!  That took six long years."  Carol and I have been praying for this man all of Joy's life and have believed in our hearts that Chris Barker was THE ONE for the last six years.  (By the way, Chris's parents had been believing the same about Joy.  We believe in arranged marriages through the power of prayer.)  We've been patiently waiting for God to perform a circumstantial miracle.  They lived over a thousand miles apart, and had no communication.

Of course, that's nothing compared to what happened to Carol and me.  We met in January (1977), were engaged in March, and married in July.  Our story makes Joy and Chris's look like Rip Van Winkle.  

Patience is sometimes very challenging and difficult.... but necessary.  Joy and Chris will tell you that the final timing of this is so much better than six years earlier.  They are both now far more ready for each other.  It was worth the wait.  

What is in your heart that you believe is from God, but is still on the shelf?  

Maybe it's not on the shelf at all.  Maybe it is being developed and fine-tuned.  Maybe you are being developed and fine-tuned.  If I were you, I wouldn't go to sleep.  Could be that any day now, the preparation comes to fruition, and God waves the checkered flag and says "Go!!!"  He hasn't forgotten what He said to you years ago about what He was going to do in your life.  It may not look exactly like you thought it would.  And if that is the case, then God has something far better in mind.  Get over it!

Put yourself in Moses’ shoes.  At 40 years old you gain the burden to free God's people.  But it is 40 years later, while in exile, that you finally get God's go ahead to do it.  Then life becomes wild and dangerous at 80 years old when dealing with ten plagues, organizing a million people to leave home, dividing the Red Sea, and promising them the Promised Land.  Then after another forty years in the wilderness with all of those disgruntled rebellious people, the vision is finally fulfilled.  They cross over.  But lo and behold, you are not there to see it.  You hurry up and die so God can complete the task.  

On second thought, maybe you don't want to be in Moses' shoes.  

But wait, that's not the end of the story.  Fifteen hundred (that's 1500) years later, Moses joins Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration to encourage the Son of God to fulfill the vision God had given Him.  This whole idea of waiting to die in order to accomplish something great was not exactly what the human condition was prepared for.  But if anyone knew how to exhort Jesus in his humanity to go all the way, it was Moses.  

And don't feel sorry for Moses.  He sits from heaven's front row witnessing the fulfillment of the greater vision of which he had a part.  

Are you still waiting and wondering?  I am.  I have vision in my heart that is not yet fulfilled.  And I am only 60. :)

Get out from under the dark cloud of your own generated impatience and sharpen your focus to hear the voice of God in a fresh way.  If you need to learn something, learn it.  If you need to shore up your relationships, then do it.  There will come a moment when the flag will fall, the light will turn green, and God will say, "Go!"  

And when he does, you need to be ready.

Hurry up and wait!  
Here it comes!  
Don't miss it!

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Will He Ever Know?

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Will He Ever Know?

What is the real answer for people who are trapped in their predicament?  It might be that they are simply stuck in the rut and have lost motivation.  Or it might be far more severe - as in addictions, abuse, or the scars of a disappointing past.

Let me tell you the story of a certain man who had two boys.  You probably already know this story, but don't hang up!  You are about to hear it in a way that you have never heard it before.  Even if you don't know the story, you will most likely know people who fit the description.

And no, it is not the little 6-month-old in my arms in the picture above.  That's Jack, my grandson.  He's actually going to help me answer the question that needs to be asked by the boys in this story and also the characters in your story, possibly even the character reading this blog.  :)

Here goes.

Living in a pigsty is not exactly a pleasant experience.  

We are not just talking here about the bedroom of a typical teen whose floor is nowhere to be found, and an aroma so strong that not even the family dog will enter.  No, we are talking about the genuine article.  

When I was a child, my grandfather, PaPa, lived on a farm with many fields and pens surrounded by electric wires, fencing in all kinds of animals.  The pigsty was the most fascinating.  Why would God create an animal that wallered (that's farm language for "wallowed") in his own "you know what" and eat corn cobs.  I didn't get it.  And tell me why we southerners were eating every part of that animal... literally.  You could go into the local corner grocery and find random parts in jars of vinegar, including the head and the feet.  OK, so it was cheap.  I still didn't get it.

One day, as I walked through PaPa's kitchen, he sat there with a fork eating out of a jar of something that looked very tasty, if you believed his facial expressions.  When I inquired, he offered me some.  He called it "chitlins".  He said it tasted just like chicken.  "Chitlins", "chicken", what's the difference?  Well, I am alive today, having survived the jolly fun of a grandfather - who also once talked me into inhaling his cigar - to tell you that pig intestines and fried chicken are not served on the same menu for a reason.       

But the young son in the story, who wasted his premature inheritance on a long endless party, was not only working in the "waller," he was so destitute he could not even afford the "chitlins."  So he requested to eat the same swine slop he was daily pouring into their feeding troughs.  To make things worse, he was denied the slop.  It doesn't get any lower than that.  It was like being compared to the worth of the least desirable animal on the planet and coming up with the short end of the stick.  

What happens next, we pray, happens to anyone living in any kind of pigsty, mental, physical or spiritual, large or small.

"He came to himself!"

Of course, this is the story of the prodigal son.  You know the rest of the story.  He goes back to his father and says he is sorry and offers to become a servant of the household.  And then there is the older son who had some pigsty issues of his own, albeit in his heart.

Both boys had the same need.  

A few days ago two of our grandchildren came to our house while their parents, Chris and Liz, had a much-deserved date night.  Jack was tired and fussy, so I tapped into the reservoirs of my experience of raising five children, picked him up and began walking him around the house, singing, talking, and patting his back; whatever he needed to go to sleep.  

He finally passed out in my arms.  Of course, I couldn't lay him down.  He would wake up.  So I did what any good grandfather would do and laid him on my chest as I sat in a chair watching the movie, "Cinderella," with his older sister, Amelia.  If I moved, he moved.  If I talked, he would pop his head up, make sure he was in a safe place and then lay it back down on my chest, close his eyes and go back to sleep.

So I lay still, not wanting to lay him down but selfishly wanting to savor the moment for as long as I could.  So I cuddled him there... for a solid two hours... letting him sleep to the steady sound of my heart beat.

Then it hit me...  "Will he ever know?"

Will this little boy ever really know just how much he is loved?  He's too young now to later remember.  And later he will be too driven and busy to see it.  Oh, I'm not saying that he will not know that he is loved.  I'm questioning whether he, like you and me, will be able to comprehend the full depth of love that has been unleashed like an avalanche from heaven from the greatest Father of all.  

And while the Bible is clear that His love is the greatest force of power to exist, the truth of it tends to stay in my head and not always make it to my heart.  

This is the real question that has to be asked and it’s the answer to the trappings of our own pigsties.  It all begins with a deeper yielding to the One who loves us like no other.  

When we know that we are loved, we are secure and confident.  We become fearless and valiant.  The opposite is also true.  When we question whether we are loved, we become insecure and needy in our souls, often seeking how to meet the depth of our need.  This leads us straight to dirty, smelly pigsties.  

To be loved is to have no need.  
To have no love is to have nothing but need.  

I know you will think me simplistic.  Surely the answer to life is far more complicated.  And in some ways it is, but only in the context of whether or not love, the fullest measure of it, has been discovered or not.  

The climax of the story is that the Father unashamedly and without reservation or hesitation ran to greet the son who was reeking with the odor of a filthy pigsty on a breezy day.  He embraced him, mentioned nothing of his failure, killed the fatted calf, and dressed him like a king.  Love without limits or barriers was celebrated to the fullest.  He lavished His love on his son simply because he was His son.  

I'm sure the young son could not believe what was happening and was probably heaving with tears of wonder and relief.  But I know this one thing.  He was filled to the fullest.  He was free from his pigsty.... because he knew he was loved!

Wherever you may be in the stench of your pigsty of a predicament, I pray you will come to yourself, run to the Father who is running toward you, and throw yourself into the unrelenting arms of the only one who gives you what you need the most.

"For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life."  John 3:16

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The Reflection of Who We Are

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The Reflection of Who We Are

America is governed by its civilians.  That is unique to who we are.  The men and women who are serving in our government are there because we put them there.  And if they stay in office, they stay because we do not replace them.  

So, it is true in every sense of the term, "Our government is a reflection of who we are."  

This is why our founding fathers were concerned about what would happen in the future, if a day came when our nation no longer held true to the righteous principles that are established by the scriptures and true Christianity.   

The success of our nation is dependent on a mindset toward righteousness and love, the kind that is embodied by the God of our fathers whose very name is both
Righteousness and Love.  (Malachi 4:2 & 1 John 4:8)

That does not mean that we have to be perfect, or that our leaders have to be perfect.  But it does mean that our priorities must be based on righteousness, character, and strength of mission.  If this is not the case, then the foundation is destroyed and that which has been built on that foundation will crumble and self-destruct.  

The hope for America is that the people of God will be awakened and become a vibrant force of influence and leadership.  That does not mean that all of our government leaders have to be born again, Bible-thumping Christians.  But their principles, their character, and their motives must be a reflection of who we are supposed to be.  And the only way that will happen is if the Christian civilian becomes a reflection of who God is, and becomes vocal and active in the process of electing our leaders.  

Let's take a look at the current case in point.  There are two frontrunners in the current campaign for president - one in each major party.  They both have been frontrunners for many months now.  It would not be too far-fetched to say that both of these candidates are a reflection of who we are as a nation - at least of those who are loud enough to be heard and active enough to be called voters (that is if the polls are correct).

Neither candidate is a reflection of righteousness and love.  Both have proven over many years, in my opinion, to be self-centered and power-hungry.  And both have little defense for the major unrighteousness of which they have been accused.  

One has made his riches on the poor luck of desperate gamblers, whose lives are now in shambles.  You don't have to be anti-gambling to study the flow of money out of the pockets of the many who cannot afford it, into the pockets of the few who boast of its riches.  He has gone bankrupt four times and has contributed heavily to politicians who could help him maintain his wealth.   The other is accused of making her money from the contributions of the international super-wealthy, whose only interests are major political favors - favors that will make them rich and powerful, with no care as to the impact it has on our nation.  This accusation is well-documented and not well-defended.  

One has shown that she will say almost anything to protect her reputation, currently laden with scandal and illegal procedures.  Her stories change almost weekly.   The other does not even try to defend his reputation of sleeping with "some of the greatest women in the world" - a proud quote from a book he wrote.  

One is known for his arrogance, belligerence, and self-centeredness.  He is currently slandering people right and left, throwing caution to the wind.  The other is known for her deafening silence and misdirection on multiple substantive accusations; if tried and found guilty of these accusations, it would at the very least bury her political career and could easily land her in prison for many years.  

You may think I am being a little harsh or being judgmental.  But I don't believe anyone who is honestly paying attention could argue with my assessment.  

What is really disheartening is that many have fallen into the trap of supporting someone merely because of their popularity, personality, or powerful persuasion.  Character, principled policy, and pure motives have taken a back seat.  The scary part is that much of that support is coming from professed Christians.  

May I suggest a short checklist for supporting a candidate?

One)  Are they a person of character?  They do not have to have a perfect past.  But they must be willing to own their past and show that they have made it right where they have been wrong.  President McKinley, when running for office at the end of the 19th century, was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock when he was young and keeping it hush hush.  A committee of pastors and other spiritual leaders was formed to interview him and make a judgment.  They reported that he had, in fact, fathered a child, but had been financially supporting the mother and child all of those years.  McKinley won the presidency.  Oh for the day that we would return to such a process.  

Two)  Are they a person of right and wrong?  Do they support principled policy?  Will they make wise and righteous decisions that are in line with scriptural truth?  Will they defend the dignity of life - from the unborn, to the elderly, to the trafficked?  Will they seek to solve the plight of the impoverished and the marginalized?  This is not about a political party.  It is about promoting real answers, whether they promote the political party's agenda or not.  

Three)  Are they a respectable leader?  Do they put others above themselves?  Are they trustworthy and are they people of integrity?  Do they lead, or do they follow the whims of political shifts?  Are they able to be steadfast with that which is right and influence others toward the same?  They cannot just be able to work with the opposition.  They must be able to persuade the opposition, or persuade the public to change the faces of the opposition in the next election.  That takes a leader.

Those who know me know that this article is a little out of my character.  But enough is enough.  You can count on one thing: I will not be voting for either of these candidates.  I will not tell you who to vote for.  But if you possess strength of character, love, and righteousness, let me know.  I might start a write-in campaign to elect you the next President of the United States.

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Confronting Chaotic Controversy

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Confronting Chaotic Controversy

This week, the New England Patriots come to play the Buffalo Bills.  It's a huge rivalry.  Emotions are high.  And, of course, the chat is heated with controversy.  

I do not know of any team in modern day sports that is more disliked by everyone (except their fans) than the New England Patriots.  Can you say "Spygate" or "Deflategate" in a crowded room without getting an angry reaction from someone?

Patriot fans, of course, are head over heels in love with their team, no matter the controversy.  And they have good reason.  They have been in the Super Bowl eight times and have won four of those times.   Tom Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks all time.  You can't argue with that.  Their coach, Bill Belichick, is the winningest coach of all time.  The two of them have combined to form the most successful quarterback-coach tandem in NFL history, winning 160 regular season games and 21 postseason games, and they’ve appeared in six Super Bowls together. All of these statistics are NFL records.  (By the way, all of this might account for some of that "hatred" out there.)

The Patriots could also lead the competition as the most controversial sports teams in modern day history.  So much so that when anything looks suspicious they are automatically deemed guilty of cheating.  No trial. No jury.  They're guilty!  For instance, look at last week's episode in the first game of the season playing at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  At game time, on the sidelines, the Steelers’ coaches' headsets were filled with a local Patriots’ radio sports program announcing the play-by-play while the coaches were trying to communicate with each other.  Of course, it was likely a mere technical problem with the equipment.  We've had that happen even in our church services.  But the Patriots’ plight with the two "gates" controversies were already the hot media topic of the week.  The possibility of this new incident being orchestrated by the Patriots to purposefully confuse the opponent, not to mention the possibility of a brazen "in your face" to the NFL, only re-inflated "Deflategate." The immediate reaction was... "Of course they did it! That's who they are!"

Why is that?  Were they guilty?  How do you know?  Why do you doubt their explanations?  And does it really matter?  It's just a game, right? (A game worth multiple billions, by the way).

In many ways what is happening here is not unlike what happens in a business, a church, in politics, or even at home.  The principles of life are the same, no matter the venue.  

So what is to be learned here?  

I would like to propose a few things to think about when you finding yourself in the middle of chaotic controversy.   Here is advice for the accused, the accuser, and the observer.  You can relate it to this story or any incident involving accusations - including your own.
 

The Accused:

1) Guilty or not guilty, choose one or several qualified, trustworthy, respected people to give you advice and wisdom on how to handle the situation with honesty, integrity and grace.  If needed, allow them to verify the truth to those who need to know.

2) If guilty, or anywhere close, admit to what you have done in clear terms.  Be forthright about facts and truth.  Sincerely apologize.  Create a plan with accountability that will insure that it does not happen again.  As hard as this may be, you will save yourself further pain and agony.  It will more quickly be over.  This is not our nature, mind you, but you will find that people will become quicker to forgive.  And God will honor a fresh beginning.

3) If guilty, accept reasonable consequences.  Don't fight against authority if at all possible.  If needed, then do so with much grace and explanation.  When you buck authority, your intentions and sincerity, and therefore your trust, will be suspect.

4) Now develop a plan for genuinely re-building trust with both the accuser and with the observer.  If not, you will easily be accused again and again.  Your long-term integrity and trustworthiness are at stake.  Include your trustworthy advisers in the loop.

5)  If you are innocent, say it clearly and with detail.  But know you may not be able to just say you are innocent.  You may have to show why and how.  Saying without showing, especially in the public eye, will always leave room for suspicion.  If you are innocent, proving you are innocent is usually not that difficult (though not always).  Cooperating with an independent investigation with nothing to hide will usually clear your name quickly.  If accused, whenever possible, go the extra mile to verify your innocence.  Nip it in the bud!


The Accuser:

1) Don't accuse unless you have proof, including if at all possible, at least one other witness.  Make sure that your accusation is founded on facts and is worthy of exposure.   If you are the authority in the relationship and you convict without proof, then you become the distrusted, mean-spirited bully.  You're the one who now has to rebuild trust.  

2) First, go to the accused and try to gracefully work it out personally between you and them in an effort to maintain dignity for all involved.  If you are not satisfied, take someone with you; if needed, the authority figure over the accused.  Be discrete, again attempting to stay private.  If you are not satisfied with how that worked out, then other measures may be necessary, especially if it impacts third party victims.  You may need to bring charges and/or lawyers to help bring resolve, depending on the issue at hand.  But that should be a last resort measure.  

3) Check your motives.  Political or financial gain, or just plain jealousy and pride are not good motives for accusing someone of wrongdoing.  First of all, you will also be in the wrong.  Secondly, those motives will come back to bite.  If your motives are right, proceed with caution.  If you are personally wronged, forgive before you accuse or confront.  Getting your motive right and resolving your personal bitterness first is the proper way to confront and judge.   It also leads to a clear head and heart, availing deeper wisdom and avoiding unnecessary future emotional burden.  
 

The Observer:

1) Unless you are impacted by it, stay out of it, shut up, and pray!  Your knowledge of the truth is limited.  You don't need the burden of wasted mental garbage.  Find something more redemptive to think and talk about.

2) Don't believe everything you hear or read, especially in the current media culture where everything is treated as the truth just because someone said it was true, even if it's not true.  The damage is now done and difficult to retract.  You do not want to be guilty by association with those helping to promote things that are not accurate.  

3) Avoid involvement with other parties who are at odds with each another.  There is a proverb about grabbing the ears of a dog...  something about getting bit.  :)
 

Everyone involved:

1) Overall, think before you act!  What may be a simple overreaction at first could end up drawing you into weeks, months, and even years of frustration, heartache, and misery.  

2)  Remember that love covers a multitude of sins.  Seeking to help someone gracefully overcome an issue and be restored can save a soul and win a lifetime friend.  

3) Lastly, God is watching.  You might need the favor of His mercy and grace some day.  I wouldn't give Him reason to hesitate.


And just to clarify my loyalties...

GO BILLS!!!

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What If that Had Been Me?

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What If that Had Been Me?

Rowan County (Kentucky) Clerk Kim Davis has received national attention for being tossed into jail.  She refused to allow her name to be associated with the marriage license of two people of the same sex due to her Christian moral beliefs.  She is neither a revolutionary, nor does she even want any of this attention.  

I, too, would prefer to let others respond to this and leave me to my personal opinions.  That's because I know I will be misunderstood and accused of hating people because of their sexual orientation, which is certainly not who I am.

I believe that this is an event in our nation that will go down in history as a wake-up call to believers in Christ.  I would like to ignore it.  But this is staring me in the face.  I am a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, called to represent and clarify the moral principles of God and of scripture as it relates to my culture.

I come from the generation where the supreme court ruled against my conscience twice in ways that I regret not having responded.  The first is when prayer was removed from the public schools.  I was only eight at the time.  But I wish when I was in high school, I had been a modern day Daniel and had prayed openly with boldness!  And the second is when abortion was legalized.  Since that time, well over 55 million children have died innocently and needlessly.

So I feel compelled to respond.   Here goes...

Either what Kim Davis did in the name of Christ should be rejected as the wrong course of action or she has become a crossroads for religious freedom and moral convictions.

But for the sake of clarity, let's take Mrs. Davis out of the picture and approach this on a personal level.  

"What if that had been me?"  

What if I were the Rowan county clerk, elected by the people? What if my name were printed on every marriage license, signifying my approval?  I pledged an oath under God to uphold the laws of the land. Then, while serving in my office, the U.S. Supreme Court decides to change the definition of marriage.  The new definition is contrary to the original, set forth by God in scripture, a definition that our nation has long held as true, and one I cannot deny.  

I have two choices.  I can resign.  Or I can disobey the supreme court and be subject to the consequences.  

If I resign, then I have removed myself from doing something that is wrong for me personally.  And I have washed my hands of it all.

If I don't resign, but continue to license only those who fit the true definition of marriage, I am taking a stand with much deeper implications.  I am challenging 1) whether I am required to act against my religious and moral convictions, and 2) whether the supreme court can force a new moral code contrary to moral law originally clarified by God's law.  

What would I do?  

I hope that I would follow the same thought process as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was taken to a jail cell in 1963 for peacefully protesting unjust segregation laws.  I do not know what he would have done if he had been the Rowan county clerk.  But I agree with his convictions.  Dr. King stated while in jail, “[I am standing up] for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence." He continued, "How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust?  A just law is a manmade code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.  An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law." 

Dr. King further quoted St. Thomas Aquinas, "An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.  I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him/her is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”  

Though I have studied Kim Davis closely, I cannot speak for her.  She seems to be simply asking her state for enough liberty to be allowed to serve God with a clear conscience.  North Carolina, Texas, and Alabama have already passed laws to accommodate people like Kim.  

Should every county clerk and every justice of the peace in America, who believe in the Bible as ultimate truth, be required to resign from their jobs?  

Are we going to force government officials to choose between a deeply-held belief that squares directly with the nation’s founding principles, or going to jail?  

Are Christians who seek to live consistently with their faith now ineligible for public service under the new and constantly shifting secular code of morality?

And, since pastors perform most weddings, will we be the next target forced to make a choice?

I agree with Christopher Ciccone - the openly gay brother of popular singer Madonna - that Kim Davis's issue is not really about personal sexual preferences.  He said, "Is it so difficult to allow this woman her religion? …Or must we destroy her in order for her to betray her faith?  No matter how we judge its truth, the rights we have all fought for mean nothing if we deny her hers.”

It will always be my heart to treat everyone with acceptance and respect as human beings, no matter their choices or sexual lifestyle.  God loves the whole world and so do I.  This love, however, includes leading people away from sin and standing for righteousness and truth.  

God's word, ultimately, is the final word.  In Matthew 19:4-5, Jesus quoted His Father, God, from Genesis 2, to affirm His definition of marriage.  "And He answered and said to them, 'Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?"

God created marriage Himself.  Jesus affirmed its definition.  No one, not even a nation, can change God's definition of His creation.  Do as you will with the rule of law.  But understand that if we continue to remove the moral foundation of our constitutional law, we run the risk of forcing every Bible-believing Christian in America to choose whether he or she will abide by its new interpretation.  

Now, more than ever, it is time to pray and to live as true Christlike witnesses, which may make us look revolutionary when we are simply being who we have always been.  Seek the Father that we may be a people of love and graciousness, yet peacefully holding true to who we are and to Whom we belong.  It is this that will change the world!

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Why the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?

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Why the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?

“Now concerning spiritual gifts brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant.” 1 Cor. 12:1

I am one of those guys who grew up in the charismatic movement. 

Some of you reading this are not even aware of the phenomenon that swept the Christian world beginning about 50 years ago, affecting all denominations and nations.  Others may call it the fringe of Christianity.  You know, those “speaking in tongues weirdos.” And some of you will read this with intense judgment to see if I am truly representing your particular version of the work of the Holy Spirit. 

But I challenge you to read on.

I hope you will be open-minded enough to see that God reaches your heart and life, and as well as the hearts and lives of those around you, in ways that do not necessarily fit your version of Christianity. These ways are found extensively in scripture, specifically in the early church of the New Testament. 

For me, it all started when I was 14-years-old.  Certainly, I was hungry for God to reveal Himself to me in greater measure than I was experiencing.  I grew up in a good Baptist church.  But when the pastor taught on the book of Acts, he literally skipped the second chapter, so he would not have to deal with the “strange irrelevant early church experience” no longer applicable to the more civilized religion of our day. 

As a youth from the 60s, I was ready to challenge the status quo.  My pastor’s hesitancy only caused my curiosity to soar.  What was he so afraid of?  Didn’t Baptists believe in the whole Bible?

Then my mother dragged us to a meeting of Christian businessmen at a hotel conference room in Raleigh, NC.  After all, sometimes you have to get outside of the church building to discover all that God has for you.  A Baptist pastor named Jamie Buckingham was sharing how he had been given the “left foot of fellowship,” due to being “filled” with the Holy Spirit. He shared that experiencing the powerful flow of gifts from heaven was changing people’s lives.  Of course, he based this right out of the book of Acts, chapter two.

From that night on, my entire existence shifted.  Everything changed: from the level of my faith in God, to the direction of my interests, calling, and purpose in life.  The Bible came alive.  Prayer had more power.  And I could not contain myself with this driving desire to tell others about Jesus.  Over the years, I have seen the miraculous power of God through the Holy Spirit not only change people’s lives, but give gifts that greatly enhance the ministry of heaven to and through His people. 

Granted, after many years of this “renewal movement of the Holy Spirit” - just like with all movements, there were those who used it for their own personal gain, manipulated innocent people, and claimed some of the glory of God for themselves. 

But don’t let the dirty bathwater overshadow the purity of the clean baby left in the tub.

First of all, know that the Holy Spirit of God convicts us of sin and converts us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.  He leads us into an intimate relationship with God, the Father, through Jesus, His Son. 

This same Spirit then also fills us with the presence of God and enables us to live in a different realm, a different plane or playing field.  We are of a different kingdom, and therefore in need of the power to live effectively in that kingdom. 

What you may think is abnormal in one realm of living may be quite normal in this alternate supernatural realm. 

So when the Holy Spirit fills us, we receive gifts from God that He activates in a timely manner to be used for effective ministry in the lives of others.  You see, our natural thinking is a roadblock to the fullness of God’s complete work in our lives.  He bypasses the human realm and takes a more direct approach to meet our needs and change the world. 

The part that is so hard for us is that these gifts are given to and through the frailty of humans.  When a person says, “I believe I have a word from God for you”, we want to run and hide.  “Who does he think he is?”  “How does he/she know this is from God?”  “What if they’re wrong?”

All of those questions are valid.  I don’t have time to fully answer or teach on this here.  But suffice it to say there is always a need for an atmosphere of accountability, judgment, and confirmation.  No one’s gift is the final answer.  The real deal is what God reveals to you, now or later; this revelation confirms the gift that was given.  If it is God, then it will become relevant, useful, and real. 

It is also true that your faith is involved.  So don’t reject what you experience just because you don’t understand it. 

Let’s get our focus off of the instrument being used and open our eyes to what God is trying to accomplish here.  One lady was told by a total stranger - with no knowledge of the incident - that her runaway son was coming home. She was encouraged not to condemn him, but to love him.  He did come home... that very afternoon.  Another man was told God would use him to invent something that would change the world: “So gain the confidence.  Don’t give up.”  That year the man, a military scientist, invented something that gave the US great advantage in military strategy.  The one with the word of knowledge knew nothing about this man, as they’d never met before.  I know several women with issues of infertility that were told by unknowing people that their wombs would open up and bear fruit, and - they did. 

To help your unbelief, I’m only giving you the examples of people that I was directly involved with personally. 

Ultimately, God is micromanaging His body to have greater impact in the world.  He’s forcing the issue through supernatural means, in order to turn the ship in the right direction.  As a result, we will more accurately minister to others and lead the world to Christ in a more powerful and effective way.

Don’t let the immaturity of someone new to these things scare you off.  And don’t let the shallow nature of your human mind keep you from going a little deeper to discover the treasure chest of God’s gifts for you. 

One last thing… Don’t let pride get in the way. Not 1) the pride that causes you to offend your brother with a know-it-all attitude concerning your gift, and not 2) the pride that says, “I don’t need these crutches called gifts to be a good Christian.”

A little humility is in order here.  And a little faith that God really does want to fulfill His destiny in your life.  This is not really about the gift or the instrument through which the gift is given.  No, this is about the Giver of the gift and the purpose for which He has given it to be accomplished - in your life and mine.

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Where Did that Come From?

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Where Did that Come From?

"Simon, Simon! Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat." (Luke 22:31)

Have you ever gone through an overwhelming experience in your life that challenged every fiber of your existence?  (Or maybe three of those at the same time?) It might almost seem as if God had something to do with it.  If He didn't, then why did He "allow" it?  

In the verse above, Peter is about to face the greatest challenge of his life.  Even though determined and forewarned, he will be confronted by the devil in a way that will overcome and overwhelm him.  And Jesus makes it clear that Satan's attack was not done without permission.  

Sometimes God does not fit very well into our personal theologies.  I'm not altogether comfortable with the concept of God "allowing" bad circumstances to happen to us.  I don't think that terminology best fits reality.

God is good!  He does not withhold any good thing from us.  He is not out to get us.  He is for us, and not against us.  In fact, if anyone allowed bad things to happen, it was mankind in the very beginning, after Adam and Eve were given authority to take dominion of the earth.  They – we - are the ones who gave that authority over to Satan by disobeying God's ways and submitted to Satan instead.  Even Satan affirmed to Jesus in the wilderness, "All this authority has been given to me..."  The power of temptation, sin, sickness, and death - all that is bad in this world, was given its place by the original submission of mankind to the ways of darkness.  

This does not mean that every bad thing that happens in my life is my fault personally.  Sometimes that is true.  And when it is, it is rather obvious.  But bad things can happen just because we live in a fallen world.  And God not only does not desire for those things to happen to us, but rather, has called us to fight the good fight of faith and overcome those things with victorious attitude and action.

Certainly God arranges certain challenges.  And it is evident that Satan may get permission "to sift as wheat."  But God does not initiate or cause bad things to happen to His redeemed children of the New Covenant.

However, he does use every circumstance and challenge in our lives - good, bad, or ugly - to refine us into the image of His Son.

Whether the challenge comes from God, the devil, people, or even something we have done to ourselves, He is faithful to strategically grow and change us into His image with whatever isavailable.

This is true of the disciple Peter.  And it is true of you and me.  

Last fall (2014), my wife Carol was finishing her fifth book.  The publisher's deadline was December 1st.  On November 3rd, as she was beginning the final chapter, Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer.  And, oh yeah, I left out a significant detail…  The title of the book is "Refined: Finding Joy in the Midst of the Fire."

Carol McLeod is the founder of Just Joy! Ministries.  She has for many years helped women discover the goodness of God and His "unspeakable joy" no matter how bad the circumstances.  This ministry was not founded in the fluff of the pursuit of happiness, but rather after she had experienced five miscarriages.  This joy is a deeper characteristic than happiness.  It is defined in scripture as strength from God.  It is of divine origin and is a reservoir of power to those who will access it, no matter the hardship or emotional crisis.  

Carol, like Peter, was facing an attack from hell, the timing of which was so obvious.  She had to write the last chapter of a book, as she personally faced a new chapter on the very subject of which she was writing.

Everything she believed was now on the line.  How would she respond to this challenge?  And how would God use it to further refine her life?  

Carol had a mastectomy in January.  And because her body did not respond well to the follow-up medications, she has just now undergone mastectomy number two, only days before her book is to be released, on September 15th.

I'm her husband.  And I'm admittedly biased (good husbands are, you know).  But I have seen my wife respond to this challenge from behind-the-scenes.  She has had to face the same fears and questions any woman would face in the same scenario.  She has done so, however, with a holy grit that can only be defined by that "hard to explain" joy found in the depth of heaven's ocean of grace.  

She hasn't gotten bitter.  She has gotten better.  

Her faith has not subsided, but rather, increased.  

She not only refused to give up, but she has become more motivated, more anointed, and deeper in her revelation of who God is and what He is doing than ever before.  

The refining process is bearing fruit.  

How about you?  How will you respond to the insurmountable, overwhelming, deep dark circumstances of your life?  Will you let it destroy you, or suck the life out of you?  

Or, will you submit to and embrace the goodness and glory of God?  Will you allow Him the opportunity to change you from the inside out?  He can take what the devil meant for harm and turn it for good.  Every curveball from hell can become a home run in the kingdom of God - if we respond with faith, hope, and love.  You have the power in Christ to make the devil "wish he hadn't done that" in his mission to steal, kill, and destroy.  

Carol, while fighting cancer, knew one thing was true.  No matter where this challenge came from, it was now an opportunity for the glory of God.  

She refused to be finished.  She would rather be refined!  

To pre-order Carol's book, “Refined: Finding Joy in the Midst of the Fire,” please click here.

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Higher Call; Deeper Life

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Higher Call; Deeper Life

"That you... may be able to comprehend... what is the width and length and depth and height." (Eph. 3:18)

"So why is it that more seems to be happening in the kingdom of God on the other side of the world than here in our country?"  Why not here?  Why not now?  This is the question I get from people when I come back from India each year.  I come with stories of the miraculous, great people of courage, and a movement that is unstoppable.  We serve the same Jesus, so what gives?

This being my fourth trip, I may have a little better perspective this time.  It does seem that if you were living in an impoverished country, being persecuted for being a Christian, rejected by your family because of your faith in Christ, then you would be far more cognizant of your need for God, prayer, and faith.  You would be under the constant pressure of knowing that your only hope is in Christ and Christ alone!  And that desperation should cause you to dig deeper for bolder faith.  

To be fair, however, let's not assume that there is no movement of bold Christianity in America or that all Christians in other cultures are bold champions of faith.  But I will conclude that the percentages are different.  When you are being persecuted, your claims for Christ will be far more sincere and meaningful.  It has been easier in America to call yourself a Christian with less fear of consequence.  We have, at least in past history, been able to toss the term around without necessarily being sincere.

But I have done a thorough search of the Bible from cover to cover and I cannot find any excuse for a particular culture or even an individual being anything less than a sincere, faith-filled, bold believer in Christ.

My most convincing find is in the life of the apostle Peter himself.  There is no one more effective and bold than Peter in the early days of the church.  He was healing the sick, raising the dead, and preaching openly with thousands responding to follow Christ.  He was also persecuted.  But that is the discipled, experienced, more mature Peter.  That was Peter after he was filled with the Holy Spirit.  The previous version of Peter – who first met Jesus through the prodding of his brother Andrew, was not a man of significant faith.  He was an uneducated, cussing fisherman.  And in the course of his discipleship experience, discipled by none other than Jesus Himself, he faltered, failed, could not control his tongue, and rebuked the Son of God.  He denied Christ three times, while they were still within sight of one another.  He avoided persecution at great costs.

Peter did not become a world changing, culture challenging, spiritual powerhouse because he was being persecuted or living in a culture that naturally produced stronger Christians.  It's the other way around.  Peter, the early church Peter, was being persecuted because he stirred up so much trouble for the kingdom of darkness.  Peter, in effect, caused the persecution due to his bold faith.

Jesus promised persecution and trouble for the Christian.  He even told us to rejoice in it.  In fact, I wonder if the reason that we have not been more persecuted for our faith is not because God was shielding us due to our level of righteousness.  Maybe the reason we have not been more persecuted is that our version of Christianity has been more acceptable and far less confronting to our culture.  We are more likely to judge our level of success based on how accepted we have become to the culture instead of how different we are than the world around us.  Our Christianity has been confined to our church buildings and private gatherings.  We have done everything possible not to cause persecution.

What strikes me about Peter's journey is that Jesus never gave up on Peter... and Peter always responded to the correction.  In fact every time Peter was such a problem, Jesus would challenge Peter to a higher call with the need of a deeper life.  Then Peter would respond by taking the plunge.  He would always be willing to go to that deeper place and learn what he needed to learn.  He would accept the challenge to change.  He would repent, be restored, and respond with action.

What I am discovering in India are not perfect Christians.  And many of them are having great success, despite lacking as much education or Biblical knowledge as the average committed Christian in the U.S.  But it is not because of the persecution that they are so powerful.  No, it is because of their powerful boldness that they are being persecuted.  And don't you dare feel sorry for them in their presence.  You might be rebuked.  They are rejoicing that they would be considered worthy of such persecution.

I'm encouraging us to take a closer look at that to which we are truly called.  For example, when Peter caught the boatload of fish at the command of Jesus to launch out into the deep, he almost detached himself from Jesus, saying, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord."  Then, within moments, he experienced a complete turnaround when Jesus called him to the higher call of becoming a fisher of men.  Peter's response was to "forsake all and follow Him." (Luke 5:1-11).  We all know that Peter talked big about his willingness to die for Jesus, but failed miserably.  Yet Jesus chased Him down after the resurrection and gave him opportunity to be restored and empowered.  Peter re-engaged with a passion to go higher and therefore the willingness to go deeper. (John 21)

My personal challenge, and my challenge to us as an American church, is to be willing to go deeper for the cause of the higher calling.  I am calling upon myself and those around me to answer these four questions over a period of 21 days…

Width: How can I make more space in my daily time with God to expand my encounter with Him?
Length: What steps can I incorporate during and at the end of my day to help maintain my devotion?
Depth: How can I deepen my experience with God during my personal encounters with Him? Height: What is the higher call and what involvements or actions will I take to apprehend it?

I challenge you to begin your 21 days today!  Simply answer the above questions and follow through with 21 days of practical application.  It takes 21 days to develop a habit.  This process can eventually lead to a life more focused on priorities and action steps to change your destiny.

Will you accept your higher call by way of a deeper life? You may not end up the most popular person in your world, but you will more likely become the bold person of action that causes it to change!

Answer the higher call! Develop the deeper life!

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You Won't Believe This

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You Won't Believe This

"...When Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus."
- Matthew 14:29

I'm going to tell you some things that you will find hard to believe - that is, if you live in the cultural west.  But they are true!  The western rational mind has difficulty venturing outside the "boat" of rationality, as Peter did in the verse above.  We must “see it to believe it.”  It must make sense before we can expect it to happen.  I'm writing this as I am in my third and final week on the eastern side of the world, in southern India, with 800 church-planting pastors from the far corners of this unreached nation. 

The mindsets of the eastern and western cultures are so very different. 

It is evident even in the way eastern drivers drive.  The rules of the road - if there are any - have more to do with the potential of space in the road than lines drawn or laws passed.  You can be passing a car when there is an oncoming truck driving toward you, and both the car in front of you and the truck coming toward you will slide over enough to give you the room to pass.  You heard me right.  At one point in that scenario there are three vehicles side by side on a two lane road with one headed in the opposite direction just because you believed they would make allowance for you.  And that's nothing.  Let’s make it four vehicles.  Add a motorcyclist on the other side of the car in front of you.  He's passing the car on the one side while you are passing it on the other side with a truck racing toward you... and around you.  It's chaos!  I didn't read this in a book.  I've been riding in these vehicles every day for three weeks.  We pay good money to ride roller coasters less thrilling than this!

Let's go a little deeper into your well-structured rational mind.  I am at a pastor's conference.  And a few years ago, when one of the men here became a Christian, he was illiterate and could not even read a newspaper.  But when he opened his Bible, he could read it perfectly as he preached the gospel to his community. 

Did I lose you on that one?  Wait ‘til you hear the next story.

There was a woman in the same predicament.  She had come to Christ but could not read. She would open her Bible and begin to preach, quoting the scripture from that page perfectly.  Except – she was holding her Bible upside down.  Someone noticed it and asked her how she was able to read.  She said it was as though there were a tape recorder in her head quoting the verses. She simply repeated what she heard.  She is here at this conference.  Both individuals from our stories have now learned to read.

I can tell you are wavering.  Let's keep going.

A man in a remote tribe in the mountains of Nepal came to Christ and began to openly preach the gospel for all to hear.  The community was greatly disturbed, and they captured the man, planning to kill him.  But instead, in order to instill fear into the hearts of the tribe, they gouged his eyes out, and left him alive as an example for all to see.  Instead of fading away into oblivion, however, he rose up and declared, "They only took my eyes. I still have my ears to hear the word of God, and my mouth to preach the gospel."  Now there are over 400 believers in this mountainous tribe.  His brothers are here at this conference.

There are pastors here whose wives were executed for being Christian; some of the pastors themselves were stoned for preaching the gospel.  One pastor was formerly a terrorist of believers in Christ.  He was on his way with a mob to burn a church down when suddenly the Holy Spirit convicted him through someone's witness he had previously heard.  He fell to his knees and gave his heart to Jesus!

And these are just some of the stories of the pastors who are attending this conference.  Unbelievable, and yet true. Every story. 

The story that took my breath away belongs to the man in the middle of the picture above.  He is my age.  When he was fourteen someone asked, “How many people do you believe you’ll lead to Christ in your lifetime?”  So... He started walking.  And now, tens of thousands of miles later, he has crisscrossed his state multiple times from village to village, preaching the gospel. He’s responsible for planting over 500 churches, and he trains pastors and leaders as he goes.  His story is rivaled only by the apostle Paul himself. 

I think it is time to open our hearts to a new level of believing.  It would do us good to learn from those who may have less education, less money, and less position and status. 

I, for one, am humbled.  My Christianity is in need of repair.  It hit me really hard two days ago, as I preached in a church where the pastor is reaching the end of his 40 day fast.  In my soft western approach, I asked, "You mean the Daniel fast?"  He laughed.  "No," he said, "I have been doing this every year most of my adult life.  My father, who started this church, is now in his 42nd year of fasting for 40 days – having water only.  I’m being told all of this while his wife and mother are preparing a huge spread of delicious Indian home-cooked food for me, just before I speak to his church of 3000 people - who are also fasting in various ways with the pastor.  They are fasting while I am eating.  I wouldn't have, but one of the brothers said his mother would judge me based on my ability to eat her cooking.  (No pressure!)

By the time you read this, I’ll be back home in my comfortable Christianity wondering if I have been dreaming for the last 23 days.  The question will be, "What have I learned?"  Will I let the power of the western rational mind overtake the call to a greater faith, a deeper life, and a modern day New Testament kind of living happening on the other side of the world?  Or will I join my brothers across the earth in launching out into the deeper waters of faith, and take the necessary steps outside of my boat to bear the fruit to which I am called? 

How deep is your water?  Which side of the boat are you on: inside or outside?  And by the way - a little advice - once you’re out of the boat, keep your eyes on Jesus!  It turns out better that way.

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Who Would Have Thought?

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Who Would Have Thought?

A man's heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.
- Proverbs 16:9


Many people read that verse and interpret it as, "You're wasting your time planning things your way, since God will end up directing your steps anyway.  You don't really have a part to play except to obey God with what He wants.  What you want is irrelevant." 

May I propose a completely different perspective?

God has actually given you the power to plan your way.  It is the plan of God for a man's heart to plan His wayThis is not bad.  This is the way it is.  You see, in your partnership with Him, He expects you to fellowship with Him and be filled with His presence.  And, as a result, you will learn to know His mind and heart in a very natural way.  He teaches you how to think like He thinks.  His goal with you is to work His life, His mission and His character through you, using your mind and heart, your talents and skills, and your personality and background.  

So with that in mind, go ahead... plan your way!  Not without prayer, not without listening to the Spirit's lead; but go ahead and dream!  Think big!  Set goals!  Engage your heart with the impossible! 

Then He will direct your steps. 

In fact, if you read this verse correctly, His directing of your steps is dependent on you planning your way.  In other words, for God to lead you, you must be moving forward in your heart.  Your heart must kick in to the process.  Yes, it is true that God originally planted the seed of vision and desire in your heart and initiated the development of where your heart needed and wanted to go.  And He will help you re-direct the desires and the plans that are not His best.  But make no mistake; it was actually His design for you to be a part of the process. 

His part is to direct your steps. 

As you set a plan and begin to walk out the details of this dream, the Lord is working before you, behind you, both sides, over and under you.  It not only may not happen the way you thought... it definitely will not happen the way you thought.  His way is always higher than yours.  He has paths that you never knew of and may even never understand. 

This afternoon, I found myself sitting across from a young lady attending orientation meetings preparing her for her first life experience after she finishes her senior year in college.   I am in Chennai, India.  And her work will be here at Hindustan Bible Institute, serving as a liaison for short-term missions teams coming here from around the world. 

As we discussed the exciting plans that God has obviously directed her steps toward, I paused, as I was overwhelmed with amazement.  And I said to her,

Joni, who would have thought? 

You see, the girl is my daughter.  One year from now she is slated to travel here, to the other side of the world, to join the staff of a global ministry reaching the unreached people's of the earth for Christ and His kingdom. 

Who would have thought?

Our baby of five children, the quiet little girl who grew up in the shadow of her wide-opened, outgoing siblings, is about to take on the whole world, leave everything behind, and dive into the ocean of the unknown.  How did this happen?  How did we get here? 

When people find out about it, they ask me, "What do you think about this?", expecting me to cringe or act as if I am fearful or disappointed.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, I am amazed.  But I am not shocked.  This has been in Joni's heart for the better part of her life.  She is on her tenth short-term international missions trip, not to mention four local inner city missions excursions she began taking at the age of ten.  Her major in college is International Community Development.  Her dreams have taken her from the streets of Buffalo, New York to Europe, Eurasia, South America, Central America, Asia, and Puerto Rico.  When she wakes up every morning in her room at home, the first thing she sees is a beautiful, colorful map of the world on the wall at the end of her bed. 

Joni has been planning her way in her heart most of her life. 

But how did we get here, in Southern India, preparing for her to move here for at least twelve months next year?  Her minor in Spanish certainly had nothing to do with it.  She has nothing to escape from, in moving here.  She has had a wonderful life.  There is no other answer but that "the Lord directed her steps.  Joni didn't apply for this.  She didn't secretly pull strings to position herself for it, and neither did I.  Not that we couldn't have, but the truth is...  "The Lord directed her steps."  As she pursued her dreams with a heart desiring to serve God, listening to His leading along the way, He opened and shut doors, arranged connections in relationships, and challenged her with difficult leadership responsibilities.  He has led her, prepared her, and trained her for the natural next step in her life.

Joni's heart has been planning her way, but the Lord has directed her steps!

The great thing about that is that everyone around her can see it.  For those who know her, the response is simply, "Of course she is!"  Even her mother and father feel that way.   This is her third trip to India, and my fourth.  We could not be more prepared for this particular adventure.  We know the leaders with whom she will be serving.  I know the buildings where she will be living and working.  The Lord has directed her steps so specifically, the confirmation is intrinsic in the journey.

What plans are in your heart?  What is in the depth of your being that needs the leadership of God to fulfill?  What plans are you submitting to heaven that will stir up the steps of His directions?  The question is not, what is God's plan for your life?  The question is, "What seed has God already put into your heart, waiting for you to think about, meditate on and act on?"  Let what is in your heart grow with passion and planning, and the Lord will direct the steps necessary to fulfill what He had in mind all along. 

Wow! Who would have thought?  Well... He did!  Then... you did!  Then came His steps.  And then came yours!

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Is It Worth It?

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Is It Worth It?

Counting the cost of a dream come true

Have you ever finally reached the top of a personal mountain? Have you ever accomplished a longtime goal, or experienced a vision or dream come true?  Maybe it was getting married to your knight in shining armor, or being promoted to that position you had always wanted.  Maybe you graduated first in your class - or just graduated, hallelujah! 

But now that youve arrived, what's next?  Have you discovered that its hard work to maintain your dream once youre here?  Now that youre on the mountain, you realize you could die up here.  The new position you have been promoted to comes with new, more difficult responsibilities.  Now that youre married, you are quickly learning that it takes lots of work to stay happy. 

Is it worth it?

At the moment of this writing, I am on the other side of the world, alone in a humble little room.  The temperature outside is 93 degrees headed toward 100 by the afternoon.  That would not be so bad, except that the power is out, which means we have no air conditioning, no fans, and no running water.  Even though the power goes down regularly here for a short time due to strategic distribution, this incident has been unusually long and is due to a regional outage.

I have just finished speaking in chapel at Hindustan Bible Institute in Chennai, India.  This morning the short-term missions team thats came with me is at a school of 2000 impoverished Hindu children.   They are presenting the message of Christ through music, drama, Bible verses, and theyre also teaching self-defense for rape prevention.  They have served in medical clinics, visited boys and girls homes, and have even taught classes on how to care for special needs children.  One team member even consulted with farmers on how to prepare their fields for growing crops.  Every day, we are thrown into challenging circumstances where were each considered experts in our field - even if we are not.

Next week, after the team returns home, I will travel by train north to a village where only one white person has shown up in public for as long as some can remember. And that white person was me, last year. I will train regional pastors, speak in churches, and do children's ministry for six days - four sessions a day.  There will be no air conditioning and very little else while I am there.  Then I come back to Chennai and teach all day every day for another week at a pastor's conference of 800 pastors representing five different languages, from the entire nation of India.  All in all, I will have spoken forty times before I am done.  I cannot explain to you the challenge that this is for me - or anyone, for that matter.

So I'm asking myself, "Is it worth it?" The total cost for the 9 member team was $32,000 (by the way, none of which came from the Life Church budget, all came from personal money or from faith supporters).  I will also be away from Carol for over 30 days.  And did I mention that it's hot? Really hot.  Is it worth it?

Almost nine years ago, when we first planted Life Church, I specifically prayed that the Lord would show me where on the planet we were needed the most to get involved; a place where I could give myself in a major way and then lead the church into a high-impact mission partnership to help fulfill the great commission.  This was my dream, my vision, my hope for graduating to a higher level of global impact.

Four years after that, the Lord revealed to me the exact location, people, and partnership.  And now, five years later, we are supporting the training of 20 church-planting pastors, planting 100 churches, leading 10,000 people to Christ in seven years.  On top of that we are now sending teams to come alongside our partners at Hindustan Bible Institute in serving and reaching the people of India with the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Is it worth it?  Are you kidding me?  This is the great commission we're talking about, here!  We are participating in fulfilling the mission that Jesus specifically left for us to do.  "Go and make disciples of all the nations..." 

Yes, dreams fulfilled become hard work.  But the reward is in the joy of serving.  The satisfaction is in seeing others around you blessed and growing.  And the ultimate celebration is in the lives changed when people discover everlasting life in Christ.

What is your dream to fulfill?  Are you afraid that it will not be worth the hard work that it takes to achieve and sustain it?  I have a word of advice for you.  Make sure your dream is worth the sacrifice.  Choose a vision that comes from heaven.  May that new job be a place where you can share the love of Christ.  Let your marriage become a team of ministry to people in need.   After graduation, pursue a career where you can serve your gifts and talents in a way that honors Christ and His kingdom.  And use that financial blessing to advance His kingdom around the world.  Then you can give your whole heart to your dream, knowing that the end of it will be better than its beginning.

Philippians 3:14 says, "I press toward the goal for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." 

 Yes, I'd say it's probably worth it!  What do you think?

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The Father and the Groom

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The Father and the Groom

There are divine moments in our lives during which God reveals Himself to us in ways bold and obvious.  Just three days ago, I found myself in one of those moments big time.  I was standing at the back of the middle aisle of the church sanctuary dressed in a suit and tie, with a boutonnière on my lapel.  Holding onto my left arm was one of the most beautiful and precious people in the world - at least to me.  My daughter, Joy, was about to have her dreams fulfilled.  She was moments away from marrying her knight in shining armor.  And I was moments away from not only giving my daughter away, but going on to conduct the rest of the ceremony as the pastor of the church. 

It was in that moment the depth of my love for my daughter exploded in my heart.  She was mine, a piece of me, a deeply embedded attachment in my soul.  I realized that whatever time we’d had together over the past twenty-four years was not enough.  Our eyes had not gazed into the other's long enough.  Our sweet uninterrupted times had not been slow enough.  Her value to me had not been felt by her sincerely enough. 

Then there was the overwhelming realization that she is truly one of the most incredible humans on the planet.  She is a leader full of compassion for everyone.  She pays attention to every person in the room.  She feels responsible to heal every pain in others around her.  She loves her family, her friends, and even those who may offend her.  What a girl!  What a special human being!  I was honored, humbled, and overwhelmed with a thankful heart.   

And to think I was about to hand her over to another man.  He’d now take on the role of Prince Charming.  I was about to step to the rear, having had my day of being the #1 Man in her life. 

Now, #1 Man, he truly is!  He is a strong, mature, and faithful man.  He is driven by love and excellence.  He is sold out to God.  He is committed to the word and to the mission of God.  And he loves her like no man I have ever seen loves his bride.  It is not just infatuation.  He has already proven several times over, through sacrificial actions, that he is head over heels, madly and firmly in love with my daughter.  On top of that, he is emotionally smitten.  His "drool" over her is mushy and dreamy.  It would be every girl's dream to be in the arms of this kind of man.  I must also admit it doesn’t hurt that he already has a good, stable job.   (I am a father.)

It really wasn't until the next morning, however, in the middle of my quiet time with God alone, that His revealed Word solidified the truth He’d been directing at my inner being all weekend.  The reception was over.  The father-daughter dance was history.   My emotions were hanging out of every cell in my body.  Memories flooded my mind from a lifetime of kisses, hugs, vacations, and Disney princess videos. 

So there it was, tucked away in Colossians 3:14.  One powerful verse revealing a summary of God's call and character: "But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection (completion)."  I have rarely felt so completed.  And I know that is exactly how Joy must have felt.  She will always cherish the moment in her life when her father and her groom were pouring out bucketfuls of love into her heart.  That is perfection!  That is completion!  That is the fulfillment we’re all looking for.

It is not my intent to leave the mothers of the couple out.  They have undoubtedly put in the most work and effort in raising our children.  And as for the father of the groom - Well, let's just say there’s a reason why this young man is the way he is.  

The point of the lesson I learned is this: the image of a father walking with his daughter, preparing to give her to her groom, resonates with the true nature of our relationship with the Father who is at once God, and Jesus, His Son - the Groom.  The Father's love for us is a million times more intense than my love for my daughter.  And Jesus' love for His bride is head over heels ridiculous!!!  Luke 10:21, in the original language, basically says that Jesus "leapt into the air, rejoicing" over his disciples.  That is how He sees us.  He is the groom.  He is madly, head over heels in love with His bride: you and me.  He has sacrificed everything for us.  He is smitten with love for us. 

I am riding high from this revelation of love.  My heart for my daughter is still flowing over.  But it is the love of the Father and the Groom that is piercing my soul today.  What is the level of your revelation of His love?  Do you know that Jesus, the Groom, is head over heels in love with you?  Do you realize that your Father in heaven sees you as His, a piece of Him, a deeply imbedded attachment in His being; that whatever time you have had together alone has not been enough; that your eyes have not gazed into the others' long enough; that your sweet uninterrupted times together have not been slow enough; and that His value of you has not been felt by you sincerely enough?

Go ahead and put your arm in His.  The Father is leading you down the aisle, bursting with love as He joins you with the Groom who is ridiculously in love with you.  Embrace the revelation!  Be complete with the bond of love! 

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Take Down the Flag

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Take Down the Flag

A Kingdom Solution to a Cultural Issue

In the mid 1990s I co-hosted a television program called The Gospel in Black & White that aired in the heart of North Carolina, where I am originally from.  Garland Hunt, the other host, was the founding pastor of Raleigh International Church.  We were working together on building bridges between the races in our region. 

First, a little history...  I grew up a "whistling Dixie" southern white boy raised in the heart of the confederacy.

I lived in Harnett County, North Carolina, just down the road from the home of the national leader of the Ku Klux Klan.  There was a roadside billboard near my house with a huge picture of a man covered in a white sheet with eyeholes.  He was wearing a white coned hat and riding a white horse raised up on its hind legs with big bold letters declaring, "THIS IS KKK COUNTRY!"

When I was young our bus full of peewee football players was driving down a back road one night on the way to a game.  We had to slow down for a roadblock where the KKK was holding a rally in an open field.  They were burning a huge cross in order to motivate the inspiration of the Klan, and to intimidate the race of color. 

Mission accomplished...

There was one small black boy on our team.  As the bus stopped with local Klansmen looking in the windows, we quickly pushed the boy under the seat and covered him with our legs.  I've never seen anyone as scared as that little guy that night.  Most of the pickup trucks parked around that field had confederate flags draped over the rear windows of the cabs. 

As I grew up, I found a strong motivation and call to tear down racial walls.

*   I was responsible for inviting and historically bringing the first black person to our all-white Baptist church.  No one spoke to him.

*   When our high school finally integrated, fights broke out regularly.  I ran for president of the student body on the platform of equality.  My campaign poster was a white hand gripping a black hand.  I lost a few friends but won the election. 

*   Later, as an adult, I moved back to North Carolina to pastor a small church in the town where I lived as a newborn.  The KKK had scheduled a parade down Main Street.  I organized a seven day prayer walk around the town leading up to the day of their parade.  And for some "strange unknown reason," they called and cancelled the parade the night before.  The next day our church service mysteriously gained several new couples from the black community.  None knew of our prayer walk.  It was the power of prayer.

*   A few years later I sat down with the principal of a large, well-known all-white private  Christian school, built in the '60s to avoid public racial integration.  I challenged him to invite a black pastor to be the first African American to ever speak in chapel to the students and faculty.  They opened the door to Pastor Garland Hunt who had the students standing on their feet and shouting, "I love black people, I love black people," at the top of their lungs! 

The Gospel in Black And White TV program was a first of its kind.  The format of the program was that we would address a current racial issue hot in the news for the first third of the program.  Then we would open our Bibles and ask the question, "What does the Bible say about this?"  We presented a Kingdom of God view of how to address these issues in our culture.  The answers were not democratic, nor republican.  It was never political.  We simply looked at the problems of our world through Kingdom eyes. 

One day the issue of the confederate flag being flown at the South Carolina Capitol became news again.  So I opened the Bible to our Southern public region, turned to Romans, chapter 14, and shared the principle of how to avoid offending your brother.  The issue in Paul's day was eating food that had been sacrificed to idols.   In New Covenant Christianity you were free to eat.  But out of respect for people whose consciences were bothered by this, he told them to refrain from offending them, and not to eat idol food in their presence.  Romans 14:19 says, "Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another." 

Paul's prescribed wisdom in Romans is a perfect principle for the confederate flag issue.  This is a free country.  You can own a confederate flag.  You have the right to display it.  You have the right to appreciate and teach your children a broader historical value of what it may have once represented to many people.  You may express your opinion that it has little to do with racial issues.  Even I understand the importance of states rights, for which most southerners were fighting in the civil war.  The problem was... those rights at the time included slavery.

And in my lifetime, Ive seen that flag become a symbol of racial hatred, bigotry, and segregation.  It is the flag of choice of radical white extremists.   It now symbolizes the degradation of human dignity and is an offense to millions of people.  It is not our national flag.  It is not a state flag.  There is nothing moral or sacred about it.  It has become a stumbling block. 

The flag was removed in 2000 from the top of the State Capitol to a memorial in front of the Statehouse steps, flying 30 feet high.  Its presence is still felt strongly and has remained a source of contention.  As this blog is being posted, the S.C. state senate has voted to remove the flag.  The state house will now debate.

In my opinion, the Kingdom approach to this problem would take about ten minutes to solve.  Remove the flag from the Statehouse grounds. 

And to my southern culture I would encourage a little humility.  Let's take down the flag, and put it in a museum to remind us of one of our darkest moments in history.  But in order to demonstrate a desire to move forward in unity with people of a different race, let's take down the flag!  This does not have to be a political issue.  This does not have to be about political correctness.  I, for one, am a believer in stronger states rights.  But to me this is a no-brainer. 

However, there are those who will never agree.  Following the Gospel in Black and White program, I received serious hate mail and threats.

Lord, teach us to humble ourselves, wash the feet of our brothers and sisters, and serve them with respect and honor.  This is the way of Christ.  This is the way of the cross.  This is Kingdom culture solving world issues.  This is the demonstration of Christ-likeness on the earth.

 

Photo credit: Laurent Ternaux, Creative Commons

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What America Needs...

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What America Needs...

Every Fourth of July I am sobered yet more severely by the distance between where we have come and where we are going as a nation.  I am not a fatalist.  I do see good.  I am encouraged by signs others seem to miss.  I have not lost all hope, as many have.  In fact, I am bothered by the shouts of those around me: Were going to hell in a hand basket! (Whatever that means.) It's the sign of the end times. Buckle down the hatch! Don't have any more children. You might as well give in to the avalanche.

My head is not in the sand.  You've heard the illustration of the frog who was put in the pot when the water seemed fine, only to discover that someone slowly turned up the heat until he was cooked.  I would say that in the last few years somebody moved that knob from slow cook to high.  "Wait, what are those bubbles that are beginning to form around the bottom's edge?" 

So don't misunderstand me.  I see the problems.  And it is overwhelming.  Never in my lifetime did I think that, in America, 1) I would be watching my religious freedoms erode before my eyes, or 2) that evil would be so bold as to aggressively behead Christians in front of the whole world, with few in America seeming to care, or 3) finding it hard to convince even the church that legalized abortion which has led to the government-approved death of 55 million children since Roe vs Wade - is still the most important issue on the political table.  And now, 4) the Supreme Court changes the definition of marriage that originated with God Himself.

No, my head is not in the sand.  But while the heat is on the rise, why not ask the most important question? 

What is it that America really needs?

What America needs is a true demonstration of Christ and His kingdom!


We have recently seen an amazing example of this.

On Wednesday, June 17th, a 21-year-old man attended a prayer meeting at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  While these faithful believers prayed, studied the Bible, and even showed some love to their new visitor, Dylann Roof plotted to methodically pull the .45 caliber from his waist pack and murder nine innocent Christians of a different color, with the hope of starting a race war. 

I have seen violence in our nation.  I have been appalled by the deterioration of the human condition.   This is one of the worst, no matter how you look at it.

But I hope you have been able to peel past the political rhetoric and take note of the response of the families of the victims, the church, and the community.  We are seeing one of the greatest witnesses of Christ in the culture in my lifetime. 

Within hours, the families of Dylanns victims publicly forgave him for his horrific acts.  They prayed and hoped he would find Christ in the days ahead.  The community massively responded in support of these families, their church, and the implications of racial terrorism.  Not only was the Sunday service packed, but thousands stood outside in the streets, listening to the service via an outdoor sound system. 

And in order to highlight the point I am making, I want you to hear the words of the preacher in that pulpit Sunday morning, boldly proclaiming what every listening ear needed to hear.  The Rev. Norvel Goff, now the appointed interim pastor of this church declared "The doors of the church are open. No evildoer, no demon in hell or on earth can close the doors of Gods church. Lots of folks expected us to do something strange and to break out in a riot. Well, they just don't know us.  We have shown the world how we as a group of people can come together and pray and work out things that need to be worked out."  According to CNN, the congregation stood and cheered.

In my opinion, the whole body of Christ should stand up and not only cheer, but wake up out of the inoculation of its stupor, to rise up and be what God has called us to be!

What does America need?  America needs for you and me to get out of our comfort zones and be the answer to the problems.  It's not the government.  It's not the media.  It's the Church that has allowed a decline.  And it is the Church that can turn the tide. 

I do not wish tragedy on anyone.  And God had nothing to do with the evil motives of the devil and Dylann Roof.  But let the church learn to rise up and respond to the chaos of our day. Let us act like real Christians, loving our enemies and bringing peace to our communities.  May the people of Emanuel AME lead us to the higher call of who we are in our culture.

What does America need?

What America needs is a church that is the light of the world and the salt of the earth!

Is the problem that the nation is not Christian?  Or is the problem that Christians are not discipling the nation?  Jesus did not say, "Make nations Christian."  He said, Make disciples of all the nations." Then the nations will take care of themselves. 

May I suggest that instead of noticing only what America has become, we take a hard look at who we, the Church, have become?  We are largely without influence.  We have hidden behind walls.  We have lived double lives - one at church and another in the community. 

We have not loved the world.  We have separated ourselves from the world.  Even if we say that we do not hate, it does not mean that we have loved.  Lack of relationship is lack of love expressed. 

So, instead of huffing and puffing and getting angry about what the world is doing to your nation: Rise up! Give of your life in service to others, earn the right to be heard, and love them.  Love them when they disagree with you.  Love them when they change your laws.  Love them when they hurt you.  Love them when they kill your loved ones. 

Jesus did!  Even as they were killing Him, He said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

That is what America needs.

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A Man's Man

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A Man's Man

A MAN'S MAN

We live in a chaotic culture quickly changing the traditional definitions of roles and genders.  The one that we give little attention to is the true definition of a man.  What makes a man a man?  What expectations should he feel obligated to fulfill?  Is there a foundational description every man should seek to follow?  Are there any good models of what that should look like

Is it Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Gates, or Dalai Lama?  We are so inundated with the images of Hollywood and cultural media in general that we are truly confused at the end of the day; so confused that Bruce Jenner's transformation to "Caitlyn" is thought of as the next obvious step in an already "definition-less" culture of "anything goes". 

Now I'm the first to admit the culture I grew up in did not always get it right.  The good ol' days of yesteryear were not consistently pretty behind the scenes.  In my childhood, I thought my world was rather perfect.  But as I got older I discovered that addictions, abuse, and adultery were significant problems in men that I admired on both sides of my family. 

But if you will allow me, I would like to use my own father as an example of both one who first embodied a traditional definition of manhood, and one who transformed over the years into more of what I think God is really looking for in a man.  

Daddy went to heaven fourteen years ago this week.  It is difficult for me not to think of him as anything but a man's man.  He was of strong character, faithful, disciplined, and worked no less than three jobs at a time. He served in the Navy, worked as a career fireman on an Army base, became the town building inspector, and handcrafted picture frames for thousands of people.  He disciplined his two boys immediately following the first line of disobedience.  (I have vivid memories to prove it!)   And he would not let us quit or settle for mediocrity in anything we did.  He was a man's man in anyone's book at the time.

I would like to focus on the changes I saw my father go through over the years as he discovered for himself a better definition of manhood in His search for God's best in his life.  His transformation from cultural manhood to a more Godly kind of man is an example of what I think God is after in our striving to be "real men." 

Wesley didn't start out very spiritual.  He certainly couldnt show any emotion or passion for God.  That would not be considered very "manly."  He was a hard man, rough, and at times harsh.  He had a basic faith in God, but probably believed more in his own pragmatic determination and dedication than in God's grace and favor for true success in life. 

Over the years, however, he slowly but surely went through incredible change.  By the end of his life, without losing the positive characteristics of his culture's manliness, Wesley was far more gentle, loving, and even sweet.  His love for God was more open and passionate.  His faith expanded to believe for the impossible.  He was a tender man, expressing love - even shedding tears - more often than before.

There are three things from my perspective that served to change my dad's life. I believe these things would be good for all men to consider.

1). He eventually listened to the other gender in his marriage.  It went against the grain of his culture, but he slowly learned that God had given them to each other to learn to do life better together.

Listen, my mother had a lot to do with her husbands growth.  She was constantly challenging him to chase after God's fullness and best.  If it was in the Bible then she wanted it to happen in her life - and his!

I don't think we would have had nightly devotions in our home, attended church every Sunday, or discovered the wonder of the scriptures if it hadn't been for "Wesley's wife."  He was hardheaded and stubborn.  But I have to hand it to him; he humbled himself and listened to his wife. It's God's way, you know. 

2). Daddy sought to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  It was the summer after my freshman year in college.  For Christmas that year, Id given him the complete set of cassette tapes (yes, I'm that old) of Oral Roberts teaching an entire college semester class called "Holy Spirit in the Now"!  For months daddy drove back and forth to work, an hour away, listening to those tapes.  One day when mother and I were home, we greeted him as he walked in the door from his long drive.  What we saw on daddy's face was totally unlike him, yet so genuine we could not deny it.  His cheeks were flushed and his eyes were glazed over with the same tears that streamed down his face. His countenance contained a joy and a peace I had never seen in my father.  Cradled in his arms were the thirteen tapes of anointed teaching that had made it into his heart.  Theyd become the tool of God to force the issue Jesus predicted in John 7:38, "He that believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."  Daddy had been filled with the Holy Spirit.  That day alone was a landmark day in my father's understanding of true manhood.  God, Almighty, Supreme and Sovereign, had surprised him with a love and passion for his life that overtook his soul and rearranged his heart. 

3). The one other thing that fine-tuned my dad's transition from cultural manhood to Godly manhood was the influence of his church life.  Daddy became a more understanding father by leading the boys ministry, the Royal Ambassadors.  He learned spiritual leadership through his years of being a deacon.  And most of all, daddy embraced the many different personalities and types of people in the church.  His patience for people to change increased and his growing respect for the dignity of every person deepened, as he consistently built relationships and worked through conflicts of local church people dynamics.

In the end, it was the man lying in the casket I respected the most.  Over 400 people were at his wake.  Every person there praised him for his faithfulness, integrity, and honor.  And what I will never forget is what I heard from so many young men in the community, as they stepped up to pay their respects to our family.  Some were builders, others city employees, local firemen, or just those who grew up in the same church.  "Your daddy was like a father to me," or, "Wesley was one of the greatest men to ever live in this community." 

What is the definition of a man's man?  Well, I have my earthly father and my Heavenly Father to thank for the answer to that one.  "I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting." 1 Timothy 2:8.

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The Reveal

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The Reveal

The most incredible REVEAL (revelation) of all time seems to be hidden from most people in a given day.  What if I told you that the mystery of the universe, the purpose of all things, has been blatantly revealed in an obvious way - yet we are blind to it? We can't see the forest for the trees.  It would be like standing in the middle of a wonderfully full garden of fruit and vegetables - and wondering where our next meal is coming from.  We must open our eyes and realize: Its right there in front of us!

A bold example of this just recently happened in the Middle East.  ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq & Syria), which began in 2013, is targeting Christians for persecution, and killing them by stoning, beheading, hanging, and other violent acts.  But in the middle of total chaotic evil, in the darkest of places, God has revealed Himself in a powerful way.

An Islamic State militant, who we will refer to as "Saul", was known for his brutal killing of Christians - even enjoying the massacres.  But Saul began to notice that Christian after Christian refused to deny their Lord, even after being given the opportunity to spare their lives by rejecting their Christianity.  Instead, they willingly sacrificed their lives for Him.  Saul began having dreams at night of this "Man in White" who would come to him and say, "You are killing my people!" He began feeling sick and uneasy about his deplorable acts. 

Then one day, just before Saul brutally took the life of another Christian, his victim declared, "I know you will kill me.  But I give to you my Bible."  Saul finished his slaying, but took the Bible and actually began reading it.  The next time Saul dreamed about the Man in White, the Man asked him to follow Him!  Now Saul knew who this "Man" was.  Saul sought out a missionary in the region and became a follower of Jesus Christ. 

This may remind you of the story of another man named Saul who would became Paul, the leader of the missions effort of the early church.  You can find this current events story here.

For more than 50 years, I have searched for the simplest way to define who God is and what He is up to.  The answer to the second question will lead you to the first 

GOD IS REVEALING HIMSELF! 

This is what He is up to.  This is His mission.  This is His purpose.  Even before time began, God was in the process of revealing Himself.  Lucifer, the highest-ranking angel of God didnt really know God yet.  If he had, he would have never tried to be like Him!   When a third of the angels followed Lucifers leading and rebelled against God, Gods response was to create a new being: one made in His image.  This new creature, mankind, would be the instrument through which God would REVEAL Himself to the principalities and powers.   And though man did not choose to fulfill that purpose in the beginning, Jesus gave His life so that we could be the "new creation" - a people who would finish what God had started in the beginning. 

Ephesians 3:10-11 says,  "To the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God (the many sides of understanding of who God is and what He is doing) might be made known (revealed) by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord."  

Lucifer and his demonic angels are a lost cause.  They have been destined for the eternal pit.  But God's kingdom is in process of redeeming those who will believe.  And in addition, He is establishing an eternal demonstration where the Father is revealed in His fullness, not only to mankind, but to the principalities and powers with which we will spend eternity.

Not only is God revealing Himself, but He is revealing Himself through us!

Our mission statement at Life Church is as follows:

GOD REVEALS HIMSELF THROUGH US

TO REACH EVERY MAN, WOMAN, AND CHILD

WITH A DEMONSTRATION OF CHRIST AND HIS KINGDOM

It's all about the demonstration.  You and I have been placed on the planet to live and love one another, to be productive and accomplish God's mission together.  We cannot do that without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit.  It is the power of "Christ in us" through the work of His Spirit that leads us to a correct and dynamic demonstration of who He is and what Hes doing. 

What we are now living out on earth will eventually find its fullness in eternity.  The Bible refers to it as the new earth and new heaven.  You may have heard this referred to as, "The End."  But in actuality it is, "The New Beginning."

We are "The Reveal"!  We are not perfect until the new beginning, but we are changing... changing by His grace into the image of Christ. 

Our friend, Saul, the former militant ISIS executioner, began to see THE REVEAL in the dedication of those who died for their faith.  With that witness, the Holy Spirit began bringing conviction to his heart.  Jesus revealed Himself to the current day Saul and connected him to a man who knew how to lead him to the throne of grace, mercy, and power. 

Can you identify your life and how you are living it within the context of THE REVEAL?  Are you demonstrating Christ and His kingdom in your relationship with other believers in a way that shows His love and goodness?  Are there unbelievers in your life who look at your dedication, grace, and love, and see cause for the Holy Spirit to bring conviction to their hearts - offering a pathway for redemption?

 Get up tomorrow morning and answer your call.  It is your purpose in life!  You were created for this cause!  Rise up and be "THE REVEAL!"

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