Who is Presidential?

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Who is Presidential?

What a crazy ride this election campaign has been… And I'm sure we have much more to look forward to. (Help!!!) Sometimes I can't decide if I'm watching a comedy or a horror movie. 

This year has been full of corruption, power plays, mudslinging and narcissism. This is true to some extent in every election.  But this time the attacks have been lowered to a junior high level of playground name calling and irrelevant verbal garbage. Maybe junior high is a little too advanced for this crowd, actually. 

One of the media commentators recently accused a candidate of not being "presidential." So, what does that really mean? 

When I think about what I want in a president, I think in terms that would align with great leadership, moral character, and principled values. Here is my checklist to determine who I will vote for.  If no one running meets these principles, then I just might write your name in. See if you pass the test.

You are presidential if you have...

Principled Values

Technically, everyone operates their life and decision-making out of their value system, whether good, bad, righteous, or evil. So if you are a candidate, I want to know, "What are your basic core values?" You don't have to give me a list of what you believe - just start talking. Your core values will come out in what you say, how you say it, and how you react to what someone else says.  Your past behavior will tell me a lot, though I give you the right to prove that you have changed where needed.

What do I mean by "principled" values? The Christian way of saying it would be "godly values.” But I am not necessarily looking for you to be an outspoken, church talkin' Christian. I do want your values, however, to be founded on Judaeo-Christian values of righteousness and human dignity. I think it helps if you are a believer in Christ, since that is where these values originate.  But I would rather have a non-Christian who possesses these same values and great leadership skills, than a strong believer who has no leadership skills or experience to be president. 

Proven Validity

I need to know that if you are going to be my president, then you have a level of successful leadership experience that will not make the jump to the Oval Office too much of a stretch. Once you are there, you will have many hats of responsibility - whether you fit into them or not. Life and death issues are at stake. Staying sharp when all hell breaks loose is required. You will have to have done more than build a successful business, or have enough good lawyer skills to win an argument.  "Presidential" implies a broad level of proven experience that has been validated in the trenches prior to taking the highest office in the land.  I don't mind that you are a business man, a lawyer, or an actor, for all that matters; as long as your acting career is not the only thing I have to measure you by. 

Powerful Vision

I need for you to have vision big enough to get us back on a positive track to health, strength, growth, and righteousness. Can you give me the big picture? One that looks right, sounds believable, and captivates my attention? It's one thing to have the vision, but can you also communicate it well enough for all to understand and want to follow?  Ben Carson - someone I was greatly interested in - seemed to have everything necessary to be president except for the single quality of communicating vision. If you listened long enough, you might have agreed with everything he said, but he could not communicate it powerfully enough to keep momentum his way. 

Political Valor

Will you be able to make courageous political decisions? Will you be able to push proper political causes that are not popular with other politicians, but do reflect the person we thought we were electing? Please be who you said you were and do it boldly!

Productive Volunteers

If you don't have followers, then I am not interested. You are evidently not a leader. And I'm not talking about how many people you might have on a payroll.  Of course, they will follow.  And if your followers are simply loud, angry, mouth throttling big talkers who are following because you are a brazen bigwig, a great entertainer, or know how to effectively use social media, then I'm still not interested.

I'm looking at the people who follow you and asking myself, "Are these people the productive people in our culture? Are they motivated enough to volunteer and work with you to accomplish your vision and sensible enough to be motivated for the right reasons?” If you have that, then I am not only impressed, I might even join your cause. 

You might look at my list and say, "Well, nobody is perfect. How can anyone meet all of those standards?" 

I'm not looking for perfection… Far from it. But I am looking for "presidential," which requires not just anyone, but someone who at least meets the qualifications above. Don't just give me a leader.  Give me a great leader, a seasoned and respected leader - a righteous leader.

I want my president to be PRESIDENTIAL!

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The Rise of Leadership

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The Rise of Leadership

"...Arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people..." (Joshua 1:2)

In case you haven't noticed, the greatest need in our country, and in any country for that matter, is that of quality, value-driven, Godly, leadership. That kind of leadership should be rising to the forefront of a broken and desperate world from the Kingdom of God.

There are three problems as I see it. 1)  The lack of courage to be that kind of leader. 2) The lack of development of those kinds of leaders, and 3) The unwillingness to gracefully release those leaders into their greater levels of calling.

Certainly I do not claim to be the expert in these matters. But pay attention. What is about to transpire at Life Church Buffalo is one example of what I am referring to.

This Sunday, the man in the picture above will be at our church with his family to celebrate their homecoming. Peter Jankowski is accepting the call to move to Buffalo this June, join the leadership team as co-pastor, and then in the Spring of 2017 step into the role of lead pastor. 

This was announced in last week's blog. You can refer to that post, if you have not yet read the details.

As the current lead pastor of the church, I have the awesome opportunity to lead a transition that will not only set the course for a long solid future for our church, but also give the open space for Pete's call to leadership.

The following is an open letter to Pete from me. Let's all learn together as we answer heaven's call to lead and give greater opportunity for the rise of strong leadership. 

When a leader advances, those who follow advance with him.

Dear Peter,

There are four memories that I will always cherish about you. The first is the day I met you at an early Sunday morning weekly discipleship meeting that I was leading. You were introduced to me as a man called to ministry.  My first thought was, "Well, we will see." And here I am, more than 10 years later, partnering with you to take my place in the days ahead. I guess whatever I needed to see, I have seen clearly now.

The second is when you first started dating Kelly. I felt somewhat responsible at that time for Kelly and was committed to protecting her. You and I butted heads right off the bat and have respected each other every day since. Man, what a match made in heaven... both matches.  You and Kelly were absolutely made for one another. But little did we know that God was also orchestrating a relay team, where one day I would be passing the baton of leadership into your hands.

The third memory is that of you and Kelly showing up at our house Sunday afternoon, October 1st, 2006 with a handful of other brave souls to look me in the face and pledge your support upon the surprise announcement of the planting of the new church. You began to be a servant-leader that day as you volunteered to be the bookkeeper. (More accurately, I think it was Kelly who volunteered you.)

The fourth memory is our Sunday afternoons together for so many years. You and Kelly (and the boys after they came along) gathered with us like family after church, cooking dinner and cheering on the Buffalo Bills. Good thing not everyone saw us in our heathen-like reactions to all of those last minute losses. We might have been asked to go on sabbatical for counseling. 

All of that to say that I loved the man that you have been in our lives. We have enjoyed life together and have kicked down a few gates of hell along the way.

But that was then.

Today is a new day!  You are a new man, entering a new season of leadership and calling in your life. You shuffled off to Columbus for a few years and grew in leaps and bounds. I am impressed with the man that you have become. And, by the way, hats off to Pastor Tim Moore, who gave you the space for leadership development at Crossroads Church. You are ready for the new assignment. God is with you. We are with you.

What you are about to do is not much different from the disciple Peter stepping out of the boat and walking on water. It is new territory with a new load of calling (responsibility) and a new demand on your soul, not only "not to sink," but to victoriously ride the waves of God's mission and movement.

You will lead with vision which God will give you and you alone - at least at first.  He won't necessarily give you all of it, just the parts that you need to move forward. But the vision will be yours before it becomes the vision of the church. How you lead people to join you in that vision will take God's wisdom and a lot of patience. 

You are the man! This is your calling. This is your destiny. And God will give you the grace to succeed in all that He has given for you to do.

Coming back to the church and the people who know you and love you has huge advantages and one minor challenge.

The advantage is that there is already a huge base of support as you walk in the door. You are respected. They know that you are a man of integrity, a man with his priorities in the right place, and a man who loves with all of his heart. It also doesn't hurt that you are married to probably the most loved person in our fellowship from day one. They are going to give you grace just because of her. :) 

However, the challenge will be that you are not the same person that you were four years ago.  This was not just any four years of your life. It was your major growth spurt as a leader. First, you are in that phase of life - late thirties - where highly motivated leaders find their footing and prove their worthiness of advancement to the role of leading people of all ages. Secondly, you have taken your call seriously and have engaged as a life-long student of leadership. Thirdly, this was your season to reveal what has been in your heart for many years. You knew you were called. But Crossroads Church gave you the opportunity to demonstrate it. You were like a wild horse ready for the race and finally released from the starting gate. …Congratulations on your victory.

Now it will be our challenge to allow you to be the person you have become and are becoming.  May the people of Life Church Buffalo shift from their past view of you and take the time to get to know the new Pete, the one that is not only our friend, but has risen to the place of becoming our leader.

There is much more to communicate in the days ahead. But I begin with these words of advice to the leader of a church. I don't claim to have always adhered to these principles. But I have learned, sometimes the hard way, these are the most important things.

1) Prioritize the hidden place of personal prayer and growth. A good portion of every week should be devoted to that alone. Don't let your vision for ministry get in the way of your vision for God Himself.

2) Give your family the time and focus that they deserve. Ministry - the kind that has eternal value - will flow out of your relationship with Kelly, the boys, and future Jankowskis.  Your work has a 24-hour demand. So don't shy from taking daytime hours with your family when needed. 

3) Give the bulk of your relational hours to leaders and potential leaders. Begin with leaders you can learn from, then leaders you can hang with. Then pour your life into the leaders that will help you lead a healthy, growing vision of the church.

Be that kind of leader that God has called you to be. Don't let the expectations and demands of the American cultural church of the past pull you into frazzled chaos. Stay focused. It can be a lonely place. But the rewards are worth it.

You are the man! I believe in you! Can't wait to applaud you at the finish line!

Let's change the world together!

Craig McLeod

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A Big Decision and Its Impact

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A Big Decision and Its Impact

A huge decision has been made which impacts a lot of people. The following is that announcement and some thoughts on how to respond when your life is affected by the decisions of others. 

Put on your seat belts and get ready for a great adventure. This is a big announcement and it's a "game-changer." Over the next year, those two dudes in the picture (Peter Jankowski and I) are both accepting the challenge to go through major transitions.

Peter is joining the staff of Life Church Buffalo (where I am currently the lead pastor) in June of this year as co-pastor; and will, by the Spring of 2017, transition into the role of lead pastor.  

Peter and Kelly were among a handful of people who started Life Church Buffalo in our living room in 2006. They are both loved and respected by all who know them. Pete left Buffalo over three years ago and has been serving on staff at a church in Columbus, Ohio. He has been knocking it out of the park as a pastor and leader. Those who know Peter and Kelly and have watched their lives know that they are ready for this new challenge of leadership. 

I am so excited, I can shout!!! 

That leads to the next question... What about me? What is my future?

This next year I, too, will be transitioning to a new role in ministry in God's kingdom. I will be joining a global church planting movement that is planting thousands of churches on the other side of the world. My role will be to help pastors and churches in North America learn how to partner with the global church to take the witness of Christ to every corner of the planet. 

The organization, its location, and leadership are not being mentioned here on Facebook to protect those involved. As you know, the spreading of the good news of Christ does not always get a friendly reception. For those who want more details, you may message me privately, call, or text me. 

My new title will be "Director of Church Mobilization for Global Impact."  In effect, I will shift to missionary status, and begin traveling primarily across North America, coaching pastors and churches in how to team up and fulfill the "Great Commission." Though I will travel oversees occasionally, I will not need to move to another nation. But, like a missionary, I will be raising my own support and will transitionally pass the baton of leadership of our local church to the next pastor, Peter Jankowski.

Wow! That was a mouth full. News like this has many different responses. Shock and awe, for starters.  Celebration and tears.  For some, it may mean a shift in relationship status. For others it simply raises many questions. And then there are those who may have little interest or connection. 

But let me challenge you to read on and gain insight as to how to properly respond to the decisions of others that have high impact in your life. And in the process, I will explain a little of how this decision came about and why.

When someone - especially a family member, friend, or leader - in your life makes a major decision, it often has significant impact on you personally. Here's a little wisdom on how to process and proceed in a healthy, positive way.

...Take the time to process wisely

The shock of any decision made by someone else that changes your life in some capacity can immediately raise a mixture of emotions. In this case there is cause, on the one hand, for celebration that the Jankowskis are returning home and accepting a call to leadership at their home church. This will have tremendous impact on Western New York and especially the people at Life Church Buffalo. Pete and Kelly are awesome people who are highly motivated to change the world. 

But then there is this little thing of Craig transitioning out of his role. Certainly some, though happy for me and my future, might be anticipating a sense of loss in relationship or leadership dynamic. I totally get it. But let me encourage you to give yourself time for assimilation. Once you hear the whole story and see the big picture, you may shift from sadness to excitement. 

What is happening here is not a negative. It is all positive. The decision was not made by force, due to uncontrollable circumstances. It is not due to the death of the pastor (not to my knowledge anyway) or for health reasons. There is not a problem in the church behind the scenes. There are no hidden agendas or power plays being made. After processing the surprise, you may discover a vision bigger than life and one worth participating in. Don't let the initial insecurities of the unknown keep you from experiencing the rewarding ride ahead. Jesus is on the move. Don't miss the great adventure.

...See the big picture

While initial thoughts may be about immediate consequences, lift your eyes for a few moments and see the bigger thing that is happening. The take-off in an airplane is always a little unnerving. But the thought of your destination will keep you focused and get you on track as you head in the right direction. 

This particular decision was for the planning of a healthy future for the church that I pastor. Life Church Buffalo holds a special place in my heart as its founder. These have been the best ten years of my life in ministry. This is a strategic move to set the future of this church on a positive and impactful course. When I look back on my life, my greatest achievement will be that I have left behind a healthy growing church that is reaching its current culture with the powerful message of Christ and His love.

It will be hard for some to understand. But this plan has been in the back of my mind for several years. As this year rolled around, it became clear to me from heaven that the time was now. And to think, I am passing the baton to one who is like a son and brother to me! If you think about it, it's not as big a step as some may think.

...Anticipate with faith

God is always changing and rearranging the game board for high impact. His sights are on the completion of a mission; a mission that you are invited to participate in. He knows about these things before you do (and before the leader does). And He knows how you fit into the process and the outcome. He knows how you will grow. He knows how your gifts and talents will come to the surface and engage in the mission. You have relationship with the same God who led the leader to make the decision. His plans for you are only greater and more fulfilling.

And even if you are not sure that you agree with the decision, God is still on the throne: look to Him. He has a way of turning your plan B into His plan A so that you may accomplish great exploits for His kingdom. 

Thank you for all who will be praying and believing for successful future ministry. The best is yet to come.  I hope you will get on board and take the ride with us. We have only one thought in mind, and that is to follow God's lead to complete the mission. 

Let's change the world together!

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Together, We Can Change the World

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Together, We Can Change the World

I was recently in the downtown part of our city in the middle of a snowstorm while the temperature reached 0 degrees and below. I saw a man with a pack on his back, wading through the snow, obviously without a home and in need of shelter. He was freezing to the bone, cringing to stay warm, and tired from walking from whatever bridge he lived under. 

What difference can I make? The need is so overwhelming. I live in the suburbs. It's out of my reach, not on my radar. I don't have time. That's someone else's ministry.

It's hard to believe that people live under bridges and on the streets through the winters of Buffalo, New York. My eyes have been opened in recent years. The need is overwhelming.  I don't care what you think about a homeless person - how they got there, whose fault it was, or the need to be more responsible. I am the first to preach personal responsibility and the need to go get a job. But when someone is trying to make it through the night in below-freezing temperatures, it's time to do something! 

I am probably more aware than most suburbanites of the needs in the city. As a pastor I get around. However, I will be the first to admit that I get wrapped up in my own world and am very focused on one foot landing in front of the other. The fact that someone could die tonight about 20 minutes away from where I live because they do not have warm clothing or a warm place to sleep is nowhere on my radar screen. It's not that I am not motivated, I just don't know how I can help.

So the question is how do I help? 

How does a Christian help? How do we obey the call and serve the needs of people living desperate lives? Practically speaking, I really do not expect the people in our church to leave work at 5pm, go downtown to bridges and back alleys to hunt for people who are stranded outside in the middle of a snowstorm. And I'm the last person that will make them feel guilty about it. I struggle wondering how to get involved myself.

But there is an answer, and it's not that hard. Really it boils down to one word... 

Together.

The key to successfully changing the world is all about doing it together. As the Bible says, "By which every part does its share." (Eph. 4:16)

The City Mission in Buffalo is one of the best ministries of its kind I have encountered.  But they cannot do it alone. It takes a lot of money, volunteers, and contributions of clothing and personal items to keep things going. It also takes the fine-tuned communication channels that connect the dots from the homeless person in the cold to the average suburbanite sitting in our services on Sunday mornings. 

Here is a layout of what just happened this past Sunday in our city and how Life Church Buffalo had an impact.

-       The temperature dropped below 32 (down to 0 and below).

-       The city declared "Code Blue" and several shelters, including the City Mission moved into action.

-       Some people walked to the facility.  But others were picked up in vans by people who know the streets. (These vans are gassed, bought and paid for by yours and my contributions.)

-       They walk in the door and are given opportunity for a meal, a shower, and a cot to sleep on.  By the way - that meal is only waiting because people like you and I paid for it.

-       Then they give each person a new sweat suit to help keep them warm when they go back out in the cold in the morning. Many nights, they do not have enough sweat suits. Those items come from people like us. 

That's where we came in.

Amy Goldsmith (a member of our congregation) knew that the City Mission needs a person like her in every church to be a volunteer representative. She stays connected and learns of how we can help.

Then she connects the dots.

The Mission’s most recent request was for 36 sweat suits for the Code Blue nights. That does not meet the Mission’s total need. But it is what they were asking a single church to do.

-       Amy wrestles with the pastor's schedule and discusses the need, hoping it will not fall between the cracks of his busyness.

-       Then the pastor puts it on the agenda for Sunday's service.

-       This past Sunday, we laid out info sheets on the front of the stage and challenged everyone to sacrifice a little time, go to the store, buy a sweat suit, and return it to the church building that same day. The need was immediate.

-       They did. The call was for 36 sweat suits. They brought back 78 plus other warm items. 

-       I delivered them to the City Mission. I could have had a volunteer do it, but I didn't want to be left out.

 

Go team!

This is how it works!  We have an impact when we work together!

Imagine, Joe Shmo from our church, is in line at the judgment day when this character behind him taps him on the shoulder and says... "Remember that day when you clothed me while I was out on the street freezing to death and as a result later gave my heart to Christ?" 

Of course, Joe remembers nothing. 

The man then says, "Maybe you remember going to Walmart after church one day and spending $20 on a red sweat suit and taking it back to the church building. Well, when the man at the City Mission gave me that sweat suit, my heart melted. Later that week, while trying to make it back to the City Mission on another cold night, I realized the sweat suit was saving my life. This time, at the Mission, I finally gave my heart to Christ. It was your love and simple sacrifice that made the difference."

My point here is that we are one unit working together. The effort is not just enacted by one part of the body, it is the whole body.  We, the Body of Christ, Are the City Mission!

What we learned a few days ago is a powerful lesson. 

Church people sitting in the pews are not necessarily hardhearted suburban dwellers unwilling to get involved. In fact, they are very motivated to make a difference. The key is connecting the dots, every part doing its share. 

Taking the time to go to the store that day and return the item to the church facility was a sacrifice, but one that was doable. 

So take off your load of guilt. Stop saying that you cannot have a personal impact, just because you seem so far removed. Figure out how to connect the dots of parts doing their share. 

Then simply be a dot, and do your part.

Let's change the world together!

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Alone is Not the Answer

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Alone is Not the Answer

"...Individually members of one another..."  (Romans 12:5)

Carol is currently out of town for 10 days. Don't you feel sorry for me? I hope so.

Don't misunderstand. I am very thankful when she travels the country teaching and helping women live the life that God has given them to live. This is her calling. 

Now back to me! I don't like an empty house! So go ahead and feel sorry for me. 

I'm joking (partially). 

Being alone, for me, is a struggle for obvious reasons. I have been married for almost 39 years.  My wife is my life. I love her. I need her. I depend on her presence in the course of my daily existence. I realize that fact more than ever when she is gone.

Now, enough about me. What about you?

The "alone" status is very much a reality for many people. In fact our culture is now largely defined by it. For the first time in our history, there are just as many single adults as there are married adults - in fact slightly more. There are many reasons for this, mostly negative. But that issue is for another blog. 

Aloneness is an issue whether you are single or married. Most people, on some level, live in the twilight zone of feeling alone. You may be introverted. You may be a loner kind of person.  Or maybe you have been "burned" by others and are not willing to take the risk of building trusting relationships. You may think that you have everything you need, in and of yourself. Who needs others?

The problem is... You were never meant to exist as an individual alone. You were actually designed by God to fit into a team with others. 

Certainly, there are times that we need be alone. There are times we cannot help but be alone.  But "alone" is never a permanent solution. We were created to be "members of one another" (Rom. 12:5).

I'm not speaking here of your living status. I’m talking about how you live your life.

When God created man, He said, "It is not good for man to be alone." He was not just stating the need for a marriage relationship. He was declaring a truth. And He declared it before man fell into sin. It is amazing that in this perfect Garden of Eden, in which the effects of sin had not yet made anything "bad," God says there is something that "is not good."

"It is not good for man to be alone." 

One of the earliest principles given to man was his need for others. He would never function in wholeness, never fulfill his purpose, never really be happy without factoring "others" into his existence. 

This is why the people around you were made differently than you. They have different personality traits, different temperaments, different talents and skills. They come from different backgrounds. They have different likes and dislikes. And even though the weaknesses of others may drive you crazy, you are actually attracted to their strengths; the strengths that you do not have. You are intrinsically drawn to the characteristics in others that you lack.

God has created mankind to be incomplete without healthy, meaningful relationships. It is not that any one person on the planet is going to meet all of your needs.  That particular ability lies with God and God alone. But a big part of God's strategy to grow and fulfill your life is through the daily development of personal relationships with others.

Ultimately, the purpose of our relationships is not about us. God has made us to fulfill a mission that is far greater than what any one person can do alone - the mission to "change the world." Sounds rather overwhelming, doesn't it? That's because He never intended for you to accomplish it alone. The only way to accomplish the purpose for which you were created is by teaming together with others. That is the missing element in your inability to increase the impact of your life. 

You cannot do it alone.  

Alone is not the answer.

I know it's risky. I know it comes with disappointment and pain. But the pain of emptiness, incompleteness, and the inability to fulfill your purpose on the planet is far greater than the failure of people to meet your expectations. 

That's where your relationship with God kicks in. Lean on Him to be fulfilled. He will use others to help meet your needs. But your dependency is ultimately on Him. 

The stakes here are really high. Your significance is hanging in the balance. Your purpose in life, your personality, gifts, and talents will never rise to their potential without rich connection with others. 

Just ask either quarterback in last Sunday's Super Bowl this question...  "Do you reach and win championships on your own?" 

The quarterback awarded MVP this past year had his worst game of the season and lost. This was not because he played badly, but because his team could not keep the other team from getting to him. He should walk away realizing he could not win the big game without his team. The other quarterback, who is one of the greatest of all time, did not play such a great game... but his team won. The rest of the team stepped forward and made up for his weaknesses. At the end of the game, he was the player most interviewed. He was the most respected. It was one of the greatest and most fulfilling moments in his life. But he knew that he did not win that game - his team did.

We are like Legos. Alone, we will never serve our purpose, never find significance, or ever become relevant. We aren't even much to look at without fitting together with others. Look at a Lego piece all by itself. It doesn't even make sense! Now look at the finished product. It all comes together. The one piece is no longer just one piece. It fits. It works. It even looks better than it did by itself. 

Ask yourself the following questions. Do I have more than one friend? Is there a group of healthy people that I identify with and belong to? Do I meet at least once a week with people who love and worship God? Do I worship with them? Am I learning and growing together with them? Do I humble myself and listen to the others in my life? Am I picking up on those strengths in them that are weaknesses in me? 

Now for the big one: Do I team together with others to serve and give to people in need? Are we changing the world together?

God made you to be in a team relationship with other healthy people. Without realizing it, this may be exactly what you are missing in your life. 

Start fresh with a list of people that you will intentionally seek to connect with. Come together with others so that you may become the person God intended for you to be. Then roll up your sleeves, learn to fit in team, and open your eyes to the bigger purpose.

Let's change the world together! We cannot do it alone. 

Alone is not the answer.

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The Super Bowl of All Super Bowls

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The Super Bowl of All Super Bowls

Sunday night at 6:30 pm, all of America and much of the world will be setting a world record by tuning in to what will be the single most watched event in history on television…  "Super Bowl 50".  

For those of you who could care less, hang in there. I have something to say that goes much deeper than a bunch of big boys pushing each other around so they can cross the chalk line and dance like a fool in front of millions of people.

But first, I need to fess up.

I come from a football family. My father was a high school football player. My brother played college ball and has been a high school football coach all of his adult life. He has seen the agony of defeat in losing seasons and the thrill of victory at state championships.  David has been calling me every Friday night for many years from August to November to give me the play by play of each and every game. I love it!

It's in the blood. I hate to admit it. Even now, in the fall, on Sunday afternoons, just having preached the gospel with fiery anointing, I find myself in front of the TV. If you live next door you might hear me cheering out loud for the Buffalo Bills or giving sighs of disgust (also out loud) when they lose the game in the final minutes.  

By the way, I'm from North Carolina. At least I have a team to pull for in the playoffs.

I also played football in high school, was second team all-state, and received letters from small colleges for tryouts.  I have a picture from the local newspaper of me during my senior year, holding three trophies in my arms I received from that night's athletic banquet.  Even though I was known for my Christian witness, I let it go to my head.  

A good friend of mine lovingly confronted me after youth choir practice one night in our Baptist church. She, in tears, told me how disappointed she was to see me full of pride - right by the altar, nonetheless.

Bless her heart. She brought me back down to earth. I repented of my arrogance and laid my dreams of playing football in college at the cross. I even decided to go to a Christian college where they did not have that particular sport and give myself the opportunity to be trained as a Christian leader. Those who knew me knew how much of a sacrifice that was to me at the time.   

This article is not about whether football is good or bad. I admire my brother. He is on the front lines of the Kingdom of God, leading people to Christ and discipling young men to be leaders in their generation.  

But I wonder if, in all of the hype, we should stop and ask ourselves if we might be overlooking another gathering that leaves this one in the dust?

I'm under the conviction that all of my life I have allowed my thrill, my emotional fervor, and my sense of grand anticipation get swept up by things like Disney World, the Final Four, and the annual Super Bowl. I don't know that I have even given much thought to the reality that all of life, meaning, and history is leading us to the climax of the most phenomenal gathering in all of eternity - an existence that transcends time and space.

You and I and every person on the planet have been invited to the eternal super bowl of all super bowls.

The Super Bowl, even at 50, is nothing compared to the growing gathering of the saints in the throne room of God for all of history past, present and future. The picture we are given in Revelation chapter five includes "Every people, tribe, tongue, and nation...” (5:8).  There is a fan base in attendance of over 100 million angels and a worshiping cheer for the team from all creatures on the earth and under the earth... (5:13).  

We don't know how many people are in attendance at this super glorious gathering, but we know where they are coming from. They are coming from the jungles of Africa, the deserts of the Middle East and the blistering cold of Siberia. They include people from impoverished slums where one seventh of the world's population lives.  They come from cultures where other religions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam currently rule. They will in fact represent every corner of every culture, every language dialect, and every shade of skin color.

You may not realize this, but this gathering for all of eternity is the main focus of our team creator and owner. God began an invitation in Gen. 1:28, when the first words out of His mouth to mankind were "Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth." He told Abraham that through His seed, all the families of the earth would be blessed.  Then Jesus came along, elaborated and gave a revision of the original command: "Go, make disciples of all the nations".   

And finally, the quarterback of quarterbacks gives the revelation picture to John the apostle. He is encouraging the saints of that day and of ours to stay focused during the offensive and brutal drives of the evil competition. Victory is yet ours to achieve!

By the way, in that same picture, there are also bowls; not football bowls, not super bowls, but "the golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints" (5:8). Those bowls are the key to the release of the power of God to change the world. This gathering is not just for an event that will happen someday in the climatic future (which will in fact happen). But those prayers are now being gathered to overthrow darkness and set the captives free.  

The gathering is constantly growing. In one way, we who believe are already in the stadium seat. In fact we are seated with the owner in the owner's box. The Bible says that we have risen with Christ and are seated with Him in the heavenlies at the right hand of God (Eph. 2:4-6).

But this is not just a spectator sport. We are also playing on the field in real time. And it's not just a game. People's very lives are at stake. Heaven and hell are battling for the souls of mankind. The front office has sent us into all the world to proclaim the good news that every man, woman, and child have been invited to the super gathering. These are free tickets in my hand. Will I leave them at home? Will I have to throw them away? Or will I pursue the charge of the owner's Son to hand them out in the high ways and byways?  

I don't know about you, but I think it's time to shift the gears of our heart, our hope, and the anticipation of our faith.  To what are we giving our lives and worship?  

I'm not saying that you should not go to your Super Bowl party. I will be sitting right there in front of my TV watching the game and enjoying it.  

But hopefully, you and I will continue to dig deeper into the depth of our highest value of worship and service to the Coach of all coaches; in fact, the King of all kings.

Don't just be a fan. Be a player on the field. Go and make disciples. Let's increase the attendance of the super bowl of all super bowls!

"...Out of every people, tribe, tongue and nation..."  (Rev. 5:9)  "Go make disciples of all the nations." (Matt. 28:19)

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What Are You Doing With Your Life?

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What Are You Doing With Your Life?

How satisfied are you that your life is counting for something significant and meaningful to the God who made you?  Do you find yourself wasting a lot of time, worrying about things that are not worth worrying about?  Are you disillusioned with a self-seeking world, wondering if there is greater purpose and destiny?

I recently attended a class with a friend of mine who is in global missions. That night, the class was taught by a missionary from Wycliffe Bible Translators named Dennis Cochrane.  Dennis shared the story of his assignment with his wife and their five-month-old baby girl to a remote mountain village in Papua New Guinea. There, tucked away on the top of this mountain, was a secluded tribe of 20,000 called the Duna people. These primitive people had no contact with the outside. No roads led up to their hidden world. They had their own distinct language which was only spoken and not written. 

Dennis's task was to learn their language, which took several years... develop a written language, which took several more years... and then translate the Bible into that language, which took several more years in addition. During that time his family had to survive among these people, win their trust, and live a life of seclusion and loneliness in a grass hut. 

The Duna people believed in spirits that had to be appeased through the sacrifice of pigs, offering their blood to obtain the spirit's favor from harm and receive forgiveness from sin. 

After many years of developing their written language and translating the Bible, Dennis was able to share with them the love of God, their creator, who sacrificed not just a pig, but His only Son to pay the price of forgiveness and redemption. He introduced them to Jesus Christ, who had shed His blood for them once and for all.

The tribe, after hearing the good news of Jesus, discussed it among themselves for a full two years. After much deliberation and contemplation, this entire tribe was altogether converted to Christianity. 

Dennis Cochran, I'm guessing, is close to 80-years-old.  I'm also guessing from the clothing he wears of forty years ago that he most likely has accumulated no wealth.  Yet this seasoned saint seemed to have something that was quite striking and completely irresistible. He had a humble glow about him that spoke of complete peace and fulfillment. He shared with excitement of how these 20,000 saved souls would fill the heart of the Savior and bring us closer to fulfilling the Great Commission. 

Well, needless to say, I walked out the door asking my friend rhetorically, "What have I done with my life?" "What of my life would hold such value that could even compare to what this man has accomplished in the kingdom of God?" 

Personally, at age 60, I am re-evaluating my purpose and destiny.  I am asking myself some hard questions that need to be answered.

I don't know how old you are, but as long as you are still breathing, its not too late.

God has chosen you to join His plan to cover the earth with the light of His kingdom. I'm not suggesting that you quit your job and move to the other side of the world to a remote primitive village. But what about becoming a participant in the process of fulfilling God's plan to gather people from every tribe and nation? 

Can you pray? Can you support people through your local church or missions agencies who are reaching the unreached peoples of the world? Can you be a missionary to your own neighbors and relatives and find a way to communicate the wonder of God's love through His Son Jesus Christ?! Where might you need to sacrifice your time, energy, and money to live a life of significance and purpose?

In Philippians chapter 3, verses seven and eight, Paul states his status in the kingdom of God this way... 

"But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ..."

May you and I gain the simple awareness of the world around us and deepen our commitment to live a life that demonstrates the kingdom of God.  May we, in obedience to His call, do our part to fill the heart of our Savior, as the people He died for receive His love and find their pleasure in fellowship with Him. 

If, in the end, that is what I have done with my life... then I, like Dennis Cochrane, can be at complete peace and be filled with the satisfaction of my Savior, whose life was given for me that I might give it back to Him.  

So now I ask you... What are you doing with your life?

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The End Times

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The End Times

The End Times: Everything you need to know.


Have you ever been bothered in a strange way when people begin to talk about the "end times" or the "last days?" 

First of all, you assume these people know what they are talking about because you don't really know much about it. You know what you have heard others say and teach, but you haven't actually studied the subject from all perspectives, and then compare to what the Bible really does and does not say. 

So you assume what you hear someone say must be the truth, even if the result is further confusion, fear, and seclusion from the world.

Many, who are obsessed with the end times, have a fearful look on their face and nothing but bad news to share. They conclude that we must, as a result, store up goods, move into the wilderness, seclude ourselves from the world, and wait until the glorious rapture that will save us - the believer - from further destruction. 

The Bible teaches the opposite. It's called the "good news".  It saves people from destruction.  It tells us to bless those who persecute us. We are called the light of the world, a city set on a hill.

I don't have anything against storing up goods. Go ahead and prepare for whatever you believe God is telling you to prepare for. Joseph did.  But he saved an entire nation and surrounding world, not just his family. Don't be so self-centered that you only look out for your own neck. 

But what if the fear that is being stirred up within God's people about end times is actually a ploy of hell to get us off track of what God is really doing in the earth in the days leading up to judgment day?

Jesus made this point really clear in the very last words out of His mouth before He ascended into heaven. He said, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:7-8)

May I humbly submit to you that if you are obsessed with tribulations, persecutions, and world tragedies, then you are simply falling into the trap that every generation has been tempted by?  Even Jesus said, 2000 years ago, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

Have you studied history at all? The early church experienced persecution to a degree we are unaccustomed to. Persecution has been happening on some level in the earth from that time until now. As the population increases, the number of those persecuted increases. This year, over 100,000 people will die (not just endure persecution) for their faith in Jesus Christ. The American Christian is predicting end times because our comfort zones are being challenged.  God's people have been in tribulation for thousands of years (Old and New Testament times).  We owe them an apology for thinking that if we end up being persecuted, it will somehow be a special case referred to as "end times."

So back to what Jesus said. Two things. First, don't be preoccupied with end of the world details. "It is not for you to know times or seasons."  (Acts 1:7)

If you need to know more conclusively what the Bible does and does not say about this subject, then do what I did. I began reading the Bible without attaching it to the teachings I heard as a kid. Start fresh and try to stay within the context of the Bible interpreting the Bible, instead of teachers who are making thousands of dollars on their personal interpretation of it. 

I also began to study the various views of eschatology (end times) and discovered that there were other views that were totally opposite of what I had been taught. And they were equally supported by scripture, in fact even more so. I am not the expert on eschatology, just wise enough to see that what I have been taught is not necessarily so. Get off of the high horse and humble yourself to the focused teachings of Christ.

Secondly, and most importantly, stay focused on what God is focused on concerning His purpose for the planet, mankind, and the kingdom of God. Jesus told us not to be distracted by times and seasons but to remain focused on God's plan for you to "receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Here is the end times focus of Christ and the Bible:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations... and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20)

"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

"Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power."  (1 Cor. 15:24)

The Great Commission is going to be fulfilled. There will be a great demonstration on the earth of God's glory and kingdom.  And you, the believer have been called to play a role in this happening, not just in the future, but now!  The kingdom of God is at hand! (Jesus said that.)

There are thousands of people groups (what the Bible would call "nations") on the planet...  who do not have even a small demonstration of Christ and His kingdom in their part of world.  There will not be an end until they are reached with a living, preaching witness of the gospel.

The question is not, "Just how bad can life be on earth?" The real question is, "How many people can we influence and reach for Christ before judgment day?” And if we are persecuted or have to go through hard times as we demonstrate Christ and the kingdom of God on the earth, then so be it. Jesus told us it would happen - then and now. He also told us to rejoice in it.

The only thing you really need to know about "end times" is that God is 100% focused on living life in and through you to demonstrate Himself to the world and beyond. (Eph. 3:8-13). 

We are the light of the world!  But do we take that seriously? He does! Remember the last point in Jesus' teaching in what we call the Beatitudes in His Sermon on the Mount?

"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:11-16)

That's everything you need to know about the end times. 

Go get 'em!

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Is God Thinking About Your Future?

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Is God Thinking About Your Future?

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD... to give you a future and a hope."  (- Jeremiah 29:11)

Are you struggling with the planning of your future? Are you wondering if God is even thinking about you or working out your life ahead of you? Let me tell you a true story that convinced me forever that God was far more involved than I thought He was. 

Have you ever applied for something you thought you were a shoo-in for, only to be rejected? I have. It was my junior year in college. My Resident Advisor (RA) had recommended me to become an RA the following year. But one Saturday morning, on my way to lunch in the campus cafeteria, I opened my mail to discover that my application had been denied. I was mortified and embarrassed. I knew I was qualified. I had been a student leader in high school and all three years of college including taking weekly ministry teams to the county jail. But I was not on the radar screen of the dean's office. I wished I hadn't applied.

The department on campus that would at least know of my name was the chaplain's office. Oral Roberts University was a Christian school.  My ministry involvement came under their oversight. From their office, the more visible on-campus role was that of the student chaplain. He/she worked alongside the RA on every floor, serving like a pastor to their contemporaries. Applications were also being accepted for those positions, but I wasn't interested. The RA position was a scholarship job. The chaplain was a volunteer role. Besides, even though I felt called to ministry of some kind, the one thing I did not want to be was a pastor, even though everyone around me believed I would be. It looked boring to me. 

I sat down with a group of friends in the cafeteria for lunch, including a close friend who had worked as an aid in the chaplain's office that year.  Seeing her, immediately following the revelation of my humiliating rejection, reminded me of the chaplain's role that I neither applied for, nor wanted.  However as I began to eat lunch my appetite suddenly disappeared as a deep whisper in my soul questioned my thought process. Had I made a mistake? Did I apply for the wrong position? Suddenly I was facing an inward challenge that, from my experience, could very well be the voice of God. So I turned to my friend and sheepishly asked, "When are the applications due for student chaplains?" She replied, "Oh, the deadline was two weeks ago.  They've probably already chosen the chaplains by now."

Hallelujah! Surely that inner rumbling was only indigestion from the pizza I had had the night before. But as I continued with my lunch, the inward stirring only became more intense and convicting. Finally, I could not sit there any longer. Without explanation, I stood up, said a quick goodbye and headed back to my dorm room. While praying through my gut-wrenching, I heard the idea pop up in my spirit, "Call the assistant chaplain of the university." He was in charge of the application process according to my friend. But today is Saturday. The offices are closed.  So I began to argue out loud to God. "Lord, certainly you don't mean for me to call him at home on his day off. Besides, wouldn't this be a little presumptive on my part? I have no idea that he even knows who I am.”

With great trepidation, fear, and humility, I called information, found his number and made the phone call.  "Please don't be at home, please don't be at home," I said to myself, still hoping this was a wild goose chase. But, yes, as you are probably imagining, he answered the phone. I said, "Brother Gary, I know you probably don't know who I am, but I just felt the Lord speaking to me this morning that I should apply for the chaplain's position. I completely understand if you are finished with the process. I just needed to make this phone call and get it off of my chest.”  He thanked me, and indicated that though the applications were in, they had not yet made final decisions and he would let me know if they were interested. He hung up.  I hung up. I was so glad that was over.  I felt like a fool. But I also felt relief from the struggle in my heart.  At least I had obeyed!

Several days later, I got a phone call back from Gary McIntosh, the assistant chaplain, and he told me the rest of the story. The same morning I was overwhelmed with a holy tug at my heart, the chaplain's staff, and all of the student head chaplains were in his apartment on the floor praying over all of the applications spread out before them. They had assigned their choices to all of the resident floors, with the exception of one. 

There was this one floor in one of the men's dorms where many of the more athletic guys had congregated to form a powerhouse football team that dominated intramural sports. Many of these guys were rather rebellious-minded jocks who were only at this school because their mothers thought that the Christian atmosphere would straighten them out. They needed a chaplain who could play the sport on their level, relate to these guys, and try to reach them for Christ. It was a call to outreach in the middle of a Christian campus. Someone in the leadership group in Gary’s apartment knew that I had played in the ORU intramural program for three years, and previously had played high school sports, achieving a few awards in football.

I had not even filled out an application. But leaning heavily on the recommendation of the students on his leadership team - who evidently knew of me - the assistant chaplain believed my phone call was a sign from God.  He thus assigned me to this rowdy floor as a student chaplain for my senior year. 

Now for the real clincher. What I also didn't realize, and wouldn’t know until about a year later, was that among the student leaders in Gary’s apartment that morning was a young lady who served as the spiritual life dorm director for one of the girl's dorms. Her name was Carol Burton, but about sixteen months later she'd change her last name to McLeod. 

We did not know each other personally at the time. But she knew who I was and had affirmed the idea of me serving in the role that they were praying for. 

I want you to fully understand the perspective I now have of God's involvement in our future and His call to obey His voice, even when it seems outrageous and untimely. It was just a phone call, right? No, it was far more than that. In fact, there on the other side of that call, in that apartment, was not only my future wife and our destiny together, but the future destinies of five children and seven grandchildren (and hopefully more to come). 

Don't underestimate just how much God is involved in the planning of your future. And neither should you underestimate how important your response is to His call to obey, even if it is as something as simple as making a phone call.

Is God involved in the planning of your future? Far more than you realize. Don't miss it! 

Pray and obey!

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In What Direction Are You Heading?

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In What Direction Are You Heading?

"...Reaching forward to those things which are ahead..."  Phil. 3:13

Where are you headed? What are you reaching for?  Can you really know what is out there?  What if, when you get there, you are not where you thought you would be? 

Here we are, in the first week of a new year. Life can be so complicated, confusing, and overwhelming.  How often are we stopped in our tracks, dissatisfied, without direction, or just headed in the wrong direction? 

Direction is a key component to life, both having one, and reaching for it.

Without it, we lose motivation. Even with it, if not the right one, we become frustrated, disappointed, and disillusioned.

God has created us to be people of direction. It is in our God-given DNA. We cannot exist without it. Where there is no direction, there is no hope. Where there is no hope, there is no life.  You have probably heard the scripture quote, "Where there is no vision, the people perish."   (Prov. 29:18)

To get on track with finding direction, let's break down the theme verse:  "...Reaching forward to those things which are ahead..."  (Phil. 3:13) into two parts, beginning with the second.

Those things which are ahead

Paul, who wrote this, is not just talking about a career here, or how many children you should have, or whatever it is that you think will make you happy. In the next sentence in his letter, he says...

"I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." 

Those words are almost too lofty to grasp. So let me simplify: "I press on toward the reward of the greatest calling in life and that is to follow Christ Jesus and fulfill all that He has for me, both in my relationship with Him and in whatever it is He wants me to be and do."

You see, you were not created to primarily pursue your own purposes or to satisfy your own personal needs. The purpose for your existence did not begin with you. Therefore the fulfillment of purpose cannot end with you. Your purpose in life is much greater than yourself. That is not to say that your desires are not important. God has given you the power of desire. The key is keeping your greater focus on Him, allowing those desires to be channeled in the right direction.

I know it almost sounds contradictory. In order to experience the life you were created for, you must keep your primary focus not on the circumstances of life, but with the one who gave you life and gave His life for you; the one who leads you to the Father of Life. The more you focus on Him, the more He will show you the right and practical directions of everyday life. 

God is not just interested in what it is that you give your life to, but how you give it and for what purpose you give it. He is ultimately after, not what you do, but who you are, and who He is in and through your life. 

So ask yourself the right questions. 

Do I have the kind of relationship with God where I can know His purposes and sense His direction in my life?

Do I know what it means to be at peace with Him and to be fulfilled in Him? 

Do I know what it feels like for God to find His pleasure in me? 

Now that last one is a question rarely asked.  Remember the movie, Chariots of Fire? Eric Lidell, a missionary, was trying to explain to his sister why running in a competition was more important to him than getting on with his missionary plans, at that particular time. He said to her, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure." In the end, Eric's involvement in the Olympics and his decision to obey God against the grain of his culture gave him more opportunity to be a witness for Christ than any given missionary journey.

So take the time to discover fresh vision and direction for your life.  Reconnect with the One who knows that direction and knows how to get you on track with it.


Now for the first part of that verse:

Reaching forward to those things...

You can never afford to stop reaching forward. Try riding a bicycle without pushing the pedals.  You're okay while coasting downhill, but once you begin the upward climb, you're not going anywhere. 

You have to keep reaching. 

You might say that I am set for life. I am the pastor of a church that I began nine years ago.  God has been with me. He has been leading me. I am surrounded by wonderful people. I have no complaints. But if I do not keep reaching forward in my life, I will coast along and eventually either go backward, or fall and get hurt, and so will the people around me.

I am not satisfied with the adventures of the past. And neither should you be. This year I am seeking to take bold steps to lift the direction of my life to whatever God has for me. There are desires not met, visions not fulfilled. There is a place in the core of my being that will not be satisfied until I meet the expectation of God's pleasure fulfilled in me. 

I would challenge you to do the same. Reach forward. You were made to do so. You do not necessarily have to change your job or your relationships to push the refresh button on your sense of direction. It may be that you simply need fresh motivation to stay on track with where you are. 

Or maybe you are in for major change.  Will you be open and ready? 

What if, when you reach forward, you find that God is calling you to things bigger or more challenging than what you expected? In fact, the word "reach" in scripture can be translated as "stretch." Here's the thing. God's plans are always bigger and more challenging than what we believe we are capable of. He's God.  His plans are never within the reach of our perception.  In fact, this is a principle of how He grows our lives. In order to increase, we must stretch out beyond what we think we are capable in order to grow into what He has for us. 

Begin by diving into His presence and asking the right questions. Be open to His voice, His leading. He is faithful to lead your life. But you must be faithful to reach!

Reach forward to things ahead. And prepare yourself to go further and higher than you've ever been before.

See you down the road!

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Can I Really Forget the Past?

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Can I Really Forget the Past?

"...Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead..."  - Phil. 3:13

Easier said than done!

It's the last day of the year.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could lift our glass to the toast at midnight and magically in that moment: “Poof!” The past truly became the past? My sins are forgiven. My broken relationships are healed. My stupid mistakes are wiped from memory.  And my wrong turns are all straightened out.  

God has forgotten. The people in my world have forgotten. And most of all, I have forgotten. 

Is that what that Bible verse means when it says, "Forgetting those things which are behind?"  How can you truly forget?  It seems that some things just keep coming back. The memory is jogged. The temptation reappears. That person shows up again. My failure is ever before me.  And even if I work hard to forget, here comes that insensitive, inconsiderate big mouth who just can't leave it alone.

How can I get that thing in the past?

First, let's get the meaning straight.  When you look up the word "forgetting" in that verse, you discover it means, "No longer caring for" or "Given over to oblivion."  In other words, it is not that it is wiped from memory… 

It simply means that you can reach the point where it no longer matters. 

You can now say to yourself, "So what?! My life has moved forward. Chalk it up to experience. I am at peace with it!  I am at peace with God! I am at peace with others! I am at peace with myself."

Even that sounds pretty magical. So how do I get there?

As you ponder today how to get the past into the past, consider the following steps. Then give yourself the space of a little time to make the journey. It does not always happen overnight.

What to do to forget the past:

Deal with it!

The longer you put off confronting the issue that is unresolved, the longer it will dig in its heels and bury itself into your memory bank.  You cannot forget what you will not confront. Your neglect of the issue reinforces its staying power in your life. Face it!  Deal with it!  Conquer it!  Then it no longer has footing in your mind and heart, no ground to stand on. It will lose its power to exist in your place of victory.

Open up!

Choose an appropriate wise confidante and confess the issue. It has to be someone you can both trust and to whom you are willing to listen. Give them permission to give it to you straight.  If you need counseling, get counseling. If you need a team of two or three people, then bring them together. It may be that you need to meet regularly for accountability. 

Get it off your chest. Get it on the table. Let the surgery begin. No surgery, no healing. It may be painful. But remember that God is a good anesthesiologist. He will meet you there with his mercy and grace. It’s amazing how once the surgery is complete, the healing process can begin. And equally amazing is how healing and resolve are delayed as long as the surgery is delayed. 

Bury it!

Fill your mind with the right kind of information. Give fuel to your thinking power. You must overcome the wrong thoughts with the right thoughts. Read the right stuff. Listen to the right people. Receive correct teaching. 

You are what you think about. And you will think about whatever you consistently feed into your mind. 

If you want to get something in the past, you must dig a hole and bury it with positive, powerful soil. Begin and end with God's Word. Find as much helpful info as you can that lines up with the Word.

Overwhelm your past with the weight of a fully refreshed mindset.

Forgive!

Whatever is unforgiven is unforgotten. You will keep ever before you what you are unwilling to let go of. You must forgive. You don't have a choice. Your un-forgiveness is a burden that you have chosen to carry with the illusion that it is holding someone else hostage. 

Remember the guy at the stop light that just turned green. His music was so loud and his brain so distracted that he just sat there while you angrily beeped your horn. He finally drove on, "bebopping" down the road, while you carried your frustration with you the rest of the day. Your "losing it" did not impact him in the least. But it ruined your day. 

Your bitterness will have little effect on the object of your anger. But it could destroy your life and hurt the ones you love. 

Reach forward!

If you want to get something behind you, then you must hit the gas pedal and leave it in the dust. What is it that you want? Where are you headed? What are your goals? And most importantly, what is God's thought about your future? Get that verse from Jeremiah 29:11 down into your spirit.

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope." 

Set your sights on things bigger and better than where you are. I'm not necessarily talking about material things. Ask yourself questions like, "Who am I in God's eyes?"  "Where would my life be most effective?"  "How could I serve in a way to do my part in changing the world?"  "In what direction must I go to make a difference?"

Make sure that what you are reaching for is far enough out of reach that it will require you to leave behind the things that are keeping you from getting there. 

Don't hang around your past! Move your life full throttle toward a divinely-designed future. This doesn't always mean that you have to physically move. But it absolutely requires that you mentally, emotionally and spiritually pick up your pace and run as fast and effectively as you can to a changed life. And sometimes it may necessitate a move, so don't completely rule it out. 

To sum it up...

The past is not in your past until it is behind you.  And it cannot get behind you unless you deal it, overcome it, go beyond it, and keep your distance from it. 

That's why it says, "...Forgetting those things which are behind..."

Happy New Year!  See you on the other side!

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The Greatest Blog Ever Written

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The Greatest Blog Ever Written

1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.
2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.
3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,
5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.
6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.
10 Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.
11 "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 "And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger."
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"
15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us."
16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.
17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.
18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

- Luke 2:1-20, NKJV

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The Christmas Gifts You're Forgetting

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The Christmas Gifts You're Forgetting

Carol, my wife, has spent the past several days on the run buying Christmas gifts for 16 children (this includes spouses and grandchildren).  All I can say is, "Thank God I have a wife who loves Christmas shopping."  If it were up to me, they would all get gift cards.  But Carol knows how to make all things special.  She is, in fact, our "Christmas Carol."  

I know you can relate.  Maybe you did all of your shopping on "Black Friday." Or maybe you are one of these people who shops all year long and are finished before the rest of us.  (By the way, we struggle with people like you :)  And then there’s the majority who scramble the week before Christmas.  Yes, it's only a week from now.  You better get started.

However, most of us, no matter how well organized and conscientious we thought we were, will completely forget to get a few gift items that should have been at the top of the list.  

These gifts are unique and extremely valuable.  But they will not cost you anything.  And though they are also for "the others" in your life, they are first to be opened and received by you.   

These gifts are from God... to you...  and to the whole world.  And they are right there under the tree.  

These gifts were first received on the original Christmas day by a handful of common shepherds.  Moments after the birth of Jesus Christ, angels appeared in the heavens and declared...

"Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"  (Luke 2:14)

We hear those words every Christmas.  They have become so familiar to us that we don’t pause to think, "What does that really mean?"  At first thought it sounds very nice.  But in reality, it doesn't seem as if these gifts have gone over too well, especially when we look at the current condition of our world.  

But let's take a step back and ask, "What are these gifts, really?"  There are three. Let's start with the third and work back to the first.

The Third Gift:  "Goodwill toward men"

We repeat the phrase so much, we totally underestimate the significance of those three words.

The Almighty Creator Judge of heaven and earth in Old Testament times has brought severe consequences to the rebellion of the created.  But He has now made a permanent change in His disposition toward us.  He is now extending a gargantuan gesture which, if accepted and received, will restore us to the fulfillment of our purpose and destiny.  He is now offering, as a free gift, His unconditional good will.

Before this we thought of God and were gripped with fear.  We did not know Him.  We did not really know of His ingrained goodness, pent up, desiring to be released to us without measure.  Sin had created a barrier between us.  The good will of God could only be given to those who earned it.  

Never again. He is no longer waiting for man to obey Him out of obligation, but has rather taken the initiative to give freely and unconditionally the very essence of His goodness.  We no longer love Him just because we are commanded to love Him.  We will now love Him because He first loved us.  He knows that if we will simply respond to the gift of His love, by opening and receiving it, then our lives will change.  We will now learn to obey, not out of obligation, but from the response of our changed heart.  This gift works.  It is guaranteed.  Batteries are included.  It is the power of His love given to us that makes life work.  

The Second Gift: "Peace on earth"

If the birth of Christ was to bring peace on the earth, then why on earth do we see such war, hatred, conflict and bigotry for the 2000 years that have followed?  What did the angels mean when they said "Peace on earth?"  We thought it meant God would finally fix our chaotic circumstances, take over the world through political overthrow, and forcefully establish peace.

But Jesus was given, not to fix circumstances, but to fix hearts.  Circumstances can only change when the heart is changed.  When we become believers in Christ, God pours out His grace into our hearts, including the fruit of the Spirit and the character of His nature, which includes peace.  Jesus said, "...In Me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!"  

It begins with personal peace with God, which accomplishes peace within the soul.  It is this peace that influences the atmosphere of my life and witness and is used by God to lead others to this same peace.  This peace is "on the earth" being lived out through you and me.  

It is a gift.  Don't leave it under the tree.  

The First Gift: "Glory to God in the highest"

What is the "highest" or greatest thing God has ever done?  You might want to pause before you answer.  He is God, you know!

But since there is nothing higher than God Himself, the highest thing He could ever do is to reproduce Himself.  Jesus is described in Hebrews as, "The express image of (God's) person."  Jesus said, "If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father."  

So think about it. The biggest thing God ever did, He did in the smallest possible way.  He reproduced the whole of Himself, the eternal God of infinity in the form of a single cell, and joined Himself forever to mankind.  

He wrapped the gift in swaddling cloths and gave it to us!  The one thing that is the highest and biggest and greatest thing, He has done for you and every other person on the planet.  

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."  (John 3:16)

The giving of His Son, Jesus, is God's serious intention to change the world, one person at a time.  He gave the gift to the shepherds.  They gave it to the people of Bethlehem.  That gift has been passed on through the ages all the way to you and to me.  

Don't miss the gift.  It's right there under your tree wrapped in love and mercy.  Unwrap it and be forever changed.  Then re-wrap it and give it to your family and friends... and even your enemies.

What you really want for Christmas is right there under the tree, yes, the tree of the cross.  Jesus died and rose again so that you might have life... His life...  the best gift of all!

"Glory to God in the highest.  And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"  (Luke 2:14)

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Should We Be Afraid of Another Religion?

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Should We Be Afraid of Another Religion?

Donald Trump has opened the door for quite the dialogue. 

If you have not heard yet of his proposal, then you must have been asleep or on Mars the last couple of days. He is basically saying he would shut the US borders to Muslims until we figure out how to process people from a religious background where radicals are causing world terror in the name of that same religion.

First, you should know what I wrote in a blog post on September 24th called "The Reflection of Who We Are." As a side note in that article, I said I would rather write your name in for president than vote for Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton in the next presidential election for principled reasons which I expressed. 

So before I deal with the more important question titled above, I feel that I must respond to Trump's controversial proposal. It doesn't seem fair to draw attention to it and not comment on it.

What Trump has proposed, whether I agree with him or not, seems to be legal according to a law passed in 1952 - vetoed by Truman but overridden by congress - called the Emigration and Nationality Act.  In fact, President Jimmy Carter took action on this law, closing immigration to Iran and deporting Iranian students whose visas were investigated and deemed illegal. Few opposed since Iran was holding 52 Americans hostages, which they continued to do for 444 days. 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, by executive order in 1942, incarcerated or relocated over 100,000 Japanese Americans due to Pearl Harbor. Since then he has been widely criticized for giving the order, as it seems most of those people were not a threat to America. 

This controversy goes all the way back to John Adams, our second president who passed the naturalization act, restricting immigration more than either George Washington or Thomas Jefferson were comfortable with. 

The issue is obviously controversial and raises questions of human dignity as well as national security.

I don't have the answer, but just for the record, my response as a US citizen is:

Will someone please give us a viable and fair plan to make America safe and secure and lead the nations to contain and de-fang this threat to everyone called ISIS?!

(There! I got that off my chest.)

Donald's proposal is getting a lot of attention because there is an incredible vacuum in our current national leadership to outline a definitive plan to deal with ISIS and Islamic extremism.   

 

Now for the issue at hand.

This highly public proposal has blown the top off of hidden and repressed emotions toward the Muslim community in general. Today in every corner of our country, people are discussing their feelings and thoughts more openly.

We are trying to wrap our minds around a religion we do not understand. 

It is difficult for us to discern the difference between the theology of Islam that is violent and the one that is peaceful.  This became especially difficult when Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, who have lived among us as peaceful Muslims, rose up and suddenly killed 14 and wounded 21 county employees in San Bernardino, California. One report states the people of that city are highly in favor of Trump's proposal. 

The fear of terrorism, and the fear of the religion with which it is associated, are growing rapidly due to recent events that recall the memory of 9/11.

My question is, what are Christians thinking and praying in the context of this cultural uproar?

How should we engage in this moment in history?

Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, and the second largest, next to Christianity.  There are nearly three million Muslims (all ages) in the US.  That is roughly one percent of the population.

Given whatever happens, how will you, a believer in Jesus Christ and His kingdom, perceive, respond to, and treat the people of another religion whose public trust is now suspect in our culture?

Are we to be afraid of these people and therefore restrict our relationship with them, not knowing whether they intend to harm us?  Do we ignore, marginalize, reject and disdain a people that we do not understand and even fear?

Our time in history, as believers in Christ, is now being challenged!

Paul, the apostle, was once taken to the city of Athens, Greece, having escaped persecution and death from his many previous travels. Paul was known to confront the culture wherever he went with the realities of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 

When he arrived and encountered the worship of different religions, the Bible says, "His spirit was provoked within him."  But this trouble in his heart did not drive him to fear or to a defensive reaction, but challenged him to engage with the people themselves. 

He went to the streets, conversing and persuading people personally, eventually gaining an ear with the leaders of the culture. They listened as he presented the clear gospel in the most prominent location in the city. 

When I lived in North Carolina, I had the privilege of knowing a pastor in Raleigh who became a trailblazer in engaging with the Muslim community. 

It all began when a Muslim family moved into his neighborhood. Like Paul, the conflict in his own spirit began to trouble him.  But through much prayer, the Holy Spirit brought conviction to his heart. One day he courageously walked into a mosque at one of their specified prayer times, took off his shoes, bowed with the rest, and began praying to his Lord Jesus Christ.  Afterward, he introduced himself to the imam and shared with him openly and graciously who he was and why he was there.  He pursued a personal relationship with the imam. 

As this pastor and church began to pray regularly for God's leadership in their new venture, they discovered in the newspaper that the Muslims were planning a huge flea market on a weekend at the state fair grounds. The Christians decided to show up early the first day of the event, long before the doors were open, and offer to help set up tables and merchandise. 

Their arrival was quite awkward.  Why were these Christians here to help serve an event that was exclusively planned and operated by Muslims?  It was unheard of.  Were they here to cause problems?  Were they undercover agents suspiciously spying on the Muslim community? 

After a little convincing on the part of the pastor, the Muslims allowed the church’s servanthood and began to engage with them in conversation as they worked side by side. This was the beginning of a deeper relationship between the religious leaders of the Muslim community and this pastor. The journey was long and difficult, and sometimes confusing and suspicious on both sides. 

Eventually the pastor gained a level of trust with some of the leaders, without compromising his faith in the least. In fact he remained very open and shared clearly the gospel, showing them the scriptures. They had never understood the connection of Jesus' death to salvation. They particularly questioned the importance of the blood of Christ.  Muslims believe in Jesus as one of the prophets, but not as the Son of God. 

One day, after much interaction and relationship development, a prominent Muslim leader asked the pastor to write a regular article for their publication that was sent out to the Muslim community in the city. They specifically asked him to explain the aspects of Christian doctrine that they did not understand so that they could learn more about the Christian faith. 

What this pastor has accomplished in his leadership has opened the door for a new mindset for those of us who have no clue as to how to engage. 

I propose that it is time to live like the apostle Paul.  Don't be afraid to be who you are in Christ.  Don't be afraid of people who are different than you and are of clashing religious faiths. These are people created in the image of God, loved by the Jesus of the cross, and targeted by heaven to receive the love and grace of Father God.

And in case you need a scripture to help with your convictions... 

Jesus said,

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…’” (Matthew 5:43-44).

So it doesn't matter whether or not you can determine if your neighbor is your friend or your enemy, the call of God is the same:

Love, bless, serve, and pray! 

This is who you are. This is what you do at this moment in history. 

Wake up, people of God! It's not time to be afraid. It's time to shine!

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What's the Deal with "Peace on Earth?"

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What's the Deal with "Peace on Earth?"

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.  (Luke 2:14)

What in the heavens were the angels proclaiming about the birth of Christ that would bring peace on earth? 

As I am writing this blog, I am getting notifications from my news app saying that there has been a shooting this same day in San Bernardino, CA where many have died and are injured. 

Other headlines say, "Is The Third World War About To Begin Over The Russian Turkish Crisis?"  Then there are articles about how to defeat ISIS, and Iran's ability to build atomic bombs, and the aftermath of the Paris terrorists’ attacks.  I haven't yet mentioned the threat of North Korea or China, and, of course, conflict surrounding Israel. 

What is this peace on earth? Is it something that we haven't seen yet, a fairy tale or a heavenly hoax? 

Photo credit:  NY Daily News

Photo credit: NY Daily News

The cover page of the above newspaper shouts the sentiment of many critics:

"GOD ISN'T GOING TO FIX THIS!"

You may have just come from a family reunion on Thanksgiving Day that could be described as anything but peaceful.  You're not even sure if Christmas will be worth the celebration when yuletide hell breaks loose among the insecurities, self-centeredness, and personality conflicts of your family's dysfunction.

Peace?  What peace?

In the old Christmas hymn, 'I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day', this verse sums it up:

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

The whole idea of a messiah coming among the Jews was to bring deliverance from the enemies of God's people and the establishment of an earthly kingdom where the messiah would rule and reign and therefore bring peace on earth.  Even the disciples of Jesus became disillusioned about their hopes for peace when they saw that Jesus was not going to be rescued from, but rather crucified by, the power of the Roman empire.

In the end, it seemed that peace lost out.  The warring factions of the enemies of peace had once again suppressed all hope.

But Jesus did not come to bring the kind of peace that they were anticipating. 

In Matthew 10:34, Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth...."

Without reading and understanding what Jesus meant by peace in His teachings, the bible seems to be contradicting itself. 

Listen to what the Bible says about the peace that Jesus brought through the cross, resurrection, and Pentecost.

"Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."  (John 14:27)

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ..."  (Romans 5:1)

"...and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."  (Philippians 4:7)

"Let the peace of God rule in your hearts..." (Col. 3:15)

I know you think I am going to over-spiritualize this and speak of a heavenly bliss that we will someday have after we die, or a contained inner peace that gives me comfort but does not really impact the rest of the world. 

We need to expand our vision for "peace on earth."

So, yes, it does begin in the heart. Your personal peace through Christ is the bottom line hope of peace on earth. Now multiply that by the millions, even billions, who profess to be Christians. 

Make no mistake, there will be conflict as long as there is an enemy, the devil, roaming about like a roaring lion.  Even Jesus, said that He did not come to resolve all relationship problems with the waving of a wand.  In fact he promised that you will have conflict as long as you are in this world. 

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

But peace is more than a calming spirit or a spiritual drug to soothe my many pains in life.  It is a spiritual weapon of warfare.  It is listed as one of the pieces of the armor of God in Ephesians 6.  In verse 15, it says, "And having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace..."

That inner peace that you know of, if you are a believer, is a peace that can change the world. 

I know that your "end times" theology may not allow for you to hear what I am saying.  But sometimes, we need to let the "whole counsel of God" (that means the whole Bible) over-ride denominational interpretations.  I don't have space to go there right now.  But suffice it to say that God actually intends for us to disciple nations.  The impact of His peace deep in the hearts of His people has only just begun to be felt and to be received by many on this planet called earth.

Here is an incredible story some of you may remember from my first blog post in June. It demonstrates the point. 

As you know, ISIS is targeting Christians for persecution, killing them by stoning, beheading, hanging, and other violent acts... not exactly an example of peace on earth.   But in the middle of total chaotic evil, in the darkest of places, God has demonstrated His version of peace 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 would see Christian after Christian not deny their Lord after being given the opportunity to reject their Christianity.  Instead they willingly sacrificed their lives for Him, dying with an unnatural atmosphere of peace about them as He severed their heads. 

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 brutally taking the life of another Christian, the victim declared, "I know you will kill me. But I give to you my Bible."  Saul finished his slaying, but actually took the Bible and began reading it. 

Then that "man in white" showed up again in his dream and asked him to follow Him!  Now he knew who this man was.  Saul sought out a missionary in the region, became a follower of Jesus Christ, and discovered for himself the powerful overriding peace that conquered the evil hatred in his heart.

The peace of Christ which this militant tried to eradicate from the earth became the very anecdote for the war that was raging in his own heart!

(You can find this story here.)

Let God's peace rule and reign in your heart today.  Let it overflow in your personal atmosphere and gain influence in your world. 

Yes, there is peace on earth in a kingdom where Christ rules and reigns. We now understand the teachings of Jesus as He meticulously shifted our thinking from this world to "His world in this world", which does not operate from the outside in, but rather from the inside out. 

We want someone to fix the circumstances. Jesus came to fix the heart.

He said it this way, "For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21)

I leave you with the other part of the song (I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day). It says it all:                 

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Merry Christmas!

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An Unexpected Thanksgiving

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An Unexpected Thanksgiving

No one anticipates celebrating a family holiday without a loved one who was alive and well just days before.  Today, I am writing to everyone who faces their Thanksgiving with a missing family member.  But I am specifically writing to the family of Christian Lafferty, who transitioned to the presence of God just eleven days ago.

Christian was a young man in our church who crossed the finish line of life far too early. He was 34-years-old, had been married to Beata for four years, and has a 2 1/2 year old son, Caleb.  His parents are leaders in our church.  Mike, his father, is one of my best friends.

Our love goes out to the Laffertys and all of the connected family members.

My prayer is that these thoughts may help all of us navigate through the deep waters of losing a loved one especially in an untimely manner. 

Giving thanks is thought of as the natural response of a heart celebrating a desire fulfilled or a successful feat or the surprise of a blessing.  But there is another side to thanksgiving that requires a resolve to engage the heavenlies in the place of hidden power and strength. 

The Bible says, in 1 Thessalonians 5:28, "In everything give thanks." 

Within the context of the above definition, this statement does not really make sense.  Really... in everything give thanks?  But take a closer look.  It does not say, for everything.  It says in everything. 

There is no twisted requirement from God to give thanks for everything that happens. Not everything that happens is good or necessarily from God.  But God rolls up His sleeves and gets involved in everything that happens.  And especially when He is loved and worshiped, He will produce good even in the most surprising places and in the most surprising ways.

My relationship with Christian was one of a pastor and friend.  He used to play the drums in our worship band.  So we were behind stage together every Sunday for a few years, and we would occasionally have coffee or engage in deep discussions.

Christian was one of the most pervasive personalities I have ever known.  It is as if God decided to give the world a gift.  It is as if He said, "I think I will give this one man all of the personalities in one package and double it!"  In everything that Christian did, he had a passion, a determination to excel and outdo even himself.  He was extreme in his approach to life.  If life was to be lived, then it should be lived to the fullest.  He would give you the shirt off of his back.  He would love with intensity.  He would have way too much fun.  And when healing needed to happen, he would get in your face and ask forgiveness with such humility and openness that you didn't have a choice but to hug him and kiss him. 

His family will, through the pain of this day, give thanks for Christian's life and the love that they have shared. They will now open their eyes to the purposes of God in Christian's life to live on in theirs.  I think especially about Caleb and the DNA of his daddy living on through the life of his son. 

May I add a perspective that includes the rest of us?

I don't know if the power of Christian's life could be more effective than it is right now in all of us who knew him.  That is evident at the many hundreds showing up for the visitation and memorial service. 

The gospel of Jesus Christ being preached, not only through the service, but through his life, will now be emphasized in a way that is very fitting to Christian's personality... to the extreme.  I saw a statement on his father's Facebook:  "A flame that shines twice as bright burns half as long.”  I like that.  This is also true:  "A life lived with intense passion, even if lived half as long, will shine twice as bright in its afterglow."  

It is in this that I am giving thanks. 

Before he left us, Christian was taking his life to the next level.  He had pushed through some tough times.  He was providing for his family, had bought a house, and was excelling at his work.  He had recently brought healing and restoration to many relationships in his life where things may have seemed unfinished in his heart.  My point is that Christian was living his life with a passion and with a love for Christ to the end.

I guess what I'm saying is that I am impacted now for the rest of my life.  I hope that I can live the rest of my days with half the passion that he did.

No, I am not thankful for the passing of this young man.  But I am thankful that, in this circumstance, His impact has increased in such a way that many lives, including mine, have been changed forever.

Thank you God for rolling up your sleeves, taking what seems to be so bad and somehow, in the end, producing more good than can be understood.  I know that more of that is to come.

You may be living through the conflict of a day when thanks is to be given and yet so difficult to give.  May the Lord give you the grace to find strength in the giving of thanks in everything, as you honor your loved one and give glory to the Lord.

Give thanks!

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Who Is the One in Terror?

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Who Is the One in Terror?

The Arabic symbol used by ISIS to identify Christians.
 

Terror is now a common word in 21st century vocabulary.  But do we understand it?  Do we know what it is and what it wants to accomplish?  And ultimately, do we know what to do about it?

What is happening in France is not a government takeover.  The enemy's goal is not to capture the city with military force.  These are not two army's charging one another in battle.  The goal of ISIS with these horrific deeds is horror itself

Terror is defined as intense, overpowering fear.  The key word here is "overpowering." 

When you do not have the military power to take over the world, another option is terror.  If you can control the level of fear in a given community or country, then you have the controls.  It is not a takeover of the land (at least not at first). It is a takeover of the mind and of the heart. 

Terror does not originate with ISIS or Al Qaeda or Genghis Khan or Nero for that matter.  Terror is the ploy of hell itself.  Don't be surprised that Christians are a primary target of terrorists.  ISIS is merely a manipulation in the hands of Satan himself.  You may think I’m dramatic and overly "biblical" in my remarks.  If so, have at it.  We are now living in a bolder, more "in your face" time in history.  It is time to be clear about who we are, who we are being confronted by, and why. 

We also need to understand what power he has... and doesn't have. 

Stick with me here.  What I am about to say you may not have heard in church before, and certainly not from other media sources.  Not that I am the only one saying this, but far too few are, for sure. 

It is time to get true perspective.  If you are a follower of Christ, then realize that this global cultural clash is about you and Who you follow. 

To see clearly, we need to know who we are in Christ and what our role is in the global culture. 

Jesus calls us His "witnesses" for every part of the globe (Acts 1:8). We are a movement, a revolution that Jesus started.  We have died to ourselves and are completely given to His purposes and His mission.  His mission is to reveal Himself and His kingdom to every corner of the earth through you and me.  It is an aggressive cause with world changing implications, both spiritual and territorial.

This mission is called the Great Commission, a kingdom transformation, the end of which takes back the earth from the rule of darkness and transfers it to the kingdom of light. 

The enemy understands our mission better than many of us.  He knows that if we ever truly believe what we say we believe, then his day is over.  We will get serious about fulfilling our mission.  And when we do, his cause is a lost cause. 

Now let's clarify the enemy's position at our current phase of history, the New Covenant era.  When Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God submitted Himself to death by a cross, He shed His blood for the redemption of mankind.  He then descended into hell and crushed the head of the serpent, Satan.  He was raised from the grave, defeating death, and ascended to the right hand of God to rule until His enemies become His footstool.  And, by the way, He has raised us up with Him to that same position, in Him.

Satan's position in power has shifted. 

He no longer has the authority over the earth that we gave him through the rebellion of Adam and Eve.  His head has been crushed by the cross and resurrection.

Then there are these two sets of keys revealed to us by Jesus Himself.  In Rev. 1:18, Jesus told John, the apostle, that He now had "the keys of Hades and of Death."   The authority that Satan rightfully possessed is now back in the hands of the second Adam, Christ, our Lord.  And then, in Matthew 16:19, Jesus told His disciples that He would give them "the keys of the kingdom of heaven."   The authority of His kingdom has now been given to us who are in Christ on earth. 

Conclusion:  The devil is in a pickle. 

The serpent's mission to upstage the plan of God by ruling the world has been de-fanged.  His last and only hope is that we, the people of God, will not realize that he, the enemy, is positionally under our feet.  His only real weapon of warfare is deception.  And his greatest lie is that we should be afraid of him. 

The truth of the matter???  He is afraid of us, BIG TIME!

Remember the story of Joshua, that before crossing the Jordan to conquer the Promised Land, he sent two spies into Jericho to scout the enemy?  Here is what Rahab told the duo. 

"I know that the Lord has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you.... as soon as we heard these things (what God has done for you), our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath."

In other words, once you go behind the walls of the fortified city of hell and get to the heart of the enemy's world, you will discover that he is the one who is terrorized.  His head is crushed.  His authority has been taken away.  And new authority has been given to those created in the image of God and newly created in the image of Christ.  All of this is in the Bible.  Believe it!

We are now charged to go on the offensive, infiltrate the far corners of the earth, and give every person on every plot of ground the opportunity to clearly hear the good news of Jesus Christ, knowing that many will respond and follow Him.  Jesus, through His people, is taking back the earth as His own possession.  It is a mighty movement, a revolution which cannot be stopped. 

But the enemy's last stand is to make you believe that YOU are on the defensive, YOU are being overtaken, that YOU have every cause to fear.  He is pursuing you in God's kingdom as a deterrent and distraction so that you will not pursue him and his kingdom whose walls have fallen and have left him with no protection. 

His only protection is your deception.

When you are terrorized, then you are frozen, de-motivated, and unable to carry out the mission whose destiny is victory.   But the opposite is true.  Look at this little-known Bible verse.

Philippians 1:28 says, "...And not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God."

The enemy's greatest fear is that you will no longer be afraid.  Get that down into the depth of your heart.  The worst that can happen to you is that you are gloriously persecuted for the sake of Christ and/or die for the cross and the cause of Christ.  The rewards are incredible on the other side.  And many believers before you in history have considered it an honor to identify with His suffering. 

I know you are not used to thinking this way.  But maybe it is time that you did!

By the Spirit of God, shake off the fear of this present darkness and go bold!  Use wisdom, but rise up and do what you are called to be doing on this planet.  The devil behind ISIS is after you because you now hold the keys that will pronounce his end. 

By the way, I don't have time here, but there are countless stories of Jihadists and terroristscoming to Christ.  Our weapons of warfare are not carnal but for the pulling down of strongholds.  It is our bold actions of humility, servanthood, love, and the preaching of Christ to the whole world that will win in the end. 

Who is the one in terror?  Well, we know he is.  And when he sees that you aren't...  well then, he has every reason to be afraid!

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Wounded in Church?

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Wounded in Church?

Scattered throughout the nation, there are an untold number of disappointed, disenfranchised, wounded people who used to belong to a local church.  As far as they are concerned, "Never again!"

There are many reasons for their wounds, some undeserved, and some self-inflicted. 

There are those who highly admired a pastor or spiritual leader who fell off of his pedestal.  The stories of sexual misconduct, mishandling of funds, and overall dictatorship (instead of leadership) are far too many in the current landscape of the American church.

There are those who expected a conflict-free atmosphere in church, only to discover that the people in there were imperfect and in need just like them.  They were hoping for better.

And there are the personality and power struggles.  Whose agenda will win?  What true motivations are lurking behind that sweet saintly persuasion so eloquently spoken - yet full of manipulation and control?  It might be discovered in a single congregational participant or it might be an entire overbearing denomination.  And, yes - I admit it - the pastor may be the problem.

Unfortunately, inside of the power structures and political positions of a largely man-made church world are the formations of expected loyalties and power plays.  I refer to it as the "Christian mafia."  You may think I am overstating the issue.  Be assured that I am not.  It is not everywhere; but it is there.

Or it may be that the disenfranchised were once the disappointment themselves.  Maybe they were caught in failure, or were not given much mercy for their unveiled faults.  So, rather than face the rejection of Christian people, they have thought it easier to disengage and let it be.

Whatever it was that motivated the former "churchgoer," whether justified, victimized, or deserved, they took the offense and ran with it. 

You, the reader, may be the one with the wound.  If you are not, I'm sure you know someone who is.  If you will allow me, I would like to offer some advice. 

You might have to force yourself to think of me not as a pastor protecting his territory, but as a common redeemed sinner like you. I am not unaccustomed to the spiritual warfare and the crash and burn stories of the church world.  Don't think I have not been shot at myself, and occasionally hit by the bullets of warring factions from both directions.  It is how the Lord has led me to respond that I believe will help you find your way to a healthy re-connect with the people of God.

May I encourage you to read on with an open mind and heart. 

 

1)  You have to close your eyes to see real church. 

Erase from your mind the man-made organizational structures and buildings and go back to the original intent of the God-given, Christ-led body of believers that Jesus called "church."   We must rediscover the purity and power of a Holy Spirit movement that began 2000 years ago.  He, the Holy Spirit, has been birthing and relationally connecting a spiritual family referred to as a "body" led by a head, who is Christ Himself.

Your connection to that body is not an option.  You cannot go home, disconnect from God's people and refer to your spiritual solitude as "church."  "You" are not the church because "church" is plural.  The actual Greek word for church is "assembly."  That requires more than one.  Church is God's creation and requires our participation.  

Do not be deceived by the devil's carefully crafted justifications of your tendency to disconnect and stay out of sight.  Don't blame your plight on whoever may have been the offender in whatever drama you are the perceived victim of. 

1 Corinthians 12:18 says, "But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased."

You are a body part, not the body.  A body part removed has no blood flow or nerve connection.  It will die fast.

With your eyes closed, try to see from heaven's perspective what the body looks like.  Jesus is the head.  Then, the rest of His body is made up of relational connections to the head where life flows.  God has a plan to connect you where you fit, where you can grow in a healthy manner, and where you can be useful to accomplish the mission of Christ in a unified way with the rest of the body. 

 

2) Healing and restoration is what God is doing in your life. 

Don't fight it.  Yield to the mercy and grace of God.  Forgive and be forgiven.  There will always be conflict in relationships.  Just look at marriage.  I've been married 38 years.  The idea of conflict-free dissipated many years ago.  Actually, God uses the conflict to form us, grow us, and strengthen us.  Healing and restoration is part of the process.  It will take humility and wisdom.  But pursue the power of God's miracle heart-change.  You can be healthy again.  You are destined to live within the context God's connected body. 

 

3)  You can forgive and love without immediate trust. 

Love is required.  Trust is earned.  Take your time in rebuilding trust with those that may have wounded you or have thrown you under the bus.  Strengthen your other relationships.  Stay positive.  Be clear of bitterness.  Love unconditionally.  But do not think that you are required to subject yourself to formerly abusive relationships without an accountable process of rebuilding healthy trusts.  Find leadership that you can trust.  It does not have to be the same local fellowship.  It does not even have to be a church that meets in a church building.  But pray that you can be at peace with those where former offenses have happened, as much as is possible.

 

4)  Get back to worship, discipleship and mission

If you are not regularly worshiping with a group of people that are spiritually growing together and changing the world together, then you are not participating in church.  Go find that group of people.  God is with you and will lead you.

 

5) Submit to leaders who are submitted to leaders.

You cannot avoid this dynamic.  God's church is made up of people who are led by leaders and learn themselves to lead.  Make sure that you allow the Holy Spirit to dig deep within and deal with any deceptive rebellion in your own heart.  Can you voluntarily submit to healthy friendships and leadership in your life?  You can do this without unhealthy manipulation and control.  The key is making sure that those who lead you are also under authority.  If you are under a leader who is not under the authority and wisdom of other leaders, then you will eventually see unhealthy results.  Submission is voluntary, not forced.  It is a matter of the heart.

 

6)  Be a giver of life!

Giving is what makes your life work right, and giving requires quality relationships with others.  You will only be as healthy as you are connected.  It is through the sincere giving of yourself that you’ll reap the benefits of the returns.  Give and you will receive. 

 

7)  Keep your eyes on Jesus. 

He will never fail you.   His pedestal is an eternal throne.  He is Lord of His church.  Jesus said, "I will build My church."  You can trust Him with that.  You can trust Him with the building of your life in the context of what He is doing in other people's lives.  It is not always pretty.  It is rarely without struggle.  Sometimes it is downright ugly.  Keep your eyes and heart fixed on the head of the body.  He will produce in you a beautiful body part that, connected with the rest of the body, will have great impact in your community and world. 

Then, as Jesus said of His church, "the gates of hell will not prevail against it." 

 

See you in church!

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Living with the Attitude of Faith

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Living with the Attitude of Faith

One year ago this week, Carol, my wife, was diagnosed with cancer. The power of the "C" word became a challenge from hell for us as it has for so many others. I'm sure you have had someone in your family or circle of friends deal with cancer on some level.  Maybe even you have. The potential of death seems to lurk around the corner, even if the odds are in your favor. The appointments with the doctor could easily be mistaken as an appointment with the undertaker. You're not sure until you leave, and even then, you're not sure. 

Our story is one of a woman who loses body parts after four surgeries and has to push the "restart" button of life. It's also the story of a caregiver and his discovery of what that woman is made of. But most of all, it is a great example of the power of an attitude... the attitude of faith.

Caregivers and what they go through internally are not usually the subject matter of significance when these things happen. The reason for that is obvious. No matter what I may have gone through as Carol's support, I was not the one with cancer. However, I carried in my heart and mind a different kind of threat: the weight of watching my wife go through the experience... and the whisper that I might lose her. 

I had my days of upheaval and unsure footing. I had to be strong when I was with her.  But a few times I broke down in the car alone while driving out of the driveway. I certainly have a new perspective of that side of things and can be more understanding with people that are in the foxhole with the one under attack. 

The most significant thing that I learned over the last twelve months is how powerful an attitude can be. 

We are people of faith. We believe in God. We believe in healing. But what do you tell the person who does not see the immediate miracle - you know - the kind where one is healed instantaneously in the snap of a prayer? What do you say when they open their eyes and nothing has happened and yet they have to make decisions right now about the options at hand?

I know now what I would tell people, both those going through it and those fighting alongside. I know because I have lived with the answer. I have lived with the impact of a substance called attitude. I have lived with the attitude of faith as demonstrated in my incredible wife. What a ride. So here is what I would tell you:

Behind every ounce of faith, there are 10 pounds of attitude.

Here is a short list of what I lived with:

1)  On day two of knowing that cancer had appeared in the mammogram, Carol told the whole world. She told all of her family and friends. She told it openly at her large bible study that night.  She put it on Facebook and sent out an email blast. I am not saying that everyone should do this. But for Carol, it was all about pulling the rug out from under the power of hell's lies. She would get it on the table, face it head on, and gather all of the prayer support she could get. 

2)  She filled her mind with the right books, teachings and audios. She listened to and spent time with the right people. She kept her mind filled with positive faith. If you tried to make an appointment with her during this past year and she couldn't do it, it may have been for one of two reasons. Either she did not have the time (it was mostly that), or she knew you have a history of seeing the worst in every circumstance. As much as possible, she stayed away from negative people. Even then, some would walk up to her in public and pronounce doom in the name of "thus says the Lord."  (Good thing I wasn't there. It wouldn't have been pretty.)

3)  She adjusted her words.  She quoted scriptures like "I will live and not die" (Psalm 118:17) and "Beloved I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers."  (3 John 1:2).  You could easily change out "soul prospers" to "attitude rises up." Carol would raise her attitude by the words of her confession.  She declared the goodness of God and celebrated His love out loud.

4)  She did not lie down and quit living. Sure, there were days when she needed rest or recovery from surgery. But I will never forget the first time she came home from the hospital. It was a Sunday. She had had surgery on Friday with a second emergency surgery immediately following the first, due to a huge loss of blood.

But Monday morning, groggy and in pain, my wife went in to her home office and produced seven radio programs for Sirius Radio. She would teach on the joy of the Lord in every circumstance in life. And she would do it with enthusiasm. Many thousands around the nation would hear her teaching, not knowing just how deeply she was digging in prayer and in faith between each recording. I saw it with my own eyes. It was a miracle in its own right. But it was coming from a woman who knew what the attitude of faith could produce. 

5)  She took this on as a personal challenge. One of the first things Carol declared publically was that she wanted to live her life in a way that "her face was on a wanted poster in hell." What a visual!  She knew she could take on the devil and everything he may have had permission to throw at her. She knew that God loved her, was with her, and would empower her to be victorious over the enemy. Her attitude of faith was so stellar, that the devil could not win the battle of fear and intimidation. From what I saw, I would say that he must have been intimidated by her.  

6)  She determined from the very beginning that this journey would be one that would teach others how to thrive - not just survive, the challenges of life.  Before Carol knew about the cancer, she was working diligently to finish her fifth book and get it off to the printer in time. The title of the book was Refined: Finding Joy in the Midst of the Fire. It was due just one month after her diagnosis. All had been written but the last chapter.  Should she postpone the deadline? How could she write this book not knowing what was about to happen to her - especially with a title like that?  But the attitude of faith prevailed. Carol committed to the giving of her experience to all who would need it. She finished the last chapter and sent it off. Nine months later, just days after her fourth surgery, the book was released. The commitment of giving her life to others, even when she was the one in need, was a powerful act of faith on a principle that solves every issue. "Give and you shall receive!" 

Carol has been teaching the principles of living in faith and joy through the difficult times of life for many years now in Bible studies, books she has authored, radio and television programs, devotionals, blogs and podcasts. These teachings are not without the substance of personal testimony, including the loss of five babies by miscarriage. 

But this past year has tested the fiber of her being. Don't think that she did not face the fears, the anxieties, and the uncertainties that anyone would have to face in these circumstances. How she has responded to all of that has been an incredible experience. 

I know because I have lived with it.  I have "lived with" the attitude of faith, personally. I have lived with it in the life of my wife. I have always loved her. But she has now moved up to hero status. And it is all because of her attitude of faith

You can check out justjoyministries.com for your own personal encouragement from Carol.  Live with your own attitude of faith!

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The Turn of Events

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The Turn of Events

Life is full of surprises and challenges that we did not count on.  Some are called "acts of God" because they are totally outside of our control.  Others are the result our own decisions that have backfired. Others still come from the determined actions of someone else resulting in huge impact on our lives.  And sometimes it's all of the above.  Regardless of the source of change, you find yourself in the middle of a radical redirection of life.

On October 1st, 2006, Life Church, the church where I am now the lead pastor, was birthed.  On that morning it was announced at the local church where I was serving, that we - Carol and I -would be planting a new church.  Immediately after the service, a handful of people showed up unsolicited at our house with lunch from Subway.  They, like everyone else, were assimilating the surprising news that this was happening and happening fast.  It would be later referred to, like the historic Western New York snow storm, as the "October Surprise," which happened that very same month.  

That afternoon, sitting on the floor of our living room, we prayed.  Someone gave the first tithe.  We selected someone else in the group to be the bookkeeper and handed the check to them.  Carol and I made a commitment to not personally promote the church plant to individuals.  We never at any time asked anyone to join us.  They would have to contact us first.  It was in God's hands, and He would have to make it happen. By Wednesday night, there were about thirty plus people who indicated interest by attending a meeting at our house.  Then, Sunday, October 8th, we held our first service in a banquet hall and even more people showed up in attendance.

I have planted two churches. Neither one was planned. In fact, the idea of neither one had originated with me.  However, I knew the Lord was speaking to me as I planted both.  His hand was everywhere.  His affirmation was obvious.  In both cases, you might call it a strange and unusual turn of events. One man of God identified my journey by saying, "God stuck His foot out and you tripped over it."

I know I am not the only person on the planet that has had to walk through a tornado-like "turn of events" where your head is spinning, you are at times in shock, and your future is unknown.

But I learned some things.  Would you like to hear them?

1)
God loves me. That is the most awesome revelation that anyone can receive when life has made a sudden turn. I will never forget driving down the road one day in the middle of this wild ride and hearing a still, small but powerful voice.  I pulled to the side of the road to listen more clearly.  It was the voice of God with as much clarity as I had ever heard.  It wasn't audible (I don't think!).  But it was so real, it may as well have been.  He said, "I love you." The impact was so deep and rich that He didn't have to say anything else.  With the security and the assurance of that love, you can take on anything that comes your way.  

2)
God puts people in your life. Good people… People who are willing to get on the wild stallion with you and commit to the rodeo.  Don't miss them.  Don't overlook them.  And don't take them for granted.  They are there.  You may have to develop trusting relationships, some of which are new and some that are in process but need to go deeper.  I immediately chose seven people, both local and national, that I would voluntarily submit my life to, be fully transparent with, and receive counsel from. Those men are very special to me. They were the reason that we could build a strong foundation of trusting relationships. They are the reason that Life Church started on the right foot and with the right values. I owe them my life.

3)
Own it!  Take responsibility where you are responsible. Don't play the blame game. Don't start rumors. Don't twist the truth. As the dust clears, and your perspective can be adjusted, adjust it!  Realize that you do not war against flesh and blood. Forgive who you need to forgive. Love who you need to love. And take care of your own failed actions, decisions, and mistakes. Getting back on track is in your hands. God has a plan.  But there is no one else that will tap into that plan and see to it that you are in it but you.  No one else is going to fix your life. Own it!

4)
God can take plan "B" and turn it into plan "A." I don't understand this.  I can't explain it.  But it has happened all through history, is demonstrated throughout scripture, and has happened in my life numerous times.  There is one set of visible, physical, circumstances that have occurred due to man's plans, decisions, or even manipulations.  And for good measure, let's throw in the mix the devil's plans as well.  Yet with a heart bent toward Him, the Lord can take all of those strategies and produce what He had in mind in the first place.  

No one will say that King David's marriage to Bathsheba - including the murder of her husband and the adulterous relationship with which it began - was God's plan "A".  Yet, even though David had other wives, God chose the womb of Bathsheba to carry on the lineage through which Mary (the mother of Jesus) would come through Solomon, and Joseph (her husband) through Nathan.  Both lineages are spelled out in the New Testament, and lead you from Mary and Joseph back to Solomon and Nathan, two of the four sons of David by Bathsheba.  The redemptive plan of God for the world (Jesus) came through the lineage of King David's plan "B."  Somehow God turned it back into plan "A."  Mind boggling, but true.

Don't let the turn of events in your life, no matter how radical, trap you into a dead end existence.  Get your heart right before God.  Own your part of the craziness.  And find the path back to God's plan "A."

Our God is an awesome God.  Don't think you are counted out, or your life is somehow over, just because things have turned upside down.  By the miraculous and merciful work of God, and your willingness to walk in it, you are wondrously destined to land right side up.  

And by the way, these last nine years have been the greatest years of ministry that we have ever had.  Thanks especially to the original core team at Life Church who played a role in landing right side up!

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