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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thoughts about blessing at Christmas

At this stage in my life, I take far more enjoyment out of giving gifts at Christmas than in receiving them.

I take great joy in seeing family member's eyes light up and sparkle as they receive a gift given out of love.

Don't you think that God is probably the same way? Don't you think that God loves it when our eyes sparkle with happiness, joy and gratitude at the gifts that he gives us on a daily basis in our walk with him?

Even more than being blessed this Christmas, God calls us to be a blessing. And in being a blessing - we are blessed. It's circular.

A great illustration of this is Larry Stewart, 58, a successful businessman from Lee's Summit, Missouri. Prior to the Christmas season of 2006, Stewart announced that he is the Secret Santa who has been anonymously doling out $100 bills to the needy every Christmas for the past 26 years.

Stewart says he decided to go public after it became apparent that a tabloid newspaper was going to reveal his name. Now, he hopes to inspire others to become Secret Santas.

So how did this practice begin?

In the winter of 1971, Stewart was working as a door-to-door salesman. The company he was working for went out of business, and he quickly ran out of money. Stewart hadn't eaten in two days when he went to Dixie Diner and ordered a breakfast he eventually admitted he couldn't pay for.

Ted Horn, the restaurant owner, sympathized with Stewart. He acted as though he found a $20 bill on the floor underneath of Stewart's chair. "Son, you must have dropped this," Horn said.

"It was like a fortune to me," Stewart reflected. "I said to myself, 'Thank you, Lord.' Right then, I just made a promise. I said, 'Lord, if you ever put me in a position to help other people, I will do it.'"

Over the years, Stewart estimates that he has given away around $1.3 million. He says he has been amply rewarded in return. "I see the smiles and looks of hopelessness turn to looks of hope in an instant," he says. "After all, isn't that what we're put here on earth for—to help one another?"

May you be a blessing this Christmas - and bring a smile to someone's face.

Merry Christmas! Debbie and I love you all very much!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Faith and works

Pastor James writes in his letter to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations (2:24), "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone."

Paul writes in Romans 3:28, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law."

How do we solve this apparent contradiction?

Are we saved by faith or are we saved by our works? Or both?

We are saved by faith alone. However, a sign that we have been saved is that we work in God's kingdom.

There are three differences in the two verses:

First, the emphasis is different.

Paul is talking about the root of salvation. Faith in Christ plus nothing.

James is speaking of the fruit of salvation. Each believer of Jesus Christ must bear fruit. Jesus said in John 15:4,5, "Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, He will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Secondly, the perspective is different.

Paul is looking at our salvation from God's perspective, like a fire in a fireplace.

James is looking at it from a human perspective, like smoke coming out of a chimney. To James, the world should be able to tell that a faith burns in our hearts by the works they see coming out of our lives.

Lastly, there is a difference in terms.

Both use the same word, "justified" but with two different meanings.

Paul uses the term as an act of God at salvation whereby he declares us righteous while we are living in a sinful state.

James uses it with the meaning of "validation or evidence." We show, we prove our faith by our works.

Author Tony Campolo tells how he disembarked from a plane only to discover he was scheduled to speak to a group of women at a World Day of Prayer event he had forgotten about.

He rushed over to the meeting—held at a large, wealthy church—and arrived exhausted, not knowing what to say to the women gathered for the conference. Before calling him to speak, the leader of the meeting produced a letter from a missionary in Venezuela. Campolo relates:

She read this letter from this missionary who had a hospital, and they needed $5,000 desperately to put an extension on the hospital because they couldn't handle all the patients.

She turned to me, and she said, "Reverend, would you please lead us in prayer that the Lord would provide for our sister in Venezuela?" And I said, "No!" She was taken back by that. I stood up, and I said, "I'll tell you what I will do"—and it was a good day to pull it off because I was only carrying $2.25—I pulled out my wallet, and I pulled out the two dollars and a quarter, and I slapped it down on the pulpit and I said, "That 's all the money I'm carrying. Madame Chairman, I want you to put all the cash you're carrying on the pulpit." And there were about 1,000 women in this group.

I said, "I'm going to ask each of you to do the same. No checks. Just the cash you're carrying. Bring it up. Lay it on the altar. We'll count up the money, and if we don't have enough, I will ask God to write out a check for the difference."

The woman took out $110 of unadulterated cash and put it with my $2.25. A hundred and ten dollars in cash! Why didn't I marry somebody like that? I said, "We're on our way; we've got $112.25." I said, "You're next," and I pointed to a woman on the front row. She looked around. I said, "I'm serious. Come up here and put your money on the altar." You see, I come from a black church, and you know that's the way you take up an offering, you see.

And she sheepishly came up and put her money on it, and I said, "Okay let's line up and do it one by one." And they did it! Money kept on piling up and piling up and piling up. When it was all over, we counted the cash. And we had over $7,000, instead of the five that was being required!

And I know we didn't get it all because I could see women giving me dirty looks as they walked by. And I said, "The sheer audacity of asking God for $5,000, when God has already provided more than $7,000."

There's a season for everything. There's a time to pray and then there is a time to work. Both are necessary.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lunching with a Buddist

I had lunch with a Buddhist yesterday. We had a great time. I enjoyed it immensely. We exchanged ideas and philosophies. A lot of us aren't really knowledgeable concerning Buddhism so I thought I might share with you an interesting article from a Christian (Stan Guthrie) concerning Buddhism and our relationship with God.

Here's the question of the day: After reading the article, what has been your experience (if any) with those who follow the teachings of Buddha?

"Buddhism-the religion of renunciation and "the middle way"-is self-confident and robust in an America increasingly looking for "enlightenment" and intrigued by the enigmatic smile of the Buddha.

Fueled by both a surge in Asian immigration in the past 30 years and celebrity endorsements from the rich and famous (singer Tina Turner, actor Richard Gere, Italian soccer star Baggio, the peripatetic Nobel Prize-winning Dalai Lama, and Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson), this worldwide religion of 565 million has successfully transplanted itself into the United States.

In an attempt to discover the religion's appeal to growing numbers of Americans, Terry Muck, associate professor of comparative religion at Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas, interviewed Americans who had converted. "The most common response I got was that it offered them a peace and contentment through the meditative technique," says Muck, author of "Those Other Religions in Your Neighborhood." "The idea seemed to be that American culture is so hectic and busy and stressful, and the various kinds of Buddhist meditation techniques [are] an antidote they hadn't found in … the Christianity that they had grown up with."

James Stephens, a former Buddhist who launched the evangelical Sonrise Center for Buddhist Studies in Sierra Madre, California, six years ago to develop information and training to evangelize Buddhists, estimates there are 2 million in this country. Other research says there are only 558,000 active Buddhists in North America.

Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion at Harvard University, says there are 1,500 Buddhist centers in the United States. The 102,000-square-foot, $25 million Hsi Lai ("Coming to the West") Temple in Hacienda Heights, California, is the largest Buddhist structure in the Western Hemisphere.

Such figures only begin to tell the story, however. Recent films, such as What's Love Got to Do with It? based on the life of Tina Turner, and The Little Buddha with Keanu Reeves, present Buddhism attractively to a culture groping for spiritual understanding. Buddhism also benefits from the popularity of the New Age movement and Hinduism, which Stephens says are closely related to it. "People are looking for answers," says Stephens, who was a Nichiren Shoshu (Soka Gakkai) Buddhist for 14 years before his conversion to Christianity. "[People] are looking for a theology of suffering. They're looking for meaning to their lives."

American Buddhists have used their wealth to finance Buddhist activities and construction projects both here and in Asia. "Their influence is very powerful," Stephens says. "Buddhists look at America as a mission field, as a prime mission field."


While many in the West turn to the East for spiritual guidance, few American Christians have taken on the challenge of Buddhism, either here or overseas. Before he decided to start the Sonrise Center, Stephens discovered a "gaping hole in the efforts to evangelize Buddhist peoples." Contrasting the comparatively high interest in other religions, such as Islam, Stephens notes, "There's not anything from an evangelical point of view, or a historically Christian accurate point of view, which addresses the Buddhist faith and those who are lost in the darkness of Buddhism."

One reason for this neglect is because Buddhism, founded by Siddhartha Gautama, a sixth-century B.C. prince from India, is fundamentally different from the Judeo-Christian world-view. Buddhism asserts that all is emptiness, illusion, and that the desire to "have" is what brings pain. Buddha taught that suffering comes from ignorance. The religion holds to endless cycles of reincarnation, which can only be broken when one becomes enlightened.

For the Buddhist, "salvation" means extinction, release from the wearisome cycle of birth and rebirth. This "nirvana" is attained through following the eightfold path: right views, goals, speech, conduct, lifestyle, efforts, awareness, and concentration.

There are three main schools: Theravada ("the Doctrine of the Elders," adhered to by 38 percent of all Buddhists), the form closest to that taught by Gautama Buddha; Mahayana ("the Great Vehicle," 56 percent), which has allowed the most innovations and adaptations in Buddhist doctrines; and Tantrism or Vajranaya ("the Diamond Vehicle"), also known as Tibetan Buddhism, which adds elements of Hinduism and the occult (6 percent).

The adaptability of Buddhism is one of its greatest strengths. "Buddhism is a very flexible philosophy," Stephens says. "Because of its doctrine of assimilation, it easily [changes] itself, much like a chameleon, to other religious forms. You can be a 'Christian' practicing Buddhist because [adherents say] 'Buddhism is just a philosophy.' " With a common interest in techniques such as meditation, psychology is another arena in which Buddhism has made itself at home.

"Some of the ideas that Buddhism espouses have already had something of an impact on our culture in more of an indirect way," Muck says. "I think it's largely in the area of 'finding oneself ' on a spiritual path through meditative techniques, slowly becoming more and more purified. That dovetails very well with the American preoccupation with self-help psychology. To some extent, Buddhism has tapped into that cultural predisposition and injected religious meaning into it for some people."

Another plus in the American mind is that Buddhism can give one a feeling of spirituality without demanding a lot in return. Citing the "clear rules and guidance" of his former belief system (the Nichiren Shoshu sect), Stephens says, "The whole system is very well oiled, and so people see that and say, 'Oh, here's something that I can do. It doesn't have too many moral, ethical codes that I have to follow and sets of rules. So I can do something that doesn't cramp my style.' "

Adding to Buddhism's current appeal is the visibility of the Dalai Lama, the telegenic "god-king" of Tibetan Buddhism. Pointing to the continuing worldwide concern about the persecution of the Tibetan people by China, Stephens notes, the Dalai Lama has been aided by public relations know-how. "He talks about following 'a religion of kindness.' He doesn't say, 'I follow the religion of Tibetan Buddhism.' Well, who doesn't want to practice kindness?"


Stephen Hishey is a citizen of India who used to be a Tibetan Buddhist. Today, with the help of FEBA Radio in the Seychelles northeast of Madagascar, he produces Gaweylon (Good News), a daily, half-hour Christian radio program geared to the millions of Tibetan Buddhists in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and India. Hishey says there are around 75,000 listeners to Gaweylon, and many are open to the gospel. He tells of a letter from a single monastery in India. It has 200 signatures beneath the words, "We are behind you. We are listening."

But he makes clear that winning Tibetan Buddhists to Christ involves prayer first and foremost. "There's a tremendous amount of spiritual warfare that is involved in Tibetan religion," Hishey says. "This is basically shamanism and occultism. To go with a so-called plan or strategy is not enough."

Stephens, who says he lost all his Buddhist friends when he converted, believes Christians must engage Buddhists in true friendship evangelism. "We must see our fellow travelers on planet Earth as our Lord Jesus Christ sees them … made in the image of God."

Monday, December 17, 2007

It's a "we" thing

Two years ago for my 50th birthday, I went skydiving. It's hard to describe if you haven't been. I can talk about the wind, and the anxiety before jumping and the exhilaration of landing without being wiped out, but unless you have skydived, there's not going to be much connection there.

John Ortberg, in his book, "God is closer than you think," has written about Father Damien, who was a priest who became famous for his willingness to serve lepers.

Ortberg writes, "He moved to Kalawao—a village on the island of Molokai, in Hawaii, that had been quarantined to serve as a leper colony.

For 16 years, he lived in their midst. He learned to speak their language. He bandaged their wounds, embraced the bodies no one else would touch, preached to hearts that would otherwise have been left alone.

He organized schools, bands, and choirs. He built homes so that the lepers could have shelter. He built 2,000 coffins by hand so that, when they died, they could be buried with dignity. Slowly, it was said, Kalawao became a place to live rather than a place to die, for Father Damien offered hope.

Father Damien was not careful about keeping his distance. He did nothing to separate himself from his people. He dipped his fingers in the poi bowl along with the patients. He shared his pipe. He did not always wash his hands after bandaging open sores. He got close. For this, the people loved him.

Then one day he stood up and began his sermon with two words: "We lepers…."

Now he wasn't just helping them. Now he was one of them. From this day forward, he wasn't just on their island; he was in their skin. First he had chosen to live as they lived; now he would die as they died. Now they were in it together.

One day God came to Earth and began his message: "We lepers…." Now he wasn't just helping us. Now he was one of us. Now he was in our skin. Now we were in it together.

This passage reminds us of Paul words, "He took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form" (Philippians 2:7 NLT"

That's what I really like about Jesus. He doesn't pretend like he understands my needs and my hurts. He really does understand.

He's been there. Without sin. Yet experiencing a lot of the same "stuff" that we go through in our lives.

It's a "we" thing. Now that's a great Christmas present.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Discernment versus judging

Two of the best commercials shown during Super Bowl XXXIX were sponsored by Ameriquest Mortgage Company. Both had the same message: “Don’t judge too quickly.”

In one ad, a convenience store shopper is standing at the counter and talking on his cell phone. He says to the person on the other end, “You’re getting robbed.” The two clerks hear those words and react by squirting the man with pepper spray, slugging him with a baseball bat, and then zapping him with an electric cattle prod.

In the second commercial, a man is preparing a romantic dinner. He chops vegetables with a large knife, while tomato sauce simmers on the stove. A white cat knocks the pan of sauce onto the floor and then falls into the mess. Just as the man picks up his tomato-splattered cat, his wife opens the door. She sees him holding a cat dripping with red sauce in one hand and a large knife in the other. The scene appears to be unmistakably horrific.

As these ads show, things aren't always as they first appear.

We tend to judge don't we. We tend to rely on first impressions based upon how a person dresses or looks or talks or initially acts in our presence.

Jesus said, "don't judge"! Yet God calls us to have discernment.

What's the difference?

Discernment asks questions until all important facts are understood. Judging accepts hearsay at face value and forms opinions of motives on a few known factors.

Discernment studies all important factors in order to discover root causes for the present problem. Judging openly shares conclusions with those not related to the solution of the problem.

Discernment looks for a comparable problem in personal experience. Judging avoids personal self-evaluation by projecting hostility toward the offender and his offense.

Discernment carefully review the steps taken to overcome a similar problem. Judging has not yet overcome the same personal problem.

Discernment accepts the offender as he is and waits for the right opportunity to approach the problem. Judging fails to differentiate between the sin and the sinner and therefore, reflects a rejection of both.

Discernment gains the confidence of the one in need and then shares the steps taken to overcome a similar problem. Judging tells a person where he has been wrong without providing direction for a solution.

Discernment assumes the responsibility for restoration. Judging reminds God of the shortcomings of the offender.

I encourage us all today to walk in discernment.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mercy always triumphs over judgment

Tonight in our bible study lesson we will be looking at James 2:13, where Pastor James writes, "Mercy triumphs over judgment".

Mercy always triumphs over judgment. It's easy to judge, it's harder to show mercy. Of course there is a big, big difference between judgment and discernment.

Let me give you six basic indicators that expose a judgmental spirit.

1. If that person's failure improves the opinion I have of myself, I am judging.
2. If that's person's failure decreases my concern for the faults I know I have, I am judging.
3. If that's persons failure gives me a desire to see that they are punished and that when I fail I desire only mercy, I am judging.
4. If I am eager to tell others about their failure, I am judging.
5. If that' person failure prompts me to review their past failures, I am judging.
6. If that's persons failure causes me to feel that I cannot forgive them, I am judging.

Mercy always triumphs over mercy.

One of the stories that I love to use (often) in teachings in the big room is the following:

In The Whisper Test, Mary Ann Bird writes: I grew up knowing I was different, and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I looked to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth, and garbled speech.

When schoolmates asked, "What happened to your lip?" I'd tell them I'd fallen and cut it on a piece of glass. Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. I was convinced that no one outside my family could love me.

There was, however, a teacher in the second grade whom we all adored--Mrs. Leonard by name. She was short, round, happy--a sparkling lady. Annually we had a hearing test. ... Mrs. Leonard gave the test to everyone in the class, and finally it was my turn. I knew from past years that as we stood against the door and covered one ear, the teacher sitting at her desk would whisper something, and we would have to repeat it back--things like "The sky is blue" or "Do you have new shoes?"

I waited there for those words that God must have put into her mouth, those seven words that changed my life. Mrs. Leonard said, in her whisper, "I wish you were my little girl." God says to every person deformed by sin, "I wish you were my son" or "I wish you were my daughter."

May we show mercy today in a judgmental world.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Acts of kindness

The news of the shooting at New Life church in Colorado Springs on Sunday is very unsettling. Horrible. Tragic. People killing people. Anger. Violence. We live in such an angry culture. A "spirit of anger" pervades over our society.

That's why a story I heard today brings "cultural relief" in the midst of all of the shootings and killings.

In Greensburg, Pennsylvania yesterday, a woman at a Starbucks decided to pay for the person behind her in the drive through. The man behind her did the same. Two hours later, over 100 consecutive cars participated in this wonderful act of kindness.

The server at the drive thru window would tell each car that they were under no obligation to participate in these acts of kindness. Yet, each person chose to do so.

In spiritual terms, kindness is a fruit of the spirit. It's comes from an outgrowth of our daily relationship with God.

Some people are not inclined toward acts of kindness, yet it's amazing what the Holy Spirit can do in our lives.

Kindness is shown by the words that we speak.

Mother Teresa once said, "Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are truly endless."

There's something to be said for giving someone a word of encouragement such as, "I really appreciate you." "You look great today." "What you said really spoke to my heart." "You're going to make it." "God loves you."

Kindness is also shown by the actions that we do.

I would offer today that true Christianity is demonstrating the kindness of God by offering to do some act of humble service with no strings attached.

Jesus said, "By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Michigan resident Matt Jones decided to offer one of his kidneys, simply because he knew someone would need it.

"I thought that if I could help one person live a decent life, that would be great," Jones said. "It's turned out to be a lot more than that."

Michael Rees, the medical director of the Alliance for Paired Donation, says Jones started the first-ever kidney donation chain.

A kidney donation chain is an innovative idea wherein family members continue to "pay it forward" (that is, after an individual is blessed by a new kidney, someone in the recipient's family agrees to donate a kidney for someone else in need).

Matt Jones's kidney was donated to Barbara Bunnell. Barbara's husband, in turn, will donate his kidney to Angela Heckman, a woman he barely knows. After Angela Heckman receives Bunnell's kidney, Angela's mother will donate her kidney to someone else.

Ron Bunnell, Barb's husband, says, "I look at it as Barb got this gift from Matt, and I'm just paying it forward. It is terrific to be part of something bigger."

Let's all "pay it forward" today.

Monday, December 10, 2007

1 Corinthians 13 and a paraphrase

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Some children were asked what love is. The responses were quite interesting and instructive for us adults.

One said, "Love is when my mommy makes a cup of coffee for my daddy and takes a little taste before she gives it to him to make sure it tastes okay."

Another said, "Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you’ve left him alone all day."

A response was, "You really shouldn’t say, ’I love you’ unless you really mean it, but if you mean it you should say it a lot, people forget."

One boy said, "When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth."

And finally 7 year old Bobby said, "Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."

When you think of love it brings us to 1 Corinthians 13.

Normally we read 1 Corinthians 13 at weddings when in reality it should be a part of our every day lives. Let me give you the NIV version with a personal paraphrase of each verse.

1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

(If I raise my hands in church and sing in the spirit and pray really loud, but do not have love, I am only making a lot of noise with no substance)

2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

(If I have been serving God for a long time and work hard in the church - setting up tables, taking down chairs, but do not have love, it's all style but no substance)

3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

(If I show up at every service, and give in every offering, and lead in worship and pray for people, but do not have love, it doesn't get me anywhere with God)

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

(Love puts people first, it's always able to be gentle when spoken to in a harsh way, it doesn't make a big deal out of things it has done, it's not seeking to control everything)

5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

(Love doesn't try to always "put people in their place," it seeks first to understand and then to be understood, it doesn't always bring things up from the past in the midst of conflict)

6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

(Love speaks creatively and positively about people. It always things the best of people not the worst)

8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

(You can never go wrong in showing love in any situation)

9For we know in part and we prophesy in part,

10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

May we realize the reality of love in our lives.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mormons and being president

Mitt Romney is running for president. Mitt Romney is a mormon.

What's really interesting to me is how Milt Romney's presidential run will play out with Evangelical Christians who consider mormonism a cult.

I quote a news article from MSNBC today, "“He has to present himself as a person of faith,” Mr. Ostling said. “But he has to say he is not controlled by or is subservient to the authorities of his religion.”

I can remember when I was first pastoring in a small town near Bakersfield back in 1981. One of the major issues amongst the evangelical churches was whether to have the Mormon church softball team play in our "church" league and it even went so far as there were some Christians who suggested we banned Christians from going to our local Mormon dentist.

So the bigger question becomes, "can an evangelical Christian vote for a Mormon to be president?"

I don't want so much to give an opinion here as to ask your opinion - what do you think?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Dealing with our anger

We're going through James on Wednesday evenings, and tonight we are going to look at the subject of anger.

We all, at different times in our lives, have difficulty dealing with our anger.

In fact, it can take a great deal of persuasion in the lives of Christians to inform them that yes, all Christians get angry, even mature Christians. It's okay to get angry but it's what we do with our anger that counts.

We don't deny, hide or repress our anger, but express it in the right way.

Christmas is a time of year when our emotions can become rampant.

Christmas 2003 brought several instances of pieces on earth and bad will toward men.

In San Rafael, California, two men exchanged gifts and were offended by what the other gave. In the resulting fight, each man hit the other over the head with a flowerpot. Both were hospitalized.

Twenty-year-old Brandi Nicole Nason was also less than pleased with the gift she received. When her former mother-in-law's house burned, Nason was accused of throwing the Molotov cocktail that started the $200,000 blaze.

Although most people don't know what to do with their tree once the celebration is over, a woman in Victoria, British Columbia, had an idea. She was arrested for beating a man with her Christmas tree. The incident was sparked when the man grumbled that the load of gifts in his arms was heavier than the tree she was carrying.

When her Jensen Beach, Florida, apartment complex held a Christmas-lights competition, Donna Simmons-Groover was a winner briefly. One of her neighbors, incensed at losing the contest, ripped down part of Donna's winning display.

How can we control our emotions?

First of all we must analyze our anger. Proverbs 19:11 tells us that "A man's wisdom gives him patience." We must try to understand why we are angry.

Ask yourself:

Why am I angry?
What do I really want?
How can I get it?

Anger is never really the root problem. It's a symptom, a warning light that is telling you that something is wrong.

There are three causes of anger in our lives: hurt fear and frustration.

Secondly, don't sweat the small stuff and everything is small stuff.

Proverbs 19:11, "A man' wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense."

We can't major on the minors and minor on the majors.


Building safeguards around you. Don't let anger dwell in your spirit. Deal with it immediately. Respond in a godly way. Channel the anger. Energy created by your anger will scrub a lot of floors, mow a lot of grass, build cupboards, run, take walks, play sports and more. Ask for a time out. Count to ten. Say the Lord's prayer. Go for a walk.

Rely on the Holy Spirit.

Let the Holy Spirit help you discover the root of your anger and deal with it before It burns out of control.

Have quiet times to cultivate an environment of peace in your spirit.

Keep an anger journal.

Write every day - marking down the date, time, place and with whom you became angry. Write down why you became angry. What did you wish to accomplish with your anger. How could you have responded in a better way?

Stay away from anger proned people. Proverbs 22:24, "Keep away from angry short-tempered people or you will learn to be like them." Anger is contagious.

The way you express your anger is learned. Somebody has modeled it for you.

The good news is, since it's learned, it can be unlearned. You don't' have to stay stuck in those lousy patterns of anger that you grew up with being a mute or a maniac or a martyr, being a clam-up or a blow-up. You don't have to stay the same. You can change. You can learn new patters with God's help.

Finally, realize the consequences of your anger. Proverbs 14:29, "Anger causes mistakes. When we lose our temper, we lose. we lose the respect of other people. We may lose the love of people we love most. We can lose our health.

One thing I know. Jesus cares about our pain. Jesus wants to replace our frustration with a new level of peace.

May you live in peace today.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

10 questions

I have several questions that I would like to ask those of you who are from Stone Church who are reading this blog.

I encourage you to take the time to respond to them.

Here they are:

1. Why do we exist as a church?
2. What is our purpose?
3. What are we trying to do?
4. What is the point of our church?
5. What is the best thing that has happened in our church in the past 5 years?
6. What 10 words best describe our church?
7. What type of person finds our church most attractive? Least attractive?
8. List the needs of the people who find our church most attractive.
9. What reasons would you give friends for coming to our church?
10. What can we do to become more visible in our community?

Thanks.....I look forward to reading your responses....


Monday, December 03, 2007

Greater things

I found out Saturday evening around 5:30 P.M. that I was going to speak yesterday. Sometimes its during those moments that God chooses to move in his power and grace in a way that amazes us.

Feeling led to speak on the subject of healing, I received word Sunday afternoon that two people shared that they were healed Sunday morning. I also had the opportunity to pray the "sinners prayer" with a new brother in Christ.

Quite the morning. I believe its just the foretaste of what God has in store for us at Stone Church.

Jesus said in John 14:12-14, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these , because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."

While we have celebrated our 100 year history this past year, maybe its time we start believing in ourselves not just because of our wonderful past, but because of our fantastic present and incredible future that God has for us.

Just a thought.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Staying close to God

One of my prayerful desires is that we all seek to be used by God.

Napoleon Hill has written that, "the starting point of all achievement is desire."

Where does that desire come from? From staying close to God.

There's a principle here to remember: As Dwight L. Moody once said, "God always uses the man closest to him."

When I was in high school, I played basketball. When I was taken out of the game, I always liked to sit near the coach so that I would be close enough to him that when it came time to put someone else in, I was right there. He didn't have to look far to find me. That's how much I wanted to get back in and play the game.

God uses those who are eager to get into the game. That's why I want to make a habit of "sitting next to God" so to speak, so that when he's ready to use someone, he sees me first. I want always to be in a position where God can do something with my life.

Isaiah heard the voice of God saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And Isaiah responded, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isaiah 6:8)

God is asking the same question today. He's looking for those who are to ready to be used in a great way. When he's searching the sidelines for someone to take the court, I want to be sitting close to him.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I don't really care for someone who thinks that they know all the answers in life. It just seems to rub me the wrong way. The older I get, the more I realize how much I have to learn. In fact, I desire to continue learning until the day I physically die.

Sometimes in our walk with God we think that we have to have all the answers to really believe, the really have faith, the really be a mature Christian.

Somehow I think God is more interested in the questions that we ask than in us knowing all the answers.

We in our western mindset are so concerned about keeping everything linear, everything in a box, everything understood, not realizing that in the first century time that Jesus walked on this planet, systematic theology was a foreign concept and knowledge was circular, many times explained by stories.

Stories to which people would ask questions.

Again, in the first century, the primary teaching method was one of questioning, and it is by far the most effective at imparting wisdom.

When Jesus was 12 and stayed back in Jerusalem, his mother found him with the teachers of the Law, who were amazed at His questions. In the rabbinical teaching style, the rabbi almost always answers a question with another question - which will ultimately lead to an answer.

The thought process is this - if you ask me a question and I give you my answer, it is my answer. If you hear another answer from someone else that you like better, there is no pain involved because their answer seems better than my answer. However, if you ask me a question and I, in turn ask you questions that lead you to an answer, it is then your answer, and you are much more likely to retain that when faced with alternatives.

Maybe, just maybe we need to become better at asking questions than providing answers.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A deeper walk with God

In my own pilgrimage with God, I have a deep desire to connect with Him outside of the confines of the established church. I have a long way to go.

My background, my history as a believer, lends itself to jumping over a huge hurdle of tying in my faith with my church.

And the two are both very, very important (not wanting to sound like a heretic there). Yet there is something deep within me that desires more in my relationship with God than what happens on Sunday morning.

And there must also be something more to my Christian experience with others than what happens on Sunday morning. That's why small groups (that meet in homes) are a creative and viable way of accomplishing this.

It gives a forum whereby relationships can be established without having to have an end result in mind. But we have relationships for relationship sake - as Christians.

There's an interesting story at Christianity Today about the American religious landscape. The 70 plus percent of Americans that call themselves Christians can be divided into 5 identifiable categories. Here's a quick summary. When you get a chance, read the article.

Active Christians 19%

● Believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ
● Committed churchgoers
● Bible readers
● Accept leadership positions
● Invest in personal faith development through the church
● Feel obligated to share faith; 79% do so.

Professing Christians 20%

● Believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ
● Focus on personal relationship with God and Jesus
● Similar beliefs to Active Christians, different actions
● Less involved in church, both attending and serving
● Less commitment to Bible reading or sharing faith

Liturgical Christians 16%

● Predominantly Catholic and Lutheran
● Regular churchgoers
● High level of spiritual activity
● Recognize authority of the church

Private Christians 24%

● Largest and youngest segment
● Believe in God and doing good things
● Own a Bible, but don't read it
● Spiritual interest, but not within church context
● Only about a third attend church at all
● Almost none are church leaders

Cultural Christians 21%

● Little outward religious behavior or attitudes
● God aware, but little personal involvement with God
● Do not view Jesus as essential to salvation
● Affirm many ways to God
● Favor universality theology

Which category do we "fit into" at Stone Church?

Just some thoughts

Monday, November 26, 2007

A global world

The map of global Christianity that our grandparents knew has been turned upside down. At the start of the 20th century, only ten percent of the world's Christians lived in the continents of the south and east.

Ninety percent lived in North America and Europe, along with Australia and New Zealand. But at the start of the 21st century, at least 70 percent of the world's Christians live in the non-Western world—more appropriately called the majority world.

More Christians worship in Anglican churches in Nigeria each week than in all the Episcopal and Anglican churches of Britain, Europe, and North America combined. There are more Baptists in Congo than in Britain.

More people in church every Sunday in communist China than in all of Western Europe. There are ten times more Assemblies of God members in Latin America than in the U.S.

We are truly becoming a global world in our faith.

That's one reason (amongst many) that I have already grown to love Stone Church. We didn't realize when we came that there are so many different nationalities represented here. And wasn't it cool to see all of the Nigerians celebrating with us yesterday?

I went to the social security office the other day and heard polish, spanish, arabic and a little english....great stuff!

Debbie and I feel right at home with the different cultures.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year. We celebrate giving thanks to the Father, but it's also a day of fun, food, family and football.

What are you thankful for?

I am thankful for my children (and that includes my son-in-law) who are all serving God.

I am thankful for my wife, my best friend, my encourager and life companion.

I am thankful for the opportunity to serve and lead a wonderful church with a great staff and faithful leadership.

I am thankful for my good health, which I don't take lightly.

I am thankful for my relationship with God. He is so patient with me.

But this week, I am also extremely grateful for the opportunity to lead Stone Church into the future.

It has been said that in every man's lifetime is one great opportunity to do something great for God. That has already taken place in my life.

Now, God is giving me a second opportunity to do something great for Him. For that I am grateful.

I believe that within 15 years, we as a church will:

Build in Orland Park on 183rd Street
See our church grow numerically to 1500
Plant 4 churches
Give 1 million dollars a year to missions.

Now that's a great opportunity. My prayer is that you will take the journey with us.

Be blessed,


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Attitudes - part II

Let's continue to talk about reasons why some people live with a bad attitude:

The next one might surprise you - but it's true: sin.

sin in our lives. We are embarrassed that we did something or frustrated that we can't quit a bad habit or discouraged about ourselves because we did sin. Paul said, "that which I don't want to do I do and that which I do I don't want to do."

Some say, "Why even try? I'm going to fail anyway."

Criticism is another one. Everyone of us has experienced someone saying something hurtful to us. And if our attitude is not right we can try to strike back at them which never pays. Here's what I know: Whatever you do in life - there will be someone who will criticize.

These people are like the man who gathered with many others at the Hudson River to see the first steamship launched. He kept saying, "They'll never get her going. They'll never get her going." But they did. The steamship belched and moved out fast. Immediately the same man said, "They'll never get her stopped. They'll never get her stopped."

I love the Chinese proverb that states, "man who says it cannot be done," should not interrupt man who is doing it."

Discouragement can cause me to live with a bad attitude.

Liken Elijah we can find ourselves sitting underneath a juniper tree thinking that we are the only one serving God; the only one faithful.

Until God comes along and has to finally break through that place of discouragement
and say, "Wait a minute, many others are serving me as well."

Finally, fear of failure. You can become so gripped with the idea that you might fail that you sit in the dugout of life sucking your thumb - afraid to pick up the bat and go out and swing at the ball because you might strike out. The motto of the person who fears failure is, "If at first you don't succeed, destroy all the evidence you even tried."

More tomorrow....

Monday, November 19, 2007


This Sunday morning I am teaching on the subject of attitudes. Some thoughts about attitudes that will not be in my sermon.

Having a correct attitude can make or break a situation, a family, a job, and even a church (or should I say especially a church).

Why do some people have bad attitudes?

1. Problems. Problems can cause us to live with negative feelings toward life. We can begin to think t ourselves, "if only this problem wasn't here, If only I could get a better job, If only I could lose more weight, If only I could get out of debt."

And when that happens, when things don't take place in the way we think it should happen or in the time frame that it should happen it can give us a bad attitude.

2. Negativism. Someone once wrote that there are three types of people: those who make things happen, those who watch tings happen, and those who say, "what happened."

The destructive force behind negativism is that is is contagious. It blows everything out of proportion. It limits your potential.

3. Change. Something I have been blogging about a lot lately. We resist change, don't we. We are creatures of habit. We form habits and then we let our habits form us. We are what we repeatedly do.

When that is touched ti can give us a feeling of insecurity which can bring about a bad attitude.

Again, change doesn't bring growth, but growth means change.

More tomorrow.....

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Slinkys and the church

Han Finzel has written an excellent book entitled, "Change is like a Slinky".

Do you remember Slinkys? I know I do. The Slinky spring toy was one of my all-time favorites as a child.

He writes that change is a lot like a Slinky.

Why Change is like a slinky:

1. You have to take it out of the box to have fun with it.
2. It comes in many styles and colors.
3. Somebody has to launch it on its way.
4. The course it takes once it begins is entirely unpredictable.
5. It routinely gets stuck halfway down the stairs, and has to be relaunched. Repeat as necessary.
6. It is messy, noisy, and chaotic.
7. Before it is launched, it has stored potential energy - when launched, that energy force becomes kinetic energy.
8. You really don't control it once it begins it journey.
9. It rarely lands where you predict.

He writes, "A Slinky is one long continuous wire that loops around as it forms a long cylindrical tube. It is a two-inch stack of ninety-eight coils. Change is like that as well; it loops around and continually regenerates itself as an ever-spiraling process.....Change happens constantly. Leaders initiate it, but others cause it to happen just as often. The effective leader is the person who harnesses, then processes change for the good of the organization......Just like Slinky's endless metal loop, change goes in cycles. These cycles are like cyclones swirling throughout our organizations. Some are tiny, like the dirt devils we watched with fascination in a parking lot as young children - dirt and debris circling up and down and around, tracing an unpredictable path. Others are larger and can do more damage. One is fizzling out as the next is gaining steam. Like waves crashing on the beach, they just keep coming and cannot be controlled. Maybe this is why I also love watching the ocean. Something about waves and campfires...they are fun to stare at because now two waves or flames are ever alike."

Good stuff.

What changes would you like to see around Stone Church?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I heard Joe Torre being interviewed the other day (the former manager of the New York Yankees) and he was saying that there were two basic elements to his success as a manager in the big leagues:

1. The ability to lay aside grudges
2. The commitment to the team

Both are needed in church life.

Growing churches are healthy churches; filled with people who know and understand that living in forgiveness is not a one time act but a lifestyle of freely giving grace to those around us.

Growing church are also filled with people who are committed to the team.

Our culture has so ingrained us to be only concerned about our needs and our rights that we have forgotten or just plain out right don't pay attention to the teachings of Jesus. That it is as I give up my rights that I receive great blessing.

We are not called to focus in on our rights but our responsibilities.

Let me give you an illustration of this:

Certain ants in South and Central American rain forests will lie down in the potholes that stand between their army and food. Their bodies form a makeshift bridge, allowing other ants—sometimes numbering over 200,000—to make better time in getting to the source of nourishment.

This pattern in the life of ants was discovered through research done at England's University of Bristol. Researchers took a wooden plank and drilled different sized holes in it, simulating a narrow trail.

Ants would find holes equal to their size and lay down inside, letting others walk safely over them. When the raiding party accomplished its mission and was returning to its nest, the faithful few climbed out of their holes and followed the raiders home.

May the Father help us all to recommit ourselves to such faithfulness to His church and to the world around us

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Caring for others

One of my desires for Stone Church is that we continue to grow in the area of ministry outside our four walls.

I see that happening already! It goes back to the quote I used last Sunday night, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

One author expressed it like this:

"I had been praying regularly with the deacons for one of our members. His wife, Pat, attended our small congregation faithfully, but John hadn't been to church in years. So every Sunday afternoon before the evening service, we prayed for ways to communicate our commitment to John and his family.

It wasn't long before we received an answer. During the morning service one week, Pat told us through tears that John had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. A surgery was planned for the following week, and doctors were confident John would make a full recovery.

The bad news was John would be out of work for months. He drove a log truck and was paid by the mile. There was no way he could recover while spending ten hours a day in a bumpy eighteen-wheeler, but if he didn't drive, John and Pat didn't get a paycheck.

The congregation sprang immediately to action. There was no question whether the congregation would pitch in to support the family in their time of need. That afternoon in an emergency business meeting, we sat around a long folding table and our head deacon, a trucker himself, asked with his characteristic boldness, "How much can everyone give?" Some pledged $50 or $100 a month; one family committed to pay for utilities and another for groceries, whatever the cost. Beginning immediately, Anchor Baptist Church took responsibility for the wellbeing of one of its families. All bills were paid on time; there was a new supply of groceries on the front steps every weekend; some of the men made sure the lawn was mowed and other maintenance issues around the house were addressed.

John has since rejoined the congregation. Months after his surgery John testified on a Sunday morning that the church's tireless care of his family had convinced him that the congregation did not simply want another warm body in the seats or an extra dollar in the offering plate; they were committed to sharing their lives and resources with him unconditionally."

So true.....may we all reach out to those in need around us.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

New beginnings

Some thoughts from last Sunday night:

The beginning of any life change can be a make or break time.

Babies are most vulnerable during the first few hours of life; airplanes are more likely to crash on take-off than at any other time; marriages can be ruined for good in the first weeks or months of the relationship; and the vast majority of new businesses fail within their first year.

A good start is crucial.

How can we as pastor and church begin well?

Let's first of all face up to our past.

We all have things in our past that we are not proud of. Things we regret, things we cannot go back and change.

I know I do - and so do you. What's true individually is true corporately as well. Churches have events that have taken place in their past that they are not aware of.

We are at the end of a year long celebration of the history of Stone Church. We remember the 100 years not only to celebrate the good of what has happened but to remember and to learn from the negative events so that we won't repeat what has occurred in the past.

We must learn from the past - but we must not live in the past.

We must use failure to push us forward. Failure is never final unless we let it be.

I am not perfect. No church is perfect. We must all relax and instead of bringing one another down because of our imperfections, we must strive to build one another up in the realization that only a perfect God can keep us in complete unity.

Also, beginning well means developing trust. Trust is earned. Trust takes time. Forgiveness and love are given freely and daily. Trust must be earned. For those of you in the Stone Church reading this; take your time and watch me, let me earn your trust.

But what is true of me is true of you as well. I am watching you and seeing whom I can trust. There is no such thing as immediate trust. We need a few positive experiences to base a budding trust upon.

Some have been burned by a pastor in the past. Others are just the opposite, they were connected with a pastor in the past in a close and sometimes life-changing way and they wonder if anyone will ever live up to them and the relationship they had with them.

Thirdly, beginning well means being willing to sacrifice.

If we are going to see Stone Church "turn around" we must reinvest ourselves in the idea of sacrifice. When are we going to learn that God is not so much concerned about our happiness as he is our holiness and helping in the kingdom of God.

Beginning well means staying focused on the goal. What is our goal? Our mission? Ultimately to connect people to God. You and I were put on this planet to connect with God and connect other people to God.

We are not ultimately in the "maintaining a building" business, nor are we ultimately in the "building a building" business, but we are in the "people" business.

Just some thoughts on a Thursday.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Last Sunday afternoon I was meditating on the Sunday evening service (which means I was flat on my back asleep). When I awoke, the following thoughts came to me.

We desire the fire of God to be experienced at Stone Church.

What brings about the fire?

F - Freedom

Let's be free to worship God in spirit and in truth. Let's be free in our daily walk with God. God has not called us to legalism but to holiness!

I - Invite

Let's continue to invite anyone and everyone to join us in connecting with God and with one another.

R - Release

Let's release control. 85% of all church conflict is due to one thing. Who is in control? We camouflage it with all kinds of issues - church music, personality differences, ministry direction, but the enemy loves to confuse and attack us with feelings of "If it's to be - it's up to me."

E - Expect great things

Let's expect great things from God! We learn from the past, live in the present and lock-in on the future.

Freedom, Invitate, release, expect....may the fire of God fall!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I'm back!

I'm back! Debbie and I have transitioned to Palos Heights, Illinois (Chicago) and we are having a blast. We are now the lead pastor for the Stone Church, the oldest church in the Assemblies of God.

Transitions are interesting. It has been said that we are either entering a room, residing in a room or leaving a room. Life is full of transitions and seasons.

Transitions are cleansing. Everyone comes with a clean slate. While we all carry baggage from the past, our relationships with one another are full of deposits with no withdrawals.

Transitions are full of changing. At no time are we more open to change than during transitions.

Here's a great question that we can discuss today: Do you look toward change while at the beginning of a transition while the atmosphere is full of change - or do you go slow and build up trust levels and then make changes after a season of relational growth.

Interesting question......

Monday, October 08, 2007

Divorce and children

One thing I am learning as I share with couples who are walking through a divorce is the hardship is brings upon the children. How do they survive?

While divorce is never good for children, it may result in a less destructive environment and thus be a relief for them.

Each child is so different. Each reacts in different ways. Depending upon their age at the time of their parents divorce, they may express their feelings in a number of different ways.

They will need a great deal of love and support from both of their parents, from their extended family and from their church family.

The positive news is that though it maybe very difficult for them, children can grow up healthy in a divorced family.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Make the best of your situation. Find someone to talk to about the guilt you feel for involving your children in a divorce. Resist the temptation to dig up your guilt once Calvary has covered it. With God's help, focus your attention on your children's needs instead of your own. Help them get on with life.

2. Learn to co-parent with your former spouse

Remember that you both still love your children even though perhaps you no longer love each other.

Understand that your former spouse may be legally and morally unfit (by Christian standards) to parent your children.

Reorganize and accept that your children will be exposed to your former mate's lifestyle.

Resist the urge to continue your battles through your children by being difficult about visitation schedules.

3. How do you respond when your child prays that their parents get back together?

Explain that God allows us the freedom to make some decision that are not exactly what He would choose for us to do.

When we make those unwise choices, we must take a change on being hurt by the consequences of them.

God loves us during the time we are hurt by our own bad choices just like parents keep on loving children who are hurt by their bad choices.

When two people decide to get a divorce, or one person decides to get a divorce form the other person, God won't force them to get back together.

Just some thoughts that I hope will help. More to come.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I will not I feel

When I wake up some days, I just don't want to do right.

How about you?

It's not that I want to do wrong it's just that, well, I just don't want to right.

I don't feel like praying. I don't feel like reading the Bible. I don't feel like attacking the items on my to-do list. I feel like doing, nothing.

Then I remember the words of Paul in Philippians 2:13, "For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him."

The NIV says it this way: "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."

The Living Translation says desire, the NIV says will. Maybe will is a better word--will implies a choice, desire implies a feeling. Either way, on those blah days, my first order of business is to lay my desires, my will (or, perhaps, my "won't) before God and ask him to transform it by his mighty power.

I've learned something about this process (and this is why I quoted both translations today). When you make the choice to surrender to him, he changes your desires. Even when all you have to offer him is a "won't" , he can change it into a "will". He gives you the desire to obey him, and the strength to do what pleases him.

Monday, October 01, 2007


Change can be exciting and challenging at the same time.

Some people suffer under change. It's difficult.

Other thrive on it.

Here's what I am learning. Change is seasonal.

I'm a big believer in seasons.

There are seasons of success.

There are seasons of failure.

The writer to the Ecclesiastes puts it this way in Ecclesiastes chapter 3:

" There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

9 What does the worker gain from his toil?

10 I have seen the burden God has laid on men.

11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.

13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.

14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.

15 Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account."

City Slickers recounts the adventures of three friends having mid-life crises. They escape the city and head west for a two-week cattle run to discover what's important in life.

Before they leave, Mitch (played by Billy Crystal) shares what he does for a living at Dad's Day at his son's school. Instead of talking about his work as a salesman, Mitch bewilders the third graders with a monologue about how bleak their future is.

He says:

Value this time in your life, kids, because this is the time in your life when you still have your choices, and it goes by so quickly. When you're a teenager, you think you can do anything, and you do.

Your 20s are a blur.

Your 30s, you raise your family, you make a little money, and you think to yourself, What happened to my 30s?

Your 40s, you grow a little pot belly. You grow another chin. The music starts to get too loud, and one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother.

Your 50s, you have a minor surgery. You'll call it a procedure, but it's a surgery.

Your 60s, you have a major surgery; the music is still loud, but it doesn't matter because you can't hear it anyway.

70s, you and the wife retire to Fort Lauderdale. You start eating dinner at 2:00, lunch around 10:00, breakfast the night before. And you spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate in soft yogurt and muttering, "How come the kids don't call?"

By your 80s, you've had a major stroke, and you end up babbling to some Jamaican nurse who your wife can't stand but who you call mama.

Any questions?

Different seasons bring about different changes in our lives.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Why churches die

Why do churches die?

Great question.

The great issue facing churches today is not church growth but church health.

The first question a well-established church must ask is not, "is our church growing," but "is our church healthy"? A healthy church is a growing church.

Disease can take hold of a church and snuff the life out of it.

One of the most fatal diseases is spiritual atrophy.

Atrophy is defined as "to waste way or cause to waste away."

"To fail to grow to normal size"

What is spiritual atrophy in terms of church life?

It is when churches, who have had a glorious past, I mean they have walked with god, served God, and seen great things happen, stop seeking him, serving him and reaching out in faith. Buildings are paid off, staff is present to do the work, everyone is "content".

As a result the abilities of the church, the discernment, the faith, the ability to believe God to do the impossible has lessened. The "spiritual muscles" of the people of God are tired and flabby because of a lack of use and exercise.

One writer said it this way, "Spiritual atrophy - the deteriorating of your spiritual muscles from lack of use- - is such an insidious disease and poison that it reflects virtually every Christian at one time or another. Resting on our laurels and rejoicing in victories long since fought is so winsome that entire churches have been built on this disease! They have become mausoleums to yesterday and museums to display revival long ago, rather than sacred places where men and women seek the face of God daily."

Strong stuff.

What's the first and primary way of breaking out of spiritual atrophy? Well, again, there are many reasons, but first of all, EACH PERSON IN THE CHURCH MUST TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE HEALTH OF THE CHURCH. Stop blaming.

I must take responsibility. You must take responsibility. It's my right to point fingers and share concerns and make statements like, "I really do wish our church can grow." It's another thing entirely to say, "I am going to be the person of God He has called me to be, and I am going to do the things that he desires me to do."

May we walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Knowing God

One thing is for certain. I want to know God. I want to draw closer to Him. It's so easy to be distracted by so many things.

A good example of this is found in Luke 10:40-42. Jesus had come to visit two sisters named Mary and Martha. Dr. Luke writes that Martha was distracted by all the preparations. Do any of you identify with that phrase? Martha was distracted by her many duties and tasks and became disturbed because her sister wasn't helping out.

Those who have the motivational gift of serving can become frustrated with intercessors and those who spend time with God.

Martha then marched up to Jesus and boldly declared, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me." Rebuking the son of God!

Why was she so mad? Because Mary was just sitting at the feet of Jesus.

"But the Lord answered her, Martha, Martha, you're worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better..."

Let me ask you, do you find yourself like Martha? Do duties on your to-do list distract you from becoming fully devoted to God?

Is your life so busy, that you don't have time to stop, even for a moment and figure out the purpose of life? Statisticians tell us that we will live an average of 25,550 days. Don't you think it would be wise to take one of those days to figure out what you should do with the rest of them?

Notice the phrase, Mary has chosen what is better. You know why I like that? Because it means its a choice.

You say, "I just can't get it all done." You're right, but it isn't all worth doing anyway. You don't have to do it all. A lot of things in your all are self-imposed and they're really not mandatory. You just do them, maybe out of expectations, or habit, or perhaps because you just like doing those things.

Here's what I know. You've got the time to grow spiritually. Do you want to make the time? Will you make the choice to make the time? Will you, like Mary, choose the better part?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Forgiveness and those closest to us

It's interesting to me that most of the resentment that people carry is with people they are the closet to.

If someone cuts you off on the highway, you forget about it and go on. You don't hold any resentment against that person because they are no longer a part of your life.

90% of all resentment occurs in the family.

There's the cute story of a married couple who had a quarrel and ended up giving each other the silent treatment. A week into their mute argument, the man realized he needed his wife's help. In order to catch a flight to Chicago for a business meeting, he had to get up at 5 a.m.

Not wanting to be the first to break the silence, he wrote on a piece of paper, "Please wake me at 5 a.m."

The next morning the man woke up only to discover his wife was already out of bed, it was 9 a.m., and his flight had long since departed. He was about to find his wife and demand an answer for her failings when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed.

He read, "It's 5 a.m. Wake up."

Some people carry grudges for years.

We must forgive.

Sometimes we don't forgive because we think that if we do, we are conceding that the other person is right and we are wrong.

True forgiveness is not saying that they are right and you are wrong but only that you give up your right to retaliate. You see them as more than their sins.

I like what Stormie Omartian wrote, "Forgiveness doesn't make the other person right, it makes you free."

Forgive and be free today!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The power of forgiveness

In forgiveness is power.

In forgiveness is peace.

In forgiveness is the presence of God.

The most powerful scene of forgiveness that I have ever seen was in the movie, "The Mission."

The Mission tells the story of a Jesuit priest named Gabriel who is commissioned to build a mission in South America for the Guarani Indians.

On the way, Gabriel meets Mendoza (Robert DeNiro), a mercenary who has been a slave trader. His slaves have included Guarani Indians. Mendoza is also trapped in a prison of guilt and regret for having killed his brother in a jealous rage. Gabriel attempts to persuade the guilt-stricken man to accompany him to the Guarani village where he has committed so many of his sins.

"There is a way out, Mendoza," Gabriel says.

"For me there is no redemption," Mendoza replies.

"God gave us the burden of freedom. You chose your crime; do you have the courage to choose your penance? Do you dare do that?"

"There is no penance hard enough for me."

"But do you dare try it?"

"Do I dare? Do you dare to see it fail?"

As they begin the arduous journey, the priest straps a huge sack of armor on Mendoza's back. To reach the village the men must travel over cliffs and waterfalls. The journey is nearly impossible for someone with 100 pounds of armor strapped to his back.

They finally reach their destination, and the Indians are excited to see Gabriel. But as they recognize Mendoza, it becomes a moment of truth. One of the Indian men unsheathes a knife and holds it to Mendoza's neck.

Mendoza remains calm, prepared to receive the punishment he deserves for his sins. Then, in an unexpected portrait of grace, the Indian removes his knife from Mendoza's throat and cuts the pack of armor free.

All watch as it falls from the slave trader's back and clanks down the mountainside into a ravine below. Mendoza, shocked and confused, begins to sob uncontrollably and clings to the Indian man's feet in contrition.

When you and I forgive, it opens the door for the Holy Spirit to minister to the person who has offended us - and bring about change.

May you and I forgive today.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Forgiving by feeling forgiven

One of the things I'm learning is that people who have a difficult time forgiving often have a hard time feeling forgiven, especially by God.

I mean after all, "why should I forgive you, when others or even God doesn't forgive me?"

I think we all realize that God's forgiveness is far reaching. He desires to forgive us. He backed that desire up with his action of sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins.

Yet many struggle with guilt after God has forgiven them.

David prayed in Psalms 32:5, "....I will confess my transgression to the Lord - and you forgave the guilt of my sin."

Are you struggling with forgiving someone? Check out your own ability to receive God's forgiveness.

So many struggle with this.

Garrison Keillor shares this story:

"Larry the Sad Boy ... was saved 12 times in the Lutheran church, an all-time record. Between 1953 and 1961 he threw himself weeping and contrite on God's throne of grace on 12 separate occasions--and this in a Lutheran church that wasn't evangelical, had no altar call, no organist playing "Just as I Am Without One Plea" while a choir hummed and a guy with shiny hair took hold of your heartstrings and played you like a cheap guitar. This is the Lutheran church, not a bunch of hillbillies. These are Scandinavians, and they repent in the same way that they sin: discreetly, tastefully, at the proper time. ...

Twelve times! Even we fundamentalists got tired of him. ... God did not mean for us to feel guilt all our lives. There comes a point when you should dry your tears and join the building committee and start grappling with the problems of the church furnace and ... make church coffee and be of use, but Larry kept on repenting and repenting."

At some point and time we must accept God's forgiveness, stand up from the altar and move on.

And when we do, it will release us, truly release us to forgive others.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Forgiveness - the cement of true Christian community

I witnessed a true miracle yesterday. It was the miracle of forgiveness.

The heavens opened up and the Spirit of God fell and forgiveness flowed and......God smiled.

We are never more like God than when we forgive.

It's the cement, the glue of Christian community. Community is not possible without the willingness to forgive one another "seventy-seven times" as Jesus put it in Matthew 18.

Forgiveness is what holds us together through good and bad times, and it allows us to grow in mutual love.

In his book "What's so Amazing About Grace," Philip Yancey writes that Unforgiveness, "plays like a background static of life for families, nations, and institutions. Unforgiveness is sadly our natural human state. We nurse sores, go to elaborate lengths to rationalize our behavior, perpetuate family feuds, punish ourselves, punish others - all to avoid the most unnatural act of forgiving."

He is right.

Forgiving is a commitment not let let feelings of resentment come between us and those who have wronged us.

It's a choice - not a feeling.

On the morning of October 2, 2006, a troubled milkman named Charles Carl Roberts barricaded himself inside the West Nickel Mine Amish School, ultimately murdering five young girls and wounding six others. Roberts committed suicide when police arrived on the scene. It was a dark day for the Amish community of West Nickel Mines, but it was also a dark day for Marie Roberts—the wife of the gunman—and her two young children.

But on the following Saturday, Marie experienced something truly countercultural while attending her husband's funeral. That day, she and her children watched as Amish families—about half of the 75 mourners present—came and stood alongside them in the midst of their own blinding grief. Despite the crime the man had perpetrated, the Amish came to mourn Charles Carl Roberts—a husband and daddy.

Bruce Porter, a fire department chaplain who attended the service, described what moved him most about the gesture: "It's the love, the forgiveness, the heartfelt forgiveness they have toward the family. I broke down and cried seeing it displayed." He added that Marie Roberts was also touched. "She was absolutely, deeply moved by the love shown."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Benefit of being an empty nester

Debbie and I are now "empty-nesters."

Do we miss our children? Yes.

But are we having fun being with one another by ourselves? Yes.

I suppose there will be times of intense longing to be with our children, especially as the holidays come.

But right now, we're having a blast.

Part of that, I guess, is because our kids our doing so well in their respective jobs and universities. For that, we are grateful to the Lord.

But part of it is that Debbie and I have just this great relationship.

Oh, it has its ups and downs, every marriage has problems, but she is my best friend.

Lately I have caught myself glancing at her and feelings of love just overwhelm me.

Alright, enough of that "mushy" stuff.

How can you tell if your marriage is not going well?

I encourage you to read the article below, which lists some of the warning signs. If one or more of these points apply to your relationship with your spouse - I encourage you to talk to a friend, a pastor or a counselor. Don't delay!

"The biblical ideal for marriage is that we "become one flesh" with our spouses. If the sense of unity and fulfillment begins to erode, it doesn't usually happen as a cataclysmic event. Signs of erosion can alert us to danger.

You find yourself looking for alternatives to being with your spouse. Time demands are always barriers to oneness, but when the marital relationship slips in priority, these multiply. They may masquerade as legitimate demands—work, church and community activities, or children's needs. We generally do the things that are rewarding. If the marriage isn't providing many rewards, it will be avoided.

You feel increasingly irritated at your mate's behavior. Every couple could list pet peeves with each other. My wife, Melissa, can, and in all honesty, I can too. We ordinarily negotiate or adjust to these. When things aren't going well, however, they become magnified in our perceptions. The resulting frustration becomes expressed in criticism, humiliation, or avoidance.

You don't ask your spouse to do things for you as much as usual. A healthy marriage finds the comfortable balance of mutual dependency. (This is not "co-dependency," an unhealthy dynamic that squelches individuality.) When one or both partners are dissatisfied with the union, that dependency creates guilt or anxiety. It becomes easier to regress to independence than allow your mate to meet your needs.

You quit sharing details of your life. In the daily routines of life, information is exchanged. When the relationship is slipping, sharing even minor experiences and mundane schedules begins to feel threatening.

Your sexual interest wanes. Even with the high male drive for sexual release and the strong female need for closeness, when the magic is out of the romance, so is the sexual desire. This may manifest itself in aversion, or subtly, in increased physical complaints, arguments at bedtime, or a pattern of going to bed at different times.

You begin to want to be with a person of the opposite sex. Remember that spark you felt when your mate first came on the scene? Whatever that is—hormones, unresolved needs, the competitive urge, or a heavenly touch—lovers light up when their beloved appears. "The very thought of you, and I forget to do … " is the way one of my favorite old songs puts it. When you find yourself lighting up for some other person, look out!

You withhold financial resources. Most couples have a strong sense of financial responsibility for the marriage. It may survive long after relational oneness is gone. When marriages begin to fail, partners often begin to look out for themselves. Full disclosure about money diminishes. Separate bank accounts may be opened, often secretly. Money, like sex, is a powerful barometer for marital health, and withholding it can signal problems."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Now that all of our kids are out of the house and either in college or working in jobs, I have decided that I am now an authority on parenting.

Just kidding.

Parenting is tough.

It's tough because many times you just don't know what to do. And it's tough because when you do fail, you feel crummy, out of sorts and discouraged.

In his book Revolutionary Parenting, George Barna says there are three dominant approaches to parenting in the United States.

Parenting by default is what Barna terms the path of least resistance. This approach is influenced by cultural norms and traditions. The objective is to keep everyone as happy as possible so the parents can still enjoy the other prioritized aspects of their lives.

Trial-and-error parenting is based on the notion that every parent is an amateur at raising children. There are no absolute guidelines to follow, so the best that parents can do is experiment, observe outcomes, and improve upon their successes and failures. In this incremental approach, the goals of parenting are to continually perform better than most other parents.

Barna found that a more revolutionary approach to parenting was the least common approach. Revolutionary parenting takes God's words on life and family at face value and seeks to apply them faithfully and consistently.

Perhaps the most startling difference in these approaches to parenting has to do with the desired outcomes. "Parenting by default and trial-and-error are both approaches that enable parents to raise their children without the effort of defining their life," Barna explained.

"Revolutionary parenting, which is based on one's faith in God, makes parenting a life priority. Those who engage in revolutionary parenting define success as intentionally facilitating faith-based transformation in the lives of their children, rather than simply accepting the aging and survival of the child as a satisfactory result."

May we be the best parents we can be with God's help and direction.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Knowing what you want

What do you really want out of life?

It's an interesting question.

I'd be interested in your response.

Some say:

"I want to be happy"
"I want to have a great job with wonderful benefits"
"I want to be married"
"I want to get my masters"
"I want to have children"

Ben Stein said, "The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want." This sounds obvious, but the fact is that a lot of people can't articulate what they want, beyond the vague desire to "be happy."

When we invest time thinking about what we really want, we learn some things.

First, we learn that we don't really want what we think we want -- not enough to do something about it. We don't want to be healthy enough to give up unhealthy food; we don't want a good family life enough to give up golf; we don't want to change the world enough to sacrifice a little money.

We also learn that many of our wants are in conflict with one another.

We want financial peace but we also want to spend according to our whims; we want to be leaders but we also want to be ever popular; we want to be spiritual but we also want to hold on to our favorite sins.

David wrote, "Take delight in the Lord and he will give you your heart's desires." (Psalm 37:4)

Here's what I know:

Putting God first empowers us to prioritize our wants -- to eliminate the ones that don't belong on the list, to focus on the things that truly matter.

What do you want, really want? Is it enough to do something about it, enough to do without something else? Is it in line with the desires of God's heart? Do you know what it is?

I encourage all of us to spend some time evaluating ourselves, identifying what really are the desires of our hearts. Then bring them to God. Lay them at his feet; and then press on knowing that we are in His will.

Monday, September 10, 2007

God's Will

God's will - an interesting facet of our walk with God.

We all want to walk in God's perfect will.

Some people massage circumstances to create what they perceive is God's will for their lives.

Some of us are like the man who was on a diet and prayed as he drove to work-

"Now, Lord if it is your will for me not to have any donuts this morning You make sure there are no parking places in front of the donut shop."

And he later said, "I ate the donuts because there were two places right up front on only my 8th trip around the block."

We need to make sure we don’t play the game of making God’s guidance fit what we want rather than seeing if what we want actually fits His plans.

Others of us agonize over God's will. We want to make sure that it's his "perfect" will for our lives."

I think sometimes we all need to chill out a little bit in knowing this. Whether I choose God's plan A or plan B for my life - God can always bring plan A results out of our plan B choices.

What is God's "perfect" will for our lives? To know Him, to strive for purity, and to live with Him for eternity.

Outside of that, it's all dependent upon our leaning upon him, step by step.

So I encourage all of us today, let's don't force a round peg in a square hole, or get so uptight about the process of finding God's will that we lose our joy in the present.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The One Thing

Sometimes I am asked about sermon preparation and how I "put together" my teachings. One of my initial responses is that the hardest part of creating a presentation is picking the topic. Everything after that just seems to fall into place.

Stanely Goldsein once said, "The trick in life is to decide what's your major aim....once that's settled, you can get on with the happy, orderly process of achieving it."

I agree with that. What is your purpose? What is your goal in life? What is your aim?

Paul writes in Philippians 3:13....but one thing I do...." Paul was single-minded, focused. And everything else fell into place.

In the movie “City Slickers,” Billy Crystal plays a confused, dissatisfied thirty-something character with a vague sense that life is passing him by. Jack Palance- ancient, leathery, wise to the ways of the world (“a saddlebag with eyes”) – asks Crystal if he would like to know the secret of life.

“it’s this,” Palance says, holding up a single finger.
“The secret of life is your finger?” asks Crystal.
“It’s one thing,” Palance replies. “The secret of life is pursuing one thing.”

Somehow this resonates deeply with Billy Crystal’s character.

His life is scattered. He is torn between his obligation to his family and his desire for career advancement; between his need for security and his appetite for excitement.

He is divided somehow. His life is about many things, and so, he senses, it is about nothing.

The way to take your life from nothing to something is to figure out the "one thing" that God has called you to do - and do it. And everything else will naturally mesh with the purpose he has for your life.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Listening with our hurts

One of the great mistakes that we in the kingdom make is to talk about our own suffering when we are listening to others describe theirs.

Speaking about our own hurts is seldom helpful to someone who is in tremendous pain whether it be emotional or physical.

"Well, I remember when my Uncle Bob had the same surgery you are having and he died," I heard someone say. Real comfort, huh.

As Henri Nouwen writes, "A wounded healer is someone who can listen to a person in pain without having to speak about his or her own wounds."

Here's a suggestion. Let's use depression as an example. When you have lived through a difficult time of depression, you can listen with great attention and love to someone who is dealing with depression without mentioning your own experience.

Almost always, it is better to let someone share about their own suffering, rather than entering in and sharing our own.

Again, Nouwen writes, "We have to trust that our own bandaged wounds will allow us to listen to others with our whole being. That is healing."

Good stuff.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Desiring God

In 1955, the largest soda McDonald's offered was 7 ounces. In a little over 50 years, it has swelled six times that size to 42 ounces.

In a recent international marketing campaign, McDonald's is pushing their super-sized drink more than ever, lovingly naming it "Hugo" to entice customers.

Should someone choose to grab a Hugo, he or she will be taking in over 400 calories in the drink alone.

When is enough enough? Our culture craves for more, more, more. It goes back to what we were talking about yesterday. There is a sense in which we are never satisfied.

Only Jesus can satisfy. Only a true relationship with Him.

Yet for some, the presence of God is an acquired taste.

I can remember when I first started drinking coffee. I hated it. Now, I love it. It is an acquired taste.

Let me tell you something. When you and I reach heaven, tasting of the presence of the Lord will be an acquired taste for some.

Many have trouble spending time in the presence of the Lord. They crave and drink of so many other things.

Yet in heaven, we will be filled with presence of the Lord. Are you ready for that?

I encourage all of us to begin to taste and drink of the true drink: the water of the presence of God. Lot less calories there also.....

Monday, August 27, 2007


The Rolling Stones used to sing, "I can't get no satisfaction."

I was reading this week in John Ortberg's new book that talk-show host Dennis Prager wrote about an ad he read for a sex therapist in Los Angeles: "If you're not completely satisfied with your sex life, give us a call."

The more he thought about it, the more he was stuck by the brilliance of the ad, all because of two words: "completely satisfied."

Who is ever completely satisfied with anything?

John Ortberg writes:

"Imagine these ads:

If you're not completely satisfied with your spouse, give us a call.
If you're not completely satisfied with y our body, give us a call.
If you're not completely satisfied with you church, give us a call.

Here's what he writes, and it is so true, "we are completely satisfied with nothing."

Wow. What a thought. We are completely satisfied with nothing.

What would it take to satisfy you in any area of life?

We can be so demanding can't we!

Our problem isn't that we want more. Wouldn't you agree that our problem is that we are looking in all the wrong places? We are not just physical beings, we are spiritual beings, created by God for communion and connection with Him.

Our deepest hunger is spiritual. If our spiritual hunger is not met than all the rest will continue to be in the land of dissatisfaction.

The apostle Paul wrote, "I have learned the secret of being content."

Are you content today?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bringing out the best in others

As I grow older in the faith as a leader of God's kingdom, I am learning that one of the main tasks I have is not just to continually seek to bring out the best from myself but from others as well.

I receive great fulfillment in seeing others succeed, whether it be in ministry or in life in general.

One of my purpose statements is to "bring out the best in others, so that they might minister and succeed in life."

There's a great story that's been told about George and Barbara Bush (the older Bush, the 41st president of the United States).

They were on the campaign trail once and stopped to pull over for a tank of gas. The attendant happened to be an old high-school sweetheart of Barbara's, and George later remarked, "Just think. If you had married him, you'd be the wife of a gas-station attendant."

Barbara replied, "George, you're confused. If I had married him, he'd be president of the United States."

Some people have the ability to bring out the best in others. Maybe Barbara Bush is one of these people, I don't know. But I do know that this is something all leaders, all parents, all husbands and wives must strive to do: Help others become what they can be.

It's not always easy helping others develop their potential. Paul compared it to childbirth. He said to the Galatians: "Oh my dear children! I feel as though I am going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives." (Galatians 4:19)

When it comes to building others, what's the difference between inspiring them and nagging them? The tone of voice you use is the first indicator.

The second indicator is the words you choose. Are they accusatory or encouraging? Do they imply doubt or belief in the other person's ability to reach the goal?

The third indicator is your willingness to hang in there with them. If you're constantly threatening to withdraw from the relationship, to wash your hands and walk away, you're not inspiring them -- you're loading them down with guilt.

Paul told the Philippians that he was confident God would finish what he started in them. (Philippians 1:6) Let's show that same confidence to those whom God has given us to lead.

Don't give up on that person that you are coaching or mentoring or discipling!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The difficult road

One of the things I am learning is that the easy road is not always God's will for our lives. Many times we have bought into the mindset that the easy path is the right path. Not so. God generally has other ideas.

I'm not one to relish pain. When I am sick, being the typical male that I am, my belief is that the whole world must stop and pay attention to my needs. Isn't Debbie lucky to have me!

Yet at the same time, I am becoming comfortable with the fact that when God leads to on a road that includes persecution, pain and suffering, I can rest in the fact that I am exactly where he wants me to be.

I've heard it said, "the safest place to be is in the center of God's will." It may be semantics, but that's simply a myth. Sometimes God's will does include suffering and pain.

We must be willing to "step up to the plate" anyway and take our hacks, letting the ball fall where it may.

When Scottish explorer and Presbyterian missionary David Livingstone was working in the African interior he received a message from the London Missionary Society that said "Have you found a good road to where you are? If so, we want to know how to send other men to join you"

Livingstone wrote back, saying "If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don't want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all."

The Bible doesn't promise that all our paths will be easy ones, but it does say that if we obey God and walk by faith we are assured a future reward.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:8-10)

I just want to walk in God's will. How about you?