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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Recognizing the inauthentic

In his book The Gospel According to Starbucks, Leonard Sweet tells the story of Ed Faubert. Faubert is what you call a "cupper"—in layman's terms, he's a coffee-taster. And his perspicacious taste buds are actually certified by the state of New York!

So refined is Faubert's sense of taste for coffee that even while blindfolded, he can take one sip of coffee and tell you "not just that it is from Guatemala, but from what state it comes, at what altitude it was grown, and on what mountain."

With so much "stuff" out there in our culture today, we need discernment, don't we. We need to know what is of God and what is not.

It can be hard.

It can be difficult.

What's the best way to walk in discernment? Continue to learn what is real as opposed to fake. Continue to "taste" God's Word so often and with such relish that anything else can be readily recognized.

To be so immersed in the basic, fundamental teachings of God's Word that false doctrine can be immediately sighted.

I want to be so sensitive to God's leadings that I can "taste" and "smell" when something non-authentic comes along.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Going after true happiness

In New York City, there are eight million cats and eleven million dogs. New York City is basically just concrete and steel, so when you have a pet in New York City and it dies, you can't just go out in the back yard and bury it. The city authorities decided that for $50 they would dispose of your deceased pet for you.

One lady was enterprising. She thought, I can render a service to people in the city and save them money. She placed an ad in the newspaper that said, "When your pet dies, I will come and take care of the carcass for you for $25." This lady would go to the local Salvation Army and buy an old suitcase for two dollars. Then when someone would call about his or her pet, she would go to the home and put the deceased pet in the suitcase.

She would then take a ride on the subway, where there are thieves. She would set the suitcase down, and she would act like she wasn't watching. A thief would come by and steal her suitcase. She'd look up and say, "Wait. Stop. Thief." My guess is the people who stole those suitcases got a real surprise when they got home.

A lot of us are like those New York thieves. We're chasing after happiness, and we grab what we think will give us happiness; however, when we get it, it doesn't quite deliver.

Are you happy?

Where are you trying to find your happiness?

If you are like most people, you try to find your happiness in "happenings" or the circumstances of your life.

If things are going well at work - you are happy.

If things are going well in your marriage - you are happy.

If things are going well with your kids - you are happy.

But what happens if your job, your marriage and your kids are not doing well?

Happiness is an inside job.

We all want to be happy. It's just that we need to find our happiness in the right things.

And we must choose to be happy no matter what is "happening" in our lives.

Let's pray: "Father, we choose to be happy today, not because of what is happening to us, but because we know that you are in our lives and that true happiness comes from you."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Compassionate self-assertiveness

I need to share this with you. I saw the "debate" between Rosie O'Donnell and Elizabeth Hasselback. It really was no debate at all.

Rosie's downhill slide is something I see even amongst those in the kingdom. Gradually, over a period of time, there is a lack of caring about what people think of you.

Now don't get me wrong, some of that is good. If we lived by other people's opinions of us, life would be a yo-yo. One minute you're the hero, the next minute you're the zero.

Yet at the same time there is a growth curve for all of us in learning how to express ourselves in the midst of criticism and opposition. I have done really well in the past with this - I have also failed miserably.

Being self assertive and tender at the same time is a relational tightrope that we walk, especially as Christians. We want to act and react in a godly way - yet at the same time we don't want to be a pushover, someone's doormat.

Meekness is not weakness. It is power and strength under control.

I applaud Elizabeth for standing up for herself in that "debate", not because Rosie is a lesbian or anything like that - but because as Tommy Lee Jones once said in the movie "Lonesome Dove," and I quote, "I really can't stand rudeness in a man (woman)."

May we as a society become less "rude" and more compassionate in our self assertiveness.

Just a thought.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Solitude and listening to God

Jack Hayford has written, "beware of the barrenness of a busy life."

We are all busy.

Many times in our busy lives, God is calling us to solitude.

We can be so busy that we forget about God. Most people don't hate God - they just forget about Him.

I love this story that John Ortberg tells:

Some time ago, a newspaper in Tacoma, Washington, carried the story of Tattoo, the basset hound. Tattoo didn't intend to go for an evening run, but when his owner shut his leash in the car door and took off with Tattoo still outside the vehicle, he had no choice.

A motorcycle officer named Terry Filbert noticed a passing vehicle with something that appeared to be dragging behind it. As he passed the vehicle, he saw the object was a basset hound on a leash.

"He was picking them up and putting them down as fast as he could," said Filbert. He chased the car to a stop, and Tattoo was rescued, but not before the dog reached a speed of twenty to twenty-five miles per hour, and rolled over several times.

(The dog was fine but asked not to go out for an evening walk for a long time.)

There are too many of us whose days are marked by "picking them up and putting them down as fast as we can." We must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives.

One word of caution.

Some people think that spending "alone time" with God means getting somewhere with a bunch of sermon tapes and books and magazines and DVDs. Might I suggest that you get alone with God and your Bible?

And even at that, with His Word at your side, that you spend some time simply listening to Him? That can be a hard spiritual discipline to learn.

But God is faithful. And from experince, He will speak. The question is not, "Does God speak," but "are we listening?"

May we all become better listeners.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Healing and obedience

There seems to be a direct correlation between healing and obedience in the Scriptures. As we are obedient, God heals.

Let me give you the story of Naaman, found in 2 Kings 5:1-5:

1Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.[a] 2Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman's wife. 3She said to her mistress, "Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." 4So Naaman went in and told his lord, "Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel." 5And the king of Syria said, "Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel."

So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels[b] of gold, and ten changes of clothes. 6And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy." 7And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me."

8But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel." 9So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha's house. 10And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean." 11But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, "Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12Are not Abana[c] and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?" So he turned and went away in a rage. 13But his servants came near and said to him, "My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, 'Wash, and be clean'?" 14So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Why was Naaman so upset about going and "dipping" in the Jordan River?

Perhaps he thought that plunging into the muddy Jordan River was beneath his dignity; after all, he was a four star general. It could have been a pride thing.

I've seen pride in worship services, where people have been reluctant to go forward to receive prayer for healing for whatever reason, but the root cause is pride.

They are thinking, "what if people know that I am sick?" "What if someone knows that there is something wrong with me?"

I know of people who have thought while sitting in the audience, "If the person praying for the sick comes down to me and prays for me personally, I know that it is God's will for me to be healed."

That's pride! Some are reluctant to let someone anoint their head with oil (symbolic of the Holy Spirit) others baulk at kneeling down in prayer.

Also, Naaman objected to the impersonal procedure. He was expecting some big deal, an elaborate ceremony instead of simple obedience. He was looking forward to having a famous prophet give him a big show.

Again, I know of many people who travel miles to be prayed for by a big-name evangelist, yet they will never go to the altar in their home church.

Now, please don't misunderstand me, many are healed in large crusades, but sometimes the Lord wants to teach us that HE is everywhere present and that He answers believing prayer without "respect of persons or places."

So why did God require Naaman to dip seven times? To test his obedience and show him his pride. Even more than the end result (physical healing) God is interested in the process of us maturing in our faith and character.

God is much more interested in our holiness than he is our healing.

And here's the point for today:

There is no substitute for continued obedience to God.

I mean, even when we can’t see success we must obey and obey and obey and obey.

Monday, May 21, 2007

I don't like to be in confrontational situations, especially with other Christians.

Conflict handled correctly can bring a greater sense of intimacy and relationship. In fact, in a certain sense, conflict is NEEDED, for a group of people to draw closer together.

Paul writes that we must "speak the truth in love." We are to speak the truth. We are not to be afraid of sharing our feelings, our thoughts and our opinions in any setting we find ourselves in whether is be a marriage relationship, a work relationship or a situation at the church.

Yet at the same time we must "speak the truth in love."

Conflict is inevitable - especially in church life. Nowhere else do you see a group of people gather together from so many different walks of life. Each with only one basis component in common - their shared life in Jesus.

Below is an article from Dan Reiland that was sent to me concerning "politics" in the church. What do you think of Dan's words?

"What do Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Katherine Parr have in common? In addition to being wives of King Henry VIII, they were all part of church politics on steroids.

We could drop in on church history at any point and find political issues. In the case of King Henry (1491-1547), church politics were out of control at best. Henry wed his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, through an arranged marriage to help secure strong political relations with King Ferdinand II and Spain – forming a strategic alliance against France. King Henry became impatient with Catherine's inability to bear him a son, and things got worse when he became attracted to a young courtier in the Queen's entourage, Anne Boleyn. He sought the Pope for an annulment. This, however, was problematic because Henry had been a strong supporter of the Catholic Church even writing against Martin Luther. The Catholic Church could not support the divorce, and debate over consummation and/or lack of consummation ensued. As you can imagine, this was church politics at its finest.

Nonetheless, with the help of Thomas Cranmer, who became the Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry abolished papal supremacy, and declared himself head of the Church of England – The Anglican Church. The Pope reacted by moving to excommunicate Henry (a little like trying to discipline an angry church member who left to start their own church – as if they're going to listen to you or care!). this obviously led to tremendous religious upheaval.

Anyone who opposed Henry's religious policies was quickly suppressed. Several monks who stood against Him were even tortured and executed.

This short romp through church history has gone beyond anything we have experienced. However, most of us are aware of church politics on the local level that are nearly as disheartening and on a personal level just as devastating.

Today, “Church Politics” has taken on a more contemporary definition, pertaining specifically to the local church. It's a sad truth, don't you think, that whatever the definition, we instinctively grasp the meaning of the term. And it's easy to make a list of potential places such politics can take root:

Decisions made at Church board meetings
Who's on the Church board
Annual Business Meetings
Worship style
The Pastor's resignation
A Pastor's hiring
Staff feuds
Building programs
Church Budgets

I'm sure you could double the length of this list including things right down to who gets what room for a Sunday School class!

Understand the origin of politics. Politics is agenda driven. Somebody wants something. The major complication is that the issues at the core (personal and selfish desires), get communicated as if they are the cause of Christ. This is not new. Holy Wars have been fought with the same dynamics in play.

This is further complicated because its rarely malice that drives the personal agenda. It's more often good people who really believe that what they are doing (what they want) is right. The problem is that good people who are attempting to do good things lose sight of the big picture and begin to justify their part of the mission as The Mission.

When the situation reaches the state where it does become ugly and wars begin, all perspective is lost and we (after the fact) hear stories of things that happen in local churches that we can hardly believe are true. I know of dozens of examples of this from screaming matches in church business meetings to tithe checks withheld because “we don't like how things are going around here.”

(Loosely translated this means I'm not getting what I want.) Alliances are formed between peoples and groups (déjà vu King Henry and Ferdinand with Spain and England against France) and the church is tremendously wounded. God's heart is crushed and Christia nity gets another black eye.

So, what can you do?

If politics is a problem and clean-up is needed:

Refuse to engage with petty people and petty matters on a petty level.

It's difficult to ignore petty people, even though sometimes it's the wise leadership thing to do. So what about the petty issues that you are convinced you can't (or shouldn't) ignore? Don't allow yourself to be drawn down into the smallness of the issue, but commit yourself to raise the person(s) up to a higher level. Your goal is to help people see things differently so they think and behave differently.

Most local church politics is about small things that don't matter. It is often driven by good people who have merely lost perspective. People who fall into this group have, in a way, forgotten the purpose of the church, or have become impassioned that their way is the only way to accomplish the church's purpose. For these people, offer wisdom and guidance. Appeal to their sense of the larger Kingdom and help them remember why they fell in love with your church in the first place.

Talk about what really changed. Is it the church or them? Talk with them about the condition of their own personal walk with God. Don't accuse, just ask questions. It's highly unlikely that their prayer life is flourishing if they are causing problems, even small problems, in the church. Listen carefully and then speak candidly about how you need them to support the larger vision. Your greatest challenge here is not how much heat you will face, but how much time it takes. This is a relationally time in tensive process.

Sometimes the petty things are driven by good people who are hurt about something. These usually shouldn't be ignored. They represent a level more complex than the first. The issue may still be petty but as John Maxwell says- “hurting people hurt people.” And things therefore get complicated. It's important at this stage to help people understand the real underlying issue. It usually has little to do with the church. The church just becomes the lightening rod for their pain. If you are part of the hurt, apologize and move forward. If not, do what you can do for their healing process. If the person's situation is deep and complex, I recommend that you refer them to a professional therapist. And that you remain their encourager in the process.

Loss of a healthy perspective, and/or hurting people can transition into situations of malice. This requires a very different approach.

Hit the big issues head on.

Don't be political about politics. Jesus said: “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16), but He never meant for you to fight people's personal agendas to defend, or in protection of, your own personal agenda. That's how it is in Washington DC. We live in the greatest country in the world but the political back-scratching and political back-biting is so complex that it's nearly impossible to know who really stands for what. In the midst of that complexity, it is nearly impossible to get anything done. Sound familiar?

You must remain on your knees and beg God to help you keep your perspective clear and your motives pure. This is not easy when you are under attack.

The place to start is to clearly name the elephant in the room. If it's not already obvious, everyone involved must come out of the corners, back hallways, and Starbucks gripe sessions and own their issues personally. Never allow the phrase “everyone agrees with me.” Who's everyone, and do they even go to our church?! It's imperative that each person involved owns their own stuff. Do everything you can to break down the “angry mob” group mindset, by meeting with key people one to one and insist that they take responsibility for their opinions and behaviors, on their own.

Find the source. In 25 years of church leadership, I've never found a problem in a local church, especially those of political nature that didn't have a source. The source is always a person. I'm not saying it's a bad person, but good people can do some really dumb things. Meet one to one with this person. If it is a tight-knit group of two-three people then meet with them. Start by discovering what they really want and go from there.

If things are more subtle, meaning it's not a good old fashioned church brouhaha, thank the Lord for the reduced heat, but beware of the dangers of passive aggressive behavior. Again, force out into the open what the key influencers really think and feel.

This is complicated. You might ask at this point, “What's the difference between church conflict and church politics?” Sometimes nothing. However, with “pure” conflict, people can be upfront, honest, agree to disagree and seek a common solution. But politics involves agendas, positioning, maneuvering – and usually with a sense of a righteous cause (subtle or not).

You may need to bring in outside help. A church consultant with a good reputation could be of great help to you. Make sure you know this consultant well before you hire him. This person must be strong, relational, and have spiritual gifts of wisdom, leadership and exhortation.

Be prepared to lose people. Jesus did. Again, don't get sucked into your own personal Holy War. (Yes, most politics are softer and more subtle than all out war, but skirmishes that are left untended can result in one.) Be willing to lovingly let people leave your church who ultimately believe that their mission is more important than the mission of the church. Or more commonly, that their way of accomplishing the mission is the way the rest of church should go.

The bottom line is that you must act. Churches that have a political bent don't get better if left to their own natural course. They get worse. Politics feeds politics. Further, you must address the big blatant issues head on. You can't do this half way and survive. If you need heart surgery, you can't go in for half now and half later. It's all or nothing, and either way the results are dramatic. Be prepared to engage for a long period of time. This is a process that is not solved overnight, but with prayer, wisdom, and a steady leadership vision, you effect the changes you need to make."

Good stuff, wouldn't you agree?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The global world we live in

One of the things that struck me while I was in China is how we are becoming very global in the world we live in.

Let me give you an example of that.

I visited the Forbidden Palace in Beijing, the palace where the emperors and empresses lived years ago. The Palace has always been a very secretive and private place where Westerners were not allowed up until a few centuries ago.

It's a beautiful place, a place of seclusion right in the heart of Beijing.

Here's what's ironic. Right in the middle of the Forbidden Palace is a Starbucks!

Is that not a metaphor for the world we live in?

East and West are blending to the extent that in a few dozen years Americans will feel comfortable living in China and vice versa.

We are truly becoming a global society.

The positive side of that is that it affords us a tremendous window of opportunity to connect people with Jesus Christ.

I love living in the day and age that we are living in. Internet capacity world wide is opening up doors unthinkable 20 years ago.

Text messaging and emailing give us communication with people in other countries in an instant.

Is it any wonder that Jesus says that in the last days there will be many who will be turning to Christ?

Jesus is coming soon. Let's do all we can to use these fantastic tools available to us to share our faith.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Hulkster

I was in a gift shop at the Tokyo Narita airport last Saturday and look up and who did I see? Hulk Hogan. The guy is huge.

His arms are bigger than my thighs. Bandanna on his head, fu Manchu mustache, he carries an imposing figure.

A mountain of a man.

His daughter was with him. She's a tall blond teenager. Since I saw them, I have learned that they have a family reality T.V. show.

I went up to "the hulkster" and asked him for his autograph. As he was signing it, he boomed out, "where are you from brother?"

I said rather meekly, "Michigan."

He signed his name and about that time a Japanese guy came over and asked for his picture to be taken with Hulk.

A couple of observations:

First, when we see somebody famous, we think that we know them because we see them on Television. While there is some connection, the connection is not as deep as we think it is.

Ripley's believe it or not - people are not the same as they act on T.V.

Television has become so ingrained in our culture that the T.V. can be a part of our extended family - or so we think.

Some people feel closer to characters on reality T.V. shows or sitcoms than they do their own family.

The other thing is this - that despite ourselves, when we are in the presence of a celebrity, we stand back in awe. There's a little boy or little girl in all of us that gushes over the person that we see in front of us.

I can't help but think how God feels about all of this. The creator of the universe can be taken so lightly in our lives. What would happen if Jesus walked into the room where you are at right now?

Would you be in awe, gushing over the fact that the son of God was in the room? Would you feel that you really knew Him?

Yet the fact remains that He is in that room with you right now. He's ever present. Always there. We sometimes forget that.

Father, I thank you for your consistent presence. Help me to recognized you in my life on a daily basis. I love you Lord.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

China trip continued....

I had an interesting an amusing thing happened to me while I was ministering at First Assembly in Hong Kong on May 6th.

I spoke on the subject of healing and asked people to come forward for prayer. The altars were filled with people seeking God for physical, emotional and spiritual healing. Tears were flowing, God was moving. It was a powerful moment.

Because I had used James 5:14 as part of my message ("Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.") I turned to one of the pastors during the time of prayer and asked for some anointing oil.

The pastor didn't have any, but sent one of the deacons to find some.

I continued to pray.

About 5 minutes later, I felt a touch on my arm and turned around and it was a deacon standing there with a paper cup. I took it, looked inside the cup and saw what I thought was perhaps apple juice (thinking he thought I was thirsty and needed a drink - and actually forgetting I had asked for some anointing oil).

Believing it was apple juice, I put it to my lips and took a drink. To put it mildly, I was a little bit surprised.

The deacon couldn't find any anointing oil, so he did what he thought was the next best thing, he found some cooking oil and put it in a paper cup.

I couldn't get the taste out of my mouth for a day.

After the service, all of the deacons, pastors and myself had a great laugh. I shared with them that I wasn't out to start a new theology - the theology of drinking cooking oil.

Pastor Sun told me after the first service that I probably would preach a lot better because I was "full of the anointing."

But it goes further.

Communion was served that day in both the first and the second service. During the second service, who served me communion? The same deacon who had given me the "anointing oil."

I could tell he was really doing his best to suppress a laugh. And I checked the cup two or three time before I drank it.

What a beautiful thing it is to be a part of the body of Christ. Whether we are in Huntsville, Alabama or Hong Kong, God's family, full of his Spirit, his a wonderful thing.

I'm thankful I am a part of the family of God.

How about you?

Monday, May 14, 2007

My visit to China

I'm back!

I just spent 12 wonderful days in China in ministry (I went with my father). It was a great trip. We arrived at midnight on Tuesday, May 1st, and I spoke at a men's breakfast at 7:00 A.M. the next morning!

It was interesting meeting a group of international business men and seeing their love for God. I also spoke at First Assembly in Hong Kong (Chinese church) and met and encountered believers who are truly committed to God.

My subject? Healing. The altars were filled in both services with people crying out to God for both physical and spiritual healing. I prayed with one man who was dealing with idol worship, another woman asked for prayer because she wanted her family delivered from contact with the demonic.

While in Hong Kong, we met with a group of pastors and dad shared with them about Global University.

God is moving there! Over 7 million people living in an area of 415 square miles. Wealth beyond your imagination.

We then moved on to Beijing and met with some leaders of the International Church. Beijing Christian International Fellowship has about 2,000 believers attending!

China is an interesting country. I found the people to be gracious and polite. The food was tremendous, not at all like the "Chinese" food we eat here in the United States. I ate chicken feet and shark's fin amongst several other "delicacies."

Beijing is really gearing up for the 2008 Olympics!

More tomorrow......