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Thursday, October 29, 2009

The power of unity

I have been receiving emails all day today acknowledging the success of our Annual Business Meeting last night.

In 40 minutes we heard reports, elected 3 deacons and passed a resolution.

One of the pillars of our church, Ruth Sennese, commented (in a very positive sense) that it was the "fastest business meeting she had ever attended."

But what struck (and encouraged) me the most were the comments I have received concerning the unity that everyone felt last night.

The cost of the paper to print out the ballots and reports (ask Bob Konrath about that) - I don't know.

The cost of setting up the chairs and having the lights on (ditto - ask Bob)- I don't know.

The cost of unity in our church - priceless.

I am grateful to God for that unity.

Last week I once again caught most of the movie, "Gladiator", one of my favorite movies of all time.

In the movie, the hero, General Maximus (played by Russell Crowe) comes to Rome dirty and shackled. This is not the way it's supposed to be.

Where's Rome's legendary pageantry to greet one of her war heroes—the heraldry, the burnished armor, the laurel crown? Where's the honor due him?

Maximus comes as a slave.

That's the premise of the movie Gladiator.

Through a maze of events, Maximus goes from celebrated warrior, favorite of one emperor, to despised traitor, nemesis of another. He becomes a fugitive, then caged slave, then unvanquished gladiator.

His growing fame in the arena brings him to the sport's pinnacle: Rome's magnificent Coliseum to face her elite warriors.

The games open with a re-enactment of the battle of Carthage. The gladiators, all foot soldiers, are cast as the hapless Carthaginians. It is a stage for slaughter.

They are marched out a dark passageway into brilliant sunlight and met with a roar of bloodlust.

Maximus, their leader, shouts to his men: "Stay together."

He assembles them in a tight circle in the center of the arena: back-to-back, shields aloft, spears outward. Again he shouts, "Whatever comes out that gate, stay together."

What comes out that gate is swift and sleek and full of terror. Chariot upon chariot thunder forth. War horses pull, with deadly agility and earthshaking strength, wagons driven by master charioteers.

Amazonian warrior princesses ride behind and with deadly precision hurl spears and volley arrows. One gladiator strays from the circle, ignoring Maximus's order, and is cut down. Maximus shouts once more: "Stay together!"

The instinct to scatter is strong. But Maximus exerts his authority, and they resist that impulse. The chariots circle, closer, closer, closer. Spears and arrows rain down on the men's wood shields. The chariots are about to cinch the knot. Right then Maximus shouts, "Now!"

The gladiators attack, and decimate the Romans. Commodus, the evil emperor, caustically remarks to the games organizer: "My memory of Roman history is rusty, but didn't we beat Carthage the first time?"

Whatever comes out that gate, stay together.

That echoes what Jesus prayed for us: "May they be brought to complete unity" (John 17:23). And he promises that the gates of hell will not overcome his church.

We've been talking about spiritual warfare.

I would suggest that as long as we "stay together" in unity, the fiery darts of the devil cannot touch us or harm us.

I would suggest that as long as we "stay together" we can fulfill the God-given vision that He has given us.

And...I would suggest that as long as we "stay together" we will experience a Holy Spirit revival of worship and power.

May be continue to be blessed with unity this day, this week, this year, and in the years to come.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I must admit that loyalty is a huge personal value for me. I appreciate loyalty from those around me.

Now, obviously, I need to give a disclaimer here.

Loyalty is not being a "yes" person all the time, nor is it being a "no" person all the time. There is no such thing as a "loyal opposition."

I am speaking of (in personal terms) of someone who is committed to a personal relationship no matter what the cost.

I am speaking of (in terms of ministry) of those who are committed to the vision of a local church and to their ministry assignment that God has given them.

I have a hard time with people who bail on me if something doesn't go right.

I have a hard time with people who bail on a vision or on a ministry of the church - especially when the bullets are flying over head.

I like to be around people who are committed to their relationships, committed to their ministry, committed to their church, committed to their pastors, committed to their God.

When I sense a "double mindedness" in someone - I struggle.

Let's talk about the first one today - loyalty on a personal level - in friendships.

There's an old story of a group of friends who went deer hunting and who separated into pairs for the day. That night, one hunter returned alone, staggering under the weight of an eight-point buck. The other hunters asked, "Where's Harry?"

The man told them, "Harry fainted a couple miles up the trail."

The others couldn't believe it. "You mean you left him lying there alone and carried the deer back?"

The man answered, "It was a tough call, but I figured no one is going to steal Harry."

True friendship requires more loyalty than Harry's friend showed him.

The people closest to you need to know that they are important to you—more important to you than the externals of life.

Then there's a story about a guy who had just recently married a lovely young lady and was beginning to wonder whether she might have married him just for his money. He asked her, "If I lost all my money, would you still love me?"

She put her arms around him and said gently, "Oh, Honey! Don't be silly. Of course I would still love you. I would miss you terribly—but I would still love you." Those people closest to us need to know that they have our loyalty—always.

Solomon said, "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (v. 24).

Solomon differentiates between companions and close friends. Another word for companions might be merely acquaintances.

There's a difference between knowing a person on a surface level and having a valued relationship with someone. An acquaintance is a person you get along with as long as everything goes well between the two of you; a close friend stays with you no matter what.

The people in our lives are fallible; they will make mistakes.

Sometimes they make huge mistakes. Are we committed to them only as long as they do what we want them to do?

Are we committed to them only as long as you personally benefit from the relationship?

Or can they depend on us even when they slip?

Job said. "A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty" (Job 6:14). The fact is, it is our loyalty that will help them get back on track.

In the Old Testament there is a wonderful love story about a man named Hosea and his wife, Gomer. The story of Hosea's love for his wife is used as a metaphor for God's love for us. Hosea loved Gomer even though she was a prostitute.

He loved her even though she was an adulteress. He loved her even though she had a name like Gomer. After Gomer had deserted Hosea, he went looking for her. He found her on an auction block, being sold as a prostitute-slave.

At that auction Hosea bought his own wife and asked her to come back to him. Hosea says, "I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and lethech of barley. Then I told her, 'You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you'" (Hos. 3:2–3).

Managing our relationships is not about control; it's about commitment. It begins with a commitment to give those people close to us our undying loyalty—even when they let us down, even when they desert us, even when they fail.

We don't have to condone what they have done, but we can continue to be their friend.

Let me leave you with this story:

Earl C. Willer tells the story of two men who grew up best friends:

Though Jim was just a little older than Phillip and often assumed the role of leader, they did everything together. They even went to high school and college together.

After college they decided to join the marines. By a unique series of circumstances they were sent to Germany together where they fought side by side in one of history's ugliest wars.

One sweltering day during a fierce battle, amid heavy gunfire, bombing, and close-quarters combat, they were given the command to retreat. As the men were running back, Jim noticed that Phillip had not returned with the others. Panic gripped his heart. Jim knew if Phillip was not back in another minute or two, then he wouldn't make it.

Jim begged his commanding officer to let him go after his friend, but the officer forbade the request, saying it would be suicide.

Risking his own life, Jim disobeyed and went after Phillip. His heart pounding, he ran into the gunfire, calling out for Phillip. A short time later, his platoon saw him hobbling across the field carrying a limp body in his arms.

Jim's commanding officer upbraided him, shouting that it was a foolish waste of time and an outrageous risk. "Your friend is dead," he added, "and there was nothing you could do."

"No sir, you're wrong," Jim replied. "I got there just in time. Before he died, his last words were 'I knew you would come.'"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

God using even me (and you)

One thing that continually amazes me is that God uses me(and you).

I see pastors of mega churches, people God is using in tremendous ways and think - how could God ever use me?

However, it is a scriptural principle that God uses the most imperfect people to accomplish his perfect will.

We know that (and I quote): "Abraham was old, Jacob was insecure, Leah was unattractive, Joseph was abused, Moses stuttered, Gideon was poor, Samson was codependent, Rahab was immoral, David had an affair and all kinds of family problems, Elijah was suicidal, Jeremiah was depressed, Jonah was reluctant, Naomi was a widow, John the Baptist was eccentric to say the least, Peter was impulsive and hot-tempered, Martha worried a lot, the Samaritan woman had several failed marriages, Zacchaeus was unpopular, Thomas had doubts, Paul had poor health, and Timothy was timid. That is quite a variety of misfits, but God used each of them in his service."

Sometimes in church life, it is not the most qualified person or the most spiritual person that comes forth with a word from God, or a work from God.

Why is that? I believe it is because it guards the fact that He gets the credit and the applause, God loves to use ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

So if you consider yourself ordinary, or weak in your own self - rejoice! For you are somebody God can use.

John Ortberg writes, "Henri Nouwen was a priest and a brilliant teacher at places like Harvard and Yale. Feeling led by God, he spent the last decade of his life living in a community of people with severe emotional, mental, and physical disabilities.

It was an enormously healing time for him.

In one of his many books, Henri tells a story about Trevor, a man with severe mental and emotional challenges who was sent by Henri's community to a psychiatric facility for evaluation.

Henri wanted to see him, so he called the hospital to arrange a visit. When those in authority found out that Henri Nouwen was coming, they asked if they could have a lunch with him in the Golden Room—a special meeting room at the facility. They would also invite doctors and clergy people to the special luncheon. Henri agreed.

When Henri arrived, they took him to the Golden Room, but Trevor was nowhere to be seen. Troubled, Henri asked about Trevor's whereabouts. "Trevor cannot come to lunch," he was told. "Patients and staff are not allowed to have lunch together. Plus, no patient has ever had lunch in the Golden Room."

By nature, Henri was not a confrontational person. He was a meek man. But being guided by the Spirit, here is the thought that came to Henri's mind: Include Trevor.

Knowing that community is about inclusion, Henri thought, Trevor ought to be here.

So Henri turned to the person in authority and said, "But the whole purpose of my coming was to have lunch with Trevor. If Trevor is not allowed to attend the lunch, I will not attend either."

The thought of missing an opportunity for lunch with Henri Nouwen was too much. They soon found a way for Trevor to attend. When they all gathered together, something interesting happened. At one point during the lunch, Henri was talking to the person on his right and didn't notice that Trevor had stood up and lifted his glass of Coca-Cola.

"A toast. I will now offer a toast," Trevor said to the group.

Everybody in the room got nervous. What was he going to do?

Then Trevor, this deeply challenged man in a room full of PhDs, started to sing, "If you're happy and you know it, raise your glass. If you're happy and you know it, raise your glass…"

Nobody was sure what to do. It was awkward. Here was this man with a level of challenge and brokenness they could not begin to understand, yet he was beaming. He was thrilled to be there.

So they started to sing. Softly at first, and then louder and louder until doctors and clergymen and Henri Nouwen were all practically shouting, "If you're happy and you know it, raise your glass."

Henri went on to give a talk at the luncheon, but the moment everybody remembered—the moment God spoke most clearly—was through the person they all would have said was the least likely person to speak for God."

If God can use Trevor, and he did, then God can use you and me, if we are open to being a channel of his work in the world today.

That's my prayer today - how about you? God use me!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

There is just some kind of connection between grandparents and their grandchildren that is indescribable - hard to put into words.

Christie came to our home on Thursday evening (with Georgia) and stayed until Sunday morning.

We had a blast.

Thursday was Christie's birthday and we took her to P.F. Chang's....they have a "sea bass dish" that is crazy good.

On Friday morning I got to be with Georgia (Christie calls me her new playmate) and we had fun crawling around on the floor, specifically underneath and around the dining room table and chairs.

I can't tell you how much I love that granddaughter of mine. When I walk in the room, her face lights up (Of course she does that for a lot of people) - but it makes my day.

Yesterday was a good day. Our worship time at the end of the second service was very meaningful for our church family.

Let me say this - we are becoming once again - a worshipping church. Our church has a long and rich history of the fire of Pentecost falling. Once again, we are spending time in seeking his face, drawing closer to him, letting the Holy Spirit direct our services, specifically the altar time.

I long for a Sunday where agendas are thrown out the window, lunch plans are laid aside and we say to ourselves, "it's good to stop and dwell in the presence of the Lord."

Several words came to me last night as I was sleeping.

Word....Worship...Witness....Work.......all are important components of any church.

When I first came, our church was strong, and continues to be strong in the area of works. Several, many, in our church family are locked into a ministry in the church and are consumed with a passion to see that ministry succeed (all of these ministries are important and I am thankful for those who are committed and faithful).

What we are learning is this: The Word (spoken on Sunday mornings) and our Witness (or sharing our faith throughout the week) and Worship (or gathering together to corporately give God praise) are just as important.

All four components are needed.

More and more, I am beginning to see people arriving on time for worship and participating. More and more, I am seeing people stay and worship God around the altars, seeking his face.

God longs for us to be not only a working church but a worshipping church as well!

God created us to be worshippers! Worshipping Him in Spirit and in Truth.

Richard Farmer writes:

"I have a 95-year-old grandmother. No one has heard me preach more than three times without hearing a story about my grandmama. The saddest thing I can probably say about you is that you'll not get a chance to meet Sweetie Pie. She lives in New York City, and we are lovers. I am the second born of her 65-year-old daughter, and she makes me happy.

We talk on the phone every Sunday night no matter where I am in the world. When I talk to her or when I see her, as I will next week, it's not drudgery for me to enjoy her presence.

Over these last forty-three years, I have simply bathed in the sunlight of her presence. I don't say "Oh, I've got to go see my grandmother." It's "I get to see Sweetie Pie."

Until you stop coming to worship as if you have to see God, you'll never know what the Psalmist is talking about. He says it ought to be your delight to come up into Papa's face and enjoy his presence. It presupposes a relationship that makes you want to be there. He says, "When we have the festival, when we have our Sabbath, when we have our convocation, we ought to come with a certain gladness of heart because God is God."

It always amazes me that some expect people to wear ties to church (to use this as an example) and yet at the same time approach worship in a ritualistic, formal way.

What does the Bible say in 1 Samuel 16:7?

"Man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart."

Now neither wearing a time or not wearing a tie will draw us closer to God (don't miss the point). However, whether I wear a tie or not, it's my heart that must come prepared to connect with God.

Worship gives us the energy, the juice the power to minister effectively. It takes us beyond a mere "deciding of our will" to follow through and be faithful.

We need the Holy Spirit!

I encourage everyone to continue to be open to times of worship - to arrive on time and to consider staying as God moves.

May His Spirit fall on us!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Church

What's the one thing that is really at the heart of God's love for us? What did Jesus die for? What did he pray for? What is the vehicle by which he connects people in the world to Him?

The Church.

I love the Church. I really do. My whole life is centered around Jesus Christ and based on His Church.

It is consumes almost every one of my thoughts.

I encourage you to love the church as well. I encourage you to keep the Church in your prayers. I encourage you to be faithful to the Church. I encourage you to minister in the Church. I encourage you to give to the Church.

The Church is where we grow spiritually, it's where we raise our kids, are married and possibly have our funeral.

We must do everything possible, within our means, and by the power of the Holy Spirit in us, to make the Church as strong as possible.

In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott shares a story she once heard from her minister that illustrates well the necessary presence of others in our journey of faith.

She writes:

"When [my minister] was about seven, her best friend got lost one day. The little girl ran up and down the streets of the big town where they lived, but she couldn't find a single landmark. She was very frightened.

Finally a policeman stopped to help her. He put her in the passenger seat of his car, and they drove around until she finally saw her church.

She pointed it out to the policeman, and then she told him firmly,

"You could let me out now. This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here."

Lamott further writes:

"And that is why I have stayed so close to [my church]—because no matter how bad I am feeling, how lost or lonely or frightened, when I see the faces of the people at my church, and hear their tawny voices, I can always find my way home."

I am thankful for our church - filled with loving, caring people who are willing to reach out to those in need.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Breaking out of a rut

I woke up this morning in a "Groundhog Day" type mood.

If you haven't seen the comedy from 1993, you don't know what I mean.

In this insightful comedy, an egocentric TV weatherman named Phil (Bill Murray) is assigned to cover the festivities of Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Due to an unexpected snowstorm, Phil must spend an extra night in this little town along with his TV crew.

When Phil awakens the next morning, he discovers it is still February 2nd. Soon he realizes he is stuck in a 24-hour loop of Groundhog Days. No matter what he does, he wakes up every morning as if nothing had happened the day before.

His alarm goes off at 6:00 A.M. every morning to the tune of "I've got you babe" by Sonny and Cher.

Have you ever had a "Groundhog Day" where it seems like you are doing the same thing that you always do, day in and day out?

Tony Evans writes, "You get up in the morning out the same old bed and go to that same old bathroom to stare in the mirror at that same old face. You go to that same old closet and thumb through those same old clothes to put on that same old body. You go to that same old kitchen, sit at that same old breakfast table, and eat that same old breakfast.

Then to the same old garage, get in that same old car, and drive down that same old road to that same old office. You work with the same old people, doing that same old thing, receiving that same old pay. At five o'clock you end that same old work and get back to that same old car to drive that same old road back to that same old house.

You hear the same old noise from the same old kids while sitting in that same old easy chair reading that same old newspaper. You finish your day by sitting in front of that same old television watching those same old show. Then you retire to that same old bed with that same old spouse, so you can get up and do it all over again."

Are you in a rut today?

How do I get out of a rut?

Here are a few suggestions (If you have any others, please feel free to share them with me)(These are not given in any order of importance).

1. Break up your routine. Go to work a different way. Instead of watching the "same old TV" read a book. Take your family out for ice cream. Fix something around the house. Here's a thought: read the Bible.

2. Spend time in prayer. Use the feelings of being in a rut to draw closer to God. Have a great conversation with him.

3. Do something nice for someone else. Look around you and intentionally break out of the routine by taking someone to dinner, or by giving a compliment, or by buying a gift.

4. Take it one day at a time. Take a step, a small step, into doing something different, something out of the routine, something that will bring about growth and change in your life. It might be anything from learning another language to losing weight.

5. Say "yes" to a few things, even small things. It might be something like participating in a ministry in our church or helping out someone in need.

6. Be content and grateful, not for what you don't have but for what you do have.

Stop the cycle of boredom today. Realize that each day is a gift from God.

Just some thoughts for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Leadership principles

My father has been a leader for close to 50 years. While we were in Tokyo, sitting outside drinking some tea and coffee, I spontaneously asked him, "Dad, what are your top five leadership principles?"

The next day, after meditating on the question, here is his response.

5 great leadership principles.

He writes:

"George, by asking me about the top five leadership principles, you challenged me to think about it. As you know the five principles listed below are sort of “off the top of my head,” but I think they are close to what I would conclude. These, specifically, are the top five things that I think are in my job description in leading a team of people. In my case this includes missionaries as well as employees. In a broader context I might give attention to other points as well.

1. Vision. As the senior leader my number one task is to state the vision (and mission) of our organization clearly and to inspire people to see and follow the vision. The vision should be established in our organizational documents. When I interview new people (especially missionaries) I try to find out what “makes them tick” so that I can related their potential work with us to our vision. If their vision is too far away from ours, they probably should work elsewhere. With regard to people who already are on staff, I try to inspire them to fully subscribe to the vision. Sometimes this means placing them elsewhere in the organization.

2. Production. Obviously, the team must be productive. What is done should be in harmony with the vision. People function best when they are using their “gifts” in their work. It is important to set goals. These goals should be measurable. Most management texts place a strong emphasis on measurement. If measurable goals are set, then it is easier to measure. Admittedly this is difficult in terms of measuring spiritual qualities. If possible there should be milestones to measure the progress toward objectives and initiatives. The team can share in doing all of this.

3. Cooperation. It is important that the team work in harmony. This includes knowing what each of the other team members are doing and knowing when each one impacts others on the team and what they are doing. Obviously, communication is a key element and usually requires group review of goals and activities. Perhaps here, more than any other time, is when conflict can potentially arise. It always has been my view that some “conflict” is creative and can lead to serious consideration of options. Talking about options leads people to really think things through.

4. Significance. I believe that a sense of significance is one of the most powerful motivating forces known to man. The desire to be significant almost never dies in the human mind and heart. So it makes sense that we find ways to foster a sense of significance in those who work with us. Clearly, knowing that the whole organization is having a great impact is important. A “pat on the back” helps, but in a deeper way, people want to know they are making a difference. When they know his, they “feel good” about themselves. As individuals we need to be faithful even when we don’t feel significant or are criticized, but the task of leadership is easier when they do. One of the prices of senior leadership is being faithful under difficult circumstances that would wilt the motivation of others.

5. Evaluation. A lot of management theory puts a strong emphasis on personnel evaluation. I am sure that management experts would say I am weak in this area. When people are evaluated, they may outwardly receive it, but inwardly I think we pay a price as leaders for possible hard feelings. It is easier to have the group evaluate its work as a group and to plan for better ways to do things. As far as individuals are concerned, I try to talk with them in terms of how things can be done better. In other words I try not to just “criticize” what they are doing but to suggest ways to do things better."

Great stuff. Hope it helps you today.

Monday, October 19, 2009

tokyo trip

Well, I had a great trip to Japan with my father.

Saturday evening we arrived (after a 12 hour plane trip)and were promptly taken to dinner by the worship leader of the church where I would minister the next day, and the translator.

We ate at a restaurant, where if you didn't know you were in Japan, looked like any restaurant that we might have in the United States.

The big difference of course is that there were Japanese people - and the food was definitely of their culture with small portions (we Americans love our big portions - don't we!)

The next morning, the General Superintendent of Japan and his wife took us to breakfast. I then went to what they call the "main church" and spoke. It ended up being a powerful service.

I did something I don't normally do - I gave the same message that I gave the Sunday before here at Stone Church.

It just "fit". The subject - praise and worship. At the end of the teaching, we had a wonderful time of worship. I was a little bit surprised at how vocal (and emotional) there was worship. Surprised but pleased.

Again - the worship service wasn't much different than what you would see take place on a Sunday morning in America.

A couple of Sundays ago, I kind of set our church family up by sharing that I was going to speak in the largest church in Japan.

The immediate response is to think of the churches in Korea where they have large assemblies of 60,000, 100,000 up to 800,000 attending one church.

It is not that way in Japan. In actuality, I spoke at the third largest church in Japan, and there were around 300 people there.

What kind, gracious people the Japanese are. Very hospitable. However, underneath the veneer of graciousness is a strength and stubbornness that shows how and why they conquered the surrounding world during World War II and at other time in the history of Asia.

That evening, I asked our host pastor to take us to an "authentic Japanese meal." Interesting stuff.

We had a great time - and ended up eating Tuna Brains and fresh, friend eel. The Japanese eat everything on a tuna that can be eaten from the head all the way to the fin.

I also had the opportunity to visit the Tokyo Tower, the Imperial Palace and the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, where I saw people worshipping and praying to Buddha and having their fortune's told.

It is in reality a pagan, godless society. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Christians there - to live the Christian faith in the middle of a country steeped in a humanistic, materialistic godlessness.

I would encourage you to put this country on your prayer list.

I spoke yesterday on the theme and subject of the occult. It's been interesting to hear the responses. I didn't realize that many of our church family either had questions about the topic or were dealing with it in their family or in their own lives. Truly this emphasizes to me that it is a deception of the enemy that we not visit such topics in our churches.

It is real. Spiritual warfare is real. However, we rest in the fact that God is all powerful and we have nothing to be afraid of.

I also handed out pieces of candied sardines from Japan.

It was fun to watch the kids in our church (and the adults) come up and try one.

Great week, great ministry, great fun.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

People are not the enemy

One commandment in surviving through the maze of church life is this:

People are not the enemy.

I was reading today of a young pastor who was struggling with church power issues and he asked his father (who was also a minister), "In your sixty years of ministry, what is the number one lesson you have learned?" Pausing for a moment, his father answered, "People are not your enemy."

I have such a competitive spirit that I need to continually remind myself of that.

Those who disagree with me are not my enemy.

Those who have a different viewpoint are not my enemy.

We must continually do our best to see behind the movements and manipulations of people and into the spirit world of darkness.

Most of the time we are "fighting" the wrong enemy.

There's the story of a Golden Gloves champion fighter. In one bout, he was taking a real beating. His coach tried to cheer him up by saying, "Get in there, champ; he hasn't laid a glove on you yet."

Looking through the blood coming from his eye, the fighter said to his coach, "Would you please keep your eyes on the referee, then?"

He knew he was getting hit, but he didn't know where it was coming from.

Sometimes we as Christians have a misguided thought. THAT IF WE ARE WALKING IN THE WILL OF GOD WE WILL NEVER ENCOUNTER THE DEVIL.

If that were true, than the Apostle Paul must have been out of the will of God most of the time.

I like what someone once wrote, "if you never run into the devil, you must be going in his direction!"

But if you get close to something the enemy does not want to give up, you can expect him to draw his big guns against you.

We must realize our ultimate foe!

Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against power, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."


This does not in any way diminish or excuse poor character, nor does it say that all opposition is demonic.

Sometimes we do need to hear another opinion if ours is wrong.

However, a person who is constantly in the midst of friction, strife, confusion and undermining those in authority in the body of Christ is being used as a tool in the enemy's hands.

How many times have you heard me say that if Bill has a problem with Joe, and Bill has a problem with Sam, and Bill has a problem with John, than who is the problem?


So what do we do?

We should pray that God would bind the enemy that is using the person, while continuing to love the individual.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Not being perfect

One of my weaknesses (amongst many of them) is that I can be really hard on myself. It's not often that I need someone to come along and point out what I've done wrong (although I need accountability just like anyone else) - I tend to go the other extreme and never give myself a break.

It's something I have struggled with since I was a youngster. How much is enough? How "perfect" do I have to be?

I had a friend and brother tell me the other day, "Thanks for the message. I don't want to give you the "big head" or anything but you did a good job today."

While I appreciated his comment about my teaching, I instantly thought to myself, "Not much problem here about me getting the "big head." In fact, the teaching he was refering to - I thought was a disaster.

Sometimes when that happens, I just want to point my finger up at God and say, "You", "YOu", in a Robert DeNero kind of way.

Here's a thought - God can work especially when we are the weakest. It's a principle that is shown continually throughout the Bible.

But back to my original thought. Sometimes (for those of us who struggle with perfection) we just need to give ourselves a break.

Listen to this story:

"Noble Doss dropped the ball. One ball. One pass. One mistake. In 1941, he let one fall. And it's haunted him ever since. "I cost us a national championship," he says.

The University of Texas football team was ranked number one in the nation. Hoping for an undefeated season and a berth in the Rose Bowl, they played conference rival Baylor University. With a 7-0 lead in the third quarter, the Longhorn quarterback launched a deep pass to a wide-open Doss.

"The only thing I had between me and the goal," he recalls, "was twenty yards of grass."

The throw was on target. Longhorn fans rose to their feet. The sure-handed Doss spotted the ball and reached out, but it slipped through.

Baylor rallied and tied the score with seconds to play. Texas lost their top ranking and, consequently, their chance at the Rose Bowl.

"I think about that play every day," Doss admits.

Not that he lacks other memories. Happily married for more than six decades. A father. Grandfather. He served in the navy during World War II. He appeared on the cover of Life magazine with his Texas teammates. He intercepted seventeen passes during his collegiate career, a university record. He won two NFL titles with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Texas High School Hall of Fame and the Longhorn Hall of Honor include his name.

Most fans remember the plays Doss made and the passes he caught. Doss remembers the one he missed. Once, upon meeting a new Longhorn head coach, Doss told him about the bobbled ball. It had been fifty years since the game, but he wept as he spoke."

There comes a point in time when we have to let things go - and realize that only God is perfect - and that sometimes we are harder on ourselves than God is.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Being taught not to like someone

Have you ever been "taught" not to like someone? Of course you have. We all have. Whether it be through the media, books we've read, or listening to the gossip of others, we have all been "taught" not to like someone.

Most of the time they are people we have never met.

For instance, those on the "left" politically are "taught" not to like those on the "right" and vice versa.

We all have listened to gossip and basically, I guess I better use the word, "slander" toward someone that has influenced how we feel about that person even though we haven't been around them, or as I have said, in many cases, even met them.

That can happen in the kingdom of God.

Gordon McDonald shares this story - the story is so powerful, it's going to me in my memory bank for a long time.

Listen as he writes:

"I grew up a pastor's son. My father's church, located next to our home, was often used for meetings of pastors belonging to a certain denomination that was passing through considerable theological controversy. Often I would sneak into the church and listen to these pastors vent their frustrations and plot their strategies for upcoming denominational conferences.

The name of one denominational leader was frequently mentioned, and when his name was spoken, it seemed to me, a small boy, as if the Devil himself was being described. Over time that name became associated with all forms of ecclesiastical evil. In my mind he became the anti-Christ, a heretic, and persecutor of all good people (meaning all those who agreed with these pastors and my father).

Years passed, and the boy who overheard those passionate, often hateful, exchanges became a man and a pastor. Occasionally memories of those pastoral meetings and the name of the man who was so often vilified would pop up on the screen of my memory. One thing was sure: I had been taught not to like him.

Then one day when I was in my mid-thirties, I was given a powerful lesson. It happened in my office one afternoon when a full-fledged nor-easter storm was raging outside.

My assistant came to my office door and said, "Gordon, there is a man out here who would like to meet you. His name is … "

I was startled. It was the name I'd heard so often in those meetings when I played the eavesdropper.

Finding it hard to believe we were talking about the same man, I asked, "What does he look like? Old or young?"

"Quite old," my assistant answered. "He's aware that you're busy, and he'd only like a minute or two of your time."

Now wildly curious, I followed my assistant down the hall to the reception area. Standing, waiting, was a man wearing a rain-soaked tan trench coat. When he removed his equally drenched hat, I saw silvery-grey hair.

I introduced myself and he responded offering his hand and his name … that well-remembered name.

"Mr. MacDonald," he said, "I'm from the West Coast, but I'm in Lexington today visiting relatives. For the last few years I've been reading your articles and now your books. I determined that if I ever got back here, I'd try to meet you and tell you how much your writing means to me."

I was stunned, wordless. This old man whose name had been chiseled into my boyhood soul as being liberal in theology, conniving in church politics, power-hungry in leadership: here he stands telling me that he has come to express appreciation for some things I'd written.

I asked for his wet coat, offered him some coffee and led him to my office. Our conversation went far beyond a minute or two. An hour perhaps. We spoke of our parallel lives as pastors, our appreciation for the privilege of being a spiritual resource to people, the joys of preaching the Bible. We talked about Jesus and how one grows in older years to reverence him more and more.

And then, once again, my visitor spoke of my writing and how he wanted to encourage me to keep on developing what he believed to be a gift from the Holy Spirit.

How did this man have know that, on that very day, I was going through a mini-crisis of confidence? How could he have intuited that I was an inch away from dropping the writing component out of my life completely? What moved him to make his way through a furious storm betting on the chance to meet with a kid who needed to hear from someone older and wiser that he was capable of making a difference?

How odd of God … to send someone I'd been taught not to like to offer this word of courage.

When our conversation reached its end, he asked if he could give me a blessing. Gladly, I assented.

Much like a priest he put his hands on my shoulders and with profound intercessory words lifted me to God. When he finished he gave me his blessing.

After his amen, I said, "Before you go there is one thing I must tell you." And I [confessed how I had been taught not to like him]. When I finished, I said, "I can't tell you how much it means to meet you and appreciate the kind of man you really are."

"Who was your father, and what was the group that met at your home?" he asked.

I told him.

"Ah," he smiled and said gently, "I remember them. They didn't like me very much, I'm afraid." And with no further word of defense or explanation he made his exit.

I never saw him again although we corresponded for several years until he died. Usually, his letters abounded with affirmation for something I'd written and what it meant to him. And always, as he'd done on that stormy afternoon, he would urge me to keep on writing, keep on expressing my thoughts, keep on speaking to things that I thought were important. And I have.

This rich, invaluable experience, brought to me by a man I'd been taught not to like.

When I think of him I do it with much gratitude. But I also ask myself if ever I use my little soapbox of influence to purposely or inadvertently teach someone not to like or respect a person upon whom God just might be smiling."

Good stuff - convicted about you?

May we all be slow to judge, especially on those we have not met personally.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

Great morning yesterday. The was a tremendous spirit of praise - I was grateful for the presence of God's spirit.

Let me reiterate what I said yesterday. There is a huge difference between praise and worship.

Sometimes we think of praise as a "happy clappy" song, where we sing loud and fast - and we think of worship as a slow tune - where we slow everything down.

But it is much more than that.

Worship is where we acknowledge God for who he is. Not just what he has done but for who he is in our lives.

At to worship him, and acknowledge him for who he is we must know him. We must enter into relationship with him.

It becomes not just a verbal expression from our lips - but an attitude of our heart.

We are bowing down to God in our spirit. There are no thoughts in our mind but God. We aren't coming with a petition, a need or a request. We come in worship because we love God so much and feel the need to express that love.

Worship is a time of love.

God pours out his love on us and we pour out our love to him.

The waiting bride of the Song of Songs doesn't way, "I love him because he loved me, he saved me, he delivered me, he set me free."

She says, "This is my beloved - This is my friend. I know him intimately. I can describe him from personal experience."

Praise, on the other hand, is verbally praising God for his works of power and might. We praise God for he is a mighty God full of great and mighty deeds.

We celebrate what he has done in our lives.

Praise is a declaration, a victory cry, where we stand and say that the things that come into our world to plunder us will not rock us - we stand strong in God.

Praise celebrates God for what he has done - Worship connects to God as we are grateful for who he is in our lives. was wonderful to hear the praises of God's people lifted up before God.

I have received several emails today, sharing of the way God ministered to them yesterday, and the fact that today that awoke, praising God.

We had a great life group last night....began watching a video series entitled, "Liquid, a fork in the road." We discussed the giants in our lives - and then had a great time of prayer.

I always leave our life group refreshed.

Saturday, I went to a life group leaders seminar at New Life Church in New Lennox. they have a beautiful new building (2003), and it really got me jazzed about our new facility and moving in.

One side note: I noticed how fast that area is growing. The area is ripe for a strong Pentecostal witness!

Anyway, Paul, Bob Konrath and I attended the meeting.

Amongst many wonderful principles that we learned, hear are a view that I want to share with you that I anticipate will be helpful.

Some “rules” for a good life group meeting:

- Remember that the time together is all about relationships
- As a life group leader (and host) you don’t have to have all the answers (in fact it is probably more effective if you don’t)
- Use icebreakers or some kind of lead in question to get people talking and make start feeling comfortable
- Prepare ahead and ask good questions
- Be open (I might add the word vulnerable) as a leader/host. Hope with open ended questions that go a little more personal by offering part of your own life
- Don’t be afraid of silence
- Close with a time of prayer
- Have fun!!!!!

Finally…..some important thoughts to share with your life group:

- There is to be mutual respect
- No one has to talk
- Only one person at a time talks
- Confidentiality is a must
- There is not such thing as a dumb answer or question
- No one is to dominate the discussion

Well, I am off to Japan on Friday of this week - and will be gone for 5 days. I am speaking in the largest Assembly of God church in Japan on Sunday....and going to the 50 anniversary of the Assemblies of God in Japan on Tuesday.

I will share with you some of the highlights when I return.

The Dallas Cowboys lost yesterday. They are just not a very good football team.

The playing calling at the end of the game was atrocious.

Kind of a bummer way to end the weekend....but.....

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Being refreshed

Every once in a while God sends something my way that keeps me going - that let's me know that what we are doing in ministry is making a difference.

It's kind of like playing golf. You can be playing a really lousy round and then all of a sudden, "bam" - you hit a shot that you see the pro's making on television. That one shot will keep you coming back.

Reuben and Marcy Luna asked for an appointment with me today. I didn't know what to expect.

They are new to our church - having reconnected to Christ a few months ago. They are joining our church in membership.

As we sat down in my office, I begin to kind of probe them for what they wanted (normally when people are in my office they need something or are not happy with something - I don't begrudge that - it's just the nature of what I do).

As I probed, all I got was:

"We just wanted you to know how happy we are here at the church."

"God is really doing a work in our lives."

"We are focusing on parenting our children."

"Our children love the ministries at Stone Church."

"Our home life is great."

You could see the joy of the Lord in their lives, literally. Their faces glowed with the happiness of God.

Listening to them left me refreshed in my spirit, kind of like jumping in a pool of cold water on a hot, hot day.

Wow......May they be blessed. And may we at Stone church be blessed with many more Reuben's and Marcy's.