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Thursday, May 27, 2010

It could be worse

This past Sunday, the Chicago Blackhawks jumped into the Stanley Cup finals with a resounding victory in game four (and series clincher) over the San Jose Sharks.

During the game, one of the Hawks players, Duncan Keith, took a puck to the mouth, shattering and losing 7 teeth. Not one or two. 7. After receiving some assistance, he got right back on the ice and assisted with the game tying goal.

In interview, he said, "In a lot of ways, I was lucky because it (the puck) hit my teeth. I was lucky enough that it didn't even break my lip or let alone break my nose or anything of that magnitude...I'm missing some teeth, but probably a lot better than way than breaking something else. He closed out his comments by saying, "it could be worse."

I love it. Tough guy. But yet a great way to look at life.

I encourage you today to practice saying that - "it could be worse."

When you are driving today and are tempted to think, "if only I could have a nicer, newer, more expensive vehicle, say out loud, "it could be worse."

And be content with what you have.

When you walk through your door at home and wonder about having a nicer, newer, bigger more expensive place, say out loud, "it could be worse."

And be content with what you have.

Paul said in Philippians 4:11, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances."

He states, "I have learned." If you are discontented today with your job, with your status in life, with you home, whatever, please know that being content is something that we learn with the help of the Holy Spirit.

That's why Paul says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

After all, "it could be worse."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

hiding your holiness

Jesus shares with us in Matthew 5:16, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

Good words. We ARE the only Jesus that some will ever see.

But then, he practically does a "180" by telling us (later on in his sermon) in Matthew 4,6,17,18, to "give your gifts in secret". "When you pray, go away by yourselves..pray to your father secretly." "When you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will suspect you are fasting, except your father, who knows what you do in secret."

What's up? How can we let our light shine before men and at the same time we are supposed to be doing all of our good deeds in secret?

Good question....I'm glad you asked.

Here's what I have learned - in Matthew 5 Jesus is referring to works of service that benefit others.

In Matthew 6, Jesus is talking about spiritual devotion that, when done publicly, tends to glorify ourselves.

With giving, prayer and fasting, God wants us to practice these spiritual disciplines quietly, without fanfare and with out self-congratulations.

The temptation to be hypocritical is high in God's kingdom.

It's like the story of the police officer who pulled a driver aside and asked for his license and registration. "What's wrong, officer," the driver asked. "I didn't go through any red lights, and I certainly wasn't speeding."

"No, you weren't," said the officer, "but I saw you waving your fist as you swerved around the lady driving in the left lane, and I further observed your flushed and angry face as you shouted at the driver of the Hummer who cut you off, and how you pounded your steering wheel when the traffic came to a stop near the bridge."

"Is that a crime, officer?"

"No, but when I saw the ‘Jesus loves you and so do I’ bumper sticker on the car, I figured this car had to be stolen."

Who are we praying for? Who are we giving for? Who are we fasting for? The praise of men? Or the praise of God?

Holiness is always a matter of the heart. It is from the inside out. We can't legislate holiness. It always begins on the inside - with an attitude.

But is shown through our actions. So perhaps, just perhaps, it comes down to a matter of motivation.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How the "world" looks at us

I was driving back to the church today after lunch and caught a little bit of the Dennis Miller show. For whatever reason, he was talking and talking calls from callers about the Pentecostal experince of "being slain in the spirit."

I only had the time to listen to one caller who was trying his best to explain what he felt and experinced as a minister prayed for him and he was "slain."

Dennis Miller had no clue as to what he was talking about. Now that is not a negative statement about Dennis Miller, for he was sincerely trying to understand and filter this man's story, but it does show that the "world" can have a totally different opinion or viewpoint of what we take for granted in the Kingdom.

It would be like an Eskimo trying to understand what it means to ride a wave in the heat of the day on a beach in Florida. Almost impossible to understand unless you have experinced it - especially since we are dealing with spiritual, supernatural things.

In his book "UnChristian", author David Kinnaman highlights a number of troubling statistics from an extensive study by the Barna Research Group of those born between 1965 and 2002. Included are two statistics that show how those outside the church view those within:

Nearly nine out of ten young outsiders—87 percent—said that the term "judgmental" accurately describes present-day Christianity.

Of the non-Christians surveyed, 84 percent said they personally know at least one committed Christian. Yet just 15 percent thought the lifestyles of those Christ-followers were significantly different from the norm.

Challenging stats. Maybe we in the church need to try to understand those we are trying to reach with the gospel, rather than the other way around. And then....let the good news and the Holy spirit take its affect.

Just a thought for a Tuesday.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

Great weekend.

Saturday morning, we had a life group seminar with Dave Treat. Some of the things that we learned:

The main goal of life groups is discipleship + something. For your group it could be Bible Study. Or Worship. Or prayer. Or service. At any rate, the main goal of our life groups is to see life change as we strengthen our relationships with one another.

How many people should be in a life group? A life group should be no larger than the ability of each person in the group to have a chance to share.

A life group becomes a clique when the focus stops being outward and becomes inward.

In his book "Ministry in the Image of God", Stephen Seamands writes about the relational side of our personhood, which reflects the Trinitarian nature of God.

In fact, Seamands calls this our trinitarian personhood. It means "we will never be able to complete the journey on our own. Since to be a person is to be in relationship with others, involvement in a small group of fellows Christians…is indispensable to our spiritual and emotional growth."

Seamands illustrates this well through the life and ministry of John Wesley. He writes:

"When John Wesley was a young Christian, a "serious man" advised him, "Sir, you wish to serve God and go to heaven? Remember you cannot serve him alone. You must therefore find companions or make them. The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion." In the light of the relational nature of personhood, that is good advice for every Christian, especially those involved in full-time ministry."

Wesley took that advice to heart both for himself and in shepherding the fledgling Methodist movement. Convinced that the pursuit of personal holiness was impossible apart from Christian community, he carefully organized the Methodists into societies (similar to congregations), classes (small groups of eight to twelve), and bands (cell groups of three to five).

Seamands concludes: "Because of the relational nature of human personhood, I believe every person in ministry needs to be in a small Wesleyan-type band group or its equivalent. Solitary religion is unbiblical; so is solitary service for God. We must either find companions or make them."

Dave Treat taught us, "people in the world are not just looking for friendly people, they are looking for friends."

Sunday morning - great time of worship. The worship choir did a phenomenal job as Laura Prospio sang and Hannah Borchers danced to the choir number.

Beautiful. Worshipful. Anointed. Powerful.

Last night at our life group, we planned our three summer activities, which include working in the yard of one of the widows of our church, and helping to clean the new church campus before we move our offices in.

I really am ministered to each time our life group meets. They are wonderful people to be with.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

how's your prayer life?

If someone were to ask you, "how is your prayer life?" what would be your answer?

Would you answer by saying how long your prayer or how often?

How do you measure your prayer life?

Is it measured by how many people you are praying for or how much faith you are praying with, or how many prayer you get answered?

Some great questions found in John Ortberg's new book entitled, "The Me I Want To Be."

Here's what I know: Prayer is conversation.

Richard Foster says, "Countless people...have such a "stained-glass" image of prayer that they fail to recognize what they are experiencing as prayer and so condemn themselves for not praying."

Ortberg writes, "we can better understand prayer by thinking about being present with another person, and how being with somebody shapes what we say about them.

Sometimes we speak to someone.
Sometimes we speak in front of someone.
Sometimes we speak in the absence of someone.

We all do one of the three if not all three everyday of our lives.

Let's unpack this.

The reality is that when it comes to God we are never speaking or acting in his absence. He is always there - all the time.

You and I both know that when we are driving on the highway and see a highway patrol car, we slow down. We drive differently. Why? Because we don't want to get a ticket.

Orberg writes, "You see, God doesn't want forced compliance. God is so immense that if he were "too visible," people would give forced compliance without expressing their heart. So God makes it possible, in enormous love, for us to live as if he were not there."


So, we can feel free to talk to God about our problems. We can talk to God about our needs.

Let me give you a practical tip here that I have been practicing for years.

Sometimes, as I am praying, I know I should be praying about world peace, missionaries, global warming, war in Afghanistan and all that, but my mind keeps running with:

I wonder how my sermon will go this Sunday
I wonder if we are going to get the air conditioning fixed here at the church
I wonder if the building committee meeting will go well tonight

Here's the principle: I must let my talking flow into praying by praying about what is in me not what I wish were in me.

I don't try to clean up my motives first, as Ortberg writes. I don't try to sound more spiritual than I am. I don't pray what ought to be in me. I pray what is really in me and what is on my mind.

Some good thoughts for a Thursday

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

responding to insults

The south side of Chicago is not a place for the fainthearted. People are quick to share their feelings if they feel like you are not driving right, or if they feel like they have been insulted or mistreated.

Now that is natural wherever people live, but especially in our specific area.

How do you respond to insults?

Jesus said in Matthew 5:39, "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

That is hard. Almost impossible outside of the Holy Spirit living in us.

We tend to be like the story of a successful Irish boxer who was converted and became a preacher. He happened to be in a new town setting up his evangelistic tent when a couple of tough thugs noticed what he was doing.

Knowing nothing of his background, they made a few insulting remarks.

The Irishman merely turned and looked at them. Pressing his luck, one of the bullies took a swing and hit the ex-boxer on one side of his face. He shook it off and said nothing as he stuck out his jaw. The fellow hit him again on the other side. At that point, the pastor swiftly took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and announced, "The Lord gave me no further instructions." And he proceeded to fight back."

The fact is that we can be very good at giving back to people what they have given us and here's the deal - and then some.

Watchman Nee has written, "Noting has done greater damage to our Christian testimony than our trying to be right and demanding right of others. We become preoccupied with what is and what is not right. You ask me, "is it right for someone to strike my cheek? I reply, "of course not!" But the question is, do you only want to be right? As Christians our standard of living can never be "right or wrong," but the Cross. The principle of the Cross is our principle of conduct, "right or wrong" is the principle of the Gentiles and tax gatherers. My life is to be governed by the principle of the Cross and the perfection of the Father."

Solomon said in Proverbs 12:16, "A prudent man overlooks an insult."

The Apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 3:9, "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing."

When we are insulted, we can waster our energy thinking of ways to get even, or we can choose the alternative to revenge, we can try to be like our heavenly father.

We can love our enemies.

Now then, if I can just live this stuff.........

Thursday, May 13, 2010

confessing sins as a Christian

I was reading a blog from and it sparked my interest.

Jonathan Acuff's title? "Confessing Safe Sins".

It is so true.

Pastor James writes in James 5:16, "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed."

We Christians, and especially we Pentecostal types, are not really into confessing our sins.

In the New Testament the Christians confessed to each other. During the Dark Ages, they confessed to the priests. Freud said confess to the counselor. Protestants said, "we're not gong to confess to anybody."

And as a result, we have a lot of problems and hang-ups.

For some reason we have bought into the idea that being holy means carrying around an aura of spiritual invincibility, that a true, anointed Christian is one who never sins.

So to compensate for that, we confess our "safe sins." I was reading a book by a younger, hip, nationally known speaker, and in one of his chapters he deals with overcoming temptation and sin. His temptation? Workaholism. Now there is a "safe sin" if there ever was one. He even confessed that he went to therapy for it.

Lust? Nah. Jealousy? Nope. Thoughts of revenge? No way.

Now, I practice what I call "limited vulnerability." Limited vulnerability is the principle that my level of self disclosure is raised to the range of group that I am with.

To the church as a whole, I would confess one thing. To my small group another. To my wife, a deeper level still. To God, well everything.

Yet at the same time, vulnerability breeds vulnerability.

Jonathan Acuff writes, "Have you ever been in a small group with people who confess safe sins? Someone will say, "I need to be honest with everyone tonight. I need to have full disclosure." So you brace yourself for this crazy moment of authenticity and the person take a deep breath and says, "I haven't been reading my Bible enough."

Acuff goes on to write, "Ugh, you dirty, dirty sinner. I'm not ever sure I can be in a small group with you anymore. Not reading your Bible enough, that is disgusting. And then once he's gone, someone else will catch the safe sin bug too and will says, "I need to be real too. I haven't been paring enough."

I love it.

Jonathan writes, "Two of you in the same room? Wow, freak shows! I can barely stand it."

How is that being "real" in the body of Christ?

Perhaps God is challenging us to take the plunge and be courageous and be open about our downfalls and temptations and limits. Perhaps God is challenging us all to stop trying to be something we aren't - which is perfect?

Here is a great rule of thumb - confess as widely as it involves other people.

If I've got a private sin, just between me and the Lord, then I ought to just confess it to the Lord. If I confess it to the Lord and continue to walk in the same sin, or give in to the same temptation, I need to confess it to a smaller group of people that can keep me accountable (like a small group).

If it is a personal sin between me and you, then I need to come to you. If it's a public sin, then I need to apologize to the whole church. James says, confess your sins, not broadcast them.

The point is, we all need at least one person (or small group) with the levels of trust and vulnerability are so high that we can share our struggles with.

Job writes, "A man needs his friend most when he's doubting God."

Just some thoughts for a Thursday. And oh, by the way, did I share with you that I am struggling with working too much at the church?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Computer virus and the Holy Spirit

Well it finally happened, our computer at home got a serious virus.

I took it to the "computer doctor" this morning. The patient is supposed to have "outpatient" surgery and will be home by tonight, hopefully, all well.

It's the first serious illness our home computer has ever had.

Nasty stuff. Apparently there is a virus that slams America everyday - it is from Ethiopia, Russia and other countries like that.

In our spiritual walk with God, there is a virus that can be just as deadly in the spirit realm. It is called sin.

Sin can come into our lives and spread, to the extent that it renders our spiritual computer (our walk with God - to continue the metaphor) useless. We no longer function or act or react in the realm of the spirit. We are dead spiritually.

What is the cure?

Jesus said in John 16:7, "For if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you."

What is the cure for the spiritual virus of sin in our lives? The presence of the Holy Spirit.

Before you and I connect with Christ, we are full of sin without any hope of living the life that Jesus calls us to.

We have been given a death sentence.

While we are here on this Earth, we learn and fill our mental computer full of things--even good things--that will get us nowhere with God. It’s like a computer with no protection and full of viruses and things that are not useful and headed for self destruction.

Satan is the extreme virus that invades our mind, like a hard drive on a computer. When we come into a relationship with Christ, here is what happens:

God sends the Holy Spirit to live inside us.

The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin. (He scans us and calls for removal)

When we realize that we have sinned and ask for forgiveness, sin is deleted and the antivirus takes over. It’s as if you would download a file in your computer for an antivirus program, except this is a living holy being called the Holy Spirit and the subscription will last forever.

It’s the third person of the trinity, Father (God), Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit (indwells the believer).

We need the Holy Spirit as our computers need an antivirus.

There are many brand names of the program, but there is only one that works.

There is only one that never needs updating, for He's always the same yesterday, today and forever.

Best of all its free for the asking.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Playing for an audience of one

This might fall under the "that's hard to believe category," but it is true.

When I was in high school, I was in several theatrical productions, from Oliver to Little Mary Sunshine to Fiddler on the Roof.

I loved it. In Oliver, I was one of the little urchin boys (even though I was around 6-2 as a Freshman in high school).

In Fiddler, I was a Russian soldier who married on of Teyva's daughters.

I can remember the dress rehearsals each time. Practice, practice, practice.

Funny thing about dress rehearsals - deep down inside you didn't really give it your "best" as you wanted to save the "best" for the real deal - the actual performance.

The night of the actual performance, the emotions are entirely difference. We would say to one another, "this is not just a run through. Tonight really counts. We can't go back over and make up for mistakes. We need to give it our best shot."

Every line, every cue, every entrance and exit -- was now extremely important. We had an audience we were playing to.

Guess what? We only get one shot at life.

The life we live today is the real thing. Sometimes we live as if this was and is just a run-through, as if we will get another shot at it someday.

No, today counts. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is not yet here, today is all we have.

As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:24, "Run in such a way as to win the prize."

I encourage all of us to give forth our best effort.

And know this - ultimately we are playing for an audience of one - God.

Monday, May 10, 2010

John Lennon and discipleship

When I was growing up - the Beatles were it. World renown. Oh, there was Elvis, of course, but the Beatles were the beginning point of it all - rock and roll on a world wide scale.

I was reading this week about John Lennon's conversion to Christ on a Palm Sunday years ago.

He began watching Billy Graham on television, and then as he watched a television special on the life of Jesus he broke down in tears.

Apparently, his spiritual passion lasted for a several months.

In his biography, "Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, Robert Rosen writes, “One day [Lennon] had an epiphany — he allowed himself to be touched by the love of Jesus Christ, and it drove him to tears of joy and ecstasy.”

He says, “He drew a picture of a crucifix; he was born again, and the experience was such a kick that he had to share it with Yoko.”

In the weeks that followed, he attended church services and took his son, Sean, to a Christian theater performance.

Geoffrey Giuliano in his biography of Lennon, "Lennon in America" states that “He prayed for forgiveness when he stepped on insects or snapped at the maid.”

But his wife, Yoko Ono, was not happy with Lennon’s change. Her first husband, Anthony Cox, became a Christian in the 1970’s.

Lennon began to challenge his wife’s interest in the occult, and expressed disappointment when she wouldn’t join him in watching when Billy Graham was on television.

Giuliano writes. “She feared John’s new faith would clash with her own ideas about spiritualism and threaten her iron hold over him.”

In the end, it appeared that Ono won.

In his final years, the man best known for his lines “Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try” was living a life dictated by astrologers, numerologists, clairvoyants, psychics, herbalists, and tarot-card readers.

Do you know of someone who has come to Christ and then "fell away"? I do. That's why discipleship and spiritual nurturing are so important.

We must lead people to Christ but we must also lead people to spiritual maturity.

I don't want any to follow away.....and I know you feel the same way.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

My mom

I'm am very grateful that I have had some great women in my life. From my grandmothers to my mom to my wife, they all personify the qualities and characteristics of godly women.

This Sunday is mother's day.

I am thankful for my mom.

I love my mom.

That is evident.

But as I grow older and see the big picture, I not only love my mom but I respect her as well.

I think back to when she had children and worked two jobs, one of them at night. I think back to her being a pastor's wife and a mother.

I think back to the sacrifices that she has made over the years so that ministry might take place, going from Springfield to Brussels to Dallas to Springfield, with trips around the world in between.

I think back to her "homeschooling" us the year we went around the world as a family as dad started ICI.

I think back to those times when dad (by necessity) was away on missions trips and she "stepped it up" and seized the role of nurturing her two sons, while teaching in a public school at the same time.

Thanks for your patience with us mom, your love, your concern, and your prayers.

I want to give credit where credit is due.

And now, you are playing a huge role in the raising of Ethan, Luke and Seth. You provide a meal every Sunday for my son, George.

Thank you for treating Debbie as your own daughter all of these years.

You are a caring, giving person, and we love you a lot. What I like, probably most, is your sense of humor, that has carried over into my own life.

I love you mom, but I also respect you. Happy Mother's Day.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

rights and responsibilites

It seems like I have been coming in contact lately with people who are demanding their rights and laying aside their responsibilities.

To a certain extent, we all at some form or level participate in this - because of our carnal nature.

Larry Norman used to sing, "life is filled with guns and war and everyone gets trampled on the floor..."

No matter where you turn these days, people are fighting. Whether it be in an extreme case like Afghanistan and other hots spots around the world, or disagreeing over a bill with your mechanic, or something at the church, turmoil is in the air.

Sometimes even godly people can lose their way and focus in on that which is their "right" and forget that Jesus has called us to not focus on our "rights" but to keep to the forefront our responsibilities.

Jesus himself said in Mark 10:45, "For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many."

As a follower of Christ and a member of a local church, I can have a lot of "rights" but to fully participate in the life and vision of a congregation, I must constantly lay aside those rights and look for ways to walk in humility.

In football, they tell the offensive line, no matter how big you are, stay low. So that you can have leverage, stay low.

No matter how big you get in life, stay low. No matter what title you have in front of your name, how much money you have in the bank, no matter how long you have attended our church, or how many people know who you are, stay low.

The moment you use your knowledge, prestige, power, (how long you have been at our church), or resources to attempt to pound your chest and stomp your feet and insist on your "rights" it will be made very clear by what place you are going from.

It's not a pretty place, and it breaks my heart.

Rights. Responsibilities. "I have my rights," we say. Yes, we do. But don't we also have a responsibility to leave this world a better place? More loving. More caring. More sincere.

I sense the words of Jesus coming into play here, "come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Let's all strive to walk in humility, to walk in dignity and pick up our responsibilities and lay aide our rights.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Search me oh God

Let's continue the theme from yesterday of having "plowed ground". To really listen to God, my spirit (soil) but be tilled, plowed, broken and ready to receive as God speaks to me.

Part of that process is keeping my relationship with God strong and uncluttered by sin and disobedience.

Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:12, "the eyes of the lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."

If we strive for righteousness and confess our sins, we can remain close to God.

But keeping and maintaining a relationship with God is an ongoing process.

We can't simply pray once through a list and expect to be done with it. Every day we need to go to God and ask Him to not only forgive us for our sins, but to reveal anything that may be hindering our progress.

David writes in Psalms 139:23,24, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

Search me oh God. May that be our prayer today.

Search me oh God - not in some kind of morbid, self-inflicting kind of way, but by allowing the Holy Spirit to pin point those areas in our lives that we can give to Him.

And then.....we can truly listen and hear and understand.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Weekend thoughts and unplowed ground

Yesterday morning turned out to be a wonderful time spent in the presence of God.

I also had the opportunity to continue my series on the parables of Jesus - the greatest stories that have ever been told. The topic? The different types of soil that Jesus talked about in his parable of the sower (Luke 4:8-15).

The parable of the sower speaks not of 4 different types of people but of 4 different types of seasons that we can experience in our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.

I would suggest that people often move between different soil types depending on their stage of life, their response to truth and their perceived needs. This movement can be forward (toward spiritual soil) or backward (to spoiled soil).

Sometimes our hearts are hardened to the things of God, sometimes we walk in the arena of superficiality, sometimes we get distracted, and yes, thankfully, sometimes we our "soil" is plowed and tender to the moving of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

I want my soil to be so rich, so plowed, that the seed of God's Word immediately opens in my life.

I don't want to be an "unplowed man."

An "unplowed man" knows all the answers even before you ask the questions.

An "unplowed man" is right and is hard and stern in his rightness. He storms through life hard and insensitive to those around him. Humility is a foreign characteristic.

The plowed man has been:


There is no other way to have a prepared heart than to go through the crusher.

But once that happens, once the plow has dug in and the soil has been turned over, then our hearts are prepared for God's Word.

You might say, "isn't there an easier way to get to God than through suffering?"

If there were, Jesus would have told us. Instead, Jesus said, "The only way to get to me is by picking up your cross daily and following me." There is no other way.

Jeremiah 4:3 states to "break up your unplowed ground..."

May we all be open to the Word of God in our hearts today.