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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Unplanned moments of prayer

You know what?

I have found that some of the most powerful, poignant moments of prayer that I have ever experienced were completely unplanned.  Spur of the moment.  Spontaneous.

My faith in Christ is a relationship.  A daily relationship with times of conversation, closeness and comfort.

Here's what I am beginning to learn.  What's important are not necessarily scheduled, planned times of communication with God - but those every day, every moment conversational times of sharing with an almighty God.

I inwardly smile, and completely understand the notion of "praying through" "interceding until the answer comes."  That is all well and good.

But then to pat ourselves on the back and think that we have "done our duty" and that is all my relationship with Christ consists of  - well there has to be something more than that.

Let us not discount the dailyness of conversation in our walk with God.

Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica that the people should, “pray constantly” (1Thessalonians 5:17).

Constant prayer emphasizes the natural, conversational nature of prayer. Prayer does not need to be limited to a place or set of rituals.

As we journey through life with Jesus, we carry on a conversation.

At times there is silence, and at other times brief statements.

Sometimes we have intimate conversations, discussing our goals, struggles, or need for guidance and discernment.

Constant prayer is living in the presence of God, and acknowledging that presence.

When I talk to my wife Debbie, it is not to manipulate her, or to get something from her, or to try to impress her (usually). Usually when I talk with Debbie it is because I love her.

We have a relationship. And I want to talk through my life and our life together with her.

There are two times when I need to talk with Debbie - one is when I feel like it, and the other, probably more importantly, is when I don't feel like it. The same is true of authentic prayer.

God and I have had several conversation today already (I guess I am name dropping here).

If someone read that last sentence without understanding prayer, or understanding the context in which it was said - they would think that I was nuts.

And indeed, someone once said, "When we talk with God, we call that prayer, when God speaks with us, we call that schizophrenia."

God does speak.  The question is - are we listening - on a moment by moment basis?

I think most sincere Christians are fed up with "churchanity" of a show of religion.  I believe most sincere Christians are longing for the real thing - a relationship, not a ritual.

So, why not have a conversation with God today, not because you "need" anything but just because you love God?  Unplanned!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Your thought life and ants

Here's what I know:

We are no better or no worse than our thought life.

Proverbs 23:7 tells us, "As a man (or woman) thinks in his heart, so is he."

Thoughts lead to actions and actions lead to habits, both good and bad.

You and I think, literally, thousands of thoughts each day.

Some are positive.

Some are negative.

Most people stop, pause and dwell on negative thoughts (How many times do you catch yourself waking up in the middle of the night thinking positive thoughts?).

Question:  Are you going to dwell and believe the negative thoughts that come - or are you going to dwell and believe the positive ones?

Clinical neuroscientist Daniel G. Amen (I love that name) says, "Don't believe everything you hear -- even in your own mind."

Most of the negative things we "hear" in a given day are never spoken audibly.

They're the things we say to ourselves.

Dr. Amen refers to them as ANTs: Automatic Negative Thoughts.

We all have them: "This won't work. This deadline won't be met. God isn't listening to my prayer. I can't follow this diet. I can't get organized." And on and on and on they go.  They "crawl all over" our minds until it seems like there is nothing we can do to stop them.

Dr. Amen tells us that we need to get in the habit of stomping these ANTs, and replacing them with positive, uplifting thoughts.

It's a difficult habit to develop, but the believer has an advantage.

You've got God on your side.

Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, "You know that he has plans for you, that he as given you a future and a hope."  Romans 8:28 tells us, "That he is causing all things to work together for good."  Philippians 1:6 tells us that we can be confident....that he who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

This means that you can turn an ANT into an ACT -- an Automatic Christlike Thought.

Instead of telling yourself the worst all day long, remind yourself God is in control, that his arm is not too short to save, and that he will lead you where you need to go.

The result is that this Automatic Christlike Thought really does become an ACT, because, again, what you think ultimately leads to what you do.

That's why Paul said in Romans 12:1, "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

New thoughts lead to new actions. New actions lead to transformation.

So spend the day stomping ants and replacing them with acts.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

It was not a good weekend for my NCAA college basketball bracket choices.  None of my chosen teams are in the final four.

I am going to pull for Bulter University to win it all.

When all is said and done, much more is said than done.

Faith will always win, no matter what circumstances come or what people say.

My faith is in God.

God is always faithful.

With four words, God created light.

Four words.

Words are important.

Words can give life or give death.

RFKC is a wonderful ministry to kids.

John and Marlene Schwider are doing a great job!

The youth choir yesterday - what can I say?  Phenomenal!  I especially like the rap.

We are grateful to have a great staff:  Aldin, Amanda and Noah (and their families).  I am thankful for their dedication and hard work.

It encourages me to see all of our guests who are coming - and coming each Sunday.

Nothing is impossible with God.

Spring, spring, where are you?  We need you so much!

Prayed with Ken Swanson this morning at Christ hospital - having surgery.  I encourage you to pray for him also.

God is doing a great work at our church.

Isn't it amazing that the number one selling easy chair in America is the "la-Z-Boy."  Not Risk-E-Boy.  Or, Work-R-boy.

La-Z-Boy.

Church life is not meant to be a place of "comfort" but of risk and work in God's kingdom.

Once we start "playing it safe" we will die as a congregation.

God calls us as his people to be willing to risk - and to trust in Him.

Everything is risky.

500,000 Americans each year require emergency room treatment for injuries sustained while falling out of bed.

Ten people a year accidentally hang thesmelves on teh cords of their venetian blinds in their homes.

Tens of thousands of people go to the emregency room each year because of wounds caused by handling moeny - everything from paper cuts to (for the wealthy) hernias.

If everything is risky - why not risk on something that is important - for the kingdom of God?

I love Jesus, I really do.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

One of the things I've been thinking about a lot lately is living my faith during the week.

Christianity is more than what we do on Sunday mornings.

In fact, what we do on Sunday mornings is a huddle to "call plays".  The actual working out of our faith takes place during the week.

I sometimes grow weary of all of the administrative "stuff" that I do at the church - and the politics involved.  But it is part of what I do as a leader.  No one has a "perfect" job.

I experienced great life group meetings over the weekend.  I am soooooooo thankful for my life groups.  Praying together.  Eating together.  Being vulnerable with one another.  Lifting and encouraging one another. 

We are the body of Christ - acceptance is key.

Forgiveness is key.

Unconditional love is a key.

We can't be sure if your opinion is right, but we can be sure if your attitude is right.

Peter Morgan makes a "mean" 3 milk cake.

Therese Hiller is a fantastic cook.

The dance team from Evangel - wonderful!  There was a tremendous anointing upon their lives.

The testimonies of God meeting our needs as we give - priceless.

Duke and Kansas are still on target for the championship game.

I love our church.  I love the people in our church.

For all of you ministry leaders (and spouses):  Please consider coming, Friday evening, April 1, 2011 for a two hour event with Pastor Robert Rhoden.  You will be encouraged and ministered to!

We all are walking by faith and not by sight.

Thankful for all of our first time guests yesterday in our services.

People need Jesus.

Our responsibility is to take Jesus to them.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

doubts

Doubt

The word means all kinds of things to us.

When we doubt the future, we call it worry.

When we doubt other people, we call it suspicion.

When we doubt ourselves, we call it inferiority.

When we doubt everything, we call it cynicism or skepticism.

When we doubt God, we call it unbelief.

Can I share this with you?  Doubt is not the opposite of faith.  Doubt is the opportunity for your faith to grow.  The opposite of faith is not doubt - but unbelief or a willful refusal to believe and a deliberate decision to disobey God.  Doubt is when you don't know what God wants you to do.  Or why God is doing things.

Unbelief is when you know what God wants you to do and don't do it.

Everyone has doubts.  Whew, aren't you glad I said that!

We all doubt.

To doubt is human.

Everyone has times of doubt.  Abraham did,  David did.  Jonah did.  John the Baptist did.

Do Christians doubt?

Yes.

Here's something that might disturb you a little bit.  Should Christians doubt?  Yes.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:8,9, "We are often troubled but not crushed.  Sometimes in DOUBT, but never in despair.  There are many enemies but we are never without a friend and thought we badly hurt at times we are not destroyed."

Many times we doubt because we just don't understand why things are happening to us as they are - "Why did you allow this, God?"  "What's going on here, God," "I don't understand," we cry out.

I have those times and so do you.

Just to lighten the midst, perhaps, just a little bit - George Carlin once wrote:

"Did you ever wonder why?

You tell a man there's 400 billion stars and he'll believe you, but tell him a bench has wet paint and he has to touch it? Why?

Why is it called a hamburger when it's made out of beef? Why do you put suits in garment bags and put garments in suitcases? Why doesn't glue stick to the inside of the bottle? Why isn't there mouse-flavored cat food?

Why do they lock gas station bathrooms—are they afraid someone is going to sneak in there and clean them?

If man evolved from monkeys and apes, why do we still have monkeys and apes? Why are there five syllables in the word monosyllabic? When two airplanes almost collide, why do they call it a near miss—it sounds like a near hit to me?

Why do banks charge you a non-sufficient funds fee on money they know you don't have? Why do you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway? Why are they called apartments when they're stuck together? Why are they called buildings when they are already finished? Shouldn't we call them builts? If the black box flight recorder is never damaged during a plane crash, why isn't the whole airplane made out of that stuff?"

I love it.

Now back to being more "serious".

If we don't get a handle on our doubts we can become negative, selfish, complacent and nostalgic.

Ravi Zacharias writes, "To walk away from one's faith because of unanswered questions about evil is to walk into a storm of unanswered questions about good."

As usual, with anything that Zacharias writes, I have to read it about 4 times to begin to understand what he means.

Perhaps what he means is this - the question is not so much why God allows evil into our lives, but why does he allow the good?  Do we deserve the good?  Do we deserve his blessings in our lives?

How can we face our doubts?

Three suggestions:

Admit your doubts.  Be honest with God.

Doubt your doubts.  Tackle your doubts head on.  Pray about them.  Be dependant upon God.

Being with the faith you already have.  Start from where you are today.

Believing with you for a great faith in the midst of doubts..........

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Being under oath

We all have strengths and weaknesses.

I do.  We all do.

No one has it all (even Justin Bieber - although he is close).

Sometimes we think that not knowing or articulating our strengths is a sign of ego and pride.

It can be if we talk about them in a boastful, prideful way.

But for most of us, we need to improve in this area of rightly knowing and sharing our strengths (especially in the area of spiritual giftedness) and using those strengths in a profitable way.

While I am thinking about it - as you and I get older - we realize that the key to dealing with our weaknesses is not so much giving a lot of time and energy trying to improve them - as to finding people and seeking out people to be around us who compensate for those weaknesses.

For instance, I would like to think of myself as a "big picture" person - who casts vision and sets goals both personally and for a group of people such as a local congregation.

"Paying attention to the details" is not one of my strengths, so I am constantly seeking out people who "read the fine print" about anything that we are doing.

Now then, back to our strengths.

We can really improve on - in the body of Christ - in sharing and talking about our strengths.

I love this story I found today:

It's a story told about Frank Szymanski, a Notre Dame center in the 1940s, who had been called to testify in a civil suit.

The judge asked him, "Are you on the Notre Dame football team this year?"

"Yes, your honor," he replied.

"What's your position?"

"Center, your honor."

"How good a center?"

Szymanski hesitated for a minute, then said, "Sir, I'm the best center Notre Dame has ever had."

Coach Frank Leahy was in the courtroom at the time. Szymanski's statement surprised him because the player had always been modest and unassuming. Leahy asked him about it and the center replied, "Coach, I hated to say it, but I had to. I was under oath."

I love it.

There is a balance for every follower of Christ to maintain between overestimating your strengths and underestimating the value of your contribution.

Paul was referring to this when he said in Romans 12:3, "For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned."

It takes wisdom to maintain this balance, to evaluate yourself without false humility and without ego-stroking pride, to view yourself as only one part of the body of Christ, but an essential part, with something to offer the whole.
I would ask you today, to take some time to consider your gifts and graces with sober sober judgment.

Think about what you do well.

Think about what you add to the team.

Don't be afraid to speak up.

Don't be afraid to participate.

Remember, you're under oath, too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

some thoughts for a Tuesday

Some random thoughts for today:

My "March Madness" final four pick:

Kansas versus Syracuse

Duke versus Florida

Championship game:  Duke 78 - Kansas 72.

Joe and Holly Schwider had a beautiful baby boy last night.  John Robert.  22 inches long.  Big hands and feet.  Does the "NBA" mean anything here?  Congratulations Schwiders!

Let's continue to pray for the people in Japan.  Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and now nuclear plants having problems. 

Apparently, all Assemblies of God pastors in Japan are accounted for and safe.  But, 30 Assemblies of God church members are still among the missing.

My high school basketball coach, John McCarthy passed away last Wednesday.  One of my former teammates emailed me with the news.

I remember Coach McCarthy fondly as a quite and private man who loved his students and his ballplayers.

My high school - the International School of Brussels (Belgium) where Coach served as a teacher, coach and athletic director.  He retired in 1996.

Coach always had a good way of "handling" me.  He was always patient with me, pointing things out that need changing without making me feel like an idiot.

I had other coaches who screamed and yelled (the Bobby Knight approach) but I think Coach McCarthy knew instinctively that wouldn't work with me.

I don't respond really well to people who try to "get in my" face or try to intimidate me.

My senior year, we won the championship for all of the International Schools in Europe, beating a heavily favored London team on our home court.

It was a major event in my life. 

So, thanks Coach for what you meant to us.  Even though I haven't been around you in over 30 years, you still have a warm place in my heart.  I will always remember us winning something, together.  And that's something that no one can take away from us.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

Don't ever eat an entire medium bag of popcorn by yourself at the movie theater - after eating Japanese food - ever.

Michigan State made the NCAA tournament - good for them.  I hope they go far.

Eric Shultz is a very, very talented person.  He sings wonderfully, as does drama like a professional.  Good job Eric!

Giving is a hard topic to speak about - but so, so necessary in our walk with God. 

I'm thankful for a giving, faithful church family.

Let's all continue to pray for the people in Japan.  A double whammy of an earthquake and a Tsunami.  May God watch over them!

I really, really believe we are living in the last days.  Earthquakes, Tsunami, hurricanes, wars and rumors of wars.  Don't you think it's time we starting taking biblical prophecy seriously?

I love what I do.  It's not easy - but I love helping people.

Sometimes people don't want to be helped.  That's hard.

Let's all continue to pray that God would move in our services!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Encountering God through silence

Last Sunday I talked about the difference between the Logos (the written word of God) and the Rhema (the spoken word of God).

I challenged everyone in our congregation to spend time listening to God.  Being silent before him.

The fact of the matter is that most of the time a Rhema is birthed out of silence, offered or received - and as Henri Nouwen writes, "as the ripe fruit of solitude"

Elijah here God speak through a "still, small voice" in 1 Kings 19:13.

Jesus warned his listeners to be careful about the words they speak, "for by your words you will be judged," in Matthew 12:36-37.

Jesus was a busy guy.  No doubt about it.  He lived a very, very busy life.

He coached his disciples, taught the crowds, healed the sick, casted out demons, did Q and A's with both friends and foes and was constantly on the move.

Yet he always found time to withdraw.  To (as Nouwen writes) "embrace solitude and silence."

As he was alone with God in prayer, he could hear the spoken word (Rhema) directly into his heart.

It was the source of his strength.

It gave him wisdom.

It increased his anointing as he ministered.

That is the challenge to you and I today.  Being still before God.  Silent.  Listening.  Unfiltered.  Unencumbered.

Henri Nouwen writes, "silence is the royal road to spiritual formation.  Without silence, the spoken word can never bear fruit.  Moreover, only through silence can the word descend from the mind into the heart.  As long as our hearts and minds are filled with words of our own making, there is not space for the word to enter deeply into our heart and take root."

And in silence there is peace and joy and comfort.

May be find the time to be silent before God today.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

focus and sin

The list of the world's richest men just came out. 

I did not make the list.  :)

The world's richest man lives in Mexico: Carlos Slim HelĂș.

Anyway, let's talk about focus and sin.

A lot of times we try to overcome temptation and sin using our own willpower and resources.  We look to ourselves and our own strength to be victorious, successful and righteous.  And we look really hard.

Well, let me give you some "breaking news".

We are looking at the wrong thing.

No one goes out to the pizza restaurant just to look at pizza.  You go to the pizza restaurant to EAT pizza!

One thing is guaranteed though - if you do go to the pizza restaurant to look at pizza, you will end up ending at least a slice.  Why?  Because the more you stare at it (and smell the pizza), the more you are going to want it.

Satan's goal is to get us focused on our sin, but focusing on our sin can't help us.  We have to focus on something else, someone else, who can help us overcome that sin.

That would be Jesus (and run from the pizza restaurant as fast as you can - if you are trying to resist pizza).

Just a thought for a Wednesday.

BTW, now I am really hungry for some pizza........

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

What describes your life?

Let me ask you this today.

What describes your life?  Which saying?

Which old adage offers the best council about life in general?

A.  Look before you leap
B.  He who hesitates is lost.

I would venture to guess that most are fall into category A.  They plan.  They figure things out.  They go by budgets.  They want to know that all of the bases are covered in order to move ahead.

I understand that but more importantly God understands that.

Yet the life that we live in Christ is a walk of faith, daring to risk when the occasion arises.

I hear church leaders say all of the time, "Let's see, regarding this or that work, will it pay?  It is going to be cost-effective?  Will everyone be pleased?"

We do very few things by faith.

I'm not talking about fiction or being presumptuous with God.

But I am speaking of allowing God to do the miraculous in our lives by walking by faith.  By daring to risk.  By realizing that budgets and plans are there as guidelines, but that ultimately we must keep on moving forward, we must keep on daring to risk.

I have a pastor friend who said, "The walk of faith is always on the brink of disaster."  He said that he was walking perpetually on other brink of disaster and on the verge of a miracle."

That is very true.

It can be very tempting in the midst of moving ahead for God to look for the easy path, the familiar, the predictable, to stay in shallow waters and peaceful places. 

Let's not give into that temptation!  Let's keep on moving ahead by faith.  Let's keep on going to the front of the battle and put ourselves on the line - for it is there that we begin to see the release of God's power and strength in our lives."

I leave you with something an acquaintance of mine, Dick Foth, once said, "Unless there is potential for failure in what you are doing, probably the spirit of God is not in it."

Monday, March 07, 2011

Thoughts from the week

Thoughts from the week

As I shared yesterday, I was in El Salvador last week with Convoy of Hope, feeding children in orphanages and schools.  It was a wonderful experience, and as usual, we all walked away grateful for what we do have - and wanting to minister to those who don't have.

It was heart wrenching to see people living in extreme poverty.  At the same time it was touching to see how they are responding - with joy on their faces, and the peace of God in their hearts.

Children especially touch me.  I had the opportunity to not only make up food packets and help pass them out, but to play basketball with some of the kids as well.

May we all be open to reaching out to the world - with our time, prayers and money.

El Salvador is a beautiful country.

I love the food there.

The El Salvadorian pastors are godly people.

When you get a small group of pastors away from their home environment - they go nuts.

I laughed so much on the trip (with the other pastors) that I came home hoarse.

American Airlines now has wifi - so I could read my kindle.

Missions is still "alive and well" in the world.

People need the Lord.

People need food.

People need us - around the world.

Great services yesterday with a great response around the altar.

God is moving!

I like to look out in a service and see the people of God worshipping.

As we open up our hearts - God is going to continue to move.

Eric Shultz has a great, great voice - and presence as he sings.

My daughter, Christie, came for the evening and visited us.  She is a wonderful daughter and I love her a lot. 

Shook hands with Dan Hampton (of the Chicago Bears) at our Pinewood Derby last Saturday.  He is a very big man.

We had a very good Pinewood Derby.  Met a lot of people for the first time.

My life group - what can I say?  Best meeting ever.  Sharing together.  Praying together.  Laughing together. 

If you are not a member of a life group - why not consider joining one?  You won't regret it.