Tuesday, October 31, 2006

One Slimy Job!

Last night, I spent some time outside on the deck with my kids, cleaning out a pumpkin. Of course, during this time of the year, that isn’t an uncommon sight. But, since we don’t do the whole trick or treat, and jack-o-lantern on the porch thing, one might wonder why I would be out there scooping out the biggest pumpkin I could find at the grocery store. In what has become kind of a little tradition for our family, we buy a pumpkin to get the seeds. What a tasty snack! I love roasted pumpkin seeds, and so do my kids.

There is one thing I really hate about gutting a pumpkin and separating out hundreds and hundreds of seeds, though. I hate the slimy, gooey orange gunk. It smells funny, and with the eczema I deal with starting every fall, it dries out my hands and irritates the skin. Plus, as much as I love those little seeds, when they are slime-coated, it’s like trying to grab a bar of wet soap. Seed-harvesting is no small task!

As I sat there hand-picking the seeds with my kids, the girls using spoons to keep free of the slime (once a girl, always a girl!), I got to thinking about how messy our lives can be. When I look at my life, and I see where I fall short, and the mistakes I’ve made, and the attitudes I try hard to ward off, it seems that God really has his work cut out for him. It seems that the slime just never ends. Thank God he isn’t afraid to go where it smells bad. He isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty to bring me of out the gunk. And, I rejoice, because in the midst of all that slime, there are precious seeds of blessing that God is harvesting. It reminds me of one of my favorite verses in the Bible:

“And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.” Philippians 1:6

That is an immensely encouraging message for me. I know my shortcomings. I’m painfully aware of my sin. I see the areas of struggle in my life. God knows all that, too. What’s so amazing is that even though he sees everything I do, knows every thought, and hears every word, he still loves me. He cares. And he digs through the slime of my life, and tosses it aside, leaving his nature in me.

So be encouraged, friends. God is working, and he promised to see the construction job through till the end. We are works in progress, but one day, when we finally see the Jesus face to face, we will be completed works or Christ’s righteousness.

God bless!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Powerful Video

Good morning, all. I decided to post a video today that I saw this weekend. It is by the band Casting Crowns, and the song is called "Does Anybody Hear Her?" This video a reminder to what we Christians are to do as the Body of Christ.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Unlikely Heros

Yesterday, my wife brought home a movie that she thought I'd get a kick out of, Napoleon Dynamite. I have to say, this movie brought back memories of my own time in high school. I appears to take place in the same era, the early to mid 90's. I gathered that from the hair and clothing styles. Also, I got a good laugh out of the cheesy saying of the geeky main character, Napoleon, because I remember people talking like that. Plus, you have to dig his moon boots!

The movie is about a few people that are the "invisble" types in school, those that the "cool kids" love to hate and pick on, coming together to do something that defies everyone's expectations. In this case, with the help of his shy friend Deb, they get his new friend Pedro elected as class president (Hence, the "Vote for Pedro" T-shirts seen from time to time).

Upon reflection this morning, the theme that emerges out of this movie is that the peole that seem the least likely to make a splash end up making the biggest splash. I think that God works in a similar way. He takes takes those that the world would consider foolish and weak, and uses them to put the world's perceived wisdom and strength to shame. That's why a young teenaged shepherd boy named David became a giant killer, and eventually a king. That's why a man called Gideon who thought that he was the weakest guy in his family really became a mighty warrior. That's how poor, everyday fisherman became apostles of Christ and mighty preachers of the Gospel. God takes the weak, and through Jesus Christ, makes them strong. Even the Jewish leaders that questioned Peter and John that day had to admit that there was something radically different about these men. Where they saw fear in them after Jesus was taken and killed, now they saw boldness.

"When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus." Acts 4:13

Listen friends. There is a giant killer waiting in the wings of your weakness. You may feel that you are just watching sheep, but God is preparing you for greater things. Go with his flow. He is using everything you encounter in life to mold you into the person he's created you to be-for his glory. Remember Romans 8:28- "All things work together for good to those that love God, to the called according to his purpose." And look at the honor role of people that God used:

Jacob- an lying con man turned prince of God
Joseph- hated by his brothers, enslaved, imprisoned, exalted to leadership
Moses- from a prince to a shepherd to the deliverer of his people
Gideon- the least in his family, which was the weakest of the tribe of Manasseh, yet a mighty man of valor
David- shepherd boy, youngest son, yet a lion, bear, and giant killer, and a king

This list could go on and on and on!

God is in the business of making unlikely heros!

Guess what? That includes you!

God bless!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Imitating God

Last year, I had been faced with a strong case of the flu. Body aches, a runny nose, and a fever. Oh, the misery! If there is anything my wife can’t take, it’s me sick. I can’t be sick silently. I share it with the world.

“My head hurts!” “No screaming, kids!” “Where’s the Tylenol?”

It annoys her to no end. When she gets sick, she refuses to get near me. I don’t think that she is really concerned that I stay well. Really, I wonder if she just doesn’t want to take care of another “kid” for a few days. I can’t blame her. I’m a bad sick person!

Well, toward the end of my flu bout, when the headache was subsiding and the aches and pains were finally over, I found myself with energy I hadn’t had in days. Plus, I had done nothing but sleep. But, there was a problem with the energy boost. As thrilled as I was to have some strength back, the timing was odd. It was about 3 AM when I noticed it! I was wide awake and rested. Oh well, may as well do something.

So, I got up. I walked into the living room, and saw what my poor wife had to contend with while my rear was out of gear. It’s hard keeping up on the house when both of us are on it, with 3 out of 4 kids mobile. I know how it is when she is out of commission. So, I did something that thrilled her socks off. I took my newly acquired energy, and cleaned the house. I straightened up the living room. I loaded the dishwasher, and started it. I swept the floor. I think I may have even mopped the kitchen! I was a cleaning fool. And after about an hour, I had it looking nice, and was feeling tired again, so, off to bed I went.

You should have seen the look on her face that morning when she got up. It was like the cleaning fairy had come while we were all asleep and cleaned house. She was in heaven! And, I might add, quite happy that her man decided to just do something to make the place nicer, and take a load off of her back. Can you say “brownie points”?

Sometimes I wonder if God feels that way when we do things to advance his Kingdom. Does he rejoice when we see that homeless guy on the exit ramp and joyfully help him out? Does it make him happy when his children reach out to the hungry with a meal and a kind word? I don’t think I’d be stretching the bounds of my authority if I said that God loves to see his children imitating him. In fact, I can pin scripture down on it:

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2 NIV

God is pleased when he sees us do what his only begotten Son did-sacrifice. You see, it cost God to save us. It cost Jesus Christ. And he longs to see the love and attitude of Christ displayed in us as we grow in our faith. And following Christ means lives of sacrifice. Sacrifice doesn’t necessarily mean that we are laying down our lives, though that certainly fits the description. Every time we look beyond our own comfort, and look beyond our desires to see the needs of those around us, we sacrifice. For Jesus, since he is God, it was leaving the glories of heaven, his majestic throne, and service from myriads of angels to take on a human body, and be born in a smelly stable. It was a sacrifice for him just to grace us with his presence, though we didn’t recognize him. It was love that motivated God the Father to send his only begotten Son into this sin-infested world and die the most brutal death, and bleed on that cross. It was Christ’s love for us that held him on that cross. Sacrifice. It’ll cost something.

What are some ways that you can look beyond yourself to see the need of your neighbor today? In what ways can you splash some of God’s love around on those who need him? That’s what Jesus meant when he said to “take up our cross”. The imagery to the first century Jew or Roman was clear. The cross was a form of the death penalty. To us, the cross is a religious symbol above the baptistery at church. It’s a piece of jewelry on a necklace. Not then. It represented death; death to our own human wills; death to our selfish ambitions and comforts.

So, what has to die so you can be a Christ-imitator to your neighbor?
God bless!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Revisiting Spiritual Bungee Jumping

Hey, all, I just wanted to take some time today and expound a little bit on just what taking risks means to me. I read the comments on my entry from Friday, and I am thankful for the words of encouragement, and Roughrider's "permission". But, I know that some reading the blog from Friday can come away with some concern, and I felt that it is approriate to take some time and dive a bit deeper into what it is I am talking about.

When I talk about taking risks for the Lord, I am not talking unwise or foolish risks. Scripture gives me a mandate to make sure that my family is provided for. So, if God is calling me (hypothetically) to a certain area of the country out of driving distance from my current home, I would do the obvious stuff like land a job and find a home first. Once in that area and established in work and home, then we would work on the ministry calling. Though God calls us to step out in faith, I don't think he wants us to lay God-given wisdom aside. My first and most important ministry is to my wife and children. In fact, the Bible says that to neglect my family makes me worse than an infidel, or an unbeliever. So, I must first consider my family.

So, what would be a "spiritual bungee jump" for me? It would be stepping out to start a ministry, such as a church in the Detroit area, as I do feel called to do. What make it so risky? To me, what makes it risky isn't really a money issue. I wouldn't be required to quit my job to do it. Such an undertaking is done usually with support from a local church that "mothers" a new church till it can stand on its own 2 feet. The risk for me is in the fear of failing. What if that new church falls flat? What if no one comes? What if no one supports it? If it does fail, will I be looked upon by those who supported it as incompetent?

When the apostle Paul arrived in the city of Corinth, it was a fearful time for him. That city had an "anything goes" feel to it that eventually infiltrated the church (just read 1 Cor. 5!). Paul himself said that when he came to that city, it was in "weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling" (see 1 Cor. 2:3). But, he faced that weakness and fear head-on and saw a great church eventually come together. But something to consider that is pure wisdom for potential church-planters is that Paul didn't go it alone. He had people that traveled with him, like Barnabas, Silas, Timothy and Luke, who wrote the book of Acts. Though some have successfully done it, I don't think it's wise to launch something like a church without people coming alongside to help it out. We can be wise in our risks.

Anyway, I just wanted to add some more clarity to Friday's post. God bless!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Spiritual Bungee Jumping

I've been thinking a lot lately on being a risk-taker. It seems everything from books to sermons, taking risks for the Kingdom of God has been on the brain. I have been confronted in the past 2 weeks by Pastor Mark Batterson's new book, not even released yet, about taking risks. (You can read the first few pages of In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day here.) Whether it was Moses stepping out and commanding Pharoah to let his people go, or Jonathan and his armor-bearer taking on the Philistines themselves, I've been confronted in my own spirit about being a risk-taker, being entrepreneurial for Jesus. Now, I don't mean becoming a business owner, but stepping out, sticking my neck out and taking a chance in what I feel God is calling me and my family to do. Frankly, it's scary.

Why is it so scary? As a kid, did I think twice about climbing ladders and hanging out on the roof with my dad as he did work up there? Nope. Did I stop to consider the consequences shed-jumping? Please! I even once tried to make a hang-glider out of some of dad's scrap wood and a garbage bag! Not only did I frame a rough glider, I climbed to the top of the 10 or 12 foot peak on the shed and jumped, thinking that I actually could glide. Instead, I fell like a rock. I mean, those endeavors included the possibility of serious injury, even death, but I didn't think twice about it!

Taking risks for the Lord for me means that I am safe from hanging gliding, skydiving and bungee jumping. But it does means risking total failure. It means I may possibly look bad to other people. For years, I have not only dreamed about starting a church, but I truly feel that God wants me to do it. But, truthfully, a fear rises up in me every time I decide to step out and do it. It becomes easier for me to simply wait for a church that is in operation already to come open, and become their pastor. It seems safer. But God doesn't necessarily lead us down a path of total safety. Remember, David wrote in the 23rd Psalm that God lead him into the valley of the shadow of death. That doesn't sound so safe and comfortable to me. But as long as God was leading him, he had the all comfort he needed. In fact, God has a habit of leading his people into situations that are less than ideal. Just ask Gideon, whose big army got reduced to 300 men by God himself. Or Elijah, who God sent to get in the face of one the most wicked kings in Israel's history, Ahab, and pronounce judgment that was really the king's doing.

So, here I am, once again at a crossroads. Will I step out and take that plunge of faith that I feel God is telling me too, or will I continue to weasel out of it, hoping that something "easier" pops up? You know, taking risks for God shouldn't be difficult for me. It isn't like I haven't done it before. Just the fact that this blog is here and has been for more than a year now is proof that I have taken the risk of being ridiculed, thinking that some may take one read of my stuff, and dismiss me as a literary wannabe. But, God has been faithful, and many have been touched by what God has led me to write. So, just a note to myself, taking risks for me is not an unprecedented thing.

This post may be more for myself today than anyone else. Sometimes, I just need a swift kick in the butt to remind myself of what I am truly called to do. But, just as the foreign languages that the 120 disciples miraculously spoke on the day of Pentecost served to preach the Gospel to the people visiting town for the feast of Pentecost, so this writing is hopefully going to be a blessing to someone else today, not just me.

Well, as the great Porky the Pig said, That's all folks! God bless!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

How's Your Resume?

Today, as I opened up my email, I was greeted by one of those job-seeking website emails that I subscribe to. The third position down happened to be with a former employer of mine. It's a great place to work, and the job was right up my wife's alley, so I called her and told her about it. She immediately began to refine her resume, and wanted my input. I am not resume expert, as a glance at my own will reveal. But, I did a little research, and found a website that specializes in helping us common folk write killer resumes. I found out something so obvious, yet it hit me like a 2 x 4 in a tornado. A resume is really an advertisement for potential employer to see. It's like a commercial in printed form. So, to get that coveted interview, it is vital to put your best foot forward, and really sell yourself in a way that captures the prospective employer's attention in the first few seconds. This first impression can make all the difference in the world. How does one do that? The site I visited suggested focusing on the employer's needs, and using power words such as "extraordinary", "highly qualified", and such. It's about making the recruiter want to read more.

If you think about it, as born-again believers in Jesus Christ, our lives are a kind of "resume for Jesus". When people watch us, and interact with us, what they observe can either make or break our Christian testimony. People judge the greatness of the Savior by those who follow him. That's why it's vital to live our lives in front of people in a godly manner. They need to see love demonstrated. They need to see patience displayed. They need to see a changed life that is in the world, but not influenced by the world. What good is Jesus to a lost sinner if the the Christian who follows him is seen as no different?

Paul the Apostle understood that his life was to be a "resume for Jesus". He took that truth seriously, and that's why he was able to tell the Corinthian Christians to "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1 NIV). He wasn't living his life in such a way as to lead people into sin. That doesn't mean that we are living in sinless perfection, but that we aim to be like Christ Jesus in all that we do.

Not only did Paul have such expectations for his own life, but he expected those under his apostolic authority to be "resumes" as well. In 2 Cor. 3, he essentially told the same people he had to rebuke sharply that they were "living letters" of not only Christ and the Gospel, but of Paul and his ministry. Their lives were now showing the changes that made them more Christ-like, giving more validity to Paul's message, and his standing as Christ's chosen apostle to the non-Jewish people.

In these past few weeks, I have really been focused on what it means to be a "missional-minded", or an outward-focused Christian. Our task is not to shut ourselves away and hold out till the rapture of the Church, but to hit the harvest fields of people needing Christ and win them to him. Jesus said that we are like that city on a hill, whose lights are visible in the darkness. In the dark world that we live in, we shine our light in the way we live our lives.

"...let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Mat. 5:16 NIV)

So, shine that love that God has poured into you. Shine that mercy, that compassion, that joy that endures even the hardest trials life throws at you. When the lost people of this world begin to see that there is something different in you, they are sure to ask and, maybe, just maybe, you'll harvest that soul and see them come to Christ and become a "resume for Jesus", too!

I'm off to work on my resume!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

No Gas Equals Forced Exercise?

This morning it finally happened. I can honestly say that it has never happened to me, at least I can't remember it ever happening. I ran out of gas. First, I must give you all the pertinent information, so you will have a clear picture of what brought me to this point. I drive an older car, a 1992 Ford Crown Victoria. Great car, it has gotten me from point A to point B for a few years now. But the electronic gas gauage is broken. It tells me the miles till empty, which can literally read a full tank with only five or ten gallons in the tank. Or, it can read near empty with a good amount of gas. The gallons left feature is just as unreliable. Anyway, it read over 132 miles till empty, then dipped to 34. Then I ran out! I managed to get a good way to work, but still a half mile from the nearest station. So, I called my wife and told her to be ready to come with the lawn mower gas can. Then I decided to walk back to that station, and I had to buy a small gas can, plus $2 in gas. Then I walked back to the car, over a mile, total walking distance! I emptied the gas in the car, and it started up. All's well that ends well. My wife didn't have to drive the nearly 20 miles to help me out.

But, as you can tell from my title today, it forced me to get some exercise. Now, we all know that exercise is a good thing, but it takes determination and a will set like flint to make it a regular discipline. That's the hard part for me. Yet, funny how our circumstances can force us to take action. For me, it was an empty tank of gas. For others, it might me a threat of diabetes, or heart problems. But, someday, sometime, trouble will rear it's ugly head, and when it does, it pays to be in good shape. Today, I found out the hard way that I am not.

We do the same thing spiritually, don't we? We often let our spiritual tanks run dry. How often do we neglect our relationship with the Lord, neglect reading his Word, the Bible? How often do we neglect spending time with Him in prayer? We don't spend time in worship personally. We allow spiritual laziness to set in, and it dulls our sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. There will be crisis times in our lives, and in the lives of those around us who may need our prayers, but we often are so stopped up with the cares of this life and our own stuff that we can't hear the still, small voice of God calling us to pray for people in what is called a kairos moment. Kairos is a Greek word from the New Testament meaning "an opportune or seasonable time". This is different than the other Greek word for time, chronos, which simply refers to chronological time. There are times when I sense that God is calling me to special moments of prayer. Maybe to pray for someone in particular, or for several people. Sometimes, I don't even know what I am praying about! But God calls us to these times. That is why it is so urgent to "not run out of gas" spiritually. We need to be shaped up for the task at hand.

So, are you low on gas today? Take the time to steal away with the Lord and pray. Grab a Bible and read it. Take the Word of God in your spirit. Spend some time in personal worship, just you and the Lord Jesus. You are "filling up the tank" when you do these.

That's it for today. I pray that this has sparked someone into investing more into their relationship with God today. God bless!

Monday, October 02, 2006

What's That in Your Hand?

*I was inspired by Pastor Darrell Garrett today. Click his name, or the link to the Dawghowse on the right, so you too can read his thought-provoking blog today.

What are some of the names you remember from your childhood Sunday School class? Think back on those old Bible stories to recall some of the people, and their actions, that got them honorable mention in the very Word of God.

How about Moses? Shamgar comes to mind. Gideon. Samson. Jonathan and his armor-bearer. David. The list could go on and on. What is the purpose of listing a bunch names from deep in the pages of the Old Testment? To encourage you, the reader. How? Read on.

Each of these men were just average plain guys. Sure, Moses had once been a prince in Egypt, but after killing a man he fled to the backside of the desert where he got married, and kept his father-in-law's sheep. But he had something beside a call from God. He had a shepherd's staff, the very stick that God used to reveal his wonders to a hardened Pharoah.

Shamgar? Perhaps this is a name that simply blends in with the other judges of Israel with funny names that are hard to pronounce. But his actions are anything but boring. When the enemy Philistines were attacking, Shamgar won a miraculous victory using what he used in his farming career-an ox goad. Nothing but a sharp, long stick to poke lazy oxen with when they stopped, and a flat opposite end to clean off the plow. Yet this simple piece of farming equipment in the hands of a God-inspired man delivered his countrymen from the terror these heartless attackers brought with them. Six hundred Philistines met their maker that day, because one man took a risk and let God use him and whatever was in his hand (see Judges 3).

I don't have the time to write a chapter about it, but there's Gideon's small 300-man army, Samson and the jawbone of a donkey, Jonathan and his armor-bearer against the huge Philistine army, and David and his sling versus Goliath, nine feet of solid warrior. All of these people were used by God, having only the tools of the trade, so to speak. These men stepped out in faith and believed God to move on their behalf, and each saw the miraculous happen. They were Godly risk-takers.

So, what is my point? The Philistines of our day are coming against us. Not a real army, but the forces of sin, ungodly worldviews, perversion, greed, and materialism. Students, regardless of the grade or institution, are being subjected to radical ideas from fringe people that seem to flock to our schools. MTV, Hollywood and the media send messages that are absolutely contrary to Godly morals and Biblical teaching. Am I surprised? No, darkness has always worked against the light. But we have been called by God to shine as lights in a dark place. Newsflash-God wants to use you to make an impact on this world!

So, what's in your hand? God can use you, he can use your talents, giftings, etc., to reach a world that he loved so much, that he sent his only begotten Son to die for. Perhaps you have the gift of gab, like my 4-year old daughter, quite appropriately named Gabbie. Use it. Strike up conversation. Talk to those who need to hear the message. Are you a natural leader? Are people drawn to you? There's your platform, friend. Use that influence to lead them to Christ. Is your area of expertise in song? Then sing to the world about the Savior.

Me? Well, I have a fairly easy time with computers and the 'net, and I love to write. So, for now, this blog is my staff, my ox-goad. May God use it for his glory, and may many come into the light of Jesus Christ.

What it comes down to is being a risk-taker for God. Each of the men I profiled stepped out and took a major step of faith. That isn't easy to do. But, God rewards active faith. Just ask James, who told us in his slice of the Bible that faith without works is dead. In other words, if our faith is alive and kicking, there darn well should be some vital signs. Those signs are actions done out of our faith and love for Christ. And these men didn't have much. Just the everyday tools they used to get by. God still uses yielded hearts and simple tools in our hands.

So how did Pastor Darrell's blog inspire, exactly? Simply put, there is a world out there that needs to hear our message, but we seem to speak the wrong language. God didn't create us to be clones of the countless Christians sitting in pews across America. He made me to be me. He made you to be you. So, take that heart for Christ, and that staff or ox-goad in your hand, whatever form that takes, and reach out to those that God has placed you near.

God bless!