God Is Always Good . . . No Matter What

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This week we sold our house in Illinois and bought another one near Indianapolis. It was a pretty challenging prospect trying to sell a home in a small town, slow economy while trying to find something we really wanted in our new location in Indiana.

Nonetheless, God showed up as He so often does and provided for us in ways beyond what we deserved. Our new place has several features, too, that we at least hoped for and at most wanted for unique reasons. He provided them all.

No, we can’t say there was a miraculous healing or last – minute envelope of provision in our mailbox but God definitely came through in our successes this week.

However, in situations like this you often hear many well-intentioned people respond to your favor with, “Wow, God is good, isn’t He?” And yes, God is good, but He doesn’t suddenly become good because He blesses us. He’s good no matter what, whether He gives us that extra blessing or not.

Even if Jackie and I were today still looking for a home and our current house hadn’t sold, God’s character would not have changed. He would still be good.

His goodness is not dependent upon our circumstances. When He does bless us as we were blessed this week, He’s giving us an extra mount of His grace, mercy and favor. We don’t particularly deserve it but He provides anyway.

So, if you get blessed in a special way thank God for it but don’t suggest that His character has changed. He is still good . . . even when the desert or storm is winning.

 

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Sometimes You Gotta Burn The Plow

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There’s a compelling story in the Old Testament found in I Kings 19 where a new prophet named Elisha is being selected to take over for the longstanding prophetic icon Elijah. God has clearly placed the mantle of responsibility on this next man of God but his first response isn’t quite what was expected.

It seemed that Elisha, like many of us, was reluctant to really give himself to the task. In fact, the passage says that he wanted to first go say goodbye to his family, more of an excuse apparently than a heartfelt response.

Elijah questions his response and though we’re not told much detail Elisha does something much different than the first time. He kills the 24 oxen he’d been using and burned the plow. In other words, he had nothing to fall back on anymore. He was committed.

Often we say we’re going to take a big step in our faith, hold on to our God and rest in Him no matter what. But then we quickly try to hang on to as many safety ropes and plan B’s and whatever to go back to if we need them.

And of course there’s always a place for wisdom, preparation and extra. But sometimes God asks us just to trust Him and let Him provide the extra, the things to fall back on and the ultimate provision.

How about you? Have you been unwilling to step out for God and trust Him for the rest of your journey. Jackie and I are at that point right now. We’re moving soon and while we have some provision to sustain us we really need God to come through for us to make it. I call it exhilarating terror. But perhaps it’s the only real way to live. Try it.

Years in Your Life or Life In Your Years?

senior-citizen-online-securityThis week my wife and I got to spend four days with my mom, sister and some of her family celebrating my mom’s 90th birthday. How many people do you know who are ninety or more?  I actually met quite a few, the oldest being 105!  I had my picture taken with another woman who was 103.  She didn’t look much over eighty.

However, being around people that age for a number of days makes you think about  how many years you yourself might get. There were of course far fewer men in our gatherings than women. The statistics are against us guys so maybe I should worry.

But more important seems to be how we live those years no matter how many or few we receive.

The differences at my mom’s place show the opposite ends of the spectrum. Some people there were quite vibrant, happy and fun-loving. They still dance, go to the Happy Hour every Friday and take in most of the special programs, card games and trips to the mall.

Others seem bored. They go to breakfast, back to their room for an hour or two and then wait for lunch. Their afternoons are pretty much the same before supper. But I’m not sure the people there are that different from the general population. Some live life as well and meaningfully as they can every day while others are either bored or at best disappointed with how life has treated them. They too either mope around or complain a lot.

You see, it seems to me that we were meant by God our Creator to find meaning and purpose in each day by intersecting with, enjoying and helping other people. And every person can do all of that, even someone ninety or one hundred years old. Sure we have to slow down, our bodies won’t do what they used to do, but we don’t have to quit putting life into the years we have.

You see we have no guarantee that we’ll get ninety, a hundred or even thirty years to live.  But we are granted a purpose, a reason for living, the power to meaningfully know others, care for them and enjoy who they are. Don’t miss one moment! It’s up to us to put the life in our years.

 

Bored With Blessings?

This week my wife and I had the opportunity to travel to sunny Florida for a few days to help my mom celebrate her 90th birthday. We had a lot of fun with both family and friends spending some good times honoring mom.

One day, however, we took her to Sanibel Island for a beautiful drive, to see the beach and to have a nice lunch. It was a perfect day in many ways. However, while waiting on our meal at an upscale resort along the gulf, I found myself watching one man, sitting at a table near us, decked out in fashion sunglasses and with his wife (I think) plus another couple. During the next hour I never saw him smile, he uttered maybe a handful of words to those with him and managed to maintain an ongoing look of boredom with it all.

Of course, I can’t know if he was truly disinterested but he looked like he couldn’t have cared less about being there. And it caused me pause to think that someone might not be excited about an experience like that because it was such a treat for us. Could he possibly possess so much and have done this kind of thing so many times that it really didn’t matter any more or give him an sense of happiness or joy?

After thinking more about it, it made sense that it is possible to get bored with what we should consider blessings. Entitlement can creep into our thinking and then we want and expect more. The sad part is that more will never be enough.

The answer?  It seems to me that the best way to stay thankful is to keep guarding against complacency by cherishing every blessing. Find the blessing in each moment. Don’t let possessions become your anesthetic because the more painkiller you ingest, the less you’ll feel about anything, including a trip to Florida.

 

Three Church Successes We Need To Devalue

 

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There are lots of impressive churches aren’t there? Beautiful campuses, gorgeously appointed buildings, multiple services, thousands of attenders and top-notch programs. And thankfully God is working through many of them.

But these same seemingly successful churches can get many of us believing that success and spiritual growth have happened when in reality the gains made are based on the wrong measures.

Let me suggest some mirages of success that we would be wise to re-think.

Having an iconic speaker/leader. Most of the biggest churches in the country also are recognized as much by  their well-known pastor  as their disciple making totals. People are listening to their teacher’s messages all over the world. Guests are there every week just to hear him. His books are always Christian bestsellers.

But his popularity and number of publications are hardly evidence of that church’s success in reaching people for Jesus. He may be a great teacher and well-respected but if people are more excited about him than Jesus they’re not that successful of a church.What happens when the super-pastor leaves or retires?

Seeing a big number in attendance every weekend. The average attendance in the average church in America is somewhere in the 80’s.  So when we come across churches with attendance in the thousands we’re impressed. They must be doing something right, we think.

And many are. I tire of those who suggest that just because a church is big means its ineffective, waters down the Gospel or is made up of only shallow Christians. But we dare not think that just because big numbers attend, our church is accomplishing God’s purposes.

Having awesome facilities. Interestingly the early church probably didn’t even have buildings. Hundreds of thousands of churches around the world have few, if any, of the fancy trappings American churches enjoy.

And yet many Christians think as much of their church campus as they do their local college, bragging to others that their auditorium is bigger than the municipal one. They also have a coffee shop, huge kids’ play area and an office complex.

So what makes a successful church? It’s one thing and one thing only. They are making new disciples. People are coming to know Jesus and growing in their relationship with him. And thankfully our creative Creator has figured out how to do that through all shapes, sizes and styles of church and ministry.

Make sure you and your church are measuring your success using the right measuring tape.  You might be more or less successful than you think!

 

 

Lots of Life Happens In Stages – It’s Okay.

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I’m currently waiting for a UPS delivery. They told me it would be Saturday, still two days from now, before I get my  proof copy of my book on marriage. But I just keep hoping it will come today.

So I check the tracking site and realize that it has gotten closer. However, it’s likely going to still arrive over the weekend. I guess I can’t rush it with even the sincerest of hopes.

A lot of life is like that. Good things don’t occur all at once or in a moment. Results often require stages, stages that can’t be sped up or hurried along though we wish they could. I know I need to be reminded that stages, waiting, and letting some things just take more time have their purpose.

Stages teach us patience. We learn to slow down, to not demand that life occur when we want it to. We might stop and enjoy what we already have before we move to the next thing so quickly.

Stages tend to lead to more quality. Sure my book won’t be any better because it rode in a truck for five days. But I might be better. Less in a rush. More likely to catch a few more edits that will make it better. Stages in marriages, families, churches and businesses often yield the same results. When we slow down we make less mistakes and see the big picture that often gets put ignored because of our hurrying.

Stages tend to keep us humble. If everything we did turned into gold right away we’d think all the results were because of us. Stages remind us that lots of things are not in our control. Sometimes we’ll need to adjust, re-route and switch on the fly and that’s not such a big deal.

Waiting on anything, anyone today? Wishing God would come through? Sometimes there’s a good reason and upcoming benefits that your waiting will breed in you. Don’t reject the wait. Accept the process. Embrace it.

 

 

 

Who’s Playing In Your Super Bowl?

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The competition will be fierce, the money spent unbelievable. Bets are in and everyone’s hoping that their favorite team, if they’re still in it, will win. Sometimes history tells us something about the potential results while other times we’re totally surprised. Yes, the 50th version of the Super Bowl is here.

But let’s be honest. Sometimes the game, after all the hype, is a total letdown. One team runs away with the game early and pretty soon the food becomes the focus of the rest of the evening. The two teams playing are just background noise.

I wonder, however, if we shouldn’t again consider what other competitions are going on in our world all year long. Some of them may be minor, but there are a few big ones that most of us need to take a look at in the shadow of the big game.

The competition of family time versus time for the urgent. Who’s going to win this battle? Will we lose trying to stack our commitments to those we love most against the defense of circumstances we don’t think can wait.

Or the competition of spiritual growth versus personal fulfillment. There’s nothing wrong with living a life that seems purposeful, but it won’t mean much or be at best misguided separated from spiritual growth. When life gets hectic or beckons us to feel better, our spiritual consistency usually wanes. We believe we can’t give God that much more time because life’s challenges and seductions to succeed are looming too large.

Or there’s the competition of stuff versus people. I know I need to be reminded often that more possession just mean more headaches, maintenance, worry and distractions from what really counts in life. Perhaps this year could different when instead of accumulating more we actually get rid of what we simply don’t use or need.

These battles may not have all the drama, publicity and expense of the Super Bowl, but their outcome could dramatically change the course of our lives if we’ll let God help us be on the right side of each battle. Go for it. Play hard. Win.

Where’s the chips and salsa?

 

 

Thoughts About Death That Aren’t Morbid

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No one likes buying life insurance because they have to think about dying. Planning and paying for your funeral prematurely isn’t that much fun either. And people who think only about Heaven often aren’t much earthly good as they say.

But there are some things about death that we need to embrace while we’re living. For one the Bible clearly says in I Corinthians 4:10 that we carry around with us the death of Jesus. There’s a lot to that statement but one of the important implications is that life doesn’t always work the way we’d hoped.

Jesus’ followers certainly found that out when their king, hero and miracle man ended up in a tomb. We experience similar disappointments. Loved ones die too soon, people lose jobs, kids don’t turn out well and other people let us down.

But secondly, our hardships are opportunities for people to see life in Jesus. Messed up people often change, hearts can be reborn and bodies sometimes healed. Marriages can be restored and other relationships repaired. And when those deaths become life again, people look to the giver of life once more.

Thirdly, death reminds us that this world isn’t IT. We often think some person, event or accomplishment will finally get us over the longing inside we have to finally feel full, important or just happy. But it never lasts. We can enjoy it for a while, and that’s fine, but we need more. As a result those things we thought had life in them instead eventually die.

And we keep looking. And we should . . . until one day when we finally will stand with the Father Himself and realize that the longings are gone and what we’d only dreamed about has now become a reality.

That day will be worth it. And the last funeral we will attend, the funeral for death, will be over. Let the celebration then begin.

 

 

The Church Version of Groundhog Day

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Tell me you have personally seen the Bill Murray now-classic movie Groundhog Day. In fact, you should have watched it many times, right? The plot is pretty simple – a guy keeps living the same day over and over and over again.

It’s a funny premise for a movie. Not so funny for a church, but it happens there all the time anyway.  Many churches are caught in their own Groundhog Day culture, doing the same things week after week after week, often explained under the umbrella of fundamentalism, the good old days, being separate from the world, anti-megachurch, denominational distinctives or a host of other misguided, non-biblical reasons.

They’re singing the same music, preaching the same kinds of worn-out sermons, rejecting new, more effective strategies, utilizing the same schedules, etc. believing that there is a reason for each choice somewhere in the Bible. There isn’t.

I’m thankful to have been involved in several churches where though it wasn’t easy, leaders were willing to risk being different for the sake of something that should stay the same – making disciples. And no time period, group of churches or denomination has ever had the market on how to do church.

The issue must always be, how can we continue to guard what will always be true in ways that will always be contemporary and meaningful to those God has called us to reach?  I wonder how many people in at least some of our churches are really living bored, same old, but I’d rather not change Christian lives. I wonder how many people have left and are never coming back because of feeling like it would always be Groundhog Day at First Church.

If God is asking your church to take some big, even radical steps, still for the purpose of reaching more people with the truth of the Gospel, don’t let you preference for sameness stand in the way. Jump in, be an encouragement, welcome the change. There just might be some amazing things ahead for you and your church.

Who Ya Gonna Vote For?

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Unless you have been living on some other planet for the last year (which of course includes Washington, D.C. and Hollywood), you know that the primaries (caucuses in Iowa) begin today. We currently live one hour away from the Iowa border and are ready to be done with pretty much every commercial break on television including ads for at least four of the candidates.

And of course, we all have to make our own decision in November who we will ultimately vote for based on who we truly believe will lead our country best.

However, I want to suggest three helpful C words that might assist us in our choice. They are actually three characteristics important to be in anyone you might hire, from a babysitter to CEO to pastor of your church.

I was first introduced to these guidelines about hiring from Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek, the megachurch in suburban Chicago.  So here they are.

Competency.  This is what most of the candidates spend their time talking about, where they spend most of their fundraising dollars and how they beat up on each other and one another’s perceived weaknesses. And competency IS important. Our leaders should have inherent ability and experience to be an effective leader, learn more on the fly, communicate well and oversee our military.

Character. This is more about WHO they are than what they can do. No one is perfect but do you get the sense that your potential hires are the same when no one is looking as they are when they’re talking to a crowd? Somehow that almost seems impossible in today’s political climate and structure, but does anyone stand out as being committed to the truth more than falsehood?

Chemistry. I wonder if this one isn’t missed most often. Chemistry involves how well they would get along with others. And if we’re talking about the President of the United States then the list of those they must work well with is extremely long. Does your candidate of choice appear to be able to work well with others while not afraid to take a stand when it’s needed? Will people be drawn to the new leader and eager to follow them?

I don’t know what the result will be tonight, next week or in November but I do hope we can elect someone with all the C’s clearly in their wheelhouse. If not, we’re in for another long four years.