Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Getting More Out of Christmas

During this time of year, its not uncommon to  hear some people lament the fact that they aren't feeling the "Christmas spirit."  Ever feel like that? We expect to be filled with thoughts and emotions that correspond with the season (such as hope, joy, peace and love), yet if truth be told, we feel like we are drawing a blank.  

Sometimes this is because we really aren't engaging in Christmas as God intended. Instead we buy into the idea that the all the shopping, spending, Santas and secularism will some how balm our aching souls.  Rather than looking into the Word for direction on how to truly experience Christmas, we look to the world.  If you find yourself in this predicament, I'd like to offer you a few ideas on how to re-engage with the Christmas that God intends for you to enjoy.

First off, Christmas is a time to WORSHIP.  It's amazing to think that during the celebration of Jesus' birthday, He's often the last person on our minds! The expectations of the season, what with all the trips to the mall, the work parties, the school events and more, have a way of pushing Jesus to the sidelines during the season that bears His name.  My advice is this: Find ways to get before the Lord to worship Him.  Purpose to go to church.  Participate in a Christmas Eve service.  Plan on sharing in family Advent activities.  Pull Jesus in from the fringes of Christmas and make Him the center of the season!

Second, Christmas is a time to SERVE.   The essence of Christmas is that God sent Jesus to the world to minister to our deepest needs.  Jesus demonstrated throughout His life the heart of a servant, healing the sick, feeding the hungry and comforting the hurting.  Ultimately, He would die in our place to pay for the sins we could never pay for ourselves.  Christmas is a wonderful time to take all the time, talents and treasures that God has bestowed upon us and use them to serve someone else whose needs are greater than our own.

Finally, Christmas is a time to SHARE.  I love how Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, described the type of ministry that his son would be involved in. Luke 1:76-79 describes Zechariah's proclamation:

"And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

Like John the Baptist, we too have the opportunity and privilege of explaining to others the true meaning of Christmas.  We are able to share information and provide illumination in regards to the purpose of Jesus' incarnation, as well as give direction on how to properly respond to Him.

Worshiping, serving and sharing can take a Christmas season that is marked by stress, boredom and confusion and give it a sense of joy, hope and purpose!

May God grant us a Christmas season full of wonder, grace and peace.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Considering Aaron Alford's Life Imprint

Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet.Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. ~ James 4:14 (NIV)

Yesterday, Sara called me with some bad news. Someone we had known from a previous church had passed away. Receiving this kind of news always makes me sad. But, in this instance, what made the news even more shocking was that the individual was only 39 years old.

Aaron Alford was an athletic man in what many would call "the prime of life." He was, like most men his age, hard-working and grabbing life by the reigns.

Aaron showed up for work this past Monday morning, having recently accepted the position of athletic director/assistant football coach at Park City high school. Just another day, business as usual. And then, as he began to go about his daily routine, he was suddenly gone. In a moment, a family suddenly became fatherless.

Thinking back to our time in Park City, I always enjoyed being around Aaron. He was super easy-going and friendly.

He was willing to get involved in ministry. One year he helped out as a game coordinator for VBS. Back in those days, he was an assistant coach for the high-powered University of Utah football team, but he made the time to offer a hand. One time he helped me put together a breakfast event where he provided some Utah Ute players and coaches who loved Jesus to share with the men of our church.

But, perhaps the one thing I will remember most about Aaron was his desire to properly prioritize his life. You see, about a year ago, he made the dramatic decision to step away from the demanding lifestyle of collegiate coaching to spend more time with his wife and children. He sought out work that would keep him closer to home and family. The result? He signed on at the local high school.

I'm sure that some thought his move from college athletics to the high school level was a downward move, but when it came to "being there" for his family...Aaron made a huge step up. For him, the cheers of his beloved family were more important than the roar of an anonymous crowd.

To me, Aaron's life is a powerful reminder to live in the now, and to make God-honoring decisions while we have a heartbeat.  It's easy to put things off, but as James so aptly wrote, we really don't know if we'll have a tomorrow.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Do His Word

Tomorow morning I'm back at the  Union Gospel Mission here in Coeur d'Alene to teach another unit of their OSL discipleship series. The lesson they've asked me to present is called DO HIS WORD.  The focus is on putting into practice the things Jesus teaches.

Jesus once told a parable (Matthew 21:28-32) about those who get the difference between simply hearing, and hearing that results in action:

 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’  And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

The primary purpose of this passage was to convict the Pharisees and other legalistic religious leaders of the fact that, although they spent a lot of time in the Scriptures and were expectant of a coming Messiah, they failed to respond in submission and obedience to His teachings.  On the other hand, some of the least likely candidates (at least through the lens of a human perspective) to respond positively to Jesus were willing to hear what He said and apply those teachings to real life!

I believe there is another principle we can extract from this potent parable: God is calling people to join Him in kingdom work.  I can't help notice that that the setting of the parable isn't a theme park or a beach...its a vineyard!  And the owner is in search of laborers...not sightseers or tourists.  The landowner is calling people to expend energy by doing what he commands. When it comes to Jesus teachings, He doesn't want us to merely appreciate or admire them, but rather to understand and apply them. He calls us to DO His word.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Granite and Sand

(Will Mancini's Book CHURCH UNIQUE prompts the reflections of this post)

A forward-moving organization is marked by two characteristics that, at first glance, seem to be in opposition to one another. First, the organization will stand upon core values that never change. Second, is the realization that everything else must be open to change to preserve the core. 

It takes a lot of clarity and discipline to understand where to categorize the different elements that make up the organization. The question to ask is whether things ought to be written in granite or sand. Things etched in granite are never to change; things written in sand are always in flux. Things written in sand are not things that might need to be changed...they are things that must change!

One of the main reasons people have such a hard time with the things that should change is because we don't do a good job at clarifying what the things of granite are to be. Mancini writes:

Why is change management so hard in the church? Because we don't see the stuff in the sand in light of the stuff of granite. In the absence of vision, the stuff of sand BECOMES the vision. In the absence of granite, sand is all we can grasp.

The leader's job is to help people embrace change by nurturing an emotional connection to the unchanging core vision. By clearly articulating the core vision, people are more apt to adjust and adapt.

Mancini's final thought on the matter:

Make no mistake: our change management problems are vision problems first and people problems second. Many leaders want their people to run a missional marathon but unknowingly feed them junk food, leaving them malnourished and unprepared for the future.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Finding Renewal in the Thick of the Rat Race

A few notes from what I shared at our weekly staff gathering about the importance of renewal...

ARE WE IN NEED OF PERSONAL RENEWAL?

If we aren't aware of our need for soul care, we run the risk of running ourselves into the ground.   The work we once got excited about becomes a bit mundane or meaningless.  We get stuck in a rut, causing us to lose proper perspective.  Where at one time we were focused and motivated, we come to a place of being plagued by feelings of routine and redundancy.  In short, we've simply "lost the plot."

In some cases the last person to realize we are burned out is us.  But the symptoms of our weary soul are often quite evident to those around us.  Along the way, we leave plenty of tell-tale clues to others that our life is out of alignment.

Here are a few signs that we may be in need of some renewal:
  • Meddling in other people's business
  • Lack of time in prayer or devotions
  • Defensiveness with co-workers
  • Complaints about co-workers
  • Difficulty staying on task
  • Forgetting appointments
  • Cancelling appointments
  • Avoiding people
  • Marital conflict
  • More emotional/edgy/impatient than usual
  • Constant low grade stress
  • Lack of organization/messier office
  • Drawn towards negativity and cynicism
  • Conversations quickly turn to the negative
  • Making mountains out of molehills
  • Ministry seems monotonous 
  • Over-competitive 
  • Petty
  • Generally, we are vocationally and relationally unsettled

WHAT IS RENEWAL?

Here's a definition: "to make like new; to restore to freshness, vigor, or perfection"

Renewal is the process of getting our hearts and minds back in alignment with our God and our mission

John Wesley wrote: "It is good to renew ourselves, from time to time, by closely examining the state of our souls, as if we had never done it before; for nothing tends more to the full assurance of faith, than to keep ourselves by this means in humility, and the exercise of all good works."


THE FOUR "R's" OF RENEWAL

1. Rest
  • The concept and importance of rest is clearly communicate through the Sabbath
  • Jesus declared about the purpose of the Sabbath: "It is for man!"
2. Refreshment
  • It is important to connect ourselves to people/places that stimulate and stir our soul for the better!
  • 1 Corinthians 16:17-18 reveals that Paul was grateful for a pair of friends how refreshed his spirit: "I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people."
3. Reflection
  • Reflection defined: consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose
  • The Bible says, "Be still and know that I am God."  Reflection means we pause to mentally ponder our life before our maker.
4. Retooling 
  • We wear out because we don't work wisely
  • We must learn from mistakes to avoid repeating them
  • We should always be adding to our learning

THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS

How did Jesus keep renewed for effective ministry?  Consider the following passages:

Luke 3.21-22
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

Luke 4.42-44
At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place.  And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them.  But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of thekingdom ofGod to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”

Luke 5.15-16
But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases.  But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.

Luke 6.12-13
Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.  And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles…

Luke 9.18-20
Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”  They answered, “John the Baptist; but other, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”

Luke 9.28-30
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.  And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.  Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.

Luke 11.1-2
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”  He said to them, “When you pray, say:  Father, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come…

(Interesting to note, all these references come from Luke's gospel.  Luke was a doctor who was concerned about the well-being of others!)

THE LAST WORD

"I have a prescription for boosting your resistance to burnout: Get outside yourself, and do something that has nothing to do with your normal day's work. Do other things. Do things for other people, if you can. Do whatever you must to get the focus off your own problems. You need to have a diversion, particularly when times are difficult." ~ BEN CARSON


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hearing His Word (Part 2)

Regarding our hearing of Jesus' teachings, here are a few things to note:

1) Jesus never wastes a single word.

Every word Jesus uttered has rich value for our learning and spiritual development.  There was no "filler" in his instruction.  Every thing He mentioned deserves our deep consideration.  Nothing he speaks can be classified as trivial.

2) Jesus is a master communicator.

He used a variety of interesting and intriguing teaching styles to engage the imagination of His listeners, including:

  • Story telling
  • Parables
  • Paradoxes
  • Illustrations
  • Imagery from nature
  • Questions
3) Jesus' teaching is designed to renew our minds resulting in transformed lives.

Jesus' instruction was not intended to inflate our intellect but to renovate our lives.  His words are always intended to be useful and applicable.

Sometimes what Jesus shares seems to go against the grain, defying human logic.  For instance, He made statements like:

"God exalts the humble but humbles the proud."

"To be first in God's Kingdom you must be last."

"The person who tries to gain the whole world will lose it, but the one who gives up his life will gain it back."

"Love your enemies" 

4) Jesus words are intended to challenge us to make decisions about our relationship with God, our relationships with others and our relationship with ourselves

The priority of Jesus' teaching is that we get right in our relationships.  Jesus announced that the greatest commandment in all of Scripture was to love God with a entire being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

SUMMING UP

The sayings of Jesus are not intended to be appreciated or admired, but to be understood and applied.  Jesus declared, "The one who hears my sayings and does them, he is the one who really loves me." (John 14:21)  A primary indicator of our spiritual development and well-being comes down to this: Are we listening to Jesus?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Hearing His Word (Part 1)

Tomorrow morning I'll be teaching a class as part of the OSL (Operation Solid Lives) discipleship training at the Union Gospel Mission Women's Shelter here in CDA.  The OSL program takes the Christian life and essentially boils it down to three core components:

Come to Jesus
Hear His Word
Do His Will


Sadly, there are some who gladly embrace Christ but never seem move past the first step. They come to Jesus, mainly to receive the gift of eternal life, but have little interest in having Him impact their lives in the present.  For these types of people, Christianity seems to be little more than a spiritual "get out of jail free" card.

But here's the problem with this type of thinking: it puts most or all of the emphasis on Jesus' role as Savior (which is really cool stuff!), yet fails to recognize the fact that Jesus is also to be received as Lord.

A MOUNTAIN TOP LESSON

One day, according to the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus took three of His disciples (Peter, James and John) on a mountain hike to pray.  When they got to their intended location, incredible things started to happen.  Jesus' face began to change and his clothing started glowing.  Then, just to make things even more interesting, Moses and Elijah appeared.  The disciples were understandably shaken and dismayed. Peter, feeling he must do something at a moment like this, came up with the idea of building small shelters for the trio of glowing figures.  Suddenly, a voice boomed from heaven.  If there was ever a time when God had the attention of these three, this was it!  So what did God say? What was the all-important message God wanted to impart to Jesus' followers?   

"This is my Son, my chosen One. Listen to Him!"

Listening to Jesus is of utmost importance.  As confusing and convoluted as we sometimes make Christianity out to be, the bottom line is this: a healthy Christian life can be summed up as a life that seeks to know, understand and obey what Jesus teaches.