Bird-brained Christians


bird in handHave you ever been accused of being a “bird brain”? If so, it probably was not meant to be a compliment. Birds are not known for their intellectual skills. Nevertheless, Jesus tells us we can benefit by observing their ways: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” ~Matthew 6.26

Jesus had just finished teaching the disciples how to pray. We can easily remember the parts of the prayer with the acronym ACTS:
1. Adoration…declaring the “ultimacy” of God over all things.
2. Confession…admitting our frailty.
3. Thanksgiving…living with a sense of gratitude that God in his ultimacy looks after us in our frailty.
4. Supplication…asking for what we need to sustain our life…today.

Which brings us back to the bird illustration. Jesus is referring to the part in the prayer about asking for our daily bread… “Give us today our daily bread.” ~Matthew 6.11

Whether or not we realize it, most of us are hoarders. No, we’re not the hoarders who stack piles of useless trash to the ceiling, leaving only precarious walkways through our stuff. We’re the kind of hoarders who have food in our fridge and freezer, and in our cupboards and pantry. At what point do we become a hoarder? The moment we have more food than we need today. But it only seems reasonable to prepare for tomorrow, doesn’t it?

Seems reasonable to me. But if so, why didn’t Jesus direct our attention toward squirrels? (Possibly he was no more fond of squirrels than I am, but that’s a topic for another time.) As a kid, I liked to watch squirrels bury acorns in the dirt. They knew instinctively they needed to “squirrel” something away for the winter. But Jesus did not tell us we should look to squirrels for life lessons. He pointed to birds.

God designed us to depend on him. One of the most difficult concepts for us to grasp is the “daily bread” part of our dependence on him. We get excited when God provides in a miraculous way. You know, the times he comes through in the “nick of time.” We enjoy telling these stories. After the fact.

But we struggle to believe he’s going to do it again. It’s as if we wonder if God has a limited number of miracles up his celestial sleeve. Our faith is sometimes limited to God’s past provisions, and we strain to trust him for our daily needs…our “today” needs.

Yet, God wants us to live in continual awareness of our utter dependence of him. And we run the risk of forgetting this when we have stuff. While we might consider a full fridge and full pantry a blessing, the “fullness” is a blessing only if we remember that everything we have is because of God’s provision.

But some say, “I’ve worked hard for what I have.” Yet we forget God is the One who gives us breath and strength to work for what we have.

How do we know if we actually believe everything we have is because of God’s gift to us? By the way we respond the next time we have a need—a need that is beyond our own ability.

Some of us would be more comfortable if Jesus had told us to pray for our weekly bread, or better yet, for our monthly bread. Then we could coast along for a while…on our own…in oblivion to our helplessness, apart from God. And whenever we wondered if we had enough stuff, we could meander over to wherever we stash our stuff, and take a quick peek. Then we could relax in our self-sufficient little bubble. But bubbles burst.

Or, we can fix our attention on God, who in his goodness provides everything we need. Daily. And we can get on with learning to relax in him, rather than in our stuff. Like the birds of the air.

*The ACTS acronym is attributed to Dr. Dent, professor at Northern Baptist Seminary.

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MSN Headline Misprint: Newtown Begins Burying ‘Little Souls’


dancing kids
MSN Headline: Newtown Begins Burying ‘Little Souls’

Apparently this is a misprint. Little Souls cannot be buried. They would not hold still long enough to be buried! They are dancing and singing with the One who knit them together in their mother’s womb, having the time of their life!

For now, their little bodies are irrelevant to the adventure they’re living!

May we all continue to pray for their moms and dads and brothers and sisters and grandmas and grandpas…that they will find comfort in the arms of God, and will entrust their pain and loss to Him. And may they each place their faith in Jesus, so that one day they will be reunited with their little souls who went on ahead of them. In Jesus’ name…

Christmas is OUR Story!


Merry ChristmasAhhh…the”Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holiday” thing!

In the midst of the season, may we remember the true Christmas Story is OUR story to tell! There’s no need to be concerned when others refer to it as a “holiday” if that’s what it is to them. Christmas is not everyone’s story. Why would we expect others to tell our story!

Christmas is our opportunity to tell the story God has placed in our hearts…the wonderful Story of God sending His Son Jesus to earth to rescue us from our captivity to the Father of the Lie, and to empower us to live an abundant life.

Christmas is our opportunity to share the love of Jesus with those for whom Christmas is merely a holiday. Be kind. Whisper a prayer that they too might become a part of this amazing story.

May the world around us be drawn to the Spirit of Jesus within us during this Joyous Christmas Holiday Season!

Rose and I wish you a Blessed Christmas Celebration!!

“And This is Love…”


AgapeI’m often preoccupied with obsessive-like questions in my brain: “Do I really know what it means to be a Christian…from God’s perspective?” and, “Am I a Christian…from God’s perspective?” A third question also pops up occasionally: “Do we do church the way church is supposed to be done…again, from God’s perspective?” I suppose it might seem strange to someone who knows I’ve claimed to be a Christian since I was still in single digits, age-wise. But the more I discover about Biblical Christianity, the more I realize many well-intentioned people (like me) run the risk of living in a delusional bubble of pseudo-Christianity.

Many of us have been disrupted by revelations along our journey that upended a belief or understanding of Christianity we may have held for years. As a young adult, I was astonished to learn there was more to Christianity than not doing all the things that seemed appealing to me, like drinking and smoking and dancing and going to the movies, and going “too far,”…and playing with face cards (gasp!).

And many of us have been surprised to learn that Biblical Christianity demands that we abandon our perspective in exchange for God’s perspective. It’s not a suggestion. Sometimes we tend to be a little lax about the “take up your cross” element of being an authentic Christian. And we’re a little fuzzy about the “life transformation” part of the story.

Here again, we’re challenged to see things from God’s perspective. We’re easily distracted, and fooled, by our own perspective. Who’s exempt from the warning, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 16.25)?

Every now and then a puzzle piece falls into place. Like recently as I was headed to the Home Depot, and I was thinking about Jesus’s* statement, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13.35 NLT). Based solely on this comment, it seems that love should be a distinctive quality of true discipleship. The love Jesus mentioned is agape love, which bears little resemblance to our natural, self-gratifying type of love. How is agape love expressed? We find the answer (or at least part of the answer) in 2 John 1.6: “And this is (agape) love: that we walk in obedience to his (God’s) commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”

I enjoy these kinds of scriptures! This verse is a “perpetual pondering” kind of thing we might get lost in around a campfire: This is love, that you walk in his command to love. My head was already spinning when the greatest – and the runner-up to the greatest – commandments came to mind. In Matthew 22.37-39, we are told to be impassioned by our love for God, and to pour his love out to the people around us (my paraphrase).

Awesome! This is an answer to my earlier question: I am a Christian if I walk in obedience to God’s command to love him with everything I am, and my neighbors-in-life the same way. That seems simple enough, right! If we’re not walking this way, can we rightfully call ourselves a Christian? I think it’s a fair question…especially from God’s perspective.

I suspect I will still be asking these questions for years to come, and I’m okay with that, because there’s one question I’ve answered that makes all the other questions find their place. I’ve answered “Yes!” to God’s invitation to live life with him. I’ve settled that question in my heart, and I enthusiastically reaffirm it daily.

*Editorial note: I realize we prefer to write Jesus’ rather than Jesus’s. However, I’ve been told the CMOS (Chicago Manual of Style) has gone back to writing it Jesus’s.

I Had NO IDEA!!


One of the perks of being Grandpa is that I sometimes have an opportunity to fill in at my grandkids’ school events. Last week I attended Thanksgiving lunch with two of my granddaughters, Ariah and Camryn. The cafeteria was jam-packed with moms and dads and grandpas and grandpas. It was electrified commotion as little people proudly showed off their honored guests at the gala event.

Just as one girl, maybe a 2nd grader, entered the lunch room, she stopped in her tracks. She was nearly spellbound by the sight of all the lively activity. As her eyes jetted around the room, she exclaimed, “Awwww! I had no idea it would be this much fun. I would have invited someone!” There was a distinct tone of dismay in her voice. I felt sad for her.

And it made me think of the grand celebration we’ve been invited to attend. It is a celebration of perpetual life…in the presence of the Author of life. Can you imagine!

I doubt that we can. Although we’ve been given a glimpse into what heaven will be like, we do not have the capacity to grasp its true essence. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” ~1 Cor 2.9.

Even so, if we truly believed heaven is everything we imagine it to be, I believe it would be on the tip of our tongue. Whenever we found ourselves in the company of someone who was deeply distressed about the world we live in, one of the first things out of our mouth would be, “Yes, but have you heard about heaven? Would you like to know what we have to look forward to when we leave this earth?” We would delight in the opportunity to tell them about the new heaven and the new earth we will inhabit, and we would do our best to describe a life without pain and heartache. We would bubble over in our excitement about an everlasting paradise of communion with God and his people. Our face would reflect the promise of everlasting life—radiant life—for those who receive the gift of life through our Lord Jesus.

Like the dejected little girl at the Thanksgiving luncheon, we run the risk of showing up alone (is it even possible for a fully devoted follower of Christ to show up empty-handed?). The disconcerting picture in my mind is to be standing somewhere near the entrance…wondering in disbelief, “Why on earth didn’t I invite someone to this astonishing event?”

Or we can bring a party!

4 Keys to Fighting Like a True Christian…(Part 2)


Continued…

3. How will I feel about this lively discussion tomorrow?

Most of us have spewed hot and hurtful words in the heat of the battle that we later regretted. Sometimes it’s not until the next day that the regrets set in; sometimes it’s immediately.

Children act on impulse. If they feel like doing or saying something, that’s what they do. In the heat of the moment, we are being childish when we do or say something simply because we “feel like it.” It’s an easy way to live—in the short run—and it feels good, for a minute. But it’s destructive. And it’s immature.

“Winning” an argument with your mate is a “Pyrric Victory.” It’s a victory that ultimately ends up in defeat. In the heat of the moment, it is often wise to step away from the conflict…momentarily. Possibly for a couple of minutes…or perhaps a few hours. Whenever we are feeling so emotionally turbulent that we are unable to listen, chances are that continuing the skirmish will only lead us down a path we will regret tomorrow.

We need to recognize those times when we need “spaces in our togetherness.” And when we speak, we need to speak the truth in love. Our words should be full of grace, lightly seasoned with salt.

And we need to move closer to God, asking Him to search our heart, and to guide us through the emotional storm…in His timing.

4. How can I, as a fully devoted follower of Christ, honor Him in this situation?

Much of what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount is counter-intuitive. It makes no sense to us to turn the other cheek to a bully, and it makes no sense when someone rips us off to offer him more than he’s already taken. And it’s counter-intuitive to love our enemies (the ones we’ve offered driving instructions, for instance).

But then again, it makes no sense that someone would take the punishment we deserve, and die on a blood-drenched cross so that we could be set free from the penalty of our sin. If we lived by what makes sense to us—from our flesh-stained perspective—we would live as the world lives. We would live to defend “our rights.” But that’s a problem, because we have been crucified with Christ. That means our rights have been put to death. (Granted, our rights tend to die a slow death.)

So what do we have left if we’ve surrendered our rights? It’s a great question! We have the infilling work of the Holy Spirit within us as He equips us and empowers us to live in a way that brings glory to the Father. We’re left with eternal purpose…and with peace that boggles human understanding. And if we’re married, we’re left with a marriage that honors one another, and our heavenly Father.

4 Keys to Fighting Like a True Christian… (Part 1)


Life sometimes seems like a battleground, littered with emotional minefields. What if we used the explosive events as opportunities to learn to fight like a true Christian? Try asking these 4 questions the next time someone trips your wire:

1. How important is this issue in the “Grand Scheme” of things?

We’ve heard that it’s wise to pick our battles. Sometimes it’s wiser not to battle at all.

True, we need to have things in our life that are important enough to promote and defend, but these things rarely have anything to do with us. They have to do with the kingdom of God…and with others.

For instance, a husband is to think of his wife more highly than he thinks of himself. A wife is to think the same way about her husband. Husbands and wives are supposed to defend each other–not themselves. We as men are out of bounds when we place our needs ahead of our wife’s needs.

And as fully devoted followers of Christ, we are servants. Servants do not live according to their own agenda. As servants, we are agents of our master, living in obedience to His will, and to His agenda.

In the grand scheme of things, our purpose in life is to become the person God designed us to be. We are designed to live life grafted into the Vine. Our response to the inconveniences and the aggravations of life should be His response. And what was Jesus’ response? He always did and said whatever His Father told Him to do or say. He lived in obedience to His Father. When Jesus is in us, and flowing through us, our response should be His response.

2. Why do I have such a “lively” emotional response?

Throughout our life, we have developed beliefs about how the world should work. Our beliefs drive our emotional response to the things happening around us. For instance, if we believe we have a right to an unobstructed traffic lane, we will be annoyed when someone is such an idiot to think he has a right to our lane. We might even be inclined to offer him (or her) driving lessons.

Or if we believe our way of doing things is the “right way” of doing things—not to mention the “only way,” anyone who has a different opinion is woefully wrong wrong wrong. And they need to be corrected—by us.

And our emotional response is driven by our unresolved pain of the past. If we men were controlled by our mother, and we felt minimized or degraded by her, we will lash out at our wife whenever it feels to us as though she is trying to control our life. If a young girl felt abandoned–or belittled–by her father, her default mode under pressure will be to feel abandoned and belittled by her husband.

We are responsible for our emotional response, regardless of whatever has happened in our past. This seems harsh to someone who has been the victim of evil. But it’s true. And the truth will set us free, but first it makes us mad.

In order to take responsibility for our response, we need to stop “blaming the world” for being such a hostile place. We need to release ourself from the pain of the past by forgiving those who have hurt or disappointed us.

And we need to align our beliefs with God’s Truth.

Continued tomorrow…

Is God a “Crutch?”


Possibly you’ve heard someone say that Christians use God as a “crutch” for their insecurity. How should we respond to such a derogatory accusation? After all, it makes us sound weak, right?

As we know, the Bible is full of paradoxes. God’s truth is often the opposite of what “seems” right to us. For instance, it seems to us that if we want to experience a great life we should cling to our life…for dear life. But Jesus told us that we will experience abundant life when we “die to ourselves” and take up our cross of self-sacrifice, and follow Him.

And there is also a paradoxical truth about “strength.”

I’ve noticed that the more Christians mature in their faith, the more “dependent” they become on God. Again, it seems as though the more a person matures, the more “self” confidence he or she would have. But that’s not the way it works. The more we grow in knowledge and wisdom…and humility, the more we recognize the greatness of God. And the more we recognize how utterly lost we are apart from Him. Jesus proclaimed, rather matter of factly, that apart from Him, we can do nothing. That comment offends some people, because it makes us seem needy and weak… “dependent” on Him.

And then we remember that He holds our breath in His hand. We remember that He is the one who knit us together in our mother’s womb, and He is the one who has ordered the days of our lives. And we remember that we have an appointment with Him when we die. At this meeting, every knee will bow, whether or not the knee bowed here on earth.

Believing that we can do life on our own…apart from God…is like whistling in the dark. We have engaged in myriad distractions—activities that numb us to the reality of our need for God. But when we lay down our fears and our arrogance, and surrender ourselves to the love of God (sounds funny doesn’t it… “surrendering” ourselves to God’s love!), something within us wonders why it took us so long. After all, that’s when we come home to our Father, and that’s when we begin to find peace, and we begin to experience meaning and purpose in life.

And we find rest. Something Pete Nelson said several years ago in a message he gave at Calvary in Albuquerque has always stuck in my mind… “God is not our crutch. He is our stretcher.”

So when someone accuses you of using God as a crutch, you can honestly tell them that’s not true. God is our Stretcher, having rescued us from the penalty of sin and the sting of death. He is the Source of our Life, and it is in Him we find rest for our soul.

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” ~2 Corinthians 13.14

The “Nonsense” of Forgiveness…


Has the thought ever crossed your mind that forgiveness is nonsense?

Forgiveness goes against our human nature. It seems counterintuitive…running against the grain of the way life should work…from our perspective.

I read an article called How to Forgive, by Jack Lavada, that made a lot of sense to me, so I’d like to pass it along. Here’s what Jack wrote…

There is a secret to successfully living the Christian life. And that same secret applies when we’re struggling with how to forgive.

Understanding Our Worth

We are all wounded. We are all inadequate. On our best days, our self-esteem hovers somewhere between feeble and fragile. All it takes is disapproval—or perceived disapproval—to send us staggering. These attacks bother us because we forget who we really are.

As believers, you and I are forgiven children of God. We have been lovingly adopted into his royal family as his sons and daughters. Our true worth comes from our relationship to him, not from our appearance, our performance or our net worth. When we remember that truth, criticism bounces off us like BBs ricocheting off a rhino. The trouble is that we forget.

We seek others’ approval. When they reject us instead, it hurts. By taking our eyes off God and his acceptance and putting them on the conditional acceptance of our boss, spouse, or friend, we set ourselves up to be hurt. We forget that other people are incapable of unconditional love.

Understanding Others

Even when other people’s criticism is valid, it’s still hard to take. It reminds us that we have failed in some way. We didn’t measure up to their expectations, and often when they remind us of that, tact is low on their priority list.

Sometimes our critics have ulterior motives. An old proverb from India goes, “Some men try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others.” They try to make themselves feel better by making others feel bad. You have probably had the experience of being put down by a nasty remark. When that happens, it is easy to forget that others are broken just like us.

Jesus understood the brokenness of the human condition. No one knows the human heart like him. He forgave tax collectors and prostitutes, and forgave his best friend Peter, for betraying him. On the cross, he even forgave the people who killed him. He knows that humans—all humans—are weak.

For us, though, it usually doesn’t help to know that those who have hurt us are weak. All we know is that we were injured and we can’t seem to get over it. Jesus’ command in the Lord’s Prayer seems too hard to obey: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Mark 6:12, NIV)

Understanding the Trinity’s Role

When we have been hurt, our instinct is to hurt back. We want to make the other person pay for what they did. But exacting revenge steps over the line into God’s territory, as Paul warned,

“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” ~ Romans 12:19, NIV

If we cannot take revenge, then we must forgive. God commands it. But how? How can we let it go when we have been unjustly hurt?

The answer lies in understanding the Trinity’s role in forgiveness. Christ’s role was to die for our sins. God teh Father’s role was to accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and forgive us. Today, the Holy Spirit’s role is to enable us to do those things in the Christian life we cannot do on our own, namely forgive others because God has forgiven us.

Refusing to forgive leaves an open wound in our soul that festers into bitterness, resentment, and depression. For our own good, and the good of the person who hurt us, we simply must forgive. Just as we trust God for our salvation, we have to trust him to make things right when we forgive. He will heal our wound so we can move on.

In his book, Landmines in the Path of the Believer, Charles Stanley says:

“We are to forgive so that we may enjoy God’s goodness without feeling the weight of anger burning deep within our hearts. Forgiveness does not mean we recant the fact that what happened to us was wrong. Instead, we roll our burdens onto the Lord and allow Him to carry them for us.

Rolling our burdens onto the Lord—that’s the secret of the Christian life, and the secret of how to forgive. Trusting God. Depending on him instead of ourselves. It’s a hard thing but not a complicated thing. It’s the only way we can truly forgive.”

(Adapted from http://christianity.about.com/od/topicaldevotions/a/How-To-Forgive.htm)

Ramon…Expert Chili Roaster!


Fall is one of my favorite seasons of the year. (My other favorite seasons are spring, summer and winter:) One reason I enjoy fall so much is because it’s chili roasting time. Anyone who has had the pleasure of catching a whiff of green chilis roasting in the rotating drum knows what I’m talking about.

I always enjoy chatting with the guys who roast our chilis. Last year I had an opportunity to meet a Native American Indian who shared with me several things about his culture. I was fascinated by his stories. This year, I had the privilege of meeting Ramon.

It takes about 15 minutes to roast a bushel of chilis, and since I had two bushels, I had a lot of time to chat with Ramon. I noticed he set the flame on a little lower setting than the other roasters I’ve met. So I ask him about it. Ramon told me he is an expert chili roaster. From his three years of experience he has learned not to set the heat too high or it will burn the chilis. I know what he told me is true because we’ve had a few burned chilis. Ramon is good at what he does because he’s learned from experience how to do the very best job possible of roasting chilis.

There was something about Ramon’s confidence – and pride – in his ability as an expert chili roaster that made me smile. Although I have never roasted chilis, I could identify with Ramon’s good feeling about doing a good job. I try to do a good job at the things I enjoy. When I mess things up – which I do on a fairly regular basis – I like to figure out how to fix my mistakes. And I make a point to learn from these things.

As you might have imagined, I found a spiritual application in my encounter with “Expert Roaster” Ramon. Actually, it raised a question in my mind: “Am I able to claim – with a hint of confidence – that I am an expert Christ follower?” Sounds arrogant , I know, but not when we consider the basis for the claim. If we can truly claim to be an expert Christ follower, we are in the process of learning that every ability we have is a gift from God. We are learning that apart from Jesus, we cannot accomplish anything of eternal value.  And we are learning that he is the Source of the peace in our hearts and the assurance of eternal life with Him.

Possibly we will have an opportunity today, or in the near future, to tell someone about some of the things we’re learning as a fully devoted  Christ follower. Maybe they will be intrigued by our enthusiasm – and the passion in our life – to begin a personal journey with God!

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