Archive | September, 2013

Extreme Devotion

30 Sep

Following Christ demands sacrifice… and not just the sacrifice of our sinful desires.  For many Christians today, following Jesus means the loss of their property, families, freedom, and even their lives.  Walking such a path is a challenge and one that those of us in the “west” too often fail to understand.  With freedoms unrestricted, we encounter little resistance to the practice of our beliefs and are often paralyzed when we do.  Can we do better?

If that’s a challenge you long to take up, then “Extreme Devotion” is the book for you!  In 366 daily readings, you’ll hear the stories of those who have put Biblical principles in action, risking their all for the sake of Christ.  You’ll listen as brothers and sisters around the world relate the tales of their fears and failures, trials and triumphs.  You’ll walk with them as they encounter those hostile to their faith and demonstrate the love of Jesus in even the most difficult of circumstances.  And, more importantly, you’ll be encouraged to develop the same type of faith that has helped each of them to survive the challenges that confront them on a daily basis.

Each day’s devotion consists of a Scripture reading, a story, and a challenge that will help you to deepen your own relationships both with God and with others.  You’ll be encouraged to make commitments and take the steps of faith that will strengthen your testimony.  And you’ll be inspired to apply those principles as you make a difference in the lives of those around you – reflecting the light of Christ in an ever darkening world.

It’s a journey worth taking and it’s one you’ll be glad you didn’t miss!

Extreme Devotion” is produced by The Voice of the Martyrs and is available for $13.05 in softcover.

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Setting Boundaries Between Rest and Ministry Part II

27 Sep

Last week in “Setting Boundaries between Rest and Ministry Part I”, we discussed some of the dangers that we encounter when we fall prey to the false belief that the only way to serve God is through the doors of the church.  We considered the importance of taking the time to prayerfully consider opportunities to serve and determining whether we have the time and energy to do so.  This week, we’ll be looking at the tension which sometimes exists between our need for rest and our prior commitments to serve.

If you’ve been in any form of ministry for long, you already recognize that the energy you can commit to service isn’t a constant.  Some days go better than others and, while we always want to give our best, it isn’t always possible to do so.  An overlong day at work, a grumpy customer, or an irritating classmate can put a crimp in our day… and in our physical reserve.  When this happens, our best bet is to pray and press through, allowing God to handle our energy deficit and enable us to accomplish His will.

Other times, however, the pressure which pits rest against service comes from within the congregation.  There’s an old statistic (I’ll let you decide whether or not it’s true) that claims that 90% of the work is performed by 10% of the church.  Once you’ve accepted one position of service, don’t be surprised if someone approaches you about another.  This isn’t always a bad thing, but it isn’t always a good thing either.  If you’re going to keep your sanity and get enough time for the relaxation that your body so desperately needs, you’ll need to learn to set a few boundaries.  Here are a few top-notch ways of doing just that:

  1. Make a habit of considering each offer to serve on an individual basis.  Just because you’ve helped out in a capacity before doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to do it again… nor does it mean that you may not be willing to do so in the future.  If, after prayerful consideration (I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough), you determine that you can’t serve and get the sleep you need, feel free to say no.  But don’t forget to let the party (or parties) asking that you may be willing to reconsider the situation in the future.
  2. If you have to decline an offer to serve, don’t feel obligated to explain why.  In our overworked world, it isn’t that uncommon for people to have trouble understanding why someone else won’t overwork themselves.  A full-blown explanation of the factors you considered while making the decision can sometimes lead to an argument… and may lead to your being cowed into doing something God didn’t call you to do.
  3. If you’re asked for an explanation, there’s no sin in keeping it vague.  A simple “I had other obligations” is usually sufficient to stave off further enquiry and often goes much further than a statement that you failed to feel God calling you (even if the latter is more precisely the case).  Your obligation is to God first and is expressed in obedience to His Word – even when that Word indicates that you need some time to yourself!
  4. Don’t feel compelled to answer every ministry-related call or e-mail immediately.  Set specific hours during which you pick up the phone (though you may want to keep them to yourself) and let calls outside of these hours go to voicemail.  If there is an emergency, the caller will leave a message.  Don’t feel pressured to pick up just because the person on the other end happens to be your pastor or a particularly needy member of your Sunday School class.  And don’t feel compelled to break your hours if the caller is persistent!  They need their space and you need yours.
  5. Just because there is an event related to your ministry doesn’t mean you need to be there.  This can be a particularly difficult boundary for others to accept, but a failure to set it may lead to exhaustion.  If you teach a Sunday School class and everyone decides to get together once a week for dinner, you are under no obligation to show up.  Weigh your commitments, then prayerfully make a decision.
  6. Don’t show up just because the ministry event will be “fun”.  I admit to struggling with this.  Truth be told, I really enjoy the ministries in which I’m involved… and I find it difficult not to jump at every chance to fellowship with certain members of my congregation.  But just because an activity is “fun” doesn’t mean it’s also “restful”… and sometimes that means that I don’t need to be there.

Next week, we’ll be looking at the importance of respecting the boundaries of others when it comes to getting rest.  Meanwhile, you can probably think of a few more good ideas to tack on to this week’s post.  If you do, please feel free to share them in the comment box below!

The Great Huckleberry Debate

25 Sep

 Read: Titus 3:1-11

“But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”

Titus 3:9 NASB

 

It was the debate of the century and I had a front-row seat!  Perched atop my chair at the front of the House chambers, I could see the face of every combatant and hear every resonating word.  At times the conversation was so heated that the thermostat had to be turned down.  The face of each delegate was set with passion as they defended their side… and threw huckleberries at the other.  No, the debate wasn’t about taxes or healthcare.  There was no mention of State schools or road repairs.  The question at hand was one of even more vital importance: would the huckleberry henceforth be the State Fruit?

A simple question on the surface, it was surrounded by much deeper issues.  Not least of which was the fact that the measure had the potential to cost the State $1,000,000 or more as textbooks were redesigned to include this new addition to the approved State symbols.  (It is for this reason that the “syringa” remains our State Flower after all these years.  A mistake in taxonomy led the legislature to pass a measure making the lilac our state flower… yet the actual flower which appears alongside the title of “syringa” is a mock-orange of the species “philadelphus”.)

Science and finances aside, the opposing side argued that it was worth the cost of making the recommended revisions for the sake of the classroom of third graders who had proposed the legislation in the first place.  After all, how many young people have the opportunity to not only participate in the legislative process, but to actually see some “fruit” from their labors?

Eventually, the bill passed, but I had to laugh that anything so little could cause so much tension in such an august body.

Such tension isn’t limited to the halls of government.  As believers, we too get caught up in debates over relatively “minor” issues… and when we do, it has the power to split churches and do damage to the name of Christ.  Too often, the color of the carpet in the foyer becomes more of an issue than whether we’re funding missions work in New Guinea.  Debate over the order of service or the instruments played becomes a more central focus than the actual content of our worship.  And concerns over which of two equally appropriate children’s program the church embraces lead to permanent falling outs.  In anger and frustration, we find ourselves unwilling to yield our position and what ought to be a minor issue becomes “the debate of the century”.

Perhaps it is for this reason that the Apostle Paul takes such care to remind young Titus that, as much as possible, such foolishness is to be avoided.  Instead of focusing upon the things which divide us, those who embrace Christ as Lord must focus on the issues which leave us united.  Only then will the Church be free to function as our Master envisioned!

Challenge:  The next time you feel tempted to correct someone for being “wrong” take a moment to ask yourself whether their “error” is a matter of fact or of opinion?  Are you preparing yourself to turn a minor quibble into a major debate?  If God’s Word doesn’t make a big issue of the subject, then you shouldn’t either.  Feel free to express your opinion, but once you’ve done that, let it go.  God will handle the rest… and in the meanwhile, you’ve done your part in ensuring that the Body of Christ stays united and strong!

Philosophy Bites

23 Sep

Throughout Scripture, Christians are encouraged to be in the world, but not of the world.  While this means that our behaviors shouldn’t reflect the moral views of those who don’t know Christ, it also means that we will encounter those views.  When we do, we need to be equipped to meet them. 

That’s why, this week, we’re featuring the Philosophy Bites podcast: a secular resource dedicated to introducing listeners to the views of modern philosophers in easy-to-digest bites.  In 10-20 minute, bi-weekly interviews, Edmunds and Warburton explore the issues that bend the brains of some of today’s greatest thinkers and help you to do the same.  You’ll be treated to a variety of views on everything from existentialism to vegetarianism, all presented in a friendly, non-aggressive environment that encourages dialogue rather than conflict.

As you listen, take the time to critically consider each of the views presented.  Are there merits to any of the philosophies explored?  What factors detract from the reasonableness or believability of the interviewee’s viewpoint?  How would you Biblically respond to each point?  Are there places where your own philosophy could use some strengthening?

You’re sure to find these podcasts challenging and you may want to listen to some of them more than once as you exercise your critical thinking skills: applying Biblical principles to modern philosophy!

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Setting Boundaries Between Rest and Ministry Part I

20 Sep

Rushing home from work, I crammed my dinner down my throat.  Taking a quick glance at the clock, I hopped in for a three minute shower, then out of the tub, back into my clothes, out the door, and to the church.  A long day at the office resulted in my leaving late and everything between that and the time I walked through the doors of the sanctuary was just a blur.  I was exhausted, but the night was still young.  Inside were kids (lots of them) waiting for my attention.  “Did I even eat dinner?” I asked myself, truly wondering whether I had as I plopped my Bible on the music stand.

We’ve all been there.  School and work can be tiring and sometimes overly so.  We look forward to our time off, but before we reach that blessed relief, we find another demand or two knocking on our door.  Unlike the demand for an education or the money to pay our bills, these demands are more persistent: they come from the church.  Often wrapped in the sentiments of “will you please pray about God’s call regarding your service” or “could you do this just once… no one else will”, it can be hard to see these demands as “optional”.  After all, if we love God, we should be about His work.  Right?

While it’s true that those who belong to God will serve Him (John 12:26), we are severely mistaken if we believe that the only way to do so is through the doors of the church.  After all, Jesus’ commission to us was to “Go into the world…” (Matthew 28:18), not to ask it to come to us!  The result is that, while service within the church is important, a good deal of our work as believers ought to take place outside it… in the halls of academia, in supermarket aisles, and even in the company break room.  It is in these places that our ability to shine the light of Christ matters most because here, the darkness is greatest.

This doesn’t, of course, mean that we ought never to serve in our local body of believers.  Scripture is pretty clear about the importance of service within the body of Christ.  (Galatians 5:13, 1 Peter 4:10)  What it does mean is that we ought never to serve simply because we (or others) feel that service is somehow more “godly” if it is done from a pulpit or the front of a classroom.  There are plenty of ways to be a useful member of the body of Christ and each of them is important to the health of the whole!  (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 7:7 and 12:4-31)

How does this relate to rest?  Quite honestly, it means that whenever we are given an opportunity to serve, we need to prayerfully consider the whole equation.  Has God gifted you for a particular task?  If He has, doesn’t always mean that He’s calling you to exercise that gift right now.  Take the time to consider whether you have the resources in both time and energy to do the job well.  If not, there’s a good chance this isn’t the right time for you to commit to being the church organist or teaching a preschool class.

While some would argue that those whom God calls, God equips, there are others who equally rightly point out that there is a time and a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).  Take some time to pray about the opportunity.  If you receive peace and the pieces fall into place, say yes.  If you don’t, bow out gracefully.  You may disappoint others, but I can guarantee that you’ll disappoint them more if you show up grumpy and unprepared because you really did need some rest!

What about those who are already in regular ministry?  We’ll take a look at that next week, but for now, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment box below!

Fitting In?

18 Sep

Read: 1 John 3:1-3

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”

John 15:19 NASB

 

I have never been fond of formal dress.  Tight and constricting, I usually prefer the freedom of jeans and a pair of cowboy boots.  This, however, was a big event and called for something more.  As a newly elected official, I would be expected to appear in something that outshone my Sunday best.

After careful consideration, I settled upon a black evening gown and a pair of two-inch heels which, though classy, made me walk a bit like a duck.  A few practice “runs” up and down the hallway reduced my waddle a little and I departed the house feeling confident (if not entirely comfortable).

This confidence was bolstered almost instantly upon my arrival at the venue.  Having no direct association with most of the participants, I was free to sit anywhere I liked.  When I was offered a seat at the same table as the Senate Majority Leader and the Representatives from my district, I jumped at the opportunity… and the honor.

At eighteen, I was still a bit out of place and my awkwardness showed as I adjusted my position, doing my best not to kick the purse I’d tucked beneath my seat.  The conversation was casual, a stark contrast to how I felt settled in amongst these august men.

I was reaching for my water glass when someone (I believe it was the Senator) asked me a question.  The attention was a surprise and I quickly turned to face him, knocking the glass in the process.  I believe I did a poor job of concealing my horror and both the vessel and its icy contents slid across the table and into the Senator’s lap.  My face reddened and the Senator let out a good laugh as a young man (the Governor’s son) appeared to clean up the mess.  “Don’t worry about it,” he reassured me.  “It’s just a bit of water.”  Truth be told, I was ill-fitted to the evening’s formal setting.  As embarrassing as it was, my awkwardness that night was not unwarranted.

Jesus’ words in the final chapters of John, warn believers of a similar awkwardness.  In the world, but not of it, we frequently find ourselves in situations which leave us feeling “out of place”… and this isn’t a bad thing.  As followers of Christ, we were meant to stand out, making a difference in the lives of those around us.   It may be awkward at times (and may even occasionally leave us a bit red in the face), but we can be guaranteed that God has a special plan for all of us who find ourselves in places where we just don’t quite seem to fit!

Challenge:  Do you feel out of place?  Don’t worry!  God has a plan and a purpose for your life… and it extends far beyond the confines of this world.  The next time you find yourself embarrassed because you don’t fit, remind yourself of this purpose and press on.  You’ll be glad you did!

Kingdom of the Cults

16 Sep

Cult.  It’s a word we don’t like to use today.  It conjures images of secret ceremonies and strange behaviors of unquestioning deference to authority and deviant acts.  To suggest that someone is a member of a “cult” is tantamount to calling them a “freak” or a “weirdo”… and it certainly doesn’t help our ability to effectively share the Gospel!

So why feature a book on cults?  The answer is simple: while we may not enjoy using the word, it’s still important for Christians to understand the differences which exist between traditional Christianity and those religions which pose as “Christian” while denying the fundamental teachings of the faith.  The truth is, not all cults lean towards the occult.  Indeed, many “cult” members are quite normal both in their beliefs and practices.  What makes them a danger is the way in which they twist the requirements for Salvation from the simple faith taught in the Bible into legalistic systems.  Sadly, it’s not always easy to discern where or how such twists have taken place and that’s why, this week, we’re featuring the revised edition of Walter Martin’s classic “Kingdom of the Cults, The”.

Using Scripture as the measuring rod, Martin and Zacharias take readers through the tenants of each variation to see how they measure up to the Gospel presented by Jesus and His apostles.  You’ll enjoy the clear way in which both authors highlight the differences between the faiths and open up insights into potential evangelism opportunities. You’ll be introduced to the unique cultures of each cult and gain useful insights into the way members of these unique organizations think and act.  Read cover-to-cover or used simply as a reference, this in-depth guide will provide you with information on the history and teachings of the most prominent cults of our day.

Kingdom of the Cults, The” was produced by Bethany House Publishers and is available for $22.24 from www.Amazon.com.

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Setting Boundaries Between Rest and Work I Enjoy

13 Sep

If you sometimes have difficulty finding the line between work and play, you aren’t alone!  Engaged in a form of employment that allows me to explore my passion and utilize my creativity, it’s sometimes difficult to see where rest ends and work begins.  Unfortunately, this pleasant blur doesn’t change the fact that rest is still essential if I’m going to effectively share God’s love with others.

Unlike the cranky Christian discussed in “Resting One Moment at a Time”, those who love their work run the risk of becoming an obsessed Christian.  Instead of grumping about everything, obsessed Christians often find their ability to relate to others limited by the things which they feel most passionate about.  The result is that they are often incapable of sharing God’s love outside of the very limited circle of people who share those passions.  I probably don’t need to point out that this isn’t the best profile for anyone seeking to follow Christ’s Matthew 28 commission!

To avoid becoming obsessed Christians, we need to learn to rest… and cultivate interests beyond the sphere of our employment (no matter how thrilling that employment may be).  To do this requires effort, so here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Set aside time to avoid work.  It may be a full day or just a few hours, but applying your brain to something other than what you do for a living or the subject that you’re studying in school is a healthy habit.  A good rule of thumb is to avoid any activity that may even appear to be related to either of these venues.  (If you aren’t sure whether an activity fits, ask a friend or family member.  Their observations are usually spot-on.)  If you’re studying for a degree in horticulture, don’t spend your “rest time” reading books on plants.  If you’re a graphics designer, set the sketch pad aside.  I may be tempting to cheat, but don’t!  You need this time away.
  2. Explore other people’s passions.  You aren’t the only one completely in love with your vocation!  Take some time to find out more about the hobbies and occupations of your friends and family, then participate with them as they indulge their passion.  Even if it’s work for them, it’ll be a break for you!
  3. Try something new.  The world is full of interesting things to do.  Never picked up a brush?  Why not check out a local painting class?  Wonder why martial artists yell when they attack?  Take a  Karate class!  Never read a fantasy novel?  Ask your local librarian to recommend a good one.  There are plenty of things to explore, so use your rest time to do just that!
  4. Cultivate relationships.  Most Americans don’t have many close friends… so why not fill that gap for someone else?  Take a break from the things that consume you to get to know those within your family, church, or community.  A few hours and a cup of coffee may be all it takes to make a new friend.  If all goes well, you’ll both walk away feeling rested!
  5. Deepen your connection with God.  It’s amazing how quickly He can get sidelined in our lives… even though He’s the One who gave us our passion to begin with!  Why not rekindle that connection?  Instead of doing a quick devotional every day, set aside a larger chunk of time for Bible study and/or prayer.  You may be surprised at just how refreshing this time can become… and how odd your day will feel without it!
  6. Finally, surround yourself with people who have your best interests at heart.  More than once, it’s been my family that has intervened to let me know that I need to slow down a bit.  From the outside, they can see the lines between work and rest quite clearly… even when I can’t.  Find yourself some close friends who are willing to keep an eye on you and who are strong enough to tell you when it’s time to quit.

These are, of course, just a few ideas to get you started.  Apply yourself and you’re sure to come up with a few more!

Next week, we’ll be exploring the tension which often exists between our need for rest and the needs of Christian ministry.  Meanwhile, feel free to share how you escape from becoming an “obsessed Christian” in the comment box below!

The Kitchen

11 Sep

Read: Hebrews 4:14-5:10

“Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he?  Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he?  If you then, being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

Luke 11:11-13 NASB

 

It was taboo and we all knew it.  The House kitchen, emitting the seductive aromas of fresh-brewed coffee, orange juice, and doughnuts, was for the Representatives only.  All non-elected State employees were expected to keep their distance.  It was a rule that our dedicated doorman (at least, according to rumor) was willing to enforce with violence.

Not surprisingly, a few of my fellow pages took the threat as a challenge and spent their early morning hours searching for ways to slip unnoticed past the vigilant warden.  Waiting until he turned his back, they’d glide unnoticed into the forbidden sanctuary and partake of the pleasures that lay within.

While this method was not lacking in intrigue, the rest of us had a better plan.  Having gained favor with the Representatives, we would stand well outside the eight-foot perimeter which the doorman had set, and put on our best puppy dog faces.  Seeing our languid forms, the Reps would take pity on us and, after having acquired their own morning “nosh” would reappear with a little something for the rest of us.

What about the door warden?  When he asked us about our orange juice and doughnuts, we simply replied that Representatives had brought them to us.  We had effectively gone over his head… and he knew it!

Pages aren’t alone when it comes to finding shrewd ways to get what they want.  Many of us spend our entire lifetimes sneaking around trying to acquire those things which we believe will bring us love, wealth, or success.  Unable to simple take what we desire, we spend our days evading the door wardens who would prevent us from achieving these goals and meeting our needs.

Fortunately, Scripture give us a better way.  As Christians, we have been assured that we need only present our requests to our Heavenly Father who knows our needs and has already made provision for each of them.  Like the Representatives, He has the power and authority to go over the “warden’s” head and none who know Him need ever go without!

Challenge:  Are you facing difficulties in life?  If so, how are you handling them?  Are you trying to navigate the labyrinth of red-tape or find a way to skirt around the system?  Instead of dealing with repeated frustration, take your trials before the throne of God.  You’ll be glad you did!

William Tyndale: His Life, His Legacy

9 Sep

Throughout the world today, people are learning to be more efficient farmers, to keep more sanitary houses, and to prevent diseases all because someone was committed to bringing them the Bible in their native tongue.  This connection may not be obvious at first.  After all, what does the Sacred Writ really have to do with better medical techniques or the production of crops?  The answer may be simpler than you imagine.

Each of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world today began as an oral form of communication.  While this allows people to communicate their immediate needs, it is rarely an efficient form of accurately conveying information in the long term.  Like a game of “telephone”, verbal instructions can be warped and mutilated until what began as history and good advice becomes legend and folklore.  The ability to write changes this… and frequently this transformation begins with the work of men and women dedicated to sharing the words of the Bible.  It’s a story shared by literally thousands of languages, including (not too long ago) our own.

That’s why, this week, we’re featuring the 60 minute DVD “William Tyndale: His Life, His Legacy”.  Brief and informative, this winner of the 2004 WORLDFEST International Film Festival GOLD Special Jury Award will introduce you to the man whose efforts to make the Holy Scriptures available in the common tongue led to the creation of the modern English language.  In this incredible documentary, you’ll learn about Tyndale’s spiritual journey and the passion which drove him to defy the ruling powers as he translated the Bible into the language of his people.  You’ll hear about his fearless drive, even in the face of death, and you’ll witness first-hand how the written language can impact both the fate of nations and of individuals.  It’s a fascinating journey through the history of the world’s most popular book filled with insights into the origins of one of the most spoken languages of our day!

William Tyndale: His Life, His Legacy” was produced by Avalon Press and is available on www.Amazon.com.

%d bloggers like this: