I Don’t Believe

I don’t believe that a single good thing comes out of analyzing, criticizing, or “calling out” other believers in a public space.

I don’t believe that the role of “the watchman on the wall” is to publicly decry those who are giving their lives to expand the Kingdom of God.

I don’t believe that focusing on what divides us will ever bring greater fruit than focusing on what unites us.

I don’t believe that the church of today is a dirty, washed up prostitute (as the “watchmen” preach) that people should abandon.

I don’t believe that the church’s best days are behind her.

I don’t believe that a single individual could ever feed the hungry, clothe the poor, shelter the homeless, or lead the lost to Christ like a body of believers (church) can.  In fact, I can’t think of any “watchmen” that are actually doing any of those things.

I don’t believe in judging others by half-baked Biblical interpretations, popular opinion, or talk show rhetoric.  Jesus said that a tree is to be known by its fruit.

I don’t believe all pastors are crooks, all politicians are crooked, all Muslims are terrorists, all gays are going to hell, all Jews are cheap, all blacks are gangsters, all whites are privileged, or that Jesus ever stereotyped anyone.

I don’t believe that using fear to manipulate people into buying your products is honorable.

I don’t believe that mean-spirited political, religious, or cultural statements, memes, or sayings count for intelligent discussion and I don’t believe they make a person look smart, compassionate, or Christ-like.

I don’t believe in bullying even if you’re in the popular majority, unpopular minority, or feel entitled for other reasons.

I don’t believe that, because a Christian band has a symbol on their CD cover that vaguely resembles a pagan rune, they are Satan worshipers trying to deceive their listeners.

I don’t believe that God gave us the Bible so we can use it to show off how smart we are, right we are, or “holy” we are.

I don’t believe there is anything humble, Christ-like, or Biblical about claiming to be a part of a remnant and that other Christians are going to hell.

I don’t believe that the King James Version is the only “real” version of the Bible, that only hymns should be sung, or that woman shouldn’t teach in church.

I don’t believe that “conspirators who have infiltrated the church” will be the church’s demise.  Jesus said “…I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”

I don’t believe being an American 501c3 church automatically makes it a bad church.  Each church is different just like each person is different.

I don’t believe anyone is “too far gone” to experience the love and forgiveness of Jesus.

I don’t believe that when Jesus said “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” he intended for us to behave like spoiled celebrities, selfish children, or angry pharisees.

I believe that Jesus loves me.  I believe Jesus loves you.  I believe that his death and resurrection is a complete work, lacking nothing.

I believe that if we spent more time loving, praying, giving, serving, and going, we might actually change the world instead of hating on each other.

I believe it would make us more like Jesus, who loves.

The ART of Pain

Not to long ago, a friend of mine recommended I see an ART specialist for some severe back pain I was having.  If you’re not familiar with ART, it stands for active release technique and it’s practiced by only a small number of professionals across the country, many of them chiropractors.

During an ART session, the practitioner will apply pressure to the areas of the body that cause pain.  The idea is to influence adhesions to release so that mobility can be restored and pain can go away.  I’m probably butchering that description and ART specialists will now send me hate mail, but at least that’s what I understood it to be.

During my first visit to the office, I sat in the waiting room not knowing what to expect.  I was halfway through a painfully boring magazine when I heard a woman scream from the Dr’s office, “OWWWW!  LORD HAVE MERCY!!!  It didn’t exactly give me a warm fuzzy feeling about being treated.  When they called my name, I wanted to run!

I was ushered into a changing room where I had to strip down to my undershirt and a pair of shorts.  From there, I stepped into the Dr’s office where there was a very masochistic looking table in the middle of the room that he jokingly called “the rack”.  Oh boy…

When I got on the table, the Dr asked me about my mobility and where it hurt.  When I told him, he waved his assistant over and gave him some instructions.  This is where the fun (err..torture) began.  The assistant proceeded to pull my leg back in an unnatural direction while the Dr dug his hands deep into the most painful parts.  I thought, “Holy crap!!  What have I gotten myself into?!”

There I was laying on my side, leg being stretched behind me like he was trying to tear off a crab leg and the ART Dr was digging, with both hands, full force into the part of my leg that’s uncomfortably close to the groinal reagion.  (I made the word “groinal” up, but you get the picture.)

It hurt like crazy, and all I could do was lay there, eyes watering, holding back the urge to yell like the woman who was in here before me.

After what felt like forever, he was done.  He extended his hand and helped me off the table.  I was a little light headed from the pain, but he was done.  You know what else?  I felt better.  For the most part anyway.

It made me think though.  (If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing about it.)  How many times have I been in this place with God?

Sometimes our lives get off kilter.  We allow thought patterns, attitudes, offenses, and just junk into our lives, and before we know it, we’re walking kind of funny.  Maybe not enough for the whole world to notice, but slightly off.  This small hobble eventually effects our decisions and can lead us away from being who God made us instead of towards.

When this happens, I usually see God work in me much like the ART Dr.

First, He strips me.  My cool exterior gets peeled back to reveal the guy inside who doesn’t have it all together.  I’m exposed, naked, and I have to make an honest confession to someone in my life.

Next, He instructs me.  The Dr told me to lay on my side.  Sometimes God will instruct me to read a passage, say a prayer, get help from my accountability partner, make apologies, and so on.  It’s important to follow God’s instructions or the next part can hurt even worse than it needs to or, even worse, you won’t complete the process fully and the needed restoration won’t come.

Third, He stretches me and digs deep into the wounded areas of my life.  Having a bruise poked at, scab peeled off, or deep wound addressed sucks.  There’s no other way to put it.  Allowing God to shape us and heals us requires doing things we may have never done before.  It can get extremely uncomfortable.  You feel like an eye without a lid, vulnerable and insecure, but The Doctor knows what He’s doing and we can trust Him no matter how bad it hurts and no matter how much we want to run back to our comfortable baggage.  Let Him do His work in you so you can get to the last part.

Lastly, He helps me off the table and tells me it’s going to be all right.  It’s an amazing experience when we feel the arm of God around our shoulders.  He’s proud of us when we endure the pain needed to be corrected, adjusted, healed, restored.  We quickly forget the pain and just love and trust the one who helps us to walk like Him.  I write this with tears of gratitude for all the times He’s given me His hand, helped me off the table of painful lessons, honest rebukes, and jarring adjustments.  Every time, He tells me He loves me and that He’s proud of me.  I’m thankful for every one.

Search your heart.  Are you experiencing pain today?  Are you sure God isn’t trying to adjust you?  Is He building character in you, making you more like Him?  Go through it, not around it.  The pain will fade and you’ll experience His joy and blessing.

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

Learning How to Pray from Napolean Bonaparte

I read, in a book, this story about Napolean.  It goes like this:

The great French conqueror, Napolean, in his quest to rule the world, was quite surprised on one occasion when he encountered unexpected resistance while attempting to capture an island in the Mediterranean.  The fighting was fierce and he lost many good men in the battle before finally overcoming the enemy.

Napolean and his generals were having a celebration feast when from out of nowhere, it seemed, a young officer approached him.  Napolean saw the young man and asked abruptly, “What do you want?”

The young man said, “Sir, please give me this island.”

The generals were deeply offended at the brashness of the young man.  But, suddenly, Napolean asked for pen and ink, promptly writing out a deed to the island.  He then signed it and gave it to the impetuous officer.

By this time the generals were astounded.  They asked their leader, “How could you give away the island to that young man when so many of our men paid such a high price to obtain it?”

Napolean responded, “He honored me by the magnitude of his request.”

Did you catch that?  “He honored me by the magnitude of his request”!!

You know, I think sometimes we simply pray too small.  We pray prayers that might come to pass on their own because we’re afraid to believe for the impossible.  We pray safe prayers, for things that we can make happen on our own with hard work and perseverance.  We pray for mud piles, but God wants us to pray for islands!

This story about Napolean provokes me to ask God for the impossible, implausible, and downright grandiose.  I believe the Lord is honored by those kinds of prayers.

What’s YOUR island?  Let me encourage you to bring your massive, hairy, crazy dream to God and see what happens.  In fact, why don’t you start right here?  If you’re willing to put yourself out there and share your impossible prayer in the comments section, I’ll commit to agreeing in prayer with you for it.

If you’re reading this, and would like to pray for the requests posted here, just hit that reply link under the request and let that person know you’re praying for them.

I’ll start OK?  My big prayer is to be able to take three missions trips a year, including one to Africa this August to visit the well our church just financed.  It’s a $4,300 trip, but it might as well be a million dollar trip for us.

Now how about you?

What’s Wrong With You?

Criticism is popular in our culture.  We have movie critics, food critics, business critics, and even church critics.  That’s right, there are “secret shoppers” out there who visit churches for the sake of writing critical reviews.

In the church, we have those who criticize the music.  “It’s too loud”, “doesn’t mention Jesus enough”, “the musicians aren’t skilled”, etc.

People who criticize Bible teachers are plentiful.  Teachers are complained about for being too positive, too long winded, too boring, and not deep enough, to name a few.

The problem with criticism is that it’s so subjective.  A great deal of opinion goes into criticism.

You know the old saying(s), “Opinions are like noses…” or “Opinions are like bellybuttons…” or “Opinions are like wristwatches…”  You get the picture.  Everybody has one.

The other problem with all this criticism is that it does a horrible job of representing a loving, forgiving Jesus.  We become a culture of fault finding, rather than a people of grace.  1st Peter 4:8 tells us that “Love covers a multitude of sins.“  I believe it also covers a multitude of sermons we didn’t care for, praise songs that were botched, and church decisions we didn’t agree with.

I often wonder how the rest of the world views a church that criticizes other churches for the way they worship, preach, decorate, or perform outreach.  Or, worse yet, a church that is full of gossip and division.  How is that environment supposed to appeal to the lost?  That’s like inviting a hurting person to come and be a part of an unhealthy, dysfunctional family! If our church signs were truthful, they’d say, “Come and be miserable with us!”

I’m not saying all criticism is bad.  Honest feedback can be a welcome gift, but I have reservations about anyone who makes it their “ministry” to criticize others.  There are better platforms to stand on.

If our role as Christians is to point others to Christ, then I suggest we be more like Jesus.  Sure he confronted pharisees, but he also healed the sick, freed the demon possessed, fed the hungry, and demonstrated greater love than any other in history.  Maybe we should hold off on the criticism until we’ve done some healing, delivering, feeding, and loving.

If we can be more like Jesus, more seekers will be drawn to Him.

We should think about that the next time we feel compelled to criticize.

You may find hundreds of faultfinders among professed Christians; but all their criticism will not lead one solitary soul to Christ.” ~Dwight L. Moody

Getting God’s Will Right

“I just want to know God’s will.”  “I just need some clarity.”  “I want to make sure I’m not missing God’s plan for me.”

Ever find yourself saying these things?  I know I have, many times.  Heck, I’m the king of “I just want to be in God’s will.”  In fact I’ve spent entire seasons of my life (sometimes lasting a year) trying to determine God’s will for me.

It can be a really unpleasant place to be, this position of in-between, uncertainty, and longing to know what to do next.  After all, we just want to make God happy right?

Although I can’t sit here and tell you exactly how God wants you to spend your life, I can tell you a few things that I’ve learned that will help you discover His plan without losing your mind in the process.

Learn to trust.  A cry for “clarity” is often an indication that we really don’t trust Him.  We want to see more clearly, but that’s because we don’t have faith that our lives are really in His hands.  Learn to accept uncertainty with grace and believe that He will not abandoned you to fumble around in the dark.

Do something. Sometimes we put the brakes on serving or committing to anything for fear that we won’t be available once we figure out what God’s will is.  Stop being so selfish!  There are bigger needs out there than the warm fuzzies you’re seeking.  Don’t you believe that God is big enough to move you on  when He’s ready to reveal His plan?  1st Peter 4:10 tells us to use our gifts to serve others.  To not be serving is to be out of God’s will, so serve.

Pray. To say that you’re “seeking God’s will” but to not be praying is simply lying about what you’re doing.  You’re just worrying about your future.  Seriously, there’s no single act that will bring you closer to discovering God’s will than praying.  In fact, God’s will is that you pray!  (1st Thessalonians 5:18)

Cultivate intimacy with the Father. In times when God is not offering you a plan or a map, He is offering you Himself.  Don’t mistake his silence for indifference.  It’s a call for intimacy and, in time, you’ll learn to cherish that quiet intimacy more than anything else.

God’s will is a call to become. At the end of the day, Father God is far more interested in who you are becoming than what you are doing.  Focus on becoming all that He created you to be and the doing will come naturally.  In fact, you may even find yourself stepping into His plan without even realizing it!

One last thing: God is not cruel.  He is not playing “find the plan” and deliberately making it hard on you.  He’s not high fiving the angels saying, “look at that idiot trying to find my will.”  His will is not a needle in a haystack that you have to find or God will be unhappy with you. He loves you and wants you to experience “life abundantly”.  He may even have several options for you to choose from.  He probably even wants you to have a wonderful time exploring them!

Blood from a Turnip

“You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.”

I heard that phrase lots while I was growing up and, to be honest with you, I had no idea what it meant until well into adulthood (along with many other colloquialisms, I’m a slow learner).

The thing that really brought this alive to me was ministry, and dealing with such a variety of people.  I remember praying for a young man one night at the tail end of a church service.  He came asking for prayer because he was struggling with thoughts of violence.  He claimed he would drive the streets at night looking for a fight to pick.  He said he couldn’t help himself and really wanted God to intervene.  Out of the blue (or by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) I asked him what kind of movies he liked to watch.  He proceeded to give me a list of the most violent, agro-filled, angry films on the market.  What surprised me was that he really didn’t know why he felt so violent all the time!  He was clueless to the fact that all the garbage he was taking in was making its way out.

What we fill our souls with doesn’t end with our subconscious reactions to entertainment though.  One lesson I’m constantly reminding myself of, as a minister, is that I can’t give away what I don’t have.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to be filling up.  If we’re going to give others more than pithy sayings, trite answers, and fake smiles, then we MUST be filling ourselves up!  We must be on our knees before Jesus, we must be filling up on His word, and we must be gleaning from the faith generals that have gone before us.

So many leaders are running on an empty tank and they’re useless.  They’ve exchanged refueling for the sense of accomplishment they get from working ridiculous hours.

OK, I’m going down a rabbit trail so I’ll end.

You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip, you can’t get salt water from a fresh water stream, and you can’t get depth, wisdom, and anointing from a leader who isn’t deliberately being filled with the Spirit and wisdom of God.

Take time to be filled up.  Read, pray, rest, and grow.  The people you are leading need you to.

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