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Archive for the ‘Christian Living’ Category

Be the best of whatever you are!

Today is Martin Luther King Day – a day for remembering King and what he stood for in terms of freedom, civil rights and advancing us toward the ideal set forth in our Declaration of Independence regarding all being created equal.

Two months before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered a sermon titled “The Drum Major Instinct.” He described this instinct as “a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first.”

By contrast, Jesus defined greatness as service. “You know that those who are considered rulers … lord it over [others] and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life…” Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son[d] from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Dr. King noted: “By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second law of thermodynamics to serve.

“You only need a heart full of grace [and truth] and a should generated by love. And you can be that servant.” 

In taking with a group of junior high students six months before he died, he used the words of Douglas Malloch to remind: “Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”

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“I will praise the name of God with song and magnify Him with Thanksgiving.” Psalm 69:30 (NASB)

The above passage is taken from the NASB translation of the Bible. However, the word “magnify” above is rendered “glorify” in the NIV translation. 

Many people like the idea of “glorify” versus “magnify” for this verse. Magnify, seems somehow, inappropriate. There is nothing that I can do to make God any bigger than He already is goes the reasoning. “Glorify” is a perfectly good word, but I think “magnify” is appropriate, and particularly needed in my own life.

You see, the older I get the smaller the print on the page looks to me. I need glasses. Sometimes, I even use a magnifying glass to read small print. My magnifying glass does not magically make the text on the page bigger, it just enlarges my perception of what was there all along.

This is exactly what our thanksgiving does regarding God. There is more of Him than we will ever grasp. Our praise does not enlarge Him, but it certainly enlarges our perception of Him. God instructs us to praise Him, not because He needs the compliment, but because we need Him magnified in our lives. Give thanks in this Thanksgiving Season. Warm Thanksgiving wishes to all — may He be MAGNIFIED in our lives and homes!
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A shout-out to my friend from college, pastor Dr. Glenn Young, whose words I have used (with some personal twists) above.

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The Masters golf tournament ended yesterday (yes, I got to roam the grounds of Augusta National Golf Course!).  Patrick Reed won his first major tournament.  In doing so, he overcame many obstacles:

  • He was NOT the one the crowds wanted to win.  Again and again, the crowd favorites were greeted with roars of approval when they were introduced and when they made a great shot.  Patrick, on the other hand, was given only “polite golf applause” when he was introduced or when he made a great shot.  It was evident to all that he was not who the crowds were rooting for.  One of the headlines on CBSsports.com even read, “How a Villain Won it All” in describing Patrick’s victory.
  • The pressure of some of golf’s best players gaining significant ground (one even getting tied with him) when he faltered early.  When Patrick began the day with a bogey and a par (on a hole in which he should have had birdie), it looked like he would wilt under the pressure.  Instead, he steadied himself and made the shots he had to over the next 16 holes.
  • The challenge issued by one of golf’s best golfers, Rory McIlroy, with whom Patrick was partnered on Sunday, the last round of the tournament.  Rory was playing the “mental game” against Patrick.  Patrick stayed mentally tough throughout.

How did Patrick Reed manage to overcome all of these obstacles?  He won because he remained focused and committed to his purpose.  As I think on this, I’m reminded of Paul’s exhortations to us as Christians:  “Do you know know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win.”  (1 Cor 9:24)  “Run in such a way that you press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

The need for Christians to live up to our identity and calling in Christ in today’s deteriorating culture cannot be overstated.  Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest, the April 8 reading, states: “[Jesus’] resurrection means for us [Christians] that we are raised to His risen life, not to our old life….we can know now the [power and effectiveness] of His resurrection and walk in newness of life.  Thank God it is gloriously and majestically true that the Holy Ghost can work in us the very nature of Jesus if we will obey Him.”

Like Patrick Reed, we will face significant obstacles in seeking to live in (and live out) our new life and identity in Christ.  There will be those who root against us, those who actively work against us, those who try to bully and pressure and shame us with “mental games.”

But Oswald Chambers is right … we can know now the power and effectiveness of His resurrection, we can walk in newness of life and the Holy Spirit work in us the very nature of Jesus … if we obey Him.

Patrick Reed won the Masters because he “ran the race” focused and committed to golf’s ultimate prize.  As Christians, we must run for a greater calling and prize.  We do this that we may become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:1-4) and because if we don’t, we simply deny the light culture so desperately needs.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. [We are] like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Are you (am I) “too easily pleased?”

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A few weeks ago, I finished “Love Does” by Bob Goff.  I know … I’m late to the party as this was a “must read” in Christian circles like 5 years ago.  However, I was hesitant to read the book because, to listen to others gush about it, it sounded more kitsch and cant than substantive.  Now, having read the book, I’d say that some of that hesitancy was justified, BUT….

At its best, and that is often, the author provides motivation to “put legs” on their faith. It is, in this sense, a series of modern day parables (though they differ in that they are based on his and other’s life experiences) that emphasize what the book of James emphasizes — namely “What use is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”

At its “less than best,” there are places in which the book comes across as a Tony Robbins/Robert Kiyosaki “you can do it” motivational book with religious (though Mr Goff would not want anyone associating his book with “religion”) bromides and bumper sticker theology substituting for deep seeking of God. Example: “…[God] doesn’t pass us messages, instead He passes us each other.” “…our understanding will always have gaps and gaps are good because they leave room for God to fill in the spaces.”
In addition, there is a persistent “religion is bad” undercurrent. True religion, as Scripture points out (James 1:27) does the very things Mr Goff advocates and encourages. While I understand Mr Goff actually means “empty religion” (that which is buoyed by legalistic rules, righteous cliques and gatekeepers more interested in their own power), the continual bashing of religion and claiming Jesus wasn’t religious is somewhat wearisome. To quote a MiddleTree blog review, “[The author sometimes] seems to forget the world, and the Church, needs the folks he subtly calls out: black & white thinkers, the ones who study theology, the ones who call out sin; in other words, the ones who are very different from him. These folks, subject to borderline derision in a few spots in “Love Does”, have their place, and play an important role in the world. If everyone was like them, it would be a disaster. But Goff seems to dismiss them altogether, or at least to minimize their importance.”

Thankfully, those kinds of things are not the emphasis of the book. The last few chapters, in particular, are spot on in calling the reader to put faith and love into action. So, despite the qualms, Love Does is a light, fun read in which the author uses his own experiences to tell great stories to highlight that following Jesus isn’t just a matter of “knowing the right things.” It is a matter of loving as Jesus loves, being His hands and feet — going and doing. And in so doing, we experience abundant life and we “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Bob Goff is one of those rare people who doesn’t just tell good stories; he lives them. And Love Does inspires you to follow his lead. It accomplished its main aim — getting me (the reader) to think about how to more actively love the people around me and who intersect in my life as well as to think about what my story can/should be in light of the gifts and passions God has instilled in me. And that makes this a worthwhile read and certainly commends the author.

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Cromartie
Do you know this man?  I was not aware of him until I read an article regarding his passing. I would have liked to have met him and been able to “intern” to watch how he represented and bridged Christ/Christianity to journalists.
 
What exactly did this man do?  Michael Cromartie was his name.  And he was “one of Christianity’s principal ambassadors in Washington, [representing] Jesus with joyful confidence,” according to Michael Wear, a former White House faith adviser under Barack Obama. “I’ve seen the effects of his life and work up close, and both the church and the nation are better off because of him,” said Wear.  “Michael was a friend whose encouragement I did not deserve, and whose insight has shaped my work, my life and my faith.  In the days ahead, we should look to Michael’s example to stoke our imagination for what a faithful public witness can look like in this moment.”

Scripture tells us that “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us.” (2 Cor 5:20). From reading about Mr. Cromartie’s life and work and from the encomium’s from journalists across the political and ideological spectrum, it seems Mr. Cromartie was an excellent ambassador of Christ.  

 
Said one, “Mike was a man of great knowledge who made it accessible to others. He was a man of great faith, who make it real and attractive to others. And he was a man of exceptional decency, who demonstrated how to live with joy and integrity.”
 
If that could be said of me, then I would be much more excited about meeting my Maker because I would be a much better ambassador for Christ.
 
Over the past year as I’ve been on a personal sabbitical, as I’ve prayed, studied Scripture, the lives of those I admire and tried to assess myself against God’s truth, I realize I fall well short of the standard Michael Cromartie set. He ran the race set before him well. What was said of him in terms of how he represented Christ could not be said of me.
 
It is (or should be) every Christian’s goal, upon death and entering the presence of Christ, to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23). I believe Michael Cromartie heard those very words on August 28, 2017.
 
My time of introspection has not been easy, nor always pleasant in facing some unwelcome realities about some aspects of my character, personality and actions. Don’t get me wrong, God has also shown me times and areas where “I’ve gotten it right.” But I also see much to improve on as I make my calling sure (2 Peter 1:10).

What I’m most grateful for is that God is making me aware of the areas where I must grow and improve; that He has not abandoned me, but rather I realize that in His lovingkindness, He has been blessing where I don’t deserve, working in circumstances and decisions to bring me to the point of serious Spirit-led self-assessment from which I fervently hope and believe He will make a new path/work for and in me.  I am amazed at His patience and His continued work in me.  He, I believe, through love and discipline is preparing a way that, in the end, I too can hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant….”  What a marvelous God indeed — the He continues to be mindful of me!

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I was in a Target retail store today walking down a main aisle to get to school supplies (looking for a graphing calculator for one of my boys).  As I looked ahead, I saw an elderly lady with a shopping cart stop and begin to eye me.  I could tell she thought I might be a Target employee.  Sure enough, when I was close enough for her to make herself heard, she inquired as to whether I worked at the store (as I was wearing khaki slacks and an orange-red shirt, her thought was understandable).

However, how she phrased her question caught me up short — and has had me thinking ever since.  She asked, “Are you a customer, or are you a real person?”

After confirming with her I was a customer, I began thinking on the latter half of her question — “are you a real person?”   Oh, I’m definitely flesh and blood, but that simply means I’m existing.  In looking for descriptions of a “real person,” I came across words like genuine, authentic, giving, loving and vulnerable.  If those words characterize a “real person” (and I think it certainly encompasses those things), then I sometimes struggle.

I naturally lean toward a “type-A personality,” but I’m also introverted by nature.  The results of such a combination are often stoicism (lack of showing emotion) and introversion.  I can often seem unapproachable, difficult to talk with, interested in people only in terms of how they can contribute to tasks at hand (a commodity).  When emotion does come out, it can often be in the form of impatience and/or frustration.

As I’ve reflected on this, I can think of many times when I’ve not been a “real person,” but rather a brooding, self-absorbed person.  Times when I’ve gotten frustrated and impatient with my wife or boys because they haven’t gotten something done or because they don’t get what I’m trying to explain after they’ve asked me to help them with their homework.  Times when I’ve “withdrawn” rather than drawn close.

I remember a time awhile back when a friend from work and I were talking.  This friend was trying to help me see why sometimes I could be intimidating or thought to be unapproachable.  As she was talking, I remained impassive.  I offered no words or facial expressions/body language.  Exasperated, she said, “See, this is what I’m talking about.  I have no idea what you’re thinking and wonder whether you care at all.”  I wasn’t being a real person.

As I’ve continued to think, the apostle Paul’s words on the fruit of the Spirit keeps coming to my mind:  “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control….”  A real person is one who exhibits these characteristics.  Such a person is genuine and values people as people (versus a commodity useful in accomplishing tasks).  Such a person is one who enriches others’ lives simply by how they interact with others – exhibiting the fruit outlined above.

As a Christian, I should be, by-and-large, a real person.  None of us is a perfect real person, but as a Christian, being a real person (defined by the fruit of the Spirit) should be the norm.  Christ says, and I’m paraphrasing here, that you can recognize a people by how they act — as you can identify a tree by its fruit.  A good tree (real person) bears good fruit (love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, etc).  A bad tree, on the other hand, produces bad fruit (self-centeredness, impatience, anger, indifference, harshness, etc).  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

At the end of the day, I want to be able to answer that elderly woman’s question with, “Yes, I’m a real person.”  I can’t do that in my own strength, but only by walking in and with the Spirit of God.  May I, may we all, do so and be “real people.”

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paradoxa tenet contrary to received opinion; a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet when investigated or tried may prove to be well founded or true

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

— from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

 

Anne Graham Lotz stated:

“It’s not what you say but who you are that catches the attention of those around you … Because problems offer us the opportunity to give relevant witness to the difference faith in God can make. The problems enable us to become a showcase so that the world can look into our lives and see the glory of God revealed.”

Dr Jim Denison: “We are wise to look for ways to redeem the consequences of living in a fallen world.”

 

A witness that is lived is powerful.

“… and this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith” — 1 John 5:4b

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