Monday, September 21, 2015

Direction Not Intention Makes The Difference

            Some conversations and situations stay with you.  I will never forget this young man.
He was in his mid-20s, and he was speaking about career plans with a group of us at church.  He passionately spoke about the steps he would take to move from his current position as assistant manager to a manager then to a regional position in the company.  Ultimately he was going to own a store of his own.  There was a fire in his eyes as he spoke about his dreams, and something inside of me felt his passion and fire.  I got excited for him and with him.
            We remained casual acquaintances for several years, and I watched his career unfold.  He continued to work as an assistant manager, and he often talked about his dreams.  But he started arriving late or missing morning shifts.  The evening before he stayed up most of the night on his gaming counsel playing video games with his friends.  That made it difficult to get into the store on time.  It was not a problem for him; there were always two managers on duty, so things were covered.  And he was the senior assistant manager, so he had some privileges, he thought.
A management position opened in the company, and he was overlooked.  The other assistant manager, with less seniority, was promoted.  He complained that they did not appreciate him and his skills.  He would then speak again about his dreams of someday owning his own store.  He had many ideas about how at “his store” things would be different than at the place he currently worked.  He stated, “Maybe I will skip the assistant manager to manager to regional manager path and start looking at opening my own store instead.  That’s the way entrepreneurs do it!”  That old passion would rise as he spoke about the great future that awaited him.
A few months went by during which he was reprimanded and written up.  He had continued to miss shifts, calling in sick.  He didn’t feel well after staying up most of the night on his gaming counsel.  When he was at work, the quality of his work was fair and his ability to manage the staff and store became an issue.  Finally, he was discharged.
For the next few years, he went from entry level job to entry level job and no farther.  He still talked about how he intended someday to own a store of his own.  But he never did.  He never came close to his dream.  As long as I knew him all he ever did was talk passionately about it.
It is funny, after over 40 years I still remember.  Maybe it is because of what I learned watching this young man.  He had good intentions, great intentions, but his intentions never got him to where he desired to go.  Direction, not intention, determines destination.
His intentions were lofty and passionate.  But they got him nowhere.  Why?  He never put action behind his intentions.  He never got going in the direction of his dream.  The couple of times that he did, he ran into the need for hard work, dedication, sacrifice and discipline.  Things that were more difficult than dreaming.
 He could get all fired up when he dreamed and spoke about his dreams, but when he was playing his video games late at night, his dreams and intentions couldn’t get him to bed and then up in time to go to the store.  He was unable to put action behind the intentions that would lead to the destination that he dreamt about.
The other thing he lacked was discipline.  While direction, not intention, determines destiny.  It is discipline, not desire that determines destiny.  The man with self-discipline will rise above the man with lofty dreams.  But combine the self-discipline and the lofty dreams, and you have a powerhouse.  
These same principles apply to your spiritual life.  Many Christ-followers talk about the lofty goals they have in making a difference for Jesus.  They passionately speak about touching the lives of the hurting or reaching out to the broken.  Their eyes light up, and excitement fills their words, but that is all that happens.  They have great intentions, but they don’t start moving, and so nothing of significance happens.  They sound spiritual, but it is only words.  Because direction, not intention, determines destination; and discipline, not desire, determines destiny.  Don’t let your destiny slip away—do something.  Put action to your intentions and discipline to your desires and watch the difference you will make.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Balloon Salesman

Why is it that some people are so down all the time?  They walk into a room and the lights dim.  You see them coming down the aisle at Krogers or Target and you hope they haven’t seen you and you quickly turn into another aisle.  If you are forced to work next to them you feel that every day after work you need to go home and wash all the junk they spewed out of their mouths for the past eight hours off of you.  The worst part is, if you are not careful, you begin to start acting, speaking and feeling the same way as that co-worker.
One of my favorite stories from the late Zig Ziglar is entitled, “The Balloon Salesman”.
Many years ago, a balloon salesman was selling balloons on the streets of New York City. When business got a little slow, he would release a balloon. As it floated into the air, a fresh crowd of buyers would gather and his business would pick up for a few minutes. He alternated the colors, first releasing a white one, then a red one and later a yellow one. After a time, a little Negro boy (remember Zig told this story many years ago) tugged on his coat sleeve, looked the balloon salesman in the eye and asked a penetrating question. "Mister, if you released a black balloon, would it go up?" The balloon salesman looked at the little boy and with compassion, wisdom and understanding said, "Son, it's what's inside those balloons that make them go up."
What a true statement!  But at the same time what a convicting statement. 
Those of us who claim a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ have the very Holy Spirit of God living inside of us.  Yet day after day I run into people, read their onions in the newspaper, or see on social media depressing, critical, negative and demeaning statements.  These are from people who identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ.  Some of these people could bring down the most joy-filled person with their negativity.
It bothers me that they claim to have the Holy Spirit of God living in them.  The same Holy Spirit that was powerful enough to raise Jesus from the dead, according to the book of Romans chapter 8, should be powerful enough to lift them out of their depressing, critical, negative, demeaning state of mind. 
If it really is what’s inside of a person that makes them go up or go down, maybe it takes more than just having Jesus living in your heart for you to go up.  Yes, it does. 
The reality is, it is what you place in your mind and heart on a daily basis that will cause your life to be lifted or pushed down.  Who do you hang around, what do you watch, what do you listen to, and what do you speak to yourself when no one else is around?  These are the things, the real things that either lift us or bring us down.  And they are the same things that will either lift or bring down those around us who we are impacting.
Jesus living in your heart can help you to rise about your negative, critical and depressing words and attitudes, but He won’t stop you from living there if that is where you choose to live.  So it is up to you and me. Are we willing to change what goes into us every day so that our lives can rise like a helium balloon?  It all comes down to desire.  Desire is the ingredient that makes the difference between an average performer and a champion.  I hope you’ll join me in choosing to be a champion.
That little boy was fortunate indeed to encounter a man who understood what really lifts a man or woman or what makes them sink. Yes, the balloon salesman was right. I'm also right when I tell you, it's what's inside you that will make you go up.  Let’s get the right stuff inside of us.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Blemished In A Photoshopped World

              I have a recent family photo on my desk.We had it taken by a local photographer when all the kids were home.  It looks great and I am a blessed man to have this wonderful family.

            But there are a few things missing from the picture.  The blemish that was on one of my children’s faces, gone!  The out-of-place hair on another child and the lines that have begun to appear on my face around my eyes, gone!  Oh the wonders of Photoshop and what a skilled photographer can do to make us look better than we did on the day of our portrait session. I suppose she could have even put some additional hair on my head so my receding hairline wasn’t so pronounced, but I had to look somewhat like I look in real life.

            While it is great to have a few minor defects Photoshopped out of a family portrait, I’m afraid that many of us who follow Jesus Christ too often portray a life to others that is a little too perfect, a little to all-together and full of faith and confidence in God.  It’s not our real life.  It’s our edited, air-brushed, Photoshopped life.

I have actually had people say to me that if the people in church really knew what they were like, they knew that they would be rejected and nobody would want them around.  So week after week they project an image of themselves to others that they hope won’t get rejected.  The problem with that is, you can’t really move forward to find help, healing and wholeness if you only let people see an image of the real you.

            We have become very good at hiding our blemishes, our pain, our problems, and the hidden parts of our lives where we wrestle with our private “demons”.  Too many of us only allow people to see our Photoshopped lives.  We smile and say, “Praise the Lord.  God has been so good to me”, while on the inside we are hurting so bad we could hardly get ourselves in the church door.  The depression, the alcohol abuse, the pressures of parenting or caring for an aging loved one, the thoughts of suicide, the sexual brokenness are never shown, not talked about.  We wouldn’t dare let the people at church see that!

We come to church in pain and often leave without one small touch of grace to our hurts.  We know God sees our deep dark inside and we pray for His help and touch, and He does respond.  I’m absolutely confident that He does.  But the help that we need, the help that God wants us to receive usually comes from others.  It comes about when we allow people to see our imperfect lives and allow them to help us walk through our messes and hurts.

            My desire, and I hope your desire, is that we leave our Photoshopped lives at the door when we walk into our church.  No one’s life is perfect; we all have blemishes, pains, problems, and private “demons”.  I do.  I would hope the safest place to bring them out into the open is the church. 

            Yes it’s a risk, but there is great reward when we find that others care and understand and are willing to journey with us.  James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”  Let me paraphrase this verse, “Expose your blemishes, pains, problems, and private ‘demons’ to one another and pray for each other so that you may be able to walk into healing and wholeness.”
            I still love my Photoshopped family portrait.  I’m glad the blemishes, stray hairs and wrinkles are gone.  But let’s leave our nicely edited, air-brushed, Photoshopped lives outside of the door of our churches so we can move toward real healing.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

I Am Just A Speck

   I was thinking about how large God is. And then I was thinking about how small I am. I mean, I am just a speck. And God cares about me, a speck. I don't care about specs that are around me.  I don’t  care about the ants in my yard or the pieces of dust floating in the air. Sometimes I don’t even care about other human beings the way God cares about me. Compared to him I'm nothing more than a piece of dust, probably even smaller, yet he cares passionately about me, a speck.
I'm nothing more than a piece of dust and yet God
cares passionately about me, a speck.

   Why and how he loves me is baffling and overwhelming. He created everything so big, and He is larger. And yet He loves specks. Wow!

   I was thinking about Jesus and how he would hang around sinners and the disreputable people. I wondered how that made them feel.  Then I thought about the whole high school situation where sometimes “jocks” hang out with “losers” and how that makes the “losers” feel.  I thought an illustration like that would be a good opening story for a sermon sometime.
   Then I thought about the God of the universe hanging around with me and how that made me feel. Maybe it's not an illustration for a sermon.  It's  a story for me and maybe a story for you too.  I sometimes feel like a “loser”, yet God hangs out with me because He wants to, He likes me, He loves me.  That makes me feel great!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A High-Flying Christian Life

     From time to time you hear about a plane that crashes and before the crash the pilot radios in that they have lost all power and are going down. When a plane loses all power it will not stay up, it has to go down. In a good scenario the pilot is able to glide the plane down to safety, but more often than not the plane crashes because there was no power to control it any longer. But whether it is able to
Whether it is able to glide in or it crashes, one thing is
certain, a plane without power is going down.
glide in or it crashes, one thing is certain, a plane without power is going down.

     The same thing takes place with our spiritual lives. We need to have power to stay flying. If our fuel source gets cut off, we will begin to decline – it is inevitable. The longer your spiritual life is without fuel the faster you go down and the harder it is to get back up again. It is easier to maintain a vital Christian life then it is to reinvigorate one.

     Here’s the devil’s tactic – he works hard to cut you off from your fuel source. He doesn’t even have to attack you, he just has to get you to stop feeding your spiritual life and you will begin to decline – it is inevitable.

     So what is the fuel source for Christ followers? Where does our power come from? Here are four primary sources of fuel for a Christian. 

     First is regularly reading the Word of God. This should be a daily practice. A regular, systematic Bible-reading plan is vital for a high-flying Christian life. Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Elsewhere in Scripture the Word of God is called spiritual milk and in another place meat, each a reference to something that feeds us.

     Next is daily prayer. Communication with the Father through prayer not only feeds our spirit it helps to keep our relationship with our heavenly Father vital. Jesus said in his sermon, that we call The Sermon on the Mount, “when you pray, pray like this”. There is no “if you pray”, it is “when you pray”. Jesus understood we needed to keep ourselves fueled and strong through prayer.

     Third is weekly, twice a week is better, corporate worship and teaching at your local church. Way too many people think that they can have a strong and vital Christian life and not be a part of a local church – you can’t. The Bible says in Hebrews that we should “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing”. It’s interesting that even in the first century people who were Christ followers had to be encouraged to meet for worship. High-flying, vital Christians are in worship services at least once a week.

     Fourth is relationships with other Christ followers. There is great strength gained from the prayers, encouragement, and support of other believers. A Christian life lived without them will never be high-flying.

     Check your power; check your spiritual fuel gauge – how are you doing? Is reading the Word of God and praying a daily part of your life? How about weekly worship and regular time spent with other believers? How you answer these questions will give you a quick and pretty accurate picture of whether your life has the power to stay aloft or whether you are on the way down.

     Disagree if you want, but I’ve been following Jesus for almost 40 years and I know from my own life and from observing hundreds of other lives that these four things are vital to fuel and feed our spirits. You either have power and your spiritual life is flying or the power is cut off and you are going down. That’s reality.

     Is something keeping you cut off from your fuel source? Is it busyness, negative circumstances, hurt, laziness, sin, relationships that pull you away? You have to choose to stay fed and fueled because if you don’t, just like a plane that has lost power, you will go down. If you are fueled up and flying high, keep it up. A high-flying Christian life is the greatest kind to have!

Monday, January 6, 2014

What’s Happening To Our Children?

The following is an article that I wrote that ran in the January 4th issue of "The Republic" Columbus' daily newspaper. Since many of you who read this blog do not live in Columbus or do not read our local paper I am running the article as part of my blog.

          “How do we keep our young people faithful to the church after they leave home?” Local ministers were asked this question during the final session of the World Religions seminar conducted at a local public library in which I was a panel member.  It was an excellent question and showed a deep concern for the loss of influence the church is having on teens and young adults.

            The panel answered the question from the perspective of what churches can do to keep our young people faithful.  When it was my turn to speak to the question I shared what my friend, Rev. Owen C. Carr says, “We don’t lose young people from our churches. We lose them when they’re children, they can’t leave until they’re teens.” 

Churches should do everything they can to inspire and connect children and teens to Jesus.  Churches must change, innovate and become relevant to our children and youth if we want to increase the odds that they will remain faithful as young adults. But the church is only a small part of the equation, and not even the most important one.  The primary factor in a young person’s desire for God, the church and the things of God is not the church.  It is parents!

            Ron Lee Davis in a talk entitled, “Introducing Christ to Your Child”, made this statement, “An elder statesman of a Christian church has devoted himself to a fifty-year study of Christian and non-Christian families.  He says that in American culture today, most young adults following Jesus Christ either come from non-Christian homes where they were converted to Christ in their teenage years through a dynamic youth ministry, or they come from homes where they grew up in love with Jesus because mom and dad were so in love with Jesus that His love permeated their lives.  It passed through their pores.  Very few believers come from homes where there was a kind of indifferent, apathetic commitment to Christ.”

            “This is not my idea,” says Davis.  “This is the result of this study.  It is sobering and thought provoking to suggest that, in American culture, the chances are better for a child growing up in a non-Christian home to become a Christian than for a child growing up in a home that has an indifferent, apathetic commitment to Jesus Christ.”

            Parents, if you are concerned about whether your children will remain faithful to Jesus, stay connected to the church, and have an eternal home in heaven -- make certain you are fully-devoted to Jesus Christ yourself and passionate about your faith.

            Warren Mueller writing in Leadership magazine noted this about children and church attendance, “A study once disclosed that if both Mom and Dad attend church regularly, 72 percent of their children remain faithful in attendance.  If only Dad attends regularly, 55 percent remain faithful.  If only Mom attends regularly, 15 percent remain faithful.  If neither attend regularly, only 6 percent remain faithful.”

            My friend, Rev. Terry Yancey, Superintendent of the Kansas District of the Assemblies of God, when he ministered to teens would often address them with words like these, “If you don’t know how to get to heaven, I’m going there.  Put your eyes on the back of my neck and follow me.  Do what I do, watch what I watch, pray like I pray, live for Jesus the way I live for Jesus.  Follow me, imitate me and we’ll get to heaven together.”  Mom, dad, could you speak words like these to your own children or are you expecting the church, the pastor, the youth sponsor or the children’s director to be the ones your children are supposed to follow if they want to learn how to get to heaven?  Your children will first follow you and then those in the church.  As Rev. John C. Maxwell says, “You teach what you know, you reproduce what you are.”

What are you reproducing in your children in regard to God and the church -- apathetic, half-hearted devotion, or vital, living faith?  The burden rests primarily not on the church’s shoulders, but on yours.  Let’s partner together to hold on to our children.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

You Are Worthy

            Phillip Yancey in his book Reaching for the Invisible God recounts this story.

            Rosemary had a rag doll.  It was her favorite doll and Rosemary went nowhere without it.  The doll went from new and clean to dirty and threadbare -- but it was the most precious of all of Rosemary’s possessions.  Like Linus and his blanket, Rosemary could not bear to face life without her rag doll.

            When Rosemary’s family moved from Scotland to America, each family member carefully
Like Linus and his blanket,
Rosemary could not bear to face life
without her rag doll.
selected what possessions to bring along.  Rosemary chose just one thing: her rag doll.  It did not get packed; it was to stay with her on the trip.  But things took a turn for the worse.  Somehow, in the airport, Rosemary misplaced her rag doll.
            The family began a search, retracing their steps.  “Rosemary, do you remember where you may have laid her down?”, was asked time and time again.  Skycaps, ticket agents and restroom attendants were all asked if they had seen a rag doll.  Rosemary became so distraught at the loss of the doll that the family considered postponing their flight.  Time was passing.  Nothing else mattered right now because Rosemary’s rag doll was missing.

            Finally the doll was located. As soon as it was placed in her arms Rosemary became calm.  Onlookers were wondering why an old doll had such value, why parents would run all over an airport and possibly postpone a flight because of a dirty threadbare rag doll.  In one sense they would have been right. The doll had no worth in itself; but it had much worth in the girl’s eyes.

            You see, some things are loved because they are worthy; some things are worthy because they are loved.  Gorgeous super-models, gifted athletes, brilliant scientist, priceless works of art, talented actors -- they are loved because of their inherent worth or ability.  But there are many things, like the rag doll, that have great worth, not because of some intrinsic value, but because they are loved. 

            That’s the way it is with God’s love, and I am thankful for that.  God’s love is not based on our worth; and honestly I am not worthy to be loved by God.  Before He entered my life I was filled with sin, and even now after walking with Him for over 35 years, I still sin, mess up, fall and fail -- yet I am still loved.  Some things are loved because they are worthy and some things are worthy because they are loved – you and I fit into the latter category.  St. Augustine said of God, “By loving the unlovable, You made me loveable.”

            In a nutshell that is the story of Jesus.  God loved people so much that He came to earth and was born of a virgin named Mary.  He loved people that were full of sin and fear, who were selfish and unloving, who had little if any value in themselves and because of the great love He had for all of us, He gave us eternal value.  He gave us worth.

            Some things are loved because they are worthy; some things are worthy because they are loved.  God loves you; you are worthy.