Jan
17

Once Upon a Time:: 2

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“There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil. He had seven sons and three daughters. He owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 teams of oxen, and 500 female donkeys. He also had many servants. He was, in fact, the richest person in that entire area. Job’s sons would take turns preparing feasts in their homes, and they would also invite their three sisters to celebrate with them. When these celebrations ended—sometimes after several days—Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice.” (Job 1:1-5, NLT)

The Book of Job begins by introducing the reader to this remarkable person. Why is he remarkable? The first five verses give three explicit reasons, the first of which is his character (1:1). The writer reports that Job is a man whose life is marked by blameless thoughts and attitudes as well as behavior that is of complete integrity. He does this by fearing God and avoiding evil.

Not only is he a man of character, he is a man of affluence (1:2-3). He possessed exceptional wealth. Among the inventory of his possessions is the fact that he has been blessed with ten children. Those who lived in the ancient near east believed that prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing. The thought that Job was “lucky” or hard working would have never occurred to his peers. Their evaluation would have been that he was blessed by God.

In addition to these two elements we find that Job is also a man of influence (1:4-5). Because of the early nature of Job’s story, there was no central priesthood, but that didn’t stop Job from priesting his family. He led his family spiritually, pointing them to God, making sure that even their potential sins were atoned for. As we read on, we find that Job not only influenced his family, he helped those around him. Job 4:3-4 states of Job, “In the past you have encouraged many people; you have strengthened those who were weak. Your words have supported those who were falling; you encouraged those with shaky knees.”

Everyone loved and respected Job. But even more that the affirmation of his family and peers was the affirmation of God, who called Job “the finest man on earth!” (Job 1:8, 2:3)

Why is this information important? It’s important because Job’s righteousness is essential to the story. Had Job been a rascal we would look at his pain and suffering and write it off as well deserved. But he’s not a rascal. He’s the most exemplary person on earth…and that’s God’s assessment!

Job’s righteousness sets us up to wrestle with some very important questions.

— Why do bad things happen to good people?
— Why do the righteous suffer?
— Is God arbitrary?
— Is God just?
— Is God fair?

That’s the stuff of the story of Job. And its worth

Categories : Job, Suffering
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Jan
16

The No Complaining Rule

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This week I finished The No Complaining Rule by Jon Gordon. Using parables, Gordon writes simple books with large morals that are helpful in virtually every dimension of life. This book is no exception.

Gordon suggests that people complain for two basic reasons. One, they are fearful and hopeless, and two, its a habit. He offers three beneficial “no complaining tools” to help break the cycle of complaining and move toward more productive and constructive conversations. Here they are, in short.

First, use the but, >>> positive technique, meaning that when you find yourself complaining about something, add the word “but” and follow it with a positive statement. For example, “I can’t believe its snowing again, but at least I have a warm house and a roof over my head.”

Second, focus on using “get to” instead of “have to.” In other words, instead of saying, “I have to go to work today,” try “I get to go to work today and am thankful to have a job.”

Finally, find ways to turn complaints into solutions. According to Gordon, mindless complaining focuses only on problems and is never beneficial. Justified complaining, however, identifies problems and begins to move toward solutions. The only appropriate complaints are those that immediately move off of the issue and immediately begins to work toward solutions.

This is a quick read with many lessons. If chronic complaining is an issue for you at work, at home, or even personally, you’ll find this volume to be helpful.

Categories : Books
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Jan
15

Once Upon a Time

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What did you read growing up? As a child learning to read, one of the genres of literature that I cut my teeth on was fairy tales. Those fairy tales had a certain rhythm. They began with recognizable phrases such as “once upon a time,” or “long, long ago in a far away land.” There was the main character, usually a castle, and the story involved someone with incredible wealth. The main character was usually beset with some adversity that was rooted in evil such as a magic spell. The main character would be delivered and live, of course, “happily ever after.” Fairy tales are written for at least two purposes. First, the story is written in a manner that allows the reader to insert himself or herself into the narrative. Think about how many “princesses” came to your door on Halloween. Second, the story is written to offer a moralism or a truth that can serve as some form of life lesson.

Job is written in such a fashion.

By making that observation I am in no way suggesting that the Book of Job should be considered fictional literature. There is a lot of evidence that would support that Job was a real person who did indeed suffer greatly. But to my point, it is written in a way that allows the reader to insert himself or herself into the story and find a take away to live by.

According to scholars, Job is one of the oldest books in the Bible. Chronologically it appears in the middle of the Old Testament, categorized with the wisdom literature books of Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. But its interesting to note that some of the oldest Old Testament manuscripts are from Job, suggesting that before God wanted to talk about subjects such as creation, the Patriarchs, or the Exodus, he wanted to address the universal dilemma of human suffering.

Yesterday I began a nine week series on the story of Job. I hope that you will find these reflections helpful as together we try to understand the ways of God in the midst of our own pain and suffering.

Categories : Job, Suffering
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Jan
12

Early Adopters

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I remember the first time I saw a VCR. It was in the mid-1980’s at the home of one of our church members. He explained how it worked and wasn’t bashful in the least to tell me how much he paid for it. If memory serves, it was nearly $600, which certainly put the device way out of my financial league. Today I can now go to a local discount store and purchase a Blue Ray DVD player for less than $50!

Everett Rogers coined the term “early adopter” in 1962, and described them as early customers to a given company, product, or technology. Today it is estimated that 13.5% of Americans are considered in this bracket, right behind the 2.5% who are considered to be the innovators.

There are a couple of components about early adopters that I find interesting. First, early adopters are patient. While their eagerness may not find crowded check out lines, they have to patiently endure the “bug fixes” that accompany new yet not fully developed products. With early adoption comes paying the price of time as they use the new innovation in the real world.

Second, early adopters often pay premium prices. Those who are early adopters in technology find this to be especially true. Think of the prices of the first VCRs, computers, flat screen televisions, or cell phones. Think of those prices compared to the technology of the same items available today for a fraction of the cost.

What we find in the retail world is true of churches as well. New programs, worship styles and other innovations come with a price. I have yet to see a new anything rolled out in a church that was perfect in its first iteration. There are kinks, bugs, problems, conflicting schedules, miscommunications, lack of communication…you get the idea. Some church members will wait and see if the new innovation catches wind. Some will never buy in. But the early adopters join in and patiently pay premium because they want to be on the cutting edge of innovation. Even when its in the church.

Categories : Church, Church Growth
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Jan
11

Dealing with Frogs

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I grew up attending church, so the major themes and familiar stories of the Bible are part of my spiritual DNA. One of those stories is unpacked in the Old Testament book of Exodus, which tells of God’s call upon a wanted man named Moses who was tasked with the responsibility of confronting the Egyptian Pharaoh with the command, “Let my people go!”

Pharaoh, of course, was not inclined to give up his labor force, and told Moses that he wasn’t impressed with his “trick” of turning his staff into a serpent. As the story goes, God unleashed a series of ten plagues on Pharaoh and the land of Egypt, each of which addressed a particular object of Egyptian worship.

Having set that stage, I wanted to share a particular insight that I’ve recently contemplated. In plague number one, the water of the Nile is turned to blood. Pharaoh remained hard hearted. In Exodus chapter 8 we see the second plague, which was frogs coming from the Nile to invade every space of their homes.

Pharaoh called for Moses and asked for relief. This makes complete sense for at least three reasons. One, the word plague means, in part, “any widespread affliction or calamity.” Obviously these plagues created a tremendous amount of chaos and discomfort. Two, assuming these frogs were of the African frog variety, there was a great deal of danger. Our American bullfrogs are basically harmless. You may not want one for a pet, but neither would you consider them a threat. African frogs are carnivorous, have teeth, and will bite when threatened. That adds a bit of interest, right? Finally, we’re no different from Pharaoh in our desire for immediate relief anytime we’re even remotely uncomfortable. I keep Tums and Advil in the console of my truck for this very reason.

But when we read the story, we see that Pharaoh did something very interesting. Having been summoned to the palace, Moses asked Pharaoh, “When do you want the frogs to go? You set the time!” And to the disbelief of the reader, Pharaoh replies, “Do it tomorrow.” Tomorrow? Seriously?

I realize that scholars who have written big, fat commentaries on Exodus have plausible rationales for what is taking place here. But using the hermeneutic of the common reader, his response makes no sense whatsoever. We all have experienced suffering, and we’re pretty quick to dial up the prayers for its immediate relief. So why does Pharaoh say tomorrow?

Now that I think about it, why do we say tomorrow? We all have our “frogs.” You know what I mean. We have our habits, addictions, attitudes, and behaviors that are problematic. Like the Egyptians, we have frogs in our bedrooms, frogs in our kitchens, frogs in our living rooms, our garages, in the yard, at our employment–they can be anywhere.

We know those frogs are a problem. And if we’re honest, we know those frogs adversely and negatively affect others. After all, none of us live in a vacuum. To make matters worse, deep down we really want to change. We want to stop. We want to quit. We want to be free and clear of the frogs.

So why don’t we deal with the frogs? Because there’s always tomorrow. Tomorrow gives us the opportunity to hang on to the frogs just one more day. Or one more time. But with delayed action comes increasing stubbornness. Or to use Exodus’ word, hard heartedness.

2 Corinthians 6:2 says, “Now is the time of God’s favor. Today is the day of salvation!” Whatever frogs are in your life, now is the time to begin to deal with them. God’s grace is available today. Right now. Its your move.

Categories : New Year
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Jan
11

Unfair!

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On Sunday I’m going to begin a nine week study on the life of Job. Check my blog each week for my latest thoughts and interactions from the book that speaks the universal language of suffering.

Categories : Job, Suffering
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Jan
01

Thinking Ahead!

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In the past I’ve tried to spend the last week of December in reflection as well as in anticipation of the coming calendar year. I’ve tried various forms of goal setting strategies based on resources I’ve happened upon. Since research shows that 50% of all new year’s resolutions are broken by February 1, I’ve decided to simplify my approach for 2018 and narrow things down to four basics.

While I’m not sharing the details of each category, I thought I’d at least share the framework with you. If you find it compelling, great! If not, that’s great as well.

1. I want to quit something.
Sometimes you have to let go of something to make room for something new. As John C. Maxwell said, “Breakthroughs are break-withs.”

2. I want to learn something.
I think an important part of life is the commitment to be a life long learner. So I’ve identified a couple of things in fact that I want to learn.

3. I want to create something.
Because I’ve made room for more through my first action, I can now invest the time and resources I now possess to create something new. Don’t assume the word create is limited to some endeavor in the fine arts. It could be as simple as beginning or starting something that doesn’t presently exist.

4. I want to master something.
I, at least, have the propensity to be the proverbial “jack of all trades.” While having a broad and diverse skill set is good, I want to have at least one skill where I am adept enough to be a servant of others. Mastery in this case is not for the purpose of pride. Mastery serves others because it allows one to share an expertise with another person and make their lives better.

As I said, if you find this framework compelling, by all means play with it and see what your four “goals” are for the year.

Happy New Year! 2017 has been good, and 2018 will be better!

Categories : Uncategorized
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Dec
27

In Him Was Love!

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So the Word became human and and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’” From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.
(John 1:14-18, NLT)

As a kid who grew up in church, every December meant an opportunity to participate in the annual children’s program where we, under the direction of our Sunday School teachers, would present the Christmas story in costume. I use the word costume very loosely, because there weren’t any real costumes for us to wear. Our costumes consisted of our dad’s bathrobes and a dish towel tied around our heads with an old neck tie.

We would receive our parts, learn our cues, and take our places as the story was read. If memory serves me correctly, I usually played the role of one of the shepherds. In costume, of course.

John’s perspective on Christmas reminds me of those plays. Jesus came to the earth, robed in flesh and blood, and made his home among us. I like how The Message translates verse 14: “The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”

In so doing, he demonstrated grace and truth in perfect balance as he revealed God’s glory to the world. This balance is important, because truth without grace is legalism, and grace without truth is sentiment. Jesus provided them both in perfect balance, kind of in the same way that the Old Testament and the New Testament provide balanced Bibles.

In so doing, Jesus revealed God to us. The literal interpretation of the word revealed tells us that Jesus interpreted or explained God to us. He would later go on to boldly claim, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

That’s John’s version of the Christmas story. Our problem is death and darkness. God’s solution is life and light. And the solution comes to us through the birth of a baby.

Categories : Advent, Christmas
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Dec
19

The Cause

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For the last two years, my youngest has been an active part of The Cause, a church geared toward reaching the millennial generation in Kansas City. Here is an article from The Kansas City Star featuring The Cause. Enjoy!

Categories : Church
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Dec
18

I Am Uncertain

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As proverbial “jars of clay,” each of us have one or more issues that can serve as limitations to the great things God wants to accomplish through our fragile lives. For some of us, uncertainty regarding God’s will can be one of the greatest limitations of all.

Take, for example, the story of Gideon, found in Judges chapters 6-8. The story begins with God’s calling to his life, to which he responds with a detailed litany of how he is the least of the least of the least. As God patiently pursued Gideon, he then requested a sign involving a fleece. I find it fascinating that God actually indulged Gideon’s request not once, but twice.

Gideon’s story serves me personally in two ways. First, God is uniquely inclined toward weakness. To Gideon, it made no sense that the “call” would come him, given his lack of pedigree. To God, however, he was the perfect choice.

The second helpful feature of this passage is that God is acutely aware of our struggle between faith and doubt. Belief often is mixed with levels of uncertainty as evidenced in the experiences of others in the Bible as well as our own. We, like Gideon, feel the need for “fleeces” or signs to help us navigate the direction God provides.

We need to be cautious about taking Gideon’s example as anything more than a description of what happened. Just because he asked for a sign and God in his grace granted the request does not make this practice normative or prescriptive. So how do we find certainty as we attempt to discern God’s will?

For years, I’ve pointed to four ways we can discern God’s will, in this particular order.

1. Is it consistent with Scripture?
You may always rest assured that God will never ask you to contradict the Bible.

2. Do I have confirmation from the Holy Spirit through prayer?
Like Elijah, we can find confirmation from the “still, small voice” of the Spirit. This voice will provide a sense of peace in the midst of confusion.

3. Have I consulted the counsel of the community of faith?
In other words, what input can I gain from the wisdom of others who are of similar spiritual conviction?

4. Do I see God at work in my surrounding circumstances?
Can I make connections between God’s call and the activity I perceive God to be doing in other areas of my life?

Those four things, independently, may not provide the confirmation we seek. However, if you stack them all together you’ll find that you are better equipped to proceed with the direction you perceive.

So what if I do all of these things and I’m still uncertain? A long time ago a wise person once answered that same question for me in this fashion. He said, “If you’re not sure of what God wants you to do, do the last thing he told you to do until you are sure.”

Amen.

Categories : Jars of Clay
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