Sunday, August 28, 2011

How Do You Measure Success?

An English visitor to the United States expressed difficulty in understanding the American way of doing things. He was particularly baffled over the way Americans drink tea. He could not understand why we heat it to make it hot and then we turn around and put ice in it to make it cold. To farther complicate matters, we add sugar to make it sweet and then we put lemon in it to make it sour. Certainly, every culture has traditions that seem strange and confusing to visitors.

Confusion does not limit itself to secular things. A visiting Christian from a country where Christians are routinely persecuted might have difficulty understanding some of the things we use to define successful Christians. In our country Christians are often judged to be successful by the size of their bank account, the size of their home, the prestige of their employment, and the number of gadgets they have to play with. What makes all this strange is that the One who is the author and finisher of our faith would not be considered successful if this was the criteria used to determine success.

When one examines the life of Jesus, he/she quickly discovers that Jesus walked away from a respectable trade. He never earned a regular salary. He never saved any money. He never owned a home. He never accumulated a large collection of status symbols. He walked to His destinations. He disappointed His followers because they could not understand what He was all about. Finally, He died a horrible death on a Cross between two criminals. In the eyes of most, He was considered to be a criminal or a political discontent. His only success was that He completed the mission for which He came and He was always obedient to the Heavenly Father who sent Him.

If we are going to continue to worship the Jesus of the New Testament, it would seem to be appropriate for us to change our understanding of success. While there is nothing evil about wealth and fame, they should not be used as the primary ingredients in gauging the success in the life of a Christian. For the Christian success has nothing to do with things such as these. A successful Christian is one who understands and seeks to follow the admonition of Jesus given in Matthew 6:33: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.” A successful Christian is one who seeks to be obedient to the call of God on his/her life. A successful Christian is one who understands that all the treasures we accumulate on earth will stay here when we leave. It is the treasures that we store up in heaven that are eternal. The reward for being a successful Christian is not a guarantee of a trial free life but it is the joy, peace and abundance one experiences by being obedient to God.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Checking Your Vital Signs

Most medical people will tell you one of the secrets of good health is early detection. This is why it is a good policy to have regular physical checkups. When you go for your checkup, the first thing the doctor does is check your vital signs. He weighs you, listens to your heart and lungs, and takes your blood pressure. He orders a variety of blood test to make sure there are no danger signs. By checking these vital signs, he is able to get a good feel for your physical condition. If one of these vital signs is abnormal, he knows to look deeper to the cause for the abnormality. By identifying a problem early, he can often treat it and prevent it from becoming a major problem.

As surely as there are vital signs that identify a physical problem, there are vital signs that help a disciple of Jesus Christ recognize that he/she is having spiritual problems. Paul recognized this truth. In his second letter to the church at Corinth, He reminded them that it was wise for them to check on their spiritual health. He wrote, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (II Corinthians 13:5a NASB)

Let me suggest four crucial spiritual vital signs that disciples and churches can check to measure how healthy their spiritual life is. First, a healthy disciple will have a deep appreciation and hunger for God’s Word. When there is no interest in God’s Word, it is impossible for someone to grow up strong in the Lord. A steady balanced diet of God’s Word is as important to the spirit as a balanced diet of food is to the body. If it is missing, the spirit becomes weak and is open to a wide variety of attacks by the enemy.

Second, a healthy disciple will recognize that prayer is an essential element in ones spiritual development. Just as our nervous system transmits commands from our brain throughout our body, prayer keeps us in touch with our Head, Jesus Christ. You show me someone who has done great things for God and I will show you someone who has a powerful prayer life.

Third, a healthy disciple understands the importance of fellowship with other believers. The Christian faith was never meant to be a private faith. It was meant to be shared. Paul uses the analogy of the physical body to describe the church. He emphasizes that the body is effective only when it works in harmony with all the part. It makes no sense for the eye to tell the ear that it doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. Each part is important. Working together all the parts can do great things. A healthy disciple understands that he needs others. He understands that it is a two way street. The church needs all of its parts and the individual parts need the church

Fourth, a healthy disciple has the right attitude toward stewardship. He understands that all of his time, talents and treasures belong to God. They are not his to own but they are his to be a steward over. Ultimately, it is God who should determine how he should use these gifts that He has bestowed on him. When someone hoards their time, talents and treasure, it is a sure sign that there is a problem with their spiritual health.

The good news is that we do not have to go to the doctor’s office to check on these spiritual vital signs. We need to get in a quiet place and allow the light of God’s Spirit shine into our lives. His light will reveal the areas upon which we need to improve. However, just as a doctor can prescribe medication for our physical problems but can not force us to take the medications he has prescribed, God’s Spirit can reveal our spiritual needs but He will not force us to follow His cure. Each one of us must decide, if we are going to do what is needed to become spiritually strong. When faced with this choice, it seems to me that our most sensible response is clear. We should follow God’s direction.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Power of Encouragement

One of the greatest joys in life is to watch individuals grow to reach their full potential and to know you may have had a small part in their growth. The secret to this accomplishment is to convince people that they can do great things. True, everyone does not have the same degree of potential but everyone can develop the potential they do have. While there are many things that can be instrumental in motivating someone to reach their potential, there is no greater tool than encouragement.

While most of the secular world understands the importance of the “power of encouragement”, the one place that should understand it best, seems to understand it least. I am speaking of the church. Far too often, the church (people not the building) gives the impression that it expects its members to fail in their efforts to reach their full potential in their Christian walk. This is especially true for the prodigal, who returns to the fold. While outward there may be celebration, inward there is often an undercurrent of skepticism about the sincerity of the individual’s actions.

Wherever this expectation for failure originates, it is not the Scripture. The Scripture clearly instructs us to be encouragers of one another. In Hebrews 12:1 (NASB) we read, “Therefore, since we have a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” While everyone can not agree on who makes up the cloud of witnesses, the overall implication is clear. We have a heavenly host of witnesses watching us and pulling for us. They are not watching expecting us to fail but they are expecting us to run our race successfully. They are our cheering section.

If we have a heavenly cheering section, should we not cheer and encourage one another? Scripture exhorts us to do just that. Paul writes in Romans 14:19 (NASB), “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” The writer of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 3:13 (NASB), “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today’, lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Neither of these verses refers to success in the secular world. They refer to encouraging each other in the faith. It is hard to live the Christian life in our world. Considering the difficulty, it makes sense for us to stop stoning one another and to start encouraging one another to move forward and to grow to reach maturity in our faith.

Wherever you are in your race, I want to encourage you to keep on keeping on. There will be times when you feel like quitting. There will be times that you stumble and fall. There will be times when you feel those around you are expecting you to fail. When these times come, remember all the people you have pulling for you. Get up; dust yourself off. Continue the race. The victory awaits you at the finish line. With God’s help, you can do it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Beware of Stereotypes

A group of retired gentlemen from a former church I served met each morning at the local fast food restaurant for breakfast. One morning as they waited to order, a group of bikers entered the restaurant. As they looked back over their shoulder, they could see that the bikers were adorned with the usual leather and chains. Most had long hair, pierced ears and tattoos. The men expected the bikers and their lady friends to be loud and obnoxious, but they went ahead and purchased their usual breakfast, fully expecting that their normal peace and quiet would be lost for this morning.

As they moved toward their table, they walked past the bikers to their table. As they sat down, they glanced at the bikers. To their amazement, on the back of their leather vests was an emblem with the name of their group. Their name was “Bikers for Jesus”.

The men were embarrassed because they had made wrong assumptions based on their stereotype of individuals who belonged to a motorcycle group. After several minutes, one of the men went over to the bikers and began to strike up a conversation. He discovered that the group was in town for a rally that was being held nearby. He said that he and his friends attempted to go to several rallies each year. Their purposes for attending were twofold. First, they enjoyed the camaraderie of their fellow bikers. Second, it gave them an opportunity to share Christ with other bikers.

After several minutes, the bikers crawled on their machines and roared out of the parking lot. The regular customers were left to discuss how wrong they had been about these strangers on motorcycles. It left them feeling guilty because they knew they weren’t nearly as bold in their witness to their friends as these bikers were to their friends.

This experience taught these men a valuable lesson. They learned that it doesn’t pay to judge a man or woman by an arbitrary stereotype developed through misinformation and prejudice. This is a lesson we all need to learn. The world would be a better place if we would trash all of our stereotypes and, if we are going to judge at all, we would judge each person individually and not by predetermined ideas. If we would allow experience and relationship to determine our opinions, we may make new friends that we never thought we would have, and our lives would be the richer for it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Appreciating Our Differences

My wife and I are very different. She is an extremely intuitive person. When she talks with our children on the phone, she can sense when something is wrong. When I walk through the door at the end of a busy day, she can sense the kind of day I have had. She always wants to know how I feel about things. On the other hand, I am a cognitive person. I tend to want to deal with facts, not feelings. She asks, “How do you feel about this situation?” I ask, “Why is this situation the way that it is?” Her conversations can grow long, while mine are short and to the point.

An improper understanding might suggest my wife is too sentimental and I lack compassion. Neither would be correct. We are different. We both care deeply about those around us, but we deal with things differently. Early in our marriage these differences caused stress in our relationship. In later years, we have come to understand God’s great wisdom in bringing two distinctly different people together.

Understanding Genesis 2:18 has helped to give us an understanding about why we are really good for each other. The verse reads, “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.’” The key is an understanding of the phrase “help meet”. This term literally means to supply that which is missing or to complete. It means that God saw what was lacking in man and gave him his wife to complete him. I believe this is a reciprocal arrangement. It is not about power or control but it is about completing one another.

This principle can be illustrated with a lock and a key. A lock without a key is of no use. A key without a lock is of no use. Together, they can provide a needed service. It would be foolish to sit around and to debate which one was more important. The fact is the lock and the key need each other to fulfill their purpose. The same principle applies in the life of a husband and wife.

Understanding this principle has enabled my wife and I to understand our differences shouldn’t be sources of irritation but sources of strength. We complement each other. We help provide balance to each other. We have come to appreciate our differences. We thank God for our differences, because we know together we are at our best. Coming to this understanding has given us forty-three years together.

If you and your spouse are total opposites like my wife and I, remember your differences are God’s blessing to you. God brought you together to complement each other, not to confound each other. Appreciate the differences and let them bring balance to your life and your relationship.

Monday, August 8, 2011

You Are Gifted

My lack of technological and mechanical skills has been well documented. Over the years, God has been gracious enough to provide individuals, who are gifted in these areas, to make up for my shortfall. These individuals have been great blessings to me.

There was a time when my deficiency bothered me, making me feel inadequate. Each time, God would remind me that these individuals might feel as equally uncomfortable standing in the pulpit, as I feel with a wrench in my hand staring at an engine or a crashed computer. This is why God has placed so many different types of people in His church. The diversity is present to teach us that we are to use our differences to minister to one another. The Apostle Peter said it this way: “And each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (I Peter 4:10)

In this verse, Peter tells us that each one of us has been given a gift or gifts. God doesn’t leave any of His children out. He doesn’t give to some and leave others without anything. Our gifts are diversified but each gift is necessary for the well being of the church. Since each gift is important, we shouldn’t hold one gift as more important than another nor should we boast of the gift we have. Once we determine our gift, we must decide how we will use it. Will we use it for selfish gain or will we give it back to God and let Him use it for His glory?

In the mind of Peter, the answer to this question was clear. God gives individual gifts to those in His church because He wished for them to use them to serve one another. He never meant for His children to hoard their gifts or to keep them secret. He meant for the wide assortments of gifts within the Body of Christ to be used for the building up of the Body. Therefore, when we identify the gifts God has given to us, we need to seek the place where we can best use them to serve one another. When the Body of Christ takes seriously this mandate to serve one another, the Body is at its strongest. It is able to reach its full potential.

Peter also reminds us that we are held responsible for how we use our gifts. He tells us that we are to be good stewards of these gifts. If we are good stewards, we will use our gifts in the service of others. Unselfish service to others may not pad our billfold but it will bring joy to our hearts. However, the greatest reward will come on the day we stand before our Lord and He says, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

Keep these thoughts in mind, when you are approached to give of your time in the service of your church. Remember! God gave you gifts to use in the service of others. He expects you to use them and He will hold you accountable for your stewardship in this matter. If everyone would remember these truths and would apply them, our churches would never be short of workers. They would always be enough workers to do all God has for us to do.