Monday, August 16, 2010

Are You Listening?

Is there a God up there or not? If you go by the way that I live my life, you'd probably wonder. It's amazing how many times I find myself living as though God doesn't exist, or at least as though He's disinterested in me and the events in my life. Yet I know that is the farthest from the truth.

There have been times in my life when I've sensed the presence of God in such a real and tangible way that I was sure I'd open my eyes and see Him there. But there have been other times when I've prayed, even wept in desperation, looking for a glimpse of Him, but felt nothing. Then I'm reminded... it's called faith for a reason.

Hebrews 11:1 says "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." The rest of the chapter gives us a glimpse into the lives of people who lived out this faith walk. People like Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who walked in relationship with a God that they could not physically see. The whole thing is totally nonsensical to a lot of people.

But I do think that is precisely the point. God wants us to choose Him; not be so overwhelmed by the evidence that we have no other choice. If you desire to see God, you'll see Him everywhere; if not, you won't. You either marvel at the beauty of God`s creation and the intricate systems that have been established in order to sustain human life on this planet, or you marvel instead at the way that impersonal time and chance have resulted in the statistically improbable beauty of this planet within this solar system, within this galaxy within the universe. What are the odds?

That's why it declares in Hebrews 11:6 that "...without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." And this is the part where I sometimes fail. I do believe in God; I have built my life upon that faith. However, there have been times when I have failed to live that way.

I'm sure I'm like many others who tend to be too independent. I like to solve my own problems wherever possible and, often, I turn to God as my final alternative. Yet this flies in the face of the way that God intended for us to live. He desires relationship with us, not merely religious service out of some kind of guilt motivation.

Throughout Scripture we see God calling us to this kind of lifestyle, particularly as God revealed Himself through Jesus. He modelled that kind of relationship for us. It didn't matter what He was doing; how busy He was, He always found the time to get alone with God the Father. It was the relationship which was key in His accomplishing His purpose.

So, how do we follow this model? How do we live our lives in such a way as to demonstrate that the God we serve is alive and working?

First of all, it must be intentional. Like any relationship, in order to grow in it, we must work at it. King David, who was called "a man after God's own heart" said in Psalm 5:3 "In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." I have found it makes a huge difference if I take time in the morning to reaffirm my commitment to God. Too many people rely on their past experience and neglect the relationship.

It's not only the morning, though. I've learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to ask the question, where is God in this? Since Scripture clearly teaches us that God is intimately involved in the details of our lives, it makes sense to look for His handiwork. What has been most helpful for me is to look at each challenge through the lens of John 10:10.

In this verse, Jesus says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." What we see clearly represented in this verse is the spiritual reality taking place around us. The first truth we need to understand is that we have an enemy, and he's trying to destroy us. The second reality is that we have a God who loves us, who calls Himself the Good Shepherd, and who has come to give us life. 1 John 3:8 tells us that "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work."

I ask three questions based upon these realities. The first question is: What is the enemy trying to accomplish in this situation? The second is: What is God trying to do in this situation? The third is the question that reveals where the rubber meets the road. In light of those two realities, what ought I to do in this situation? Living life in these terms brings us into alignment with what is taught in the Proverbs. Proverbs 3:5-6 teaches "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

So, is there a God, or not. Absolutely there is, and He wants to be known by us. He speaks to us through His Word and by His Spirit. In order to hear Him, therefore, we must take the time to read the Bible and to spend the time in prayer, not just talking, but listening as well. Try it this week, you might be surprised at what you hear.

Related Articles:
The Faith Of A Child
The New Bigotry
Christianity & Science


Friday, August 13, 2010

Deliver Us From Mediocrity

Many years ago I remember sitting in a conference hosted by John Maxwell as he spoke on the subject of excellence. The lesson has never left me. He began by talking about the plague of mediocrity.

That word makes an interesting study. Its a compound word (medi and ocris) which literally means "halfway up a stony mountain." Now doesn't that create a great picture? It accurately describes our situations when we fail to give our best. We end up halfway there, unsuccessful and precariously placed on the side of a mountain.

The story's told of climbing companions attempting to scale the heights of a majestic mountain. The journey begins with relatively easy hikes over the foothills to the higher peaks. As the days go by, the trek becomes more and more challenging, and some begin to question the wisdom of the adventure altogether. Just before they reach the base of the main peak they plan to climb they reach a lodge. This was built to help travelers rest up for the most difficult part of the climb.

The weary climbers are able to sit by a roaring fire, eat hot meals and drink coffee in the shelter the lodge provides. But an interesting thing happens. When it's time to leave, some of those who were once excited about reaching the summit decide that they will wait here at the halfway point for their friends to return. They're satisfied to stop half way.

They take a comfortable seat on the front porch with their coffee and watch as the committed few begin the hardest part of the journey. At first the conversation is loud and the laughter is easy. They talk about how much pain the climbers will endure as they reach for the summit. But, as the day wears on, something interesting happens. From their vantage point, they can still see their friends as they climb higher and higher, closer to their goal. But the loud talk and the laughter cease, and each is left with their own quiet thoughts as they watch those with whom they started climbing, ascend to the peak without them.

There are relatively few people who are willing to do what it takes to pursue excellence, because excellence is not easy - it costs. What does it cost to pursue excellence?

1. It costs time to pursue excellence.
It matters not the field in which you find yourself, whether that be sports, academics, a trade or public service. Excellence is not simply a choice; it is a series of choices. It is a daily decision to do your best: to take the time to study, practice, write or rehearse, whatever it takes.

Charles Swindoll, one of the most enduring of Christian writers, decided early on in his ministry to make such a commitment. Already dealing with a heavy workload as a pastor, he chose to arise one hour earlier each day and to spend that hour writing. Years later, he has now written over 50 books and has become one of the most respected spokesmen for Christianity.

Michael Jordan is on everyone's short list of the greatest basketball players of all time. He is a six-time NBA champion, a five-time MVP, a 10-time scoring champion and a 14-time All-star. When it came time for a game to be decided, there was never a question who would be holding the ball - it would be Michael. How did he reach such heights of excellence?

Alongside the other accolades, Michael Jordan has been called the best practice player ever. He took seriously every opportunity he had to improve his game It was said that he performed every drill as if it was a game situation. He did this so that, when faced with an opportunity when it mattered, he would always be prepared. It takes time to achieve excellence.

It costs resources to achieve excellence.
Excellence is the result of investing in your personal growth over a long period of time. Not everyone who has achieved excellence has a university education (many don't), however, those who are consistently excellent are those who have made a commitment to be life-long learners.

The question is often asked, "but what about those who are just born with natural talent." That is certainly an advantage, but the world is full of talented bums, people who have wasted their potential because they relied on their talent alone. With talent comes responsibility. As a high school basketball coach I have seen naturally gifted players that I would gladly trade for less talented ones with a higher commitment level. A true gift is a player with talent and a teachable spirit; that is the place from which greatness comes.

So how do we grow? You can grow from school, books, mentors, seminars, etc... but it starts with a commitment to invest. Look for someone who knows what you want to learn and ask for help. Find the right books, listen to the right CD's, go to the right places, attend the right events... and learn.

3. It costs emotionally to achieve excellence.
This statement speaks of relationship. The sad truth is that not everyone wants to reach excellence; not everyone is willing to pay the price to reach the summit. If you surround yourself with people who are unwilling to pay the price, you will never reach your potential. Conversely, if you surround yourself with people who make the same commitments as you do, your investments are multiplied as "iron sharpens iron."

Please hear me accurately. I'm not saying that we should have nothing to do with people who do not share our dreams and commitments. I am saying that our key friendships and relationships will have a great deal to say in whether we achieve our dreams. Constantly dealing with insecure people can be like the proverbial kittens in the basket. None can get out because they take turns pulling each other down. This is opposed to the Biblical advice from Hebrews 10:24 - "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."

The person who is committed to excellence not only makes a difference in their own life; they have a positive impact on those around them. When the Chicago Bulls saw their most talented player working harder in practice than anyone else, it drove each one to work harder and raised the bar for the whole team.

I've been encouraged over the course of my ministry to see that many churches are beginning to understand the importance of excellence in the church. After all, we profess to be working for the Creator of all things, the One who could say at the end of creation that "it was very good." We are created in His image; therefore, we should work to do the best we can as well.

This applies to all areas of church life: music, preaching, children's ministries, youth ministry, the arts, technology, teaching, all of it. I want to do better. I want to do better at communicating the truth of God's Word in a way that people can understand. I want do better in providing the very best worship to God of which we are capable. I want to do better in producing life-impacting events that are second to none. I want to do better in utilizing the latest technologies to help to demonstrate eternal truths. I want to do better because God deserves the very best of which I am capable.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Rebekah Principle

I remember when gas station attendants pumped your gas, cleaned your windshield and checked your oil and fluid levels for you while they were filling your gas tank. (Actually, I was one of those attendants for a while.) Today, the best we can hope for is that they be polite when we go into the gas bar and hand over our money after doing all of those things for ourselves. That's a far cry from the woman in the title of this blog.

I'm not sure who coined the phrase first, but "The Rebekah Principle" is taken from an Old Testament story found in Genesis, chapter 24. It's the story of the selection of a wife for the Jewish Patriarch, Isaac. Abraham had sent his chief servant to find the right woman from his home country. The servant arrived at the well which was a center of activity. The women of the area were arriving to draw water from the well.

A young woman named Rebekah came to draw water and the servant asked if it would be possible for her to draw him some water to drink. She not only drew water for him, but willingly drew water for all of his camels as well. While this encounter is only given a couple of verses in Scripture, it's important to see the details. She drew water for ten camels before she stopped. A thirsty camel can drink up to 30 gallons of water in 10 minutes. But let's say, for arguments sake, that they weren't all that thirsty and drank ten gallons each. That's 100 gallons of water drawn by hand from a well. Even if the well were only a few feet deep, such a commitment would take considerable time, measured in hours, not minutes; yet Rebekah did so willingly.

The result of Rebekah being willing to do more than was required of her was that she was selected to become the wife of Isaac. She will forever be remembered for being willing to go the extra mile: this is the kind of person God uses.

There are a lot of life lessons we can get from Rebekah's example. Here are a few.

"There are no traffic jams on the second mile."
I'm not sure who first said this, but I heard it first from Zig Ziglar. Very simply what it means is that if you want to stand out in whatever field you've chosen, go the extra mile. Do what others are unwilling to do.

I've found that there are at least three different types of people:
1. People who don't do what they're supposed to do.
2. People who only do what they have to.
3. People who do what they are required to do... and then some.

Think about it, which of these people would you want working for you? If you were choosing a company to do business with, wouldn't you choose a business that goes above and beyond; a company that will see that you are satisfied? If you were hiring an employee, would you want the guy who will show up only when it's convenient, or the guy who's committed to get the job done right?

"If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing right."
My mother used to tell me this when I was haphazard in cleaning my room. My response was usually something like "well I guess it's not worth doing then." What do you expect? I was a teenager.

Colossians 3:23-24 says "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." This was Mother Teresa's secret: the people to whom she ministered, in her eyes, represented Jesus Himself. Each of them, therefore, were deserving of all of the dignity and love she could give.

We get one shot at this life, we want to do it well. In fact, there seems to be something built into human beings that takes a real satisfaction in a job well done. I've seen it in sports, the arts, church life and the business world. We were created to be productive and creative, when we aren't we sense the void, even if we can't describe it.

"In order to hear the words, 'well done,' we must first 'well do.'"
There are many principles that flow from this, including "play now, pay later, or pay now, play later." The point is that there are too many people who are not willing to pay the price for achieving excellence, yet who want the reward. This is one of my pet peeves with unions. They have a purpose, but often serve to reward people who are incompetent and lazy.

In our society at large, we find a culture of entitlement that can be stated like this: "the world owes me a living." Uh... wrong. God gives us life, talents and abilities: that is His gift to us. How we use this life and those gifts, talents and abilities is our gift to Him. The Bible is actually very clear about those who are unwilling to do what they are capable of doing. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says "...If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either."

There is so much that needs doing. There are so many challenges that must be met. There are so many hurting people and so many causes looking for a champion. How can we be satisfied to sit back and assume that someone else will do it? Take some time today to think about what it is that you were put on this earth to do. You are not a cosmic accident, you were created by God to do good works. For a clue to what that may be think about these questions: What do you cry about? What do you laugh about? What keeps you awake at night? The answer to those questions often leads to our passion.

Don't settle. Be all that you were meant to be.