Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Defending Marriage

Many people are unaware that Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia has been conducting a review of the topic of polygamy. This has been done in light of the news coming out of the Mormon community of Bountiful in B.C.

The study was conducted to determine whether or not the ban on polygamous relationships in Canada was legal. There was a great deal of concern that an appeal to the Charter of Rights would see this ban struck down. However, Chief Justice Robert Bauman has conducted what has been called "one of the most extensive reviews of the topic of polygamy that has ever been undertaken," and has found that the ban should stand.

His findings demonstrate clearly that a great deal of harm is done - to women, children, men and monogamous marriage - when polygamy is allowed. It is this demonstrated "harm" that lead the Chief Justice to rule that parliament's ban on "poly" relationships should stand.

This is good news for vulnerable women and children in particular, but also for Canadian society and all who want traditional marriage to continue to be the norm. For a more in-depth report go here. For the full Court document, go here.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Wonder of Life

The following video is a TED talk by Alexander Tsiaras, an associate professor of Yale University in the Department of Medicine. Using the latest in technology, Alexander and his team have created a visualization of a human baby from conception to birth. As he says, the more we learn about the intricate details of the structure of the cell and replication, and collagen, etc., the more we must ascribe a Divine origin.

This type of research is leading more and more scientists to move towards the Intelligent Design theory as an explanation for the complexity of life. Illustra Media has also prepared several informative videos that explore the theory of Intelligent Design. I doubt that Alexander Tsiaras set out to advance this theory, but he has done so none-the-less.

This also advances the cause of the Right-to-Life movement by showing just how rapid is the development of the fetus. It's hard to justify abortion with this information, particularly after the first few weeks. Watch the video and come to your own conclusions. As I watched, I thought of these verses written by the Psalmist David.

"For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

(Psalm 139:13-16)

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Monday, October 03, 2011

Book Review: "The Grace of God"

Andy Stanley has done it again. I just finished reading his newest book, "The Grace of God," and came away amazed all over again. In his easy-to-read style, this great communicator walks through the Bible, demonstrating that the grace of God is the theme of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.

This is a message that we all need to hear, particularly the church. As Andy states in his introduction, "The gravitational pull is always toward graceless religion." For this reason, church has become a place that is designed by church people for church people. Yet the heart of God has always been drawn to those outside of the circle: the lost, the hurting, the disenfranchised.

Stanley begins by breaking down the myth that the God of the Old Testament is fundamentally different from the God of the New Testament. He does this by showing that "God's law is never given to establish a relationship; God's law is given to confirm an existing relationship." The law exposes our sin and reveals to us our need for a Saviour, our fundamental need for grace.

Interestingly, Andy delves into numerous Old Testament stories which are not often given much thought, mining them for evidence of grace. Chapter 3, "Surprised By Grace" is a good example, as Andy looks at the Joseph story through the eyes of Judah, Joseph's brother. God's grace is clearly seen in Judah's life as he is blessed beyond anything he deserves. "Grace is not reserved for good people; grace underscores the goodness of God."

What I appreciated more than anything else were the last few chapters dealing with the church. I, too, have seen the need for church that is grace-filled, designed for people who are not churched. Our communities are full of churches that cater to the needs of people who look, dress and act the part. Yet Jesus modelled for us a lifestyle that engaged and fellowshipped with hurting people, one that was not about rules, but relationship.

The most profound lesson is a simple one, coming from the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:19 - "...we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God." We are not drawn to relationship with God by rules, but by grace, God's unmerited, undeserved love for us. The main takeaway for me is this: don't allow my preconceptions or biases to ever cause me to forget the truth that we are saved by grace alone.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Iranian Pastor Sentenced to Death - Part 2

Are you a Christian? If so, how firm is your faith? If you were stood up before a tribunal of powerful men and ordered to deny your faith or face death, what would you do?

It sounds like a scene from the days when Christians were fed to the lions in the Roman Colosseum, but sadly, the last hearing for Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was to take place today. He has had two opportunities to recant his faith in Jesus Christ; this is his third and final opportunity. His crime? He is a Christian pastor in Muslim Iran. Worse yet, his parents were Muslim and he does not adhere to Islam.

I don't know why I have not heard about this through conventional news sources. That seems typical in a time when Christians are being persecuted and put to death for their faith around the world. Most often, In Iran, Christians are simply murdered and their killers never brought to trial. In this case, Iranian authorities seem to want to set an example.

Watch the video below, and take some time to pray for Pastor Youcef.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Let Justice Roll on Like a River

This weekend I spoke about the impact that William Wilberforce had on the culture in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Here was a man motivated by grace and by a desire to see an end to the slave trade and the reformation of a society in trouble. In our day and age we have our own set of giants that need to be brought down.

I want to draw our attention to an organization called the International Justice Mission, an organization headed by Gary Haugen. Gary headed up the U.N.'s investigation into the Rwanda genocide and has made it his life's mission since to work to end injustice wherever it is found. He has since written a book entitled Terrify No More. I had the chance to hear Gary speak at a Leadership Summit event a few years ago and was impacted by his presentation.

Below are two informative videos about the work of Haugen and his organization. We can tend to live sheltered lives and remain blissfully unaware of the challenges facing victims worldwide. Most would be shocked to discover that there are 27 million people affected by slavery today around our world. I hope that this informs you and perhaps inspires you to find a way to make a difference. At the very least, find a way to support someone else who is engaged in helping to bring justice into our world.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Don't Push Me!

I read a very disturbing story this morning of an 11 year old boy who committed suicide after being bullied. I'll let you read the article yourself rather than regurgitate it all here. But the story raises, once again, the subject of bullying and what can be done.

I was one of the lucky ones. Though I was a smaller kid, and did get beat up once in high school, I was blessed with friends who were bigger than I was and I was somewhat athletic. I tended to hang around with those people because it was not good to be a loner in school.

I remember seeing different kids in my neighborhood get picked on because they couldn't fight back. They would have their books knocked out of their hands, or have snow balls thrown at them or be forced to endure demeaning taunting. I'd like to say that I stood up to the bullies and forced them to change their ways through my powers of persuasion, but the truth is, I usually tried to avoid the situation, even feeling relieved that it wasn't me.

I remember the fear that I felt when I would turn a corner and see those bullies, not knowing if I would be their next target. I cannot imagine what it was like for those for whom this was a daily occurrence. I have had family members and friends bullied and I've seen the pain and even shame in their eyes. It's a very helpless feeling and it's so hard to know what to do.

Looking back from adulthood I think I can see with a lot more clarity some of the reasons that people bully. The bullies I knew usually had horrible self-esteem issues themselves. They came from homes where they were neglected and often abused. I'm not looking to excuse this behavior, but rather to see some of the reasons behind it.

We're all social creatures. We were created for community, and much of our lives are spent trying to find our place within society. It's human nature to want to belong, and all of us know what it's like to walk into a room and immediately begin to scope the crowd for where we might feel welcome - and conversely, where we're pretty sure we won't be. Even as an adult, there are times when I've walked into settings and got that horrible, sinking feeling that I did not "belong."

One easy way for kids to move up in the social order is to pull others down - make someone else the target so that we are not targeted ourselves -almost a pre-emptive strike, if you like. It doesn't only happen with individuals, but with people groups as well. Look at the history of immigration in this country for an example. At different times in our nation's history derogatory terms were hurled at the Irish, the Chinese, Ethiopians, Pakistanis, Arabs, and many others. There is a stigma attached to not fitting in. This has been the case throughout human history.

All of this makes the words and actions of Jesus remarkable. If you want to see an effective pattern for inclusivity, look at what Jesus modelled. In a culture with clearly divided lines of status, Jesus broke all kinds of cultural barriers. At a time when children and women were considered second-class citizens, Jesus gave priority and validity to both. He also declared that, for anyone who wanted to be a part of what he was doing, they needed to accept people the same way. (Luke 18:15-17)

In another story we see Jesus reaching out across cultures and social boundaries. In a time when respectable Jews would not travel through Samaria because the people there were seen to be unclean half-breeds, Jesus purposefully travelled through. He stopped at a well and sent his disciples into town to find lunch (and probably to keep them from getting in his way). A woman came to get water. She came at a time when she knew the other women wouldn't be there. Her reputation wasn't the best and she likely wasn't up to hearing the gossip and put-downs. Jesus, knowing her reputation and knowing her Samaritan roots, engaged her in a conversation anyway (John 4). She became the first Samaritan evangelist, immediately calling all of her fellow villagers to come and see this extra-ordinary man.

The church which Jesus began has a call to be just such an inclusive community, and it is to our shame that we haven't always lived up to the high standard set for us. The Apostle Paul, writing in Galatians 3:28, said "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." No matter who you are, no matter where you've been or what you've done, the message of the Gospel is that you can find a home and family in the church. I've seen it happen and it's a beautiful thing.

It is this kind of acceptance that needs to be modeled in our schools and elsewhere. We are all valuable because we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We can love one another because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Because we are secure in our identity as God's children, we do not feel the compulsion to drag others down, but instead we can build one another up (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

This is the kind of community we strive to build with church. We all need to feel like we belong because God made us for community. What are you doing to build community? When was the last time you reached out to someone who was not in your circle? Chances are, most people you meet are facing a challenge of some sort or another. Do your best to greet them with a smile and an open heart. You never know, you may be saving a life.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Great Ideas

Problems are everywhere. Some are not that big a deal, others are life and death. Around our world today some of the worst problems we face are related to access: access to food and clean drinking water; affordable and environmentally friendly power; housing, medical care, etc...

We are tempted to believe that these problems are insurmountable; that nothing we do can make a difference. It reminds me of the story of the man who was walking along the beach. It was low tide and the beach was littered with stranded starfish that had been left on the beach as the tide had gone out. As he walked he noticed a boy further down the beach who was picking up starfish and throwing them out into the water. When he finally reached where the boy was he spoke to him. He said, "Why are you doing this, it's such a long beach and there must be millions of starfish, you can't possibly think that you're making a difference." The boy picked up a starfish and, once again, threw it as far as he could back into the water. He looked back at the man and said, "I made a difference to that one."

That is the kind of spirit that motivates the two people I'm highlighting today. The first is Michael Pritchard, who took on the challenge of turning filthy water into pure drinking water. His story is presented in the TEDGlobal video below. The second is a man whose name I don't know. The video shows his ingeneous idea to use a 2 liter bottle, water and bleach to light homes in poor neighborhoods in the Philippines. This idea is transferable to many other places.

Take a look at these videos and then take a different look at some of the problems we're facing. Perhaps your idea can make a difference to somebody, just the way these have. And remember what Mother Teresa said, "If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one."

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Losing Our Way

In the last couple of weeks there have been two news stories, not widely reported, that have struck me because of what they say about us as a culture. Since the days of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada has not had an abortion law, meaning that it is legal to kill a child in the womb up until the moment the baby emerges live from its mother's womb. Of course this scenario doesn't happen often, but the fact that it can happen at all is a sad commentary that respect for human life doesn't rank very high on our list of priorities.

I'm speaking to this today because I think that we, as a culture, have become so apathetic that we no longer care to speak up in the face of outrageous legislative and judicial decisions. If the unborn could speak, I wonder if they would echo the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I believe that much of the reason that many remain silent, in spite of the fact that study after study shows that a majority of Canadians want at least some protection of the unborn, (see example)is a combination of a strident pro-abortion minority and a cowardly parliament. Every election we hear the worn out refrain that "the abortion issue is settled" and "Canadians aren't interested in re-opening the debate." The truth is stifled and our unborn children continue to die at the rate of 100,000+ each year (roughly the population of the city of Guelph every year). The articles I'm linking to below are indicative of the cultural malaise into which we have stumbled.

The first article I want to draw your attention to is by Patrick Craine which reveals that Canada is providing maternity benefits to women who choose to have an abortion. For a woman who waits until her child is at 19 weeks gestation she will receive the full 17 weeks coverage that a mother who allows her child to live will receive. This in spite of the fact that the benefit was designed to enable a mother to stay at home and care for her child. Canadians then, are not only required to pay for a woman to abort her child, we are also then required to pay so that she can sit at home for 3 and a half months. Read the full article here.

The second article is by far more disturbing because it actually moves the line of tolerance from abortion to infanticide. In this story, again by Patrick Craine, we read of an Edmonton woman who was found guilty of strangling her newborn baby. When it came to sentencing, Justice Joanne Veit of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench decided that no jail time was necessary and that justice would be served by giving a 3 year suspended sentence. In other words, for murdering her own child, this woman would spend no time in jail.

The judge's decision was based on the fact that Canada does not have an abortion law and, therefore, has more concern for the mother than the child. The horrible reality is that, in this judge's mind, the life of this child did not matter. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." If this is true, I fear for our country. Read the full article here.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Life As A Teenager

I'm building, today, on an article from Lovell/Fairchild Communications by Monique Zondag dealing with the pressures that today's teenagers face in High School. While this is based on the American experience, having worked with teens I can safely say that the pressures are very similar.

Teen Expert Andy Braner on What’s Being Taught Outside the Classroom

“Parents have no clue what’s going on in the hallways of the high school,” said Andy Braner, founder and operator of KIVU, a Christian camp near Durango, Colo.; an international speaker talking to 80,000 teens each year; and author of the recently released An Expose on Teens, Sex and Dating: What’s Really Going on and How to Talk About It.

“The number one issue, without a doubt, is that kids are walking through high school, church and home, and they feel alone, as if no one cares about them. They feel worthless,” Braner said. “The veneer, how the loneliness shows itself, is in teen sexuality, a way to feel as if they do have attention, worth — and they’re bombarded with sex at every turn.”

Braner offers this list of 5 key issues confronting teens today whether from their peers, the media or society.

Sexuality — More and more teens are falling prey to an uneducated view of their own sexuality, Braner said. They are relentlessly pressured to fit in and often compromise their values to do so. Evidence? Check the language they're using online, Braner advised, it’s often more X-rated than parents know.

Teen Fact: Almost half of high school students have had sexual intercourse with almost 14 percent having four or more partners. (2009, Centers for Disease Control)

Pressure to Perform — Today’s teen is pushed to excel in everything from athletics to academics. Every kid has a gift, Braner said, and sometimes their particular gift doesn't line up with the way society asks them to perform, so they find themselves more and more exhausted trying to be someone they're not.

Teen Fact: Doctors warned of the downside of over-committed teens in 2008, cautioning about living with "pressure-filled intense preparation for a high-achieving adulthood," (“Pediatrics: The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics,”)

Loneliness — This is the biggest issue kids face today, Braner said. They shape themselves to be someone everyone will find valuable, often compromising everything they know to be true to find friends. Drugs, alcohol and teen issues are a veneer covering the deep hurt teens are dealing with through rejection.

Teen Fact: Over a quarter of teens report underage drinking with more than 17 percent binge drinking. (2009, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

Hopelessness — Kids don’t have an optimistic view of the future, in part because they see the economy affecting their own families and wonder if there will be opportunity for them when they become adults.

Teen Fact: A quarter of high school students struggle with feelings of hopelessness. (2010, Centers for Disease Control)

Severe Narcissism — Many kids are succumbing to the idea they are the most important part of the universe. Everything exists to please them. From every direction — in the media, through technology, online — kids are being trained to think only about themselves.

Teen Fact: A study showed over 65 percent of teens scoring above average on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, double the percentage of 30 years ago. (Jean Twenge, Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled and More Miserable Than Ever, Free Press, 2006)

What should be parents’ reaction to this reality? Braner said the answer is helping teens develop a deeper understanding of reality. As an example, a distinctive of Camp KIVU, in addition to traditional camp activities such as hiking, backpacking and water sports, is an intentional effort to let teens ask the hard questions about life and faith and begin to develop a biblically based Christian worldview that can withstand the pressures of the hallway.

As for what parents can do, Braner advises that parents who want their kids to have a meaningful faith . . . need to have a meaningful faith. Teens effortlessly sniff out hypocrisy and will run the other way. Additionally, it’s not enough for parents to spend time with kids. They need to spend time effectively, connecting in areas that interest their kids and reinforcing the rules they lay down by having solid relationships behind the rules.

"My goal is to help parents and those working with teenagers walk students through the most confusing time of their lives,” Braner said. “With hormones blazing and sexuality being sold at every single turn, teens need a place where they can ask hard questions — and have some answers.”

In addition to his book, Braner writes a popular blog — Andy Braner Is Re-Imagining the Christian Worldview — where he explores a variety of topics.

Let's look at some of the keys to help teens navigate those difficult High School years.

1. Parental Involvement
Parents need to know and care about what's going on in the life of their teenager. Too many kids are desperate for the attention of their parents. If they don't get it in healthy ways they will get it in other ways. Invest time in your teenager. Set limits and enforce them. Be a parent first and a friend second.

2. Talk
One of the greatest challenges, I believe, is to get people (teenagers included) to think critically. Part of the reason that peer pressure holds such sway over a teenager is the limited perspective many of them have. I remember way back in High School thinking that the friends I had then would be my best friends for life. The reality is that there are very few that I ever saw again. If I had the power to look down the road a few years I would have made some different decisions.

Talk about the issues. Why do you believe what you believe? Learn to defend your worldview so that you can help them to think critically themselves.

3. Build Healthy Community
Everyone longs to belong. If your child doesn't have a healthy place where they can truly feel that they belong, they will gravitate to whoever will accept them. Love them unconditionally. Teach them early to discern and to reach up when choosing close friends. The power of association has a great deal of impact on us. If you want to see into the future, look at what your child is reading and watching, and who they are hanging around with, because that is likely what they will become. Encourage them to get involved with sports, clubs and youth groups that will bring out the best in them and teach them discipline and teamwork. Let them know that you believe in them and cheer them as they try.

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Billy Graham and Woody Allen

Here's an old video of an interview Woody Allen did with Billy Graham about sex, God and religion. Interesting and, at parts, hilarious. The video is really poor quality, but it's the audio that counts. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Canada’s Feds Paying Full Maternity Benefits After Abortion

This is a reprint of an article by Patrick B. Craine,
Fri Sep 02, 2011 14:39 EST. Whether you are pro-life or pro-abortion, surely we can all agree that this is absolutely ludicrous.

OTTAWA, Ontario, September 2, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Pro-life Canadians have complained for years that they are forced to pay for the direct killing of unborn children through the country’s health system. It turns out they are also paying for abortive mothers to get full maternity benefits.

Canada’s employment insurance guidelines reveal that a woman who aborts her child after 19 weeks gestation is eligible to receive 17 weeks of maternity leave, the same as a mother who gives birth. For an abortion occurring before 19 weeks gestation, the woman can collect sick leave for the same length of time.

“The whole situation is pretty ludicrous,” said Mary Ellen Douglas, national organizer for Campaign Life Coalition. “Why should you pay for somebody killing their child, and then expect to pay for benefits if the child is no longer there?”

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation first highlighted this federal policy in 2008. John Williamson, CTF’s executive director, told The Interim that maternity benefits were established by an Act of Parliament with the intention of allowing parents bonding time with their newborn child.

He said extending these benefits to a woman who aborted her child is “obscene” and a “perversion of the EI system.”

Campagne Quebec-Vie, the Quebec division of Campaign Life Coalition, has recently highlighted that women are also given maternity benefits under the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan.

“How is it fair that I am being asked, along with other taxpayers of good will, to not only pay for the assassination of a ‘less than perfect’ child, but that I am also paying for several months’ ‘maternity leave’?” asked Georges Buscemi, CQV’s president.

Buscemi warned Americans that they could be facing similar policies if President Barack Obama, the country’s most pro-abortion head-of-state in history, is elected a second time. “Not only is this the kind of nonsense that greatly in-debts states, these socialist policies are nothing but a kind of barbarism hidden under a cloak of charity and compassion. These kinds of policies are both expensive and evil,” said Buscemi.

Federal government regulations note that a woman who obtained an abortion would not be eligible for parental leave, which is above and beyond maternity leave, “since the employee must have actual care and custody of a newborn child.”

Douglas said abortion is not a “maternal” act and so should not warrant any maternity benefits. “Families are not taking care of their children if they’re eliminating them,” she said. “That’s not caring for children, that’s eliminating children. So it’s not worthy of benefits for sure.”

LifeSiteNews.com did not hear back from the office of Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley by press time.

Contact Information:

Hon. Diane Finley
Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Phone: (613) 996-4974
Fax: (613) 996-9749
E-mail: diane.finley@parl.gc.ca

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Saturday, September 03, 2011

Book Review: The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham

Book Review: Harold Myra & Marshall Shelley, "The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham" Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. 348 pages.

This book was written as part of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of Christianity Today International, an organization which began largely due to the inspiration and vision of Billy Graham. It set about to explore what made Billy Graham so successful as a leader for such a long time. He has been on the international stage since the 1940's and is one of the most influential people of the twentieth century. I read the book to see what I could glean from a man who has stood the test of time and still holds the respect of world leaders and the common man.

The book is split up into six parts:
Part 1 - Coming Alive
Part 2 - Getting Started
Part 3 - Creating Momentum
Part 4 - Growing Through Fire and Ice
Part 5 - Multiplying Momentum
Part 6 - Deepening In Every Decade

Rather than explore each of the 21 chapters, which would take up too much space, I'll deal with each of the six parts. Each part, I believe, represents a stage which each leader will go through if they are to have lasting success.

Part 1 - Coming Alive. This is the shortest section, consisting of only one chapter, called "Igniting." It is appropriately titled, describing the "call to ministry" and early defining moments of an ordinary young man from Charlotte, North Carolina. What is noteworthy is not simply Billy's willingness to go wherever he felt that God would lead him, but his continued humility and openness to continually allow God to change him as necessary. His early years marked a growing willingness to confront his own prejudices and to stand firm in the face of the criticism of those who felt that he was compromising. He firmly believed that, in moving forward in obedience he would naturally have to face hardship. Sherwood Wirt, longtime editor of "Decision" magazine, wrote that "All attempts to explain Billy Graham fail unless they begin at the cross."

Part 2 - Getting Started. This section deals with four factors which were key in Billy Graham establishing the trajectory for a lifetime of successful ministry. They are: Forming The Team, Confronting Temptation, Lasering In on the Mission, and Loving Harsh Critics. At the end of each cchapter is a section on application.

As John Maxwell writes, "To collaborative team members, completing one another is more important than competing with one another." Billy carefully selected those who would work closest to him; he pursued them, asked for a commitment, and most of them stayed with him throughout his active ministry - an incredible accomplishment seeing it lasted 60+ years. While many see Billy Graham, few see the committed group that he placed around himself who, while capable in their own right, allowed him to shine. He also had to develop the character to keep his heart pure and his reputation intact. This was vital for a ministry which lasted more than half a century. Not only that, but he had to learn to say "no" to the many "good things" that could have distracted him from his purpose, including offers from Hollywood and Washington. Finally, he had to learn how to handle the inevitable criticism. His humility allowed him to learn from even the harshest critics and, often, to turn enemies into friends.

Favorite quote: "Be thoroughly acquainted with your temptations and the things that may corrupt you, especially those temptations that either your company or your business will lay before you." - Richard Baxter

Part 3 - Creating Momentum. This section deals with four keys to creating momentum. They are: Communicating Optimism and Hope, Mobilizing Money, Empowering Soul Mates and Expanding the Growing Edge.

As Napoloen said, "Leaders are dealers in hope." When looking from a distance at larger-than-life leaders like Billy Graham, we tend to believe that everything came easily. This, of course, is not the case. Every ministry, business or career has struggles. A positive attitude is essential to lead a team to overcome. Realizing that almost every time that Billy preached a crusade he used stadiums whose rent costs were in the millions of dollars, he had to learn to be proactive in fundraising. He was successful, partly because of the high degree of accountability. Billy Graham helped to establish an organization (The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability) to help Christian ministries like his to maintain the highest financial standards. As the ministry grew larger in its scope, Billy had to learn to release more and more responsibility into the capable hands of the team he assembled. He was a master at helping others find their place and reach their potential. Billy was also not one to run from the challenge of a changing world. He was one of the first to integrate his rallies in the South, at risk to his reputation. He also took the lead in adapting new methodologies to communicate Biblical truth, staying relevant to new generations of people worldwide.

Favorite quote: "In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better." - Harry S. Truman

Part 4 - Growing Through Fire and Ice. This section is broken into four parts that deal with how Billy Graham responded to the troubles and challenges he faced in his ministry. They are: Summoning Courage, Learning from Failure, Experiencing Trauma and Betrayal and Redeeming the Ego.

What do you do when faced with an unpopular choice? Billy Graham had to learn to brave attacks from the press, government officials and sometimes even disagreement among his own team. He had to learn how to have the courage of his convictions. He also had to learn from his failures of judgment, from which Billy suffered early in his career. One of the most difficult things to endure is the betrayal of a friend; Billy felt the pain when Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency and Billy discovered that he had been deceived. In spite of the public embarassment, he was able to forgive and continue to minister to the family. One of the main reasons I believe that Billy Graham was successful was that his confidence was based in Christ, so his ego was held in check. He knew that it wasn't about him.

Favorite quote: "Mishaps are like knives that either serve us or cut us, as we grasp them by the blade or the handle." - Herman Melville

Part 5 - Multiplying Momentum. This describes four ways in which Billy Graham was able to successfully expand his ministry throughout its sixty years. They are: Birthing Dreams, Building Bridges, Igniting Other Leaders, and Sowing Seeds in All Seasons.

When Billy heard about worthwhile visions, he leant his considerable influence to help get them off the ground. These include World Vision, Christianity Today, and the International Congress on World Evangelization. According to Dr. Robert Evans, founder of Greater Europe Mission, Graham was responsible, either directly or indirectly for the start-up of twenty-five evangelical organizations in Europe alone. In a time when the church was extremely divided, Billy Graham built bridges between liberals and conservatives, Catholics and Protestants and across racial, cultural and social barriers. One of a leaders greatest gifts is to pass the baton, Billy has done that with many younger leaders, mentoring, encouraging and supporting. People like Jay Kesler, formerly of Youth For Christ, Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church, Ravi Zacharias, a noted apologist, and countless other leaders around the world have been profoundly influenced by him. Throughout his ministry Billy Graham has taken the time to plant seeds which may never see fruition in his lifetime.

Favorite quote: "Life is not just a few years to spend in self-indulgence and career advancement. It is a privilege, a responsibility, a stewardship to be lived according to a much higher calling." - Elizabeth Dole

Part 6 - Deepening In Every Decade. This last section has four chapters on how Billy was able to last. They are: Learning - and Leveraging Weaknesses, Plugging into Continuous Voltage, Innovating, and Leading with Love.

Billy Graham is remarkable in his humility. Admitting he is not a great preacher, he leveraged that by inviting input from people all over the world who could help him have insight into the different cultures to help him stay relevant. This trait also helped him to get the best out of his team. Billy also recognized that without God he was nothing. Each day he spends hours in prayer and in reading the Bible. It keeps his heart soft and his ears open to hear God. Perhaps because of this, Billy was always open to integrating new techniques and technologies into his ministry.

The final chapter - Leading With Love - deals with what close observers believe is the key to the success of Billy Graham. He loves people, pure and simple. He takes time for people, regardless of who they are. His concern is genuine. He reached out to Jim Bakker after his much-publicized moral failure. He reached out in love to Muslims after 9-11. He took the time to get to know the family members of his staff and gave sacrifically to help others. He lead by example.

Favorite quote: "I have learned that although Christians do not always agree, they can disagree agreeably, and that what is most needed in the church today is for us to show an unbelieving world that we love one another." - Billy Graham

Conclusion: All in all it's a good read. It's not so much a leadership tome as it is a tribute to Dr. Graham. It does provide tremendous insight into the leadership longevity of one of the most influential people of the twentieth century.

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Book Review - "Heaven Is For Real"

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The KIVA Story - Changing Lives.

I had the chance to hear Jessica Jackley speak at a conference a couple of years ago and was struck by her story. She founded KIVA, a brilliant idea to provide micro-loans to the poor, funded by ordinary people like you and I. Listen to this talk, I think you'll be inspired, and perhaps become part of the solution.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dream Center - Los Angeles

In the heart of Los Angeles is a ministry facility called "The Dream Center." It was formerly home to the largest hospital west of the Mississippi. It very nearly became another studio for Hollywood productions, but the nuns who ran it decided instead to sell it to some people with a dream.

They envisioned a place where prostitutes, gang members and drug addicts could find another chance. They wanted to establish a ministry to meet the needs of single-parent families, troubled youth, the homeless and people from all walks of life. The dream center is that place.

A small group of people from our local church will be traveling to Los Angeles for a week of volunteer work in the Center. I thought this was a good time to look back on my own visit a couple of years ago. I took four teens to volunteer our services in their ministries to those living in the inner city. It was an eye-opening experience.

The week was designed to give us an idea of the various ministries that operate out of the Dream Center, so each day was different. We unloaded some of the skids of corporate donations of food and repacked them for distribution to some of the poorer neighborhoods. We made sandwiches and took lunch and water to Santa Monica Beach and conducted an outreach to homeless youth. Some of our team worked in the kitchen for a morning, preparing for one of the three meals each day served from the cafeteria which feeds hundreds daily.

We went on a special mission one day to deliver and assemble bunk-beds and other furniture for a family whose children were sleeping on the floor. Family services were going to put the children in foster care if they couldn't get beds. The Dream Center has a large room full of used furniture donated from the community for needs such as this.

We traveled to skid row, where thousands sleep on the street each night. We brought a hot meal and served 80-100 people. We went to visit people who were living under a bridge. It was my most memorable experience. I had the chance to talk with a middle-aged woman named Cecilia. She welcomed me and introduced me to her friends who shared the shelter. She invited me to sit in a broken office chair she had picked up somewhere, while her puppy wagged its tail contentedly. We brought her a blanket and some water for which she was very grateful. I asked how long she had lived here, she smiled and said that this had been her home for five years. It was much better than skid row, her previous home. Later I found out that drug addiction had brought her down to skid row, but now she was clean and trying to stay that way. The Center will offer her a new start when she's ready. Before we left she called her friends over and we joined hands and prayed for God's protection on her. Our friend Matt promised to visit her soon with some more water and canned goods. By the way, while we were there a freight train came through her front yard and dropped some medical supplies, a regular occurrence. I appreciate my home so much more now than before.

On Saturday some of us gathered on buses which we had previously loaded with supplies for the Adopt-A-Block program. The buses carried food and other necessities to neighborhoods which were a part of the regular rotation. The buses were filled with volunteers who piled off and gathered up the neighborhood kids to play at a local park while food was distributed to the parents. Then teams went out door-to-door to see what was needed. Sometimes it may be a specific practical need, often it was just advice, prayer or a listening ear. But you could tell that the regular volunteers had become family to these people. As the buses rolled up, people would come out of their homes and welcome the workers they knew by name. Afterwards many of the area youth returned on the bus to the Dream Center for basketball and to hang out until the youth service - a high-energy inspirational event at nearby Angelus Temple.

My son, Levi, had the opportunity to play to a different type of crowd than he was used to at the weekly coffee house for Hope For Homeless Youth. Another of our team spent that night working with a local chef who was preparing for the next day's outreach and baptism at Venice Beach. He worked from 10 PM until 2 AM and was back at it the next day for another 8 hours.

We also had the chance to travel with Metro Kids into the neighborhoods to do outreach to children. Our team leader was a man who had been reached through a program just like this. It aims to provide positive adult role models to kids who are constantly bombarded by gang violence, crime, poverty and the effects of family disintegration. You have to see the expression on the children's faces to realize just how much of a difference is being made.

The scope of this largely volunteer outreach was staggering. Literally hundreds of volunteers each week make this "church that never sleeps" effective. In the dorms are scores of people who are working their way through rehab programs. Many of the staff and volunteer leaders are graduates of the program. Joining them are interns from all over the world who have come to learn, work and make a difference.

There are too many stories to tell and many memories, sights and smells which words cannot describe, but I wanted to try. When I imagine the type of church that Jesus intended when He established it, this is what it looks like. I'm glad for the experience. To keep track of what's happening at the Dream Center, check out their Facebook page.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Do It Now" - The Principle of Inertia

Part 5 of 6
Inertia has been defined as "the tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest or of a body in straight line motion to stay in motion in a straight line unless acted on by an outside force." There is a propensity with most of us to stay where we are and to continue doing what we have been doing. Yet it also is true that "if we always do what we've always done, we'll always get what we've always gotten."

If you've read this far in the series it's quite likely that you really are wanting to make positive change in your life. If so, this key is vital for you: start now. The world is full of people who have every intention of doing the right thing. They're planning on saving, losing weight, getting in shape, charting a growth plan for their life or any number of worthwhile goals. Yet it never seems to happen.

For some it's because they suffer from "the paralysis of analysis" - the need to look at every aspect of the decision in minute detail. They fear making a mistake; so they wait for the "perfect" opportunity, but such do not exist. It's like they're stuck: ready, aim, aim, aim, aim... At some point, if we're going to get something done, we have to begin. "Fire" already!

Some wise person said "if you have to eat a frog, eat it first thing in the morning." While I have no desire to eat a frog, the point is valid. Get the project you dread out of the way as quickly as possible. The reason for this is obvious: the longer we wait, the larger the problem becomes in our minds. It grows fangs and claws and hair and learns how to hit us where it hurts!!! As William James said, "Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task." Conversely, dealing with issues or challenges early gives us a sense of accomplishment that helps with whatever else we might face.

One thing that I've found helpful is developing the habit of prioritizing. Once I list my tasks for the day I place them in order of priority. I try to tackle the most important things first. The challenge, however, is to not wait for something to become a crisis before it makes it to our priority list. Developing the habit of doing the small things in a timely matter can prevent them from becoming larger and more urgent down the road. As Chip Ingram writes: "When you've procrastinated and have a week's worth of papers to file, twelve calls to return, several days' worth of homework or office projects to complete, and five loads of laundry to do, it's a little demotivating, isn't it?"

Once we push ourselves into that kind of a corner, it can be overwhelming to get out. What I've learned over the years, as I've found myself in those situations, is to "lean into it." A leadership principle that applies here is to "accept the pressure of the moment." Resist the urge to throw your hands up in the air and run in the other direction, or to simply curl up on the couch. Simply begin by starting with that which is in front of you. In establishing the discipline of doing it now you can save yourself from a world of problems later. As my mother always told me, "never put off until tomorrow what you could do today."

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Monday, August 15, 2011

"Do Your Own Dishes" - The Principle of Responsibility

This lesson is Part 3 of a 6 part series on making positive change in our lives. It's based, in part, on the book Good to Great in God's Eyes by Chip Ingram. I ran across a poem by Edna Wheeler Wilcox in one of John Maxwell's books. I liked it so much I still remember the gist of it years later. Here is part of it:

Two Kinds of People

There are two kinds of people on earth today,
Two kinds of people no more I say.
Not the good or the bad, for it's well understood,
The good are half bad, the bad are half good.
No! the two kinds of people on earth I mean,
Are the people who lift, (and)the people who lean.

This writing is about responsibility, specifically, taking responsibility for our own lives. Many of us grew up with mothers who, regardless of the busyness of their own schedules, would be sure that all of the dishes in the house were washed and dried. A wise mother eventually teaches her children how to take responsibility and do their own dishes. Unfortunately, there are a great many people who, though well into adulthood, are still refusing to take responsibility for their own lives.

Some have grown quite proficient at the "blame game." It's not their fault that they forgot to pay the utilities bill; didn't see the stop sign; had teachers that didn't understand them, etc... ad nauseum. There are some who have accepted the role of victim, constantly bemoaning the fact that "life isn't fair" and that they never get a break. To be honest, I have played that card a few times in my life and understand the sentiment. But what I've learned is that it's simply not helpful.

There are a few things that we need to understand about life. First of all, as I said in the first part of this series: life isn't fair. Some people do seem to have more breaks than others. Some are born with wealthy parents who love them; others are born into poverty and abusive environments. Some breeze through school with healthy self-esteem; some struggle painfully at every level. Regardless of our lot in life, the principle of responsibility teaches that we must own up to whatever reality we face.

It is quite remarkable looking at a list of all of the great men and women of history who overcame great odds to make a difference. Sir Isaac Newton's father died before Isaac was born; his mother raised him in poverty. He went on to become one of the fathers of modern science and discovered the law of gravity. Benjamin Franklin was the 15th of 17th children and only had one year's formal education. Yet he taught himself 4 languages, science, finance, politics and much more and became a great statesman and author. There are legions of others. Conversely, the tabloids are full of failures who came from a life of privilege. I believe one of the key differences is the principle we're speaking of today.

If you want to make a difference in this world you have to be honest with yourself. As John Maxwell states, "no matter where you are, there you are." You might wish to start elsewhere, but that is not up to you. The truth is, it doesn't matter whose fault it is, if it's about you, it's your responsibility. What does this look like in real life?

You may have had a troubled childhood, with painful memories that have scarred and affected you deeply. I'm not minimizing anyone's pain, but there are two clear choices I see. You can wallow in that pain, allowing it to limit your progress and define your future, or you can choose to move through it, allowing it to make you stronger. Though it may not be your fault, it is still your responsibility. The effect of ignoring the problem may mean that your children, or others you love, pay the price, and an ugly cycle is repeated. Do your own dishes.

There are some incredible examples in the Bible of people who overcame horrible obstacles to make their mark on history, partly because they chose to view the events of their past through the lens of God's sovereignty. These examples include Joseph, sold into slavery by his own brothers, wrongfully accused, convicted and imprisoned, only to be eventually raised to the right hand of the Pharaoh of Egypt. You can see his positive perspective in his statement to his brothers once he reached the throne: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:20)

Believing that God loves you is one of the keys to being able to face up to our responsibilities. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." When you think you're facing more than you can handle, hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

The good news is that God hasn't left us alone. He will walk with us through whatever storms that life may throw at us. He will help us to redeem and even redefine our past. As Peter said, in 2 Peter 1:3 says, "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." You can choose to make the world a better place by what you do with what you have. Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution? Don't lean - lift!

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"Turn It Off!" - The Principle of Restoration

Part 6 of 6
Over the past week we’ve been going through a series focussed on how to make positive change in our lives. This is the conclusion of the series. Just before we get into it, let’s review.

Part 1: Put God First – The Principle of Priority
Part 2: Take Out the Trash – The Principle of Transformation
Part 3: Do Your Own Dishes – The Principle of Responsibility
Part 4: Write It Down – The Principle of Clarity
Part 5: Do It Now – The Principle of Inertia

Turn It Off – The Principle of Restoration. My wife and I just returned from a week-long vacation to Oregon a few weeks ago. As we were getting ready to leave I remember the stress and the pressure to get things done. There were plans to be made, messages to finish, a wedding to prepare for that would take place as soon as I got back. My wife had schedules to prepare and amend, lessons to plan, and many other stresses to cope with.

But once we got on the plane, we settled in, put on a movie, enjoyed the view out the window and thought about reconnecting with people we hadn’t seen in a long time. The week was a whirlwind of activity, talking, laughing, reminiscing and enjoying one another’s company. We didn’t intentionally set out to be renewed and refreshed but it happened, because we were able to turn off the work motor and give our minds and bodies a break. That’s the way that we are designed.

We live in a world that is constantly telling us to do more, go faster, hurry up, work harder, earn more,. And sometimes, those messages are true and good. God made us to be productive; there is a dignity and value in hard work and creativity. If we don’t have an outlet for those things there is something lacking in our lives. But the same God who created the world in six days set us an example by taking the seventh day as a day of rest.

He didn’t do that because He was tired; He did it in order that we would know that we should rest as well. In Exodus 20:8-11 as God was handing down the law to the Jewish nation through Moses, He said this: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” It is the fourth commandment.

The law was given as a part of the covenant agreement with God’s people, the Jewish nation. There is still a lot of discussion about what the law has to do with us who live on the other side of the New Testament. My purpose today is not to dig too deeply into that, but I will touch on it. The Bible tells us that Jesus came to fulfill the law and He also came to establish a new covenant with us – a covenant of grace. Paul wrote about the Sabbath in Colossians 2:16-17 – “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

Hebrews 4 speaks about the Sabbath rest for the people of God and how that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ by His finished work on the cross. Because of what He did, we no longer have to “labour” in law-keeping in order to be justified in the sight of God and this includes the observance of the Sabbath. Jesus was sent so that we might rest in God and in what He has provided.

By saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), Jesus was restating the principle that the Sabbath rest was put in place to relieve man of his labours, just as He came to relieve us of our attempting to earn salvation by our works. We no longer rest for only one day, but forever cease our labouring to attain God’s favour. Jesus is our rest from works now, just as He is the door to heaven, where we will rest in Him forever. There is no other Sabbath rest besides Jesus. He alone satisfies the requirements of the Law, and He alone provides the sacrifice that atones for sin. He is God’s plan for us to cease from the labour of our own works.

There is nothing sacred about any particular day, either. The Old Testament Sabbath was Saturday. After Jesus’ resurrection, the early church changed the day of worship to Sunday, the first day of the week, likely in remembrance of the day that Jesus rose from the dead. But in Acts 2 and elsewhere we see that the early Christians also met on other days of the week. In our culture, for centuries, Sunday was set aside as a day of rest and worship because the vast majority of people were Christians and Sunday was when public services were held. Stores were not allowed to be open, there were no organized sports on Sunday, and most everyone took the day off work. I don’t think we’ve gained anything by changing that.

However, all that being said, the principle of restoration still applies in our lives, not as some kind of legalistic thing that we must do to win favour with God, not to make anyone feel guilty who has to work on Sundays, but as a practice that enables us to be refreshed and refocused on a regular basis. We’re not made to have the switch always set to “on.” John Ross Schroeder called the condition of our age “Hurry Sickness.” It’s to the point that many feel like a hamster on a wheel. They get on as a young adult and can never find the way off. But let’s look at what we see in the Biblical pattern.

We see, in the way that God has created nature, that there is an order to everything. The earth orbits around the sun every 24 hours and spins on its axis so that there is a day and a night. From the dawn of creation, the day has been for work and the night has been for sleep. Before electricity this was especially so. People would wake at first light to take advantage of the sun and they would sleep at night. Studies have revealed that, on average, we sleep 90 minutes less than our ancestors just 100 years ago. With the rise of the internet and satellite and cable TV, we’re sleeping 25 minutes less than we did even 10 years ago.

God also divided time up in chunks of seven days. There are seven days in a week – not 50. Our Creator knew that we have limits, and we need a break every seven days. You can manipulate that any way you want to, you can pretend that you’re invincible and work crazy shifts for weeks on end without a break, but eventually it catches up to you. We all need that break.

Time has become such a valuable commodity that we joke about wishing there were more hours in a day. I don’t wish that. I find that no matter how many hours there are in a day, I can fill them with busyness. What I need is wisdom to know how to manage those 24 hours properly. In Psalms 90:12 we read: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Alan Redpath, former pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, had a plaque on his wall that read: “Beware of the barrenness of a busy life.” So, time is important; it is a precious commodity. What do we need time for as it relates to our subject today?

Time to rest.
We need time to rest. It doesn’t matter who you are, how smart, how strong or how talented – you need times of regular rest. I have learned this the hard way in my own life. I know that many have joked that pastors only work one day a week, but I think you’d be surprised. There are times when I’ve allowed the demands of ministry to crowd out my schedule to the point where it seemed that days off were only a rumour. I’ve foolishly allowed myself to be stretched beyond where I could easily recover. It’s interesting that the time the board advised me to take off to recuperate some years ago was called a “sabbatical” – a time of rest.

Jesus, entrusted with the most important mission in the history of the world, regularly took time apart to rest. He also encouraged His disciples to do the same. In Mark 6:31 it says, “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” We all need it. For you workaholics out there - Stop! It’s okay to take a break.

Time to recreate.
When we think of recreation we usually think of sports or outdoor activities – things that we do. What do they have to do with our well-being? Merriam-Webster defines the word “recreate” like this: “to give new life or freshness to.” Particularly for those of us who sit at a desk for a good portion of our day, it’s important to get out and do something that gets the motor running.

Looking back on our trip to Oregon, it’s amazing how many activities we packed into a short period of time, and how good it felt as we were doing those things. Recreation is literally the refreshment of one's mind or body after work through activity that amuses or stimulates. For some that may mean a long walk, for someone else it might be a good book or a puzzle; for others it might be strenuous physical activity, but it really does recreate us.

Time to reflect.
The late author Norman Cousins observed: "We in America have everything we need except the most important thing of all, time to think and the habit of thought." In a world that is chaotic and non-stop and where mindless entertainment is available 24/7, one of the most important things that we can do is to unplug from all of that and allow our minds some activity.

Taking some time apart allows us the space to really look at our lives. For a lot of people I know, the thought of that terrifies them. They have no desire to stop and consider the current state of things. It’s much easier just to keep running. What is going well in your life? Are your relationships healthy? Are you fulfilled? Are you growing? Are you happy with the direction you are headed? What problems are you facing? What can you do to face them and fix them? Pick your own questions.

Read good books that inspire and challenge you. Listen to good music that lifts and motivates you. Engage your mind in something challenging. It might hurt the first few times, but you’ll get over it.

Time to reconnect…
With Others. The final subject I want to touch on is the need to reconnect. It seems that the inevitable thing that falls through the cracks of our busy lives is relationship. We love our family and we love our friends, but in our busyness, we just don’t have time to keep those relationships healthy. But when we live on purpose, and by our priorities, we can change that.

God made us for relationship. Much of what Jesus shared in the Gospels was on the subject of relationships. He gave us the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The writers of the letters of the New Testament followed His lead. In Ephesians 4:32 Paul wrote: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” I have a list in my files of all of the “one anothers” in the New Testament. It’s a lengthy list. “Love one another, bear one another’s burdens, care for one another, pray for one another…” The list is an extensive one.

It was John Andrew Holmes who said "It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others."

With God.
When we get back to the heart of the principle of the Sabbath rest, the underlying need is for us to remember our desperate need of God. We are so prone to forget Him. As the old hymn says, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” I wish I could write a song that captures that sentiment for this generation the way that one did in the 1700s. What’s the point? The point is this – if God is to be the priority in our lives and truly be the rock upon which we stand, we have to regularly take the time to re-center ourselves on that reality.

We need to take the time to read and hear His Word; we need to take the time to foster a relationship with Him through prayer; we need to take the time for corporate worship; we need to stop and focus our minds attention on Him: His Word, His will, His world. When we take the time to create an opportunity and an openness, God will speak to us. But we have to take the time. What has God been speaking to you about lately? If you don’t have an answer to that question, why not?

Some my find it odd that the last principle in a series on bringing about positive change is related to rest. How are we to change if we stop and rest? It has been my experience that when I live my life in proper balance, and take those breaks, I have the energy needed to take on those necessary changes. It is a part of God's plan and ongoing pattern for our lives.

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” – Psalm 46:10

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"Write It Down" - The Principle of Clarity

Part 4 of 6
We’re already at part four of a six part series about making positive change in our lives. Let me do a quick review:

Part 1: Put God First – The Principle of Priority
Part 2: Take Out the Trash – The Principle of Transformation
Part 3: Do Your Own Dishes – The Principle of Responsibility

You’ll notice, as we’ve progressed through this series that these principles we have laid down are building on each other. As we learn to really place God in that position of priority in our lives, our perspective begins to change; we start to see things differently. We also begin to see ourselves differently. We start to become aware of those things in our lives that actually get in the way of our accomplishing God’s will. We then can bring the junk in our lives to God, so that He can transform it into good stuff.

As we grow and change we’re able to take our place and assume our share of the responsibility in God’s Kingdom. We understand that each and every one of us is important in God’s plan and that, for everything to work properly, we all play a part. So now what? Where do we go from there? Proverbs 20:5 says “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.”

In this essay we’re exploring how it is that we discern God’s will for our lives. In Habakkuk 2 we find a place where God has been revealing to His prophet things that are to come. Read what it says in verse 2: "Then the LORD replied: 'Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.'"

I believe that this provides us with a clue. There is a power in writing things down. It helps us to clarify what we truly believe. It gives focus to our intentions and even helps us to see where we’re wrong. It also helps us to remember in the dark times what God has showed us in the good times.

A few years ago I sat down and started looking at my values. I asked myself the question, what is it that I truly think is important? As I was preparing this series I went back and reviewed the list that I came up with. Here are some examples:
• I will place God first in my life.
• I will be a man of integrity.
• I will maintain a positive attitude.
• I will be committed to my family.
• I will be innovative in leading the church.
• I will be committed to personal growth.
• I will be committed to excellence.
• I will remember that everyone is someone for whom Christ died.

There are a few others, but you get the idea. I felt that writing them down helped me to clarify those things to which I was really committed. There were some things I thought were important, but when I began to try to put pen to paper I reconsidered. Seeing them in black and white made me realize they didn’t belong on that list. Some people have found it helpful to put each of these values on a 3” x 5” card that they carried in their car or kept in a place where they could refer to them often. It helped them to keep focus. Others have done this same exercise as a family, they’ve actually sat down as a family and written down agreed upon values. It reminds me of Joshua, who declared in Joshua 24:15, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” This list gave me a beginning point in developing a growth plan for my life. For each of those I then began to make a to-do list of things that could help me in those areas.

For example, under “I will place God first” I wrote these points:
• My definition of success is to find what God would have me do and do it.
• I will make it a priority to spend time alone with God daily for prayer and devotion.
• I will not neglect the reading of God’s Word.

These statements help me to refocus when life gets going too crazy. I revisit this and remind myself of what should come first and foremost.

I also use a personal planner. Part of that is because of my personality. I know that if I don’t write it down I will tend to forget it. I also know that writing it down and prioritizing it helps me to be more efficient. So, if you look at my planner, you’ll find that right near the top of the list each day is Prayer and Bible reading. Every day I will either be able to check those items off the list or be reminded that I need to pay more attention. This habit has helped me to develop other positive habits in my life.

Another thing that I have learned to use more effectively is a calendar. As soon as I make a commitment I put that on a calendar. Then I regularly review the calendar to see which of those items are going to require some advance work. I can then break those tasks down into steps and actually put them in my to-do list in the order they need to be done. One of the lessons I’ve learned over the years is that you have to eat an elephant one bite at a time. Break a large job down into many steps and any task becomes doable.

We look at the Biblical example of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. Nehemiah was a Jew living in captivity in Persia, now known as Iran. He had never been to Jerusalem because he was born a captive. Many years before, his ancestors had been carried away by the Babylonians when Jerusalem fell. The city walls and temple were destroyed.

Now generations later, some of the Jews had returned to Jerusalem and had begun to worship God again in the nation of Israel. But they were leaderless and confused. They didn’t know God’s expectations of them and were living far beneath God’s plan for them. But, remember, God always has a plan. He had prepared this man by the name of Nehemiah – he had been placed in the position of cupbearer to the king.

He heard about the situation in Jerusalem; that the walls were broken down; that the people were confused; that there were enemies all around them. And a very strange thing happened – Nehemiah’s heart began to break. Something took place inside the heart of a servant in Persia that would affect the nation of Israel hundreds of miles away. A lot of times in church we call this a burden or a calling.

God places a burden, a weight, on an individual and they know that they must do something. They may be sitting in a service, hearing someone talk or simply reading a magazine article about a place, a people or a need and they just begin to feel this overwhelming sense of responsibility. Anyone who’s done anything of eternal significance has felt this weight, this burden, this call.

You hear it represented in John Knox as he declared “Give me Scotland, else I die.” You hear it in William Booth as he said “While women weep, as they do now, I'll fight; while little children go hungry, as they do now, I'll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I'll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight-I'll fight to the very end!” And here we see it in Nehemiah. It says in Nehemiah 1:4, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”

So here’s the question. How does a servant cupbearer in Persia, who has never been to Jerusalem, rebuild the walls of that city hundreds of miles away?

How does a simple preacher in Scotland change the spiritual climate of a nation? How does an evangelist in England build a worldwide organization, the Salvation Army, which is synonymous with compassionate ministry? He does it one bite, one step, at a time.

Nehemiah started with an audience with the king – he took advantage of what he had at his disposal, his relationship with the king. He asked for letters of safe passage (in other words, the king’s protection). Then he asked for enough materials to do the job. Once there he assessed the situation. Then he recruited his volunteers and set to work. He broke it down into steps, and for our sake, he wrote it down. In spite of opposition and challenges, the wall was built.

Do you want to know God’s will for your life? Here are some keys:
• Immerse yourself in the Word of God – this is primarily how God speaks to us.
• Spend time in prayer – this is how God molds our hearts.
• Learn your spiritual gifts. The Bible tells us that all Christians have some.
• Do what you can, where you are, with what you have. Be faithful.

Once those habits are established in your life, answer these questions:
• What do you cry about?
• What do you laugh about?
• What do you dream about?

The answers to those questions will go a long way in helping to reveal your passions and discerning God’s will for your life. Writing down what you receive will help to bring clarity of purpose and enable you to focus on that which is most important. As someone said, "It's only a dream until you write it down, and then it becomes a goal."

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all our ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6

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