to think that he is offering

"The Blessings of Sacrificial Giving"
* Giving/tithing sermons not about nagging flock to do a chore; about obedience
* Giving faithfully moves Lord to bless our lives {Acts20:35; Ps41:1-3; Mal3:10}
- Mal3:10 -- can't even contain the outpouring of blessing
- Place to begin giving? Tithing ("Training wheels of giving" -- Alcorn) {Deut14:23; Prov3:9-10; Matt23:23}
- Goal? Giving sacrificially {Luke21:1-4; 2Cor8:1-3}
* Giving will cause us to draw closer to Him {Luke12:33-34}
* Giving sacrificially will inoculate us against worldliness {1John2:15; Luke16:13; Matt19:20-24}
* Money we give is awaiting us in Heaven in form of eternal rewards {2Cor5:10; Rom14:10-12; Matt6:19-20; 1Tim6:18-19}
* In process of giving, may discover spiritual gifting {Rom12:6-8}
* God uses giving as a test to see if He can give us greater responsibility in our service to Him {Luke16:10-11; 2Cor9:6-10}
* We can take care of ourselves, or we can trust God to take care of us {Heb13:5-6; Phil4:18-19}
* Faithfully giving to God sacrificially develops character trait of contentment {Phil4:11-13; 1Tim6:6-8}


been purchased from among men

People who grow up poor think of money in very different ways from those who grew up not poor. There is a reason I track what I spend to the penny. There's also a reason I'll attempt to buy my way out of darkness. Money touches people in deeper ways than most anything else belonging to this world. Because money satisfies our inner desires for control and selfishness.

It is no wonder so many of the flock get uncomfortable discussing money in relation to church. It is no wonder so many contain a core of cynicism when it comes to stewardship campaigns or tithing sermons. It is no wonder there are more parables and teachings related to money in the gospels than there are on Heaven or forgiveness. And it is no wonder liar uses these opportunities to confuse faithwalks.

Money can't buy happiness. Can't buy salvation either. That there is a relationship between happiness and money, there is no doubt. That there is a relationship between faith and money, liar would tell you there is doubt. Be not fooled.


so if you seek Me

If I shared with you the details of what the wondrous one and I experienced today you simply wouldn't believe it. I heard it said once that "Coincidence is when God chooses to be anonymous." The details of my story show you that the booming voice from Heaven is when God chooses to make sure you know that He answers whenever you choose to call.

The Bible says ask and it will be given to you, knock and the door will be opened. That isn't an empty challenge. All of those unbelievers and lukewarm believers who look to the heavens and ask for a sign and don't receive them are: (a) not sincere about their request, or (b) not listening for the answer. Because it's been abundantly clear to me for over twenty years that knocking leads to doors ajar.

The big issue in most signasking is that the Lord isn't going to speak to a heart unwilling to be obedient. Lord knows whether or not you are asking out of sincerity or cynicism. He's not going to waste a sign on someone who's going to ignore the first one and ask for a second for confirmation. But, brother, if your heart lifts up that call, and at the same time delivers itself up and says here I am, look to the sky. You'll see that reply like a batsignal in Gotham.


kept feeling a sense of

That knot resides there always. Sometimes I forget it's there. Other times I couldn't forget it if I tried. That knot sometimes presents itself as worry. Or sometimes as rage. Or sometimes as something close to eternal sadness. But I recognize it for what it is -- longing. We speak of human desire, and that's what it is. That knot inside you that twists. Believing is the recognition of that knot as desire, and understanding that the Loosener of that knot loves you beyond bearing.


unless someone guides me

The saying goes that if you want something done right, you do it yourself. As someone with severe trust issues, that saying couldn't be more true. So always have to remind myself that shepherding isn't a solo activity. That I am not the only one with spiritual gifts. That I am not the only one with a heart for God. That I am not the only one with that calling to grow that flock.

Do shepherds trust other shepherds with their sheep? Say they need a quick break, do they sneak off into the trees for a few minutes okay with the fact that their sheep may or may not be getting eaten by wolves? Okay with the fact that another's crooked staff isn't breaking open one of their heads?

Even if I disagree with a job being done, or feel to myself that I could have done a better job, need to remind myself that other shepherds can flockgrow. And that shepherding isn't just for growing sheep.


of one of the leaders of

Speaking to a brother this am about leadership and influence. Easy to consider lead shepherds as being the leaders and having all the influence, but not sure that makes proper use of the terms. One can be a leader by title, and one can be a leader by measure of actual influence.

And then you have to define that term as well. Influence is about getting people to do what you want them to do. Again, title and authority play a role in this, but true leaders don't need that authority in writing to be able to move the masses.

The question is whether you make comparative judgments about a person by measuring the sphere of influence or not. At some level, does quantity mean more than quality? If I can mentor one man to be a better faithwalker, have I been more of a leader, have I had more influence than having preached to four hundred and not gotten any to close that gap between self and robe-hem?


servant who acts wisely

"Serving: Faithful Stewardship" {Matt25:14-30}
* Intro: What does serving have to do w/ stewardship? {1Pet4:10}
* Stewardship = use of God-given talents & resources for the accomplishment of His purposes
* What we have is not our own (v14)
- Possessions are God's entrusted to us
- Ps24:1
* We are given what we can handle (v15)
- Talent enormous sum of money -- huge responsibility
- Each given by God according to His purpose and judgment
* We must invest/use what we are given (v18, 27)
- Stradivarius story
* A day of accountability is coming (v19)
- All will have accounts settled w/ God
- Language of excitement to share results w/ God
- Rom14:10,12; 2Cor5:10
* What we do reveals our view of God (v24-27)
- "What we think about God is the most important thing about us." -- AW Tozer
- Fear often biggest reason we don't faithfully use our resources & talents
* We must use it or lose it (v28)


how they had been picking

From something for a few days from now:

Americans are conditioned to embrace choice and flee from restriction. The Lord built in us this desire for choice, and He gave us the free will to be able to make choices. And as Joshua 24 reminds us, we always have choices in our relationship with God. Joshua says “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve.” Making choices is part of who we are, and how God made us. We were created this way.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible can be found in Deuteronomy 30. The majority of the book of Deuteronomy is Moses explaining to the people of Israel the laws laid out by God, and the consequences for choosing to break those laws. And after spending 29 chapters going through these hundreds of laws, Moses in chapter 30 breaks down the choice the people of God have in front of them very simply. In Deuteronomy 30:15-20, the Bible says:
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him.
Choose life, the Bible says. Choose life. The choices we make about what we do with our time, who we spend it with, where we spend it, what we say, where we go, how we serve, how we give, where we give, what we choose – all of that, every choice ultimately walks this line between life and prosperity and death and adversity, between blessing and curse.


in the darkness does not know

Whether or not suicide is a sin is not an easy answer, although there are obviously a variety of positions. One position I heard stated long ago was that suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness. Those who take their own lives don't think of the pain caused to others, don't think of the families they leave behind, don't think of the help that could be given them. The focus of those who take their own lives is the intense despair they face.

As I mulled over this thought today, it occurred to me that despair is often at the heart of conversions to Christ. Those that accept Christ recognize the emptiness that awaits them outside of Christ. They recognize their inability to solve the chasm of sin that separates them eternally from God. They recognize that they will never be good enough to earn the riches of heaven. They recognize that at the end of all things, they are utterly lost without the cross of Christ. They despair, and then they grasp that cross and they grasp that Savior and they accept the free gift of God.

Seen in this way, suicide is grasping at an escape from that despair. Only they listened to the wrong voices and grasped the nothingness offered to them. They grasped the wrong thing.


on my body the brand-marks of Jesus

This interview is required reading. You might not be familiar with Korn, but it's not worth linking to their site. Their music appeals to angry youth, that's all you need to know. But at one time, they were as big as any band on the planet, and so leaving them and leaving that scene is a greater test than most ordinary people face. And then to read the ridicule he faced from friends and peers and fans -- the Lord promises persecution and the presence of mockers, but few face it to the degree that Welch has.

I love how he had a few tattoos before he was a believer, but that once he became a believer he actually got a whole bunch more. Brian, you are indeed marked -- marked by the Lord as a child of His, destined to see Him for all eternity.


you to know how great

For me, receiving praise is a difficult thing. First, I understand that I am nothing and He is everything and all I do is because of Him, so praise makes me uncomfortable knowing I don't deserve it. Second, as one who struggles regularly with the sin of pride, praise makes purity of thought more difficult.

As I lifted praise to God yesterday am, wondered how the Lord handles praise. And while wondering, filled with the image of the night before when my daughter kissed me on the cheek and told me she loved me and that I was the best poppy in the world.

That imagery helped me to recall my feelings at the instant of that praise from my sweet thing. And there was no pride at that instant, no thought of self. Rather, it was this return of love to the complimenter, this feeling that I was so happy that she realized how much I loved her.

It is this same feeling I believe the Lord feels during our praise. He has no desire to be the Famous One. He has no desire to have His ego stoked. Rather, He'd like to know that we know how much He loves us, and then return that love in a spirit of purity. Praise for Him is tied to His love for us, a cycle He delights in never ending.


also gather together into one

"Belonging: Devoted to Community" {Acts2:42-47}
* Thesis: Ultimate sacrifice of Christ on cross established bride of Christ. Our bond to God is linked to our bond w/ His body.
* God created me for community
- In sinless Eden, man still not created to be alone (Lord actually says it is "not good")
- Lots of together statements in Word
- 1Pet1:3b; Eph1:5
* Forsake folly of individualism
- Rom12:4-5
- Interlocking redwoods
* Commit/devote to community
- Biblical teaching
- Authentic fellowship
- Christ-centered worship
- Corporate prayer
- Results? Miracles, wonders, unity, saved souls (v47)
* Application
- Put faith in Christ
- Consistent worship attendance
- Join small group
- Get baptized
- Membership
- Attend Concerts of Prayer

{Ed: Not sure how today's post links with yesterday's post when one teaches preserving self while the other forsakes it.}


a multitude of those who were

Spent the day at the fair. Walking amidst that multitude, you see all manner of people from every walk of life. Pushing past crowds to stand in long lines makes an individual disappear into the collective. But every few minutes you'd see an individual dressed to break away from the herd.

Whether it's a woman in something low cut and form-fitting a la stripper chic, or it's a moody teen dressed in black and chains pulsating angry angst, or it's a biker sporting a dyed mohawk, or it's a self-aware man with a "witty" T-shirt that's too clever by half. And if it's not in the attire, it's in the loud cellphone conversation, the too-animated drunk cheering of friends on rides, or the cliche asides to other line patrons.

There's an innate need to call attention to oneself. Take it from someone whose list of sins begins and ends with selfishness and pride. All too aware of the power of those desires.

Some would say Christianity is about losing that individuality -- everyone believes in the same God, believes in the same doctrine, follows the same accepted code of behavior, worships at the same time according to the same rites. Some would say that belonging to a church and being part of a congregation is a loss of self.

I don't know that Christ ever wants you to lose yourself (except for where He wants you to become more like Him, but that's a different concept). Lord wants you to retain that part of you that makes you unique, else why would He have made you how you are? Lord doesn't want a thousand believers to be the same; Lord wants those thousand believers to love each other for their uniqueness, and then see how they can use each other's uniqueness to support and interlock with one another. Lord doesn't want you to take your self and make it other; Lord wants you to take your self and give it to Him. He'll take care of seeing that that self becomes that other without losing that self while being something else.


paid the very last cent

The coach receives his punishment after some deliberation from the Commish on the fullness of his breaking the rules of the game. Thus will begin the war of words as columnists weigh in on whether or not the punishment fit the crime; whether or not the penalty is too harsh or too lenient.

Friend, you and I and everyone else ever born or to be born are no different than the coach. The Bible says "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." You and I have broken the rules of the game of life set by God. And the punishment for our crimes was death.

But the good news of God is that He loves us, and His deliberation on the fullness of our debt was tempered by His love. But that penalty, that just right penalty, that penalty neither too harsh nor too lenient, that penalty was taken up by the Cross of Christ and settled forever on the hills of Calvary.

You needn't ever need to wonder how you will pay that eternal debt; it has been done for you. All you need to do is claim that payment by placing your faith in Christ. Looking for victory? It's found only in Jesus. Will you make that decision today?


sending forth the promise of

Thinking of the word "covenant" today. Mused on the word "lovingkindness" and the Hebrew word "checed" a long time ago. Probably due to recent work projects where I'm examining contracts between two parties. In the work scenario, one party is trying to protect itself and make demands, while the other is scheming to see what kind of low bar it can set for itself and get away with. In the real world, covenants between two parties rarely have the best interests of both parties in mind.

At first I thought this might color my view of the covenant love God has for us, and I realize that, in fact, the opposite is true. It makes the reality of God's love all the more striking. Because it is a one-sided covenant between the Lord and us, for we are receiving a far greater benefit from this relationship than God is getting. My life for His grace? That's the steal of the millennium.

And this picture is striking because unlike two parties looking out for their best interests, God is only looking out for ours. The equivalent real world example would be one party trying to get away with a low bar, and the other party making it even lower, and then quintupling the compensation. The differentiating factor that drives this inequality is the great love of God.

In 1Kings8:23, Solomon dedicates the new temple and says, "O LORD, the God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing lovingkindness to Your servants who walk before You with all their heart." Steal of the millennium indeed.


who restores my soul

I want to love the Lord with wild abandon.

I want to be the kind of man who'd lead a parade to crumble a wall. The kind who'd promise a princess. The kind who'd march a desert for the sake of a hundred million stars. The kind who'd swim for a cure. The kind who'd throw off burial clothes and face a crowd. The kind who'd dance amidst flames. The kind who'd throw in those pennies. The kind who'd return covered with swine only to find the warmth of a robe.

I want to love the Lord with wild abandon.


in the light, so that you may

David Crowder is the new Rich Mullins for me -- an artist with a powerful ability to craft melodies that dance around poetic lyrics that contain the good news of God and who He is. Listen to and peruse the lyrics of "Wholly Yours" if you don't believe me. I actually don't think it can get better than that first verse:
I am full of earth
You are heaven’s worth
I am stained with dirt, prone to depravity
You are everything that is bright and clean
The antonym of me
You are divinity
But a certain sign of grace is this
From a broken earth flowers come up
Pushing through the dirt
A Christian song is successful only when it can put the gospel into such a light that you are simply overwhelmed, overwhelmed again like that first time; when you realize the difference between the sinfulness that is you and the holiness that is God and the width of that chasm that can only be bridged by that Calvary tree.


out of the camp to meet God

"Inviting: How to Be an Andrew" {John1:35-42}
* Excitement a process; surrender always difficult
* Josh24:15
* Jealous God -- wants all our attention
- We must choose twixt Him and world
- We must choose twixt His will and our will
* Andrew's characteristics
- Name: "Man"
- Notoriety: Obscure. Known more as another's brother (Peter) than own deeds.
- God looking for people who will bring others to Him
* Andrew's conversion
- God used a respected associate
- God used a relational approach
* Andrew's primary concern? Reaching out. (v41)
* Lessons from Andrew
- God uses ordinary people in extraordinary ways
- All can't teach, preach, evangelize, et al, but all can invite
- Trust has impact in context of relationships


and with all my soul

I want to love the Lord with wild abandon.

I want to be the kind of man who'd drop his nets to fish for men. The kind who'd stop the Lord a distance from his house because he trusts the mere word of the Lord. The kind who'd laugh between walls of surging water. The kind you'd trust to build that wall right next to you. The kind who'd move a mountain with a mustard seed. The kind who'd slay a giant and sing a psalm. The kind who'd dance in the street. The kind who'd help carry a beam of wood up a stony hill.

I want to love the Lord with wild abandon.


to bring back to this place

I'm secretly hoping members of my home church either read this post or read the original post I'm linking to. You need to read this post and check out the list of "innovations" for the American church. What's striking here is not its ironic let's-be-innovative-by-being-old-school sensibility. What's striking to me as an evangelical who very much treasures his Catholic roots are the high church traditions being advocated. How many on that list bring to mind the vaulted ceilings and incense-laden atmosphere of being in a cathedral?

Sing hymns? Check. More frequent Communion? Check. Scripture reading? Check. Apostles' and Nicene creed? Check and check. A focus on sin? Absolutely.

Throw in reverent kneeling during the service and robed pastors, and I'm ready to bring along my Pope-blessed rosary. Said the Protestant elder.


standing by the cross

I want to make fun of this movie, I really do. Not because I'm evil or have a black heart. But because the cynic in me (maybe I do have a black heart) looks at this blend of marketing and religion and patriotism and Hallmark emotion and cringes. But then I watch the released clips and the trailer and then I see those intersecting beams of steel in that shape I love to the depths of my being and I can feel my heart stick in my throat and I see through the cynicism.

There is something beautiful in the symbolism -- an image of hope in a backdrop of tragedy. And you recognize the perfect portrait of Calvary for what it is -- hope amidst disaster. And even if the movie ends up as cheesy melodrama, you can't make fun of the creators for trying. You see light in the darkness and not only do you want to run to it, you want to capture it for all to see forever and ever and ever.


there takes place a change of

Confession time: Been watching a particular show lately. In many ways, it reminds me of another guilty pleasure. You'd think I might also like another similar show, but you'd be wrong. I said I'm interested in renovation; I didn't say I'm a woman.

The actual stories behind the before-after transformations holds no interest for me. Neither do the tensions inherent in going from before to after. If either show were five minute long clips showing the pre and the post, I'd be just as satisfied. I'm interested in the ends, not the means.

Renovation, rehabilitation, transformation -- if you're a shepherd of any kind, if you're gifting is evangelism, if you're interested in devoting your life to ministry, these are words you must come to love. More importantly, these are words that you must come to desire. Improvement, going from here to there, from before to after, this is the heart of Christianity. Grace transforming nothing to something. Calvary making death into life.

If you aren't interested in seeing how something rundown becomes something worth the world, I don't know what to tell you. Maybe you aren't good at understanding symbolism.


exhibited as an example in

My take on yesterday's verses:

Like Heb11:32 states, "What more shall I say? For time will fail" if we wanted to list all of the great heroes of the faith – not just those in the Bible, but also all of those testimonies of all of the brothers and sisters we know and don’t know – in our church, in other churches, our missionaries overseas. Every believer who lives or has ever lived, or will live has a lesson on faith taught to them by God. Heb11 is not the end of the story. Heb12:1-3 tells us where we are to go from here.

All of these great heroes of the faith, all of these examples of faith should give us encouragement that faith can survive and flourish; that plenty of people have gone through difficult circumstances and not given up hope; that plenty of sinful, broken, incomplete people in circumstances far more dire than our own, that these people have been able to keep the faith.

Then Paul moves to the ultimate example of faith. The great heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 are nothing compared to the example of Christ Jesus "who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Paul lays out in Hebrews 11 a ton of familiar acts of faith and encourages us with these examples only to then point to the pinnacle of faith: Jesus and the Cross of Calvary.

You can pick out your favorite Biblical character and examine their faith, sure, but what Paul is saying here at the beginning of Hebrews 12 is that to really, really get through your life and live your life in a manner that pleases God, to do that you need to focus on Christ. The ultimate goal of faith is to have a faith like Christ’s faith – a perfect obedience to God. By doing so, by having a faith like Christ’s we become like Christ. Paul says in 2Cor3:18, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." That is faith.


if he has enough to complete it

"How to Endure the Race" {Heb12:1-3}
* Intro
- "Therefore" -- see context of Heb11
- The command is to run w/ endurance
- "Cloud of witnesses" -- faith heroes (Heb11 & others)
* I can endure because my hindrances are removed
- Hindrances not necessarily sinful
- Top 5: Entertainment, financial goals, relationships, substances, personal dreams
* I can endure because my sins are dealt w/
* I can endure because my eyes are fixed on Christ
- Persevere because of joy
- Scorn shame
- 1Pet2:21-23
* Application
- Am I in the race?
- Am I on course to finish well?
- Am I racing w/ purpose?


is turned over within me

Been trying to refrain from the whole Vick-dogfighting-"I've found Jesus" story, but it continues to play out in the press in various ways. This piece presents several different takes on the whole situation. Apparently Christianity Today even ran a poll on it, and some 3000+ folks weighed in to express a clear majority opinion of doubt.

Believers should never, never doubt expressions of finding Christ. Deathbed conversions are easily discredited in our minds, sure. But why? Many of the common salvation stories are based on reasons that are just as "flimsy". Sunday school lesson on hell driving a seven-year-old to the sinner's prayer, that's better? Storm-tossed slave galleon, that's somehow different? Sappy lyrics about trampled roses or inspirational stories about sacrifice moving tearful women to their knees, that's more believable?

A man's remorse over his actions, a likely prison sentence, a multimillion dollar career thrown away, the collective hatred of a nation of animal lovers -- that wouldn't or couldn't drive a man to the Lord?

Question: how do you manage to see, what with those gigantic logs in the way?