Across the Aisle…

Handshake ImageThere have been several key figures in my life and development as a man and as a follower of Christ. Each one has his own story, but this is the story of a man named George Wyatt.

He stepped across the aisle. Back in that day, we were a church of hundreds. I was a 20-something cop. He was an engineer. I was a high school graduate. He wore a ring from Clemson. Jodi and I were new in the church with a small kid. He had been in the church for a while and was connected, serving, and demonstrating a genuine, fruitful existence. And, he stepped across the aisle.

My new friend, George, invited Jodi and me to join him and his wife, as well as some friends for a new bible study at his house. It was a study on parenting. It was a good study by the way, but the real value of the invite in my life was leadership and love. George and I became friends. His family became special to us. Perhaps most significant…because George took the initiative, I BECAME a better man. He invested in me. Told me tough things while we stood shoulder to shoulder working on a project. He invited me into his world and gave me the “Barnabas gift,” meaning that he affirmed me to his sphere of influence so that I could join in.

George believed in me when I was still trying to figure out who I was. He helped me get into politics. He invited me to join the school board with him for the Christian school our kids attended. He talked about his own life struggles in a transparent manner so I would know that he wasn’t perfect. He made me part of his life. When I sensed the calling to plant a church, he helped us. When I was discouraged, he spoke tough encouragement.

Why do I tell you this? Because there was no manual. No training program. No curriculum. But there was discipleship. George helped me become a disciple, by stepping across the aisle. He made me better by stepping across the aisle. He made me better by inviting me into his world.

As I read the Scriptures and grow in my understanding of the purpose Christ has for his people…this is a big part of what making disciples is all about.

So, look around…

Who is across the aisle from you?

Who is on the outside of your circle of healthy Christian relationships that you can bring in?

Who has God placed in your path to love and lead…to invest in and serve…to speak to and speak for?

Thanks, George. Jodi and I love you, Karen, and your precious girls. Most significantly…I love Jesus more because of you stepping across the aisle.

If you are a George to someone…keep going. Obedience to Christ’s command pays off. If there’s a kid across the aisle…don’t just be available…be intentional. It matters.


Overcoming “Impulsiveness”

Bible, study (2)The Internet is KILLING US! (Not really…but it makes a good scapegoat and illustration).

I know very few people who set out with elaborate plans to sin. Rarely do I find a person who thinks through the entire process and plans every detail along the way. Listen to the planning involved with the woman of Proverbs 7. “I went to the temple and prayed, cleaned the house, took a bath, made the bed, sent my husband off on a business trip…and now I am out here on the street looking for a young, good-looking man like you as the answer to my prayers! Let’s sin together!” Most often, we are like the man in the story who is naïve and foolish…we wander too far into the wrong environment and linger too long once we get there. We listen too agreeably to the enticement and, then suddenly, we SUBMIT to the temptation (Prov 7:22). At other times, we are like the fish at the bottom of the lake on a warm day. We are just there waiting to feed in a few hours when the sun goes down and suddenly…along comes a lure and we jump on it. No thought…and no impulse control. Just attack…and we are hooked.

The truth, if we can stand to hear it, is that we lack the “Self-control” Peter commanded us to ADD to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-7). We are too impulsive! We see it, want it, get it…and worry about tomorrow when and if it gets here! YOLO (you only live once) …we might say! The truth is though…YOLO is a lie! We don’t only live once. We live (in this line of thinking) TWICE. We live life on this earth and then we live forever with the consequences of choices we make HERE…either in presence of God and His grace or in absence from God under His righteous condemnation.

Self-control is about choosing the best path for our lives. I can have chocolate cake today and cholesterol medication from now on…or I can skip the cake and be healthy. I can buy the new shiny thing through Amazon Prime now…or I can sleep on it and maybe realize why I have made it all these years without it so far and save my money for something better later. I can pursue sexual temptation in front of me and deal with the consequences from now on…or I can honor the vow to God and my mate and live under His blessing.

Self-control is about choice. It is about deciding to discipline ourselves to choose that which is best, that which offers real promise, that which serves the greater good. Anyone can choose ONE-CLICK PURCHASE on their Prime account…but wise people take a breath and make certain that the long-term results are worth the momentary action.

Are you impulsive? Choose to control it. Seek God’s help in doing so. Beg Him to make you mindful of the choice and the corresponding consequence. Listen to His voice and choose to obey…even against your impulsive instinct.

The Discipleship “Double-Standard”

lightSuppose you’re about to undergo knee surgery. You interview the doctor and he shares with you that he really didn’t study anatomy in school. He did, however, spend a lot of time thinking about anatomy and looking in the mirror, so he felt he was pretty good at repairing knees.

Perhaps your child comes to you and says she has a huge history final this week that is weighted for 25% of her grade. In essence, this test could make the difference on a college scholarship. As you discuss her strategy to preparing, she tells you that she doesn’t see the need to read her textbook or study her notes. After all, she has been thinking about the test and “the past” and all she heard in lectures. She feels very confident that reflecting on these things is sufficient preparation.

Hopefully, I am not the only one who would look for a reason to put off the surgery until I found a real doctor and certainly I cannot be the only one beginning to perspire over the approach of the daughter. The fact is, we KNOW that if we are to be adequately prepared for life, it requires study. Study doesn’t have to be boring or conventional, but it is intentional and it is oriented toward an objective.

Far too often, as I discuss spiritual development/growth plans with friends, I find that they too choose the doctor’s or the daughter’s approach. They have no strategy to focus on studying Scripture. If they do, it is a verse or a paragraph and 300 words of internet commentary. Prayer time is reduced to a brief statement or two between songs while stuck in traffic and asking for God’s blessing on a meal…even if it is a silent request. Fasting is non-existent, financial stewardship is an anomaly and don’t even bring up sharing our faith. That’s for EXTREME Disciples!

What if God expects more? What if the same logic and expectations we have for others on important matters MIRROR God’s expectations for us…because growing to maturity in Christ IS an important matter.

How do you start an intentional strategy?

  • START. Don’t gloss over this. It is far easier to steer a car on the street than in a garage. Do something more than attend church once or twice a month and listen to a preacher for 40 minutes.
  • COMMIT. Don’t commit to convenience but pursue results (Philippians 3:7-14).
  • INCREASE. Prayer time may be 2 minutes when you begin but if you have nothing more to say to God after 3 years of walking with Jesus than “forgive me for my sins and bless all the missionaries” you’re missing the boat.
  • LISTEN to God for you. Stop thinking sermons are about other people. God prepared it for you. If you’re only led to think of how it applies to other people, you’re again missing the boat. Who cares whether Dr. Doolittle’s classmates studied anatomy unless you’re getting a referral to go see them.
  • ASK. You’re not the first person to engage in this process. Don’t let your superficial pride prevent you from asking a pastor or another believer with “spiritual fruit” about their discipleship practices. Ask them to mentor you. I get five or six requests a year from people wanting to know if we can meet. Sometimes we do. Sometimes I connect them with better mentoring fits. That’s what pastors do. We coach people to maturity and we bring authoritative instruction from God.

We know study is important for our doctors or our daughters. Shouldn’t it be just as important for us as disciples?


The long-term consequence of short-term decisions

014f74b539f8a3d4043dd66ab1e4dd7b41065aec3c“It is just a one-time thing. No one will ever know.”

“It is your choice.”

“Seize the day!”

“Choose to be happy.”

These pithy little sayings have the appearance of good and loving advice. It sounds like anything you could hear from a friend as you sit down to a cup of coffee at your favorite Starbucks.

In our me-centered existence that majors on comfort and scoffs at the suggestion of sacrifice, advice like this abounds. After all, who WOULDN’T want to be happy? Why would you choose UNHAPPINESS?

Truthfully, the reductionism in the question alone defeat us from even discovering the answer. Who says your choice is short-term happiness or unhappiness? Is it not possible that there is a third and ultimately God-glorifying option? I want to suggest to you that the right option is nearly always “long-term happiness” or what we might call “Joy.”

Joy is a much deeper expression than happiness. Happines is an emotional response to stimuli. I found something on sale, so I am happy. I got a parking place close to the entrance, so I am happy. Joy is: I have developed a long-term security in my finances so I am covered whether something is on sale or not. I train at the gym and am in good shape so I am great whether I park close to the entrance or far away. Now…don’t be put off by the simplicity of these examples. They simply serve to illustrate a greater truth.

When we choose to make decisions that have long-term benefit, we often discover that we give up some short-term rewards. We don’t do so because we desire pain in our lives. That’s ridiculous. We do so because we want to have joy. We are not unhappy in our present circumstance because our objective extends beyond the present.

“Prepare your work outside and make it ready for yourself in the field; afterwards, then, build your house.” Provers 24:27.

Here, the writer gives us a principle: You can choose to get your house ready so that you can be comfortable indoors (which is pretty important); or, you can prepare your field (which is time-sensitive) so that you can get the crops in the ground. While they are growing, you can build your house. Then, at the harvest, you will have both produce to eat and a house to eat it in.

Many people miss this. Financially they choose the opposite fo the Proverb. “Let’s go on vacation today to Disney…even if we have to charge it. The kids will only be little for so long! Sure, but now there are a ton of things you cannot do for the following months because you charged an expensive vacation. When the stove went on “the fritz” you had no funds to repair it so you had to charge the replacement on an in-store credit. Now you have enormous debt and you cannot be faithful to other and more important obligations.

Sure, you were happy at Disney. But you had no produce at theharvest. It would have been better to dial it back to a camping trip in a park or take a “stay-cation” and save your cash. Then, next year, you could have enjoyed both Disney and long-term satisfaction. That is Joy.

I want to enjoy sex with someone now…but doing so means I cannot enjoy sex within the design of biblical marriage as intended later. Choosing abstinence now doesn’t equate to choosing drudgery now…it equates to worshipful obedience now and greater God-designed enjoyment later. That is Joy.

Today and tomorrow and the next day, choose Joy…and be happy doing it.


Jesus doesn’t have Conversations…

Open Bible 1Now before you pick up a stone…let me define the title further so that the statement makes sense. I am not speaking of dialogue such as recorded in the Gospels or the sense of petition and answer in prayer. I am not speaking of the declaration that Jesus calls us “friends.” What I am speaking of is the authority behind His declarations, whatever they may be.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that it is through the foolishness of the preached message that God saves souls! That is not some slighted statement…the foolishness of the “words of the cross” is actually the power of God unto Salvation to those who believe. The preached message is not a conversation. The Message (words) of the Cross is not an interpretive dialogue. It is a declaration of truth and a decisive call for acceptance by a divine authority, namely God Himself.

My point is: God is not negotiating with you and me. God is not asking for our opinions or seeking to build consensus on certain issues. God declares what is good, what is right, what is expected, and what is holy. He does so with authority and He wraps it in immeasurably abundant grace! But it is still authoritative.

One may ask…what if I don’t agree? What if I dispute and have a good argument? What if someone else stands up and says differently? Do any of these things change the fact that what God declares is already Sovereignly and righteously decided in Heaven? The answer is certainly, “No.”

In our cultural understanding of what is “acceptable” by OUR norms, we like to soften authority and make the determination of what is authoritative more subjective than we ought. We want to have conversations rather than hear declarations. We hear that “the Bible says…” and we say, “Yes, but I am not certain I agree with that.” Friend, honestly…that doesn’t matter. Jesus doesn’t have conversations about whether something is right or wrong, expected or optional. He declares truth and we decide to obey or disobey. Those are our options. He is our King. His Word is settled. His declarations are unimpeachable.

Shalom, CA

#P5: Devotion Much?

open-bible 2Several years ago I began promoting in the churches I served, churchwide Scripture reading plans or corporate devotional initiatives of some sort…plans to get folks into the Scriptures that might not otherwise step over the initial “hurdle” of beginning a devotional discipline. I remember one man in one church coming to me and strongly declaring that he would not be joining us in the initiative because it wasn’t deep enough for him. He soon left the church I served and connected to another for  short season. Now he doesn’t attend anywhere and by all accounts I am familiar with…faith has no role in his lifestyle, choices, or desires. That grieves me because I was investing in his discipleship. He was in a place of leadership and influence and we had an accountability relationship.

You might ask, “Where did he run off the rails?” My answer: He lacked discipline. He was not devoted to the best things. Sure, he did some good things but he did not do the best things. He was familiar with “Jesus stuff” but not devoted to Jesus.

A better question is, “How could he have prevented the slide into practical agnosticism?” (An agnostic is one who does not deny that God may exist, but operates as if it doesn’t matter either way). That term may seem a bit strong but I don’t know what else to call it when you live daily as if you alone are the source of your own strength, peace, and security.

One of the ways (assuming he was and is born-again…an argument I am not making but am allowing for since I can only judge the fruit in his life) is by choosing discipline.

Discipline is when we choose to act in a certain manner because we have decided it is best, particularly when doing so is uncomfortable. It is skipping dessert when we want the cake but we need to shed a few pounds. It is going for a walk when we might prefer to watch television. It is setting aside 15 minutes in the quiet of the morning to read from the Scriptures and maybe a devotional guide along with prayer.

As a pastor, I hope it goes without saying that I have read the Bible numerous times and that I have a “better than average” knowledge of the Scriptures. Yet, in my “normal” PERSONAL Christ-follower discipline…I read daily from the Scriptures, read from 3-4 devotional guides, meditate/consider what I read…and pray. My discipline involves 30 mins to an hour daily. This, of course, is outside of my sermon/message prep and study discipline for teaching.

Here is the question: “If I find a need to discipline myself in pursuit of quiet time/devotion…how might someone with less exposure to the Scriptures find it less necessary for themself?”

Regardless of where you are NOW, you could start a devotional discipline if you choose, or start back in your discipline. Choose today to give God your focus and attention for a certain period of time every day. My guess…what begins as DISCIPLINE will blossom as DEVOTION very soon.

Shalom, CA