Dec 29, 2007

Reason for Fuzzy Vision

There is a very interesting passage in Isaiah 29. Here's how it reads:

For the Lord has poured out on you
The spirit of deep sleep,
And has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets;
And He has covered your heads, namely, the seers.
11The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, “Read this, please.”
And he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.”
12Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, “Read this, please.”
And he says, “I am not literate.”
13Therefore the Lord said:
“Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths
And honor Me with their lips,
But have removed their hearts far from Me,
And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men. (Isaiah 29: 10-13).

God says some very interesting things about vision. When God's vision for you and our church is not clear, it is like the words of a book that is sealed given to one who is literate but cannot read it because it is sealed. And there's no point in going to the one who is illiterate because they can't read the thing to begin with.

And the result is no vision, no passion, no purpose, no direction. It's life at its worst. It's living hell.

And then God tells us why we get this way. The problem is that the people draw near to God only with their mouths and lips, but their hearts remain far from God.

Several interesting things to note. The lack of vision and direction is not due to the lack of gathering or praising. These people are still gathering at their appointed times for worship. They give lip service to God, but their heart is not in it. What is lacking when the heart is absent is commitment and obedience. And the result is that you have a dead church with dead and dying Christ-followers.

But the thing that interests me the most is the last phrase, "their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men."

You see, the problem when the heart is not engaged, is that God's commands and teachings are viewed as teachings of men. God's commands and teachings become one of interpretation and someone's opinion. And so, if you agree, you obey. If you don't, you can find someone else's opinion. But it's all men's opinion. So, if you're wrong, you've only offended people.

But you see, these are not the opinions and teachings of men. These are God's commands. And when the people are led to believe that these are the interpretations and teachings of men, that is a lie straight out of hell. Because the one who is offended and wronged when we are disobedient is Yahweh - God the only living God. And the One we must answer to is that God.

When vision and purpose for an individual and a church gets fuzzy, it's because we get fuzzy on the teachings of God. These are God's words. These are God's commands.

Dec 28, 2007

Suffering is a Privilege?

I was doing my quiet time and came across the following passage. "For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for his sake" (Philippians 1:29).

This made me want to look up what the Bible has to say about suffering in other passages. There are many more, but here's just a few.

"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you may participate in the suffering of Christ" (1 Peter 4:12-13).

"So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:8).

"Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 2:3).

No one likes suffering. No one aspires to suffer. No one wants to suffer.

In fact, it's safe to say that we have an aversion to suffering. We don't want it. We don't want to hear about it. We don't want to know about someone else suffering. We just don't want anything to do with suffering.

You can't sell books and go on tv by preaching this suffering stuff. It just won't sell.

But Philippians says that we have been granted on behalf of Christ to not only believe in Him but also to suffer for his sake.

It speaks of suffering as if it was something that we wish for. It speaks of suffering as if it was something that we strive for. It speaks of suffering as if it was a privilege.

1 Peter 4:13 says that we are to rejoice that we get to participate in suffering. Yay! I get to suffer!

Timothy talks about suffering as a matter of fact. That's part of what it means to be a soldier of Jesus Christ.

Yet this is so foreign to think and speak about the life of faith. This is so anti believe in God and everything will be fine and you'll be happy. This is not at all "think it and believe it and it will happen" type of preaching I hear in so many circles.

Could it be that we have moved away so far from what it means to be Christ-followers according to Scripture that the idea of suffering for the sake of Christ has become anathema?

Certainly there is great joy in the life of Christ. There is no greater joy than living for Christ. But there is no such thing as a pain-free, disease-free, suffering-free Christianity.

That's right. We get to suffer for the sake of the gospel. And when we do live our lives as salt and light, part of the deal is suffering.

Dec 27, 2007

Finally, a new post - a Christmas poem

What a week before Christmas!

Normally, that's one of the busiest time of the year for pastor types like me, but this year was crazy. I had strep throat and was out for about four days right before Christmas weekend and the Christmas Eve services.

I have no idea how the sermons for this weekend came together or were received, but they got done by the grace of Jesus Christ.

Here is a little poem I received in a Christmas card. I think this is one of the best summaries of the Christmas stories I've read.

Long before there was a cross, one tiny heart beat with the purest Love the world would ever know.

And two faithful people carried that Love to Bethlehem so it might be born in every heart one day.

When the world had forgotten the One who created every man, three kings remembered and came to kneel before the Author of their lives.

And seekers everywhere set out to find Him, drawn by the radiant light of His love.

Long before we knew His name, He cherished every one of us – before His tiny lips spoke a word, He knew us by heart.

And this time called Christmas is our chance to give Him the greatest gift we could offer in return – the gift of our hearts and ourselves.

Merry Christmas!

Dec 21, 2007

Getting Better Now - Illness Reflection

As I've shared before, I've been sick, sick, sick. I'm finally starting to feel better so I am going to make up for all the words I didn't blog by writing a long one. Although it's a long entry, it will be worth it.

The week before Christmas is one of the busiest weeks for the life of the pastor. And since Tuesday, I’ve been in bed sick as a dog, and in fact just now starting to feel better. But I was in bed from Tuesday until Friday evening going from freezing cold where I had on my Micheline man Russia down jacket with gloves and the hat – the first time my son Kaleb saw me walk out like that he did a double take and started laughing as he was sitting in his shorts and a t-shirt in one of our 70 degree December days, to super hot, where I was in shorts and a t-shirt.

Where my head felt like I had a sledge-hammer just hammering away inside my head.

Where my throat felt like it was on fire – where it hurt so much to swallow that I didn’t eat for pretty much Tuesday to Friday (my wife really knew I was sick when I wasn’t eating).

My joints and bones were aching, and when I couldn’t stop coughing.

And the worst part of it was, I couldn’t sleep all those days. I was so tired! But I couldn’t sleep because I was either putting layers upon layers of clothes on, to only take them all off, while trying not to swallow my spit because it hurt so much, as my head was pounding, and every time I coughed my head exploded in pain, my throat felt like a bomb went off, and my joints screamed in pain. So no matter how tired I was I couldn’t fall asleep!

Finally, after days of hearing my wife tell me I should go see the doctor, I finally broke down on Friday after not eating and sleeping since Tuesday and went to go see the doctor. Sure enough. I had strep throat. And it was bad. You know my tonsils were all swollen and oozing (puss) and stuff. I had it bad. First time too.

So, whoever was kind enough to give me this thing better keep your guard up because I’ll strep throat germ all over you and your family!

Just kidding. That’s what my pre-Christian James would have wanted to do. But I am a much kinder and gentler James now that Jesus is my Lord and Savior – so whoever you are, you better be thanking Jesus that I am a Christian!

Let me share with you my illness reflection.

Why in the world did I wait so long to go see the doctor when this is so easily treatable? I could have avoided so much misery – my family too. You think Helen did much sleeping during those three nights? So why didn’t I go see the doctor to begin with? Because I thought I could beat it, like I beat other flues and illnesses (the real word for this is pride – but it sounds better if I say it the other way). It was my pride.

And the other reason is because I hate waiting in the doctor’s office. They make you wait in the waiting room, and the they make you wait in the patient room, then the nurse comes and checks your vitals, and then they make you wait for the doctor, and they make you wait. I hate that.

But you know what? Both of those reasons are stupid. You know pride is stupid. And the hate to wait part – what so waiting and suffering at home is better than getting the shots and the medicines to get well?

I started feeling better by that afternoon after the shots. I could have avoided that whole thing.

And here’s the thing – that’s so much like how we are with God. If we would just turn to God and do what God tells us to do and forget all this stupid pride stuff and whatever other lame excuse stuff we’ve got and just follow Him, we could avoid so much misery. God’s got the cure for whatever is ailing you, and He can fix you right up, if you’d just do life His way.

And here's the best part. This whole God thing comes with a guarantee. If you don't like what God’s new transformed life looks like, you can have your old miserable one back any time you want.

Dec 19, 2007

Been sick, sick, sick

I know I haven't blogged in a while. I've been sick with some kind of a flu. That's what happens when you have four little ones bringing germs into the house. They love sharing!

As I've been in bed sick, rolling around in my misery as my bones and joints ached, and as my head felt like a sledge hammer was hammering away, from going from freezing cold to taking off everything because I'm so hot, I though this must like what sin did to the first human beings. They were perfect before that. They knew none of this. But because this fallen state is all we know we don't know any better.

That's why God sent His only Son to rescue us from our sin. And thank God for that.

I look forward to getting back to a normal schedule soon. I hate being sick.

James <><
Check out what God is up to @

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Dec 16, 2007

Messengers of Christ

We’ve got to get the message out. We've got to tell others about Jesus Christ. There are way too many people who do not know the love of our Savior.

I think we all know this. It's just that we don't know how.

I have had several people say to me, “James, I know that I should be sharing about what God is doing and telling others about Jesus, but I just don’t know many non-church going people. All my friends are all going to church.”

Folks say to me, “James, I just don’t know what to say and how to share the faith. I know I should, but I just don’t know how to do it.”

Listen, we can teach you all the tools and methods for sharing Jesus with others, but that’s not going to do any good unless we take care of this first.

The most effective way to share Jesus Christ with others is an authentic Christ-like life. Because unless we're living an authentic Christ-like life, it won't matter what we have to say. And here's the reason why - it's impossible to convince someone of a truth we are not living.

You can have all the evangelism tools in the world, but if our lives are not authentic and Christ-like, and if our lives are not any different than the people around us, no amount of right teaching about evangelism will do any good. If our life is not markedly different than the people around us, words just don't matter.

The most effective presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ begins with an authentic Christ-like life. You see, sharing the message of Jesus Christ is not so much about what we say, but how we model Jesus Christ.

When we live authentic Christ-like lives, we won’t have any problems communicating and finding people to share with. They will come to you and will want to know what makes you so different than anyone they know.

Dec 15, 2007

Who Am I Preaching For?

There is a great dilemma all preachers face: who are we preaching for?

The theological answer is God. We are preaching because we are God's instruments to proclaim His word to the church. We are God's ambassadors and therefore we are called to speak what God calls us to.

The practical answer is that we are preaching for the congregation. We are called to proclaim God's word in a way that is captivating and relevant to the congregation. Because, ultimately, truth, that doesn't connect with people where they are will have no impact.

I work hard to do everything I can to preach God's word faithfully. That's the reason why I study, read, and pray about what God would have me to preach.

I also work very hard to make sure that I've done everything I can to connect God's word to where the people are. It is shameful that a pastor could take the most exciting truth of God's word and make it as dull as possible.

The preaching task needs to have both of these audiences in mind. God's truth must be communicated in such a way that God's people can understand and apply it.

The reason why I write all this because I've struggling with the thought, am I communicating God's word effectively? I am wondering, is it making a difference? Every once in a while, as I am sitting in my office preparing for the sermon, there's a voice that asks, "Do you really think this is going to make a difference?"

And I have to push that voice back and declare, I will be faithful to God. I will do my best to communicate God's word in a way that relates to our people.

My task is to be faithful. The results are up to God. Results are not my responsibility. My responsibility is to be faithful and that is what I will continue to strive to be.

Dec 14, 2007

Goal of Discipleship - Becoming a Self-feeder

Trinity Presbyterian Church exists to do everything within our power to grow new Christ-followers, and to help all Christ-followers become fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ.

That's why we do what we do.

But there's something that the church and the maturing Christ-follower must understand.

There comes a point when the church can no longer be the primary way for a maturing disciples to continue growing. In fact, if that maturing disciple is dependent upon the church for providing the spiritual experiences and the tools necessary for continued growth, they will always find that church lacking.

You see, after a certain point in one's journey with Jesus Christ, one must learn to become a self-feeder.

When a baby is born, all their needs to be met by others. They need to be fed, they need to be taken care of. But as that baby grows up to be a child, he needs to learn to feed himself. And certainly by the time he is an adult, if he has not learned how to feed himself, and learn the skills to know how to provide for himself, he will go hungry and will be a leech to society.

It's no different with a Christian. A new Christian will need to be fed and cared for. But that new Christian will have to learn the skills necessary to start feeding themselves. And as they continue to mature, they will have to learn the skills necessary to provide for himself. And by the time the maturing Christian reaches the maturity level of being a self-feeder, the church becomes less important for their spiritual growth. In fact, the church becomes the place where they begin serving and giving. And it is through the serving and giving that they mature even more.

As long as people look to the church to help them mature and be satisfied as a believer, they will remain baby Christians. And you will know when you're with baby Christians, when all you hear is, "Feed me, take care of me, love me, hold me, teach me, me, me, me, me, me!"

The goal of Christian discipleship is to help people move from being baby-Christians to become self-feeders. It is the self-feeders who help feed and take care of the first-time Christ-followers. And when this pattern continues to replicate itself, the church grows. There is health and vitality in the life of the church.

Dec 12, 2007

Is there such a thing as a Healthy non-growing church?

Does a church necessarily have to grow in order to be a healthy church?

Could there be a church that is spiritually healthy, and where the members love one another and take care of one another, but there is no numerical growth?

Is numerical growth really a viable way to track the health of a congregation? Aren't things like one's commitment to Jesus and one's personal relationship with Jesus more important for the spiritual health of a church?

While very interesting, I think these are the wrong questions to be asking. These are the wrong questions because we have somehow come to believe that we human beings can be the church without being the body of Christ. Because if we are the body of Christ, we must necessarily be about the ministry and the mission of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the question that needs to be asked is, "Can one be a Christ-follower and not be like Christ?"

I don't see how it is even conceivable that one could be a Christ-follower and not be engaged with the lives of other people to lead them to a relationship with Jesus.

It is impossible to grow in the knowledge of the word and in spiritual matters without also being concerned about how to engage the world which Jesus came to die for.

It is impossible to be faithful to Jesus Christ without also being faithful to His mission and ministry.

Christ-followers engage the world because Jesus came to love that world.

Numerical growth is not the goal of the church or the Christ-follower. Numerical growth is the by-product, the result, of transformed lives. And transformed lives are the result of coming into a relationship with Jesus Christ. When people encounter the living Christ, transformation happens. And when transformation happens, the fruit of that is growth in numbers.

In healthy congregations, because Jesus is present, people regularly encounter Jesus Christ. And because they are encountering the living Christ in those healthy congregations, those congregations grow.

In my humble opinion, the only way a church can be healthy and not grow is if everyone in the world were Christ-followers. And as long as there is one who doesn't know Jesus, the church of Jesus Christ has a mission.

This may not be the popular view. But show me one place in the Bible where the non-growing, declining church is the norm. It's simply not there.

If our churches are not growing, it's we who need to change and must be transformed to become one that is.

Christ-follower, when was the last time you introduced Jesus to someone, or led people to a deepening relationship with Jesus Christ? Can you name ten people who have come to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior because of you? five? one?

Dec 11, 2007

Angry with God?

Know anyone angry with God? They refuse to be a part of the church and refuse to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior because they can't conceive of how a God of love could allow for such suffering and pain?

In times like that, as a pastor, I've found myself feeling like I had to defend God and explain God.

What I now realize is that in my attempts to be "pastoral" and understanding I wasn't helping at all.

First, God doesn't need me or anyone to defend Him. God is a big enough God to do that all by Himself.

Secondly, the more poignant question is, how can you say that there is no God when you're so angry with God? If there is no God, who are you angry with? And if there is no God, then what is the meaning of suffering and pain? What is the meaning and purpose of life?

If there is no God, it really does lead to an existential hell. Everything is meaningless. Everything is senseless. There is no rhyme or reason to anything. There is no dignity, no purpose, no meaning to suffering and pain. You just suffer miserably and then you die.

What a depressing view of life!

I've been talking with a guy who's been angry with God but is no longer that way. I asked him what made the difference? How did he go from being angry to being open to the ways of God. And what he told me makes so much sense.

This man had been so angry with God that he'd rejected God. Because there was so much suffering and pain, he could not see how there could be a God of love who would allow such things to happen. So he'd intentionally rejected God. By not going to church and not doing church things, it was as if he was flipping God the bird. He didn't want to just not believe, he wanted God to know that he outright rejected him.

But rejecting God did nothing to alleviate his anger. He was still angry. And what's worse, it did nothing to alleviate the pain or the suffering. It was all meaningless. And he'd live this way for more than a decade.

And then it dawned on him - how can I be angry with someone I don't believe exists? If God doesn't exist, then how can I be angry with Him? And if I am angry with God, then God must exist. And if God exists, then I need to come to terms with this God because there's got to be a purpose and meaning to life.

That's it! It's by turning to God with our questions and with our pain that we can begin making our way out of the fog of pain and anger. It's precisely when we let go of our right to blame God that we can start seeking wisdom and answer from God.

It's not that when we accept God the suffering and pain goes away. It's just that when we turn to God, God gives us dignity and purpose even in the midst of the suffering and pain.

It's not that suffering and pain disappears. It's that God gives us the strength and the vision to see that suffering and pain will never get the final say.

That is the reason why the Apostle Paul could be sitting in a prison waiting to be beheaded and write in Philippians 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!" He knew that death was not the end, that this earthly existence is not the end, that he was a citizen of heaven. And because he was a child of eternity, there was nothing that death could take from him. It's this heavenly and Godly perspective which gave meaning and purpose to his imprisonment and his eventual death. Death could not even take that away from him.

And this is why Jesus and Christmas is such great news for all of us. We don't belong here. We are merely passing through. And when we live for our eternal home, it gives us great meaning and purpose for life on earth.

Dec 10, 2007

Church is a Family?

I hear many people say that the church is like a family. But is it really?

In families, when someone offends you, when things don't go our way, when things are hard, we stay and fight. We work it out. And it's the struggling through the difficult things that helps us to be a family. It's by working out the difficulties that we grow together and the intimacy increases.

But churches don't function that way.

In churches, when someone is offended, when things don't go our way, when things are hard, people bolt. People leave.

Families just don't do that. Real families stay together particularly during the hard times.

Leaving is so much easier. Leaving is the coward's way. Leaving won't ever allow for intimacy and community.

Just as there are times when divorce is necessary - in situations of abuse for instance - there are times when leaving a church is necessary.

But that's not what I'm talking about. For the most part, when I see people leaving it's because we are so stuck and mired in this consumer mentality - where the customer is always right - that church members actually think that they are the customers. That the church is there to provide a service which they pay for. And when people don't get what they pay for, they leave.

I don't understand how we can have hundreds and thousands of positive encounters and experiences in the church, and then leave because of one negative experience. How can we do that to the body of Christ?

Being a part of Christ's body means that we are held together by the blood of Jesus Christ. Being a part of the body of Christ means that staying or going should never be made on the criteria of convenience or out of personal preference. It's a much bigger decision than that.

And until we can start living into being the body of Christ, the churches in America will continue to experience churches that are shallow.

Intimacy is developed through the context of difficulties and disagreements. Geniuine communities can only develop as we commit to working out the hard things.

I pray that that is what Jesus will find in our churches.

Dec 8, 2007

Faith - No Problems, No Miracles

A man fell off a cliff, but managed to grab a tree limb on the way down.

The following conversation ensued:

"Is anyone up there?"

"I am here. I am the Lord. Do you believe me?"

"Yes, Lord, I believe. I really believe, but I can't hang on much longer."

"That's all right, if you really believe you have nothing to worry about. I will save you. Just let go of the branch."

A moment of pause, then: "Is anyone else up there?"

We like to talk about faith. We believe in faith. We sing about faith.

But, when it really comes down to it, we don't like faith.

We don't like faith because we like certainties and guarantees. And certainties and guarantees are not, well...guaranteed. Faith operates in the land of uncertainties and no guarantees. In order to live in faith, it requires us to live with uncertainties and no guarantees.

Faith operates in the very place where we are called to do that which we cannot on our own.

Someone once said that you will know when you're involved in a God-thing when you are in way over your head.

That's all fine and good when you're involved in a God-thing.

But that is exactly the issue with faith, isn't it? How do you know with a certainty that you are involved in a God-thing? How do you know that it's not your-thing, or your pastor-thing, or some denominational agency-thing?

God gives us some clues.

First, if it is a God-thing, it will bring glory and honor to God. The purpose of a God-thing is always to glorify God. The people involved in a God-thing may be gratified and satisfied as a result for being involved in a God-thing, but our gratification and satisfaction is the byproduct of doing a God-thing, not the goal.

Second, if it is a God-thing, God's influence and impact increases. Whatever it is, if it is a God-thing, it will result in God's Spirit entering into the lives of more people. If it is a God-thing, lives get changed, marriages get whole, the darkness gets pushed back, eternal destinies get changed.

Third, if it is a God-thing, God will always provide everything necessary to accomplish that thing.

But, we're still left in a quandry. Doing a God-thing requires faith. There are no guarantees. And because there are no guarantees, it's always nerve racking, and well, it requires...FAITH.

That's exactly where we find ourselves in the life of the church today. Unless God acts and intervenes and moves in this place, we are done for.

Remember...No Problems...No miracles.

We want some miracles!

Dec 6, 2007

A Changed Eternity

A few days ago, a young man's eternal destiny was changed.

He came to church finding himself at the bottom of a pit. He came to church not knowing how he could dig himself out of the mess he'd gotten himself into. He came to church because he didn't know anywhere else to turn.

And what he found was that God had been waiting for him. In fact, God had been with him all along. He just needed to open himself to the reality that God's always been present. It was his actions, his choices that prevented him from seeing God.

But his eternal destiny was changed as he came to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior by turning his life over to God.

There's nothing inherently different about the church that this was the place where he accepted Christ. But what he found at the church was a person willing to point him to the God who's always been present for him, a God who loved him enough to die for him and rise for him.

And this is one of the greatest privileges of a Christ-follower - of being used to point people to Jesus Christ.

It was so awesome to see the immediate change in him. There was peace. There was hope.

That's what God does.

And, friends, that's what you and I get to participate in. There are people all around us who need Jesus.

Point the way.

Kairos time

The Greek uses two words for time - chronos and kairos.

Chronos refers to time as we know it - the past, the present, the future, that is kept by the seconds, minutes, and hours. That is chornos time, and you can see this is where we get the word chronology.

Kairos is quite different. Kairos refers to a God-appointed time. Kairos refers to a moment and an epoch in time where God has opened the window of opportunity. The thing about kairos time is that it is only for a time period. It comes and it can disappear just as quickly.

The wise and discerning person is always looking for kairos moments - those moments when God opens the opportunity for us to be a blessing to others and to seek God's blessing.

God is up to something great in your life. Seek to discover what God is up to and join Him in that work. You don't want to miss out!

Dec 4, 2007

What Does God Want for Christmas? - Hands

Take a look at your hands – Turn them face up.

Seriously. Look at your hands.

Look at the lines, the curves, and the grooves.

There has never been, and there will never be another human being who will have your lines, curves, and grooves.

Your finger prints are absolutely unique to you. Out of all the people who’ve walked this planet, and of all those people who will come after you, no one, not one has your prints.

You know why it’s that way? Those hands were created to leave their mark.

This Advent season, we've been asking, "What Does God Want for Christmas?" What could we give to God that would make the heart of God leap with joy?

The first gift I would like for us to consider giving to God is the gift of our hands. Leave your mark.

Dec 3, 2007

Disconnect Between Jesus and His Church

If you were to ask people what they thought was the central tenet of Jesus Christ, most people would answer by saying things like - peace, love, forgiveness, acceptance.

If you were to ask the same people what they thought were the central tenets and theme of the church was, those same people would answer with very different answers. You'd hear things like - hypocrisy, judgment, condemnation, a place of bunch of do's and don'ts.

Why is that? Why is there such a disconnect between Jesus and the church that's supposed to be representing Him?

Christ-followers, we've got some repenting and some work to do. We need to look at ourselves honestly and ask, how does our speech, our actions, our hopes, our dreams, our motivations, our lives reflect Jesus Christ.

Dec 2, 2007

What's a Gift Worth? - Little Brown Bag

When it comes to the gifts, the value of a gift cannot be counted by dollars and cents, because the true value of a gift can only be ascertained by what that gift means to the giver.

On Christmas morning, I will be receiving four gifts from my four little ones. As far as how we typically go about putting value on things, I suspect that the items my four children will get for me won't be worth much to pretty much to everyone else. But I will cherish every one of them. I will treasure those gifts, not because how many dollars and cents were spent on those items, but because of how much I value the love of my children.

Let me share with you a story written by Robert Fulghum. It’s called a Little Brown Bag.

One nice morning, Daddy was about to leave for the office when his five-year-old girl handed him a little brown paper bag.

“And what is this?” the Daddy asked.

“Oh, some really, really nice things! And Daddy, I want you to have them!”

Daddy, who was already running late and had to rush to the office, grabbed the little brown paper bag, put it in his attached case, then hurried to his car and drove away.

When he got to the office, Daddy opened his attached case, and there, among his important papers and documents, he found the little brown paper bag.

Daddy emptied the little brown paper bag on his desk, and saw – 2 hair clips, 3 small stones, 1 very used pencil, 1 marble, 1 small plastic dinosaur, 2 small chocolate candies, 1 used lipstick, 1 little doll, and 13 very old meaningless coins.

Daddy was amused and smiled, then he gathered everything together and threw them all in the trash.

Then he went about the important things.

At the end of the day, a day of contracts and conferences and board meetings and executive decisions, Daddy finally got home.

“Daddy,” asked his little daughter, “where is it?”

“Where is what?”
“The things I gave you. The little brown bag I gave you this morning.”

He remembered the little brown paper bag. He remembered how he had looked at the contents, and he remembered how he had thrown everything in the trash.

“Daddy, Daddy, do you have them?” asked the little girl. “Did you lose them?” “You know Daddy, I really liked all those things. They were very, very special to me. I thought they were all so beautiful. And I had been collecting them one by one. They were the most precious things in the world to me. And so I gave them all to you as my gift because I love you, Daddy.”

And the Daddy looked at the face of his little, five-year-old girl and thought of her simple world of beauty and the value of love – and of her gift of the little brown paper bag. To that five-year-old girl, these were her most prized treasures and she entrusted them to her daddy and he literally had thrown them away.

Because Advent and Christmas is all about the gift of God's Son to the world, we celebrate Christmas by the giving and receiving of gifts.

But somewhere along the line, we've forgotten why we do all this. And because we've forgotten, a holy-day has just become a holiday. And that's the reason why we get gifts for all kinds of people, but we don't even begin thinking about what God might want for Christmas. And the more we make the holy-day a holiday, we can sing about Santa and Frosty, drink our eggnog and kiss our loved ones under the mistletoe, and not even think about God's gift to the world in His Son Jesus Christ.

That's why I encourage you to think about your gift to God for Christmas this year. What do you think God might want for Christmas? What do you think you could give to God that would make His heart leap with joy?

Go ahead. Give God your gift and let God change your world.

Nov 30, 2007

Psalm 101 Reflections

Psalm 101 describes a person who is walking with God, and more importantly, a person whom God is walking with.

We already looked at a couple of descriptions earlier - they are a people of praise, and they are ones of character and integrity.

Here are some more observations:

First, we are told the negative characteristics of whom God rejects:
  • v. 3b - The deeds of faithless men I hate; they will not cling to me.
  • v. 4 - Men of perverse heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with evil.
  • v. 5 - Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will i put to silence;
  • v. 5b - Whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure.
And, here are the positive characteristics of the person whom God walks with:
  • v. 6 - My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me;
  • v. 6b - He whose walk is blameless will minister to me.
  • v. 7 - No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house;
  • v. 7b - No one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence.
This is not a statement of God's love toward us, but this is a truth regarding the persons whom God uses. God's love and invitation to participate in His kingdom is extended to all, however, not all will experience God's power and grace unless we walk with God.

And this is a marvelous reminder of the life we are called to live.

Nov 29, 2007

Adding Value

That we are alive today means that there is a purpose to our being alive today.

We don't think like that. Because the pressures of our agendas tasks demand our loyalty, but the biblical and theological truth is that God has us where we are for a purpose.

Since that is the case, I encourage you to ask the following question everyday - "How can I add value to _____?".

We will meet today that God wants to bless. And when we are open to what God is doing, we just might discover that we can be God's partner in bringing God's blessing to someone's life. And in so doing, we just might discover that adding value to other's lives adds value to our life.

Go ahead. Add value. Be a part of God's kingdom plan.

James <><
Check out what God is up to @

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Nov 28, 2007

Character and Integrity

Yesterday, we began looking at Psalm 101. There is another gem of a passage that deals with the inner character and integrity of a person whom God uses.

v.2b-3 says, "I will walk in my house with a blameless heart. I will set before my eyes no vile thing."

God particularly sets the house apart from other places. God does this because it’s easy to play a role in the public. But the most vile and heinous things are said and acted out in the privacy of the home. For whatever reason, with the very people we care about and love the most, we say things we would never say in front of others. God sets the home apart from other places because it is in the privacy and in the hidden places from the eyes of others that we engage in sin that we would never consider doing in public.

What we fail to comprehend fully is that while these things may be hidden from the eyes of other human beings, God sees and hears everything.

That's why these words are so awesome.

I will walk in my house with a blameless heart! Wow!

That's my goal. That's who I strive to be. That's who we're called to be.

Not only in public, but also in the home, we are to walk with a blameless heart. Character and integrity is demonstrated when we think no one is watching.

Of particular note is that we are to set before our eyes no vile thing. I think we need to take this seriously because there is so much about our entertainment choices and the availability of porn on the internet that this has to be taken into account.

It is in the context and the privacy of the home that we are to demonstrate our integrity and character.

Nov 27, 2007

The Persons God Uses

Psalm 102 is a powerful Psalm that describes the type of person God uses.

v. 1 says, "I will sing of your love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will sing praise."

The first thing that sets the people God uses apart from others is that they are a people of praise.

That they are a people of praise means one significant thing. They are praising because they are daily experiencing God’s power at work in their lives. If they were to sing praises and didn't have a reason to praise, we'd call such people either crazy or liars.

There are two things in particular that he is praising God for: for God’s love and for God’s justice.

God is worthy of praise because of His great love.
  • God knows what is in the heart of every man and woman and yet God still loves us.
  • God knows what we are all capable of and yet God still loves us.
  • God knows the things we have done and the things we have left undone and God still loves us.
  • God still hopes the best for us and God loves us through the ugliness of sin.
God loves us in such a way because it is this kind of love which transforms people. It expects the best of us and yet still gives us room to mess up because we are going to mess up.

God’s love is so awesome! God 's love is so great!

The second thing that distinguishes the person God uses is that this person praises God for is His great justice. God is absolutely fair and God is absolutely just. This means that there is no sin that God will overlook. God will hold people accountable for their sins.

But God knows that we can never be perfect and so God sent Jesus to pay for our sin. And because Jesus has paid the debt of sin, we are free. We are free to praise. We are free to choose God. We will not do it perfectly, but because our sin has already been dealt with, we are free to live for God.

And this is the reason why we praise God for His great love and for His great justice.

Our God is an awesome God!

Nov 25, 2007

What Does God Want for Christmas?

Every year about this time, the whole country goes gift buying crazy. That’s the way we do things around this time of the year.

Normally, I like to go over to the Barnes and Nobles at the mall to work on my sermon. I love that place. The coffee shop is there, the book store is there, the food court is just a few steps beyond. What more could a guy want?

But I’ve made a conscious effort not to go near that place right now. It’s crawling with crazy people. And I know. My wife’s already been out there a couple of times.

She’s not one of the crazy ones. She’s confirmed that everyone’s crazy out there.

And without much thought, most of us Christ-followers follow right along getting busy making lists and making shopping trips.

That’s just the way we do things around here at this time of the year.

I am all for gift giving, because it's the one time during the year where we're forced to focus on people beyond ourselves, and I think that's good. But I wonder if we’ve ever considered, what God might want for Christmas? I wonder if that thought has even ever crossed our mind?

What do you think God might want for Christmas?

What is something God might need?

What do you think would really make the heart of God leap with joy this Christmas?

If we take this – giving God a gift for Christmas – seriously, it just might totally change how we look at Christmas. It just may totally change our lives and someone else’s life too as we consider what God might want for Christmas.

So before things get much crazier with the shopping and the making of lists, won’t you take some time to sit with God and consider what He might want for Christmas from you?

It just may make this Christmas the most wonderful Christmas ever.

Merry Christmas Jesus!

Nov 21, 2007


On this Thanksgiving, how about actually giving thanks.

Before we get food coma and sit around watching football games all day or whatever your Thanksgiving plans may be, take out a clean sheet of paper and jot down the following verse, "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good" (Psalm 136:1).

And then start listing the things you are thankful for - I mean everything. If you're alive, thank God for that. If you're breathing, thank God for the air. I mean whatever comes to your mind about what you're thankful for. And after you've finished writing them down. Look over that list, and make sure you give thanks to God for His goodness toward you on this Thanksgiving holy-day.

God bless you and have a wonderful holy-day.

Nov 20, 2007

Praying Daily - Part 2

Here's another way of keeping your prayer life consistent and fresh.

All churches I know have a church directory. If your church doesn't, just ask the church office for a list of names of the people of the church.

Every day, take ten names and pray for them. And once you've gone through all the names, start from the beginning again and pray for those names again. This way, we can cover the church with prayers and everyone gets prayed for. And in the process, you will see God do wonderful things through the prayers of His people.

I think praying like this would not only impact your daily prayers, but the impact the church you belong to.

God bless.

Nov 19, 2007

Praying Daily - Part 1

I think when Christians promise to pray for someone, they honestly intend to do so. I don't think we promise to pray for one another without any intention to actually pray for the people we promised to pray for.

Good intentions aside, how can we actually pray for the people we committed to pray for?

Let me share with you how I go about praying for the people I promised to pray for.

When we actually get down to it, there are so many people and things to pray for. But the problem is, even though there may be so much to pray for, daily prayer can be dull and seem repetitive. I mean, how many different ways can we pray for our church, spouses, children, friends, etc.? Particularly if we are praying for these same people on a regular basis.

I have found the following method very helpful in keeping my promise to pray for the people I promise to pray for, and to keep from having these be repetitive.

I have divided the days of the week into different prayer categories. Here's my weekly prayer schedule.

Mondays - World Mission, Global Church, Denomination. This is the day I pray for our mission partners in Uganda and Russia. This is the day I pray for people in the denomination and the greater church and for what God is doing in the world.

Tuesdays - Family. This is the day I pray for my wife, kids, parents, siblings, etc.

Wednesdays - Friends. This is the day I pray for my friends.

Thursdays - Trinity Presbyterian Church. This is the day I pray for the specific prayer requests of the people in the church I serve. I pray for the leaders of the church. I pray for the things that God is doing at Trinity.

Fridays - Weekend. I pray specifically for what God will do through Trinity's ministry to impact the lives of people. I pray for the sermon and the worship experience. I pray for the Sunday School and the Bible Studies and its leaders.

Saturdays - General Prayer. I pray for whatever God places on my heart on this day. I pray to get ready to encounter God in worship on Sunday.

By dividing up my prayers into these categories by day, I've found that it helps to keep my prayer life fresh, and that I can make sure that I pray for the people that I promise to be praying for.

May the bless you and the ones you are praying for.

Nov 16, 2007

Studying the Bible - How to? Part 2

Here's another way that I've studied the Bible on a daily basis that I've found to be useful.

God created us with a mind, heart, and body. And because God created us with a mind, heart, and body, whenever we read His word, it will impact our minds, our hearts, and our bodies.

Here's how.

As I am reading through the daily reading for the day, I ask the following three questions and I journal them by labeling them as 1, 2, and 3.

In section 1, as I am reading through the daily reading, I am asking the question, "What new thing about who God is, who I am, and/or my life is God revealing to me through the scripture?"

In section 2, I am asking the question, "How does that new understanding impact my heart?"

In section 3, I am asking the question, "What is God asking me to do based on what He's revealed to me?"

So if I am reading about how awesome God is in His faithfulness toward us, I might say something like:

1) God is always there for me when I turn to Him for guidance and strength. There is never a time where God will say no to me when I turn to Him for guidance and strength.

2) This gives me the courage and the assurance that God is always for me. That no matter what I may be going through today, because God is with me I will alright.

3) Because God is always with me and for me, I ought to also be willing to forgive and give other people the same chance that God gives me. I ought to also be for people just as God is for me.

During the application section, if that's all you write, the devil loves for Christ-followers to have such quiet times. Because you see, there is no way to tell at the end of the day whether we actually did anything about what God's showed us. When God reveals a truth like this, He will also reveal to us a person or a situation to which we must offer the same forgiveness and opportunity.

The way you will be able to discern that God is actually changing our lives is when you can look back at the end of the day and be able answer with a yes or no regarding the question - did I do what God asked me to do that day?

So, if the application is, I need to offer to John the same opportunity for second chances that God offers me, I will be able to know whether I did that for John that day.

The application section is the most important section because that's where rubber of faith meets the road. This is where faith makes a difference.

So spend some time on this section reflecting on how God wants to impact your world.

Studying the Bible - How to? Part 1

I am often asked how one should go about studying the Bible. They realize that it's important to do so and want to study the Bible, but no one's ever showed them how to do it. In the next two days, I will suggest two ways which you can study the Bible everyday.

The way I currently do my daily quiet times and study the Bible is by using the acronym S-O-A-P. I keep a journal on the computer. I used to use a note book to do it, but since I travel so much and since my computer is always with me, it's easier to just type it in. In my journaling, I use the SOAP acronym to help me organize my thoughts.

Here's how.

S - Scripture.

I go through the entire Bible in nine months and the Bible reading program I am using helps me keep track of what passages I am to read and study that day. You can find these pretty easily on the web.

Here are some sites you can check out.
These are just five of hundreds of sites that can help you with a daily reading plan. If you're not reading the Bible everyday, it's not because there aren't enough resources, it's just simply because you don't want to. If you want to grow and mature as a person of faith, there is no other way to do so without making daily reading one of your spiritual habits.

As I am reading, I simply write down the Bible passages or words that jump out at me.

O - Obervation

This is the section where I ask myself, why did these words or this passage make an impression on me? What is God trying to say to me? What am I supposed to "see" or learn from these passages?

A - Application

What is God asking me to do?

P - This is my prayer section. I write out my prayers because I find that this helps me to concentrate better than if I were to just sit and pray. But this is the time where you are communicating with God about what is going on in your day and what God is showing you.

I will share in the days to come about different ways to study the Bible and have a daily quiet time.

Why not start today to begin the greatest habit you can ever start?

Nov 14, 2007

Jesus Loves Me This I Know

Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.

We've all heard this song. Many who grew up in the church have been singing this song since we were children.

There is an absolutely important truth in this statement that most of us miss.

Jesus loves me.

How do I know that? How can I be sure of my standing before God? How do I know that I am really forgiven? Where does the Christ-followers assurance and certainty come from? Where is our authority and our power?

Jesus loves me. This I know. How? Because the Bible tells me so.

And here's the thing. What happens if we don't know what the Bible says? What happens when you have an entire generation of people who are clueless what the Bible says? What happens when you have a church who is ignorant of what the Bible says?

You have a generation and a church who is uncertain of their identity.

You have a generation and a church that is totally impotent against the schemes and the false teaching of the enemy.

You have a generation and a church that has no clue if there is a God at all.

And this is exactly the devil's ploy. The devil doesn't mind that you might have a wonderful church experience. The devil doesn't mind that you attend church and do church things and good things. Because as long as God's people remain ignorant of God's word, they will have no idea how the good deeds, the worship, and how everything we do and how everything we are has anything to do with God.

Christ-follower, our certainty and our assurance is completely dependent upon how well we know God's word. That is why the daily study and meditation of God's word is absolutely essential to our spiritual lives. It has to be a non-negotiable. This is the bedrock of our faith, and the foundation of our strength.

Get in the Word of God and let God's Word get into you.

Everything I Need to Know About Life, I Learned from Noah's Ark

Here's a little piece that I came across. I am not sure who wrote it so I can't credit them. But it sure has blessed me and I pray it does you too.

Everything I need to know about life, I learned from Noah's Ark.
  1. Don't miss the boat.
  2. Remember we're all in the same boat.
  3. Plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark.
  4. Stay fit when you're 60 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big.
  5. Don't listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done.
  6. Build your future on high ground.
  7. For safety's sake, travel in pairs.
  8. Speed isn't always an advantage. The snails were on board with the cheetahs.
  9. Remember, the ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals.
  10. No matter the storm, when you're with God, there's always a rainbow waiting.
Thought that was pretty good.

Have a blessed day.

Nov 12, 2007

The Importance of the Important Things

Some of you might have noticed that I have not been blogging as much in the last couple of weeks. The truth is, I haven't been doing much of anything the last several weeks.

We had a couple of Russian guests visiting the church. And as the pastor who invited them, I was showing them around and playing the good host. While doing that, I neglected most of my regular habits - daily reading and praying, studying, preparing, planning. And the more I let my daily spiritual habits go, the tougher it became to get back into the swing of things.

As I look back on the last couple of weeks, it makes me mad. Not because I didn't enjoy my time with the Russians, but because I allowed myself to be so unproductive. It's as if my brain and heart took a vacation too.

There are certain things that I don't ever want to stop doing.

I don't want to ever lose my intimacy with my Savior and Lord. This is my life line. It's my connection and intimacy with God that gives me the motivation and gives me the purpose for why I am alive. And I let that slip. I don't want to let that happen again.

I don't ever want to stop learning and growing. And I haven't been reading as I normally do. And the result is that I've got nothing to share. I've got nothing to write. I've got to keep learning and studying. I don't want to ever stop learning and growing.

I let myself get out of the routine of my daily and weekly habits. I am still recovering from that. I don't want to let myself go like that again.

No matter what else is happening in my life, I don't ever cease to be a Christ-follower, a pastor to God's church just as I don't ever stop being a husband and a father. This is who I am.

Be it resolved that I will stay connected to God through my daily habits, and I will continue to learn and grow.

Nov 11, 2007

Who We're With Changes How We Fear

Isn’t it funny how who we’re with changes how we fear? About a month ago in the middle of the night, we had some severe thunderstorms go through our area. And when the storm came over our house, it sounded like and felt like the thunder and lightning were right over our house. And within a matter of minutes, Helen and my bed now held six people. And because the bed held two particular people, those four littler persons weren’t afraid anymore.

It wasn’t because the lightning and thunder stopped. It was because they were with their mommy and daddy. That changed everything.

Isn’t it funny how who we’re with changes how we fear. Who we’re with makes all the difference in the world.

That’s what our God, our Father, our Savior, is saying to you and me, “Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.”
• I know. You’re going through some hard times. Cancer and disease has wreaking havoc in your life. Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.
• I know. The financial market looks gloomy. I know there are dark clouds ahead. Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.
• Yes, I know. You’re facing some major relational issues. You’ve had your share of heartbreaks. Take courage. I’m here. Do not be afraid.

Did you know that this is the most often repeated command in the entire Bible? Someone has counted that there are 365 “Take courage” “Do not be afraid’s” in the Bible – there is a Take courage and not be afraid for every single day of every year. Child of God, you are never alone. So take courage. God is with us. Do not be afraid.

Nov 3, 2007

The Difference Between a Ministry and a Job

I came across this piece a few years ago. Why do some churches experience dynamic growth and life while others languish in slow march to death and irrelevance? What are some of the differences in a dynamic, life changing church?

One of the characteristics of a thriving church is the people's understanding of their calling and their ministries. They don't just do something because they are supposed to. They do it because they are called to do it. They don't just do things because it's a job. They do it because it's their ministry.

Here's an article that expresses this better than I can.

If you are doing it because no one else will, it's a job.
If you are doing it to serve the Lord, it's a ministry.

If you are doing it just well enough to get by, it's a job.
If you are doing it to the best of your ability, it's a ministry.

If you will do it only so long as it doesn't interfere with other activities, it's a job.
If you are committed to staying with it, even when it means letting go of other things, it's a ministry.

If you quit because no one praised you or thanked you, it was a job.
If you stay with it even when no one seems to notice, it's a ministry.

If you do it because someone else said it needs to be done, it's a job.
If you do it because you are convinced it needs to be done, it's a ministry.

It is hard to get excited about a job.
It is almost impossible not to get excited about a ministry.

People may say, "Well done," when you do your job.
The Lord will say, "Well done," when you complete your ministry.

An average church is filled with people doing jobs.
A great church is filled with people involved in ministry.

Nov 1, 2007

Career or Calling? Which are You Living For?

John Ortberg, in his book If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat, writes:

A career is something I choose for myself; a calling is something I receive.

A career is something I do for myself; a calling is something I do for God.

A career promises status, money, or power; a calling generally promises difficulties and even some suffering - and the opportunity to be used by God.

A career is about upward mobility; a calling generally leads to downward mobility.

A career may end with retirement and lots of "toys."

A calling isn't over until the day you die.

The rewards of a career may be quite visible, but they are temporary.

The significance of a calling lasts for eternity.

(Ortberg, "Get Out of the Boat", p. 71-72).

If you are fortunate enough to retire from your career, and if the career was what you lived for, you will have wasted the precious gift of life. Your life is so much more than what you did to earn a paycheck. There is so much more to life and eternity than your career.

Pursue your calling regardless of what you might be doing to earn a paycheck. Your company, your boss, your career doesn't give rip about you or your eternity. The only thing your company and career is interested in is how much you can bring in for the company. That's not even close to being worthy of your best years, best efforts, and your life. Give your life to something that actually matters.

You are a child of God. You have a calling upon your life. God placed you here for a reason. Claim your destiny.

Oct 31, 2007

What's the Big Deal about Worship?

"I just don't feel like getting up and getting all ready to go to church this morning."

"I just don't feel like talking to anyone. I don't want to see anyone. I just want to be left alone."

"What's the big deal about Sunday? Why can't I just worship God staying home?"

Comments and sentiments like these are ones we've all had before. And it's perfectly understandable. I mean, no one's perfect and I'm sure God understands.



What is worship to a Christian? What is worship to a Christ-follower? Is worship something we do when we feel like it or is worship more foundational than that?

Listen, Christian. Worship is not an option. That we gather in God's house with others to worship God is not an option. This is what Christ-followers do. Worship is at the core of our identity. This may not be a very popular position to take, but it is the only position I can take as a pastor of God's word.

You see, being a Christ-follower is all about being in a relationship with God. And because we are in a relationship with God, we never cease being a Christ-follower.

Just as it would be absurd to say that I don't feel like being faithful to my wife today, it is just as absurd to say that I am not going to faithful to God today.

The corporate gathering of worship is what Christ-followers do.

Of course, there are times when we miss worship due to illness or because we're stuck in an airport somewhere. But there is never a moment when we cease to be Christ-followers. And if we are Christ-followers, than we gather for worship.

As Christ-followers, we are to spend the Lord's Day the Lord's way.

I will see you in worship on Lord's Day.

Oct 30, 2007

Russian Presbyterian Church

I've been traveling with Pastor Roman and Elena and just returned from Hereford, Texas this evening.

It's been amazing to spend time with Roman and Elena. Their story of how they came to faith and of what God has been doing in their lives is truly awesome.

Roman and Elena came to know Christ in the early 90's. Since then, God has used the ministry and the testimony of these two people to start up three churches and they are working on their fourth. Roman became the pastor of his first church because he and his wife led more than 30 people to Christ. And they all looked at him and said, "You led us to Christ, you are our pastor." And before he ever went to the seminary, God used him to build up two churches!

One of the criteria for being ordained in the Russian Presbyterian Church is that the seminary graduates must be able to demonstrate they can lead at least 60 people to Christ. After they graduate from the seminary, they must go into an unchurched area and build up three bible studies of at least 20 new believers. Once they demonstrate that they are able to lead people to Christ, the seminary ordains them and purchases the land and a building for the ordained graduates.

I wonder what would happen to the church in America if that was our criteria for ordaining our ministers?!

The presbyterian church in Russia is less than 20 years old, and in that short span of time, there are now over 110 Presbyterian churches. There are over 10,000 new believers who are members of the Russian Presbyterian Church!

The way I see it, we are the ones who ought to be learning from the Russians how to do evangelism.

Oct 26, 2007

Pastor Roman and Elena Uglev

I am tired and exhausted. It's been a great few days with Pastor Roman and his wife Elena from Russia.

They are such a breath of fresh air. I always enjoy traveling and being with people from other countries because they provide such a different lens through which to look at life.

I am reminded again how blessed we are in the United States. Pastor Roman and Elena would be considered one of the fortunate and wealthy ones in Russia. They own their own home. They've traveled to Germany and France, and now to the United States. They own their own car. They are both well educated. And yet, our standard of living compared to the Russians is night and day.

We are so incredibly blessed.

I've been taking them shopping to get gifts and items for their friends and family back home. What is amazing is that the prices in Russia are not that much different than they are here. Everything here costs as much as they do back in Russia. And to top it off, their cars cost more. Their homes cost more. Their computer and electronics cost more. However, their salaries are a tenth of what an American earns at even $36,000 year.

I just don't understand how they are able to do it.

When I asked how they manage, their answer again reminded me how we take so much for granted.

They are amazed at how much we eat out. They are amazed that how much we pay for things like sodas and drinks and Starbucks. They told me that they eat out maybe once or twice a year for special occasions. The rest of the time they eat at home and they celebrate at home. They make do because they don't spend money on things like a Caramel Machiato or a Hazelnut Latte.

If you manage to drink just two of these drinks a week, that's close to $500 a year just on two drinks a week at Starbucks. That's more than what a typical Russian worker makes in one month.

We take so much for granted.

It is only right we remember how blessed we are. And secondly, it is only right that we become better stewards and managers of God's finances. All this material and financial inequality that have cannot be for only our consumption. We must get smarter and better at reinvesting it back to God's people.

That's enough for today. It's late and we have another big day tomorrow.

Oct 23, 2007

How Much Do You Really Believe? - Something to Think About

Here's another quote from C.S. Lewis.

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it?

C. S. Lewis, "A Grief Observed"

I think this is one of the reasons why I love the faith of the Ugandans so much. We don't think we need God as much as the Ugandans. For the many Ugandan Christians I have come to love, when they pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," this is not a figurative statement. God must send the rain to grow the crops, and God must help the crops to grow. Their day to day life is dependent on God.

That's why until you and I have been in a place where we were totally helpless and dependent on God, our faith will always remain shallow.

Believing - Something to Think About

C. S. Lewis said:

Believing things "on authority" only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York, I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there is such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary person believes in the solar system, atoms, and the circulation of the blood on authority - because the scientists say so. Every historical statement is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Spanish Armada. But we believe them simply because people who did see them have left us writings that tell us about them; in fact, on authority.

A person who balks at authority in other things, as some people do in religion, would have to be content to know nothing all his life.

Posting from the road

I am traveling with Pastor Roman and Elena from Russia. We are going to be visiting San Antonio so they can get some Texas history.

I just found out that I can write to my blog from my blackberry. How cool is that. So I will be updating even while I'm on the road.

If you haven't made plans for the weekend, be sure to join us on Saturday at 6pm for the Texas Barbecue with Pastor Roman and Elena, and then join us for a time of worship as Pastor Roman and Elena share about what God has been doing in their lives.

They will also be leading worship and preaching on Sunday. You don't want to miss out on hearing about what God is up to in Russia.

We'd love to see you this weekend.

James <><
Check out what God is up to @

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

The Greatest Command

In the Gospel according to Mark 12, Jesus is approached by a teacher of the law who asks Him a great question - What is the single greatest commandment of all? If you could summarize all of God's teaching into one command, what would that be?

And Jesus answers this question. Jesus says in Mark 12:29-21, "The most important one is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself." There is no commandment greater than these."

Did you just catch what Jesus did? This is why Jesus was a great theologian but terrible in math.

Jesus says, here's the most important one - and then goes, first and second.

What's up with that?

You see, the reason why Jesus answers in this way is because He couldn't separate these two.

Jesus says that you loving the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength will flow into how you love your neighbor as yourself. You can’t love God and not love and value people. Our relationship to God dramatically impacts how we treat people.

The true evidence of our worship and love of God is demonstrated in how we treat, value, and relate with one another.
• When we begin valuing God, we cannot help but start valuing people.
• When we begin loving God, we begin loving people.
• When we begin honoring God, we begin to honor people.

And this is what really bothers me. I think it’s a problem that Christians are known more for the things we are against than the things we are for. Of all people, we ought to be known as the people who stand for strong healthy families and marriages. We ought to be the people known for honoring and valuing people. We ought to be the ones who are known for helping people become who they were created to be.
• I think it’s a problem when we’re more angry about homosexuality than we are about starvation and AIDS in the world.
• I think it’s wrong when Christ-followers care more about who’s sleeping with who and who’s doing what with whom, when there are people all around us who are hurting and lonely.
• How can the church get so preoccupied with the things we’re against, when there’s a whole world out there that will spend eternity apart from God because we are too busy and too preoccupied with ourselves that we fail to walk across the street to get to know our neighbors.
• There’s something wrong with us when we have such little value for the life and the eternal destinies of human beings.

Of all the people on earth, Christ-followers ought to be the ones who stand for the things that make us truly God's people.

Oct 18, 2007

Stinks to be James and not Peter. Or does it?

In Acts chapter 12, we are told that King Herod began arresting Christians to persecute them. Herod had James, the brother of John, killed with a sword. And when this pleased the Jews, he had Peter arrested. And while Peter was waiting to be tried and persecuted, God sent an angel to free Peter.

Here's the question that begs to be asked. Why did God save Peter and not James? And why did God save Peter from this death when Peter will eventually be martyred later? Why didn't God save Peter from martyrdom?

One of the reasons why we can't help but ask such questions is because for us - even though we may be Christ-followers who believe in eternal life - death is so final to us.

But, perhaps, death is something different for God and we are to learn from God what death means to Christ-followers. I don't think death matters as much to God as it does to us. Because God has opened a way for Christ-followers to defeat death. And we defeat death when we realize that death is not an end but an entrance into eternity.

Perhaps, we have become too comfortable with life here on earth, and we're not supposed to be comfortable here. Earth is not our home. Heaven with its full glory is our home. And when we fail to remember that heaven is our home, we cannot help but see death as a tragic event.

The closest thing that I can come up with is the process of new birth. The baby growing in mommy's tummy, the uterus is a perfect world. It's warm. It's never hungry. All it's needs are taken care of. It seems like a beautiful world. But the parents have been getting the nursery ready and can't wait to see the baby born.

The baby is thinking to himself, I don't have do anything. I can just float around. This is a perfect set up. But the baby must do some things. The baby has to grow the lungs, the heart, the organs it will need to live in the new world. And the baby must grow those things because the uterus is not its home. It's supposed to be born.

And one day, whether the baby likes it or not, the baby will be born.

The same is true for every one of us. One day, whether we like it or not, we will enter into eternity. And what we are called to do while we are here on earth is to grow the lungs, the heart, and the organs necessary for us to live in eternity. And we do that by growing as a Christ follower by obeying God's teachings.

And whether we like it or not, that day will come. We will enter into eternity. And either we will be prepared for that new life by accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, or we will be ill-prepared for life in heaven.

Friends, this is not our home. This is not our final destination. We are not comfortable here because we're not supposed to be. We will not find ultimate rest and happiness until we are in heaven. But in order to enter heaven, there are things we must do now here on earth. We must receive Jesus as Lord and Savior and begin growing up as Christ-followers so that when that day comes, death opens the way into heaven. Heaven is our home.

If you're reading this and you haven't done so, start preparing for eternity by receiving Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
  1. Admit that you are a sinner and you need for God to forgive you of your sins.
  2. Accept and believe that Jesus died on the cross for you.
  3. Begin growing up as a Christ-follower by obeying God's word.
  4. Find a Bible-believing church and start serving and giving there.
If you have received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, I would love to hear from you and pray for you. I'd love to help you get connected to a Bible believing church. Please contact me at and I will help you find a good church.

If you are in the Dallas area, there is a fantastic church called Trinity Presbyterian Church. Start attending and growing here.

Called Christians

The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch (Acts 11:26).

We use the term, "Christian", as a self-designation. We tell others that we are Christians.

But the Bible doesn't use the term that way. Christian was not a self-designation. The disciples were first called Christians.

As the church began growing, the people around them noticed that they were different. They were not like the other pagans they knew. They were not like the Jews they knew. And so they looked at them and said, "Who the heck are these people?" And they called them Christians - because they were Christ-followers.

And when the first followers of Jesus were called by others, "Christians", it was derogatory term. According to Josephus, a Jewish historian during the days of Jesus, Christians were rumored to be both incestuous and cannibals.
  • Incestuous - because they were calling each other brothers and sisters, and yet some of them were married to their brothers and sisters.
  • Cannibals - because whenever they gathered, they broke bread and ate and drank the blood of Jesus Christ.
There was much misunderstanding about who these Christ followers were. However, what was undeniable was that they were different than anyone else they had ever met. They were so different in the ways they loved one another, cared for one another, in the ways that they treated the people around them that the people around them couldn't help but notice they were different. And they knew these weren't Jews or pagans. They were something totally different. They were Christians. And so the first Christ followers were called Christians in Antioch.

The question for us is this - Would someone know that you are a Christian by your actions and deeds? Would they know by the ways you treat them, and how you treat others that you are a Christian? Do your coworkers, neighbors, friends even know you are a Christian? Not because you tell them you go to church or because you are a self professing Christian, but because what your actions and deeds screams loud and clear that you are a follower of Jesus Christ?

I pray that we too will be the generation of believers where the unbelieving world cannot help but call us Christians.

Oct 16, 2007

Your House and the White House

As we all know, the presidential race is heating up. And as we consider who we are going to vote for and why we support Obama, Hillary, Juliani, or Romney, whether we will vote for a republican or a democrat, we can't help but get caught up with the excitement or the disappointment with who wins the white house.

I believe that the presidential elections are important. I will take the time to study the candidate's positions and voting record. I will vote because I believe my vote matters. But even as powerful as the President of the United States is, I have more influence on my family's welfare than any president.

I am all for voting responsibly. I am all for voting with our conscience and voting for our morals. I believe all Americans have the privilege and the duty to do our part by voting for our candidates.

But if we are really interested in the welfare and the health of our great country, we need to be more concerned with what we do in our house rather than what takes place in the white house. When we build Godly families, when we build Godly marriages, and when we raise Godly children, the collective of all our homes will result in a great and Godly nation.

I challenge you to be more concerned about the welfare and the Godliness of your homes than you are for the next election.
  • Study the health of your spouse.
  • Study the spiritual wellbeing of your children.
  • Make sure that in the only house which you have control over, that God and God's will presides over everything you do.
America is great when Americans are great. You cannot separate the two. Our president will be a reflection of who we are as citizens. And America will be a great Godly nation when we all do our part to build Godly Americans.

So do your part. Get to church. Pray together. Love one another. And build up Godly families.

I think Barbara Bush has it right when she told the graduating class at Wellsley College, "The health of this great country will not be primarily determined by what happens in the White House, but rather by what happens at your house."

Oct 15, 2007

Get Out of the Boat

During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:25-31).

This is one of the most well known stories in the Bible. Most of the times we focus on Peter – and particularly of his failure to keep his eyes on Jesus and crying out, “Lord, save me!”

But I think there is a greater failure than Peter. There were eleven others who remained in the boat paralyzed by fear. Those eleven never knew the exhilarating joy of answering Jesus’ invitation to walk on water. Peter got out of the boat and became the only human being to ever walk on water.

If I had my druthers, I want to be Peter. I want to know what it’s like to throw yourself fully into the invitation of Jesus to walk on water.

I believe Jesus is still calling on His disciples to get out of the safety of the boat to know the exhilarating thrill of walking on water. But in order to experience that, you have to first get out of the boat.

God has given to Trinity Presbyterian Church the amazing invitation to be a part of God’s renewing ministry to establish God’s Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. God has given to this tiny little church the crazy dream to be a part of God transforming the world – not just The Colony, but the world.

And as we consider this crazy and wonderful invitation, the temptation will be to play it safe. But I encourage you to get out of the safety of the boat, and let’s try walking on water. That God will change the world and establish His Kingdom is a given. It’s going to happen. But whether you and I get to play our part is totally dependent on whether we will risk it all and get out of the boat.

What are you waiting for? Get out of the boat and throw yourselves fully to the cause of Christ and let’s start experiencing

Oct 11, 2007

A Sad Testament

I was doing my daily devotional reading today when I came across the following passage. "He (Jehoram) was thirty-two years old when he became king. He reigned in Jerusalem eight years and, to no one's sorrow, departed" (2 Chronicles 21:20).

The books of 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles are filled with lots of examples of bad kings and poor leadership. And as one reads through them cannot help but feel sad by how many of the kings led their nation and people astray. But this one has to be up there with the all time worst.

Think about this - for the rest of eternity, Jehoram's leadership is tied to this phrase, "He reigned in Jerusalem and, to no one's sorrow, departed." There were other notoriously bad kings in Judah and Israel, but no one else has this written about them. How could a person die to no one's sorrow?

This made me think about my life. Am I living a life that is impacting the lives of other people for the good? Am I living in such a way to add value to the lives around me?

I think this is a worthy question for all of us to ask. If God placed us here on earth at this time, in our particular context, with the people in our lives, it must be because God wants us to impact their lives for good. It must because God can add value to their lives as we live for Christ.

So is that what we are doing with our lives? Are we adding value to those around us?

Or is life all about what's in it for me?

May it never be said of you and me, and James (and you place your name here) lived for "x" number of years and to no one's sorrow, he died.

Oct 8, 2007

Is Such a Church Possible Today?

And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. (Acts 4:33-35).

As a result of what God was doing through the church, hundreds and thousands were being added to their number.

Is such a church possible in today's world? I would give anything to see such a church in my life time.

And I think that's the key. It's not that we are preaching a different Jesus than the Jesus of the Book of Acts. I think it's because we don't believe in Jesus the same way that the first Christians did. They were moved to give and believe because of all the things that God was doing through the first Christians. They were witnessing the power of God on a regular basis.

Do we believe that God can do the same things today? We have made Jesus so safe.

When the first Christians prayed for God to act, they actually believed that God would do what God promised.

That's the biggest difference between our churches today and the church of the Book of Acts. We might give lip service to prayer and to what God can do, but do we actually believe God can change hearts, bring healing, restore broken relationships when we pray?

I am so tired of the status quo church. I want to be a part of what God is doing. I believe that God of 2007 is the same God of the Book of Acts. I will lead and preach with conviction and passion. And I believe God will do what God promised.

Lord, I want to see your kingdom established here on earth as it is heaven.

I want to see the Kingdom of Light destroy the kingdom darkness.

I want to see people get saved.

I want to see lives transformed.

I want to see people get healed.

I want to see YOU!

Oct 5, 2007

Pain of Discipline or the Pain of Regret

Life being life, and we being fallible and sinful human beings, we all must suffer one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.

We can choose willingly to fall under the loving and firm guidance of God and suffer through the discipline of becoming the people we were created to be. Or we can choose to live life according to our own ways and live life to our own song and suffer the pain of regret.

That we make mistakes along the way, that we stray, that we err is a certainty. This is part of what it means to be a fallible and sinful beings. No one will ever live a perfect life. But should we choose to follow hard after God, God will never disappoint us.

While we must all suffer either the pain of discipline or the pain of regret, the difference is that the pain of discipline weighs ounces and endures for a moment, the pain of regret weighs tons and can last forever.

The choice is up to us.

Oct 4, 2007

The Problem with Problems

Everyone has problems. That's what it means to be human.

Everyone has problems. That's what it means to live in this world.

Then why is it that some people are able to thrive and live to the hilt while others get tripped up by one problem after another? Why is it that some people are over-comers while others get overcome by the problems?

The problem is the way we see problems.

Winston Churchill said, "An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity."

This is what separates leaders from followers. Leaders see an opportunity to grow and learn from challenges. Leaders look for solutions to the problems they face and make their world and the world around them a better place.

The problem is not problems. The problem is with the way we see problems.

What the world with problems need are leaders who can seize the opportunities that every problem presents.

Oct 3, 2007

The Lord's Table

Jesus never owned anything all His life. He never owned a home. He never owned land. He ate as a guest at the table of others. Jesus was poor and penniless, yet Jesus never lacked a thing.

It's interesting that we would call the table of the Lord's Supper, the Lord's table. Because it really wasn't His table. He had to borrow that table. He borrowed the room which He and the disciples gathered. He had to borrow the food.

It was the custom of Jesus to be invited to the table of others. And Jesus was often times criticized severely for the company He kept.

Only one time did Jesus invite His disciple's to His table - it was the day which the Lord was to be betrayed. He gathered with His disciples in that borrowed room, and broke bread and shared wine with them on a borrowed table. And Jesus offered the disciples the only thing and everything He had - His whole life.

He broke bread and said to them, "This is my body broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And then after they supped, Jesus took the cup and poured out the wine and said, "This is the blood of the new covenant, poured out for the forgiveness of sins. Do this also in remembrance of me. Because every time you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you proclaim my death, and my resurrection, and my coming again."

All who have said "yes" to Jesus are welcome to the Lord's table.

And Jesus continues to be criticized for the company He keeps and welcomes to the table. Jesus has always welcomed the messed up, broken, wretched people to His table in order to renew them and change them. And that is the only reason why people like you and me can come to the table.

So the next time you are standing before the Lord's table. Remember that Jesus gave His absolute best. He gave of Himself so that we might be forgiven and be the people of God.

Since Jesus gave His best, it's only right that we do the same.

Oct 2, 2007

A Remarkable Way to Tell a Remarkable Story

John 20:31 reads, "These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."

This comes at the end of the passage where John tells us about the resurrected Christ. Mary goes to the tomb to see that the stone was tossed aside and the tomb was empty. She runs and tells the disciples that someone has taken Jesus. Peter and the other disciples run to the tomb and they find the tomb empty and the burial linen of Jesus still in the tomb.

And while Mary was still outside the tomb, Jesus appears before her. And only after that, Jesus appears to the disciples, minus Thomas. And then we have that famous passage where Jesus appears to Thomas and invites him to put his finger in the nail mark in His hands and on His side.

All this and the entire story of Jesus was written for us that we may believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in His name.

That's pretty important. What we're talking about is eternal life, eternal destiny.

And what I find so surprising about all of this is that the first person to witness both the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ is a woman.

Now, I don't say that because I want to demean women. I say that because during the days of Jesus, the words of a woman were not even allowed in the court of law. A woman's testimony was worthless during the days of Jesus. The people's perception was that a woman's word wasn't worth a salt.

And the most important story of human kind, all hinges on the testimony of an eye witness who was a woman!

If you wanted to fabricate a story about the resurrection of Jesus, you would never have the woman being the first eye witness to both the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ. That would undermine the entire story.

But you see, the disciples had no choice but to tell the story in this way because that's the it happened. There is no other plausible explanation for the way this incredible story is told.

In deed, a remarkable way to tell a remarkable story.

But there has never been another story more important than this: the tomb is empty, He is risen. He is risen indeed!

Sep 27, 2007

Christian, What Do You Do for a Living?

What do you do for a living?

The way most of us would answer this question is by saying what we do for our occupation. "I'm an engineer, a computer programmer, an accountant, a small business owner, a home-maker, etc."

Let's think about this. Is this what Christ-followers do for a living? Is this really our life's preoccupation? Is this who we are? Is this what our lives are about? Working with numbers, computers, or selling auto parts? And too often our identity is wrapped up in what we do to earn a living. But there has to be more to our lives and our self-understanding than what we do to earn a living.

If Jesus is the Lord over our lives, we are all in the business of establishing the Kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven. What we do for a living is to partner with God to build up His Kingdom. And we happen to do that while we are an engineer, a computer programmer, an accountant, a small business owner, a home-maker, etc.

Our single preoccupation and our identity is in who God has called us to be. Who we are as Christ-followers ought to be the overriding concern to which everything else should be bent. You and I are Kingdom engineers.

So Christian, what do you do for a living?