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Friday, April 27, 2012

Song Series: Counting On God

Counting On God

Read: Habakkuk 3:17-19

I'm turning cartwheels of joy
to my Savior God.
Counting on God's Rule to prevail,
I take heart and gain strength. - Habakkuk 3:17 (The Message)

“No one knows what tomorrow holds but I know Who holds tomorrow.” I think I heard Billy Graham say that. I like it, don’t you? You know what I like about it specifically? The fact that I really don’t need to know what tomorrow may bring, as long as I know that God is allowing it to be brought.

I like the way “The Message” translation reads too. When was the last time you saw someone excited about challenging times? Goodness! This guy’s doing cartwheels for crying out loud! Then Habakkuk goes on to say that he’s full of faith and power because he’s trusting that God is in control. No worries. He’s counting on God.

Our band is learning a song titled “Counting On God” by Desperation Band, which I think does a good job of putting this faith filled thought into practice. You can check it out at the following link:

I’m gonna go practice my cartwheels.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Quiet Time: Act of Valor

Act of Valor

Read: Psalm 60:9-12

Through God we shall do valiantly,
And it is He who will tread down our adversaries. – Psalm 60:12

My son and I recently viewed the movie “Act of Valor”. I usually watch these types of movies in the privacy of my home because they have a tendency to touch my heart deeply. Our men and women in the armed forces sacrifice so much. There’s a line in the movie where the soldiers are crossing a river, the narrator says, "You live your life by a code, it's your shore line - it's what guides you home. And trust me; you're always trying to get home." The code of honor, among other things, is what kept the SEALS going when the going got tough.

The soldiers in bible may not have had a true code. They were not fighting for freedom. They often fought for whatever they could get out it. But, they were still respected for their ability to suffer hardship and follow orders without question.

We’ve all read the bible passages where soldiers treated Christ with contempt. They were corrupt (Matthew 28:12; Luke 3:14) cruel and sadistic (Luke 23:11-36; John 19:2).

But there were good men who were soldiers too. Like Cornelius the centurion, who feared God, gave from his heart, and was a man of constant prayer. So much so, that God actually sent an angel to talk to him so that he and his family would hear the Good News of Jesus from Peter himself and be saved (Acts 10:1-7). Or, how about the soldier who stopped Paul from be beaten to death by the mob (Acts 21:31-33). Then there was the centurion who kept the soldiers from murdering Paul and the other prisoners during the ship wreck incident (Acts 27:41-43).

By the time letters are being written to the newly formed churches located from Jerusalem to Rome, soldiers were being used as examples for Christian conduct (1 Corinthians 9:7; Philippians 2:25; 2 Timothy 2:3-4; Philemon 1:2).

My point is this. I know we’re about to celebrate our Lord Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. PRAISE GOD! But while we’re celebrating His sacrifice and victory, I don't think that He'd mind if we lift up a prayer for those who are sacrificing today for tomorrow’s victory over evil and injustice.

It wouldn't hurt either to shake a soldier’s hand, especially if he or she attends your church tomorrow. Better yet, take the time to write a “Thank You” note and slip it into his or her hand at the end of the service.

Who knows, you may be the only act of kindness he’s received for his act of valor.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Quiet Time: Church Politics 101.1: Be A Blesser

Church Politics 101.1: Be A Blesser

Read: Romans 12:14-20

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. – Romans 12:14

Saying, “God bless you” when a classmate sneezed would’ve gotten you a lower grade as a student in Steve Cuckovich’s high school health class. He even knocked 25 points from one student's grade for saying the phrase in class. After parents complained about students losing points for saying "bless you", Cuckovich says he decided to stop the practice, but intends to find another way to discipline his students going forward.

That story reminded me of a funny exchange I overheard between two coworkers. One guy sneezed and the other guy said, “God bless you.” “Why’d you say that? You didn’t have to get all religious on me!” said the one who sneezed, at which point the other replied, “I guess I could’ve said, ‘May the evil spirits depart from you,’ but that seemed a little long.” Everyone in the place burst out laughing. From then on, whenever the guy who considered the phrase offensive sneezed, the place irrupted with a loud and boisterous, “GOD BLESS YOU!"

The bible tells us that it’s good for us to bless others. We are challenged to bless our enemies (Romans 12:14; Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28; 1 Corinthians 4:12) In Matthew 5, Jesus actually tells us to let our enemies bring out the best in us and reminds us that, God “…gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty.” (The Message Bible) When we act in accordance with God’s word we act according to our real selves; the person God saved us to be. In other words, our lives become more godly and our walk with Jesus more powerful and fulfilling.

The next time we are confronted with an obnoxious filth spewing person, we can stop and stand quietly (our response is our choice not theirs)and ask God to bless them by drawing them to Jesus.

Something else we can do is to make a habit of blessing those around us like our family members, friends, and work associates. We don’t need to make a big deal out it. Actually, we can bless them in our hearts, but the next time we say good bye to someone we like or love, why not add, “God bless you.”

Bless and curse not.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Quiet Time: Church Politics 101.2: Feel Their Pain

Church Politics 101.2: Feel Their Pain
Read: Romans 12:15-16

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. – Romans 12:15

I feel your pain.

Remember when ACT UP representative Rob Rafsky confronted then candidate Bill Clinton back in 1992. No, I’m sure you don’t. But, I know you remember Clinton’s response. Here’s what happened. Clinton was out stumping for the presidency at a New York City fundraiser. Rob stood up and (quoting from Vito Russo) said, "We're not dying of AIDS as much as we are dying of 11 years of government neglect." That’s when candidate Clinton gave the now famous/infamous line, “I feel your pain.” Immediately, that four word line went viral with every late night talk show host and political pundit putting their irreverent spin on it. I think that Clinton had the right idea, though, even if it did ring hollow; we do need to try and feel one another’s pain.

We see the early church being encouraged to be empathizers, as well as, really good listeners. Empathizers, by being happy when good things happened to other church members and by actually shedding tears with the broken hearted when sad things take place (Job 30:25; Hebrews 13:3).

Christians should be really good listeners too. A good listener gets into the head of the person speaking and tries to actually see things through their eyes (Romans 12:16; Philippians 2:2; 1 Peter 3:8). We’ve all heard the truism: “People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care,” or the other that says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Well, makes sense, but it seems to me that this is something many of us need to work on.

A THING TO DO: The next time someone begins to share something with us, we can make a point to stop whatever we’re doing, make eye contact, and really listen without comment. Then, after they’re done talking, see if we can reflect what we hear them say back to them. (This clears up any accidental misunderstandings too) Finally, if we see pain or joy in their eyes we can reflect that too (I think this’ll be the hard part; at least it usually is for me).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Quiet Time: Church Politics 101.3: Know the Nameless

Church Politics 101.3:Know the Nameless

Romans 12:1-3 & 16

- do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. – Romans 12:16

Clicks don’t exist only in schools, they exist in churches too.

In my first year in High School I was a transfer student on special assignment from the East side of Tampa. Most of the kids at the school were from West Tampa, so, obviously, I knew no-one and no-one knew me. I was the nameless odd man out; especially in the eyes of the “cool” kids. But, I knew a secret.

My junior year, I was slotted to become the new bass player in an ambassador show band called Sound System. Basically, it meant instant popularity and special placement within the student body. So, I bided my time and hung out with the only kids who’d accept me; the “nerds”; the nameless. The funny thing is, the more I hung out with the marginalized students the more I liked them. Sure, they were often quirky and obviously different, but they were real - genuine. I guess, because they had nothing to prove and no one to impress. Sometimes I see this kind of separation in churches.

My dad and mom were leaders in the church and that meant I was there every time the doors were open. I’ve also been privileged to serve on staff at several ministries around the Bay. This has given me the ability to notice, that sometimes our churches become large, or at least large enough for people to begin pairing off. Soon these pairs become groups, and these groups become segregated entities via social and economic similarities. Before long, our senior citizens are sitting in one section of the worship center, the youth in another, families with no kids, young kids, and grown kids have their place too. Oh, and of course there're the young singles, college and carrier, and single agains.

It becomes obvious who the “cool” kids are, as well as, where the nameless sit. Some congregants are courted and others are pushed aside. Most of the pastors I know hate this kind of thing and preach against it; but, really, it’s out of their hands. (However, to his shame, I remember hearing a speaker from a mega church say that we leaders need avoid these negative people, because they’ll never change and will on bring us down with them). Yet, God, tells us to search them out. God actually encourages us to hang out with the “nerds”, the marginalized, and the nameless. Because, when we don’t, it means we’ve placed ourselves on a pedestal and although we’d never admit it out loud, we consider ourselves a little more important than them (Philippians 2:3-5).

Well, the big day came. I got my spot in the band and even became leader over the rhythm section the following year. Clubs scrambled to get me on their teams, everybody seemed eager to say, “Hi” to me, and even the cool kids treated me with new respect. But, you know what, only the “nerds” didn’t change. Only the nameless knew my name when nobody else did. Don’t let your church be that way.

A THING TO DO: Do you know the nameless in your church? Look around next Sunday, and ask yourself, who do I not know? Why don’t I know them? Then, make an effort to reach out to them even if they’re not part of your group and by all means, KNOW THEIR NAME! God says they’re worth knowing.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Church Politics 101.4: Don't Hit Back

by Alexander Butler
Church Politics 101.4: Don't Hit Back
Read: Romans 12:9-20

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. - Romans 12:14

“That seems a bit vindictive, Doug,” said Pastor Chuck after reading a letter I intended to mail to a member of the choir.

Chuck has seen more than his fare share of church politics over his few decades as a senior pastor, yet he remains one of the best loved pastors in the Bay area. In this case, I was on staff at his church as the Worship Arts Director, and he was pointing to a line on the page that I knew reflected my hidden anger toward this fellow in the choir.

This guy deserved to be put in his place. He was a chronic complainer, seldom showed up for practice, and walked out on a major Easter production because his chair wasn’t in place. Of course I pointed all this out to Chuck, who simply leaned back in his chair and said, “Doug, God will correct this man if He thinks it best. You just love him.” It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear, but I knew Chuck was right. So, I removed the sarcastic line and mailed the letter. Church Politics 101: Don’t Hit Back

This passage in Romans stands in direct contrast to worldly wisdom. We’ve all heard the saying, “I don’t get mad I get even”, but here God is telling us to let Him get even. That He’ll actually take vengeance on our behalf if that is indeed what needs to be done. But, then He goes one step farther and says, “You just love them. Buy them a sandwich if they’re hungry and give them a drink if they’re thirsty. Love them with actions, not just words.” That’s not easy. That’s gotta be a God thing. But it works. Truth always does.

The man in the choir eventually left the church and blamed it all on me and my attitude. Brother Chuck knew it was bothering me and took me aside to talk about it. He said the man was a big NASCAR fan and was simply looking for an excuse not to come to church on Sundays so that he could watch the races with his buds at the pub. Chuck knew this, yet he continued to minister to this man and his family even after they left the church.

A few years later I ran into the former church choir member at a restaurant. I could tell he was trying not to make eye contact, so, I walked up to him, tapped him on the shoulder, and when he turned around to look at me, gave him a big bear hug (he was a big guy). We small talked for a few minutes and then walked outside where it was easier to hear. He began to tell me about some serious issues he was experiencing. Then, in the middle of his story he looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Brother Doug, I’m sorry.” I hugged him again and said, “I love you, bro, and really meant it.” We talked a few more minutes and his party was called for their table. That’s the last time I saw him. I was glad we tied things up.

Here're a few things I learned from the experience: First, I don’t think that the chance encounter at the restaraunt would’ve been as positive without my deleting the line in that letter. Second, it’s hard to hold a grudge when God empowers us to love. Finally, I certainly don’t think I could’ve hugged him if I’d already hit him.

So here's the first lesson in Church Politics 101, Point 1:
Don’t hit back; let God judge – you love.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Quiet Time: Jogging With Jesus (How to have a quiet time)

Jogging With Jesus
(How to have a quiet time)

Read: Luke 21:37-38

And all the people would get up early in the morning to come to Him (Jesus) in the temple to listen to Him. – Luke 21:38

I like to jog. Honestly, I’m not very fast, but I do keep my heart rate up in the 150s for at least thirty minutes; that’s what the experts say to do in order to receive maximum benefit from the run. But, you know what? I didn’t like to jog before I got a heart rate monitor. That’s something else I learned from the “experts”. They suggested novice runners purchase a monitor to help them establish a sustainable speed. (Sustainable being a speed that they could maintain for at least 30 minutes) You see, most new runners push themselves too hard and soon stop trying before they’ve established a sustainable routine. I think that’s kind of what happens to us when we first feel the need to establish a daily quiet time. We dig in with vim and vigor, but no plan. So, we overdo it, only to find ourselves discouraged and our bibles back on the book shelf.

A daily quiet time is more than a good routine or a box to check on a list of things to do. I like to think of it as simply a moment to sit down and have a cup of coffee with Christ. Now, I know that doesn’t sound very “spiritual” but that’s really how I look at it. Every morning I try to start my day by sitting quietly at the kitchen table with the Word to see what God has to say to me. It’s really not that hard. Sometimes I get a lot out of it and sometimes I can barely keep my eyes open, but I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s become a very meaningful part of my daily routine; kind of like jogging with Jesus.

There’s been a lot written on how to have daily devotions so I doubt that I’ve got much to add, but, here’s some stuff I’ve learned from Christ followers who’ve enjoyed a long walk with Christ:

1. Establish a place for your quiet time. (I like the kitchen table)
2. Establish a time. (I like early mornings before anyone else in the house is up)
3. Establish a method. (“Our Daily Bread Devotional” is what I use when I’m not studying for a specific reason like my church’s small group get together)
4. Make it personal. (tell God what’s on your heart, ask Him to open your eyes to what He has to say that day, and listen…really listen – this takes time)
5. Write it down. (Capture what God’s speaking to you. Keep a journal. You’ll be amazed how God has worked in your life when you go back and read what you’ve written several years later)

Here are some websites that may help:

Our Daily Bread:
Bible Gateway, online bible:
One Year Bible; I like to use the “Living Standard Version Bible” for a read through the bible experience to kind of get an overview of what it’s all about and how it all ties together from Old Testament to New Testament. I often use it as a good read before going to bed at night. It usually takes from 15-20 minutes to read the selected sections.

When I first started out, the longest I could run without slowing down to a walk was about 10 minutes. It took a while, but after several weeks of pounding pavement I finally reached the coveted 30 minute mark and have been able to maintain a sustainable and “enjoyable” routine ever since.

So, don’t get discouraged. To coin a phrase, “Just Do It”.

In all labor there is profit,
But mere talk leads only to poverty (Proverbs 14:23).