Stretching As a Lifestyle

Too many people are dead but just haven’t made it official yet. I read that comment a few days ago in a great book that I just finished. And, as I read the comment I said, “Amen, so true” and thought of a number of young and middle aged people for whom this would apply.

I am in my early seventies and I am still reading two books a week. As I read I take notes, file material, and apply the truths and insights that I am gaining through reading. I must admit that every once in a while (about every three months) one of those two books a week ends up being a good detective novel. I read to stretch my understanding about life. I read to learn and to grow. I read to discover new truths or see old truths in new ways. I read because inside me there is a serious hunger to learn, to grow, to change, and to mature. 

If you think of a rubber band … wow! There are so many uses for a rubber band in every day life. But the one thing every possible use for a rubber band has in common is that they are stretched. Rubber bands are only useful when they are stretched! That can also be said of each one of us. So, I am a perpetual learner always hungering for new insights and understanding; new ideas and perspective; new thoughts and insights. Always stretching.

When we stop stretching, I believe we stop really living. We may keep on breathing. Our vital life signs may be working. But we are dead on the inside and dead to our greatest possibilities. James White observed, “Nature has everywhere written her protest against idleness; everything which ceases to struggle, which remains inactive, rapidly deteriorates. It is the struggle towards an ideals, the constant effort to get higher and further, which develops manhood and character.”

I’m getting older. And, I am noticing that I am not as fast nor as sharp as I once was. But, I intend to keep reading, asking questions, talking to interesting people, working hard, and exposing myself to new experiences until I die. Too many people are dead but just haven’t made it official yet! A Rabbi once said, “If you won’t be better tomorrow than you were today, then what do you need tomorrow for? I refuse to give up growing. 

Now, it is not easy to find time to learn, develop, grow and mature. In fact, I don’t “find” time to do it. I “make” time. I schedule it into my calendar as an appointment with myself. I intentionally find a time each day to retreat from the active lifestyle I live to read and study, to think and write. That means less of my favourite music. It means only one hour of television an evening. That means less company and fewer people contacts in a day. It also means fighting to keep that time and not give it away to a worthy cause. It is my time to invest in me as a person and as a minister of the Gospel. 

I am planning to keep on stretching until I am all stretched out. How about you?

A Different Kind of Blog – Part Two

Some things to think about … not just read and agree or disagree with. But, some things to think deeply about. These quotes contain a great deal of wisdom and depth…

We have so persistently dissembled the power of the Gospel … that it is pardonable if those who judge of it by us should doubt whether it is anything more efficacious and inspiring than the pathetic guesses which adorn the writings of philosophy.        Canon B.F. Westcott

Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.        C.S. Lewis

God delights to delegate His power to men, when He can find believing and obedient servants to accept and exercise it.       John A. MacMillan

Without God’s Spirit, there is nothing we can do that will count for God’s Kingdom. Without God’s Spirit, the Church simply can’t be the Church.      N.T. Wright

God’s looking for people through whom He can do the impossible. What a pity that we plan only things we can do by ourselves.         A.W. Tozer

God loves with a great love the man whose heart is bursting with a passion for the impossible.  William Booth

It takes courage to move away from the safe place into the unknown, even when we know that the safe place offers false safety and the unknown promises us a saving intimacy with God.        Henri Nouwen

Christianity should give more offence, more shock to the world than what it is doing.    Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Before we do anything else, we must become convinced of our selective deafness to a great deal we should be listening to.    Benedict J. Groeschel

The truth is like a lion; you don’t need to defend it. Just let it loose; it will defend itself.      Saint Augustine

In almost everything that touches our everyday life on planet Earth, God is pleased when we’re pleased. He wills that we be as free as birds to soar and sing our maker’s praise without anxiety.     A.W. Tozer

We may excuse the spiritual poverty of our preaching in many ways, but the true secret will be found in the lack of urgent prayer for God’s presence in the power of the Holy Spirit.      E.M. Bounds

You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.       N.T. Wright

Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.       Saint Augustine

Don’t worry that you’re not strong enough before you begin. It is in the Journey that God makes you strong.      Anonymous

Ships in a harbor are safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.        John Shedd

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.  C.S. Lewis

There will never be any awakening in me unless I am called out of darkness by Him who is light.  Thomas Merton

A Different Kind of Blog – Part One

Some things to think about … not just read and agree or disagree with. But, some things to think deeply about. These quotes contain a great deal of wisdom and depth…

Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.     William Carey

Blessed is he who expects nothing, For he shall never be disappointed.       Alexander Pope

To set our hearts on the Kingdom therefore means to make the life of the Spirit within and among us the center of all we think, say and do.         Henri Nouwen

We must accept finite disappointment, bur never lose infinite hope.       Martin Luther King Jr.

God never made a promise that was too good to be true.       Dwight L. Moody

When we learn to read the story of Jesus and see it as the story of the love of God, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves that insight produces, again and again, a sense of astonished gratitude which is very near the heart of authentic Christian experience.                    N.T. Wright

Each time you let the love of God penetrate deeper into your heart, you lose a bit of your anxiety, you learn to know yourself better and long all the more to be known by your loving God.    Henri Nouwen

The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.     Albert Einstein

It’s kind of fun to do the impossible; If you can dream it, you can do it.     Walt Disney

Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.    C.S. Lewis

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.     Thomas Aquinas

Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.       Voltaire

Many of the questions we ask God can’t be answered directly, not because God doesn’t know the answers but because our questions don’t make sense. As C.S. Lewis once pointed out, many of our questions are, from God’s point of view, rather like someone asking, “Is yellow square or round?” Or “How many hours are there in a mile?”      N. T. Wright 

“The Lord Said!”

“The Lord said…” Really, did He actually say that? I hear so many people tell me what the Lord has spoken to them. And, I honestly would like to say “Really, did He actually say that?” Well, to be more honest, I would like to say “You have got to be kidding. You actually believe the Lord said that to you?”

Let me make a bold statement. Christians listen for the Lord to speak in their soul. Their soul is their mind, will, and emotions. So, they usually hear what they want to hear. They hear what they think the Lord should be saying. They receive ‘permission’ to do what they were planning to do but now can do it with ‘God’s blessing.’ At least, that is what they honestly think. 

Believers need to stop using the Lord and “the Lord said” to back up what they believe and what they are wanting and planning to do. The majority of the time it is not the Lord. In the long run the results of “the Lord said” proves it was not the Lord at all – just your own mind, will, and emotions. At some point I would like to go back to these people and say, “So, how is that working out for you?” But, I don’t. 

Here is my take on this. Believers have something they want to do or become involved in. They think and pray about it. Then, they ‘hear God say’ that it is okay. You know, good plan; go there; do that, go for it (whatever ‘it’ is).” And, then they announce (key word) that the Lord said and off they go. When they announce “the Lord said” they are not looking for clarification or any input. Why would they? After all, the Lord told them to do this. So, it is an announcement of a completed event, decision, plan. 

Listen carefully. That is not how it works. If the Lord really says something it needs to be run past mature believers with whom you have a decent, open, and honest relationship. You know, an accountability partner or two. You run it past them and ask if this seems to them like the Lord is speaking. Is it what He would, at this time in the church and in the Kingdom, be speaking to you? Is it the right time in your life to be moving forward with what the Lord said? The right time relationally, financially, maturity wise? Is what the Lord saying biblical because, of course, if it is not then the voice is not the Lord speaking? He does not contradict His Word. And, what do your family members think about what you believe the Lord is speaking?

Here is a hint … you hear God in your spirit not in your head. God is Spirit (John 4) and the Holy Spirit lives in your born again spirit. So, when the Father wants to speak to you He speaks to / through the Holy Spirit who lives in your spirit. He does not speak to your soul as it is still in process and on a journey to becoming transformed and submitted to His will. Not there yet. 

So, you listen and hear His voice in your spirit and then it makes its way to your head. Your spirit hears God’s voice perfectly. The message is received 100% right and complete. But, on the way through your will and emotions into your mind only a detail or two gets through. And, often even those details get a little mixed up. So, you then need to learn how to release what you have received in your spirit into your mind so that you actually understand the whole substance of what God revealed to you. That process is material for a future blog. 

If you are not dealing with emotional issues like unforgiveness, greed, resentment, anger, bitterness, offences then these things in your soul will distort what the Lord has spoken and you will miss the message entirely. God might have said white but you hear black. So, the soul need to be kept clean … your mind needs to be transformed by the Word of God; your will must be submitted to God’s will and His plan for your life; your emotions must be yielded to the Holy Spirit and brought into line with Scripture. 

Too often we move fast forward on what we believe the Lord spoke when really it was simply our will speaking, our emotions working overtime, or our mind thinking ahead without knowing or understanding the Lord’s thoughts – which, by the way, are much different and higher than our thoughts.

Just a few things to consider before the next time you are wanting to say, “The Lord said.”

Drinking Coffee In An Airport

I am in my third of four airports for the day. A 14 hour travel day and I am doing what I usually do when flying and when waiting for a flight. Reading and drinking good coffee. And, when I tire of reading and have run out of things to share in an email with my accountability partner then I watch people. 

People are amazing. They come in all different shapes and sizes. They come in different colours. Some speak loudly and others speak softly. They can be relaxed, uptight, anxious, worried, frightened, or apparently at peace with themselves and the world around them. Some look refreshed and ready to go. Others look tired and wanting to finally board their last flight home. Young and old and every age in-between. As I watch some walk with an assurance and a confidence. Others walk with a definite uncertainty and caution. Some are simply lost and can’t find their gate no matter how hard they are apparently trying. People are interesting.

Here is a deep thought… every person walking by me at this moment has two things in common. First, they are travelling from somewhere to somewhere. I told you it was deep. Secondly, every one of them is dying. Some may be young, others may be old but they are all on the journey of life and this journey will, one day, come to an end. They will “pass” as everyone says it today. They will physically die and cease to be a viable human being on the planet as their earth suit (body) is finished. Life has left it.

But this is not the end of life for these people. They truly have “passed.” They have passed from life to death and from planet Earth to … and here’s the rub. They have predetermined their final resting place – heaven or hell. If they have a vibrant, personal, love relationship with Jesus that is a daily reality, then they have chosen ahead of time to enter heaven. And, Jesus, because of His relationship with them, has prepared a place for them for when they arrive. Others, because they have neglected the message of hope and love known as the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) will have a place reserved for them in hell. John’s gospel speaks of this…

John 3:18 “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

Please note that their sins don’t send them to hell. They chose not to believe in who Jesus is and what He accomplished through His death on the cross. This lack of belief or faith in Christ and His completed work is what opens the door to hell as their final place to spend eternity. They have chosen this place. God did not condemn them to be there forever. He made a way out and sent His Son to die for us (see: John 3:16-17). Jesus made a way where there was no way. And, if we choose not to believe and to ignore or reject His offer then we can blame no one but ourselves for where life finally takes us. 

Every person born upon the earth has a default setting of “hell”. So, when they pass that is where the go. However, we can change that default setting by understanding the true Christian message of salvation by grace through faith. And, receiving Jesus as Lord, Saviour, Master, and the Christ – the only door into eternity and God’s presence. When you come to believe that Jesus has made a way where there was no way and receive His gift of the supernatural ability to have a personal relationship with Him (called eternal life – John 17:3) then you have reset your default setting to Heaven.

So, a lot of people walking past me here in the airport rushing to or from their next destination are also moving forward in life to their final destination. And, not one of us knows when that day when we ‘cross over’ is going to be. 

Makes one sense the urgency to tell people the good news of the Gospel… that Jesus still saves today.  

Reading Is So Important

As believers we should be reading on a regular basis, in fact, daily. Of course, we should be reading our Bible but there is so much other material that we also should be reading and digesting.

A mentor many years ago taught me that believers are readers. And, he emphasized even more strongly that leaders are readers, I totally agree. 

When reading your Bible remember that there is no test when you get to Heaven. So, all the details like how many sons Noah had and their names are simply not that important. The overall purpose of the story has some merit. But, most importantly – and often forgotten – is that the Bible is simply one of a number of tools to help us to come to know God the Father better. So, we read it not just for information. We read it for insight into the character and nature of the God we follow, worship, and serve. 

However, we also need to be reading books written by Christians. A word of warning as you choose what to read – there is a lot of fluff out there. Books with little to no substance. Books that are more self-help than Christian. Books that are launching or jumping on a current bandwagon. Books that are heretical. So choose wisely what you read as you want to invest your time and money wisely. It is often good to ask a mature leader what he would recommend and stick with something that has been tried and tested and proved useful and beneficial. Remember, just because the author is well known or has a large church does not make the substance of the book worthwhile.

Add to this the fact that, as believers, we should be reading some of the more popular books that those who are not believers are reading. Find out what the culture and society is focusing on. I manage to do this by simply walking through bookstores in airports. And, even the Relay stores that stock snacks and drinks also have a small selection of books available. These books are what those who travel are reading and usually a good indication of what the general public is reading. Yes, I know, they are usually not written by Christians but so what? Keep in touch with your world and culture by reading some of what others are digesting and enjoying.

It is also good to read the classics like Moby Dick, The Phantom of the Opera, David Copperfield… these help to ground us in the wider world of literature and remind us where things have come from. They give us literary context which is always good. 

Reading a book a week is not difficult. My mentor taught me that you simply take the number of chapters in any given book and divide that by seven. This shows you how many chapters a day you need to read to finish an average book in a week. Of course, that might mean less television, less idle (non-productive) chatter, less time to gossip with others, and a cell phone on ‘do not disturb.’ But, believe me, it is worth it. 

In my busy life I have chosen to stop watching television and talking to family or others at 10:00p. This gives me 90 minutes to go to my study and read. It has made an amazing difference in my life. And, I read widely. My Bible reading is a morning event. Early, before others wake and phone starts to rink and ding. However, just before bed and after reading my book a week (really two a week) I read a chapter of the book of Proverbs and usually three chapters of the psalms. Great way to relax and refocus before bed.

So, believers and leaders are readers. Reading is so important in the life of a Christian. Summer is a good time to add reading to your somewhat slower good weather daily schedule.

Is Jesus Really Enough?

I often ask the question, “Is Jesus really enough?” And, if He is do I live my life as if this was true?”

It seems to me that for many believers Jesus is not enough. They are not satisfied with just Jesus and their personal relationship with Him. It seems that they need Jesus plus something else. Jesus and a healing. Jesus and a miracle. Jesus and prosperity. Jesus and a new and better job. Jesus and an angel. Jesus and the power to heal. Jesus and a prophetic word. Jesus and….

In their daily lives these believers are seldom content with what they are experiencing in their walk with Jesus. And they are certainly not content with the situation in life in which they find themselves. So you see believers often striving for more money and thus a higher wage. They want a bigger house, a better car, better holidays, nicer clothes. They are looking for bigger, better, and more. They are discontent with what is. 

This is true in ministry as well. They want to have greater recognition as a minister of the Gospel. They want bigger crowds coming to hear them. A bigger church. Greater recognition. Being on radio and television, writing books and blogs. Recognition, authority, and popularity.

It seems that people today are simply not satisfied. And, as a result they are not thankful. Nor are they content or at peace with their life as it is. They are always striving and struggling. 

As a result they live unsatisfied lives. They are disappointed with the hand that life (or God) seems to have dealt them. They are discontented with life as they are living it. They are unfulfilled and simply not content. Surely Jesus wants them to have more and better so there must be something that they are doing wrong. 

I believe that this is a sign of a relationship with Jesus that is not healthy. It is lacking depth and substance. Jesus is not at the center of the life of these followers. He is an add-on. He is there for times of crisis and when things are not going as they think they should or as planned. If, and it is a big if, Jesus was at the center of their whole life then He would be enough and they would no longer be striving for more of anything. They would be trusting Him. And, they would be content and not discontent.

Paul states, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”        Philippians 4:11-13

Jesus is always enough. In fact, He is more than enough. And those who have a solid, in-depth, daily, ever-deepening, personal love relationship with Him are people who live ‘content’ regardless of their situation or the circumstances.

Here’s the question the Lord asked me a long time ago when these verses from Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi first spoke deeply to me… “Content or discontent, which tent do you live in?” That question, these verses, changed my life, my priorities, and my perspective. I live content with what I have and what is happening because I am dwelling deeply in Him allowing Him to live His life through me.

Galatians 2:20 states, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in my body, I live by faith, indeed, by the faithfulness of God’s Son, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

So, when we are content it is because we have a deep relationship with the Lord where we find satisfaction, fulfillment, and total acceptance. So, we can stop striving and pushing for more. Because, He is always more than enough. 

Going For Walks

When home I walk my dog two sometimes three times a day. We cover either a short distance or do a marathon depending on how he is feeling and how I am feeling. We are both getting old and sometimes we are just not up for the long ones. But, we enjoy the walks and speak of many things as we move from bush to tree to light standard. 

I am on holidays. The dog is at home. Miss walking him. However, I am still walking every day regardless of the weather. Where I am camping it is seriously sandy soil so when it rains – and it certainly has 9 out of 10 days so far – the ground dries quickly. And, I am surrounded by forest and camped beside a gigantic lake. There are a lot of trails through the woods and numerous hills to climb as I walk with the friend I camp and kayak with. Often we walk in silence. Some times we talk about our journey with Jesus, the Church, the Bible, and especially how we are changing, growing, maturing, developing, and adjusting as we come to better understand ourselves, each other, and the Kingdom call on our lives.

Of course there are many cups of coffee in the early morning around the campfire so we can stay warm as we wake up. And, many cups of decaf coffee around the campfire in the late evenings as we cook supper on the open fire and chat about the day and an assortment of other things. In between I am catching up on my reading – summer reading is always mystery novels, murder mysteries, and legal dramas. My favourite authors – Peter Robinson, Jeffery Archer and John Grisham.

I love to walk. Back home, walking Cuddles my dog allows me a little time to think, plan, and sort. But, mainly it allows me to connect with my neighbours and chat about life in the neighbourhood. And, as always, a comment or two about Jesus and His Kingdom. During my walks here in the woods I enjoy the flowers, the berries, the eagles, the pelicans, and the other assorted wild life. But, I also find it conducive to connecting in fresh ways with the Lord. 

Maybe it is because I am not following my regular routine of time in the study (5:30a to 9:00a), time in the office (9:00a to 1:00p), time with non-believers (1:00p to 5:00p), and then preparing supper and time with my wife or an evening family event. Maybe it is because I have had a week to unwind, relax, and not think about ministry, people, church issues, writing teachings. and travel. Maybe it is the setting itself – sunshine all day (when it doesn’t rain), bright moon and stars at night, forest, lake, and simply being away from people. Maybe it is because it is “me” time and I am not needed to do this or that, not available to take calls and answer texts, emails, and connections from a variety of apps that beep and squeak demanding my attention NOW. 

Getting away and living with the basics like a tent and a campfire brings you back to the basics in life. And, frees up the time to walk with Jesus in a renewed and fresh way. It frees up time to simply focus on Him and fall in love again. It removes all the regular daily routine with all of its chores and demands that we live with the rest of the year freeing valuable time to simply be.

I am away camping and kayaking and walking in the woods with Jesus. I am being renewed, refreshed, and reconnecting with my inner being, the life Jesus has called me to live, the ministry He has blessed me with in so many places and nations, and, once again, to walk even closer to Him who is life than I ever have before. 

Glad you are not here!

Cart Before the Horse

I recently have been speaking with a Christian who is a leader in his church. As I spoke I risked sharing that recently he looked (in the spirit realm) like he had lost his vital connection to Jesus. That he was drying from an empty well. That the vehicle had run out of fuel and he was sucking fumes. I was right.

We began talking about what he was planning to do to repair the situation and reverse the drift that had happened and was, in fact, continuing to happen (Hebrews 2:1 talks about drifting from the faith). His immediate response was that he was working to reestablish his devotional life – early morning prayer and Bible reading and whatever else he thought might help put his relationship with Jesus back on track, so to speak. To me, that is a religious answer. Most might not agree with me. 

Why do I think it is a religious answer? Thanks for asking. Because to reestablish the structure in your life called “devotions” will not reconnect you with the Lord. And, it will not renew your passion for Jesus helping you to fall in love with Him once again. It can help in some ways after you have reconnected but it is not the way to reconnect. That devotional time has no intrinsic life of its own. It can’t give you what it does not have. It is simply a structure, a program, a way to do things. It is religion.  

You have a relationship with your spouse. If the passion fades and you find yourself emotionally and even physically distant from one another, creating a structure will not rebuild the relationship. You could establish a structure called a date night and go out once a week and still not renew or kindle afresh the passion you once had. You need to relate, talk, share, discuss, even argue. Then as the relationship (that is the key word here) begins to gain some traction you can put the “new life” you are experiencing into the structure called a “date night.” 

The Christian faith is a relationship between a person and God, through Jesus Christ, shared with other believers called the Church. If the relationship has faded and you have drifted then creating a structure will not rekindle your relationship. You need to simply work on your relationship until the love returns and then whatever structure you should need – like a date night or a devotional time – can come alongside the “life” you are once again experiencing and support and encourage that life. The structure called “devotions” cannot and will not bring back your love for Jesus. 

The Church and her traditions are lifeless without the presence and power of God. However, we go out and build the structure – the organization, the charter, the legal documents, the network association, the statement of faith. Then we open the doors and hope that the Lord will meet us in the first and every consecutive service forever and ever. That is religion and there is really no life. Instead, we should gather as a few believers and experience His life together as we meet. Then, if structure is needed to maintain and enough the life we are experiencing, then add some structure. But only that which encourages and releases the life we are experiencing, His life, so that others can join us in our fellowship. 

This is best seen in the conception of a child. When a child is conceived in his or her mother’s womb there is no visible structure. There is only life – a blob of life. But, as that life grows we see structure forming – arms, hands, feet, legs, a neck. The structure is there to support and encourage the life. It is the life that is most important, not the structure. And, when the baby is born we remove the structure that is no longer helping the life to grow… the umbilical cord. Life is what is important, not structure.

The same is true for the local church. The same is true for your relationship with the Lord. Get the love back into the relationship – let Him breathe life into it once again – and then add only whatever minimal structure is needed to encourage that life to continue, to grow, and to touch others. You may even call that structure “devotions.”

Consistency

Consistency is doing well all the time, not just sometimes. We, as believers, should be consistent in the way we live life and the way in which we treat people. Our attitude and the our approach to life should be consistent. This means that the way we live life is determined by our beliefs and not based on our feelings, situation, or circumstances and, because of this, we live in a way that is stable. We can be counted on at all times.

Consistency is so valuable to the believer that it is difficult to list all the benefits. Here are a few:

1> Consistence establishes your reputation. 

Nearly anyone can be good once. Being good continually is difficult. However, continued repetition leads to a positive reputation.

2> Consistency makes others feel more confident and secure

Perhaps the greatest compliment a person can receive is. “I can depend on you.” A consistent believer or leader inspires others to become more confident, bold, and courageous.

3> Consistency allows for accurate measurement of your growth

It is difficult to gauge the progress of inconsistent people. The consistent track record we establish shows what we have done and how far we have come.

4> Consistency makes you relevant

People who bounce back and forth between engagement and disengagement always have to play catch-up. They are, because of this, no longer in touch with what is happening and thus, in many way, they are irrelevant. By staying consistently engaged, you don’t fall behind and people can count on you to be there for them.

5> Consistency models your expectations for others

When you consistently model your values and work ethic, others know what you expect of them because they see it every day. Consistency always reinforces expectations.

6> Consistency maintains your message

When a believer or leader communicates a vision and approach to life but acts in ways that are inconsistent with that vision the result is confusion. It distracts from the message you are communicating and makes it more difficult for everyone who relates to you and who believe in you. 

Consistency is lacking in the life of many Christians. It is something we need to ponder and then move forward, making changes so we can be more consistent and thus more impactful.