9.30.2007

Dear Daddy

While I was at the conference this weekend, I decided it would be cool to email my daughters to show them a little love. Here's what I got back in response from my 4-year-old. My wife typed it word for word while Jama dictated:


Daddy
I love you so much and I love you very much and I am sorry I cried last night. I love you so much and I hope when you come back I can hug you. And I love you very much and miss you very much. I hope when you come back you will read us the golden gate bridge book. And I hope you have fun with your friend. And I love you, because I miss you alot and um I hope we have fun only us girls we can go get a movie from the library tomorrow, And I love you very much and I hope you don't spank us when you come home.

And I love you so beary much and I hope you have fun with your friend. I love you so much and you give me joy, I hope you have a good time with your friend. I hope you are not scared, and I love you and miss you.

Love Jama



Wow.

~

WJS

9.29.2007

Ancient-Future Group Life Conference Main Session 2

This session had some incredible worship. It really was a good time. After that, this guy named Will Miller went up on stage. I'm still not really sure what he does for a living. I think he said he is a comedian/psychologist/consultant/something else. This guy was hilarious. I had a couple of gut-busters during his talk.

He did have some good points to pass on to us, though. From the social sciences perspective, he told us that what people really need is to be connected in community. It helps with anxiety and depression. It's interesting in light of my last post, that even though there are a few basic tenets of some branches of psychology with which I disagree, psychology and sociology both point to the incredible benefits to mental and emotional health of being in a small group. In other words, having close relationships with other human beings helps with the crap of life that can cause anxiety and depression. So here we have a science once again confirming what the Bible says. Pretty cool.

Main takeaway: Life happens. Be in a LifeGroup.

~

WJS

9.28.2007

Ancient-Future Group Life Conference Breakout Sessions 3 and 4


Well, we started today in our various breakout sessions and will end the day all together in the main auditorium. The campus is absolutely beautiful. Here are my main takeaways from the sessions:


Guiding a Group to Spiritual Maturity

Scott Vaudrey


This was my least favorite session. The psychological influence was heavier and more discernable in this session. I suppose this kind of rubs me the wrong way, in that I don't want to see groups become therapy groups. Everyone's got a problem, everyone's got to share it, and we need to create a safe atmosphere where people can people can feel accepted. To me, being accepted is not equivalent to growing into spiritual maturity. I define spiritual maturity this way:


You've grown in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to the point where you can be used to disciple others that are going on toward spiritual maturity.


I suppose spiritual maturity could be defined by 1 Timothy 3 as well.


Now don't get me wrong; people should feel safe enough in a small group to be able to share their struggles, to get people to pray for them, and to be there for them. But should a small group's emphasis be on the people in the group, or on Jesus? I want the point of a small group to be to get to know Christ on a deeper and more intimate level. I want people to know the life-changing truths of the Bible. I want people's lives changed because of these truths. In light of all this, we must keep in mind that it's the Truth that sets people free, not psychological theory. I guess I just don't want to leave people with this impression:


The Savior can only go so far, but after that, you might need a psychologist.


I know, I know, this might actually get a few comments from some random readers. I guess the question is, can something physiologically go wrong with a person's brain, affecting their personalities and their quality of life? Sure. Can we prescribe medicine for this stuff? Probably. But my thinking on it is, mathematical science is a pretty exact science. Biology and medical science is also a pretty exact science. But when it comes down to knowing what's going on in the deepest parts of a human being, I'm not so sure we as humans are equipped enough to understand deep spiritual problems. We must not ascribe spiritual problems (i.e. sin) to psychological underpinnings (your childhood was bad, that's why you do this or that). Jesus Christ is the Hope of the world, not Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung. The church needs to be really careful about this kind of stuff.



Well, enough of my rant. Session 4 was pretty cool. It was all about finding and developing small group leaders. My one big takeaway was this: Make your leaders feel like they are part of something big. This last week I shared at our LifeGroup Fall Kickoff event. All of the small groups were invited to come to the school where we meet for dessert, fellowship, and just kind of talking about this small group thing. One of the things I shared was the picture that you see at the right. I think this week I'm going to follow up with all my leaders by sending them a copy of this picture and just a few words from me. Something like this might do:
"I shared at the kickoff that God is doing some incredible stuff through New Life. The airplane is an excellent picture of where New Life is right now. Well I want you to know that God is doing these big things through you. You are an integral part of the extraordinary life change that is occurring at New Life. We just wanted to say thank you for being a part of something big. Keep looking to God and dreaming big things for New Life."
That might work.
~
WJS

Ancient-Future Group Life Conference Breakouts 1 and 2

In the afternoon at this conference, we had two breakout sessions. My first one was about coaching life-changing small group leaders. One of my big takeaways was the first essential skill of being a LifeGroup coach: Modeling: Pursue Christlikeness.

In this breakout I was challenged to "take the time and trouble to keep myself spiritually fit." Just this week the though ran across my mind, I'm way too busy. Honestly, I'm surprised I had time to think that. Seriously. I need to make sure I spend time regularly in the Word, not just random 5 or 10 minute spots here and there. To disciple, you have to be discipled.

The other challenge I received was that I need to model "Spirit-filled leadership." I do spend time praying for all my groups, but can anyone really pray too much? I doubt it. Little prayer, little power; much prayer, much power. If we want LifeGroups to be a powerful, an integral ministry at New Life, we need to pray for it constantly.



The next session was "Promoting Growth in Your Leaders" with Mike Hurt. This guy was really good and down to earth. I remember that he articulated a LOT of the same frustrations I had with leading and coaching, especially coaching. Here's the good stuff from that session:

Every leader needs three things from a coach:

1.) Know them personally - This is key. When entering a coaching relationship, we need to concentrate a ton of time on just this. You will not get into the actual "coaching" of the leader for his/her group until this critical personal relationship is established. It just doesn't work any other way. So I guess the first key to just to get to know someone very closely. It will take time.

2.) Encourage them spiritually - "How can I pray for you?" Share with them what God is teaching you. People like to follow godly people. I've personally learned in my own experience that people will eventually respond to stuff like this. "I'm praying for your group specifically this week. What do you want me to pray for?"

3.) Equip them - Everyone needs real world tools. And each leader will have different skills. What one leader needs another may not. What that means for general training sessions for leaders is that you may have to get creative to equip each leader in their own individual needs. If you are doing a training session on something in particular that you know one leader does NOT need, have that particular leader do the training session, then you can also see if that leader could end up being a good coach.


~

WJS

9.27.2007

Ancient-Future Group Life Conference - 1 and 2

Today I'm at Willow Creek's Small Group conference, and so far I'm liking it. The first speaker was Scot McKnight, author of The Jesus Creed. He was a pretty insightful and funny speaker. Some of the highlights I got from his talk were:

1.) In one sense, Jesus introduced a new "creed" into the Jewish culture. It used to be that Jewish people would recite the verse from Deuteronomy that says, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord, He is One [interesting communal reference]. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." Jesus also introduced, "And the second command is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself." We should have BOTH at the forefronts of our minds, not just the first.

2.) Create an atmosphere where Christ's Presence is experienced.

3.) Pharisees: If you're clean, you can eat with me.
Jesus: If you eat with Me, I'll make you clean.

4.) Jesus hung with the wrong people.

5.) Allow people to ask the tough questions; you don't have to have an answer, just create a community where people feel comfortable to pose the tough questions.



The second session was a dialoque with Bill Donahue and Henry Cloud. Here's what I picked up:

You're not responsible for others' growth, just responsible to create an atmosphere where people can grow. God will bring the growth.

Five essential practices:

1.) Safety

2.) Be authentic (you don't have to be deep to be real. We don't want people to hide.)

3.) Offer Help

4.) Provide Care-Be careful not to offer the quick fix. Be there. Listen. Soft eyes. Soft heart. Compassion.

5.) Encourage growth - move people toward spiritual growth. Encourage to take risks.



Sitting in that second session, I realized how absolutely critical small groups are. I wonder if we can even do church the MOST effectively without small groups. I sincerely doubt it.

8.23.2007

Peter was Sleeping

I was reading my Bible tonight in Acts 12, and something caught my eye. Herod killed James, one of the apostles, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews (apparently there was political motivation behind this persecution), he had Peter put in prison. His plan was to bring him before the people after Passover.

This really is reminiscent of what happened to Jesus.

Anyway, what struck me was this. Peter was in prison with numerous guards watching him. The prospect of death wasn't really that far off base. And what was he doing?

"And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping...." 12:6a

When I read that, I was reminded of what happened in Mark 4. The disciples were with Jesus in the boat, and the storm was raging. Who was asleep then? It was Jesus. The disciples were all freaking out, and Jesus was asleep. So they woke Him up and asked Him if He cared that they were going to die. Then He calmed the storm and said two things to them: Why are you so fearful? and How is it you have no faith?

So what's the picture? Freaking out in your situation = having fear and no faith. Sleeping (having so much peace and rest that you DON'T freak out in your situation) = having faith and no fear.

Oh that God would move me more toward having faith and no fear.

~

WJS

8.14.2007

Leadership Summit: Session 7

John Ortberg

Well, I've never heard this guy speak, but I've seen his name on a few books. I never read any of his stuff either...but he was good. He said:

"Leadership is disappointing people at a rate they can stand."

That was pretty good.

Anyway, he basically gave a sermon on Esther. The funny thing is, it didn't feel like a sermon. There were a lot of good things he pulled out of that text. The whole basis of his talk was this idea of having a shadow mission. A shadow mission is basically something that has a bit of a resemblance to what we are really called to do. It's parallel to our real mission, but it's dark, shadowy, selfish, and evil. In other words, my mission in life might be to be a full-time pastor. So my real mission is to love people, to teach the Word of God, and to help people through that to become free. My shadow mission might be then to use my gifts to create a name and reputation for myself, to sell books and make money, and win people's admiration and respect. The thing about that is, while it may look like I'm accomplishing my real mission, I'm accomplishing my shadow mission. The thing of it is, other people are at the heart of my real mission, while I am at the heart of my shadow mission. Pretty creepy, huh?

Here are a couple of things Ortberg posed to the crowd:

What is your depraved shadow mission?

What is the shadow mission of the church?

Who's the Mordecai in your life? Who's ready to challenge you when you're about to slip into your shadow mission?

Chronic sense of soul dissatisfaction: will you name and challenge the shadow mission of the people you lead?

Are you trying to figure out some less costly way than the cross to fulfill your mission?

**God is at work behind the scenes.**

Leadership Summit: Session 6

Bill Hybels interviewed Colin Powell during this session. It was pretty good. The thing that struck me most about Colin Powell is that you could see clear decisiveness in his demeanor. He seemed to be a no-frills guy. 'Here's what's going to happen and how we're going to do it. Go do it.' He wasn't in the least bit wishy-washy like I can be sometimes.

Here are a few highlights:

Allow a Clash of Ideas
-take advantage of differing viewpoints and experiences

Only People Get Things Done
-you can sit around and talk, plan, strategize, etc., but people get things done

Reward Best Performers, Get Rid of Non-Performers

Be Prepared to Disappoint People
-check ego at the door; don't wear your heart on your sleeve

Have Fun along the Way

Perpetual Optimism is a Force Multiplier
-things always look better in the morning
-people will see your attitude and trust you

All of us have a debt of service we may not be able to repay.

~

WJS

Leadership Summit: Session 5

Ok, well, this is a couple of days after the fact, but I thought it would be good to go back over my notes.

During session 5, Michael Porter, a Harvard business professor, gave a talk on how important it is for us to think strategically when it comes to philanthropic efforts. When it comes to business, we have things down to a science, quite literally. We desire to maximize our profits while minimizing cost, and therefore we think very strategically as to how we might accomplish this goal the most effectively and efficiently. Porter's argument was that so often this type of strategic thinking is not applied to our wanting to serve in the community. And so what happens is that what we do is not done efficiently or done with excellence. He spoke of "adding value" to our efforts. We do that in the business world, and how much more important is that in the world of helping those in need? In other words, for our efforts of service and giving to be "worth" anything, we need to think strategically on how to get things done with excellence.

Here are some steps to help along the way:

1.) Have we really clearly defined our goals? What are our goals for this particular endeavor?

2.) What community needs are we going to address? Is more better? No. We probably won't be able to address everything. So we need to pick something and do it. We prefer results, not just activity.

3.) We need a clear strategy on delivering value.

4.) We need alignment in the organization.

**We need a sustainable solution model--something that will meet long term needs.**

Now here are some off-the-cuff notes that I jammed into my notebook. They are really good questions to consider:

Goals-need to be very clearly defined
-obligation to create value
-social benefits per dollar expended
-obligated to use resources well

Worthiness of the cause is NOT the basis for choosing a project
-look at sustainability and commitment to the project
-where can you add the MOST value?
-where can you do the most good with the resources you have available to you?

What does the congregation/community need? What are the most pressing needs?

What organizations are available for these needs? Are they doing this work just fine? Should we just support that organization?

What capabilities/resources/skills/relationships/companies do we have access to? Where can we do more than just giving money and providing unskilled labor? Do we have the resources available to us to give somewhere in a unique way?

***Do too many things and you'll have limited impact!***

Be careful not to underutilize volunteer capabilities

We want to strategically streamline the delivery of our services. This will increase effectiveness and deliver value to our "customer base."

Here's what holds us back

Multiple/Conflicting/Unclear Goals
Personal Preferences and not Value
No Attempt to Measure Performance
Inability to Stop Mediocre Efforts

Wow....again, these are pretty much a copy of my notes. It's a little disorganized, but I felt like I was in college again. There are definitely some good things to consider here.

~

WJS

8.09.2007

Leadership Summit: Session 3 and 4

Session 3:

Not much that I remember here. Could it be the after lunch slot?

Session 4: Marcus Buckingham

I have to say, this guy was good. He was humorous and very engaging. His talk was all about strengths. What we need to do is identify our strengths and work on those. So often we concentrate on our weaknesses because we feel that's where we have the greatest potential to improve. Perhaps that's true, and we definitely do need to address our weaknesses, but we need to cultivate our strengths first and foremost. We need to make a contribution around our strengths.

Probably the most impacting statement for me was the third myth he addressed. That myth is: a great team member puts aside his strengths for the good of the team. I've thought this exact thing. I'll serve where there's a need. But the truth of the matter is, God is assembling the team as He wants it, and He is gifting each individual to serve best in each area of need. We need to leverage our strengths and give around those things, rather than serve where the team needs.

Actually, now that I think of it, I just read this concept in Acts: "Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists,because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, 'It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.'" Acts 6:1,2

It just simply was not a good strategy to have these guys leave teaching the Word of God to take care of these widows. I'm not saying that this type of ministry is not important; it is. But God had other people in mind to take the lead on this and do it with excellence. Their strength was teaching the Word. Someone else's strength is helping with the daily distribution. Let's get the right people in the right spots on the team.

All in all, I think this was my favorite session yet.

~

WJS

Neat Quote from Bill Hybels

Saw this in the intro to the Leadership Summit:

"The best leaders I know are incurable learners. They have an insatiable appetite for leadership development and relentlessly pursue ways to stretch their minds, broaden their horizons, and expand their hearts. They're only satisfied when they are getting better, because they know the cause of Christ demands it!"

-Bill Hybels

~

WJS

Leadership Summit: Sessions 1 and 2

Today I'm hanging out at Granger Community Church, a satellite location for the Leadership Summit. Leaders from around the world convene in early August to engage in some awesome leadership development opportunities. So far we've gotten through sessions one and two, hearing from Bill Hybels (one of the pastors of Willow Creek) and Carly Fiorina (former CEO of HP). So far here's what I've gleaned from the talks:

Session 1: Vision

"Nothing matters more than the ownership of a vision."

The idea here was that, with widespread ownership of a vision, the organization, institution, or orgranism (as is the case with the Church), can move forward with quality people on board. Everyone is working toward common goals and the accomplishment of a common vision. How can this be accomplished? We need to take the team approach when it comes to forming a vision. Get the team, get key leaders, get input from a lot of people when it comes to forming a vision for the people you lead.

When leading, people will know if you're a true leader or just a hired hand. Ultimately what it comes down to is this: are you willing to pay a very heavy price for the vision God birthed in your heart? People will follow and pay a high price for the realizing of a vision if they realize that you would pay the price first.

It's kind of crazy, but I started to think of some of these principles and how they apply in my classroom (I'm a high school math teacher). I have a vision for that classroom: I want the kids to be able to think for themselves, to reason things out and figure things out for themselves. I also want them to come into class each day and just do a good job. However, I've never communicated this vision to a class. And I'm sure that some of the kids' visions of math class are quite different. I'm wondering if I can do something about this.... The last thing I want is a repeat performance of the mediocrity I've seen in the past.

Session 2: Carly Fiorina

This was basically an interview between Bill Hybels and Carly Fiorina. She said some cool things about leading corporations and stuff like that: leading with integrity, honesty, respect, innovation (which I thought was cool), and a few others. But a random thought passed through my mind as I sat there. I don't know where it came from because it was somewhat unrelated to what she was talking about, but here it is:

Be a good leader in your family.

I need to work on setting the example in my family.

~

WJS

8.06.2007

A Problem of Ethics

Recently my brother got into a bit of an email debate with a former science teacher of his about origins. I've seen and heard some of these kinds of debates before: the Christian adamantly asserting a young earth and pointing out common flaws in the theory of Evolution, and the Darwinist begging the Christian to leave behind antiquated superstitions in the name of scientific reason. My brother wanted to make sure the teacher knew of his conversion to Christianity and the seeds of doubt planted in his mind with regard to the truth of Christianity in this class. And boy, did he let him know!

One of the arguments brought up in the discussion was that of morality and ethics. My brother made the argument that, given Darwinism, morality (or at least the idea of universal right and wrong) could NOT have "evolved." In other words, if we are just advanced animals, how can anyone claim murder in the human world, when murder is is a preposterous claim in the animal world?

This science teacher retorted that morality did evolve, or at least appeared at some stage in our "evolution," and that morality is just evidence of our becoming more "fit" for the "survival of the fittest" game each species is playing.

I disagree with this. The following (between the asterisks) is what I believe would be a reasonable extension of this guy's reasoning about morality.

*

If we were to take a completely Darwinian approach to our species, I claim that the illusion of morality keeps us from evolving faster. In the survival of the fittest doctrine, if it is the fit that survive and the less fit that eventually fizzle into extinction, thus leaving the "better" species to inherit the earth, then I maintain morality is holding us back.

For instance, I think we need to manage the species, in much the same way we manage renewable resources. We always want the best resources, and so those inferior resources that keep the best from thriving need to be eradicated. So I say we need to figure out everyone's IQ and eradicate everyone whose IQ is less than say, 115. We should also eradicate everyone who is old, handicapped, and carries a gene mutation that is not helpful but harmful to our species. Over time (and if we do this right, over a much shorter period of time than if we left it to nature's course) we could do a great deal of improvement to the overall gene pool, thus furthering our species and making it even more "fit" for survival.

Now it is unfortunate that "morals" and "ethics" have been introduced into our species, be it through religion, superstition, or evolution, because a great number of folks would disagree with my plan based on the idea that eradicating those with inferior genes is not "compassionate" or "just" or "right." These folks hold us back from evolving, because these inferior genes will either never go away, or it will take an incredible amount of time for them to be "naturally selected" out of the gene pool.

*

What a disgusting line of reasoning this is! Nevertheless, if you subtract any spectre of justice, morality, ethics, right and wrong, compassion, and love from the picture, this line of reasoning is not all that unreasonable. And yet, an overwhelming majority of people would be absolutely appalled at just such a suggestion. Why would that be?

~

WJS

7.19.2007

If Anyone Serves Me, Let Him Follow Me

"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor."

John 12:24-26

Jesus said this after He arrived in Jerusalem shortly before His crucifixion. I think it's pretty plain what the first sentence implies. Jesus is speaking of His death, saying that it's necessary that He should die in order to produce much grain. What is that grain? It's nothing less than our life...both abundance of life here on earth, and also that eternal life we all look forward to. The fruit that His death brings is the reconciliation of man and God, the defeat of the sin and death that separates us from Him.

As an aside, I find it very interesting that in the gospels Jesus explained deep spiritual truths using pictures here on earth. At this time Jesus was hinting at His crucifixion and ultimately what it would accomplish...so what does He do? He tells them a little story about farming to convey this truth. This is the mark of a brilliant communicator: using simple illustrations to make very complicated and abstract truths accessible (and applicable) for the average person. No one was (is) better at it than Jesus.

As for the second sentence in our text, I wanted to see if I could get a little more out of the verse by looking up some words in the original language. Sometimes doing this will yield a certain richness in the verse, something that is hard to pick up due to a deficiency in the English language. The only thing I really found was this: in the first two instances of the word "life," the Greek word "psuche" is used, but the last instance where Jesus speaks of life eternal the Greek word "zoe" is used. What's the significance of this? I don't know...at least not yet. And that's another aspect of studying the Bible: sometimes to unlock certain mysteries in the scriptures that you don't understand takes awhile. I think it stems from the fact that we don't need to know everything before or while we follow Jesus. As a matter of fact, there will be things we don't quite get that we just have to take by faith. Perhaps we don't understand this or that, but we just have to trust Him.

This second sentence though did remind me of another verse. I went searching for it and actually found it in two different places in Matthew:

"He who finds his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." Matthew 10:39

"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" Matthew 16:24-26

Although the wording of these verses are slightly different than the text in John, they convey the same truth. I find it significant that these verses are found in the same gospel. When things are repeated like this, it's good to pay a little closer attention.

I take these verses to mean that as a person lives his life for himself, consumed by his own pursuits, his life is shallow and hollow, having little meaning or significance on the eternal scale of things. But as a person lives out Romans 12:1,2, presenting his life to God for His use (thus dying to his own pursuits), it is then that he finds out what it means to truly live. His life, being found in God, has true meaning and significance.

As a school teacher, I see a lot of young people get encouraged to go for this dream or that dream, get asked, "What do you want to do with your life?", and so on. But for me, it's not so much a matter of "What do you want to do with your life?" as it is God speaking, "I want to do something with your life. Do you trust Me to do it? And do you believe that if you die to your own pursuits, you will find out what it means to truly live? And if you do this, do you believe that you will bear much fruit?"

The last sentence of our text in John says that if anyone wants to serve Him, let him follow Jesus. Where? Follow Him into death. It then goes on to say that the servant will be where the Master is. Where is He? His death led to His resurrection: He came into that true life He had been speaking about in the previous sentences. And as the servant follows Him into death, so also will the servant be following Him into life. And if anyone serves Him in this fashion, we have the promise that the Father will honor that servant.

A number of years ago my wife and I felt a call to go to California to Bible college. Living in Indiana that was a big thing for us. We were just starting out in our married lives together. We had bought a house, I had a teaching job, and she had a job doing hair. So what did we do? We got rid of our car, our house, and our jobs, bought an '83 Coachmen motorhome (complete with orange shag carpet!), and moved to California. On the way out the engine blew and we had to spend over half of what we had saved to buy a new engine. Nevertheless, we got there and lived in that thing for several months.

We believe God honored us greatly because of that act of faith (which on the outside looks like a really stupid thing to do). We now live in a house that I built (one of my childhood dreams was to build a house) that is three times as large, I have that same job back, and my wife is blessed to be working with her mom at her business. We have truly been honored for our obedience.

~

WJS

7.06.2007

Anyone who Trusts in Him is Acquitted

When studying God's Word for treasure, it can be really helpful to look at other translations. Lately I've been mosying through John, looking at some difficult scriptures, thinking them through, and trying to get an idea of what Jesus is saying. Oftentimes I find myself saying the same thing as Nicodemus: "What do you mean?" (John 3:9, NLT)

Check out what The Message (more or less a paraphrase rather than a literal translation) says in John 3:17, 18:


God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person's failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

Wow! What a cool way of putting it: anyone who trusts in Him is acquitted. The phraseology actually reminds me of the fundamental teachings of Romans. How cool.

Here is a definition of acquitted I found on www.dictionary.com:

"declared not guilty of a specific offense or crime; legally blameless"

How awesome it is to know that as I put my trust in Jesus that I'm acquitted of all I've done. His blood causes me to be "legally blameless," and because of that, I can enter into the kingdom of God!

~

WJS

7.05.2007

A Prayer

In Acts 6:7 it says (in the KJV): "And the word of God increased; and the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly...."

Lord, I ask that Your word be increased here in this area...and may New Life Fellowship be a part of that. Lord, use us to increase Your word greatly in this community, and as a result, may the number of disciples in Lagrange county multiply greatly. We look to You in humble dependence to do all these things through us, as we can, of ourselves, do nothing.

~

7.04.2007

Whatever He Says to You, Do It

As I was reading John 2 this morning, I thought about Jesus' miracle at the wedding feast. It was there that He performed His first miracle, turning water into wine for a wedding party that had run out.

Mary came to Jesus and told Him about it. Jesus said something to her about it not being His time to be revealed. Then Mary turned to the servants who were in charge of serving at this feast and said something very simple, yet profound: "Whatever He says to you , do it."

I love what is written next. Jesus said, "Fill the waterpots with water." And they filled them up to the brim.

What a neat little picture of full and complete obedience. Jesus said fill them up, and they did....not halfway, not 3/4 full, but up to the brim.

In the NLT, the verse that follows says, "He said, 'Dip some water out and take it to the master of ceremonies.'" So they followed His instructions.

~

Obedience is easy to talk and write about, but when Jesus gives us a directive, how incredibly difficult it can be to listen and obey! May our hearts be similar to those servants' hearts; not asking questions, not doubting, and doing what we've been asked to do with full and complete obedience. May we also follow His instructions as He gives them to us. May we say to our Lord, 'Yes, I'll do it," and then actually do it.

WJS

6.19.2007

A Noisy Life/A Silent Night

The other night I had to go out to the shop to do something at about 10:30. I finished what I had to do and started to go back home. As I was going, I was struck by how silent the night was. I looked up, and all I could think was, "I wonder how much we miss in the noise of our lives." I wondered about all the people I've heard say things like, "It's so hard to hear from God." I wondered about my struggle over the years to hear God's voice. I wonder really how loudly He is speaking. But we've got so many things going on in life.

I saw a shooting star that night. A tree was in the way...I think I'm going to cut that tree down so I can see it next time.

I wonder how many things we have growing in our lives that get in the way of seeing God's glory.

We should be more like Moses who said, "Show me Thy glory." I bet that's a prayer we will get a positive answer to. I know I have.

6.14.2007

The Word

John 1

The Word

As I read through chapter 1, a question came to mind. Why is Jesus called, “the Word”? Two things came to mind:

a.) Genesis 1 – Something about this chapter strikes me as quite incredible. I count at least five times (in the NKJV anyway) the phrase, “and God said…and it was so.” And God said, and it was so…. When God speaks, there is incredible power; power of which we are not aware. It’s power that has created the universe and holds the universe intact (see Col. 1:17 – in Him all things consist, or are sustained, or are held together in composition “by the word of His power”, Heb. 1:3). When God speaks, we can bank on it as being 100% accurate and true. Jesus is the express image of this truth and power. He spoke with His mouth, and He spoke with His life. He spoke with His miracles and healings. He is how God communicates and imparts His love for us.

Along these lines, I’m reminded of times when Jesus performed certain miracles. Matthew 8:7 records the words of the centurion looking for healing for his servant: “But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.” Jesus marveled at this guy’s faith. He knew what kind of power His word had – and Jesus said, and it was so.

In another instance, Jesus rebuked the storm: “Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, ‘Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’” (Mat. 8:26, 27) So Jesus spoke, and there was a great calm. This should tip us off as to who Jesus is, who commands even nature and nature obeys immediately. It was God who spoke the universe into existence in the first place; here we see Jesus commanding authority over it once again.

Also, as an aside to this, I find it quite intriguing that although God can and sometimes does speak into this creation His will and it obeys immediately, that He still allows man his free will, his will to say “yes” or “no” to God as it were.

b.) Hebrews 1:1-3 РWhereas in times before God spoke to man through other men, known as prophets, God is now here speaking to us by His own Son. He is the Word of God to us, as God, in these last days, is making His final attempt to communicate His message of love, righteousness, and holiness to man. Who God is cannot be made any clearer than by looking at Jesus, His life, His words, His miracles which attest to His incredible compassion, and His death, the ultimate communiqu̩ of His love for us. If you want someone to tell you what God is like, look to Jesus.

Personal Application

Here’s a personal application I see:

When God gives me a promise, like “I’m going to do this or that through you,” I can bank on it that God will bring it to pass. Abraham had to wait a long time for his son, but he finally got him. Interestingly enough, he got his son when it was physically impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have a son. But God is the God of the impossible. Sometimes it goes down that way so that it’s clear to everyone, including the recipient that God is behind it.

5.01.2007

Cart Ride

The other day I mowed my grass for the first time this spring. I also happened to have the cart hooked up behind my riding lawnmower, allowing my two older daughters the opportunity to ride along with me.

I started along the edge of the yard by the house, which is an easy part to mow. Then I moved to the north side of the property that borders a wooded area. There are a lot of briers and tree branches that hang out into my property.

As I looked back at my two daughters, I could see fear in their faces; they were afraid of getting snagged by the briers and slapped by the tree branches. They were scared, not knowing exactly what would happen, or how long this ordeal would last. I kept driving the lawnmower because, after all, the grass on the edge of the property had to be mowed. Then a thought came to mind...

This is somewhat similar to the ride we are all on with the Lord. At times it's really fun, but at other times, it can be scary. The whole time I was driving that mower I knew that my two daughters were safe, although the ride was a little scary for them. I was never going to let anything happen to them, be it getting scratched up by the briers or slapped pretty hard by a tree branch. Even if they never knew it, they were safe the whole time. And when we are on a ride like this, with briers and tree branches threatening us, He knows exactly where to go and how fast to go. We are safe the whole time, even though it may not feel like it.

~

WJS

4.25.2007

Still Waters

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

~

Have you ever noticed these two verses in the same Psalm?

"He leads me beside the still waters."

"...I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...."

Peace in the midst of extremely turbulent circumstances is nothing but supernatural.

A couple of things to ponder:

1.) Is the Lord your Shepherd?

2.) Do you feel like you're walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and it feels like there's no way out? Well, He can walk you through it to the other end. He can even make that valley feel like the banks of a quiet stream.

3.) One of the things that makes Jesus our great High Priest is the fact that He came to earth as a man and dealt with all the junk of life just like we do. He walked through the valley of the shadow of death (and really died), and that's what allows Him to minister to each of us in an incredible way. He looks at us and says, "I know exactly how you feel...I've been there, and I'm here for you." In much the same way, if we go through the valley, that equips us to help others, to have compassion on others. God may allow us to go through that valley to equip us for ministry.

~

WJS

4.23.2007

The Problem of Death

When a loved one dies, family and friends usually show up in town to honor that person, to pay last respects, and to say goodbye.

I've kind of been mulling over this argument by atheists and agnostics dubbed "the problem of evil," which is supposed to be a logical conclusion about the non-existence of God. I could spend a great deal of time researching and taking up the typical arguments against this "problem of evil," but I don't really feel like it would be a good use of time.

Nevertheless, my mind gets going and I sometimes stumble into something worth saying...or at least I think I do.

Those who subscribe to the argument that since evil exists God doesn't use horrible tragedies to prove that God does not exist. Since atrocities occur and God won't do anything about it, He must not exist. But I think one of the greatest atrocities on the earth is to say that God does not exist and the logical conclusion to that argument. Since God does not exist, what use is there in honoring the dead? They are merely the result of an improbability and a great deal of time. And when they are gone, they are gone. Their lives are worthless vapor, here today and gone tomorrow. To suggest to those who are grieving passed loved ones that the dead are inconsequential, that their lives were mere biological function, trying to survive, to gather food, build shelter, and reproduce, is an unspeakable blasphemy. Where then is morality? Where then is justice, mercy, and truth? Why then is the death of just another animal so painful? After all, I see dead possums every day on the road. If God does not exist, then let us eat, drink, and be merry, for our lives are of no eternal consequence.

I guess what I'm saying is this: the act of love that is portrayed through the grieving process, along with numerous other appearances of love can only suggest that God is real. I maintain that since we see love here on the earth, God must be real, for love cannot be mere biological function. We learn love from Love Himself. After all, we were created in His image. This pain we feel from missing our loved ones must be derived from Him. It must be the pain He felt when He called out to Adam, "Where are you?"

Those who subscribe to atheism because of the "problem of evil," when attempting to prove their point, play on the very love nerve about which I am speaking. Since all these incredibly horrific things happen to "innocent" people, we are moved with compassion, then look heavenward and wonder what is happening up there that these things are still continuing. I claim that if God is not real and we are simply a biological anomaly, there would would be no moving in the heart; there would be no compassion; there would be no, "why, God?" We would be animals, and like animals we would live if there was no God. But there's nothing animalistic about people saying goodbye to a loved one for the last time. Those tears are real. And I would venture to say that no one has a bigger broken heart about these things than God Himself.

When I see grieving people, I think, "None of this was ever God's will. Death, dying, pain, loss, suffering...none of this is God's will." And it isn't. Look at the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus wept when He got there. I always found that interesting because Jesus had to know He was going to raise him from the dead. I wonder if Jesus wept because these people had to go through the pain of losing Lazarus. I wonder if Jesus still weeps at funerals today. I bet He does.

~

WJS

4.14.2007

The Problem of Evil

A number of months ago I happened upon a blog wherein the authors were attempting to "debunk" Christianity. I find it interesting that they were attempting to use a blog to provide incontrovertible evidence that Christianity is false, and that we are all a bunch of dolts for believing it--this religion that has survived centuries of persecution and hijacking by psychopaths. Nevertheless, there was an argument that I had run across on this blog: the problem of evil.

I don't really know all that much about this kind of an argument. I only visited the website a few times. But there are a number of folks out there who believe that since evil exists in the world, then one of three things must be true: If God exists, since he won't step in and stop gross evils from happening to people, then He is malevolent. Or, if God exists, he is incapable of stopping the gross evils that happen to people, which means He is not all-powerful. Or God simply does not exist. In other words, why do bad things happen to good people?

I've heard this kind of argument before from people with whom I tried to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. The reasoning goes something like this: 'If God exists, then why is there evil in the world? Why doesn't He just step in and stop this or that from happening to people?'--The thinking being that since these evils exist, God does not exist, and therefore I do not have to consider religious matters.

It's a clever argument...but it cannot beyond the shadow of a doubt prove that God does not exist. It's more of an argument for trying to convince oneself that God does not exist, and since He doesn't, I can live my life in the fashion I want. I'm not responsible to God because some poor kid in Africa is dying of AIDS and God won't do anything about it.

My problem with this line of reasoning is that I don't think we are as well-informed about these kinds of spiritual matters as much as we think we are. I think it's much more highly probable that we just don't know what we're talking about, rather than that since evil exists God doesn't. Besides that, if an infinite God exists, I'm not so sure we can apply our high school geometry class logical reasoning to such spiritual matters higher than ourselves. We approach the argument with the assumption that we can understand the supernatural through mere logic, which is patently ridiculous. The supernatural is exactly that: beyond nature, beyond human logic and reason.

Anyway, these thoughts came to mind the other day as I considered these things:

God may not necessarily intervene and stop horrendous situations from happening. With respect to that, He continues to regard the free will of men: hence Adam's sin and the curse. However, God is the Master of taking intensely horrible situations and using them for the greatest good. Because of this, we should not look to God and say, "Why don't you stop this or do that?" but rather we should say, "This horrible thing has happened (which by the way, is probably a result of the curse we brought on this earth because of our rebellion against what God said). Will You please look upon the situation and use it for Your glory?"

Our God is a God of love not because He will stop bad things from happening, but because He can more than restore to us the years that famine, pestilence, and disease have stolen from us. He can work peace in the midst of disaster. This is how He is. To say that He doesn't exist just because He won't operate the way we want Him to operate proves nothing--actually, it proves that a god of our own fancy doesn't exist. The invention of our imaginations, our genie-god, doesn't exist. Thank God.

Our God is a God of love...and we are all idiots.

~

WJS

4.12.2007

Sensitive to the Call

Here's the next part of my essay I started awhile ago:


Sensitive to the Call

“Come to Me” He says…”Come to Me.” It’s an interesting parallel passage to God’s call to man in Genesis: “Where are you?” “Come to Me” looks forward to what Jesus was going to accomplish on the cross. It’s an invitation back into His Presence…and this invitation, “Come to Me,” is saturated with the love that only our Father has for each of us.

A sensitivity to this call exists in a great number of us. Note what happens just before the feeding of the 5000 in John 6:

“Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased.” ~ John 6:2

Jesus performed signs on those who were diseased. He had developed a reputation for making whole those who were sick, lame, blind, and diseased. He set people free. He forgave sins. He ached for people in His incredible compassion. There was something about Jesus that caused the hurting to look to Him. There is still something about Jesus that causes the hurting to look to Him.
After feeding those all those people He went off by Himself for awhile and then met the disciples on the sea. The people then got into boats and went looking for Him. When they found Him, they asked Him when He had gotten there. His response was quite revealing:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” ~ John 6:26-27


Before John had said that they were following Him around because of the signs He performed on the diseased. Now Jesus says they were following Him around not because of the signs, but because they themselves ate the food He gave them. He said they had been filled. They got a taste of that which satisfies. For a brief period of time, that restlessness, that toiling, that hole in their hearts had been satisfied. It was nothing less than Jesus Himself. Remember our curse from Genesis 3?

“…In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread….” ~ Genesis 3:19a

No longer…. No longer will we eat bread in the sweat of our own faces. Jesus calls us to no longer labor for the food that perishes. Jesus calls us to Himself. Jesus says, “Come to Me.” Jesus says,

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” ~ John 6:35


~

©Bill Sines

4.09.2007

Miscellany


It's been awhile since I've posted...there are a number of things going on.


1.) I'm reading a book by Andy Stanley called Visioneering. It's a great read. I recommend it for anyone in a leadership position. The basic premise of the book is the story of Nehemiah and how God birthed a vision in him for rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. If you have a burden or passion in your heart that you feel is from God, pick it up and read it. It's a leadership strategy/Bible study book. Good stuff. Here are a few things I've learned so far:


Sometimes God-ordained visions are near impossible or completely impossible so that when the thing is completed, God gets the glory.


What God originates, He orchestrates.


"Then they said to Moses, 'Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt?'" ~ Exodus 14:11


God doesn't bring you halfway in a vision just to leave you in an impossible situation to die. Remember God's faithfulness in the past to motivate you and those around you to continue to "put your hands to the good work."


2.) God is at work at New Life Fellowship in Topeka, Indiana. Today we broke ground for our new church building. I see a connection between what I'm learning in this book and what God is doing at NLF. God has a vision for us...and I want to be part of that vision. I can see God orchestrating some out-of-the-ordinary circumstances in order to reach out to lost, hurting, and dying people. I'm not so sure I can put the words together to describe what all is going on. It's an exciting ride to say the least!


3.) Hopefully I can find some time to finish that series of blog posts I started (see the last two posts). Spring break just got over, so it's back to the mayhem!


That's all for now...


WJS

3.17.2007

Burden

Here is a continuation of what I started in the last post.

~

The book of Genesis outlines our beginning: an incredible story of creature and Creator, loved and Lover, a record of a now unfathomable relationship where God Himself walked in the cool of the afternoon in that beautiful garden with man. This is the picture of how God intended things: man hanging out with God in the garden, naming the animals and tending to the flowers and trees, enjoying God Himself and each other.
But God created man with his own free will, and out of that free will he rebelled against God, taking of the fruit of the forbidden tree. That disobedience cost man everything he had. The life he had received from God would come to an end. He was fired from his job, and his privilege to the garden was revoked. He inherited the shame that comes with sin and rebellion. This sin would eventually cost him his son Abel.
But the biggest heartache, the most tragic of all tragedies would be that of the loss in relationship between creature and Creator, loved and Lover, so much so that God omnipresent would call out to him, “Where are you?” [1] The break in relationship that occurred between God and man on that terrible day is what God has been seeking to restore ever since. To each individual that has sinned against Him he calls out—yes, He’s still calling out, “Where are you?” Jesus does the same thing in our text from Matthew 11: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
We should also make careful note of one of the other results:

Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.[2]

The restlessness we feel in our hearts is, no doubt, a result of the tearing of our hearts from His. We are separated from our Father…and I would venture to say that it should be no less frightening than a five-year-old being lost in a mall without his parents. But look at the rest of our curse. We’ve become beasts of burden, sweating and toiling in the noonday sun for our bread…until we get so old we die and return to the very earth we plow. Work, not rest, is our portion. We no longer enjoy tending a restful, peaceful garden where we need only turn our heads and God Himself is there, walking by the petunias and daisies. Instead we work an earth full of thorns and thistles, where some of us are not so sure God even exists.* It’s a pit in our stomachs and in our hearts…it’s the restlessness we feel from day to day—the toiling and separation.


©Bill Sines, 2007


[1] Genesis 3:9
[2] Genesis 3:17b, 18, 19


~

*I'm not talking about myself here! I love Jesus......

3.15.2007

Restlessness

Here is part of something I'm working on right now. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

~

Restlessness

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” ~ Matthew 11:28-29

There’s a restlessness in the heart; there’s a shadow of emptiness that follows us around and hangs on us like wet wool. There’s an anxiety in our stomachs that’s not too easily assuaged by the morning coffee. It’s an assertive heaviness that we shoulder from the time our alarms go off in the morning till quitting time. As the afternoon fades, the feeling gives way to the anxiety of tomorrow: we’ll have to do this all over again then.

I describe a condition well known to many—it’s the fundamental human condition of restlessness. We go through life wondering subconsciously, ‘why am I here?’ pining for the answer as we do this thing called life day in and day out. There’s work, family (which does offer a certain level of respite, at least for some; for others it’s a major source of restlessness and stomach acid), TV (a worthless way to waste time rather than redeem it, to be sure), and sleep. We do enough of these cycles and we reach the end—death. Doesn’t sound like much of an existence, does it? I would say a dog has a better life than this (due mostly to the fact that a larger percent of its day can be attributed to sleep—who wouldn’t want to laze around all day on the couch?!).

As we trudge through life, isn’t there more than this? Is the restlessness in our souls an indicator of a deep problem? Could it be inferring to each of us that we ought to set out on a search for something more? Something that satiates, something that brings rest?

Jesus really catches the flavor of our problem as He extends His invitation:

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden….”~ Matthew 11:28a

For many, life feels like seriously hard labor. We feel heavy laden, bearing a load that I’m not so sure we were designed to bear. It’s like towing a camper with a compact car; it’s a burden unbearable, sure to break everything in us.

So what gives? Why is life like this? Why is there this weariness, this tiredness? Why is there such an appeal within each of us to answer the invitation of Jesus, “Come to Me…”?

©Bill Sines, 2007

~

It's obviously just a start....

Sometimes Math Is Hard


I received this in an email from a colleague. Sometimes math is just too stinkin' hard.


3.01.2007

Empty Clay Pots

"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us." ~ 2 Corinthians 4:7

The phrase "Empty Clay Pots" is a great phrase to describe how Christian ministry ought to be done.

EMPTY

As I shared in my last post, when Jacob had to face his brother, he crossed over the ford of Jabbok. Oftentimes we also have to cross over the ford of Jabbok, the ford of Emptying, in order to be emptied of ourselves. I'm finding out that oftentimes the Lord will allow us to go through a bit of a tough situation in order to develop a keen sense of helplessness, ultimately driving us to a high level of dependence on the Lord. Jacob faced a harrowing situation: the brother whom he had conned out of his birthright and blessing was coming, and there was nothing Jacob could do about it. Jacob was going to have to face him, and he was going to have to trust the Lord to bring him through it.

From our text in 2 Corinthians, we see that we ought to be empty of ourselves and our own sufficiency, so that the power of God and His sufficiency may reside in us. As the Holy Spirit enables, we minister well beyond our own abilities. We must be empty, so that we may be full of Him. As we offer what little we have to Him, He multiplies it (in much the same way He did with the 5 loaves and 2 fish from the little boy) so that we can reach many (and interestingly enough, the leftovers from the 5 fish and 2 loaves that were taken up were more than what they had started with anyway).

CLAY

The idea of a clay pot, or an earthen vessel, is interesting to me. I can remember my mom having some of those clay pots sitting around the front porch at home. The thing about those clay pots was that if you knocked them over, they would break very easily. It gives us a picture of how we really are: incredibly fragile, easily broken. Check out the next verses in 2 Corinthians:

"We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed--" ~ 2 Corinthians 4:8, 9

In engaging in God's work, Paul and his associates were subjected to extreme situations: situations that would break any human being. But these guys recognized Who it was that was carrying them through it all. It was the Lord and no one else...and as such, He was the only one getting the glory.

"--always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you." ~ 2 Corinthians 4:10-12

In their brokenness and despair the Lord was coming through in a mighty way. It's the mystery of the resurrection: through death comes life; that is, the life that Christ Himself provides: true life, life that is no longer subject to weakness, brokenness, and fragility. It's enabling and empowerment beyond human ability.

We ought to recognize that the work to which God calls all of us is spiritual and requires this empowerment beyond human ability. We should never attempt supernatural work through natural means. It's a recipe for disaster.

POTS

As I was thinking about this the other day, doing ministry with the mindset that we are empty clay pots, I kind of chuckled at this part of the idea. A lot of times (at least for me) when we see God using us, our tendency is to get all puffed up and arrogant, saying (at least to ourselves), 'Hey, look how great I am. God is blessing my ministry--I must be something special.' We need to be very intentional about keeping in mind that we are just empty clay pots. There's nothing special about a pot. There's nothing glorious, amazing, or awesome about a pot. We go around thinking to ourselves, "Look at what a cool pot I am." That's dumb. Pots aren't cool, they're just pots.

What is the primary function of a pot? It's empty so that it can hold something else. Curiously enough, oftentimes that very thing is dirt. So we go around thinking things like, "Look at what a cool pot I am. Check out how sweet my dirt is." That's really dumb.

We ought to keep in mind that as we hold that dirt, the only way we can ever amount to anything is if something grows out of that dirt. Yep, the coolest part about a pot are the beautiful flowers that grow out of it; and even then, we really have no part in causing that thing to grow. It all comes from the master Planter, Waterer, and Weeder. It's all about what God wants to do with us empty clay pots, what kind of flowers He wants to plant in us. If we look to Him for these things, it's then that our ministries will grow and flourish. What kind of an incredible garden could God grow if we would just be empty clay pots?

~

WJS

2.24.2007

Leaning On His Staff

"By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff." ~ Hebrews 11:21

This "leaning on the top of his staff" communicates quite a bit to us. Jacob had to lean on a staff because of an encounter he had with the Lord earlier in his life.

All through his life Jacob had developed a reputation for being self-sufficient. He was a con-man, he got what he wanted, and he could take care of himself. But the time came when he had to face his brother Esau, the man he conned the blessing and the birthright out of. Genesis 32 relays the story.

As Esau and his entourage approached Jacob, Jacob became "greatly afraid and distressed." (v. 7). As such, Jacob begins to pray and ask the Lord for help. Interestingly enough, Jacob addresses Him as the God of his fathers, Abraham and Isaac, which indicates to us that he had no close relationship to the Lord. God was just some distant Being to him. But now Jacob found himself in an impossible situation.

He prayed, but then he attempted to get himself out of trouble with Esau by sending him droves of gifts. Jacob turned to his own abilities and material resources to get himself out of this tight spot. And that night, Jacob wrestled with God.

I believe the wrestling with God all night was meant to be a picture to Jacob: 'You know, you've been self-sufficient all your life. I've been trying to get your attention, to get you to turn to Me and trust in Me. And all you've done is struggle and fight against it.' And then He touched his hip socket, basically making him lame. He wasn't going to be able to run from this situation; he was going to have to face Esau his brother and trust that the Lord would bring him through it.

Interestingly enough, that night he crossed over the ford of Jabbok. The word "Jabbok" means "emptying" in the original language. Jacob would be emptied that night of his self-sufficiency, and the next day he would get a crash-course in God-sufficiency.

In today's society, being self-sufficient is seen as a strength. But in God's economy, being self-sufficient can be a detriment. Consider these verses:

"Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." ~ 2 Corinthians 3:5,6

"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. " ~ John 15:5

Thus says the Lord:
"Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited." ~ Jeremiah 17:5,6

It's important for us to remain humbly dependent on the Lord. When self-sufficiency creeps in, arrogance and pride can come with it. We should be careful to guard ourselves from this. May God also make us "lame," so that we can worship Him, leaning, as it were, on the tops of our staffs.

~

WJS

2.23.2007

Talents and Calling

These two verses came to mind today:

"Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.' "But his lord answered and said to him, 'You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.'" ~ Matthew 25:24-28

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." ~ Joshua 1:9

The first portion of text speaks of fear. The servant said he was fearful of the lord...but the lord called him wicked and lazy. I would say that if we really fear our Lord with a holy reverence, we would not be like this guy. We would take the "talent" that God has given us and use it to further His kingdom.

The second verse speaks of being strong and courageous. As God spoke to Joshua, He wanted to be very clear with him that his leadership position over Israel (to go in and possess the promised land) and the authority that came with it originated with God Himself. I recently engraved this verse for a pastor in Mexico in Spanish, and I recognized one of the words: "ordenado." This looks a lot like our English word, "ordained." In other words, it was God Himself, the God of the universe, that had ordained Joshua for this work. There is no one on Earth and no one in the heavenlies that can speak against this ordination. As such, Joshua was commanded to be very courageous. 'Step up and step into your calling. I, the Lord, have ordained you. Do not be fearful, for I am with you.'

Now I'm not saying we should be presumptuous and say, "The Lord called me to do this or that." No, oftentimes in order to figure out our calling we need to do a lot of waiting and praying. I remember a minister who relayed his story to our class (it was in Bible college). When he was at his lowest, thinking God could never use him again in ministry, he got a very clear call in the form of an offer to lead a Bible study. He wept over the opportunity. In his brokenness he realized his call, and he knew that answering this call would satisfy something deep down. He would be answering the call to 'step up and step into' his calling. It would be the only thing that would satisfy him. He would find out what it means to lay his life down for his Lord, only to truly find it. At least that's how I interpreted the tears.

~

WJS

2.21.2007

"Follow Me, and I will make you..."

It's been awhile since I've felt "inspired" to write (this coming from a right-brained high school math teacher), but today I was reminded of a certain portion of scripture:

Then Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men." They immediately left their nets and followed Him. ~ Mark 1:17-18

I love this sentence, 'You follow Me, and I will make you....' The first part of that sentence is the call for Simon and Andrew (and ultimately all of us) to follow Him. I find it interesting that at the time Jesus said this, Simon and Andrew were at their jobs; they were performing their livelihoods, the very thing that gave them their identity, as it says in verse 16 that they were "fishermen."

In other words, the call for these guys was to leave their natural work and engage in work that would have eternal impact. Jesus says in the remainder of that sentence, "I will make you fishers of men." Now I believe that this "fishers of men" was a specific call for these guys; they would be part of the twelve, which obviously no one else will be. But I believe Jesus says this to all of us, in one way or another: 'Follow Me, and I will make you..." and you can fill in the blank. (That filling in the blank part is an extremely personal thing--it's the intersection of our personal relationship with the Lord and finding our spot in the body) We have to realize that this work to which He calls us is where we find our true identity, our true calling. It's only when we engage ourselves in this work, the work that has eternal weight, that we will truly be satisfied. As we have been studying on Sundays at church, it is when we say to the Lord, "Yes, I'm open" that we find out what it means to truly live. Consider how these verses fit into this idea:

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." ~ Romans 12:1,2

"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ...." ~ Ephesians 4:11,12

"And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability" ~ Matthew 25:15

1 Corinthians 12 - The whole chapter!

Some things to consider:

1.) Are you willing to completely lay down your agenda, your dreams, your desires to follow the Lord?

2.) What is it that God is calling you to do in His body? God has a spot for everyone on the team, a position for everyone to play. What's your position?

3.) Are you listening closely enough to hear what God is telling you? Often I find myself getting answers to prayers in very unusual ways. If you're not listening closely, you might miss it. Case in point: I remember praying for something and getting it, only to realize a week later that I had gotten it. Duh.

~

WJS

2.07.2007

And You He Made Alive

Ephesians 2:1-5a

"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ...."

In our small group we are studying Ephesians together. I've been looking at chapter 2, and I'm intrigued by this beginning phrase, "And you He made alive...." I love that phrase, because in context, he is talking about once being dead in sins and now being made alive in Christ, apart from works. This is that deliverance from sin and sin's result--death. Paul makes reference to the grace of God, that beautiful "you screwed up your life with a bunch of sin and because I love you so much and sent my Son to die for you I'm going to fix it--I'm going to completely erase all your sin and all the baggage and condemnation that comes with it even though you're wholly unable in and of yourself to do anything about it" grace. This grace of God is awesome....

But I'm pondering the depth of that statement: and you He made alive. What exactly does it mean for us to be alive? There's got to be more than just being delivered from sin and death. There must be more depth to the phrase and you He made alive.

I'm sure the question has many answers, but here's a verse that comes to mind as I think about it:

"I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." ~ Jn. 10:10b.

Another verse that comes to mind is this:

"For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it." ~ Mk. 8:35

Here are my observations:

1.) To really live is to know, love, and serve Christ. Just as Adam was just a bag of dirt when he was first made, and only made a living being when God breathed the breath of life into Him, we also are just bags of dirt until Christ comes to live in our hearts by His Spirit (His Pneuma, His Breath, as it were). We are made alive by Christ, and it is then and only then that we can truly live. Those of us who are going through life without Christ are only going through the empty motions of life...there is no abundance, no purpose, no true life without Him. We are dirt-bags, quite literally, with no purpose at all in this life.

As an aside, I would also say this: if we are going through this life ignoring what Christ wants us to do with our lives, that's a lifeless place to be as well.

2.) It is Him who makes us alive. It has nothing to do with our self-efforts. As we abide in Him, His life flows through us. Remember our verse from Ephesians? 'You once walked according to the course of this world...and really screwed up your own life and acted like a moron, committing a bunch of sins...' And then it says, "But God...." It was God who stepped in and, aside from our shortcomings, made us alive. Yeah, He breathed life into us dirt-bags and made us to know what it means to truly live. This is grace.

I'm sure there's more to being made alive by Christ...but it's sometimes hard to use human language to describe the work of God.

2.03.2007

New Website

My father in law Lowell and I have an engraving business. We have just launched our new webiste. You can check it out here.

2.01.2007

Love's Impact

Hebrews 6:9-12

-“Do not become sluggish”

-These people had works

-Labor of love-they ministered to the saints and were continuing in that

I am becoming more and more convinced that the absolute best way to have an impact for the kingdom is through love. (On the one hand, I see this as a very profound conclusion coming to fruition in my life. On the other hand, it’s a conclusion that is simpler than 2+2=4. Duh!)

A number of years ago I heard the teaching that if you’re “filled” with the Holy Spirit, the evidence of that filling is speaking in tongues. I also heard a teaching that countered that idea: if you’re filled with the Holy Spirit, the first and foremost evidence of that filling is love…and not just any love. That is that supernatural love that happens to spill out of an overflowing heart. I believe that speaking in tongues, prophecy, words of wisdom and knowledge and any other ministry you could possibly think of are just that: ministries. But the fuel for that ministry, the predecessor of that ministry is love. In other words, love is the trunk and all ministry efforts are the branches.

I’m reminded of that verse in John 7:38: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Some of the current methods we use for impacting the kingdom or evangelizing or whatever include cheap gimmicks, well-intentioned programs, and arguing. Many times we come across as obnoxious, self-righteous, and irrelevant. Now I’m all for just about any effort to try to reach people for Christ, but none of these things will amount to anything unless love is the motivator. People respond to being loved. Do you have someone in your life that is annoying to everyone else around you? Try just being loving and nice and carrying on a conversation with them. If your heart is overflowing with the love of Christ, it’s going to spill out “on” to others. Do you have people in your life that come from seriously crappy home situations? Try making friends with them just so you can lavish God’s beautiful, gracious love on them. Smile. Put your arm around them. Listen to them like what they’re saying is the most important thing to be hearing in the whole universe. Look them in the eye and accept them. Love them!

I’m also learning that in order to have a heart overflowing with God’s love, oftentimes you have to be “emptied.” What I mean by that is sometimes we are so full of ourselves there’s no room for God to work in our lives. Sometimes our lives get stressful, forcing us to turn to God for help. As we go through times that are tough (and sometimes it’s just tough in a spiritual way), we look to God for help. It’s in those times that we realize ourselves to be just “earthen vessels,” able to be filled by God to love others:

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7-11

~

WJS

1.31.2007

Increasing Pedagogical Proficiency Through Reflective Inquiry-Based Initiatives

Translation: Becoming a better teacher by thinking about what would make you a better teacher. Also known as "metacognition." I think I'll think about this a little more. Would that be called "meta-metacognition"?

Ha ha! Did that really look like a blog post I would come up with? I just find it extremely humorous some of the terminology we throw around in the world of education!

Have a great day! More to come on Hebrews, among other things.

~

WJS

1.26.2007

On Education, Again

The other day I was talking to a colleague about students and education in general. One observation that came of the conversation was this: if students cared, they would excel, regardless of a mediocre educational system. On the other hand, if a school has the best programs on the planet, if the students don't care, then it doesn't matter at all. The observation came as I reflected on the enormous amounts of energy and money spent on education. Honestly, if half the effort put in by administrators and teachers into education was reciprocated by students, many of the education woes of today would be nonexistent.

Again, this is not the case with all students, but it is a big enough problem to point it out. At least that's my experience. Others I've talked to share the same sentiment. There are a lot of people who just don't care.

So how do you change a culture that's been in place for a long time? How do you get people to care?

A Pretty Good Quote

I'm not too much of a quote guy. However, I ran across this quote from Stephen Covey's book, The Speed of Trust:

"There are no moral shortcuts in the game of business--or life. There are, basically, three kinds of people: the unsuccessful, the temporarily successful, and those who become and remain successful. The difference is character." - Jon Huntsman, Chairman, Huntsman Chemical

As one of my friends would say, good stuff!

~

WJS

1.19.2007

On Education

Here is an excerpt of an email I sent to a colleague:


Recently I’ve had a lot (and I mean a lot) of people saying things to me (not only students, but other staff as well), “when will I ever use this in real life?” and “when will this information be useful later in life?” Statements like these are usually made with a negative attitude. The thought is, “this information is not worth learning.” (An aside to this is, who are we to place value on certain types of knowledge and information? But that’s another discussion!) What it implies to me is that my life’s work is of no consequence. I’m appalled that both students and some staff have this attitude toward education.

While this attitude is extremely discouraging to me personally, we can know something about the attitudes of those who make such statements. To these folks being an educated person is not important. These folks assume that education and job training are the same thing; I maintain that they are not. It is my opinion that one of the most fundamental privileges of the human race is to expand our knowledge of the world around us, to become informed in the sciences (math, biology, geology, astronomy, etc.), to learn about our history, to become well read in great literature, and to become writers ourselves. In fact, I would not think it too preposterous to say that it’s not only our privilege, but it’s our duty. God created us all with minds that have the capacity to learn and expand; wouldn’t it be correct to assume that God desires that we learn?

Nevertheless, we as teachers are fighting a culture that does not value education. So I guess my takeaway is this: how do we change the culture? How do we create a culture where being an educated person is of great importance? How do we pass on to our students that being educated is valuable?

~

Here's something else to think about: is being educated important?

1.15.2007

Hebrews 5 (and the beginning of 6)

Verse 11-14

The challenge here is that the recipients of this letter haven’t grown in their knowledge of the scriptures to the point of understanding how Melchizedek is a type of Jesus (or he could even be a “pre-incarnate” appearance of Jesus Himself, as in Joshua and Daniel). The challenge for us is, are we growing in the scriptures, or are we still babes? Do we need others to teach us, or are we able to teach others?

Hebrews 6

Verses 1-3

This is an extension of verses 11-14 in the previous chapter. It is another call to grow in our faith and knowledge of the scriptures.

Verses 4-6

This is probably one of the most challenging texts in all of scripture. One portion of scripture that comes to mind is that of the prodigal son. There we can see the father waiting expectantly at the gate for his son with a broken heart, hoping that he will come back to him. This is from Luke 15. Of course, the parable may refer to Israel in its original context rather than an individual coming back to the Lord. I’ve personally seen people leave the Lord, leave their spouses and families, only to repent a real repentance later, and bear fruit worthy of repentance. I’ve also seen people leave their spouses and families (and ultimately the Lord) and never come back.

It should also be noted that, at least to some degree, we have all fallen into sin and “left” the Lord. But 1 John speaks to this…if we do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous. I can only surmise that this decision to leave Christ is a deep decision of the heart, a decision that we as humans cannot readily discern, and thus we have a really hard time understanding what “impossible…to renew them again unto repentance” really means. These are the people who make their final decision to say “no” to the Lord.

Verses 7-8

These verses give us a feel for what this person’s life eventually looks like. It reminds me of Matthew 13:24-30, which is the parable of the wheat and the tares. The tares grow up with the wheat until harvest time. Then the wheat is gathered into the barn and the tares are burned. I guess it means this: are our lives representative of a meaningful Christian life, or is it “worthless”? Is there fruit or not? Are we being changed into His image?

1.14.2007

The Lifeboat

In one of Donald Miller's books he relays this activity that he had to do in school. In this activity (and actually, I've done the activity myself as well in one of my high school history classes) there is a lifeboat with a limited number of seats. The students are then given a list of people: a single mother, a doctor, a teacher, a stay at home mom, etc. The students have to decide who is "worthy" to have a seat in the small lifeboat.

In my opinion, this is one of the most atrocious activities you can do with students. It forces them to place graduated value on human life. It forces them to "play God" in a sense, decided who lives and who dies. It's abominable.

Donald Miller then goes on to say that the same game plays itself out in real life. It's as if there is a lifeboat, and each of us has to prove to each other who deserves the "first seat" in the lifeboat. Who in society is the most important? Who has the most value? The prettiest? The smartest? The most athletic? It is barbaric, no doubt (and strangely enough looks like Darwinism, doesn't it? the survival of the fittest? When you tell people they have descended from primates, it's no wonder they will devalue each other and act like animals. By the way, where'd my prehensile tail go? I could use that every once in awhile.). And if you don't like to play the lifeboat game, jockeying with other people for position and importance, then someone tries to drag you into the lifeboat game, and they immediately begin to prove to you why you don't belong in the lifeboat. Sick, isn't it?

But you know, Jesus has His own lifeboat game. I love it! Here's the game told from Jesus' point of view:

"Hey, I know what you're going through. Take My hand and get in My lifeboat. And when you get in, I have this special spot for you here on the team. You see, on my team we love each other and hold each other in high esteem. You are of the utmost value here. I want you to help me pull more people into the lifeboat. You see here we try to get as many people into the lifeboat. There's room for everyone."

~


WJS

Being a "Grace-Giver"

I think it's extremely important that as we work with others toward accomplishing God's goal of reaching and impacting lives in our respective communities we give each other grace. We're an imperfect people, to be sure, and it is extremely likely that at times each of us is going to fall a little short. Many times, however, it makes little difference because things still come together, and people are impacted. As my pastor has said in the past, "It's not the end of the world!" As we seek to do our best for Him, He shows up, and works incredibly, even in the midst of our imperfections. Therefore we ought to be easy on one another, being merciful and gracious to one another, as we model to those we are trying to reach true community in Christ.

1.10.2007

Spiritual Growth

This morning I read an incredibly profound statement in a book by Michael Yaconelli entitled Messy Spirituality:

"Physical and spiritual growth cannot be reduced to mechanics. I'm all for getting the mechanics right, but spiritual growth is more than a procedure; it's a wild search for God in the tangled jungle of our souls, a search which involves a volitile mix of messy reality, wild freedom, frustrating stuckness, increasing slowness, and a healthy dose of gratitude.

"Now are you ready to talk about spiritual growth? The kind of spiritual growth that begins with desire, not guilt; passion, not principles; desperation, not obligation? Are you ready to grow by traveling the road of failure, frustration, and surprise?" (emphasis mine)

This struck me so much that I audibly sighed. I immediately asked myself the question, "Is your relationship with God based on desire or guilt? Is Bible study and prayer an obligation or joy? Is service to God on your "to do" list or your "can't wait to do" list? How much passion is there in your relationship with God?"

How odd would it be if I sat my wife down and said to her, "Now I'm going to take the next fifteen minutes and talk to you."? And every two minutes I looked at my watch to see if the fifteen minutes were up. That would be incredibly stupid. But why do we do the same thing with Jesus?

May our relationships with Jesus be full of desire and passion, and may they look more like a marriage, or the relationship between a father and son or daughter. May it be that we hang out with the Lord like we hang out with our best friends...just wasting time, talking and laughing, telling stories and enjoying coffee, playing games and just being together, texting and emailing meaningless stuff, and telling stupid jokes on the phone just for the sake of laughing together.

1.07.2007

A Little More On Anxiety

I'm still mulling over this issue of living a life full of anxiety. From time to time, each of us has a season where anxiety gets the best of us--where we can't help but stew over stressful situations at work, at home, or at church. It can't be good for us, either physically or emotionally. Some verses came to mind as I thought about this:

1 Peter 5:7

"...casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you." New American Standard

"...casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you." New King James

"...Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you." The Message



Philippians 4:6

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God..." New King James

"Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns." The Message

"Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done." New Living Translation


Lately I've been on this kick of checking out the same verses in a variety of translations. You can really get a good feel of the verse if you do this. It really gives you a little more depth into the gist of the verse.

Probably my favorite rendering of Philippians 4:6 is the New Living Translation: "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything." I love that. God calls us to a life of no worrying, no fretting, no stewing. Are you worried about something at work? Are you worried about something at church? Jesus wants to take care of that worry for you. Jesus is concerned even about our "smallest" of concerns--won't you just give it to Him so that you don't have to bear it anymore?

~

WJS

1.03.2007

Something About Anxiety

Tomorrow starts the first day of the second semester...along with a whole new semester of stress!

I remember a message that our pastor gave a number of months ago from Ecclesiastes 11, and I decided to look up a few different translations of verse 10:

"Live footloose and fancy free - You won't be young forever. Youth lasts about as long as smoke." -- The Message

"Therefore remove sorrow from your heart, And put away evil from your flesh, For childhood and youth are vanity." -- New King James Version

"So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless." -- New International Version

"So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting." -- NASB

The advice from these verses is: live footloose and fancy free, remove sorrow from your heart, banish anxiety, and remove grief. Each is obviously a little different, but I take a great deal of comfort away from these translations. I take it to mean not to stress out too much at work because I'm young; don't let things get to me too much. Lighten up and have fun!

~

WJS