Thursday, April 30, 2009

DISCERNING VISION - Part 2

Words of caution for visionary leaders: First, there is the danger that the “vision” becomes more important than God and His people. The wise leader must remember that he or she is also called to love as Jesus loved. Too many Christian leaders have pounded home their ideas of vision with such force that their followers are battered and bruised. Vision sent from God unites His people and blesses them. Vision, yes! Abusive leadership, no!

A second danger is assuming that a finely crafted vision statement is all that is needed to inspire and unite followers. But that puts the cart before the horse. A vision statement should flow from the vision already born in the heart of the leader. Just having a “Vision Statement” framed on the wall doesn’t mean the vision is either clear or compelling.

A third danger is that of forfeiting authenticity. Sometimes leaders attempt to imitate role models who have inspired them. They may even repeat the same phrases or assume the same personality traits of their exemplary models. But vision communicated without authenticity will simply come across as a marketing scheme or, worse, as an insincere manipulation. Effective leaders must be true to themselves, even as they are true to the Lord and to the vision God has given them.

When the leader’s passions and values touch the vision that God has for the organization, the leader is filled with joy and infectious hope that are communicated through his or her personality and spirit. The God-given vision will inspire and motivate followers and will honor and glorify the Lord Jesus. The bottom line is that it’s all about Him.

-- Steve Irvin


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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

DISCERNING VISION - Part 1

Leadership and vision go together. Leaders motivate and inspire followers by articulating a compelling vision, a mental image of a desired future. A widely shared vision can impel organizations, including churches, toward fulfillment of their goals and purposes.

Some leaders attempt to conjure up catchy phrases and promote them as vision statements. But a good vision statement goes beyond clever slogans. It must reflect the passion that drives the organization. From a Christian perspective, it must flow from the passions and purposes of God and express concisely -- but compellingly and clearly -- what the organization is ultimately about. The vision statement motivates people to action so that they embrace what they are doing as truly meaningful for both the organization and for the Kingdom of God…

Scripture reminds us that where there is no vision, “people stumble all over themselves” (Proverbs 29:18, The Message). “Vision,” in this context, points to a prophetic revelation where people hear from God and obey Him. Similarly, Christian leaders need to hear from the Lord concerning their lives and their organizations in order to articulate the vision God desires for them. Jesus said, “The Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19, NASB). The leader seeking to discern vision must listen to God in the Word and in prayer, receive a fresh understanding of God and His purposes and then follow His leading.

This process may be somewhat slow as the leader wrestles with interpreting God’s direction in the midst of challenges, setbacks and opportunities. Leaders open their hearts to the Lord as they seek Him. It can be like peeling an onion as God deals with the leader at different levels. It can be a time of brokenness for the leader as he or she seeks the face of the Lord. Once discerned, vision sparks a passion in the leader and doesn’t let him or her go. The apostle Paul testified before King Agrippa, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19, NKJV). The Christian leader is called to embody the vision discerned from the Lord and to articulate it passionately in word and deed, in humility and conviction.

-- Steve Irvin


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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

GOD'S WORK, GOD'S WAY

"The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ." (Ephesians 4:12-13 NLT)

God has called the laity to be His basic ministers. He has called some to be "player-coaches" ... to equip the laity for the ministry they are to fulfill. This equipping ministry is of unique importance. One is appointed to this ministry by the Holy Spirit; therefore it must be undertaken with utmost seriousness. This is a radical departure from the traditional understanding of the roles of the laity and the clergy. The laity had the idea that they were already committed to a "full-time" vocation in the secular world, [and] thus they did not have time -- at least, much time -- to do God's work. Therefore they contributed money to "free" the clergy to have the time needed to fulfill God's ministry. This view is rank heresy. If we follow this pattern, we may continue to do God's work until the Lord comes again and never fulfill God's purpose as it ought to be done.

-- Findley B. Edge in The Greening of the Church (Scripture added)


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Monday, April 27, 2009

SONGS OF PRAISE

"Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song.
Sing His praises in the assembly of the faithful…
Praise Him for His mighty works;
Praise Him for His unequaled greatness!...
Praise Him with the tambourine and dancing;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
Praise Him with a clash of cymbals;
Praise Him with loud clanging cymbals.
Let everything that lives sing praises to the Lord!
Praise the Lord!" (Excerpts from Psalm 149-150, NLT)

"Praise should be proportionate to its object," counsels Charles Spurgeon; "therefore let it be infinite when rendered unto the Lord. We cannot praise Him too much, too often, too zealously, too carefully, too joyfully." The Psalms do teach us to praise God much, often, zealously, and joyfully. When our praise seems so inadequate, how encouraging to turn to the Psalms and find the freedom and joy of these hymns to God. It is exciting to begin to exalt God by awakening the dawn with… songs of praises to His Holy Name!

-- Cynthia Heald in Intimacy with God


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Friday, April 24, 2009

REMEMBERING THE CREATOR

I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that wherever you go, the least plant may bring you the clear remembrance of the Creator… One blade of grass or one speck of dust is enough to occupy your entire mind in beholding the art with which it was made.

-- Basil the Great (329-379) in Hexaemeron, Homily V, "The Germination of the Earth"

Thursday, April 23, 2009

THE SEED OF HOPE

We may picture life as spiraling forward. We are going along, feeling safe and secure… Then comes the upset, a period of painful disorientation. The crisis may be divorce, loss of a job, move to different location, destructive behavior of a loved one, a challenge to deep beliefs, serious illness, or death. The old way of thinking and doing things comes unglued. Doubt, panic, and great pain may accompany this phase.

Darkness comes when we are forced to let go. We want to hang on but cannot. We are no longer in control. We feel fearful. In the moment when the old dies and the new has not yet begun, there may be a time of terror. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34, also Psalm 22:1-22) We want to run away, but no choice remains except to continue on. We accept the pain and awfulness and feel like we are dying.

It seems it will last forever, but of course, it won't. Within the death of the old lies the seed of hope for the new…

"It is the same too with the resurrection of the dead: what is sown is perishable, but what is raised is imperishable; what is sown is contemptible but what is raised is glorious: what is sown is weak, but what is raised is powerful; what is sown a natural body is raised a spiritual body... Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 54-55 NJB)

-- Nancy Regensburger in Walking Through the Waters


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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

DISCIPLINED FOLLOWERS OF JESUS

A disciplined person is someone who can do the right thing at the right time in the right way with the right spirit.

Notice what a disciplined person is not. A disciplined person is not simply someone who exercises many disciplines. A disciplined person is not a highly systematic, rigidly scheduled, chart-making, gold-star-loving early riser. The Pharisees were rigid and organized, but they were not disciplined persons in the sense required by true discipleship.

Disciplined people can do what is called for at any given moment. They can do the right thing at the right time in the right way for the right reason.

This definition applies to artists and athletes and astronauts as well as to followers of Jesus. A disciplined follower of Jesus -- a "disciple" -- is not someone who has "mastered the disciplines" and never misses a daily regimen of spiritual exercises. A disciplined follower of Jesus is someone who discerns when laughter, gentleness, silence, healing words, or prophetic indignation is called for, and offers it promptly, effectively, and lovingly.

-- John Ortberg in The Life You've Always Wanted


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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

FINDING GOD IN RUSSIA

In the 1930s Stalin ordered a purge of all Bibles and all believers. In Stravropol, Russia, this order was carried out with a vengeance. Thousands of Bibles were confiscated, and multitudes of believers were sent to the gulags where most died for being "enemies of the state."

Years later, CoMission sent a team to Stavropol. When the team was having difficulty getting Bibles shipped from Moscow, someone mentioned the existence of a warehouse outside of town where these confiscated Bibles had been stored since Stalin's day.

After much prayer by the team, one member finally got up the courage to go to the warehouse and ask the officials if the Bibles were still there.…The answer was, "Yes!"

The next day the CoMission team returned with a truck and several Russian people to help load the Bibles. One helper was a young man -- a skeptical, hostile, agnostic collegian who had come only for the day's wages. As they were loading Bibles, one team member noticed that the young man had disappeared. He had slipped away, hoping to quietly take a Bible for himself. What he found shook him to the core.

The inside page of the Bible he picked up had the handwritten signature of his own grandmother. It had been her personal Bible. Out of the thousands of Bibles still left in the warehouse, he stole the one belonging to this grandmother -- a woman persecuted for her faith all her life.

He was found weeping -- God was real.

-- R. Kent Hughes in 1001 Great Stories and Quotes Adapted from The Prayer Bible, Jean E. Syswerda, general editor, Tyndale House Publishers (2003)


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Monday, April 20, 2009

SOMETHING WORTH DYING FOR

"Then Jesus told His disciples, 'If any want to become My followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.'" (Matthew 16:24-25 NRSV)

It's hard to read any of the sermons the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached about death and heaven without hearing echoes of gunshots. "The minute you conquer the fear of death, at that moment you are free," he said in 1963. "I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live."

Decades later, these words still inspire faith and courage, said social activist Johann Christoph Arnold, who marched with King in the Civil Rights Movement. That's why [he]… included this quotation in his most recent book, "Seeking Peace".

This was the book that Cassie Bernall and other teenagers at Littleton's West Bowles Community Church were supposed to have discussed on the evening of April 20, 1999. After that tragic day at Columbine High School, Bernall's parents showed Arnold her copy of "Seeking Peace", with its handwritten notes for the study session that was never held. Cassie had boldly underlined King's thoughts on death. Did she hear echoes of gunshots?

"Why did these words speak to her at such a young age? It is such a great mystery," said Arnold. "But I do know this. She had found something she was willing to live for, and even to die for, and that made all the difference in her life."

-- Syndicated columnist Terry Mattingly, April 1999 (Scripture added)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

JUSTICE AND MERCY

Among the many artists who have tried to represent Jesus Christ, few have captured this revolutionary aspect like Michelangelo. In the Sistine Chapel in Rome, Michelangelo has painted "The Last Judgment", depicting the risen Christ who divides mankind: "Whosoever therefore shall confess Me … whosoever shall deny Me …" One can see the strength of Jesus revealed in that massive torso, not covered by any robes, that magnificent, massive torso … muscles bulging, every muscle in action. His arm is uplifted in judgment, yet one hand shows a certain gentleness. The head, almost a little small for the handsome physique, is held upright by a powerful neck … His jaw set, mouth firm, eyes looking straight down in divine justice -- face full of emotion -- He is the Judge.

And yet the spear-wound in His side, the nail prints in His hands, are clearly visible, and that face expresses suffering love. Mercy and justice have kissed each other!

-- H.S. Vigeveno in Jesus the Revolutionary


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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

FROM EASTER ONWARDS

It was only in the light of Easter that the disciples understood Jesus' work and intention; they now realized that the Messiah had to undergo rejection and suffering, that He was to conquer not Rome but death and evil. We have no reason to mistrust the New Testament assurance. The Easter message and the historical Jesus are joined by a bridge resting on many piers. Jesus proclaimed the good news of the presence of God who, like a forgiving father, seeks His lost children and grants even sinners the company of the Redeemer; the disciples preached the Gospel of Christ, who appeared as Saviour and died on the cross for sinners. In the Holy Spirit Jesus drove out unclean spirits and conquered Satan; from Easter onwards He was extolled as the Lord of all spirits, who gives the Holy Spirit to believers and in Him is ever present with them.

-- Otto Betz in What Do We Know About Jesus?


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Monday, April 13, 2009

IN LIGHT OF THE RESURRECTION

To a large extent, joy flows from a certain kind of thinking. Cognitive psychologists remind us that always between the events that happen to us and our responses to them lie our beliefs or interpretations of those events. This thought helps us to understand the irrepressible theme of joy in the New Testament. The New Testament writers were engaged not so much in some form of positive thinking as in what might be called "eschatological thinking." That is, they viewed all events in light of the Resurrection and the ultimate triumph of the risen Christ.

-- John Ortberg in The Life You've Always Wanted


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Friday, April 10, 2009

THE POWER OF THE CROSS

Most people think of Christianity as a scale. All of the bad things you've ever done sit on one side, and all of your good deeds sit on the other. In this scenario, life's ultimate goal becomes working to load as many good things as possible on your scale so that by the time you draw your final breath, things lean in the right direction. Most people think they'll wind up sitting pretty in the next world -- if they even believe in a 'next world' -- as long as they can get the scales tilted right.

While this may seem right, the Bible teaches that this is not what life's about at all! God basically says that we could never tilt the scales enough to be found acceptable by Him. But because He loves us so much, He didn't leave us without hope. God says that we can accept what His Son did in dying on a cross for our sin, paying for every bad deed we have ever committed and will ever commit. Then, by the power of His love, we'll be accepted by Him and will spend all of eternity by His side.

Would there be any reason why you wouldn't want to ask Jesus Christ to forgive your sin and to become the strength and power and guide in your life, starting today?

--Bill Hybels in Just Walk Across the Room


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Thursday, April 9, 2009

PREPARING THE WAY AND THE PLACE

I often think of Jesus' promise to His disciples at the Last Supper on the night before His death: "In My Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also." -- John 14:2-3 [NRSV]

I believe He was talking not only to His disciples about His death and what lies after but also to all of us, His friends in all ages to come. He was promising that any place to which we were called and led, He would not only go with us but also go before us, preparing the way and the place. Wherever we were, we would be in His presence…

With these vague, diffuse fears of the far future to come, though we cannot specifically visualize a place or time, we can pray a prayer… We image the Lord walking ahead of us into unknown territory and turning with a smile to let us know that all is well and under healing control.

-- Flora Slosson Wuellner in Prayer, Stress, and Other Inner Wounds, published by The Upper Room, Nashville, TN. Used with permission.


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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

STAY AWAKE

In [Mark 13], Jesus repeats a simple imperative three times in quick succession: "Keep awake!" For Jesus to repeat this so emphatically three times in a row implies that one of the great hazards of the faith journey is spiritual acquiescence, a kind of grogginess that dulls us to what is true, and truly important. Sleepiness of spirit means we miss out on what God is doing, and perhaps overlook the presence of Christ right in our midst. By simply falling asleep, spiritually speaking, we miss God, and miss out on what God is calling us to be and do.

The peril of spiritual stupor is real, and we see this theme repeated in scripture many times. The disciples who hiked to the mountaintop with Jesus almost missed the transfiguration because they were sleepy! One story tells about someone whom others assumed was dead, but Jesus says, "He's not dead; he's sleeping." In the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night which the disciples knew would be Jesus' last among them, they fell asleep. Even after Jesus implored them to stay awake with Him, they nodded off. Scripture also records one poor follower who dozed during a sermon and fell out the window. (Let that be a warning to the people in the pews!). If it hadn't been for Mary and company on Easter morning, the disciples would have slept through the resurrection of Christ…

A dulling of spiritual insight causes us to see people as things, and to overlook how each is a child of God made in the image of God… If we're not careful, we become so distracted by things that do not matter, so driven by things that are of little account, or so tired and burned out and spiritually exhausted, that they stop being human to us. We lose sight of people, of purpose, of what matters most. "Keep awake," Jesus says. "Be alert." "Stay attentive!" Following Christ, staying awake with Him, requires a constant spiritual acuity, an attentiveness to see the coming of Christ, a preparedness of soul and character, a kind of spiritual attention. Stay awake.

-- U.M. Bishop Robert Schnase from his blog at www.fivepractices.org


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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

THE HIGHEST KINGDOM

Jesus answered, "My Kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36a)

[Jesus'] life and utterance were the proclamation of this new order of things, of this new force by which man was to be ruled. When, unarmed and defenseless, He said to the Roman power, “My Kingdom is not of this world,” He spoke the word of inauguration. Over the kingdom of the elemental forces, over the kingdom of the animal, over the kingdom of the intellect, He beheld rising, with Himself as prophet and embodiment, that kingdom of the spiritual whose forces should be those of purity and sacrifice, love and trust, obedience and service. It is the last of the kingdoms because it is the highest; it will be the most enduring for there is nothing that can take its place.

-- J. Brierley in The Life of the Soul


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Monday, April 6, 2009

BECAUSE OF US

To some, the image of a pale body glimmering on a dark night whispers of defeat. What good is a God who does not control His Son’s suffering? But another sound can be heard: the shout of a God crying out to human beings, “I LOVE YOU.”

Love was compressed for all history in that lonely figure on the cross, who said that He could call down angels at any moment on a rescue mission, but chose not to - because of us. At Calvary, God accepted His own unbreakable terms of justice.

Any discussion of how pain and suffering fit into God’s scheme ultimately leads back to the cross.

-- Philip Yancey


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Friday, April 3, 2009

THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE YEAST

Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened." (Matthew 12:33 NRSV)

Yeast makes bread rise because of the bubbles of gas that it produces. When the yeast is mixed throughout the dough, the bread rises and has the proper rough and airy texture. But if all of the yeast is lumped together in one small part of the dough, the bread won't rise evenly and will have a big, empty holes in it. Even so, the church – the people of the Kingdom – must be intimately involved in life, in the world, in the flour of humanity. When we have clustered ourselves together, fearfully barricaded behind sanctuary walls, we have created great, empty holes in God's world that are filled with nothing but hot air. But if we who call ourselves yeast are willing to become so involved in the pain, the despair, and the laughter of life that our main concern becomes enabling people to grow into all that they can be – then God's bread will become perfect in quality, with yeast permeating every part of the dough. Being involved with life – intimately mixed through and through it – sounds dangerous. Yeast dies in the oven, having lost itself to the creation of something new. May we also be willing to lose ourselves.

-- Mike Hodge


#2275

Thursday, April 2, 2009

THE UNCONQUERABLE CHRIST

The world has tried to conquer Christ. When He was here, and since His coming, they have all tried -- devil and demons, friend and foe, priest and Pharisee, Judas and Pilate, philosophy and psychology, pleasure-seekers and pleasure-finders.

And you have tried, too! You have tried to conquer your hunger for Jesus, your thirst for the Saviour. You have tried to conquer the unconquerable. You have pushed Him into the outer edges of your existence. You have refused to let Him guide in your decisions. You have stubbornly shoved Him away from your conscience, and said: "Hands off, Christ! Hands off my personal life, my thought life, my sex life. It's none of your business what I do with myself, how I spend my time. It's my life to live, not yours. I'll give you a little time on Sunday. I'll pray when I'm in need. Now that's enough, Christ. That's enough."

But He is still there, isn't He? He refuses to be held at arm's length. He is unconquerable. He claims you through His Cross. He has died for you already. And you cannot change that fact with all your arguments, with all your unbelief, with all your rebellious attitudes.

He keeps coming into your life, doesn't He? He wants to win you back to God. He comes just where you keep saying “no” to Him. Just once say, “yes”! Open the door a crack. Let Him in. See if He can do anything. See if He can remove your guilt. See if He can control your passion. See if He can regulate your thought. See if He can change your action. He is the unconquerable Christ!

-- H.S. Vigeveno in Jesus the Revolutionary


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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

FOOLISH CHOICES

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Psalm 111:10)

Some time ago, a good friend of mine who has been far from God his whole life finally admitted that his own path, his own choices, his own foolish impulses had led him into a royal mess. In a private setting, he emotionally -- and with unprintable words -- described the crash of his entire life. He ended with this brief summary statement: "I have blown it!"

I told him that I couldn't disagree with a word he had said and that the current mess he was in was nothing more than the predictable consequence of twenty-five-years of folly. What could he expect after making one foolish choice after the next? "But," I said, "listen to me. There is a way out of your chronic case of the follies. You can make a really smart choice in the next five minutes. You can make a choice that is so wise it will redirect what is left of your life here on earth and redirect your entire eternity. If you're ever going to make wise choices, here is where you have to start. Fling open the door of your heart to God; put your hand in the hand of Christ extended to you; accept the forgiveness that is offered to you. The fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom.

-- Bill Hybels in Making Life Work: Putting God's Wisdom into Action


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