The numbers are in. Pastor Ted can see the report on the top of his desk. His stomach clinches as he walks across the room, picking up the report.
There are times when the numbers haunt us. It might be the budget, or attendance numbers. Every week there is a part of us that lives and dies by the numbers.
Then there are the times when we just give up. We might be so underwater that we can’t see light, or our numbers are so depressing that we let go. We decide to acknowledge that God is in control and just trust.
Why is it that we have to be at the end of our rope before we really learn to trust? In those times when things are going sort of well, we pick back up the stress and forget to leave the numbers on God’s lap.
There is a scripture that baffled me for years: “Then David prayed, I have sinned badly in what I have just done, substituting statistics for trust; forgive my sin—I’ve been really stupid.” 1 Chronicles 21:8. This is the Message version, and it helps a lot. You see, David took a census of Israel’s fighting men. He focused on the numbers.
“If God says his chosen ones are acceptable to him, can anyone bring charges against them? Or can anyone condemn them? No indeed!” (Rom. 8:33-34 CEV)
Most of us spend our entire lives trying to earn acceptance. We want to earn it from our parents, peers, partners in life, from people we respect, maybe even from people we envy. The drive to be accepted is a deep drive that can influence the kind of clothes you wear, the kind of car you drive, the kind of house you buy, and even the career you choose.
Remember how, as a kid, you wanted so badly to be in the in-crowd that someone would say to you, “I dare you to do this” and suggest something that was either stupid or that put your personal safety at risk. But you did it anyway, because your desire to be accepted overruled the desire for safety.
We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.— 2 Corinthians 4:7-9
Every Christian is a vessel God has uniquely created for sharing a treasure with others. This treasure, referred to as the gospel of Jesus, is contained in "fragile clay jars" so it's "clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves." Paul uses the phrase "fragile clay jars" because as humans we are easily broken and we struggle with the most basic details of life. Yet we are called to pour out our treasure so that the world comes into contact with God.
God's works flow naturally from a person whose life has been totally committed to him. The key is to give liberally of what we've received, knowing that the Lord will continue to fill us so that we are never totally empty nor constantly overflowing. Instead, our container will be full of holes that continuously pour out the love of Jesus. As long as we are being filled by God daily, we will never have a problem serving those he wants us to serve (see Galatians 6:10).
However, these clay jars can eventually become empty from lack of use. Empty vessels serve little purpose other than taking up space. And the Lord does not want us to simply exist. As pastor Rick Warren has correctly noted, each person has been made for a purpose. When a follower of Christ is not connected to the source of these gifts, his or her desire for serving God and other people diminishes.
Think about your life-vessel today. How has it been used to store the goodness of God? Has that goodness flowed into other lives? Has God's measure of goodness in you evaporated from days and months of non-use? Or is your life a container full of holes, leaking the goodness of God continuously because you are continuously filled by the source that never runs dry?
We live in a day in which we are continually being made aware of what we eat. We can hardly pick up a magazine or newspaper without seeing articles and ads that remind us to eat wisely, avoid junk food, and read the labels on cans and boxes before we purchase them to confirm that the contents will be healthy for us.
But how many of us are as concerned about our spiritual diets as we are about our natural ones? Are we using discernment in choosing the material we read, the Christian programs we watch and the ministers we listen to? Are we able to distinguish between the meat and the mixture, the holy and the profane?
Many people are so used to mixture that they have lost a taste for what is pure. Lavish displays and methods of presentation have come to be more important than what is being served, and the servers more important than what they serve. Those sitting down at the spiritual “table” reason: If it looks good and multitudes are eating it, then it must be OK.
Sadly, this is often not the case. Some of what we are eating is frighteningly unhealthy. Here are a few examples of the types of spiritual junk food we are being served, along with the meat from God’s Word that we should be eating instead.
Evangelical theologian David Lamb tackles some of the Bible’s most troubling passages in his book, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? His answer: yes and no.
The book has received mixed reviews in the Christian blogosphere, but Lamb was well-received when he recently spoke at a church here. Religion News Service sat down with Lamb, an Old Testament scholar at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, Pa., to find out how believers’ long-held views of a wrathful Old Testament God might waver with his findings.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
In any city on this globe, a young man finds his way to an altar, committing his life to Christ. His genuine salvation develops into a deep heart desire to become a servant to both God and humanity.
After a season he feels divinely directed to a wonderful bible college, he later graduates and is on his way to answer the cry of a lost and dying world. Blessed with a beautiful wife, he works his way up the ministry ranks finding himself with his own pastorate.
Courageously, he takes on all of the challenges presented to him and soon, with no one to really talk to, he is encompassed by a nagging sense of isolation and insulation. As a leader, he can’t be totally candid with anyone. He loves serving others, but people begin to see him as super human.
Be proactive and decisive as you declare God's Word over your life.
“‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope’” (Jer. 29:11, NKJV). God’s thoughts are of abundance and not lack. He wants you to live large and to bring you into a good life. Toward this end, He gives you divine inspirational thoughts and the ability to speak them into existence so that you will grow to fulfill His best plan for your life.
He wants you to mature in wisdom, authority and supernatural ability so that you can bear witness to the splendor of His kingdom. Your miracle is already in existence, but it is up to you to learn to see it and to call it out.
Deep within our hearts, where only heaven's eyes witness, we long to experience the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. We long to be lovers of God. This has been my dream and consuming desire for many years.
When I first heard God's promise to make me a fervent lover, it seemed too good ever to be fulfilled. Yet Jesus' words gave me hope: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matt. 22:37, NKJV, emphasis added).
He was saying that my heart could burn with love for Him. This is the supernatural power we long for that He has promised to give.
We often see ourselves as failures. But Jesus does not define us by our immaturity. He sees us as genuine lovers of God.
Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.— John 15:5
My family had a tree in our backyard that provided two things: shade and countless jars of pear preserves. One day, I asked my mother why she made so many jars every year. Her response was, "If I don't, they will start falling off the tree and go bad." With that, I went outside to take a look for myself. There were pears everywhere--so many, in fact, that the tree branches were beginning to sag and snap under the immense weight of their fruit. It looked to me like my mother's faithful picking was encouraging the tree to produce even more!
Jesus told his disciples that God acts as a gardener in the lives of those who claim him as Lord. He wants his followers to be abundant producers of good fruit, showing the world that they are children of God (see John 15:8). But this is not enough. Instead of simply harvesting the fruit that is produced, the Lord grabs a pair of pruning shears and begins to trim the branches. A little here, a little there, until he is satisfied with the end result.
This process of subtraction is a good thing. For it is in these times that God rids us of attitudes and actions that limit our effectiveness for the kingdom. In their place, he grants new opportunities to exhibit love, patience, kindness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23). As these values are acted upon, what started out as subtraction becomes addition, and more fruit is produced than before the pruning.
If the branches are not pruned they may become weakened or stressed, and they will eventually snap. Once that occurs, the branches will wither and die because they are not attached to the tree, leaving wasted fruit behind. But the result of a life lived wholeheartedly for Christ will be an abundance of fruit--fruit that will last.
Learning who God created you to be will help unlock His unique purpose for your life
God doesn’t create anything without value. He is the ultimate craftsman. And He designed you specifically to fulfill a unique role in His ultimate plan to establish His kingdom on earth.
Even though each of us has made mistakes, we still are a special work of the Creator’s hands. He even takes time to know about our day-to-day lives. In fact, He is smiling right now, rejoicing as you seek to discover the masterpiece you are to Him.
The Bible says we are God’s “masterpiece” and that He created us anew in Christ so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago (see Eph. 2:10, NLT).
This verse helps us understand that if we want to discover our mission or purpose in life, we first need to look at the masterpiece God has made us to be. While self-help books tell you to look within, the key to living the life you were meant for is to look to God and ask Him to help you discover your uniqueness.
After you discover who you are, then you can start figuring out what God has planned for you—the specific way He designed you to make a difference in the world for Him.
Here are three helpful steps for you to maximize your ministry with God and for God: (1) Embrace your S.H.A.P.E.; (2) Express your S.H.A.P.E. in service; (3) Empower others to do the same.
Before Jesus died, He willed us His peace. But we forfeit His gift through strife.
The Bible tells us that everything the Father has is ours through Jesus (see John 16:15). What does the Father have? He certainly does not have strife. On the contrary, everything He has ministers life to us. His kingdom is one of righteousness, peace and joy. So supernatural peace and joy belong to the believer.
Before He died, Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; My [own] peace I now give and bequeath to you" (John 14:27, The Amplified Bible). In essence, He was saying, "I am willing you My peace."
God's desire for us is that we live in peace with Him, with ourselves and with our fellowman. He wants us to have peace in the midst of our current circumstances--peace in the morning, at night and all times in between. Peace is our inheritance! And it is a wonderful possession.
Why thousands of churches follow this roadmap to wellness—and how yours can too
Pastor Dave Barr and his congregation at New Hope Windward Church in Hawaii managed to get their entire congregation of 900 into small groups for The Daniel Plan. The weekend attendance during the campaign exceeded the previous Easter and Christmas services and continues to grow.
The six-week study launched more than 100 groups that began a vibrant small-group ministry. The Daniel Plan series was a huge attraction point in their community, as it was with the initial rally at Saddleback, because it focuses on a huge felt need but ultimately fulfills the deeper needs that we all face.
The Daniel Plan was inspired through Saddleback senior pastor Rick Warren’s vision to provide a practical program for people that would restore their health and prepare them to fulfill God’s purpose for their lives. During an afternoon when he baptized more than 800 people, he came to the conclusion that his congregation was overweight!
He confessed that while he gained only three pounds per year while leading the church, he had also been their pastor for 30 years! He said he needed to improve his health as well.
Why it’s important to pour out for others what’s been poured into you
As a brand new member of the Saddleback staff, I know I’m here because of the principle of stewardship. Saddleback Church poured into me and the church I pastored for 18 years; then I passed on to other churches what I learned from them. Paul taught this same principle in his second letter to Timothy: “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others” (2 Tim. 2:2, NLT).
You don’t have to be big to make a big splash for the kingdom. You just have to be willing to help someone the way God helped you. There are no perfect models or churches—just growing ones!
I remember inviting a neighbor to my small group once, and his reply was honest and revealing: “I don’t need a small group”—to which I replied: “Maybe one needs you!”
After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, "What were you discussing out on the road?" But they didn't answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest.— Mark 9:33-34
It's embarrassing when someone demonstrates he or she can read your mind. Most of us would rather not have our thoughts exposed. We're not proud of our motives. We don't want our intentions broadcast. The disciples had a problem--Jesus understood them. Just as he understands us.
Every tactic we use in human relationships to avoid the truth is absolutely transparent to God. The fact that God knows us that well isn't amazing. After all, he is God. The fact that we still try to work our magic on him isn't all that surprising either. After all, we are human. It is amazing though that God knows us as he does and still draws near to help us be better than we instinctively are.
The disciples were arguing about leadership. They were mind-wrestling over who could claim the top of the heap. They were all poised on the ladder to greatness, and thankfully we are not given the details on how ready they were to step on each other on the way up. Apparently the discussion ended in a draw.
Jesus' question caught them by surprise. The subject of greatness suddenly didn't feel right. Jesus broke the strained silence with a challenge. He gave them the ultimate measure of leadership: "Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else" (Mark 9:35). Apparently the silence resumed. The disciples neither argued with him nor asked any questions. We don't know how long this went on, but Mark records that Jesus spotted a little child in the vicinity and decided to make an additional point while holding the child. "Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me" (Mark 9:37). Are the two points connected? Perhaps Jesus was saying, "Do you really want to be first? Then start small."
As you go about your day, think about whom you serve. How aware are you of people who are not being served? Can you see those who are overlooked? In the end, what do you find most important: being called a leader or doing what a real leader does?
If our thoughts and intentions are to serve Christ, we don't have to worry about someone reading our minds.
Our discouragement can open the way for the adversary to kill, steal from and destroy us.
It is unusual for a thief to send a postcard to make an appointment with the owner of a house. Part of the evil genius of his craft is to come when he is least expected. As Christians we often live our lives unaware of the enemy and his efforts to destroy us.
In the New Testament, the thief is a figure of the unexpected. "If the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched" (Matt. 24:43, NKJV). We are living in a world in which evil takes no respite and where life demands vigilance that affords no vacation.
“When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable, and I groaned all day long.” (Psalm 32:3 NLT)
Yesterday we looked at the importance of trusting God and letting go of resentment, worry, and fear to maintain good health. This leads right into a second biblical factor for good health.
Confessing my sin is good for my health. Any psychologist will tell you this: It’s good to clear your conscience and get things off your chest. Your body is not made to hold it in. When you hold guilt inside you, it’s like shaking up a soda can with the top on. It will blow eventually.
If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.— 1 Corinthians 10:12
Have you built any pedestals lately? In the last couple of decades, newspapers and newscasts have been filled with reports of sin in high places. Television evangelists have fallen with embarrassing regularity. Today's righteous finger pointer often turns into tomorrow's suspect of impropriety. Only the exposures of political leaders vie with the revelations of religious scandals for front-page coverage.
I'm not sure how the average American views these scandals. Certainly the news media seem to delight in their revelations. And comedians have grist for hundreds of new routines. But as a person who also claims to be a born again Christian and a follower of the same Jesus about whom these men have preached, I am dismayed and angered. When these high profile Christians are impugned, I feel as if the barbs are being hurled at me. Their proven or alleged wrongdoings seem to indict all of us. Maybe you can identify with those feelings.
If we the evangelical Christian community are honest, however, we would have to admit that we are part of the problem. You see, by putting these men on pedestals, we have made them larger than life and we have made them susceptible to the temptations of power and pride.
In reality, they are fallible and sinful human beings, just like you and me. Think of how you would fare if your inconsistencies and secrets were exposed--those angry words, gossip, lust for things, murdeous thoughts. But we elevate those with special gifts. We treat celebrity converts with almost worship status.
Years ago, as a college freshman and aspiring athlete, I went to college football camp. It was a Christian institution, staffed with excellent role models. I admired these upper classmen "superstars" as athletes and as great examples of the Christian life. But during one of our team meetings, a massive All-American tackle said something that I have never forgotten. "Don't put your faith in us or in any human being. If you watch us long enough or close enough, we'll let you down," he said. "Instead, keep your eyes on Christ. He will never fail."
Who are your Christian "superstars?" A pastor, a musician, a parent, a close friend? By "overrating" you hurt them and yourself. Instead, let us put our Christian leaders in their proper place as fellow strugglers who are striving to be Christ-like and who are using their gifts to serve him. And let's uphold in prayer our Christian leaders and those in the spotlight.
First, knowing so many ministry-types serve Jesus' goals, I don't want to seem unduly critical of any in addressing a concern. If you're a dedicated servant-leader, I'm on your side! But I want to bluntly talk about the lessened "weight" being given today to Jesus' strategy for advancing His church. He said, "Go—make disciples!"—and this foundational call is increasingly being "dissed."
"Dissing"—the pop word for disrespect—is becoming normalized regarding discipleship. I don't think it's calculated, but it's occurring as "doing church" supplants "becoming the church." A dimming focus on plain, New Testament discipling is bringing us to the brink of evolving dumbed-down saints, a deceivable elect and a crippled Body emptied of ministry strength and unready to face persecution.
Without discipleship, we are at risk of garnering believers in Jesus while not growing stable, committed, empowered agents of Christ. Jesus spoke of people who "for joy" lay claim to faith, but who do not endure. They wither when trials or pressure comes (see Mark 4:5, 17)—and Christians are facing an increase of both in our world.