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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

From Followers to Leaders (book review)

From Followers to Leaders by Robert Logan and Tara Miller is a thorough treatment of basic Christian discipleship wrapped in leadership terms. It is written to help churches get future leaders into their leadership pipeline to move their churches forward.

The subtitle: The Path of Leadership Development in the Local Church is literally what they deliver. The authors do a good job of communicating (through a hiking trip) how to move people from on the sidelines to leading in the game.

The stages begin in the "parking lot" where people can just hear about what you're inviting them to. They can collect information without making a commitment. But it's a very important stop. And it's where many hear enough and take the next step...

...which is to the "trailhead." This is where the trail guide tells the hikers what to expect. He gives them a realistic view of what's coming. He encourages them by reminding them that they won't be alone.

The next stage of the hike is at the "beginning of the trail." They are eager and enthusiastic but it's still very early. Soon thereafter "along the trail" reality starts to set in. All along the authors are making parallels to how we in the church bring along potential and future leaders in reasonable, attainable and simple steps.

"Campfires" happen along the way where people are able to share stories that encourage and instruct. Leaders as well as followers learn a lot during these debriefing sessions. Again, the authors are showing how to practically accomplish this in the local church.

Finally you're at the "end of the trail" where everyone celebrates!

While at times I found this book to be a bit wordy, the authors do illustrate their points with real-life stories and helpful graphics. At the end of the day, if you're looking for a good process to help you get leaders into your leadership pipeline, pick this book up and get started!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I Can Do ALL THINGS (Isaiah 40:31)



But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles. 
They will run and not grow weary. 
They will walk and not faint. 
Isaiah 40:31 NLT


Observations

This verse is written by Isaiah to the people of Israel. He is writing specifically about those who "Trust in the LORD" telling them what they will gain but placing their personal confidence in Him. They will find "New strength". No matter how young and energetic they are and no matter how seasoned and conditioned they are, they will all eventually grow weary and faint and weak. But those who are weary, faint and weak but trust in the Lord will find a strength beyond themselves in the One in whom they trust.

They will also "Soar high on wings like eagles." That is they will find themselves able to see things from a better perspective (high), they will cover much territory with minimal effort (soaring requires little flapping of wings), and they will enjoy it! (Oh, I can't wait to fly in the new heaven and new earth!)

They will also, "Run and not grow weary...walk and not faint." They will have what they need to do what God calls them to do even when everyone else is flat on the ground from exhaustion. The Lord who created us can do this in and through His people.

Application

No doubt this is for Israel. And even though most of them do not know and trust the Lord right now--they will. God in His amazing grace will wake them up and draw them back. They will continue to be the centerpiece to His redemptive plan. But it's not just them who will receive His grace...

We will also receive this. We being those who also trust and follow the Lord Jesus. As a result, there will be times when we are exhausted and we'll need to totally rely on the Lord for strength we don't have. And He will meet us in that place of need. 

Usually, when I'm exhausted, I just collapse and feel very justified in doing so. However, the Lord may want me to then, in my exhaustion, to get back up and trust Him to provide supernatural strength and energy to go beyond what we can do alone. And not just survive..."fly...run...walk". 

So what am I to do? Well, what comes to mind to me is that when I am weary and there is more to be done for Him, perhaps I need to tap into that supernatural strength and get back to it. I need to allow Him to be my strength. For I can do all things in Christ who gives me strength!

"Father, remind me that though I am weak, You are strong. When I am exhausted and weary, You are ready to be my strength if I'll but trust You. Help me believe that You are with me and that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength! And that 'The joy of the Lord is my strength.' May I trust You more than ever today. In Jesus' name I pray, amen."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dire Circumstances Demand Desperate Prayer


20
  "Then King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to God in heaven." 2 Chronicles 32:20

Observations


This verse comes in the middle of an incredible story of desparation and deliverance by the city of Jerusalem by the LORD. 


The most powerful nation on the planet is on Jerusalem's doorstep ready to lay siege and take it down. King Hezekiah knows they have no chance against this undefeated and gigantic army of King Sennacherib of Assyria. There is little that he can do.


But he does act. And his actions are very instructive to us--especially when we find ourselves in overwhelming circumstances (can you say bankruptcy or cancer?).


This verse is what King Hezekiah does. He goes to the prophet Isaiah (who has quite a track record at this point in his ministry in the kingdom) and together they pray to the Lord. So many times when someone is lying in the hospital with a terminal or devestating disease we find ourselves saying to the patient or family something like, "I wish there was something (more) I could do..." And while we are powerless to really change anything that's not the same as not being able to do anything. No doubt Hezekiah felt powerless in this situation. I mean there were over 185,000 troops outside his city. They had a fraction of that in the city.

But while Hezekiah was powerless, he wasn't without help. He and Isaiah turned to almighty God and "cried out in prayer." Notice three things. 

First, they prayed to God. That isn't the last place we should turn--it's the first. Too often we try to fix things first only to see failure quickly. Then, as a last straw, we turn to God (sometimes) when it seems we have no other choice. I wonder how things would turn out if we would turn to him sooner...


Second, he prays with someone else. He doesn't just pray--he goes to someone he knows has great faith and together they pray. We really are better together!


Third, notice how they prayed. It says they, "Cried out in prayer". This is desperate, shelve-all-kingly-dignity, no pretense, I don't care who sees my blotchy red face petitioning of God. This is humbling and few of us are willing to go here. But I think this posture and attitude affect the answers to our prayers. How we pray DOES matter.


The results were quick and dramatic. First, God responds and tells Hezekiah through Isaiah how he'll answer their prayers. Notice that God answers specific prayers specifically. General prayers are as powerful as a flashlight beam. Specific prayers are like laser beams.


The answer is that God kills 185,000 soldiers in the night causing the rest of this undefeated army to retreat and go home. Then God kills the King of Assyria through his own sons to make the point that He will not be mocked--even by his chosen instrument of discipline against his own people. God doesn't miss a thing, does He?


Application


When we face desperate circumstances, the first thing we should do is turn to God with other Christ-followers who have a track record of faith and faithful service and cry out in prayer together humbly, specifically and fervently. 


"Father, we're not naturally good at this. We are a proud people. Yet you say that you "Oppose the proud but give grace to the humble." (1 Peter 5:5) Teach us to reflexively turn to You when we find ourselves in need anytime. For how we respond to the smaller trials of life will be how we turn to the larger trials of life. In Jesus' name we pray, amen."

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A Power far greater is on our side!

 
“Be strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria or his mighty army, for there is a power far greater on our side!" 2 Chronicles 32:7
Observations

Jerusalem is about to be laid under siege by the devastating army of Assyria around 701 BC. There is no reason why Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem should believe that they have a chance of surviving this siege apart from God's divine intervention. It is belief in this that leads Hezekiah to encourage his people to not be afraid but to be strong and courageous in the face of overwhelming circumstances.

Hezekiah exhorts them to be strong and courageous. They no doubt were tempted to be afraid and weak. Hezekiah knew that if God was with them they could trust him and therefore they did not need to be afraid.

Hezekiah points out that God is stronger than the king of Assyria. He encourages them to focus not on the strength of the king of Assyria but the strength of almighty God. 

Application

So what, you say? Well, are you ever afraid? What are you afraid of? Probably, if you are ever afraid, you are afraid of things like suffering or discomfort. You may be afraid of what other people think of you. You may fear being out of control of your circumstances or the future. Whatever it is  you are afraid of, nothing is more powerful than God. Remember, God spoke you into existence from nothing. Nothing! I think he can handle your boss or neighbor or mother-in-law or professor. 

Because He is more powerful than anything.

Do you believe that? Good. Then pray with me...

"Father, thank you for creating me. For speaking me into existence from nothing. Thank you for being for me! I confess my fears and insecurities in life. Thank you for reminding me that you are with me and you're more powerful than anyone or anything. Therefore, I do not need to be afraid. You are so good, God! In Jesus' name I pray, amen."

Monday, August 08, 2011

Live to Give (Isaiah 32:8)

Isaiah 32:8 NLT


But generous people plan to do what is generous, and they stand firm in their generosity. 


Isaiah is proclaiming (and then writing) God's words to Israel and Judah who continue to live in rebellion to him despite his faithfulness and generosity to them. His patience is about to run out. He will send Israel into exile soon and Judah will follow in about 150 years.


In Isaiah 32, God speaks about Israel & Judah's ultimate deliverance that will come despite their adulterous ways. One verse that stuck out to me was v. 8 (see above).


Observations


What stood out to me was that generous people plan to do what is generous. It's not just spontaneous acts of generosity that characterize generous people (though that follows naturally). It is premeditated, thoughtful wisdom coupled with sacrificial, generous giving that characterize people who 'live to give'.


I want to be that kind of person.


But I digress...this statement is quickly followed by the statement that those who plan to be generous "stand firm in their generosity." This is significant. It's one thing to decide to be generous. It's one thing to plan to give. It's another to stand firm in that. Because it's just when we decide to live generously that the enemy brings financial difficulties. He does this to tempt us to not believe that God will provide. He brings the fear of discomfort, failure, and shame tempting us to move from giving to hoarding; from faith to self-preservation. 



Application



We should be spontaneous givers. Absolutely. But I think our spontaneity is actually greater when we plan to live generously. It's making the decision in advance to be a generous person. It's walking by faith in the truth that God owns it all and that we are his privileged stewards.


Planning to give is simple taking the time to decide  how you (together with your spouse, if applicable) will steward the money and wealth God has given you above and beyond your needed money and wealth. Really, it's starting there first and then letting the rest fall into place. 


We start with giving back to God (tithing as a principle, not as law, then offerings and other gifts follow) what is really his. Giving to those in need (directly or indirectly) is also in view here. From a co-worker going through medical issues with no insurance to supporting your local crisis pregnancy center.


Remember, as Randy Alcorn says, "You can't take it with you, but you can send it ahead." (Treasure Principle, Randy Alcorn) If you do any kind of budget (highly recommended) then you simply start here before you move to taxes and other expenses. (Dave Ramsey as well as Crown Financial Ministries have terrific resources on this)


It's a decision we make in advance to live generously. A spiritual decision. Jesus said, "For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also." He also said, "It's more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35)


"Father, help me to be a generous giver as a steward of all that you have entrusted to me. Help me live with the attitude that you have permission to take anything that I "own" and use it for someone else's benefit. Help me live with my hands wide open instead of clinched holding on to "my" stuff for dear life. Help me get to the place where if you audibly told me to sell everything and give the money to the poor that I would do that. I repent of my greedy attitudes and ask you to transform me into a generous giver who plans to be generous. Transform your Church to be known for her generosity as well--especially in America. In Jesus' name I pray, amen."

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Change my duty to delight

"And so the Lord says, 'These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.'" Isaiah 29:13 NLT

Observations

The Lord is talking through Isaiah to Israel and Judah about 600 BC. In this section, the Lord is speaking specifically about Jerusalem and her people.

Jerusalem is the center of the nation of Judah and the location of her temple and the ark (representing the presence of God) where the nation (both Judah and Israel) are to worship and offer sacrifices per the law.

Specifically, the Lord is calling his people out. He says they are "worshiping" him through religious rituals and traditions. And while these things can be helpful, they aren't when they become mindless, external rites and acts. When the people believe that it's the act and not the heart behind it that matters, the Lord objects.

You see, they were saying the right things--doing the outward signs of someone who loved the Lord. But their hearts weren't in it. They were like the husband who brings home flowers for his wife. He stands at the door with a fist full of roses. She answers the door and he says, "Here are roses for you for our 10th anniversary. This is my husbandly thing to do so here you go." I doubt that would illicit a warm response! She wants to hear, "These expensive roses are but a token of my rich and unfailing love for you the love of my life!" And yet, even this act and these words done without a sincere heart is just playacting. The Bible has a word for that--hypocrisy.

Application

So what? Well, I don't think the Lord's words are limited to Israel and the people of Jerusalem. I think we all struggle with our faith becoming a dead religion of pious words and acts. Our heart naturally drifts away from that which is unseen to this world. But the most real things in life are not visible to us. The most beautiful things in creation are often unseen.

So what do we do? We repent. We believe. We turn back to God and admit (if appropriate) that while we are faithful to say the right things and do the right things (sing praise songs at church; read out Bibles) we are not always faithful to focus our thoughts and affections on Him. Then we share our struggles in this area with other brothers and sisters in Christ asking them to pray for us and encourage us and hold us accountable to be sincere and genuine in our worship--both public and private. Perhaps better private worship would lead us to better public worship. After all, who really spends time faking worship when no one is watching? (I know it happens, but it's not near as common)

"Father, I confess my tendency to go through the motions and say the right things. It comes so easily. I confess that I sing familiar songs to you while thinking of other things like what other people think about me or how out of tune things sound or what might be for lunch. I confess that my private worship could be much better. Lord, I repent of such a shallow and dishonoring attitude toward you. I confess my insincerity and hypocrisy. I confess my faith that is more duty than delight. Change my heart! Transform me into someone new! Make me, mold me, fill me, use me for your glory! I love you and there is no other like you! In Jesus' wonderful name I pray, amen!"

Saturday, August 06, 2011

The Lord is for ALL People


S - "The Lord will strike Egypt, and then he will bring healing. For the Egyptians will turn to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas and heal them." NLT

Using Wayne Cordeiro's SOAP method: http://www.enewhope.org/firststeps/journaling/

S cripture - Write out the entire verse you are going to journal on. (see above)

O bservations - The Lord is doing everything to Egypt in this verse. First he strikes them and then he heals them. The Egyptians will turn to the Lord (in Isaiah's day apparently). The Lord responds with healing to them because they believe and cry to him for help and healing.

A pplications - The application here is that the Lord will turn to anyone who turns to him.

When I think of the Egyptians, I think of Moses and the exodus. I think of the 10 plagues and how God pounded Egypt. My impression from reading about this over the years is that Egypt would never recover from their pride and stubbornness against the Lord. And yet here I see the Lord promising that when they turn to him, he will hear their cry and heal them and that there will be 5 cities of people who turn and follow him. (18) Truly the Lord is merciful to all people.

P rayer - Lord, thank you for reminding me that you are for all people! That you are a God of mercy and grace! Thank you for pouring out your mercy and grace on me! Now may I fully and faithfully pour out your mercy and grace on others around the corner and around the world. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.