Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Urban Meyer: a lesson in prioritization

The sports world has been abuzz in recent days over the announcement by Florida Gator coach Urban Meyer that he would be resigning from leading one of the most successful college football programs in America. After the SEC championship game against Alabama Meyer had chest pains, lost consciousness and ended up in the hospital. Now Meyer, age 45, has decided that he is going to step down from the high profile program where he won two national championships.

Almost all of the media coverage reported Meyer’s comments about his heart and his decision to step down for medical reasons. Pete Thamel of the New York Times also pointed out that Meyer’s decision may have been based upon his “spiritual heart” condition as much as his physical heart.

Meyer commented that the hospital trip prompted days of soul searching that ended on Christmas night. When he told his family that he was going to step down from coaching Florida, Meyer’s 18 year old daughter, Nicki, hugged him and said, “I get my daddy back.”

Meyer said of his daughter’s reaction, “I saw it as a sign from God that this was the right thing to do.”

Meyer was known for being relentless in his work, both on and off the field. He said he found himself emailing recruits during church and that his 16 year old daughter told him that she had not felt as if she had talked to him in the past 2 years. In the 10-day period around the game with Alabama Meyer revealed that he lost 20 pounds.

Meyer said, “I have a strong faith that there is a reason for everything, and God has a plan for us. I just don’t know what it is.” Meyer continued, “I felt like God was telling me that I have to slow down and stop it.”

I agree that there is a reason for everything and that God has a plan for Meyer. I believe that to be true for you and me.

God used chest pains to get Meyer’s attention about the true “heart” of life. Does God have your attention? Meyer is making radical changes and prioritizing life as he senses that God is directing. Are you making changes and prioritizing as God directs?

Meyer’s story being so public has served all of us to remind us of the need for prioritization of the one and only life God has given us. I’m personally reflecting on what God is stirring in me that needs change.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Checklist for the New Year

Donald Whitney has posted a helpful checklist for the New Year. May I suggest that you copy and paste this list, print on a page and devotionally and prayerfully make your way through the questions and ask God to speak into your heart about the matter. Take a moment to write down your impressions.

Make commitments to God (not resolutions) regarding your written items. Place the list in your Bible or prayer journal and regularly pull it out and pray. Ask God for power and grace to fulfil the commitments.

1. What's one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

2. What's the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?

3. What's the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year and what will you do about?

5. What is the single-biggest time waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?

6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

8. What's the most important way you will, by God's grace, try to make this year different from last year?

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

I pray God's blessings upon you as you work through this list with God.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Tiger Woods: A lesson on the 10 Commandments

Perhaps you’ve heard more about Tiger Woods’ recent “transgressions” (Tiger’s word) than you care to know. The way the media is pursuing the story the assumption seems to be that the world wants to know more.

A strange car accident in his own driveway at a ridiculous hour (2:30 a.m.) in which Tiger drops in and out of consciousness so that he is transported to the hospital. Add to that the sudden revelations of multiple adulterous experiences with multiple women and thus commentary, opinion and poor humor about marriage, infidelity and reputation have exploded upon the American conversation.

Transgression is an accurate word for Tiger. To transgress is to step over a boundary. Tiger commented that he stepped over the boundary of his personal and family commitments and values. Did his boundary come from his private assessment of right and wrong in life? Did his boundary come from the teachings of his parents? Was the boundary established by Elin his wife?

As a follower of Christ my life boundaries are established by God and articulated in His writings in the Bible. Those familiar with the 10 Commandments would identify #7 as the boundary that Tiger transgressed, “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14)

True, but also incomplete. When one reflects on all of the commandments you see that every commandment actually flows out of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

Every time we transgress we not only step over a boundary that God has established but we have also placed another “god” before the Lord God, namely ourselves. We’ve chosen what we want rather than what God commands and have thereby placed ourselves above God.

It remains to be seen how or if Tiger will be able to clear up his transgressions with Elin. I wonder if it is on Tiger’s radar that transgressions have also been committed against God and repairing (or establishing) that relationship is of supreme importance.

I have no condemnation for Tiger. I’m a sinner also. I am reflecting on Tiger’s transgressions as a means to guard my own heart and to maintain my relationship with the Lord.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks

I am blessed…
I get to know God, hear His voice, feel His touch, exercise His power, and extend His grace

I've been given a counseling gift and regularly get to walk with others and Jesus through the valley of the shadow of death

I've been given a teaching gift and get to investigate the truth of God with the best hours of any week and then share God's eternal word with others

I've been given a leadership gift and have been blessed with capacities to see vision and hear divine promptings and invest in others to move forward in the cause of Christ and His Kingdom

I've been given a community of men and women who love me and embrace me and give me freedom to be who I am and not some platform personality

I've been given two sons who love me and embrace me and who have soft hearts toward God

I've been given a wife who embraces me, forgives me, believes in me and blesses me to pursue God's directives for my life

I'm blessed to live in an area of great need so that God regularly engages my life as part of His provision for others

I'm blessed to live in a time of history where exponential and rapid change constantly explodes around me and God has given me grace to grow, become, learn and adapt

Thank You Jesus, the Giver of all good gifts.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Are You Able to be Embraced by God?

For years I’ve benefited from the writings of Henri Nouwen. The Return of the Prodigal Son had a significant impact upon me years ago. It is a reflection Nouwen wrote from his viewing of Rembrandt’s painting of The Prodigal which of course is based upon Jesus’ story in Luke 15.

Recently my wife bought for me a print of Rembrandt’s masterpiece which hangs in my office. As I stare and reflect upon a father embracing his wayward but repentant and returning son I’m struck by the strong but tender grace of the father.

I recently re-read Nouwen’s reflections and was gripped by this thought—

Surrounding the father and prodigal son are four somewhat shadowy figures. They are close to the father. They can hear the father's words to his son. They can see the father’s embrace and acceptance of his son. But they are not themselves touched and embraced by the father.

This is so often my story. I’m close to God, speak with God, hear from God, see the activities of God, but often long to be held and embraced by God. Yet I find that I often choose to stay at some distance. I sense that God wants to embrace my life but there remains some broken “thing” in me that hinders what I truly long for and need.

Are you able to be embraced by God? Let us receive His grace to draw near and be with Him intimately.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Tim Tebow: Creative, Consistent and Prepared

Tim Tebow is the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback of the Florida Gators. He is the son of missionaries and he’s an outspoken advocate of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Having led Florida to two national championships in three years and having won most of the awards that college football can bestow, Tebow considers all the success but a platform that God has given him so that he can tell others about the good news regarding Jesus.

In last year’s championship game Tebow inscribed the most known Bible verse, John 3:16, on the black under-eye marking that most quarterbacks wear, in order to draw attention to God’s saving work in Christ. Remarkably Google registered over 94 million hits on that verse following the game. Guess it wasn’t that well known but it illustrates the creativity of Tebow to get his message out.

Recently Sports Illustrated featured Tebow and reported about the work that he has done in ministry not only in other countries but especially in the prisons across Florida. These stories are not exceptional for Tebow but rather the consistent carrying out of his life mission across the years.

The Orlando Sentinel covered a recent press conference where Tebow was asked if he was saving himself for marriage. Apparently Tebow knew that question would be asked some day so without hesitation he answered yes. The reporter was so stunned by the quick and decisive response that he began stuttering in attempting his follow up question. Tebow laughed that he was prepared for the question but apparently the media was not prepared for his answer.

Tim Tebow is young, talented, winsome and especially clear about who he is and where he is going. Football is not his life. Fame is not his essence. Jesus Christ is Tebow’s Lord and therefore Tebow rightly orders his life around the call of God.

I enjoy watching Tebow play football and I marvel at how well he handles being a celebrity. I pray for God’s continued favor and might upon Tebow’s life and that many would find and follow Christ because of Tim’s witness.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

God Is On the Move

Those of us that live in the US often forget that we’re not the epicenter of God’s activity in the world. In fact according to recent research I found at Challies.com it is now the case that Christianity is no longer primarily found in the global north and west but rather in the global south and east.

In the newly released book, “The New Shape of World Christianity” by Mark Noll, he points out that as our nation collectively turns its back on God, God begins fresh work in other parts of the world. Consider the following from Noll’s research—

1. This past Sunday it is possible that more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called "Christian Europe." Yet in 1970 there were no legally functioning churches in all of China; only in 1971 did the communist regime allow for one Protestant and one Roman Catholic Church to hold public worship services, and this was mostly a concession to visiting Europeans and African students from Tanzania and Zambia.

2. This past Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the United States combined--and the number of Anglicans in church in Nigeria was several times the number in those other African countries.

3. This past Sunday more Presbyterians were at church in Ghana than in Scotland, and more were in congregations of the Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa than in the United States.

4. The past Sunday more people attended the Yoido Full Gospel Church pastored by Yongi Cho is Seoul, Korea, than attended all the churches in significant American denominations like the Christian Reformed Church, the Evangelical Covenant Church or the Presbyterian Church in America.

5. This past Sunday the churches with the largest attendance in England and France had mostly black congregations. About half of the churchgoers in London were African or African-Caribbean. Today, the largest Christian congregation in Europe is in Kiev, and it is pastored by a Nigerian of Pentecostal background.

6. This past week in Great Britain, at least fifteen thousand Christian foreign missionaries were hard at work evangelizing the locals. Most of these missionaries are from Africa and Asia.

7. For several years the world's largest chapter of the Jesuit order has been found in India, not in the United States, as it had been for much of the late twentieth century.

These observations are cause for celebration as God draws the nations to Himself and cause for concern as the US continues to drift from our moorings.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Writing My "Last Letter"

A few days ago I was asked to write my “last letter”. Last letter is a movement that is calling for a revolutionary lifestyle inspired by individuals willing to offer every breath to fulfill the passionate call of Christ.

The movement has the gall to ask, “What are you willing to die for?”

Historically it is an ancient tradition of soldiers and missionaries who as they board a ship, write their family and friends a letter that they think might be their final communication! The resurrection of this ancient tradition is to inspire a new generation to think and pray through the reason for their life—and possibly the sacrifice of their life for a cause greater than themselves.

A few of us that have given our life to Christ in ministry and mission were asked to write our “last letter” with the idea that it might stir or inspire others. I have no idea if my letter will ever mean anything to anyone but I know it meant a lot to me.

The moment I sat at my keyboard and began thinking about what to say, all that was in me was stirred. It was powerful to be reminded about the millions of choices I have made over the past 35 years in order to continue to give my life away. And, it was deeply satisfying to know with all my heart that if I had it to do over again I would without hesitation.

If you had 5 minutes in which to write a final word to those you love, what would you say about how you chose to live your life?

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Church, Concentration and Relevance

The past month I’ve been teaching on Sundays the Doctrine of the Church. (Click here for audio links). In my reading and reflections I’ve come across a great deal of commentary from those disgruntled with the church and have chosen to leave the church.

There are a lot of reasons for church leaving but one of the common themes has something to do with “church is boring and irrelevant”.

Ted Kluck responds to that cry in his book, “Why We Love the Church”. Ted points out…

“Relevance isn’t a posture you affect that has more to do with lights, music, candles, mystery, or space than with the gospel. Church, to us, should be as relevant as the gym is to the boxer…We wouldn’t go into a fight without training.

A few summers ago I trained as a boxer, mostly so that I could experience what the fighters experienced who I interviewed for my first book, Facing Tyson. I had never concentrated harder in my life than when I was in the ring, alone, with another guy who wanted nothing more than to knock me unconscious…

Church is boring because we neuter it of its importance.” (p. 104)

When church is a place of training my life for fighting evil, the evil one and the sin within me I also find it takes concentration and whole-hearted engagement. If it is not that important to my daily battles then it does become boring.

I suggest the question is not, “Is my church relevant?” but rather, “Is my life fighting the good fight?” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Economic Storm is Worsening

This morning I had the opportunity to hear a presentation by a couple of state legislators who serve on economic related committees. The preview of coming attractions was very dire. Everyone is aware of how busted the state of California is. Apparently Oregon is not far behind and Washington may be bringing up the West coast rear.

Spending for transportation projects (just to name one) and projected revenues to cover the costs don’t match up for the next 5 years. What’s more, other states are seriously courting our major industries with lucrative incentives which further threaten revenues. We are already aware of the losses we’ve incurred on property values and retirement plans and the rise in unemployment. It’s going to get worse.

While listening to the presentation and feeling the mood of the room getting darker and angrier I was immediately transported in thought to the Lord Jesus Christ. Sound bizarre?

In the moment I was grateful that I have not founded my life on my income, economic worth or possessions. Though these things are important they are not my foundation. Therefore if they collapse I don’t. I’ll feel the impact and have more life challenge but I founded my life a long time ago on a relationship with Jesus Christ and He’s not in a crisis or in danger of collapse.

I want our representatives to work and figure out sound solutions to our collective economic challenges. Given the politics of the day I have little confidence that different interest groups will actually put the good of the people before their interests. Nevertheless, “my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness” (old hymn).

I can hear how foolish I sound. It is the kind of foolishness the apostle Paul declared was in fact the wisdom of God. (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Are You Able to Forgive?

Wednesday South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford held a news conference where he confessed to being unfaithful to his wife and having an affair with a woman in Argentina.

Thursday morning long time ABC reporter Sam Donaldson appeared on Good Morning America and commented that “it is hard to forgive Republicans because they are so sanctimonious. They thump the Bible. They condemn everyone else, and when they- human- they don’t have much credit in the bank for forgiveness.”

Donaldson’s comment stuck with me because I had just had a conversation with someone about a third person that we both love. The “someone” feared that the third person had fallen into a sin and wondered how I felt about it.

Obviously the behavior of the other is out of my control and I’m a firm believer that worry does absolutely no good. So I verbally replied, “I want to hope for the best.” However, internally I thought, “I will forgive him.”

You may wonder how I could make such a decision in advance. I’ve already decided that I’ll forgive my wife and children whenever they sin against me. I’ve already decided to forgive my friends and colleagues when they sin against me.

Not that I want to be put to the test but I think I have a pretty large “forgiveness tank”. I have a significant capacity to forgive because I’ve been forgiven of so much by Jesus Christ.

Let me hasten to say that I’m not minimizing Governor Sanford’s sin nor picking on Donaldson’s political and moral commentary. I was simply reminded that it’s hard to forgive anyone when you’ve not been forgiven yourself.

As you read these words if someone comes to your mind that has wronged you and you feel stirred to forgive, I would take that as a “God thing” and ask for His grace to forgive.