Wednesday, March 18, 2015

It is that simple really

We are prone to overcomplicating the ways of Jesus.
Love God, love people.
Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.
Treat people as you want to be treated.
If you want to be great, be a servant.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Six Hours One Friday - by Max Lucado

Six Hours One Friday is yet again reason why Max Lucado's writings are so popular in the Christian marketplace.  Lucado has a fantastically readable approach to his writing - appealing to a broad range of people from students through pastors.

This book is a prime resource for devotions and worship in the Easter season.  While it is not a long read, it is a rich read that inspires worship and awe for the love God has for us through His son Jesus Christ.  This is the sort of book that can easily be consumed in a single reading, but I'd suggest spacing it out over a few days so that you can dwell on the story in deeper fashion.  Pray your way through it and let it inspire and challenge you toward spiritual growth.

Lucado walks his way through the material many churches cover on Good Friday in this book.  It recounts the last hours of Jesus' life on earth leading up to and including His crucifixion.  Lucado's descriptive writing makes it feel almost as if you were there watching it all transpire.  Lucado draws you in and then illustrates the powerful message that despite our failings, our mistakes are not what define us as Christians.  Death is not the end for us, this life is not all that there is.  Lucado brings grace and hope into the story of tragedy in an inspiring way.  I would recommend this book without hesitation for individual and for group studies.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ten Joy Stealers in Ministry (And How to Get It Back)

I had the opportunity to meet Thom Rainer in his office a couple of years ago and came away very impressed.  I'd obviously previously read some of his books/writings, but because I'm not SBC his influence on me had been mostly limited to "Simple Church" (one of the best ministry books in my opinion).  That brief meeting impressed me enough to spur me to start reading more of what he wrote, including on his blog.  Today he shared this following gem.


Ten Joy Stealers in Ministry (And How to Get It Back)
In this post, I share ten of the most common reasons pastors and other church staff members lose their joy in ministry. But I don’t want to just dwell on the negative. Next to each reason, I offer suggestions to counter these joy stealers. Indeed, I have learned both the reasons for joy stealers and the reasons joy returns largely from you readers. Over the past few years, you have been my teachers in many ways. I am so grateful for you.
What are the joy stealers? Even more importantly, what are pastors and other church staff doing to recapture their joy? Here are ten common responses.
  1. Seeing the underbelly of Christian ministry. Christian ministry means working with sinners just like you and me. It’s often not a pretty sight to see what we see in local churches. And while we don’t condone sin, let’s learn to demonstrate grace and love like Jesus did and does.
  2. Constant criticisms (“death by a thousand cuts”). I received my first criticism as a pastor on my third day of ministry. I was crushed. May we be men and women who seek to please God instead of people. And may He give us the strength to be godly and gracious when we do receive criticisms.
  3. Fighting among Christians. A non-Christian recently told me that he has been observing Christians on blogs and social media the past several months. He said: “You Christians are some of the meanest people I’ve ever known.” Ouch. We will know Christlike joy when we act like Him, and not like the world.
  4. Busyness that turns to prayerlessness. We will always lose our joy when we neglect our time in prayer. When we pray, we are connected to the Source of all joy. If we are too busy to pray, we are too busy.
  5. Unreasonable work hours. Many in Christian ministry become workaholics to the detriment of their families and themselves. It is ultimately our choice and our responsibility to have a balanced life. When we don’t, the joy goes away.
  6. Attacks on our family. This is an especially difficult joy stealer because we sometimes feel powerless when it happens. Be even more diligent in prayer to seek His wisdom. Let your family know they come first. Confront the perpetrator if necessary. But do this all in a spirit of prayer and love.
  7. Sour staff relations. Anecdotally, I believe this joy stealer is present in over half of our churches. It is your responsibility to be gracious, to be a reconciler, and to be a peacemaker. If relationships are still sour, you have done all you can. Your joy comes from the Lord, not the other church staff.
  8. Inwardly focused church. A church that focuses most ministries and activities on the members and not those beyond the church becomes stale and self-serving. You must get your joy in the Lord by reaching out to others regardless of what others in the church do.
  9. Lack of respect in the community and culture. Up until about 1990, most ministers were respected, if not revered, in their communities. That reality is shifting dramatically in most communities today. Remember again, your joy does not come from the approval of men and women in the community.
  10. Entitlement mentality among some church members. A number of church members view the church as a country club where they pay dues to get what they want. You responsibility as a minister in the church is to serve all people in the name of Christ. In doing so, you will find His joy. But that does not mean you have to yield to the demands of selfish whiners.
There are definitely two common themes in this article. First, ministry in the church is not easy. It’s been that way for 2,000 years. Second, if we focus on these joy-stealers, they will indeed take away our joy. But if we keep our focus on Christ, our joy can never be taken away.
Let me hear from you. What are some joy stealers you have encountered in ministry? How did you get your joy back?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

50 Shades of Grey - It's NOT a matter of conscience

I'm not a culture warrior generally.  As a Christian, I want to be known more for what I'm for (Jesus, grace, love, service, etc.) than for what I'm against.

But from time to time there are things we must speak out about and stand up against vocally.  50 Shades of Grey is one of those things in my pastoral opinion.

Below comes from Plugged In Online - a very appropriate response to this upcoming movie.  Politely put, Christians - don't go.  There are things of conscience and personal freedom where the Bible allows for us to exercise discretion.   Porn that glorifies the abuse women is not among them.

Plugged In says this:

It's notable that Fifty Shades of Grey actress Dakota Johnson (daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith) told Today that the film's sex scenes are so extreme she doesn't want her "parents to see it." That's a sentiment endorsed for everyone by American and Canadian domestic abuse and anti-pornography groups that have teamed up to launch a campaign dubbed 50 Dollars Not 50 Shades, encouraging women to take the $50 they would have spent on a night out seeing the film and give it to any organization advocating for abused women. The effort's Facebook page says, "The money you would have spent on movie tickets and a babysitter or movie tickets, popcorn and drinks will go towards serving victims of abusiverelationships like the one glamorized in the 50 Shades series. Hollywood doesn't need your money, abused women do." 

The British Board of Film Classification has given the film its most restrictive rating, forbidding anyone under the age of 18 from seeing it. And Malaysia has announced an all-out ban, announcing, "The board made a decision in view of the film containing scenes that are not of natural sexual content. [The film] is more pornography than a movie." 

Christian authors Juli Slattery and Dannah Gresh, meanwhile, are offering to give women a copy of their new book, Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman's Heart, in exchange for used copies of E L James' Fifty Shades of Grey
. They want to teach women that they're mistaken if they believe erotic fiction could spice up their real-life relationships. "There are two dangers in seeking sexual arousal in this way," she says. "First of all, erotica/porn teach you to be sexually aroused by looking away from your partner, not toward him. You may be engaging your body with him, but your imagination is with some fictional character. That's not intimacy. Secondly, erotica and porn impact your brain in a manner that breeds tolerance. What was sexually arousing a few months ago will no longer be enough to produce the same sexual high. This is how men and women get drawn into increasingly hard-core porn and/or sexually acting out what they have seen or read." [salon.com, 2/5/15; breitbart.com, 2/5/15;takepart.com, 2/4/15; foxnews.com, 2/2/15; time.com, 2/5/15;washingtonexaminer.com, 2/6/15; cpyu.org, 2/4/15]

Monday, February 09, 2015

Alton Brown's Chocolate Bread Pudding

Alton Brown could cook a wooden spoon in swamp water and probably make it taste good.  But thankfully he focuses his gifts on far more suitable fare like the following amazing recipe.  Me personally I'd leave out the espresso due to my distaste for coffee and might find a hazelnut flavor or something to sub in.

Serves 8
Ingredients
  1. 2 large whole eggs
  2. 3 egg yolks
  3. 3/4 cup sugar
  4. 1/2 cup hot chocolate mix
  5. 3 cup half and half
  6. 1 cup whole milk
  7. 2 ounces espresso, slightly cooled
  8. 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  9. 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and divided
  10. 18 ounces stale challah bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  11. 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into 1/2-inch pieces
Instructions
  1. Place the eggs and yolks in the carafe of a blender and combine on lowest speed for 30 seconds. Slowly add the sugar, over 30 seconds, add the hot chocolate mix, and blend until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add the half and half, milk, espresso and vanilla and blend until well combined, about 30 seconds.
  2. Butter a 9 x 13 metal pan with 1 tablespoon of the butter and place the cubed bread in the pan. Spread the chocolate on top of the bread and slowly pour in the custard. Press down on mixture with a spatula or back of a spoon to thoroughly saturate. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate for up to 8 hours.
  3. Heat oven to 325 degrees F.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches at least 170 degrees F. Set the oven to the high broil setting with the oven door ajar. Remove the bread pudding from the oven.
  5. Pour the melted butter into a spray bottle and spritz the top of the bread pudding. Return to the middle rack and broil for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack for 15 minutes before serving.