Archive for Leadership

Take the Plunge!

The following blog post is about WATER BAPTISM. If you are interested in baptized at West Salem Foursquare Church please check out this link: WSFC WATER BAPTISM.

 

We are offering baptism at EVERY service during the ENTIRE month of SEPTEMBER!

We encourage you to TAKE THE PLUNGE!

 

In Acts 8 we read about Philip’s encounter with a man from Ethiopia. Philip took the opportunity to expound upon the scriptures and introduce the Ethiopian to the saving knowledge of Jesus. While talking they came upon a body of water, and the man asked if he could be baptized. The New King James version of the Bible says that Philip responded with this prerequisite:  “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”

Before being baptized in water one must come to a place of surrender to Jesus by making Him the Lord and Savior. Our resolve must be similar to the Ethiopian man, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”   Salvation is necessary before taking the next step of Water Baptism. If we have made Jesus the Lord of our life then Water Baptism is an appropriate next step!

Obedience

Jesus left His people with two specific commands that are vital to our growth as Christians. The first is communion (the Lord’s Supper) and the second is Water Baptism. He gave the church these sacraments as a reminder of his death and resurrection. Water baptism is not  our salvation, it is only another step of obedience in the plan of God. It symbolizes “death to self” and “new life” in the power and purposes of Christ. In a very real sense we are saying “Not my will, but yours.”

Identification

In Water Baptism we are identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Romans 6:3,4 attests to this when it says,  “all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death. We were buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

When we are submersed into the waters of baptism, we are symbolically, yet very intentionally, dead to our old ways of living. Simply put: it is buried! As we come up from the water we are made alive to the new life found in Christ. Now that our old life is “dead unto Christ” you want to be sure not to go digging it back up!

Confession

Water Baptism is a public act that renounces sin from our past and professes faith in Christ.  It’s a public expression that Jesus is Lord and that we are now a part of the family of God. Many have referred to baptism as a “outward sign of an inward work.”  It’s a visible and audible confession to our friends, family, and church of the deep work Christ has done in our life. The Book of Acts chapter 10 refers to many individuals that responded to the message of Jesus. During this time the Apostle Peter asked if “anyone could keep these people from being baptized with water.”  The answer was obviously “no” and therefore they were publicly baptized as an open acknowledgement of Christ as Lord.

Release

Nothing could be greater than a life that is fully ALIVE through Jesus Christ! That happens when we are not trapped in bondage to our sin and guilt. In baptism we are crucifying the sin of our life and coming alive to Christ. There is great joy when we are alive to Christ and dead to sin. Water baptism is a symbolic statement of this new life and marks a point of release into further growth and ministry for us as believers.

Not only is Water Baptism a Biblical command, but it is also modeled to us by Jesus who himself was baptized as described in the Gospels. He knew the importance of this sacred moment and calls us to the same obedience, knowing that it will mark a significant point of blessing for our lives!

Say It With Me: Change is Good

Over the last few months I’ve been able to watch a transformation happen on the corner of Wallace Drive and Glen Greek in beautiful West Salem. I drive around that area quite often on any given day, whether I’m heading home, going to the church, hauling our kids to events, or getting groceries at Roth’s Market.

OK…I also fuel up at Starbucks pretty close to there (I’m actually writing this blog post from that hallowed spot).

The transformation in progress involves the ripping down of some old buildings, and tearing out sidewalks, in order to make way for something NEW. We are getting a re-routed intersection for better traffic flow. I personally was wanting a new strip mall, or if I’m lucky, a Vespa dealership, Trader Joes, or H&M (here’s to dreaming).

Regardless, sometimes things have to be torn down and replaced when they no longer serve the purposes for which they were intended. That’s not always a bad thing. Change is good.

Say it with me:  Change. Is. Good.

That wasn’t so hard, right?

God is into change too. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

The old becomes new in Christ. That can be a long, painful process for us, but the end-result is oh-so worth it.

Even when it comes to our methods, programs, styles, and preferences we have to consider that God is into change. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 9:16-17 “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wine skins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wine skins, and both are preserved.”

The work that the Lord wants to do in us in these days, I believe, is a NEW work. He desires to change us; making us more like himself.

Are you open to this?  Thankfully, we have a great promise in the Word of God that “His Mercy is New Every Morning.”

Let’s lean into his NEW mercy together!

5 Kinds of Books I Focus On

Ask around and the people closest to me will heartedly confirm that I read a lot of books.

A LOT.

I have a book going ALL the time. Actually, I have a bunch of books going all at the SAME time. I realized recently that I’m a “binge reader.” I tend to get a handful of books from the library or Amazon and then I dive into them all and see which ones “catch on.” Some of them don’t really grab me so I simply set them aside. No worries. Perhaps I will engage them at a later time. Perhaps not.

Other books (plural) gain traction, and I love it when that happens. I’ll keep one in my backpack. Another 4-5 are bedside. Still others are available in my “currently reading” piles at my office and home study. I even keep books in my car (currently there’s about 15 in the backseat), on my iPad for when I fly, and, yes, by the commode (don’t judge).

Solomon, in the Book of Ecclesiastes, had it right: “There is no end to the writing of many books and reading many of them makes the body tired” (Ecc. 12:12).  With all these books at our disposal, one may wonder how I choose WHAT to read.  Glad you asked…

Here are Five Kinds of Books I Focus On…

1. Resource Books.

These kinds of books are those that are currently popular or people ask me about. As a pastoral leader, I get asked often about certain books. Folks wonder what I think about it or if it’s the kind of book they should read themselves. Obviously, I can’t read every such book, but I think it’s important for me to be somewhat conversant.

ExamplesLove Wins by Rob Bell, Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson

2.  Research Books.

Many of the books I read serve as background for a particular preaching or teaching series. These may be commentaries, topical studies, or textual/expository (verse by verse) materials. These can often be dry, so I read research-like books sparingly.

Examples:  Ben Witherington III Socio-rhetorical Commentaries, Jon Courson Bible Commentaries or The Reason for God by Timothy Keller.

3.  Recreational Books.

Occasionally, I want to immerse myself in a good novel. Give me a well-written “political, who-done-it, edge of my seat, thrill-ride” of a book and I’m in my happy place. Toss in a Iced Triple Espresso and I’ve transported into the “third heaven.”

Examples:  Anything by writers like John Grisham, Brad Thor, or Vince Flynn. Pretty much if it’s under $10, fits in my backpack, and I can get ‘lost’ in the action, I’ll read it.

4. Renewal Books.

This is a pretty broad category for books that benefit my personal growth, leadership development, and character development. These may be new releases from Christian authors, but I try to limit those because so much of what is being currently written is nothing new or revolutionary. Therefore, I lean mostly towards biographies. Biographies let me do the work of gleaning the lessons, growth points, and leadership concepts rather than having them spoon-fed to me.

Examples:  Biographies by David McCullough (John Adams is my favorite), Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson, and Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull.

5. Retreat Books

Throughout the year I have scheduled retreats for prayer and solitude. During these times I bring with me contemplative works – often old and classic. These are far from “pop fare,” but rather, deep wells of wisdom from seasoned sojourners.

Examples:  The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence or anything by Eugene Peterson.

Ah, books. I love them.

By the way, if you’re ever asked what book you’d choose if you were to be marooned on a deserted island, you may be quick to say “The Bible.” I can’t argue with that choice too much because The Bible is without a doubt my favorite book in the world. But, I would tend to agree with G.K. Chesterton when he responded to that question with: Thomas’ Guide to Practical Ship-Building.

Think about it. 🙂

Our Emotional Health

Every morning I step onto a scale in order to weigh myself. I don’t HAVE to do this, but I CHOOSE to. Some days I’m encouraged by the progress I’m making in terms of “dropping a few lbs” and other days I want to get the scale professionally checked for accuracy (know what I’m talking ’bout?).

Being faced with the truth can be frustrating. But the numbers don’t lie, and neither are they personally invested; they are merely reporting information. It’s our responsibility to consider those numbers and give them subjective weight (pun intended).

What will we do with the information that the scale has revealed to us?

How will we process it?

What actions will come as a result?

Information should lead to introspection.

Truth begets thoughtfulness.

To get physically healthy we must wrestle with what the scale reveals. Such is the case with the physical, but what about the emotional? We can’t weigh JOY like we can pounds. Can we say no to ANGER like a donut? Friends, it’s difficult to quantify our emotional health, and much easier to hide than the physical aspects.  Don’t you wish we could simply step onto a scale, get a read out of emotional health, and then take appropriate steps? But alas…

What are some things that we can do in order to enhance our emotional health?

1.  Enlist Coaching and Accountability.  Get yourself a team of quality people that are rightly aligned with your desires for better emotional health. You cannot afford to go at this alone.

Who will coach you?  These ought to be people that are further along in their life journey, and have seen a degree of success in areas of emotional health.

Who will cheer you on?  These are folks that you can be completely transparent with, and that will in turn spur you on.

For me personally, I have enlisted a couple of older, wiser, Godly men that graciously serve as my coaches. These are not “buddies” (although we have mutual friendship), but rather they are “clear voices” that I have chosen to listen and respond to. As well, I have those that cheer me on;  “emotional health running partners”, if you will, that are on a similar track as I am, and get the rigors of the race.

2.  Set Goals and Plans.  Once your team is in place, then together you are able to set some targets and timelines. Perhaps you are determined to focus your energies towards increasing your joy quotient, lowering stress, or getting a handle on depression. Set some goals regarding those areas of emotional health, and then expand upon that with clear and reasonable plans (how the goal can be achieved). This all seems very ethereal, I know, but the process is well worth it.

Perhaps you may set a goal of waking up happier three days a week. Or you may want to respond to adverse situations with less anger. Set those goals and plot out the plan. It’s important to write it down and then communicate it with your avenues of accountability. In other words, inspect what you expect!

3.  Celebrate Wins and Forward-Progress.  An important step in our emotional health is to celebrate successes (or even hints of success). It’s been said: “What gets celebrated gets repeated.” Of course, we know from various schools of thought such as child psychology, that positive reinforcement is an important facet in the forming of habits (hopefully good ones).

So, if you or those you’ve enlisted to help you, see areas of emotional growth, then be quick to celebrate! That kind of energy can be marshalled in order to tackle other aspects of emotional health and growth.

Why is all of this so important? Well, because Proverbs 4:23 tells us “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  Other translations of this passage call our heart the “wellspring of life.”

In other words, our emotional and spiritual heath matters.

Keep up the good work.

 

 

 

Through the Roof

Zig Ziglar once said, “I have such optimism, I’d go after Moby Dick and take the tarter sauce with me.”

I love this quote, because I am an optimistic guy. I enjoy taking on big challenges (I know, I know…I’m kinda sick in the head).

I tend to look at impossible situations with tarter sauce in hand.

I’m a cup half FULL kind of person.

What about you?

Recently I was in Capernaum on the north side of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. It was at this historical site that Jesus was teaching in a home. You can read about it in Mark 2:1-12. As Jesus was teaching in a packed out home, four guys brought their sick friend in order to receive a healing touch. They couldn’t get through the doors or windows due to the volume of people engrossed in Jesus’ teaching. There was simply NO WAY to get their friend inside the house.

Or was there?

It is at key junctures such as these that most people get discouraged and walk away (picture Charlie Brown sulking).

But not these guys. They went after Moby Dick with the tarter sauce in hand!

They went through the roof.

Not many folks would think to go through the roof. That takes work, costs money, makes a mess and causes a scene.

AND…it’s what gets friends healed.

I love the optimism. May we become more and more like these guys, especially when it comes to our friends that need to get to Jesus.

Young Mountain Men

I saw something in the Bible that I hadn’t seen before.

This is not abnormal, in that I’m always discovering things in the Bible that are new and revelational. But, in this case I thought I had “mined” most everything out of this particular passage: Genesis 22.

Genesis 22 is about Abraham’s call to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah (fairly familiar story, right?).  Obviously the primary characters are Abraham and Isaac. You could also throw in an angel of the Lord and an innocent ram caught in a thicket.

The angel of the Lord, speaking on God’s behalf, gave last second instructions to Abraham to NOT slaughter his son Isaac (whew). Evidently, God was looking for obedience more than sacrifice.

Abraham passed the test. End of story, right? Nope. I found something that I hadn’t seen before. There are two other characters in this story that leapt off the page in my most recent reading of Genesis 22.

Two Young Men.

When Abraham woke up early in the morning, verse 3 tells us that he not only saddled his donkey, but he “took two of his young men with him.” No big deal, huh? Abraham probably needed some extra help for his journey. OK…so I read on.

Coming to verse 5 I discovered a second reference the young men: “Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey.'”  That caused me to underline the passage in my Bible AND go back in order to underline verse 3. I’ve been reading the Word of God long enough to pick up on patterns such as these. As a matter of fact, under my breath I whispered “I’ll bet these young men show up again in this passage.” And with that, I read on…

In verse 19, my suspicions were confirmed: “So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba.”  

OK. So there it is: three references to two young men in a story that is predominately about Abraham and Isaac.

Who are these young men? I don’t know, but their inclusion in this story has reminded me of some really important things in leadership and ministry.

1. Take others with you to the mountain. Abraham obviously took Isaac with him, but he extended his circle to two young men. I love this model. It may not always be practical or possible to take people with you, but when you can, do it. As a pastoral leader, I try to make room for as many young leaders as I can. Going to Costco? Grab someone. Heading to a conference or hospital visit? Bring a young leader with you.

Recently, I invited two of our leaders to go on a road trip with me to a memorial service for Jerry Cook, who is an author and Foursquare legend. With notebooks in hand, we captured our thoughts and impressions during the service then debriefed over a meal and the trip home.

Are you climbing a mountain (metaphorically speaking)? Then, bring others with you.

2. Young leaders are developed daily…not in a day. There came a point in the journey to Mount Moriah that Abraham determined the young men should “stay here with the donkey.”  Man, that must have been frustrating for them. Who wants to babysit a donkey when they could climb a mountain? I’ve known many emerging leaders that have felt similar frustrations; desiring to experience more and lead further.

Friends, leaders are not made in a day. It takes time. Be thankful for and faithful with the opportunities you’ve been given. I often say this to young leaders: “Don’t demand a ministry. Develop one.” And that may involve the care of donkeys, while more seasoned leaders go to the top of the mountain. You’ll most likely get there some day, and when you do you’ll realize just how stinking hard it is, and the intense sacrifice that is involved.

So, be patient.

3. Develop long-term mentor/student relationships. In verse 19, when Abraham returned to the young men (with an alive Isaac in tow), they all together “arose and went together to Beersheba.” One can’t read too much into this, but I appreciate the imagery of them all moving and living together in one place.  For me, it illustrates symbiotic relationships that can be formed and nurtured between mentors and students over a long period of time.

There are great benefits found in learning communities of mentors (Abraham) and students (young men). In my personal and ministerial life, I have grown to highly value the godly, older men that have access to my life. Similarly, I’ve chosen to be that kind of a person to a number of younger leaders.

So much is gained. So much is learned. So much is deposited…and withdrawn.

Are you a leader? Do you have “young guns” around you and going places with you?

iLeadership

As the primary leader in a growing organization, I am always on the look out for good people to be a part of our team. My eyes are perpetually peeled. I’m looking as I stroll through the church lobby during our weekend services. I’m watching out of the corner of my eye while ministering at camps, retreats or conferences. I’m scanning to see who is serving, caring, giving, and developing their God-given talents for Kingdom purposes.

I love my job.

Occasionally I have the opportunity to invite certain folks to join our team. It doesn’t happen often and it isn’t for everyone. Of course, any follower of Jesus could have the capacity to be a leader, and may function as such to varying degrees, but not all can be called or commissioned to full-time, professional service in the local church. That simply wouldn’t be practical or possible.

When I look for leaders, I watch for three very important characteristics in that person. I call it iLEADERSHIP.

1.  Leaders that Initiate.

First and foremost these individuals must be able to move forward with initiative and not wait for someone to hand it all to them. We know that the road to somewhere nasty is paved with good intentions. Good intentions are noble but not enough. One must take further steps to initiate action.

2.  Leaders that Integrate.

I look for people that can partner and play well with others. Lone Rangers need not apply. Sure, those kinds of folks may be workhorses and high capacity initiators, but if they don’t have chemistry with a team then problems will ensue. Mark my words: in the short-term you may think you have secured the best leader, but in the long-run you will experience acute misery. So, place a high value on integration.

3. Leaders that Innovate.

Simply put: they have the capacity for change. One must be able to creatively take nothing and make it “something.” It’s an art (Max DePree calls it Leadership Jazz). Understandably, not everyone can pull this off. That’s OK, because the Body of Christ is big and all are welcome. But when it comes to leadership, I find it extremely important to have people that can embrace change and run point on innovative efforts. 

This is iLEADERSHIP.
What leadership characteristics would you add?

Preachers and Drunks

JesusLovesYouThe story is told of a drunk man that stumbled through the woods until he came upon a preacher baptizing people in the river. He tripped into the water and bumped into the preacher who asked the drunk, “Are you ready to find Jesus?” “Yes I am,” the drunk replied. The preacher dunked him into the water then pulled him up and asked him, “Brother have you found Jesus?”  The drunk replied, “No!” Shocked at the answer, the preacher dunked him into the water again a bit longer. He pulled him out of the water and asked again, “Have you found Jesus, my brother?” The drunk again answered, “No, I have not found Jesus.” By this time the preacher was at his wits end so he dunked the drunk in the water again, but this time he held him down for about 30 seconds. The man started flailing his arms and legs so the preacher finally pulled him up and asked the drunk the last time, “For the love of God, have you found Jesus?” The drunk wiped his eyes and caught his breath only to say to the preacher, “No, but are you sure this is where he fell in?”

Aside from the obvious theological problems of this story, there is a bigger reminder to us about how Jesus can get lost by Preachers and Drunks alike.

Sometimes we lose him in the cultural stereotypes that we’ve been given. Other times we lose him in the trappings of the church, with all it’s traditions, rules, and hypocrisies. Oddly, we can sometimes lose him in the Word of God. We can become so caught up in the phrases and miss the person. This is verified in Jesus’ own words found in the Book of John “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you have life” (John 5:39,40).

Where did Jesus fall in?  Where can he be found? How can we truly understand his love for us? I like how the French Philosopher Maurice Blondel puts it: “If you really want to understand a man, don’t just listen to what he says but watch what he does.”

We know that Jesus loves us because the Bible tells us so (you’re humming the children’s song right now, aren’t you?). But what I appreciate about Jesus is that he didn’t just TELL his disciples (us) about his love…he SHOWED them (us).

I believe he showed them (and still does to us today) with a towel, tears and a table. I want to unpack three  familiar passages and look for where Jesus fell in…

Towel // John 13

Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. (John 13:1,4,5)

It was historically customary for a servant to wash the dust off of the feet of anyone who entered the home of the master.  But in this particular case no one did that, so the guests feet remained dirty until Jesus humbled himself, took off his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist and began to wash their feet. 

Jesus was showing us what love looks like. He knew that before he could TEACH he had to TOUCH.  The disciples didn’t need a lecture on dirty feet. Neither do many of our unsaved friends. They need someone to get down and simply wash off the crud!

I love how Philippians 2:7 drives this home. Note the connections I’ve made to John 13:  “He made himself nothing (took outer clothing off), being made in human likeness (towel), and took the very nature of a servant (wash the disciples feet).”

This is how Jesus SHOWED us love.  How else does he show us? 

Tears // John 11

Jesus wasn’t there when his best friend Lazarus died. When he finally arrived everybody was a mess. Mary was crying. The Jews (perhaps paid mourners) gathered around the grave and joined in the grieving. This must have been like a room full of people watching Marley & Me or My Sisters Keeper (trust me: these are Weep-Fest films).

Vs. 34 – “Where have you laid him?” “Come and See Lord,” they replied.

Vs. 35 – “Jesus wept.”

Vs. 36 – “See how much he loved him!”

Jesus didn’t just say it, he showed it. You may wonder why (if he really loved him) he didn’t do more than just cry. Other wondered that too:

vs. 37 – “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

If Jesus really loved Lazarus, why didn’t he keep him from dying? The same logic can be applied to this question:  Why doesn’t Jesus keep bad things from happening to us?  If he’s really sovereign then wouldn’t it make sense for him to cut off death, pain and suffering at the pass?

Consider this scenario:  Have you ever said to someone “I don’t want you to fix it. I just want you to listen?” Over the years, I have discovered that some of my greatest growth has come out of lots of pain and I honestly didn’t need someone to fix it, but instead I needed to know someone was walking with me, listening to me, and weeping with me.

Such was the case with Jesus.  He wept before he ever raised Lazarus from the dead. You know, perhaps the greater miracle is that the God of the universe can cry. Through his tears he SHOWS us the full extent of his love.

Table // Luke 7

In Luke 7 we discover a pretty shady meal time. The table was set and around it we have a Pharisee, a Prostitute (called The Sinful Woman) and Jesus.

This all sounds like the makings of a good joke: A Pharisee, a Prostitute and Jesus walk into a house…

Both the Pharisee and prostitute were shunned by society, but Jesus sat at the table with them. That’s him showing LOVE. Thankfully he does the same with us. He invites us, with our shady backgrounds and sinful propensities, to eat with him. He welcomes us to the table.

Consider the Last Supper.  At that particular table was one who would deny him (Peter), another who would betray him to be killed (Judas), and a bunch of folks that would abandon him (rest of the disciples).

Looks like Preachers and Drunks are in good company.

Towel, Tears, and a Table: It’s through examples such as these that we discover again how God demonstrated his love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Awake My Soul

awake7Ah Ezekiel.

Ezekiel was a prophet at the same time as Jeremiah. When he was 26 years old he was taken into captivity to Babylon along with about 10,000 of his fellow Jews. In the fifth year of captivity Ezekiel received a call to be a prophet of the Lord and for the next 22 years he ministered to his fellow captives.

If you were to split his prophetic ministry into two halves and used the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem at 587 BC as the dividing line it would look like this:

1. Prior to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem Ezekiel spoke of DOOM.

2. Then after 587 BC Ezekiel was a prophet of HOPE.

Isn’t that what we need sometimes?

Not doom. We have enough of that.

I think we need more Hope.

Especially when we’re feeling spiritually dry, dusty, or dead. Lord, give us hope! When we’re in a spiritual valley, we need glimpses of perspective that comes through hope.

I think we all understand the concept of “valleys.” This is where we feel trapped, confused and discouraged. I imagine that’s how the children of Israel felt while they were in captivity…until one of their own, Ezekiel, started to speak hope into their valley.

That’s what he did in chapter 37, the famous vision called ‘The Valley of Dry Bones.” It was given to him more than 2,500 years ago for the Babylonian exiles. I think the words still apply to us today.

Here is the Vision:

The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?

“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”

So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.

God’s question to Ezekiel is an important one: “Can these dry bones live?” I think this is a question He is still asking us today. Now, from a human point of view the answer to this question is obviously NO. But with divine perspective, we know nothing is impossible.

“God gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” Romans 4:17

God takes that which is dead and makes it live again! How does this happen? I believe the text gives us two ways:

1. The Word of God

2. The Spirit of God

As Ezekiel walked through the valley of dry bones the Lord told him to prophesy (which means “to speak”) to the bones.  He said to the bones: “Hear the Word of the Lord.” As he spoke the Word of the Lord the bones started coming together with sinew, muscles, and skin.

Imagine this scene. Freaky and weird, huh? Especially for a good Old Testament Jewish prophet, because he isn’t supposed to touch dead things! But when God’s Word gets in contact with dead people it causes life.

Is it doing that in you? If not, then are you in close enough contact with God’s Word, and is it getting into you?

What is the Word of God saying to you? God is speaking, but are you listening? When we listen to God and his Word, it has the power to pull the dry, fractured parts of our life together. Things start to make sense again.

 

In a nutshell: The Word forms us.

 

When your life is falling apart, when you are in spiritual valley of dry bones then be quick to get in contact with the Word of God and let it form you.

Notice then in the text that the bodies that had formed didn’t have breath so God said to Ezekiel:  “Speak to the breath and tell it to breathe on these dead bodies so they can live again.”

 

In a nutshell: The Spirit fills us.

 

The BONES became a BODY with the Word of God and the body became an ARMY with the Spirit of God.

Friends, we need BOTH! Oh to be formed with the Word AND filled with the Spirit!

Join me in this pursuit. Join me in crying out to the Lord: AWAKE MY SOUL.

Generosity Is…

Generosity-21“As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1-4

Lest we think that Jesus is ripping on the rich folks, let’s be clear: he is not SHAMING them for their gifts, he is CELEBRATING the widow for her gifts. The reason is because her generosity flowed out of severe need and lack, whereas the others gave out of abundance. For one group it was most likely easy to give. For the poor widow it was undoubtedly painstaking.

Jesus affirms her generosity.

Paul did the same for the Macedonian church in his letter to Corinth:

“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” 2 Cor. 8:1-5 ESV

From this passage, as well as others in 2 Corinthians 8, I’ve discovered a few principles regarding generosity.

• Generosity is sacrificial (2 Cor. 8:2). It’s been said that it’s not about “equal gifts, but rather, equal sacrifice.” That’s really the bottom line of what Jesus was communicating in the story about the rich givers and the poor widow.

 Generosity indicates a maturing faith (2 Cor. 8:7). In this verse we’re challenged to grow not only in our faith, speech, knowledge and love, but also in the area of our giving. Is this an area of your Christian journey that needs to mature?

• Generosity is a response to Jesus’ life and work in us (2 Cor 8:9). Elsewhere in the Bible we’re reminded that we “love him because he first loved us.” This works in tandem with the understanding that our giving is a natural response to Jesus’ super-natural gift of grace and salvation. Simply put: we can’t out-give God!

Friends, I want to encourage you to live a generous life – modeled after God the Father giving his only Son, and extended through the life of Jesus, in the willful laying down of his life upon the cross.

“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”  2 Corinthians 9:15