Monday, March 31, 2008

Lay Speaking Ministries as a Calling

Lay Speaking Ministries as a Calling

Yesterday I had the privilege of teaching a group of certified lay speakers. What a joy! I heard incredible stories of calling, adult conversion, and the power of prayer in convicting those we love. And I heard masterful sermons. Those in the Methodist Church are blessed by gifted and generous laity. And we are blessed to be in a denomination that encourages us to serve.

We can thank Susanna Wesley for our heritage. With elders stretched thin, John Wesley left one of his societies unattended. In his absence, Thomas Maxfield chose to preach. Wesley, intending to cut short this “usurping practice,” was counseled otherwise by his mother: “Take care what you do with respect to that young man, for he is as surely called of God to preach, as are you.” (Collins, Kenneth J., A Real Christian, The life of John Wesley. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999. Page 73)

One participant (lay speaker now a local licensed pastor) brought 12 of his parishioners to the lay speaking weekend. His story was a living metaphor of prevenient grace, God working in him, preparing him, readying him for his call long before he knew it. God is good.

Not all are called to be exhorters (provide pulpit supply). Lay Speaking Ministries now touches nearly every ministry of the church. But give thanks for those that are gifted and heed the call to serve churches. The district superintendent noted to me that there are more lay speakers serving churches in his district than retired elders and local licensed pastors combined. I just did a count. There are 19 churches in his district served by lay speakers.

For years, I tried to respond to what I thought was a call to ordained ministry. I could never become comfortable with it. My spouse’s counsel was, “Why turn a perfectly good lay preacher into a mediocre pastor?” What I have found was that my calling is clearly to lay ministry.

And I am blessed to be in a denomination that chooses to employ God’s gifts through the laity.

Blessings all,


Monday, March 24, 2008



What a day! Yesterday I noted that if we really believed this (the resurrection, the resurrection power of God in Jesus Christ) that every Sunday would be Easter. No, every day would be Easter!

But I’m glad every day is not Easter. Then every day would be every day. Without plains there cannot be mountains. Without Ordinary Time there would not be the exhilaration of Easter! Every day may not be Easter, but the joy of this one will carry me through many days more. "He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!"

Which reminds me, we stopped a G&D Steakhouse after the service and Angelo came by to sit with us. While there a Rotary friend, an active member of Forum Boulevard Christian, and his wife stopped by. We exchanged the Easter greeting (Indeed!). Angelo said, “Do you say that, too?” He then mimicked the greeting in Greek. It was beautiful. The syllables and sounds seemed to perfectly mirror one another and it was compact and succinct. In a way, just right. For a lay person with no Greek language background (I know about agape), I gained an appreciation of what Easter joy must have been to the first century Christians.

I hope your Easter was also joyous, a mountain-top experience. (Did I say that Smith Chapel UMC had a record crowd at our little church, or that we had two baptisms? God is great! He has raised us to new life!)

Blessings all,


Monday, March 17, 2008

Day 40. Living with Purpose

Day 40. Living With Purpose

I was about to wrap this up when I realized that Warren intends us to live with purpose from day 41 on! To quote the Yogi, “It isn’t over ‘til it’s over!”

Warren’s encouragement to be specific in our spiritual lives is good because most of us find our spiritual priorities squeezed out by other things. Yet, since most of us in this study are lay people, we need to set our priorities such that our physical and spiritual lives come together.

Some thoughts: I’m a Stephen Covey fan, and a big fan of his book, First Things First (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994). Covey says that we need to balance our physical, social, mental and spiritual areas. His bottom line is that we need “to live, to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy. His one sentence (albeit run-on) life statement is “to live in moderation as if you just had heart attack, to talk of others as if they can over hear you, to consider the half-life of all knowledge as two years, and to live as if every 90 days your have a one-hour face-to-face to settle your accountability with your maker.” (Covey television interview)

To live means to provide home and hearth for ourselves and our families. What if we were to add that we wanted to do those things that lift one here and one abroad to a level where they can sustain themselves?

To love is our need for family and social interactions that make us alive and all that God intended. Worship, family and fellowship must have priorities here.

To learn is becoming a bigger task. I think that graduating high school seniors need to be prepared to educate and re-educate themselves at least three times in their life-time. And we cannot live a moral life without a moral foundation. A continual education in spiritual matters is called for. Part of discipleship: becoming like Christ.

To leave a legacy. We are not complete without service. “12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:12b-15)That was on Maunday Thursday (maunday is from the same root as command). Jesus told his disciples, “34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13: 34-35)

Integrating our awareness of spiritual purpose through Warren's book with Covey’s life areas seems life a good way to balance our lives with purpose.

What are you going to do on day 41?



Sunday, March 16, 2008

Day 39. Balancing Your Life

Day 39. Balancing Your Life

We’re getting to the end. Most of us know what our purposes are. Warren lays out the source of these purposes, the Great Commandments and the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. But there is a great divide between knowing and doing. Izzo (1) says that 70 percent of those who have life threatening medical conditions such as heart or lung disease or diabetes, all of which can be ameliorated by changing habits or diets choose not to.

The same problem occurs with spiritual conditions. We know, but we choose differently. Effective dieters use “weight watchers” to establish accountability to change physical habits; John Wesley developed similar groups, called classes, for spiritual accountability to watch over one another in love.

Wesley was so convinced of the need for these groups that he vowed never to preach without following up. “Without joining together those that are awakened and training them up in the ways of God was only begetting children for the murderer.” He continued, “How much preaching there has been of twenty years… but no regular [classes], no discipline, no order or connection. And the consequence is that nine in ten of the once-awakened are now faster asleep than ever.”

In Wesley’s classes, the members were accountable to one another “First to do no harm.” This is a separate but important discussion. I’ve always thought it important that Wesley chose it as first. Harm is many times irreparable. Harm is always sin. Harm damages or destroys relationships. Harm can be evil.

Wesley’s second general rule is to “Do good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and as far as possible to all…” Wesley’s third general rules is to “attend upon the ordinances of God.”

Wesley accountability groups covenant to comply with the latter two rules by acts of mercy, ie compassion and justice; and acts of piety, ie worship and devotion. We could easily map Wesley’s acts into Warren’s purposes. That would be where balance comes in.

Groups or spiritual partners could agree on specifics of the purposes, eg to always attend worship unless one is sick, to serve in a way that strengthens the community of faith, to pray and read Scripture daily, to serve at a food kitchen monthly, to invite someone to church at least monthly. Then the partners or groups would agree to pray for one another, to tell one another regularly how they are doing, and to advise one another how to do better when they fail.

Accountability is a key in moving from knowing to doing.

Forming accountability partnerships or groups is another of the choices we make… or not.



(1) Izzo, John, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Pulishers, Inc., 2008) page 116.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Day 38. Becoming a World-Class Christian

Day 38. Becoming a World-Class Christian

A word for the connected church: A connectional church like the United Methodist Church provides incredible opportunities for service and witness. It is a witness of incredible power in a world of need. Did you know, for example, that following the war in the Balkans, that UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) contracted with the United Nations to build 60,000 houses for those who had lost everything? Or, did you know, that following the terrible happenings in Rwanda and Burundi that the agency contracted to build a refugee camp for 800,000 people? That started with no infrastructure, no roads, no water, no sewers, no schools, no hospitals; just desperate and hurting people.

Or who is Louisiana or Mississippi when the Red Cross leaves? Who is Indonesia long after the emergency workers have left? The answer is UMCOR. And because the organizational costs are paid for by the annual contributions of Methodist churches, every (that’s every) red cent that is donated goes directly to agencies who are on site. Want to be a world-class Christian? Make your presence felt through UMCOR.

The connectional church has other resources as well. The Missouri Conference organizes dozens of VIM (Volunteers in Mission) trips, near, far, local, international. You can repair a tornado damaged church in the “Bootheel” or dig wells in Mozambique. Whether your church has an attendance of 10, or 100, or 1000, you can join with or organize a VIM trip and touch lives in the name of Jesus Christ.

Or you can be a World-Class Christian like Methodist layman Keith Jaspers and start one of the most incredible ministries in Christendom like Rainbow Network. (Click the link in the right hand panel to go to the Rainbow Network website.)

Finally, you can “glocalize.” Tom Friedman has declared the world is flat. Rev. Bob Roberts has written a new book, Glocalization: How Followers of Jesus Engage the New Flat Earth (Zondervon) in which he outlines that congregations of any size can engage in world-wide witness. A farmer who has well expertise can fly to the hinterland, find what is required, return, plan, resource, and then go do it! So likewise a nurse can spend a week or a month providing medical assistance as a witness to the love of Jesus Christ. Finding a need and filling it need not be just local, it can be global. We can “glocalize.”

World-class begins with spirit-class prayer then the inspiration to be a witness (in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1.8)).

Glocalize! Be connected!


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Day 37. Sharing Your Life Message

Day 37. Sharing Your Life Message

Yesterday I started in the middle. Today I want to start at the end. Pray. Pray to learn to love lost people the way God does. Without that motivation, we will never prepare our message of life in a way that it can be shared.

Prayer for the power of the Holy Spirit to teach, convict, motivate for us to be witnesses. As Jesus told the disciples “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Prayer for the power of the Holy Spirit that convicts us to love the unchurched is the prerequisite to sharing our life message.

Pray for passion. Pray at the end; pray in the middle; pray to begin.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Day 36. Made for a Mission

Day 36. Made for a Mission

I thought I would start today in the middle: “You mission gives your life meaning.” That’s what we want isn’t it? A life of meaning. To be redundant, life would be meaningless without it.

To continue in the middle, the middle purpose was “to become like Christ.” I’m reading another “five” book, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. The middle secret is “Become Love.” Izzo (Five Secrets) quickly points out that the love he’s talking about is not emotion, but the choice we make for one another to create and build relationships. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you that you love one another.” Jesus demonstrated love through relationships with God, with the twelve, with disciples, with even the unloved. Finally, Jesus demonstrated his love for me (all of us me’s).

Become love, become like Christ, find meaning through mission. Do I really believe that Christ died for me? Do you? Do we really believe that he could love us that much? And that he expected us to respond in love for one another, even the unloved? What could be more meaningful that bringing another to an eternal relationship of love of God in Jesus Christ?

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21 NRSV)

Holy Week is coming. It would be a great time to reflect on “Become Love,” “Become Like Christ,” “Find meaning in mission.”

How will you respond to “so I send you”?

May you "become love,"


Monday, March 10, 2008

Day 35. God's Power in Your Weakness

Day 35. God’s Power in Your Weakness

A couple of reasons for this day’s Warren writing: First, an understanding that God can use anyone. Many feel inadequate, that because of a lack of skills or unacceptable behavior that their service is inadequate or unworthy. The Biblical narrative speaks loudly that God uses the services of all.

Many of us are in greater danger, this writer included. We have been blessed. Life is good. It is far too easy to believe that we have done it on our own. I’m reminded of God’s great admonition in Deuteronomy as the children of Israel were preparing to cross into the land of Canaan:

“12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17 Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth” (Deut 8:12-18 NRSV)

Humility means that we place our SHAPE in God’s hands. God throughout the entire Exodus story made sure that their freedom from bondage was God’s doing and nothing the children of Israel could do for themselves. So likewise the story of Gideon that Warren cites in today’s reading. There was no magic in how the soldiers lapped their water (Judges 7:5). God could arbitrarily choose Gideon’s army because He was in charge of the victory.

We need to remember not to exalt ourselves, to remain humble and vulnerable, never to say “my power and the might of my hand have done it.” But remember that it is God working through our hands that serves.

So be it.


Day 34. Thinking Like a Servant

Day 34. Thinking Like a Servant

I don’t have many heros. One of them is Jeff Carter who was the first construction manager I bumped into at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Bridgeport (Connecticut). Jeff had his own construction and restoration company. He was a young man, in his twenties, but he was still a master carpenter. There was nothing he couldn’t tackle. He first worked Saturdays, then a few more hours, then 20 out of his 60 hour week for Habitat. It wasn’t long before he was volunteering 40 hours and making a living on 20. What we accomplished, what we learned!

Jeff was blessed, too. He met his future wife working at Habitat. But he eventually burned himself out, or was he just following God’s plan? Jeff redirected his efforts toward putting his wife through veterinary school. He on occasion led a blitz build for the affiliate, but we didn’t see him much, that is until his spouse was established in her practice. When that happened, Jeff showed back up as full time construction manager of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Bridgeport. He had put his own company on hold. Unfortunately, I had moved away by that time.

Jeff Carter is my hero. If a hero is one whose values, whose actions, whose purposes one aspires to emulate, then Jeff is mine. Jeff was selfless, driven to serve others and the Lord Jesus Christ. When we would pray in our opening devotionals or at board gatherings, there was an aura about Jeff. He was connected. His life work showed that connection. Jeff lived for others. He was a steward. He certainly did not compare himself to others in his trade. He based who he was on another carpenter. And he selflessly thought of building houses for people in need as an opportunity not an obligation.

I could end this writing with an “Amen” because I realize Jeff’s life was a prayer.

Blessings, Jeff, and to all of you.


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Day 33. How Real Servants Act

Day 33. How Real Servants Act

In our fast-pasted society, it is not the intent to serve that is the issue. It is finding the time. Warren has it nailed, “Real servants make themselves available to serve.” It is my short fall. I’m too busy serving to serve! And it’s not that I’m not available to God. It’s not I’m not intentionally available. And therefore, I don’t often see the needs around me that ought to demand my attention. As CS Lewis pointed out (Rosemary don’t read this one), “if you find yourselves praying when you know you ought to be up helping with the dishes, get up off your knees and go do it!”

Part of my problem is that I have chosen service that is often open-ended. Preparing a sermon can take as much time as you’d give it. And I enjoy it. Many of my lay speaking tasks, eg preparing for School of Lay Ministry, again it will take as much time as I will give it. And there are others, including these blogs that take up available time.

How do I make myself open to interruptions? How do I make it a goal of the week to follow Wesley’s admonition to “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, for as long as ever you can”?

What service is God nudging me to do? What good am I being called to serve this week? Will I know it when I see it?

How about you?


Saturday, March 8, 2008

Day 32. Using What God Gave You

Day 32. Using What God Gave You

In the movie “Amazing Grace,” William Wilberforce has a conversion, a new birth in Christ, and he is uncertain what to do with it. At first, basking in the knowledge of God while reclining on the wet grass seems appropriate to him. He then goes to his childhood pastor, John Newton, and discusses a life of solitude. Newton, former slave ship captain and composer of “Amazing Grace” tells him in no uncertain terms, “Wilbur, you have work to do.”

Still undecided, Wilberforce talked to his friend and future prime-minister, William Pitt, who urged him to stay in politics. This was followed by a group of abolitionists who believed Wilberforce to be their best hope. His passion and gift of oratory made him the logical candidate to take the abolitionist’s case forward.

Wilberforce had not been the best judge of his use of gifts. It took friends and associates to convince him that he was shaped for serving God through politics, not solitude.

Warren makes the points that we must diligently assess our gifts and strive to find their fit with a world in need. We need our own assessment, but he emphasizes that we must ask others. They may be the best judges of our fruits.

Warren also emphasizes that diving in, experimenting, may be the best way to find our fit. And we best not wait until it “feels” right. John Wesley admonished that “Waiting until you feel like it to do good is the enthusiastic doctrine of devils!”

The title for today is to “use,” not just “examine” what God gave us.

Blessings in your service,


Friday, March 7, 2008

Day 31. Understanding Your SHAPE

Day 31. Understanding Your SHAPE

Since Warren is continuing yesterday’s discussion so will I with more of Five Secrets. But first a quote from Rabbi Harold Kushner: “A life of meaning is achieved not by a few great deeds but by a lot of little ones… the challenge is to find something truly human to do every day of our lives. [We need to] belong to people. Accept pain as part of our lives (or we would never dare to hope or to love). Know that we’ve made a difference.” (1)

Life is about relationships. Service is about relationships. The use of our abilities, personalities, experiences is about how we use them in relationship. Life is what we do every day. Unless we are true to our relationships with God and others (Great Commandment) every day, we settle for something less than our being true to ourselves and our calling.

Izzo (2) suggests that we evaluate each day. That's what he means by being intentional. I’d like you to answer the questions from the perspective of using your true self (spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, experience) in relationships and service.

- Did this day feel like my kind of day? What would make tomorrow or next week feel more true?
- Was I the kind of person I want to be [today]? In what way do I want to be more like the kind of person I want to be tomorrow?
- Am I following my heart right now? What would it mean for me to really follow my heart right now?
- How do I want to live this secret (be true to yourself, live with intention) more deeply next week?

As you can see, no one can answer the questions for you. But remember, we’re not talking about great deeds, but the little ones. Yesterday, Rosemary talked to her sister about life, and called her best friend from our Army days and talked for an hour. Relationships. I have a hunch that when the last conversation was over, she felt like she’d had "her kind of day." And she had served those relationships with her SHAPE.

How can you employ your SHAPE in service to God and others more deeply next week?



(1) Kushner, Harold. When All You Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough. (New York: Summit Books, 1986) page 166 and 168.
(2) Izzo, John, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Pulishers, Inc., 2008) page 45

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Day 30. Shaped for Serving God

Day 30. Shaped for Serving God

The secular argument is “Nature or nurture?” To add to the mix are the gifts of the Holy Spirit such that are the fusion of our attributes of direct benefit to the body of Christ. Confusing?

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s … gifts to his people.”… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love (emphasis added). (Ephesians 4:7-16 excerpts)

Lists in Ephesians, Romans and 1 Corinthians include many gifts but they were never meant to be exhaustive. In fact, the variety of gifts is almost without limit. The one thing that is certain is that the gifts are to build the body of Christ up in love. As Rick Warren indicates, our gifts are to be used for others. Our gifts are about relationships. Our gifts are about love.

All have gifts. All are called to serve in love. Determining those attributes by which we best serve the body of Christ is not always easy. Our capabilities are manifest. Warren notes that we serve best when we are passionate about our task. Have you stepped back to admire those that seem to be a perfect fit for what they do? Bob Costas always comes to mind. He has the gift of gab and the love of sports and has been talking about it professionally since he was a teenager. He’s passionate about what he does. You’ve seen mothers, nurses, doctors, artists, writers who are as passionate and seem a perfect fit with what they do

We serve best when we fit our passions as closely as possible. But how do we know? John Izzo (1) suggests that to be "fulfilled and fruitful" (Warren’s words), we need to be “true to our selves and live with intention” (Izzo's words). Life is what we do every day. Izzo suggests that we need to ask ourselves every day if we are living out “our bliss,” if we are we going to bed with a “good tired,” the kind we feel when we know we’ve had good day? He says we need to examine our lives each day so that we come to know what it means to be true to ourselves. We need to intentional about determining what it is. Have you ever asked the question, "Am I following my heart right now? What would it mean for me to really follow my heart right now?" (Izzo, page 45)

Just because we are capable of something doesn’t mean it’s our call. I’m a good organizer, but I’m always stressed when I’m involved in big tasks requiring those skills. It’s not my bliss. And being true to oneself does not mean that we need not use our other capabilities. We need those skills to cope in the world around us. You might say that we need those to make a living; we use our gifts for ourselves and others to have a life.

My you find peace in truth,


1 Izzo, John, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Pulishers, Inc., 2008) page 26

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Day 29. Accepting Your Assignment

Day 29. Accepting Your Assignment

Last summer, Keith Jaspers talked to our School of Lay Ministry about Rainbow Network,, a charity founded by Keith and one at the top of my list. Keith told us that he believed that Matthew 25 (The sheep and the goats) was an imperative. We have no choice but to serve. Keith is a successful businessman who along with his wife have employed half the available hours of their adult lives in service. Rainbow Network serves about 55,000 people in the remote villages of Nicaragua providing food, healthcare, housing, education and economic development to those whose lives would otherwise be---well, just be. There is no doubt that Keith and the thousands he gathers to serve with him are the hands, feet, and heart of Christ to those people.

We’re not all Keith Jaspers, and we cannot all give half our time, but we are all called to do something. In today’s reading, Rick Warren makes a compelling case that we are called to serve, not out of duty but of “deep gratitude for what He has done for us.”

A question was asked, “How much charity is too much?” I have two answers, one tongue in cheek. Don’t do it all, there won’t be anything left for others to do. But my real answer is to lift them up until they are able to see God for themselves.

We are the only creatures created to be able to conceive of a God, yet millions live in starvation and destitution to such a degree that their minds cannot see beyond a bite to eat or a sip to drink. In their case, water or food is an act of love that will allow them to raise their head and see God.

Others, even in an affluent society, have become part of a subculture that do not have certain capacities to do for themselves. If we can just lift them up so that they can begin nourishing their own spirits what wonderful changes could follow. That’s love.

There are things that people simply cannot do for themselves. They need our hands. They need the body of Christ. If the two billion on this earth that claimed Christianity took seriously and accepted their assignment to serve with their unique gifts, just think what we could do!

This week is a week for us to think about our assignments.

Blessings so that you may be a blessing,


Monday, March 3, 2008

Day 28. It Takes Time

Day 28. It Takes Time

I’m reminded of Stephen Covey’s use of the “Law of the Farm” to illustrate the need for process, practice, time for all good things to come to fruition. We cannot harvest what we do not prepare, plant, water, fertilize, and cultivate. Nor can we harvest a seed divinely made to be mature in 180 days in just 100 days. It’s the Law of the Farm!

James W. Fowler, in his classic work on faith development, Stages of Faith, tells us that faith development parallels emotional development. We cannot expect a preschooler to have a complex understanding of God anymore than a field of corn to be ready for harvest on the 4th of July. By the same token, conversion does not instantly change the content of our faith structure. Even atheists have faith. To progress from being “born again” requires the rewriting of the narratives of our lives. It takes time. To use CS Lewis’ example, if we are grass and want to produce wheat we need to make changes deep below the surface. We need to be ploughed up and replanted. It takes time.

In the meantime, what are we to do? Practice.

John Wesley gathered new believers, along with those maturing, into “classes” and encouraged them to practice his “general rules”: To first do no harm; to do good; and to attend to the ordinances of God; such are public worship, the Word, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, Scriptures, fasting, in other words, means of grace. Class leaders were to see each person at least once a week to inquire of their souls, to advise, reprove, exhort, to receive offerings for the poor. These latter class meetings have come to be included in Christian Conferences or holy conversations.

All of these are “practice.” Of them, I cannot emphasize holy conversations enough. Inquiring, examining, praying together, sharing Scripture together, performing Christian service together are essential to spiritual growth. Just as a piano teacher accelerates learning by imparting proper techniques, and a farmers improve the harvest by learning from others the correct fertilizer to apply (correct farming "practices"), so the Christian advances through the means of grace including holy conversations. And we learn most diligently by covenanting with one another and holding ourselves accountable.

Do you have a spiritual partner or covenant group helping you plough and replant?



Sunday, March 2, 2008

Day 27. Defeating Temptation

Day 27. Defeating Temptation

In 1989, Jerry Jenkins (Left Behind fame), published a book Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It. A revised edition was released in 2005. A comment from one of the Amazon reviews:

“Through … illustrative stories and personal anecdotes, Jenkins takes the reader through exactly what mistakes people make when dealing with the opposite sex, including what many see as mild flirting. He talks about certain rules like, never be alone with a person of the opposite sex who is not your relative. He explains, without preaching, the importance of planting "hedges" around your marriage (Rick’s emphasis) to keep your odds of infidelity at bay. It is just amazing how many people believe they're completely safe from cheating, but can find themselves in a compromising position without these hedges.

”This book touched me unlike any marriage book I've read. Jenkins is, in non-fiction, still a powerful writer and story-teller. He made me think more seriously about my own marriage, and my relationships with other men. I was convicted, and freed at the same time. Though the book is primarily written with men in mind, women can gain from it as well.” Natalie Jost

Satan has a real toe hold with regard to sexual sin, and Jenkins urges building hedges around our relationships from the very beginning. Warren points out that avoiding temptation is easier than escaping it once we’ve been tempted. And we know the great power of the human mind to rationalize. Every temptation can lead us down the slippery slope if we succumb to the early nudgings (see yesterday’s blog on the seven deadly sins).

Hedges work for all of them. Maybe the best hedge is the simple prayer, “Dear God, tell me what Jesus would do?”

What hedges do you need to build to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ?



Saturday, March 1, 2008

Day 26. Growing Through Temptation

Day 26. Growing Through Temptation.

I recently listened to a podcast sermon about “lead me not into temptation.”1 In it the pastor said that the word used was meant to be “test"; and the prayer was one to make us godly people that God no longer needed to test. My guess is that the next line, “and deliver me from the evil one” ought to be trials enough in this life. As I indicated yesterday, Warren uses the term temptation as those troubles caused by Satan. The good news for good people is that Christ has overcome Satan! That means that he has no power over us. We are free to choose wisely! So why do we fail.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other.” (Genesis 3.1a) Need I say more? No frontal assaults here. Have you every wondered why the Seven Deadly Sins were not murder and rape and grand larceny and destruction of someone’s soul? Why just pride and envy and anger and sloth (what is that anyway?) and avarice (and that?) and gluttony and lust? They sure don’t seem deadly. That’s the point. The devil is crafty.

If you were told to murder someone or embezzle from you company or destroy your marriage, you would say emphatically, “No way.” But to be angry (that’s my right), be envious (I deserve it), or welcome attraction in the break room from a good-looking coworker (she/he’s lonely and needs someone to care), seem so innocent. Anyway, I can stop anytime. Sure. The evil one has us just where he wants us, just over the crest of the slippery slope.

Warren starts us out on the right path. We need to know posies along the path that play host to the bumble bees and avoid them at all cost. I’ve long been a fan of Luther’s great saying, “You cannot keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.”

John Wesley would say that if we fill our hearts and minds with love of God and love of neighbor, the choices will come easy. I'm not there yet. So I say..

"Look out for the low, slow birds! And pray!" I like Warren’s instruction, “Cry out.” “But deliver us from evil…” We'll be better for it.


1Greg Boyd, Woodland Hills Church, "Can God Trust You?" Jan 19, 2008