Saturday, January 17, 2009

I am AWESOME at handling criticism

Not really. Actually, i suck at handling criticism. i got a good dose of it at work this week from my boss. but it wasn't one of those 'close the door and sit down' settings where he just rips me a new one - it was passive, sarcastic comments - something that i can't stand; almost as much as being criticized! I would rather have you just tell me to my face what the problem is. it drives me crazy when people obviously have an issue with something, but don't confront the issue. they just let their tone, their attitudes, their non verbal language do the talking, but never bring it up until it finally leads to a huge explosion. (sorry for my rant...).

My reality has been to always answer my critics and be defensive, probably because i think that i am never wrong (another issue that God keeps knocking me over the head with). because of the incident this last week, i spent some time stewing, trying to come up with my last chance say-all farewell speach that told my boss what i thought of him and how he doesn't know what he's talking about. then i started thinking about how i was going to explain to my family that Daddy just lost his job because he can't handle criticism and choked out his boss.

Your boss, your spose, your neighbor and many others offer criticism - some rightfully so, some not. But they are not the only ones that offer criticism. God has a way of criticizing, too. And when He brings something to your attention, there's not much room for honest discussion; He's right, and you're wrong.

The week before, i had finished a chapter in Craig Groeschel's book "Confessions of a Pastor", which just so happened to deal with handling criticism. In the book, Craig provides insight on when you should listen, answer, dismiss, or endure the criticism. I can't thank God enough for leading me to read this information when He did. I am still struggling with criticism, but know i am able to recognize my failures here, and am better equipped to respond in a better way.

do you struggle with criticism? are you defensive? What does God say about how you handle your criticism?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

turning into my parents...

that's pretty embarassing (sorry mom and dad). just realizing that i am a couple of years behind the curve with communication technology. i now have accounts on twitter and facebook, but have no idea how to use the stupid things. not the least bit frustrated by it... oh well. i guess i understand how my parents feel when i try to explain blogging or text messaging. hopefully, one of you web ninjas can take me into you dojo and edumacate me on how to use this stuff. is anybody like me out there, or am i the last one between 20 and 30 years old who isn't connected?? Speak up!

Monday, January 12, 2009

spiritual indigestion

Over the last several weeks, i have been flying through the new testament epistles, soaking up every word, and just enjoying the opportunity to be ministered to by Paul. In nearly every book, he writes in such a way that tells his audience that he truly loves them. Almost effortless, he lines up one encouraging and edifying passage after another. And with such passion! As i read his writings, i notice that so many times, he writes each book as if it were written in one sitting, without letting his pen ever leave the page - from one idea to the next, no time for periods - just get as much God-breathed inspiration on the page as possible! And too often, i catch myself reading the same pace at which Paul writes - which is not a good thing, if you want to chew your food before you swallow, tasting and savoring every morsel, allowing yourself to enjoy it the way it was intended. it's one thing to read in such a way to finish a book; quite another to read until God challenges you with something.

And today, i am suffering from a little bible indigestion. Finishing up 1 Thessalonians, i came to the point where i was simply overwhelmed. Finished 1 & 2 Corinthians. Galatians. Ephesians. Philippians. Colossians. One big bite after another. shoveling one choice bite after another, realizing, "wow! that was great! i need some more of that - wait a minute... what was that that i just ate? I know it was good, but i don't even remember what it tastes like!" As I try to slow down and comprehend what Paul is saying, I only come to realize that in a single bite, i have been swallowing huge banqueting feasts, meant to be eaten slowly - one bite at a time, chewed 30 to 40 times each.

My soul has been acting as my spritual stomach, now suffering from engourgement, and unable to gain any spiritual nourishment because i haven't taken the time to taste my food. "Take your time", i hear God saying. "Have an appetizer. Chew S L O W L Y. Did you taste the spiritual blessing, mixed with a dash of hope, drizzled with peace? it was baked for about an eternity, cooking at about a million-love degrees. Yup - you guessed it. the secret ingredients are mercy and grace. Don't forget to have a drink of the house's choicest wine, grown in the valley of patience and tended to by wisdom and understanding, served in cups of forgiveness. Relax. there's more than enough here for you and all of creation. i'm not running out of spiritual food anytime soon."

When you slow down enough to consider what you're reading, you realize that reading even a whole chapter of certain Paul writtings in one sitting is like processing something with a concentration potent enough to fill VOLUMES of books. And that's where indigestion sets in. Holy cow! i ate way too much! God, i can't deal with so many thoughts, each calling me back to ponder and meditate on every God inspired line. I want to finish everything on my plate, but i know that i can't take another bite until i deal with the single line i just read!

And look at all the food on the table! i can't even see the end of it! How will i ever finish all of this food? One bite at a time Lord, reveal to me what ever it is that you want me to focus on. I know that each bite is filled with so many wonderful ingredients, but which one do you want me to taste right now? Teach me to savor each bite, each chewing motion. Help me not to swallow too soon, so i don't miss the moment where you reveal that flavor that you want me to taste.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Colossians 1:3-14

passage of the day... If this doesn't fire you up, i don't know what will...

"We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints - the faith and love that spring up from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit." Colossians 1:3-8

(Here's where Paul BRINGS IT!)

"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." Colossians 1:9-14

Talk about building up the body of Christ! Hard not to get fired up when we see the work that God is doing in us like this.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Contending as one man...

"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved - and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have." Philippians 1:27-30

Christ is not divided; neither can his bride, the church be divided either. "Contend as one man for the faith of the gospel". As a man fights, he is not divided against himself as how he will fight. He will not try to strike a blow while at the same time flee from battle. He makes a decision and every member of his body acts to complete that decision. But if we scatter when we are attacked, this is evidence to our enemy that we are divided, and that we are not one in spirit.

What a awesome display of faith it is to see the body of Christ stand together, advancing the lines of the gospel to the world, and moving forward with one purpose, one spirit, contending as one man. When any member of the body is dealt a blow, the entire body reacts to protect it and restore it; it doesn't say, "too bad for you ear… you should have seen that coming… what? Yeah the eyes can see, but we didn't think it was necessary to tell you to move since we weren't going to be hit… sorry you couldn't see it coming… never mind that we have the gift of sight and have the duty to alert the body when we see an attack coming…" How our enemies will tremble when they see us stand firm when even the smallest, seemingly most insignificant member is attacked. No fear. No running away. Standing firm; wearing the armor of Christ, letting the Lord fight for us, for the battle belongs to Him.

Our faith is not in a pastor, preacher, prophet, apostle, or any other man - it is in Christ alone. Yes, we are truly blessed to be shepherded by those leaders whom God gives us, but even if God allows that shepherded to be taken from his flock, the flock will stand firm, for our Good Shepherd is with us, and fights for us, uniting us in one spirit, realizing that to die is gain, and to live is Christ!

And just as we know that we have been saved by His grace through faith which he freely gives us, we know that he has also chosen us to suffer for the sake of the cross. What a blessing it is to know that the world hates us because of Christ, for by their disapproval of us for the stand we take in Christ, we know that we are receiving what is due to those who conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Chains for Christ

"Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly." Philippians 1:12-14

Apparently, Paul was in prison when he wrote this. It appears that Paul thought that his audience knew he was in chains, and that may have been a source of discouragement or despair for this church. But Paul, seeing the good that God was working through this seemingly massive blow to the ministry that God was working through Paul, goes on to note that the gospel is still being forwarded on, even though Paul was in prison.

What wonderful perspective that Jesus gave Paul in his poor circumstance. What man intended for evil, God intended for good. Faith and hope are mere lip service if they are not tested. You can almost picture the ear to ear grin that must have been on God's face when he saw Paul respond the way he did. He must have thought something like, "that's my boy", or "Paul, you freakin stud! You get it, man!"

And to spur on Paul's hope, God let's Paul see the affect of his attitude and perseverance: the whole palace guard knew that a mere man that was imprisoned for sharing his faith, was filled with even more hope and drive to continue sharing the life giving, life changing, life saving message of Jesus Christ. It must have been something to see the look on the guards' faces, saying "what the heck is wrong with that guy? We just chained him up, and he is all the more driven and filled with unwavering hope for the cause that imprisoned him." It is likely that the guards beat him and spat upon him regularly, mocking him and the message he proclaimed. And Paul could have burned with hate, wanting God to strike them all dead or infect them with some forsaken disease or illness. But Paul, being filled with the Holy Spirit, most probably had great compassion for them, often praying something similar to what Jesus prayed on the cross: "father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And because of Paul's attitude and kindness towards those that mocked him and abused him, the whole palace guard knew that the faith that this man was imprisoned for was the real deal.

When you are faced with adversity, in chains, does the world look on and say, "Wow. Something is definitely different about this guy. His faith; His Jesus is the real deal. How can someone forgive and love like that? Who can possess such love, joy, peace, and hope when something like this happens? I wonder if the Jesus that this guy believes in can change me too."

Too often, my life answers that question with the same pathetic answer: " just another guy; flips out like everyone else when something bad happens. Just tune me out when I start asking you to come to church with me; You can be just as good as me by staying home and watching the Cowboys play on Sundays. See? If Christians can cuss and talk bad about others and complain about every bad thing that happens to them, then what makes them so different from everyone else? You don't need to get right with God… You are just as good as this guy; you are good enough, surely God will let you in to Heaven, won't He?"

Because of Paul simply living out the faith he professed and persevering with the hope of Jesus Christ, others took note. His fellow brothers, who were probably greatly troubled by Paul's imprisonment, now were galvanized to carrying out the gospel with immense passion and conviction. They were no longer imprisoned with the fear of prison or chains or even death. They were empowered with a Spirit-filled boldness and courage that stems from knowing the One that saves, and knowing that Jesus, the Christos, came and died for all, so that if anyone would believe in him, he would not perish, but have life everlasting.

Are you in chains for Christ? Is the whole palace guard taking note?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Thanksgiving & Prayer

"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:3-6

It is interesting to me how God used Paul in such an amazing way during his time on earth. He became all things to all people in order that he might win some to Christ. He was a man who fearlessly preached the gospel, who continually asked God to increase his boldness in proclaiming the gospel, for which he was an ambassador in chains. He proclaimed the freedom in Christ to the Jews, and reflected the light of Jesus to the lost. He loved so greatly - not as the world today defines love; a mere warm feeling of affection, but in sacrificing the opinions of others on the alter of truth, so that all might repent of their sins and call Jesus the Lord of their life. These things and many other Godly characteristics are clearly communicated in his writings, but the thing that stands out the most to me as i read is that he was devoted to praying for the body of Christ.

Kinda hard to miss - nearly every piece of writing by Paul in the new testament has a portion devoted to thanksgiving and prayer within the first chapter. In Ephesians Paul writes:

"For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe." Ephesians 1:15-19a

Similar life-giving edification is found in Colosians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Philippians, & Philemon. Paul was clearly a man who prayed.

Paul prayed for the edification of the body of Christ - his fellow brothers in Christ, his life group, his Sunday School class, his friends and family back home where he grew up, his co-workers - presumably, Paul prayed for every person in whom he had relationship with - continually.

Do you pray like this?

I don't.

Should we? (rhetorical question...)

Lord Jesus, thank you for revealing yourself to us in Your word. Thank you for Paul and the way you greatly used him to boldly proclaim the gospel that has brought us life in You. Burden our hearts for one another, so that we would continually pray for one another, searching for ways to build one another up and strengthen each other as Your Church.

- as a side note, i write based on my observations from reading and from time with God. These entries are most assuredly NOT exhaustive on the topics for which I write, but are highlights on the things that God is making plain to me. If you have other insights that can be plainly drawn from the Word, please share them with me, so that i too can learn through what God has revealed in scripture. With each tour of the new testament, i have discovered that this Holy Book given to us will never be mastered by any. This is a great source of joy and hope for me, for God continues to us His Word to draw me to Him, so that I might explore and treasure the marvels of this Book, and equip myself for God's calling on my life... I digress... :)