Readers Are Learners and Learners Are Better Leaders

I was discussing a book I’d recommended to a friend recently and realized just how much I love to read.   This wasn’t always the case with me, but I’ve developed this habit of love over the years and read a variety of books on a regular basis.   I keep a list of current books I plan to read, and like to read the classics occasionally.  If you don’t have a planned reading list, I hope you’ll consider developing one and start reading! By the way, I’ve loved being part of a ministry called Radical Mentoring (RM) for the past five years because RM has challenged me to read books I wouldn’t have chosen to read on my own. I believe readers are learners and learners are better leaders.

I primarily read non-fiction, but I enjoy taking a break to read a novel once or twice a year.   Most of the non-fiction books I read are written by Christian authors, but I also read books written by those who are not followers of Jesus.

When I read a book written by a Christian author, I always ask God to reveal to me something I need to learn or can glean from the writings to help me or challenge me personally.    I don’t always agree with everything the authors write, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get something worthwhile and great from the book.

When I read books written by non-Christian authors I ask God to help me glean understanding from the authors perspective.  I want to learn from them and gain a better perspective of our culture so I can learn more effective ways of putting the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) into practice.

When I recommend books to people, I am hoping and believing they are at a point in their life where they can glean truth God has for them in the book.  I don’t expect them to agree with everything in the book, but I’m hoping they’ll be open to learn some truth that God wants them to learn and practice as they read.

Readers are learners and learners are better leaders.

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Life Lessons From A Great Dad

My dad was one of my greatest heroes. He was one of the strongest men of character and integrity I’ve ever known. Years ago I asked him to fill out a book for me about his life. One page asked about the 5 most important life lessons he’d learned. Here’s what he wrote.

Here’s a photo of him as a young man…

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The Older You Get The Better You Get – Unless You’re A Banana

I found this and dozens more great captions from Instagram to use on an 18th BIRTHDAY! 

So HAPPY 18th BIRTHDAY GRACE FELLOWSHIP! (June 8, 2003)

According to dozens of Social Media pages, turning 18 is a milestone birthday to celebrate! 

As I said – I found dozens of cool captions to use to celebrate an 18th Birthday from Instagram.  Here’s a few of my favs with a few edits for Grace Fellowship…

  • Another year older, but still looking marvelous!
  • Today, I just want to thank God for adding another year to your life.
  • I can’t wait to see what you do with the next 18 years.
  • We age not in years, but in stories.
  • Keep shining; the world needs your light!
  • You were made on purpose, for a purpose.
  • Take a deep breath, keep reflecting and dream big.
  • Your 18th Birthday!  The start of so many exciting adventures.
  • Bringing bigger dreams to 18.
  • It’s your birthday, and nobody is as excited as I am.

Today I’m excited and celebrating these things in big ways….

  • A little over 18 years ago a group of people had the courage to step out in faith and trust God to start a new and different kind of church called Grace Fellowship.
  • God chose to call me to be the first Lead Pastor of Grace. I’m humbled and grateful for the privilege of serving in that capacity for 17 years.
  • God continues to do an amazing work in and through Grace Fellowship. 1000’s of lives have been changed by Him and continue to be changed for God’s glory!
  • God called Chris Hurst as our new Lead Pastor.  I’m so proud of Chris and can’t wait to see what God going to do through Grace in the years to come under his leadership.

SO – ONCE AGAIN – HAPPY 18th BIRTHDAY GRACE!

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Repentance isn’t a religious word…

Luke, a 1st century physician, wrote an accurate account of the life of Jesus which included His birth and early years, including information about Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist. Luke did a meticulous investigation of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection by interviewing a number of the eyewitnesses of these things, and was a regular companion of the Apostle Paul.

In Luke 3, he writes of John the Baptist: “And he came into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Luke 3:3 NASB John wasn’t preaching you need to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, but that after genuine repentance (which is the requirement for forgiveness of sin), be baptized as a visual sign of your repentance and forgiveness.

Repentance basically means a change of mind that leads to a change of heart and lifestyle. Let’s say you believed a certain product was good and then learned truth about the negative aspects of this particular product. In essence, to repent, you would change your mind about the product and change your lifestyle when you quit using it.

However, when John talks about repentance, it’s immensely important. Repentance is not about being religious, it’s about establishing a relationship with God which is then demonstrated in the way we respond to God and people. To repent means I change my mind about my own sin (living life focused on myself with little concern about God’s desire) and change my mind about Jesus (who He was and what He did for me).

Repentance means I discover the truth about God’s grace and love and choose to turn away from sin (living life focused on myself); turning to God to live in a way that honors Him by trusting/following Jesus. Granted, none of us live a life of perfection after genuine repentance, but there should be evidence of a change in direction as we submit ourselves to Jesus and He begins to transform (change) us.

John said it this way: “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God….” Luke 3:8 NLT

BTW – when Jesus began His ministry, Matthew (an eyewitness of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection) writes: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Matthew 4:17 EST

If you’re a Jesus follower, the most evident proof of genuine repentance is that we love God with a whole heart and this is evidenced by the way we treat others; loving them as God loves us. (see Matthew 22:36-40)

When John told the people to prove your repentance by the way you live, they asked him how? He gave them some practical examples that are the result of living out the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40). In Luke 3:10-14 he told them three practical ways to demonstrate their repentance.

1) Generosity – make it your habit to share with others in need.

2) Live a life of integrity in all matters, especially those related to the handling of money and possessions.

3) Don’t use your power of position to take advantage of others, rather be content with what you have and back to point 1 – share with others.

Just a few thoughts from my time alone with God this morning.

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A Different GOAT

There’s not been much talk about the GOAT in sports recently, but this week I was reading some things Jesus said that actually relate to a better meaning of the GOAT.

Whether you’re a follower of Jesus or not, what He said could drastically impact your relationships and life in a positive way because following Jesus makes life better and makes you better at life.

Some religious people in the first century asked Jesus; “What’s the greatest commandment?”  In other words, what’s the GOAT when it comes to God’s commands.

Jesus said:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”   Mark 12:30-31

This is the plumb-line for a follower of Jesus.  If you’re developing a Christian worldview and growing in your relationship with Jesus, this will be your plumb-line.  If you’re more influenced by a secular worldview, you’ll know these commands, but they’ll not impact every decision.

Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me you’ll keep my commands.”  None of us are perfect in keeping His commands.  As I’ve said for years, we live in direction – not perfection.   However, the direction of our lives should move us closer to fulfilling these commands.  If this isn’t happening, you should seriously reflect on who or what’s influencing your choices and worldview.

Let’s take it a step further with what Jesus said.

When Jesus was asked by His disciples about who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, He used a child as an example.  Simple childlike faith that fully trusts and follows Jesus leads to greatness.   (Matthew 18, Luke 9)

Jesus also said the greatest among us would be the person who serves God by serving people.

When His disciples were arguing about who was the greatest among them, look what happened.    Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28

If the GOAT command is to love God first and love people as you love yourself, the greatest way to demonstrate that love is found in Jesus’ words in John 15:12-14  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.

To lay down your life for your friends requires sacrifice, service and a Christian worldview that doesn’t include a primary focus on “ME”.   To lay down your life for your friends requires that you love God first and people as you love yourself!  In other words, we need to have the attitude of Jesus as written about in Philippians 2:1-11.

To do this involves sacrifice and most likely some form of suffering, but Jesus says when you trust and follow me, your ultimate reward will be GREAT.    “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  Matthew 5:11-12

One of the most radical illustrations of a person who chose this lifestyle in the 1st Century was the Apostle Paul.   He was a man who hated and persecuted Christians and then became one.  Paul became a follower of Jesus because he has a personal encounter with Jesus after Jesus was raised from the dead.  When this happened, Paul realized Jesus was legit; Jesus was the Messiah, Son of God, Lord.

God used Paul to plant many churches and under the direction of God’s Holy Spirit, Paul wrote much of what we have in the New Testament.  One of Paul’s key statements about how we should serve (which is greatness) is found in his letter to the local church in Ephesus. 

And [His gifts to the church were varied and] He Himself appointed some as apostles [special messengers, representatives], some as prophets [who speak a new message from God to the people], some as evangelists [who spread the good news of salvation], and some as pastors and teachers [to shepherd and guide and instruct], [and He did this] to fully equip and perfect the saints (God’s people) for works of service, to build up the body of Christ [the church]; until we all reach oneness in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, [growing spiritually] to become a mature believer, reaching to the measure of the fullness of Christ [manifesting His spiritual completeness and exercising our spiritual gifts in unity].   Ephesians 4:11-13 AMP

The bottom line for me is a Christian worldview and a genuine love for God and others will lead me to serve God by serving people; in His church (the local church) and in our communities.

Just my ramblings on this Thursday morning.  Hope you’ll take a moment to reflect on these things.  Have a blessed day.

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Despair and Hope

When your soul’s in despair, change your focus.

In light of what’s going on in culture there are times I feel a sense of despair as did the author of Psalm 42 which I just read.

In these times of frustration, fear or despair – I remember whose I am and who I am and focus on God who is my hope.

When I thank Him it builds my trust. When I praise Him it changes my perspective.

Declaring God’s goodness helps dispel my despair.

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HE’S NOT HERE – HE IS RISEN

Reviewing some photos from our trips to Israel caused me to reflect on the things that took place as Jesus was arrested, falsely tried, crucified and raised from the dead.

Of course, one of the most significant places we visited was the Garden Tomb which is believed by most to be the tomb where Jesus was buried after His crucifixion.  The photos below are of the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.

As Matthew writes in Matthew 28:1-10 – “Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”

The Resurrection is one of the most documented events in human history and is the key to the faith and growth of the early church.  Christianity is based on the resurrection of Jesus. 

Paul, who hated the name of Jesus and violently persecuted Christians in the first century, later became a Christian because he had a personal encounter with Jesus after Jesus’ resurrection.  He realized Jesus was legit; Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.  Before Paul was martyred for his faith in Jesus, he wrote much of what is preserved in the New Testament for us including these words about the resurrection from 1 Corinthians 15.

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.13 For if there is no resurrection

13 For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 

16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 

Garden Tomb Sign
Garden Tomb Entrance
Garden Tomb Inside
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LOVE LETTERS

Actual love letters may not be used much today, but when I was in a serious dating relationship with Janet (now my wife of nearly 44 years) we wrote love letters to each other one summer. We wrote these letters because we were serving as summer missionaries approximately 1300 miles apart. Yeah, I guess I’m a little of a romantic, because I still have a bundle of the letters she wrote me!

I was located in Sarasota, Florida, and every day I’d go to the mailbox of the church where I was serving with the expectation of a letter from Janet. When I got the mail, I quickly sorted through everything to hopefully find a letter from Janet and loved the fact that I got one almost every day.

I didn’t even wait to get back to my small apartment to read her letter; I opened it right there at the mailbox and began reading on my way back down the long drive to my apartment. Once I got in the apartment, I read it again and usually read it at least one more time that night. I ACTIVELY LISTENED to what she said because I wanted to get and understand everything she wrote. I knew she loved me (even though our love was/is imperfect) and she had something of great value to share with me!

This weekend if you attend an Easter service at a church, you’ll hear from someone who is going to share a portion of God’s Love Letter with you, so I hope you’ll engage in ACTIVE LISTENING! In fact, if you got a handwritten letter addressed to you from God, or a text or email that came directly from God, I hope you’d give that communication your utmost attention.

If you attend an Easter service at a local church or connect with a church online, your best choice is to ACTIVELY LISTEN to what God has to say to you! He loves you and His love letter (found in what’s preserved in Scripture for us) is the greatest love letter of all time. If you’ll ACTIVELY LISTEN you’ll discover something about the One who loves you most – the One who loves you with a perfect and unconditional love – Jesus!

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TRIALS, ABANDONMENT & ABUSE

Reviewing some photos from our trips to Israel caused me to reflect on the things that took place as Jesus was arrested, falsely tried, crucified and raised from the dead.

Late Thursday night Jesus was betrayed and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He was then taken to the house of the High Priest Caiaphas where He endured several false trials, was abused and held until they could take Him to Pilate early Friday morning.

The photo below with the hole in the floor and the deep pit in the rock is believed by most scholars to be the place where Jesus was held between trials during the night.  This location is beneath the house of Caiaphas and was used to hold prisoners for various reasons.  It is pitch dark when the lights are turned out.  On a stand in this pit is a folder containing printed sheets of Psalm 88 written in many languages of the world.   Psalm 88 is considered a prophetic Psalm related to the night Jesus was arrested and held.  This is one of the most heart-wrenching places for me in the Holy Land.   When we take groups, I always try to read Psalm 88 with the group before we sing and pray; I’ve yet to get through it without breaking down.   Please read Psalm 88 and reflect on the weight Jesus was carrying as He was abandoned by His friends and realized the sin of the world was about to be placed on Him.

The two photos which follow are of an actual stone that was uncovered near the place where Pilate tried Jesus (the Praetorium) and where Jesus was abused by the Roman Soldiers.   The stone is a game board for an ancient game called the Game of the Kings.  Roman soldiers would throw dice on the stone and the winner of each round would get to choose different ways to torture the prisoner in their charge.  Often it included dressing the prisoner up as a king while mocking and abusing them prior to their execution (Matthew 27:27-31).   Some scholars believe this was used to help de-sensitize Romans soldiers to the cruelty involved with crucifixion.

The final photos are not great quality, but were shared by one of the historians near the Empty Tomb.  An area not far from the Empty Tomb was known as the Place of the Skull (Golgotha – Mt. 27:33) and was near a well-traveled road before it was covered by current buildings and other structures.  The photos show what the area looked like in the early 1900’s and you can see the part of the rock wall that looks like a skull near the top of the hill. This was a well traveled area which the Romans would most likely use when they wanted the masses to see those who were crucified.

Pit Under Caiaphas’ House
Psalm 88 in Pit

Game of Kings Playing Stone

Place of the Skull
Place of the Skull
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Gethsemane and Blood Clover

Reviewing some photos from our trips to Israel caused me to reflect on the things that took place as Jesus was arrested, falsely tried, crucified and raised from the dead.

On Thursday, Jesus gathered with His disciples in an upper room for the Passover meal.   During this “Last Supper” He gave them an example of how they are to serve others in humility when He washed the disciples’ feet.  He also instituted the “Lord’s Supper” during this meal as He told them about His betrayal.  It was during this time Jesus said to Peter, “before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

Following this Jesus shared some amazing truths with His disciples which I’d encourage you to read in John 14-16, and John gives us an eyewitness account of Jesus’ prayer for the disciples and for us in John 17.

Jesus led His disciples from the upper room, across the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane where He prayed in agony as He anticipated His betrayal and crucifixion (Matthew 26:36-56).

While in Israel, we got to spend some additional time in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  It was humbling and an incredible blessing to be in the place where Jesus prayed just prior to His arrest.

One of the amazing things our tour guide shared with us is the “blood clover” that grows in the Garden of Gethsemane. The clover has tiny red spots in the leaves that look like droplets of blood. He explained that it only grows naturally in three places; in the Garden where Jesus’ sweat was mingled with blood as He prayed, by the house of Caiaphas where Jesus was tried and beaten and near the Empty Tomb!

Garden of Gethsemane
Blood Clover
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