Archive for November, 2013

A person involved in looking for a new senior pastor at a church I used to attend recently asked me if I had any suggestions that would help them in choosing the right person.

Probably the most important suggestion I have is to choose a man who understands and practices how to work with God in making his people godlier “He gave pastors for the equipping of the saints for the work of service” (Ephesians 4:11-12).

Only godly people will accomplish much for the kingdom of God. “The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that he may strongly support those whose heart is completely his” (2 Chronicles 16:9)

Yet, many pastors seem to emphasize quantity over quality. They also seem to know little about how to cooperate with God in equipping their people for ministry through increased godliness. They often cling to traditions and practices handed down to them that hinder and limit the spiritual growth of their people. Instead, they need to be open and teachable to how God actually produces godliness in his people.

The following are some things I will recommend to the person who asked me for suggestions:

Look for a man who

  • Teaches and models that developing a love relationship with God is the most important thing. “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
  • Teaches and practices depending on the Holy Spirit for life and ministry (Galatians 5:16).
  • Teaches and models the importance of knowing oneself. “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
  • Teaches the Word and how to live it. “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).
  • Emphasizes prayer as a key spiritual weapon in life and ministry (Ephesians 6:10-20).
  • Teaches and models how to overcome sin bondages (Ephesians 4:22-24).
  • Teaches and models forgiveness for those who have wronged them.
  • Recognizes and practices the value of body life through small groups (Hebrews 10:24-25).
  • Teaches that our life with God is a partnership where we do life and ministry together (Matthew 11:28-30).
  • Recognizes and models the value of discipleship and mentoring in helping Christians grow godlier. “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
  • Recognizes and trains his people in how to operate in the spiritual war that they are in. “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
  • Models and encourages his people toward transformation at the deepest levels of the heart (Psalm 51:6).
  • Models and encourages his people to do a variety of practices that God uses to transform his people including the Word, prayer, retreats, and listening to God (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

So, in addition to checking for how big a church the man has pastored, his degrees, his speaking ability and his knowledge of the Word, these characteristics should be checked too.

We need pastors who can lead us into a deeper walk with Jesus.

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I am currently having published a book I have written called Transforming Love. In the book I indicate that none of us were raised in a perfect environment of unconditional love, acceptance and worth. In addition, we have an old nature that often misinterprets and disregards receiving love and worth as free gifts from first our parents and later from God.

Because these needs were so important to us as children, we devised many strategies to earn love and worth because we couldn’t depend on having these needs met by our parents by just being  “little old me.”

Recently, the editor of my book objected to the bold statement I made that we all have devised false ways to be important and be loved that leave God out of our lives. He thought that I was projecting my experience onto others. He implied that some of us have few, if any, false ways to be loved and important.

Certainly he would agree that if we have come from a dysfunctional home, we probably have devised many false ways to get our needs met. These false ways will hinder us from accepting God’s love and worth as gifts.

However, even those of us who have been raised in loving homes struggle to receive God’s love and worth as gifts. Our nature is to work for love and worth. Maybe we do not struggle as much as others, but we still struggle.

For example, my wife grew up in a loving Christian home. She felt loved, accepted, and approved of to a large extent by both her parents and later God.

Yet, her parents’ and God’s approval were not enough for her. She needed more. She also believed that she needed the approval of others to deeply believe that she was loved and accepted.

As a result she became overly dependent on making people happy with her- even if it resulted in disobeying God. Eventually, she became so stressed about trying to get approval from so many people, she chose to learn to rest in God’s unchanging approval, no matter what others thought.

We often have a hard time recognizing our false dependencies. When I went to seminary and began to dig deep within myself through the leading of the Spirit, I was shocked!

I became convicted that I was often doing my own thing for God, largely in my power, for my glory much of the time.

Only the Spirit can reveal this stuff to us. Too often we think we are doing pretty good because we measure ourselves by ourselves and are without understanding (2 Corinthians 10:12). But only God can cut through our defenses and reveal what we are really like deep within. “The heart is deceitful above all else and is desperately sick, who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Why in our right minds would we want to know our hearts? It sounds like it could result in a lot of bad news. Wouldn’t it be better to deceive ourselves into being good moralists that try to follow biblical principles in our own strength?

The biggest reason to know the truth about ourselves is that it can open us up to receive the grace of God in our lives. “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). We can then better experience an intimate love relationship with God and receive the power to live the Christian life.

Jesus says “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). When we stay dependent on getting promotions, receiving people’s approval at all cost, and protecting a false image of ourselves, we are not free. We are not depending on God to meet our needs to be loved and important.

I challenge you to ask God today to reveal any false way that you are using to regard yourself as loved and important. Ask God to show you any person or thing you depend on for importance and love instead of what God has provided you to show his love and value for you. What did he say?


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God Will Help Us

I awoke two days after my surgery and began to wonder what had happened. I could remember little from the previous five days in the hospital.

Soon I learned that I had had extensive heart surgery involving the replacement of part of my aorta artery and six bypasses. One doctor described it “as one big hairy operation.”

However, I had the best surgeon in the best heart hospital in the area and the operation went like clockwork. No heart damage and a full recovery expected.

God made it clear that he was the one who guided me to this surgeon and hospital and that he was behind the doctors’ life and death decisions regarding my treatment. He also made it clear that he was not done with me on this earth. He still had works he wanted to do in me and through me. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

As my mind cleared, I began to fear what would happen to me. God responded by impressing upon me that he was in control and would help me through this experience. “God is a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

We had a conversational relationship, as several times a day I would ask him for direction, protection, and encouragement and he provided the help.

I experienced fears, pain, and weakness each day. There were also dozens of rules to follow. One of them was not to move off the bed without assistance. Others were not to push up with the hands or lift my hands over my head.

I made remarkable progress in 7 out of the 8 measures of readiness to be released. The one area I fell short in was the systolic blood pressure. It was too high.

So, day after day, the doctors tried various drug combinations to try to bring the blood pressure down. Nothing seemed to work.

However, God encouraged me each day from the love and support I received from family and friends. Also, the nurses were very helpful and protective.

Many times I would thank God for being in the hospital and the good he was doing through this ordeal. One time a very godly nun came by and I voiced how I thought that I would never get out of this hospital. She said to be thankful for staying extra days in intensive care. She said that generally those who stay longer in intensive care recover faster when they get home.

Several times the doctors would tell me that I would be released from intensive care the next day. At least four times, this did not happen. The blood pressure was always too high to risk release.

After 17 days in  the hospital (12 days in intensive care after surgery while the normal time is five days), I was in tears and told God that only he could get me out of this place. A half-hour later I was released. “My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare” (Psalm 27:13, NIV).

My recovery at home has been going amazingly well.

The blood pressure problem is still a work-in-progress but I am attacking it through prayer, diet, medicine, exercise, and counseling. And it is coming down close to normal. I am confident that it will be eventually brought under control. “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27: 13).

God will help me!

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God Rules!

It was October 5, a beautiful Fall Saturday morning. I looked forward to a busy day of Saturday chores. However, as soon as I got out of bed, I sensed a tightening of the muscles in my chest, like someone had thrown a net over me and was pulling the net tighter.

I immediately recognize this as a possible heart attack and laid on the floor. I called to my wife to call the paramedics. Within minutes, our place was crawling with paramedics.

They began running a number of tests and then about ten minutes later carried me out to the ambulance. We were heading to a local hospital. They had not detected signs of a heart attack and did not think it was necessary to take me to a large hospital in San Bernardino that specialized in heart treatment.

At the hospital, they began running a variety of tests. None showed that I had anything wrong. However, as I was being positioned to have a stress test, I groaned that the pain level had gone from a 3 to a 7. This caused the technician to pause and seek counsel from a cardiologist.

The cardiologist ordered that the stress test be stopped and that a CAT Scan be done. I learned later that the stress test would have probably killed me.

The CAT Scan revealed that I had an aneurism of the aorta, the large artery in the heart. However, this hospital did not have the resources to deal with this medical problem. There were two hospitals in the area that did have the resources, but neither hospital had an empty bed.

So, they waited as I had an aneurism that could burst at ay moment.  Finally, a bed opened at 2:30 A.M. Monday morning at the large hospital in San Bernardino and I was delivered there in the wee hours of Monday morning.

The doctors began to run test and determined I also had a number of partially blocked arteries that would require surgery in a couple of years. However, the doctors were more focused on fixing the immediate problem, which was the aneurism of the aorta.

The aneurism was slightly smaller than what they required for surgery. They therefore, seriously considered using medicine rather than surgery to fix it. However, one of the doctors was suspicious that the aorta was bleeding because of the back pain I was complaining about.

They finally decided to operate on Tuesday morning. When they did operate, they quickly discovered that my aorta was bleeding, which would have killed me if it had continued bleeding much longer.

So, after a 9-hour operation, I had an partially-artificial aorta and 6 bypasses. Two major surgeries were done at the same time.

However, The prognosis is good. No heart damage and expectations of a full recovery.

So, what can we learn through an experience like this? These are some lessons I learned in a deeper way:

  • God is very much involved in our lives and makes sure that nothing happens outside of his will. His will was for me to live this time and he made sure the doctors made the right decisions. “Whether for correction, or for his world, or for lovingkindnesses, He causes it to happen” (Job 37:13).
  • We really do not know what will happen to us in the future. I had no idea I would be fighting for my life that day when I arose that beautiful Saturday morning. “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
  • God has purposes for each one of us being on earth. Until those purposes are fulfilled, he will use his Almighty power to keep us alive. I believe he had other works he wanted to do with me before he took me home to heaven. “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38).
  • God rules!

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