Riding Third Class

Back when the west being settled, the stagecoach was a common means of transportation. Some stagecoach companies offered three classes — even though the passengers sat in the same small compartment.

What was the difference? According to True West Magazine

First class passengers rode all the way.

Second class passengers had to get out and walk on steep grades.

Third class passengers not only had to walk, they also had to help push the carriage up the hills.

Do you see a connection to today?

The ministry of the kingdom of God has no first or second class passengers — those with limited involvement and limited responsibility.

We’re all third-class riders: we’re all called to get out, chip in, and do our part.

If a wagon wheel falls off or if there is a steep hill to maneuver — if there is any work at all to be done — our passenger status requires that we roll up our sleeves and get involved.

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)

All-Weather Friends

At any sporting event, you’ll find two types of spectators in the stands.

One is there to support the team — to cheer them on when they’re playing well and when they’re playing not so well. Win or lose, they wear the colors, they wave the banner, they remain loyal.

In contrast, there are always some who aren’t there to support the team, but to be entertained by the team.

When their side wins, they’ll gladly take the credit — as if they played a part.

When their side loses, they’re quick to boo and belittle their own players — as if they themselves could have done better.

My theory is that one’s attitude in the stands pretty much reflects one’s attitude in life.

You’re either loyal to those around you, rain or shine, offering support and encouragement through wins and losses … or you’re like the fair-weather fan waiting to pounce on someone’s mistake.

Think of how this attitude applies to your work, your church, even your relationships with your closest friends and family.

No doubt, the people in your life already hear enough booing, as it is. A sincere show of support on your part, a word of encouragement during a difficult time, has the power to inspire.

Fair-weather fans are a dime a dozen. Who needs another?

All-weather friends, on the other hand, are one in a million. Could this be you?

There are people in your life who need (and deserve) your all-weather loyalty, win or lose. Consider how you could cheer them on today.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)

Happiness Catches On

According to a study done by Harvard University and UCSD (University of California San Diego), happiness is contagious.

The research discovered that when a person becomes happy, friends living close by have 25 percent chance of becoming happy themselves. For next-door neighbors, the percentage possibility increases to 34 percent.

Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Harvard Medical School and the author of the study, said it this way: “Everyday interactions we have with other people are definitely contagious, in terms of happiness.”

What’s more, the happiness contagion extends beyond merely the people we encounter face-to-face; it includes up to three layers (or degrees) of contact — i.e., friends of friends of friends. (link to article)

I guess one lesson we can learn from this study is that it pays to surround yourself with happy people.

Another lesson is that you have the power to spread goodwill to those beyond your immediate circle — even to those you don’t personally know.

Let’s remember Paul’s words…

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:5)

Like happiness, mercy and kindness catches on. It’s up to us to fan the flame.

Your Most Important Decisions

The most important decisions you make are the decisions you make every day. Much more so than the one-time decisions — even the big ones.

For example, getting married is a major one-time decision. And the decision you make today to love your wife today as Christ loved the church is in many ways more important.

Choosing a career path or taking a job is a major one-time decision. And the decision you make today to do your work as unto the Lord today is more important still.

Giving your life to Christ is the greatest one-time decision you’ll ever make. Yet even greater is the decision you make today to follow him today.

How many times do we decide each day? 

According to the numbers I’ve seen, somewhere between 5000 and 35000. (A Cornell study says we make more than 200 daily decisions about food alone.)

Most decisions are made on auto-pilot. The best ones, however, need to be made intentionally, because our daily decisions give those big-time one-time decisions the meaning they deserve.

Or they take away their meaning all together.

Today you will decide — thousands and thousands and thousands of times — what to do with your time, what to eat, what to read, what to buy, what to wear, what to talk about, what to think about, and then what to give a second thought about.

Today you’ll also decide how you’ll speak to the ones you love, how you’ll do your job, how you’ll live out purpose — and many other things that will matter forever.

Before you let habit kick in, give yourself a second to think about what this decision means and where it will take you.

I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Life Takes a Team

Today’s reading is an illustration from a sermon I preached back in the nineties … and the principle is still true.

On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, he was the focus of attention for the entire planet. Even today, his is the name most associated with the moon voyage. His statement “One small step for man…” will never be forgotten.

What often is forgotten, however, is that the Apollo expedition succeeded because a team of committed individuals sacrificed day and night for years to make it happen. Neil Armstrong was only one of 218,000 people involved.

He may have gotten most of the recognition, but he would be the first to tell you that it was a team effort.

The County Fair.

There’s a story about a horse-pulling contest held at a county fair.

The second place winner pulled a sled of 1000 pounds.

The first place winner pulled a sled of 1500 pounds.

But when the two horses were teamed up, together they pulled 4000 pounds of weight.

Life is a team sport. God intends for us to work together in order to achieve success.

It’s as Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

And as Solomon said…

“Two can stand back to back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple braided cord is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Do you want to accomplish more each day? Resist the temptation to go it alone. Look for ways to help those around you pull more weight.

Number One Reason Americans Go To Church

The Number One Reason Americans Go To Church

According to a Gallup poll, the number one reason Americans attend church is to hear Biblical preaching.

And the numbers are high: 83 percent of Protestant worshipers cited sermons that “teach you more about scripture” as a major factor in why they go to church.

Almost as many — eighty percent — cited the importance of practical application, ie: teaching that connects our faith to daily life.

Biblical preaching ranks above kids’ programs, outreach, and social activities.

And it ranks way above music. Only 38 percent consider the worship band and/or choir a major factor.

What’s the lesson here?

Preach the Bible every week. The best way to do this is to build each sermon around one text, supported with supplemental texts.

During the introduction, provide relevant backstory on the passage. This need not be a seminary-level history lesson. Just enough information about the author, characters, and cultural surroundings so that your listeners can place the text in its proper context. This can usually be done in a couple of minutes.

Pull major points of your message — and especially your main idea — from the text.

As often as possible, preach through an entire book of the Bible. A good way to begin this practice is to cover a chapter a week, especially if many of your listeners don’t have much of a foundation in the Word. This will enable you to get through books quickly, helping your listeners establish a general knowledge of Scripture, which will prepare them for deeper studies.

However, even when you’re not preaching through a book of the Bible, always keep the first point in mind: Build each message around one Biblical text, drawing your points from it.

Christianity Today also published an article related to this Gallop survey.

The Art of Giving Advice

The Fine Art of Giving Advice

Have you ever noticed how other people’s lives seem so easy to figure out? Their problems are so well defined, the solutions so clear-cut — unlike your own problems, which are complicated and nuanced.

This is certainly the case with me sometimes.

One frustrating aspect about giving advice is summed up in the old saying, “Advice is least heeded when most needed.”

In fact, in a letter Lord Chesterton wrote to his son in 1770, he said, “I wish to God that you had as much pleasure in following my advice, as I have in giving it to you.”

See, parents? Not much has changed in the last couple of centuries.

ADVICE-GIVING GUIDELINES

During those times when others do turn to you for advice, here are six guidelines to go by.

1. Wait till you’re asked.

It’s tempting to jump in and tell others exactly what they need to do to get their lives straightened out — after all, their problems are begging for your expert touch. However, unasked-for advice is really thinly-veiled criticism. It usually goes ignored.

George Washington wrote, “Give not advice without being asked, and [then], do it briefly.”

2. Speak from experience.

One evening during dinner with friends, a member of our group began telling another how she could improve some aspects of her web consulting and design business.

Her business did, in fact, need improvement, but with all due respect to the volunteer advisor, though his words may have been well-intentioned, he didn’t really know what he was talking about. He had never been in business for himself, had never been a consultant, and knew nothing about design. Other than that, he was an expert.

The truth is, if you haven’t been there, you’re not in a position to tell someone else how to get there.

3. Attack the problem, not the person.

“You’re lazy, disorganized and inefficient,” isn’t good advice. It’s not even advice. It’s merely an observation, and probably not an accurate one.

Understand that when a person seeks advice, he or she has made an important (and laudable) step in the right direction. Make sure, then, that your counsel focuses on pointing out the possible solution, rather than dwelling on the other person’s faults and foibles.

4. Focus on what needs to be done, which actions need to be taken.

People need to know today what they can do today to start solving the problem today. Telling someone what they could have done yesterday or what they should have been doing all along is only telling them what they already know.

It’s easy to point out the obvious; identifying workable solutions requires wisdom.

5. Don’t hesitate to tell the truth.

When someone comes to you for advice, they need to hear the truth.

This part of the process is often difficult, and it should be. If it hurts them to hear it, it should hurt you to say it. But you do need to say it — for their own good.

It’s like the time Eli went to Samuel, asking him about the vision God had given him. The Bible says that Samuel was afraid to tell Eli, but Eli insisted, “Tell me everything.”  1 Samuel 3:18 says, “So Samuel told Eli everything, he didn’t hold anything back.” [NLT]

Those who come to you for counsel deserve the same. Tell them the truth. But be sure you’re telling them the empowering, solution-focused truth.

6. The rest is up to them.

If they have done their job, you are only one of many from whom they sought advice, because “many advisers make victory sure.” (Proverbs 11:14 NIV)

Maybe they’ll follow your advice, maybe they’ll choose to act on the advice of someone else.

You cannot take responsibility for their problems, or their actions, but you can offer your best wisdom on what actions they should take. That’s as much as you can do, and it’s all you need to do.

OUR SOLEMN OBLIGATION

The ability to give good advice is as valuable as it is rare. That’s why consultants — the good ones, the ones who get results — are well paid. Giving good advice is not as easy as it looks.

Remember the words of Solomon: The godly give good advice. (Proverbs 10:21 NLT)

When someone asks for your input, they have paid you an enormous compliment. It is our solemn obligation to approach the task seriously, thoughtfully, carefully and prayerfully.

Encourage one another

In Need of a Nudge?

Researchers at San Diego State University looked at whether a simple sign could persuade people to better choices.

For 10 non-consecutive days they posted a sign in front of an airport escalator encouraging travelers to take the stairs instead. Some examples:

• Please reserve the escalator for those who need it.

• Don’t lose time, lose weight. Use the stairs.

• If you want to feel younger, act younger. Step it up! Use the stairs.

The result? On days when the sign was present, twice as many people took the stairs.

Significantly, the prompts appeared to work for all types: those who exercise frequently and those who never exercise were both persuaded to take the stairs this time — because of the sign.

Sometimes all you need is a little nudge. Maybe a note strategically placed near the refrigerator, near the door, near your computer, near your sofa, near your Bible is all you need to make the next good decision. Who knows? It could work.

Those close to you could sometimes use a nudge, too. (A nudge, not a nag.) Most people know what they need to do — and they really want to do it — but apparently it helps to be reminded.

Let’s see if we can make it habit to remind ourselves and gently remind one another.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Being Wounded

Being Wounded

Amy CarmichaelMore than half a century ago, Amy Carmichael wrote these words…

Hast thou no wound?
No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet the follow Me;
But thine are whole: can he have followed far
Who has no wound nor scar?

A teacher once told me, “You can recognize leaders by their limp.”

His point: those most effective in ministry are most often those who have been wounded at some time in their lives.

Sometimes these wounds come from others, sometimes they’re the result of our own dumb decisions. But the best leaders are the best leaders because they are survivors.

In fact, they’re more than survivors. They’re overcomers.

No one likes being wounded, and no one enjoys suffering. But this is the part of the process of becoming like Christ.

If you’ve been in ministry very long, no doubt you’ve been hurt a time or two. God can, and will, heal your hurts. And he will use them to help him use you in more effective service.

Therefore, since Christ has suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. (1 Peter 4:1)

The Clock and the Calendar

In his sermon “Better Odds” Andy Stanley makes a great statement. He’s talking about waiting on God, and he says something along these lines:

We look at the clock; God looks at the calendar.

One of the most difficult lessons for believers to learn is to wait on God. By nature we’re not patient, and our culture offers little encouragement to develop the habit. We want, we need, we think we deserve everything now.

Remember that Sarah waited until she was old for the son she had always dreamed about; Moses waited for 40 years on the backside of the desert for God’s call; Joseph languished in prison for 15 years before God vindicated him.

Even Paul spent 17 years in preparation before he began the ministry that God called him to on the road to Damascus.

But you can be sure that each of these saints would say it was worth the wait. It always is.

There are, no doubt, a number of things that you are waiting for, too: victory, healing, peace, growth, reconciliation, success.

Today I encourage you to remember one thing: God is on his way.

Sometimes the night seems to last forever. Sometimes his silence seems permanent. That’s because we look at the clock while he looks at the calendar.

Solomon wrote…

God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

We cannot see the whole scope of God’s work, but the scope exists. And we may not see the big picture, but there is one currently in development.

Today might be just another day of waiting for you, but here’s how you can make it better: Take your eyes off the clock and turn them toward Jesus. Spend this time in his presence, waiting in expectation rather than desperation.

God is at work in your work in life, making all things beautiful in their time.

It Takes a Team to Win

It Takes a Team

Harvey HaddixOn May 26, 1959, Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Harvey Haddix accomplished something no one else in baseball has accomplished: He pitched 12 perfect innings in a game against the Milwaukee Braves.

It was enough to set a record, but it wasn’t enough to get a win.

The score was tied at zero in the bottom of the 13th when the Braves’ lead-off hitter reached first on an error. Two batters later, Joe Adcock knocked in the winning run.

The Braves took the game, 1-0. And Haddix took the loss.

The Pirates had men on base all afternoon — more than a dozen altogether — but they couldn’t manage to get anyone across home plate. And so, with no help from the offense, Haddix’s brilliant record-setting performance wound up on the LOSS side of the ledger.

Today many leaders are convinced if they themselves can maintain a certain level of brilliance, it will be enough to guarantee the success they’re looking for. While brilliance will certainly never work against you, neither can it take the place of teamwork.

You’re not enough by yourself. Whatever it is you’re hoping to accomplish, you can’t do it alone. You need a team.

Solomon wrote…

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up… Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:10, 12)

I encourage you today to remind those on your team that you’re committed to doing your part, that you’ve got their back, and you’re thankful that they’ve got yours.

The Perfect Leader

The Perfect Leader

John Ruskin said, “The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.”

How is your work transforming you?

Since the ministry is not without its difficulties, some who serve in the local church let the long-hours, low pay, unseen results, and undeserved criticism make them bitter and disillusioned. It’s a tough temptation to resist, but there’s a better way to respond to difficulties.

The book of Hebrews says that Christ was made perfect through his sufferings. This is not referring to Christ’s sinless perfection; he had already achieved that. In this context, “perfect” refers to how he fully realized his potential — how he fully accomplished the mission that God had given him.

How was this accomplished? Through suffering. His suffering brought many to salvation.

And it was only right that God — who made everything and for whom everything was made — should bring his many children into glory. Through the suffering of Jesus, God made him a perfect leader, one fit to bring them into their salvation. (Hebrews 2:10 NLT)

Your work may involve difficulty and hardship. Like Christ, your suffering can make you a perfect leader — it can enable you to fully realize your potential and fully accomplish God’s plan for your life.

Remember that the greatest reward for your work is not a pat on the back or an increase in pay.

The greatest reward is the transformation of who you are into the likeness of Christ… and the opportunity to hear the ultimate words of approval: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”