Archive for March, 2011

Christians across our great nation seem to be plagued by a sweeping epidemic. This epidemic can be characterized by one word: rationalization. Poor choices are often swept away with explanations that are meant to make a sinful choice look allowable.

I know several Christians that are sr. citizens that choose to live together. While they understand what the Bible says about avoiding the appearance of evil and the teachings it promotes in regards to marriage they have an answer. They excuse their sinful lifestyle choice by stating that if they should get married that they will lose social security money. Part of me gets bothered by this fact. I find it to be deplorable that a government would penalize people for marriage. Yet by using this as a rationalization, they are saying that their pocketbooks are more important than God’s standards.

At the end of the day, all I have is my integrity. Was I honest? Did I live by the standards that God set in place for me to live by? Or did I choose to do what I wanted and offer an explanation as to why my agenda was more important than Gods?

Unfortunately for most believers, they believe that sin is just a normal part of life for them. While this may be true, it is not how it is supposed to be for believers. Take Romans 3.23 as an example. It is often quoted by believers not as a fact about the world they live in but as an excuse to sin. After all, all have sinned. I fit in that category.

Here is where we seem to fall short as we exegete Romans 3.23. We offer the conclusion that based on Romans 3.23 that of us have sinned and will sin. However, when you study Romans 3.23 in the Greek, one will find that the phrase have sinned was originally written in the aorist tense. It is looking back at sin as something that took place historically in the past. The discussion of Romans 3.23 in regards to salvation isn’t to bring about whether or not someone is sinning now or will sin in the future but to say you have sinned in the past and therefore are guilty of God’s judgment. This verse does not give license to sin but establishes what condition we were living in before we acknowledged Christ as our Savior.

Time and time again the Apostle Paul compares the past lives of believers with their current lives. He also states in Romans 8.12 that we are no longer under obligation to the flesh. In other words, we do not have to sin. Rather in studying chapter 8 of Romans, one will be overcome with the realization that sin always is a result of ignoring the Spirit. Sin will forever be a choice. We do not need to sin. What we need to do is yield ourselves to the Spirit and live with integrity as believers. Let’ not confuse the world with what a Christian ought to look like. Let’s tell them with our lips and show them with our lives.

Chapter 1: Think Great Thoughts

In 2004 Morgan Spurlock filmed a documentary called Supersize Me, where he lived off only McDonald’s fastfood for thirty days. Over the course of one month Spurlock gained eighteen pounds, suffered from depression, moods swings and dealt with chest palpitations. Even worse than all this is that by the time he finished his documentary, he suffered from the early stages of liver failure. All of this was because he decided to consistently fill his body with several thousand empty calories each day from one of America’s most beloved restaurant chains.

This young film maker became the living example of a statement we have all heard many times: you are what you eat. In his book, Good to Great in God’s Eyes, Chip Ingram says that this axiom “is true not only physically but also psychologically and spiritually.” That statement deeply resonated with me. But enough about Chip, I did not start reading his book to learn about him but rather to learn about my heavenly Father and myself. It is a tool to help me further align myself with the truths of Scripture that I claim to follow.

I know many Christians who wonder what is wrong with them. They want to know why God has seemingly removed His blessing from their lives and why He appears to be so distant. Many times the answer can be found in the statement, “You are what you eat.”

I believe that most Christians would be amazed with the amount of promises that God is not obligated to fulfill. No I am not saying God makes a promise and then can lie if He so chooses. What I am saying is that many of the Bible’s promises are conditional. I am saying that if you want God’s blessing you need to live according to God’s Word just like if Spurlock wanted to pursue becoming healthy his diet to needed to follow his desires.

Many times God’s blessing is removed due to poor choices of an individual not because God is out to get them. Just last night, I battled with my daughter over whether or not she could have a piece of candy after dinner. She wanted the candy but she did not want to eat her vegetables. Until she finished her broccoli and cauliflower I withheld the candy that she wanted so badly. Just like Kaitlyn needed to fulfill my expectation in order to receive the candy so must we fulfill God’s expectations (read the Bible to learn them) in order to live a life filled with blessing. For it is only through obedient living that we can experience abundant living!

So what does all this have to do with thinking great thoughts? I am glad you asked.

In the last chapter of his book to the Philippian church Paul writes, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these thing.” (Philippians 4.8 NASB)

The concept of thinking great thoughts is not an option for believers. In fact it would appear to me that is a command. Many people I know live lives that are wrought with pain because that is all they can see. They fail to grasp this concept. It is a dangerous path to travel. If we choose only to focus on the negative we accomplish nothing for Christ. How could we? After all everything about our mission as believers is positive! Sharing Christ’s compassion, love, peace, hope, forgiveness and grace is amazing! ( and no, my list is not exhaustive)

We must learn to see Christ during all situations because He is at work even when we do not see Him. Andy Andrews a humorist, writer, and motivational speaker has a set of three books entitled Storms of Perfection. These books include articles on painful experiences that great men and women and in history encountered. They show the necessity of the pain and how without it, these people never would have experienced greatness. When we get down to it, these books just illustrate the concept found in James 1.2-4 that says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.” Even in the trial God is at work.

My take away from Think Great Thoughts is simple really: I choose to focus on the positive. When I choose to focus there, I realize how blessed I truly am. I realize that I have a reason to praise my God everyday. I realize that I have nothing to complain about.

So I would challenge you to do the same. Fix your focus on the Author and Finisher of our faith. If we choose to live with an eternal perspective we also choose to live with a changed life. After all, according to my Bible it is commanded.

Let me close with a statement that I made already once. I would encourage you to memorize this and maybe write it down and hang it where you can look at it everyday.

It is only through obedient living that we can experience abundant living!

Today I am embarking on ten day spiritual exercise. I hope that it is fruitful and not a vain waste of my time and effort.

I will be using the book by Chip Ingram that is entitled “Good to Great in God’s Eyes” as my textbook for this journey. I plan to spend time during each of the next ten days to examine the ten topics that Chip has laid down in his book.

I have a statement that I regularly say to the students that I minister to, it is “the great people in history were not great by accident”. In order to become highly effective world changes for Christ the same is true. We do not wake up one day and all of a sudden become super spiritual. Time, work, and effort are all required.

In the introduction to this book, Chip made an observation about Luke 22 that intrigued me. In Luke 22 we find a very interesting dialogue on greatness. I call it a dialogue but actually it is more like a heated argument amongst the disciples.

The statement that Chip made was as follows “Jesus never rebuked them for their longing to be great. He gave them a completely new paradigm about what greatness is, but he didn’t condemn their desire.” He then adds, “I was intrigued by that.”

Nobody wants mediocrity but few strive for excellance. I don’t know about you but I desire to be all I can be as a believer and a pastor. I know I can do better and be used by God to impact many more people for Christ. It isn’t so Jon Goodwin can be great in the world’s eyes. It is so Christ can receive more glory.

So I ask that you join me as I study this book and share my thoughts on the ten topics found in this book in the next ten days.

Every year when the months of February, March and April come around the discussion of Lent comes up.  Without fail I will enter into a conversation with somebody about the topic of what they gave up for lent.  Sometimes I will hear junk food, steak or even tv.  Yet chocolate seems to be one of the number one things that I hear in this giving up discussion.

I have often asked people why they have given things up only to be told, “It is Lent.”  Sorry that is not a good enough answer.  If I am going to give something up I need my reason to be more than “just because” or it’s a tradition.  Perhaps in my simple mind I just don’t get it.  Maybe giving up chocolate or American Idol truly does make one more like Christ.  Then again maybe not.   I for one am pretty sure that Christ never watched American Idol and He probably did not consume much chocolate.

So why do so many give something up?

Well I suppose to answer this question, we must first define what Lent is.  The most simple definition that I can give is that it is the forty days preceding Easter.  It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday or Resurrection Sunday (depending on your convictions).  It is known by some as the season of repentance or the season of discipline and due to the nature of these 40 days it is often seen as a somber time period.

According to one source I read, there are at least 3 things that are to be accomplished by abstaining from something during the Lenten period.  1.  It is used as a discipline for learning self-control, to free our minds from chasing after material things and to tell ourselves ‘no’ and make it stick.  2.  To identify with Christ’s sufferings, and to remember what the true pleasures are for followers of Christ.  3.  Finally it serves as an act of sorrow over our wrongdoings and our state of sin.

We now have a simple definition of Lent and a basic understanding of the need for a fast during the Lenten season.  Now let’s examine what Scripture says about the early church and how they spend the 40 days preceding the resurrection.

Well that was easy.  Scripture does not utter one word about what the early church did in the days leading up to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.  It is not there.  The period of time that we know as Lent is not found in the Bible.

Giving  something up is a Scriptural concept.  In fact we are told as Christians that we should lay our lives down daily.  Daily sacrifice is required by believer’s if they are to live lives that conform to God’s expectations.  Their conduct should change.  Their desires should change.  Their thought process should change.  Their relationships should change.  I could go on, but I am sure you get the point.  The point is we must daily pursue Christ and give Him our all and not just give Him our chocolate during lent.

I mean come on.  Do you really think that giving up chocolate identifies with Christ’s sufferings?  HE WAS TORTURED TO DEATH!!!  What it does prove is that most religions fail to understand the magnitude of what Christ did.

So in closing I would say, give Christ your life not your chocolate.  He is more than willing to fill  your spiritual walk and let you fill your sweet tooth.

I just pounded this out while sitting at my desk following some time of personal contemplation.  Nothing here is overly earth shattering but I thought I would share it nonetheless.   

Leadership is not the outcome of a title.  Just because I have the title pastor does not make me a leader.  My title only means that people trust me enough to follow me is I should choose to lead.  Yet the title and position in and of itself does not equate leadership.

If I were to define what it means to be a leader and was told only to use one word, I would use the word influence.  Far too many “leaders” wish to demonstrate they are leaders by telling you that they are leaders.  Reality is, if you have to tell me you are a leader, you probably aren’t.  If you were showing me that you are a leader by how you lived your life in the first place, then you would not have to tell me. 

Many people who hold a leadership position believe they must be followed because of their title.  I firmly disagree.  There are many leaders that I will never follow.  There are men and woman that I would never allow to influence my life as a leader.  Yet, I would respect their title and position. 

The question I pose of myself on a regular basis is how am I influencing others?  Can they see things in my life that are worth replicating in theirs?  I am not saying that I want a bunch of miniature Jon Goodwins running around.  What I am saying is that I regularly ask myself if I just have a title or if I am living my title out.  I don’t want people to say, “oh he’s a pastor” just as a reference to my job.  I want them to realize it encompasses my entire life and the title defines who I am and not just what I do.  A true leader embodies their title.  Do you? 

A great example of a man who embodied his title is the apostle Paul.  He writes to the church or Corinth in the 1 Corinthians 4.16 “Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.”  He basically repeats himself again in 1 Corinthians 11.1 where he says, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”  Then in the book of Philippians he writes, “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Phil. 3.17). 

Now Paul might be seen by some as an arrogant man.  But a careful study of his life will show that he was man worth following.  He was a man worth following not because he held the title: apostle.  He was man worth following because his life was in alignment with his title.  The man owned his mission and therefore earned the right of leading his followers and telling them to follow his example. 

While you I may never tell people to follow our examples, it is implied because we choose to be leaders.  Because it is implied we must therefore strive for excellence in all that we do.  Failing to lead is no longer an option because it affects more than just you and me.  It affects all who look to us as leaders.

So as I write this, I would urge myself and whoever else might be reading this to own our title.  Whether is being a mom, dad, pastor, town board member, school teacher, business owner or captain of a sports team own it and live it.  Provide an example that is worth following.  Remember it is not your title that makes you great, rather is what you choose to do with it.

Ray Charles Robinson was born on September 23rd in 1930 and eventually passed away on June 10th in 2004 due to complications from liver disease. Ray Robinson is known by most of us as Ray Charles and is cherished by many and known as the “father of soul.”

The blind soul singer was not just a cherished musical icon. He was a man who had great wisdom. In fact in the year 1946 Ray auditioned for a musical group and was told that he was not good enough. Later as Ray recalled being shot down, he said, “that was the best thing that ever happened to me. After I got over feeling sorry for myself, I went back and started practicing so nobody would ever say that to me again.”

In his book “The 17 Essential Qualities Of A Team Player”, John Maxwell follows this Ray Charles narrative with a well known statement that says, “You can claim to be suprised once; after that, you’re unprepared.”

Mr. Charles got this concept. A concept that at it’s core is biblical. 2 Timothy 2.15 says, “Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

Just like Charles committed to not failing and sought be prepared in all that he did after his failed audition, Christians must also take on the same resolve. While Ray will forever be remembered as a soulful icon, the world would have continued if it had never heard him sing. In stark contrast, the world needs to hear the message of the cross. It can’t survive without that hope that comes with salvation in Christ Jesus.

In closing I would challenge you to be a little bit more like Ray Charles. No I am not telling you to sing a Pepsi jingle, wear sunglasses, become blind or even to play the piano. I am telling you to pursue your studies (of Scripture) with the resolve that you or your Savior will never look foolish. Together let’s become “approved workmen who do not need to be ashamed.”