Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Boring or Engaging?

Posted: December 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

Another key element in creating environments that are conducive to effective spiritual and cognitive growth has to do with the way you present information.  Whether you are preaching, teaching, selling, motivating or informing you need to ask yourself the following question: Is your presentation engaging? Without an engaging presentation, it does not matter how true, right, encouraging or motivational your information is.  Assuming that what you are teaching or preaching is true, no one is going to “get it” if you do not have an engaging presentation.

Jesus himself was not content to simply say what was true.  Jesus understood that to seek and save the lost, you must first capture their attention. He did this with parables and stories that were engaging. Jesus was a masterful example of disseminating information in an engaging way!

For those involved in Kingdom work, this concept of having an engaging presentation is so important.  Howard Hendricks was quoted as saying “it’s a sin to bore someone with the Word of God.”  Think about it…to present the Bible in a boring or un-engaging way is to teach the very opposite of what is intended.  If we are boring and un-engaging you are basically saying that the Bible is boring, the Bible is irrelevant, and the church is irrelevant.  Is this the message we want to send?  God Forbid!

If you are a Kingdom worker, you are in the presentation business whether you like it or not.  We are charged with PRESENTING the gospel!  Since this is our responsibility, we need to be good at it!

In Andy Stanley’s book Deep and Wide, he makes a great comparison between engaging presentations and restaurants.  “To engage is to secure ones attention.  Think about it.  Almost every time you go to a restaurant, you order chicken, beef, or fish.  Your favorite restaurant is not the one with the most exotic meat selection.  It’s the one with the best presentation of chicken, beef or fish!”

In Kingdom work, a great presentation is one that makes a well-known text come alive through illustration and fresh application.  Face it, the Red Sea always parts for the Israelites, David always beats Goliath, Peter always sinks when he walks on the water, and there will always be the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.  The only thing that changes is the presentation!

I encourage you to do what it takes to have a relentless commitment to engaging presentations. God’s message is too important to do anything less than that!  

A Fresh Eye

Posted: December 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

Most of you know that I have been serving in the local church for over 24 years in lots of different capacities.  I have gained some wisdom along the way in the approach to creating environments that are conducive to effective spiritual and cognitive growth.  So many times we overlook the details and we wonder why the things we are doing are not working!  So if you are a pastor, small group leader, Sunday School teacher, ministry leader, school teacher, or anyone who leads people to spiritual and cognitive growth, the next few blogs may be helpful.  I shared these thoughts at my last small group leaders training and now I will share them with you.

Today we will start with the importance of the learning environment.   The setting of your class room, church, business, etc. is so important!  The desire to create order from chaos is a part of the image of God that is in us.  It could even be argued that the very first thing God did in time was to create an appealing environment tailored for his prize creation…us, who was made in His image! Think about it! In the beginning, the earth was like an unpainted, stagnant, poorly lit room with all the furniture in boxes in the hallway waiting to be assembled.  God did the assembly and then made us!  Now I know the book of Genesis was not given to us as an apologetic for the importance of appropriately set-up learning environments…but it’s interesting to think about!

The physical and personal setting of your learning environment creates first impressions!  Physical and personal settings always communicate something!

  • Being on time and waiting for people at the door communicates that you are expecting people and that you are glad they are here.
  • Attention to detail communicates that you understand your audience and that you are welcoming them.
  • Clean and tidy communicates that you are expecting someone and that you have taken the effort to get ready for them.
  • Organized communicates that you take what you do seriously and that you are on top of things.

Is your learning environment appealing? Is it conducive to discussion and relationship?  Does your learning environment communicate that people are important?

I understand that some of you lead or teach in stale rooms where you don’t have much control over the décor or “the look.”  If that is the case, your personal presence has to light up the room.  I would also guess that many of you have been in the same learning environment for years and your familiarity with the setting has caused complacency.  Get someone to walk through your learning environment with a fresh, critical eye.  Find out what they experience, what they see, what they notice, what they smell.  Ask yourself these questions.  What is distracting? What needs painting? What needs to be thrown away? What can be tweaked, replaced, or changed to make your setting more appealing?  More next week…

Awe Wars

Posted: November 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

As a Christian, you can be assured that Satan is strategically and intentionally raging an “Awe War” to get your mind off of the greatness and goodness of God and on to what the world has to offer. The evil one is relentless in his tactics and he will use all means to get the advantage on this battlefield. So what is your strategy as a Christian to maintain the front lines of your heart?  Are you really in awe of God?  Does your life, your behaviors, and even your worship reflect an awe of the mighty sovereign God that you serve?  Could it be that in this age of new gadgets, cool technology, and epic Hollywood films that you are losing the “Awe War” that rages in your heart?

When was the last time you were in awe of God’s majestic creation…a beautiful sunrise, the perfectly timed ebb and flow of the earth’s tides, an animal giving birth to it’s offspring, the intricacies of the human body, or the simple sound of the rain crashing on the ground?  When was the last time you were awestruck by God’s sovereignty or His  immanent presence in your life?   I think if you are honest, you would admit that most of your conversations are more about the latest app, that celebrity that’s getting married, or that great play that ended the game rather than what God is doing in and around your life.

As I recently read Psalm 145, I was reminded of my own “Awe War” going on inside of me.  I have gotten dangerously accustomed to the familiar and I have stagnated the never ending praise that should overflow out of my life.    I pray that as you read this Psalm, it wins a battle within your own “Awe War” and it draws you ever so closer to Father God as it did for me.  My prayer is that this Psalm will give you a resolve that allows you to boldly proclaim what this familiar song articulates, “You are beautiful beyond description, too marvelous for words, too wonderful for comprehension, like nothing ever seen or heard. Who can grasp your infinite wisdom? Who can fathom the depth of your love? You are beautiful beyond description, majesty enthroned above. And I stand, I stand in awe of you. I stand, I stand in awe of you. Holy God to whom all praise is due, I stand in awe of you.” (I Stand in Awe of You by Hillsong United)

Psalm 145 (NIV)

1 I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
2 Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.

3 Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
4 One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
6 They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
7 They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

8 The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.

9 The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All your works praise you, Lord;
your faithful people extol you.
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures through all generations.

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
Let every creature praise his holy name
for ever and ever.

 

For the past several weeks I have challenged the ever popular definition we all have for grace.  Today I will give you a better definition…a definition that does not strip grace of its magnificence and grandeur. 

Most of you may remember the apostle Paul’s struggle with his “thorn in the flesh” found in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.  Paul writes, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” Just what was this “thorn in the flesh?” Some think it is Paul’s inner struggles or grief over this former persecution of the church.  Others think it may be some of Paul’s opponents who continue to persecute him.  Still others think it was some kind of physical affliction such as poor eyesight or headaches.  Some even think it may me some type of demonic oppression.  For me, I am somewhat glad that the “thorn in the flesh” is ambiguous.  We can all relate to it!  If we are honest, we all have a “thorn in the flesh” of our own and, like Paul, we plead with God for it to be removed.  What does this have to with “grace?”  Keep reading…

Paul then says in verses 8-9, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you’…”  Most people stop here when quoting this verse, but it is important to understand that there is a comma here, not a period.  The verse goes on to say, “’for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  I am not sure Paul fully understood what God meant at first, but after three times of hearing Him repeat these words, suddenly the truth shot into his spirit like a bolt of lightning. At this moment, Paul saw that grace was much more than a kindness shown toward an undeserving inferior…it was more than simply unmerited favor!  In that moment, Paul understood that God’s grace was His power made available to him so that he could be who God created him to be, and do what God was calling him to do.  Paul learns here that the thorn will not hamper his calling. He can make do with the grace he has already received, and the power of Christ will become more visible as it works through his weakness.

This answer from the Lord helps Paul to regard the thorn no longer as the vexing mischief of Satan; instead, he recognizes that through it the grace of God operates more effectively. Paul now reveals why he is so willing to boast in his weakness rather than to pray for its removal. His weakness becomes the vehicle by which God’s grace and Christ’s power is most fully manifested to himself and to others. If Paul boasted in his own strength, thinking that by himself he was equal to any task or any calamity, he would then cancel out the power of God in his life. He is therefore most powerful when he is least reliant on his own resources.

We learn from the message given to Paul that God’s grace is not just the unmerited favor that saves us but a force that also sustains us throughout our lives. I would therefore say that a better definition of grace would be that it is the empowering presence of God – enabling you to be and to do all He has called you to do right where you are!

It is interesting to note that Paul never mentions the thorn in the flesh after this passage of scripture.  You see, the Damascus road changed Paul’s life, but God’s answer about the thorn in the flesh changed his living.  As you read Paul’s letters, take some time to replace the word ‘grace’ with the this new definition,  ‘the power of Christ to do God’s will’ – it will change everything for you, too!

Last week I left you with a few questions that challenged the thought of grace being the unmerited favor of God. Let’s unpack those questions a little further today.  My first question was, “If grace is ‘unmerited favor,’ why does God give it only to the humble?”  Both James and Peter say that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).   If “unmerited” is a word that describes grace, how is it that God only gives it to the humble? Why not give it to the proud?

But there’s more, according to Paul. Again, nobody in history had a clearer and deeper understanding of grace than did the Apostle Paul. He, being Jewish and fully acquainted with the Old Testament, had a life-defining encounter with the Lord Jesus that changed his view about grace completely. So, if we want to understand what grace truly is, then we must listen to what Paul wrote about it in the New Testament. Not only does God discriminate between the proud and humble when He gives His grace to man, but Paul tells us in Ephesians that grace is also given by God in measures.(Ephesians 4:7)  So Paul is saying that grace is not simply poured out from the portholes of heaven soaking all upon whom it falls.  Rather, it is supplied in specific measures. Some receive more; others less – but everyone gets exactly the measure that they need. Think about that!  God knows us intimately…He made us and He knows exactly the amount of grace we need.

Paul also gives us another challenging thought about grace in Galatians 5:4. Here Paul indicates that it is possible to “fall from grace.”  If grace is “unmerited favor” then why can you fall from grace? Why would God freely give me something I clearly do not deserve, and then make it possible for me to lose it if I don’t start acting like I deserve it? Do I get it for free, but then have to keep it by my behavior? Does that even make sense?

And now that I have you riled up…if grace is “unmerited favor” then why does the Bible say that the grace of God was upon Jesus? Are we to believe that God’s “unmerited favor” was upon His Son? Did Jesus not deserve it, but God gave it to Him anyway? Of course not!

Lots of challenging questions here but I want to let you see here that God gives us grace in exact proportion to His will for our lives! So please know that whoever God has created you to be, and whatever God has purposed for you to do – He has already supplied you with the full measure of grace you will need to successfully prevail in His purpose for your life! You cannot fail – as long as you stay humble.  More next week!

Grace is Not What You Think

Posted: October 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

I have been challenged recently with something that I have long held to be true about grace.  I have always been taught that grace was the unmerited favor of God.  Most Bible dictionaries would also agree that grace is unmerited favor.  My seminary professors, pastors, teachers and most everybody that has ever talked about grace have all said that grace is the unmerited favor of God.  But is it? Is “unmerited favor” an accurate description of the 131 times grace is mentioned in the New Testament? Could it be that grace is something else?  Are you curious yet?

The word “grace” is mentioned only 39 times in the entire Old Testament and it does actually mean “favor.”  However, the New Testament use of the word takes on an entirely new meaning.  Out of the 131 times that grace is mentioned in the New Testament, 99 of them are attributed to the Apostle Paul. Grace radically altered the way the Apostle Paul approached life.  Paul is even often referred to as the Apostle of Grace. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” God’s grace empowered Paul to fully do God’s will. Wow!

Could it be that if we studied closely the writings of Paul that maybe we would find a different perspective on grace?  Could it be that we would find that the long lasting view of grace being the unmerited favor of God is not what the New Testament teaches?  Still not convinced…here are a few questions we will discuss over the next few weeks of blogs as we dive into Paul’s concept of grace.  1) Why does God give grace only to the humble? 2) Why does Paul tell us in Ephesians that grace is given by God in measures? 3) Why does the Bible say you can fall from grace?  4) Why does the Bible say that the grace of God was upon Jesus?   I pray these questions will challenge you as they did me.  So let’s take a look at grace through the eyes of Paul and find out just what grace really is…

Adoption Reflections

Posted: October 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

This Saturday, October 26, our family will celebrate what we call “Adoption Day.”  This is the day that the adoption of our daughter, Olivia was finalized.  This day always makes me reflect on the incredible gift of adoption and the joy Olivia has brought to our family. When LeAnn and I pursued adopting a child, many personal questions came to surface as we entered into the process. As a pastor, one of the questions I asked myself was simply, “Does God believe in adoption?”  I discovered the answer to that question is a resounding “Absolutely!”

Even though the Bible uses the word “adopt” only about five times, it refers to the concept of adoption surprisingly often. And when it does, the Bible always presents adoption as a positive, gracious act that is part of God’s plan. Moses, for example, was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:1-10). Interestingly, his adoption, though sad for his Israelite parents, was part of God’s overall plan for the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Esther was also an adoptee. We are told that when her parents died, Mordecai, her cousin, took her as his own daughter and adopted her (Esther 2:15). Interestingly, this adoption also led to a wonderful deliverance of the people of God! And in a way, wasn’t Jesus an adoptee? Joseph, who raised Jesus as his own, was not His biological father. This man of God was truly unselfish; he was willing to rearrange his whole life in obedience to God. Joseph gladly accepted Jesus, providing Him with all the love, encouragement, and guidance that a son needs from a father.

But the best and most important biblical adoption story of all is found in Romans!   

Romans 8:12-17 (NIV)   Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation–but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of (sonship) adoption. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

This is where adoption applies to everyone!  There is only one way for us to enter the Kingdom of God — we must become God’s adopted children through Jesus Christ.  The New King James version expresses this relationship beautifully:

Having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise and glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
Ephesians 1:6

Isn’t this incredible? God chooses us to be His adopted children, not because He has to, but because He wants to! In adopting us through Christ, He shows a depth of love unlike any other.

We adopted Olivia, raised her, taught her, and on October 26, 2005 she legally, and officially became ours.  But it was so much more than a simple legality.  She was our daughter!  We changed her diapers, nourished her, and held her.  We watched as she took her first steps and has never stopped since.  We smiled when she said her first words and we laughed as she said the cutest things.  Yes, we teach her and nurture her in order for her to grow up to be a godly young lady.  As a part of our family, she is protected, loved, taught, and is an heir of the Simmerman name just as her three brothers are.  She also comes under the discipline of LeAnn and me as her parents.  We will always be her parents!  We don’t look at her as different because she is adopted…she is simply our child along with her three brothers. When our family suffers, she will suffer, when our family rejoices, she will rejoice.  We even expect her to have the same responsibilities as her brothers in our family. 

In the same way God accepts us as His children.  He adopts us into His family, and makes us partakers of all the blessings He has provided for us, He provides protection, nurture, and love, He also gives us fatherly discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11) and God offers us a future glorious inheritance.

For those thinking about adoption, struggling with infertility or who want to simply enlarge their family circle, adoption is not second best. It is simply one way that God, in His wisdom, can choose for us to be parents. Whether one becomes a parent biologically or through adoption, the fact is that children are not a right — they are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3).

In my mind, Olivia’s place is to be called Daddy’s girl, to wear high heels and carry her frilly pink purses around and bring an overflowing abundance of precious little “girlyness” to our home.  She has filled a gap in our lives that only she could fill.  And LeAnn and I have dedicated our lives to raise her in the admonition of the Lord.  To guide her to the knowledge of who Jesus is and how He can be her Lord.  For you Christians out there, God has adopted you in His family for a specific purpose.  What is your place in the Kingdom?  What gap are you supposed to fill!  What unique gift has He given you to use to advance His kingdom?  Remember, according to Ephesians 1:6 it pleased God to adopt us…are you pleasing Him?