The Importance of A Name

In 1977, fish merchant Lee Lantz traveled to Chile and “discovered” the toothfish, a species the locals deemed too oily to eat. Thirty years and a name change later, Chilean sea bass is so popular with American palates that it’s nearly on the verge of extinction.

After Canadians developed an oil from the rapeseed plant, they still had to deal with the name. So, in 1988, the FDA approved a name change to canola oil, and sales shot up.

When the California prune board realized the words “prune” and “laxative” were inextricably linked, they switched to “dried plums” in 2000. People bought it, and in a documented focus group, preferred the taste of dried plums to prunes.

In the 1960s, Frieda Caplan, an American produce importer, changed the name of the Chinese gooseberry to the kiwi fruit, after New Zealand’s national bird, which is also round, brown, and furry. Popularity spiked.

Even though the bony fish known as the dolphin fish was unrelated to the mammal of the same name, diners still balked at ordering it. So, in the mid-1980s, restaurants starting using its Hawaiian name, mahi-mahi, and all thoughts of Flipper were forgotten.

A name is very important!  Imagine if any of the items mentioned above simply had no name!  No name, nothing.  The industry executives that made the decisions to change the names of the different items listed above knew the importance of names.

How much more important is a name to a child?  According to missionary Keith Knapp, some of the children brought to the Master’s Home of Champions Orphanage in Liberia, weren’t even given something as simple and precious as a name. Apparently, their parents deemed them unworthy to name. You see, these children were born deaf.

I assumed they weren’t given a name because being deaf they couldn’t hear or speak.  The real reason however was even more even more devastating.  The parents viewed them as worthless, of no value, thus no name was given to them. How heartbreaking!  To think anyone would be considered worthless, having no value, and thrown away as something unworthy of something as simple as a name.

Even though the parents of these precious children in Liberia do not consider them worthy of a name, God has a special name for each one of them (and for us).  We are all precious in His sight – “red, yellow, black, and white.”  Each person is of infinite value to God.  Therefore, He has given us a new name in His Son, through whom we are being remade into the likeness of His own Son.

I’m so glad we have a God who sees us as being worthy; worthy of His love and grace.  Not only does He know us by name, Jesus said God “numbers” every hair on our head! (Matt. 10:30)  And, as the “Good Shepherd” of John 10, Jesus calls us “by name.”  Our names are so important to Him that He writes each one down in the “Book of Life” (Rev. 5:3), and He confesses our name before the Father.

Our names are important to God!  Not only does He know our name, He loves us so much He sent His only Son to die on a cross for us.  He also calls us by our name, and invites us to confess our sins, and commit our lives to follow His Son, “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6).

ABCs of the BEST YEAR YET

I usually do not make New Year’s resolutions.  Not because I don’t want to change, but because I realize resolutions have little or no power, in and of themselves, and most resolutions don’t last more than a few weeks at best.  However, I’m making an exception this year.  I do have a New Year’s resolution; in fact, I have three.  I’m calling them the ABCs of my best year yet!  I thought it might encourage you if I shared them with you.  Here is a very brief summary of what I’m dreaming about for the coming year.

First, I’m praying for more AWARENESS.  (Eph. 1:15-23) I realize many of my mistakes and failures in the past came from a lack of being aware – aware of myself and aware of God’s presence in my life.  Self-awareness begins with knowing who I am, and how God has shaped me for His purposes.  Good self-awareness is inseparably linked to the biblical experience of God-awareness.  Self-awareness without God-awareness is, at best, shallow and self-serving.  When we are aware of God’s eternal, divine presence, the day-to-day routines of our lives are catapulted to a new level.  Without this awareness, everything remains caged in the prisons of our desires and limitations – It’s all about me, and what I want.  When God is factored in, an entire new dimension opens up – an eternal design and purpose.  I want more of both!

Second, I’m asking God to give me more BOLDNESS in how I live out my faith. (Eph. 6:19-20)  Specifically, I’m asking for boldness and courage to share my faith, to reach across barriers, and touch lives with God’s love, and to step out courageously into new opportunities and challenges.  Boldness is not something that comes naturally to me, nor is it something I can create.  In reality, it is a gift from God.  And, like all of His gifts, dependent upon the Giver – His Holy Spirit.  Boldness comes when I have confidence in what God has done, and is doing.  I am praying through prayer and His Word, God will instill in me a boldness beyond my imagination!

Third, by God’s grace, I am praying for more CONSISTENCY in my life.  (Eph 3:14-21)  In today’s culture, and at this point in my life and ministry, being consistent is critically important.  For me, the key to consistency in my life is prayer.  Prayer is more than talking to God, or listening to God.  Prayer is spending time with God, enjoying His presence, and worshiping Him.  Essentially, prayer can be defined as a growing, healthy relationship with God.  Consistent, dependable prayer is the first step toward consistency in other areas of life.  If, however, I fail to follow through in my walk with God, I cannot expect to have consistency in other relationships in my life.

What are your ABCs for the coming year?  What two or three things, if they became a reality, would dramatically impact your life, your church, and your ministry this coming year?

The Power of Partnerships

How important are partnerships in your life, and in your ministry?  Have you given much thought to the partnerships in your life?  Which were successful?  Which were failures?  Do you find yourself seeking out new partnerships, clinging to old ones, or steering clear of them altogether?

Partnerships are important.  In Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 the Bible says,

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.  For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.”

As a teenager, I remember working in the summers for my dad, in his auto repair shop.  Actually, it was a complete service garage. You could buy gasoline, get a flat tire fixed, have most anything repaired or replaced, or even have your car painted.  In addition, Dad did body work, and was a master welder.  I was always fascinated by the oxy-acetylene torch Dad used to cut through heavy metal plates and pipes.

Acetylene is a hydrocarbon fuel that burns at a very high temperature (3200 to 6300o F), when mixed with oxygen.  I remember watching Dad carefully adjust the regulator values controlling the amount of each gas to reach the torch flame.  When he adjusted the flame to the precise color and size, he would begin to heat the metal.  As the metal began to melt, he would make another adjustment to the flame with a small lever on the torch, and begin cutting through a solid piece of metal like a piece of cake!  It was amazing!

What a great example of the power of partnerships!

Oxygen and acetylene by themselves have little effect on iron or steel.  However, when combined in the correct amounts, and placed close proximity to an open flame, they can cut through a four inch metal plate.  By bringing these two gases together in a controlled environment, they have a much greater potential than they do separately.

Partnerships between people work in a similar manner.  As individuals, everyone has great potential, but when partnered with someone with complementary strengths and talents, the potential increases exponentially!  Many of the greatest accomplishments in history happened because people worked together.

More than this, we need partners!  Human beings were not designed to “go it alone.”  The Bible is full of examples of the huge value God placed on relationships and partnerships.  From the beginning in the Garden of Eden, God said “It is not good that man should be alone” so He created woman – a partner.  (Genesis 2:18) Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs to minister in His name, and to proclaim the Kingdom. (Luke 10)  The first missionaries sent out by the church in Antioch were sent in pairs.  (Acts13).

As we move into 2010, I would challenge each of us to take a good long look at our partnerships in previous years, and to contemplate what partnerships we need for the coming year.  The reality is, life is full of partnerships.  The question is whether these partnerships are the right ones, and whether or not they reach their full potential.

With whom do you partner?  How would you describe the effectiveness of that partnership?  What could you do to take your partnership to the next level?

The Power of Gratitude

When I think of Thanksgiving, the one word that comes to mind is gratitude.   There is incredible power in the words, “thank you.”  It is perhaps the simplest form of recognition and praise, and is something every person needs.

Research from the Gallup organization reveals only four out of ten people say they “strongly agree” with this statement, “In the last month, I have received recognition or praise from someone in my church.”    How tragic!  Of all places, the church should be the one place where you feel appreciated and valued.  And, according to Scripture, gratitude is one of the core values of people who follow Christ. (Colossians 3:17)

We all want to feel appreciated and valued!  In fact, every human being is wired for attention!  We need feedback and response from others.  No one likes to be ignored!  A simple, sincere “thank you” is all it takes to bring a ray of sunshine into someone’s life, create a sense of self-worth and value.   Expressing genuine appreciation and gratitude doesn’t cost a thing, but its value and benefits are enormous.  This is especially true for churches and faith communities.

Perhaps, we need to ask ourselves these questions:  During the course of an average week, how many of us are made to feel appreciated in our work, our families or our church?  Most importantly, what are we doing each week to help others in our work place, our family, and our church, feel appreciated? What about our thanksgiving toward God and others?  What are we doing on a daily basis to express appreciation and gratitude?  How can do it better?

Giving thanks and expressing appreciation and gratitude also have other benefits. These expressions have a reciprocal impact on the person expressing the gratitude.  A story in the life of Jesus illustrates this truth.  In Luke 17, Jesus healed ten lepers.  He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests in the Temple according to the customs of that day.  As they were on their way to the Temple, they were healed.  Only one of the ten returned to thank Jesus.  Jesus then spoke to the one who returned, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”  Although all ten were cleansed, only one was “made whole.”  Wholeness is more than being set free from something.  It is being transformed to the core, “made whole” in the totality of life.

Lives without thankfulness may be cleansed, set free from the shackles of sin, but until our heart returns to God in praise and thanksgiving, we will never be completely whole!  And, I would add, until we cultivate a culture of gratitude in our churches we will never be all that God designed us to be as His Church, the Body and Bride of Christ!

Identity Theft

Identity Theft
Identity Theft

Last year, almost 10 million people were victims of some type of identity theft. These thieves stole everything from credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and Social Security numbers, to telephone calling cards.  To them, nothing is sacred!   Such criminal behavior continues to increase across our land, and no segment of our society is immune.

As tragic and damaging as financial identify theft can be to a person’s good name and credit, the theft of our self identity can cause even greater loss and eternal suffering.  Every day, people are robbed of, and denied the knowledge of their uniqueness as God’s special creation.  Most importantly, many fail to see, or take advantage of the opportunity to become part of God’s family through Christ Jesus.  Because of God’s amazing grace revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, every person who responds to His invitation through faith becomes a child of the Divine family.

Knowing who we are, and whose we are, is critically important for our emotional health and spiritual maturity.  Several years ago, one of my professors in seminary, Dr. Findley Edge, said, “The greatest problem facing the church today is not the decline in attendance or the inability to meet budget, but rather the failure to understand what God desires us to be as the people of God.”   (The Greening of the Church, Dr. Findley Edge, 1972.)

Recently, a friend gave me a copy of the book, Identity Theft, by Kevin Avram and Wes Boldt.  It is a small book, and I thought it would be another quick read.  I soon discovered it was anything but that.  The 166 pages of this little book are filled with some of the most profound and biblically solid truths about the identity of the human heart, and the road maps or paradigms determining human behavior.

The underlying thesis of the book is the human heart responds to truth either with pride or with humility.  If our heart’s response to truth is pride, the paradigm or lens through which see the world will be rooted in an attitude of self-sufficiency, and will give birth to one of three distinct “heart identities”:  the laborer, the orphan or the beggar.

In simple terms, when a person’s self-identity (heart identity) is derived from a source other than God, their identity is, essentially “stolen.” And, if we live with that paradigm long enough, our attitudes and actions grow more and more like the attitudes and actions of people who do not profess to know God or serve Christ.

On the other hand, when the human heart responds to truth with humility, it opens the door to becoming a child of the King —a divine royal heir in an honest and real relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  We abandon self-sufficiency, and embrace dependence upon the Father.  It’s not about working for God, but about being His child, and as His son or daughter He may choose to do His work through us!  What difference it makes to live and serve through this paradigm!

Do you know who you are?  I encourage you to get this little book, and to dig deeper into the truth of our self-identity.  God created us to be sons and daughters, not laborers, beggars or orphans.  He wants you to be a royal heir!

Get the book.  Read it, and let me know what you think!

The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small Is the New Big for Today’s Church

The Rabbit and the ElephantAuthor:  Tony & Felicity Dale, George Barna

Publisher:  Tyndale, 2009

Tony and Felicity Dale, pioneers in the house church movement, collaborated with George Barna, to write The Rabbit and the Elephant, a book that identifies and explores the key concepts and proven methodology of starting and sustaining what has come to be known as “house churches.”  As they point out, the term, “house church” does not adequately describe or explain this type of church.  They prefer the terms “organic church” or “simple church.”  The Dales, founders of the House2House magazine, have also authored two other books related to simple church, Renewing the Mind, Simply Church, and Getting Started, a step-by-step manual for starting a simple church.

The title of this book is taken from a simple analogy.  If you take two elephants, put them in a room together with plenty of food, and a little luck, you may have a third elephant in a couple of years.  On the other hand, if you take two rabbits, put them in a room together with plenty of food, and a little luck, you’ll probably have thousands of rabbits in the same time period.  The reasoning goes like this.  The larger and more complex the organism, the more difficult it is to reproduce.  The smaller, and simpler the organism, the easier it is to reproduce.

This analogy provides food for thought as we face an exploding world population not being reached by traditional evangelism methodology, and a global church planting system that fails to keep pace with the growing numbers of lost people in our world.The authors offer a simple, biblical response to the need for discipleship and evangelism – leverage the power of small, reproducible “cell” groups to reach where traditional churches cannot reach.

This book provides one of the clearest definitions of “simple, organic church” I’ve ever run across in all my reading. Speaking from years of experience in the house-church movement, they point out the dangers and challenges church planters face in starting this type of church.

Chapter 13 is perhaps my favorite part of the book.  Taking Jesus’ example of sending out of the seventy-two, the authors outline six basic principles of church planting.  These principles will apply to almost any type of church plant.   Every church planter should purchase this book, if for no other reason, than to look at these six principles.  Powerful!

I was also inspired and challenged by the “stories from the harvest.” (Chapter 14)   This is one of those books you want to take time to reflect, meditate and internalize each chapter.  I believe this book makes a significant contribution to understanding the future of the church in coming decades.

Finding Organic Church

Finding Organic Church: A Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Sustaining Authentic Christian Communities
Author: Frank Viola / Sept. 2009 / David C. Cook Publisher / 319 pages

Finding Organic Church
Finding Organic Church

This is by far one of the most important books on church planting out today.  Frank Viola takes the New Testament seriously when it comes to the methodology and theology of church planting.  While you may, or may not, agree with his definition of church, and you may or may not accept his conclusion about the state of the traditional church today, you cannot argue with the Biblical principles of church planting he uncovers in his study of the book of Acts. 

Chapters one through five are worth the price of the book.  In the first chapter, the author examines the four different models of church planting in the book of Acts:  the Jerusalem model, the Antioch model, the Ephesus model and the Roman model.  Every church planter would do well to take a serious look at these models, and the excellent treatment given to them in this chapter.

The author also gives a very clear and understandable definition of what is sometimes called “house church,” “missional church,” or “organic church.”   Frank Viola’s examination of the current condition of most house churches has a refreshing honesty to it.  He recognizes the “short shelf-life” of these churches, and then offers some very profound insights about why this is true.

Chapter five is outstanding, because the author takes a critical look at the modern house church movement.  He gives a careful and fair overview of the three great “movements” in the growth of house churches in the United States. 

I agree with the author’s observation that the “house church movement” is catching momentum today. There is a ground swell of hunger and passion to rediscover what it means to be a part of a community of faith that is both authentic and real – an organic expression of the body of Christ.  It is a “complete, radical shift in the paradigm of church – a revolutionary change in mind-set and practice.” 

This, of course, demands an equally revolutionary approach to church planting.

If we want organic churches characterized by a living, vibrant community of Christ followers, then we must begin with that goal in mind – the right DNA embodied in the embryo at conception. 

My only criticism of Viola’s work is his assumption that what is found in the New Testament related to what the believers did or did not do in their gatherings, or what the church planters did or did not  do in the process of planting these churches,  is to be taken as prescriptive rather than descriptive.   In other words, the accounts of church practices and church planting in the New Testament should be taken as a description of what took place in that context, not a prescription of how we should do it in our day.   Just because it was done a certain way in Corinth, Ephesus, Jerusalem, Antioch, or Rome, doesn’t mean this is the “only way” or even the “best way” to do it today.  I think a better hermeneutic would be to discover the basic principles behind these church planting models and then adapt them to our cultural context today.

This book is a “must read” for church planters.  It will make you re-think everything you’ve ever learned about church and church planting.  It will challenge you to examine God’s Word and the history of the church planting movement recorded in the New Testament.

Reviewed by:  Larry S. Doyle

Five basics of encouraging each other

  1. Accept one another in love just as Christ has accepted us.  (Romans 15:7)
  2. Care for one another in love without crossing the line into parenting or taking inappropriate responsibility for solving the problems of others (John  13:34-35)
  3. Treat one another with respect in both speech and action.  (Ephesians 4:25-5:2)
  4. Keep your commitments to each other, and be especially careful to keep all confidences when requested.  (Psalms 15:1-2, 4b)
  5. Pray for one another consistently.  (Ephesians 6:18-20)

Silence, Solitude and Spiritual Formation

I’ve never thought too much about the importance of silence and solitude as necessary elements in spiritual formation.  I come from a tradition and culture that places a huge value on being busy and doing things for God, so much so, that taking time to sit quietly and enjoy the presence of God is often neglected.

Recently however, my heart has been reshaped and renewed through the practice of solitude and silence.  I must admit, it isn’t an easy discipline for me.  Until I began to practice silence and solitude, I never realized how noisy our world is, and how accustomed we’ve become to being surrounded by noise and activity.  I’ve also discovered how difficult it is to find a place where this noise truly does not penetrate.

I realize silence makes some people feel uncomfortable, even anxious.  I know people who must have some kind of noise in the room at all times.  Others, on the other hand, enjoy being alone and having time to think and reflect without the distraction of conversation or noise.

The discipline of silence and solitude, however, is more than just the absence of noise, or conversations with others.  Even when I find a quiet place, my solitude can be invaded by the tendency of my mind to race toward my “to-do-list” for the day, or to fret over the “should-have-done-list” from yesterday. 

Sometimes, it’s the noise in my heart that robs me of the precious quietness and solitude my spirit so desperately needs. 

Silence is a quality of the heart!  Abba Poemen, a Fifth Century Desert Father said, “A man may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others, he is babbling ceaselessly.  But there may be another who talks from morning till night, and yet he is truly silent.”  Silence is not the goal, rather the means to the end – to become truly Christ-like in our hearts.

Noise, whether it comes from the outside world, or from within our heart, can rob us of one of the most precious and powerful experiences of our lives – enjoying communion with the Father.  Noise also keeps us from reflecting honestly on who we are, and where we are in relation to God and others. Sometimes, noise gives us a false sense security, because if we’re active, achieving something, moving forward, and getting things done, we must be okay.

The heart of the discipline of silence and solitude is found in these words from Psalms 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.”  You don’t have to spend the day in silence in order to “be still and know.”  Yet, how often is there enough silence in our lives to really hear God?  When do we take time to be still?  You can only hear God when you are listening and still. In fact, the peace that passes all understanding most often comes when we are willing to block out all the noise of the world, and really hear God.

Jesus set the example for us.  Often, in the Scriptures we find Him leaving His disciples and His followers to be alone with His Father.  (Matthew 14:23; Luke 9:18; John 6:15)  If it was important for Jesus, don’t you think it is important for us? Yet, how many of us really practice silence and solitude? How many of us know what it means to be unhurried, quiet, and to truly rest in His presence? 

I encourage you to take the time to be quiet, and listen for that “still small voice” coming from the One who loves you, cares for you, and wants more than anything else to draw close to you – the Holy One – the “Comforter” – the one Jesus promised to send to all those who follow Him.

The Way of the Heart

The Way of the Heart
The Way of the Heart

Here is a modern classic in spiritual formation literature. Although this book was written in 1981, its message is as timely today as it was 28 years ago.  The author, Henri J.M. Nouwen, takes the teachings of the fifth-century Egyptian Desert Fathers (and Mothers), and applies them to the both the need and quest for biblically sound spiritual formation.  I found these 96 pages to be amazingly relevant to what we are experiencing today in the postmodern quest for spirituality.  This is one of those rare books that transcend theological and denominational boundaries by focusing on the “heart” of what it means to seek to know God, to know self, and to understand the active presence of God in our lives.

Through the disciplines of silence and solitude, we discover a way to enter into “the loving silence of God” and to wait there for His healing Word.  Recently I used this book as a guide for a personal prayer retreat, and found it to be an invaluable tool.  Until I read this book, I thought I knew what Psalms 46:10 meant, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  Now, I realize I have just begun the journey into the “furnace of transformation.” Having begun, I know I’ll never settle for the pseudo-spirituality that imitates genuine biblical solitude – a place where God’s Word creates an “inner space,” where we learn to listen to the loving, caring, gentle presence of God.

I like what Henri Nouwen says to ministers and leaders of congregations.  “Our task is to help people concentrate on the real but often hidden event of God’s active presence in their lives.  Hence, the question that must guide all organizing activity in a parish (or church) is not how to keep people busy, but how to keep them from being so busy they can no longer hear the voice of God who speaks in silence.”(p. 63).  I don’t know about you, but this hits me right between the eyes.  I’m afraid too much of our time is spent trying to keep people busy – either “off the streets” or “on the streets” in the name of Jesus. 

I urge every pastor and leader to take time to read this book, and allow its message to challenge you about how much time you spend alone with God.   It is vitally important that we escape the “musts” and “oughts” of our daily routine, and allow God’s Spirit to set us free from our dependency on “doing” and discover what it really means to “be.”

Format: Paperback
ISBN-10: 0060663308
ISBN-13: 9780060663308
May 1991
Publisher: Harper San Francisco
Reprint
Language: English