Monthly Archives: October 2012

God-Sizing Your Dreams (Part 2)

Purpose is woven into our spiritual DNA. I believe God plants that specific purpose (yes you have one no matter what you think or have been told) within us and reveals it over time as our relationship with him deepens. A hidden key to walking out your purpose is to constantly walk in a deepening relationship with God. Relationship opens your heart to his heart and best of all, his heart to yours.

God often uses dreams in the revelation of your purpose. Dreams are images or ideas that think or imagine. Sometimes they are impressions left on our mind by God during our sleep. They often explode in technicolor frames filled with a myriad of infinitesimal detail as they come life. God gives all of us dreams, so that we might first imagine, then embrace, and eventually accomplish our purpose.

He allows these dreams to incubate in the cracks and the crevices of our spirit and soul. Then gradually, God moves them into our heart and eventually into our minds where they can sprout into existence. He puts them there with all the resources needed to bring whatever we can imagine into reality with his help. For these dreams to move from the shadowy imagines of “hope so” to flesh and blood reality we must partner with God.

God gave all of us (and that includes you) the ability to create. We are not God, and we cannot create ex-nihilo—that is, create something out of nothing. That is the sole domain of an omnipotent God. But…creativity is nothing more than seeing something in your mind and birthing it into existence. We are all creative (no matter what you’ve been told or what you have or have not done up to this point in your life). We are creative because we are created in the image and the likeness of God, and no one would argue that God is creative. Just look around! So, when our creativity leaks out we resemble our Creator a little clearer than when we choose to keep it bottled up inside in our fear or insecurity.

Our problem is we are blind—unable or unwilling (you choose the one that best fits you) to see through the eyes of the Spirit. Spirit-filled means far more than most of us have been taught. A Spirit-filled man or woman lives life through the Spirit, which includes seeing things through the eyes of Spirit—which is, after all, God’s eyes. The vision of most is limited because they view life through only their natural human eyes. Creativity is in the eyes of the beholder and it definitely depends on whose eyes you look through.

You must believe God has a purpose for you. That is, you must believe it to see it, and you must see it in both your spirit and your mind to birth it. Faith and action must partner for that dream to becoming a living breathing baby. Faith without action produces a stillborn infant and action without faith always results in a baby riddled with defect and disfigurement and destined for death.

Yes, God has instilled a specific dream(s) within each of us and that dream will propel us into the purpose and plan God has for you us. But—faith is required, obedience is mandatory, and relationship is essential. Yet when that dream God has given you intersects and harmonizes with his purpose for you—look out—amazing miraculous things begin to happen!

God-Sizing Your Dreams (Part 1)

What do you dream of when it’s quiet and no one’s around? What is churning deep down inside of you that you secretly hunger to do, accomplish, discover, change, or improve? What is it? To admit it is to take a step toward fulfilling it.

Every person has a purpose—a reason for existing. I know this is true because God says it’s true. Proverbs 1-4a puts it this way: The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives. Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established. The Lord has made everything for its own purpose…

You fit in the “everything” category. You were made for a specific purpose—a unique one that only you can fully accomplish. No one else in the word has been created like you, and no one can do what God has divinely equipped you to do. God declared this in Jeremiah 29:11: I know the plans that I have for you (meaning God has an ingenious plan and purpose for you).

Finding that purpose is essential if we ever hope to see our dreams fulfilled. The starting place is to take a long hard look at Jesus. Jesus is perfect theology. He is our perfect example. If we want to know what God can and will do through us—just look at Jesus. Jesus came to preach the gospel of the Kingdom (Luke 4:43), to die for our sins (John 12:27), and to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Our ultimate purpose is to imitate Jesus in an unimaginable variety of ways in proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom and the destruction of Satan’s works.

We should understand the “what” (carrying on the work of Jesus), but it’s the “how” many of us struggle with. The “how” for each of us is different—we are all ministers, but ministry is not cookie-cutter. By that, I mean ministry does not have to be done the same way by every person.

God has a specific way—a dream buried deep inside you—for you to do ministry. He has hard-wired you for it. It’s about doing the one thing you can do that no one else can do as well. It might be developing a new business system, building a software system, designing an agricultural tool for third world farmers, developing a strategy for re-training the unemployed, a new concept for the funding of low cost housing,  new communication tools for kids who struggle with learning disabilities, becoming an advocate for the homeless, writing a book to pull back the veil on some inequity or hidden wrong, helping prisoners re-enter society, running for public office to change the direction of a city, county, state or nation. You can fill in the blank because this list is endless.

There is a dream hiding deep within you. You may not even know what it is yourself, but it’s there just the same. God put it there and He designed you to fulfill it. Maybe you just need some encouragement and a little direction as you locate it. If so, join me over the next few weeks as we learn how dream God-sized dreams once again.

Can You Really Have IT Both Ways?

Should a person’s religious beliefs guide their public service or just their private life? Is a core value really a core value if it never finds its way into the light of day in one’s public experience? Do you truly believe in something if you are unwilling to take a stand for it? All of us have to wrestle with these questions and ultimately come to an answer.

Not so long ago, character, honor and truth were the traits our nation was built on. The beliefs of our leaders were worth dying for. Statesmen lived out their core values and these personal beliefs guided them in their public life and service. These men and women stood for what they believed no matter which way the fickle wind of public opinion chose to blow. If something was truly a core value then to go against that value was to deny one’s self.

This past Thursday evening as I watched the Vice-Presidential debate, I saw the dichotomy of true belief and cheap talk. The moderator asked a question that could not be dodged and required a straight forward answer. Here’s a paraphrase of the question: What is your position on abortion?

Both candidates claim to be believers and practicing Roman Catholics. The position of the Roman Catholic Church is unashamedly pro-life and to actively support abortion technically places any Catholic in danger of excommunication. The Roman Catholic Church has consistently fought against abortion and has stood firm on the rights of unborn. The pro-life position is a core value in Catholicism, thus making the candidate’s response a real glimpse into the heart of his own personal belief system.

Candidate Ryan’s answer was simple and straightforward. He declared that he was a practicing Roman Catholic and unapologetically pro-life. He then affirmed that in his public service he would stand and support that core value.

Vice-President Biden’s response was what troubled me. He also declared that he was a practicing Roman Catholic and that he was personally pro-life, but did not feel that his private beliefs must govern what he supports in public life. He supports abortion and the right of a woman to make her own choices, yet denies the right to life of the unborn. He claims a core value privately, but refuses to stand for what he supposedly believes in public life.

Can you really have it both ways? I don’t think so. If you are privately pro-life, how can you publically support abortion? How can something be a core value if you’re willing to toss it out the window publically? As a practicing Roman Catholic how can one go against the tenets and dogmas of one’s personal faith and beliefs and resolve that in one’s mind?

I don’t question the sincerity of Biden’s faith, but I do question the sincerity of a pro-life position being one of his personal beliefs. Honor and truth dictate that one stand and die for their personal beliefs, not jettison them for position, power, prestige, or even a political platform. And tragically, the platform of the Democratic Party is and has been unapologetically pro-abortion.

A personal belief held because of one’s faith is a core value. To go against a core value is to deny oneself, and in this case to openly defy God’s word. Whenever that happens a man has denied the truth he claims to believe—and believed a lie. You cannot have it both ways. Having it both ways is just another definition for hypocrisy!

The Ultimate Futility: A Well-Mowed Lawn

Cutting grass has always seemed futile to me—a waste of time and effort. I know, I know, you have to keep the yard cut or it looks as though someone has moved off and abandoned their home. You know the thoughts that go through your mind whenever you pass by an overgrown lot. Yea, the ones that wonder what kind of family must live there. Or don’t they care what that plot of grass looks like and how it affects the neighborhood. One of the unspoken rules of having a yard in a subdivision or out in the country is that one must maintain a meticulously mowed lawn.

I must admit that a freshly cut yard has an intoxicating fragrance (unless you’re cultivating wild onions in the midst of your Bermuda blades), and it’s pretty easy on the eyes as well. You know you have a serious purveyor of turf when the mower cuts are on the diagonal or in checkerboards like the outfield of Yankee stadium. These lawn aficionados detest even the slightest hint of a weed in their manicured meadows—so they pull, and dig, and pay big buck to the Lawn Green guy to beat back the incessant invasion of those pesky invaders. Countless dollars are spent amassing mowing paraphernalia and chemical milkshakes of every size and flavor in an endless battle to maintain( a code word in gardening that means to break even with the seemingly endless cycle of green growth). Add to that periodic infestations by grub worms, moles, armadillos, wild hogs, brown spot, and an endless horde of pestilence that delights in dining on your perfectly cut and clipped lawn…Well—you know what I mean.

It just seems futile to me. Since I was a kid, cutting grass seemed like a waste of time and money. And here’s the reason—grass keeps growing. It is incessant in its desire to propagate and flourish. You knock it down with those rotating blades and it bounces right back up and picks up where it left off. By the time you finish your lawn, it is already well on its way to needing cut again in a few days. That, my friend, is why it seems futile. You rake and burn the leaves and you’re done. You can paint a door and the job is finished. You can trim the roses and they’re fine for the season, but the grass never lets up. That’s why I find it pointless—vanity of vanities as the writer of Ecclesiastes so succinctly put it. You can lull yourself into believing you are winning the war, but guess what? In a few short days you will be right back out there wearing out that expensive lawnmower on a foe that cannot be defeated.

There is one consolation, if you feel the same way I do. Fall is in the air and cooler weather is on the way. The only thing other than Round-Up or 2-4-D that stops grass dead in its tracks is Jack Frost. That means I can store the gas cans away and winterize the lawnmower, the battle is over, at least for another season.

The Power of Words: A Tribute to Calvin Miller

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a lie. Words are far more damaging and their pain reaches deep within to scar the soul and the spirit in places where sticks and stones are powerless. Simple words strung together in sentences give voice to life or death. Their power rests in the motive of the speaker and the moment of the hearer.

Several months ago, Calvin Miller, a friend and mentor, finished his earthly race and stepped into the glory his mind and heart could only imagine. Dr. Miller was a prolific writer—a best-selling author of numerous books. He was a pastor, a gifted preacher and a creative communicator . But above all, he was a passionate teacher with a desire to spur his students higher—higher even than he had risen.

As a student at Beeson Divinity School from 1997-1999, I had the pleasure of taking several classes with Dr. Miller. One of those classes changed my life—literally. It was a defining moment. The class was an elective aptly called Creative Preaching. Dr. Miller’s job was to transform us into storytellers—speakers who could take a text from Holy Writ and put it into story form so that anyone could grasp, understand, and make application in their own life. I signed up with little hope of being very creative—just needing two more hours of credit.

I could not envision myself as creative since I felt more comfortable and at home in the analytical mode. Dr. Miller challenged my limited self-assessment and forced me to think with more than just half a brain. Our first sermon assignment was to take a text and breathe visual life into it by using props. This assignment stretched me, tormented my attempts to sleep at night, but eventually ripped down the wall I had carefully constructed between the left and right sides of my brain. It forced me to open the door of imagination and creativity that had been shut since childhood.  Dr. Miller understood that within each of us is the power to create—to dream—to imagine—to see what others have yet to see. And he was determined to wring every last drop of creative juice from the folds of my mind and serve it up in the goblet of a sermon that would inspire and communicate the truth to anyone who was listening.

Eventually, I preached a sermon on the spiritual armor of Ephesians 6. My props were a stick for a sword, a brown lunch sack for a helmet, a sheet of cardboard for a breast plate, a rusty garbage can lid for a shield, and an old leather belt that held it all together.  Thankfully there were no cameras that day, but it set me free to think about sermon preparation in a whole new vein—one in which imagination and illustration could play a vital role in communicating the timeless truths of God.

And yet, it was not the crafting of the sermon or my creative props that created that defining moment in my life. No, it was a simple statement Dr. Miller made a few days later. He always required that we manuscript the sermons we were preparing for classroom preaching. I hated it—it was such a chore to write it out. I was far more comfortable with a simple outline, plus it saved me a ton of time. But noooo! The manuscript must be turned in prior to its preaching or else. And when you are preparing to graduate “or else” is not an option.

I still replay the comment he made as he handed my manuscript back to me that day in the preaching lab: “Nelson, you are a very good writer.” His words stunned me. This was a man who had been published multiple times and paid handsomely for it—a best-selling author with countless awards and numerous reviews in his resume. And his comment was unsolicited—it was a real word of encouragement from the heart of a genuine expert in the craft of writing. My mind could not comprehend what my ears had just heard, but I said thank you, filed it away in my heart, and quickly left.

Over the next few years, I began to put pen to paper—to give utterance to the thoughts and concepts that swirled within me. I began to find my voice and allow it to speak—all because of one encouraging sentence that fell from the lips of Dr. Calvin Miller.

Several years later, at the encouragement of another friend, I took a dozen or so of my literary offerings to Dr. Miller for his personal critique. He promised to read them and get back with me. Unknown to me, he passed them to a friend who was well-known in the publishing business, who wrote him back with some very encouraging words for his student. Dr. Miller forwarded his email to me—again I was stunned, my eyes unable to believe the words I was seeing.

Today, thirteen years later, because of Dr. Miller’s encouragement and his passionate desire to stir up the creative ability that was languishing within me, I have had the privilege of writing two books and the honor of seeing both published (God’s Threshing Floor: Moving from Fruitful to Useful (2010) and Impact! Recognize and Maximize Your Defining Moments (2012). Both published by Jebaire Publishing).

Dr. Calvin Miller was the key God used to unlock a gift he had hidden away in me for such a time as this. That key slipped smoothly in, and with seven little words of encouragement a door of creativity I never knew existed popped open to reveal a new pathway on which I am drawn to walk. Hopefully, somewhere along the way, I too, can encourage another weary traveler to explore a gift that is as yet undiscovered.

My friend and mentor is now in the presence of his Savior, Jesus Christ. The amazing gift he used on earth to inspire is now being used in heaven to give praise to the One who is worthy of all praise. What an encouragement to continue in the craft of writing so that one day, I too, might put down the pen and with my lips do likewise. Thank you Dr. Calvin Miller! Your words still ring with the truth that continues to birth life!