Monday, April 27, 2015

A Leadership Test

By Allen White

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Matthew 7:15-16

A wolf in sheep’s clothing is an analogy that goes back to Jesus. People are compared to sheep. The assumption is that sheep would help each other. Sheep are on an equal playing field. They want what’s good for the herd. A wolf has different motives.

Wolves see only one purpose for sheep – lamb chops. Wolves don’t wish to befriend sheep. They
aren’t looking for play dates or theological debates. Wolves have one idea when it comes to sheep, and it makes them salivate.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing implies deception. These false leaders appear to be regular people. They put their pants on just like everyone else. Yet, they are not there to befriend others or schedule a play date. False leaders manipulate and take advantage of their people. They twist things around to get the upper hand.

The deception is a tricky one. Some false leaders have absolutely no morals and wouldn’t think twice about ripping off their own mothers. They come in selling their bill of goods and take off with what they want – leaving others to wonder what happened.

Some leaders are self-deceived. They are convinced that they are better than who they really are. This comes from insecurity. They project a larger than life image that they come to actually believe themselves. The sad part is that God has never asked anyone to pretend to be more than who they are. God intends to live His life through us – that’s the part that’s larger than life.

Every one of us is blind to certain parts of our lives. This is why it’s important to surround ourselves with people who will tell us the truth. It’s dangerous for all of us to listen only to people who say what we want to hear. It takes courage to face the truth. But, we all need those folks in our lives who love us, but aren’t impress with us, and will tell us what’s what.

How do we know if a leader is true or false? Jesus says that we know by their fruit. Just like grapes don’t grow on thornbushes and figs don’t grow on thistles, the fruit of a good leader doesn’t come at the expense of others.

Please don’t get me wrong. No leader is perfect. In 20 years of ministry, I have made my fair share of mistakes. I have hurt a few people along the way, and I have made apologies.

What about you? What kind of leader are you? You might be thinking, “I’m not a leader.” If you have ever influenced another person to try a new restaurant or avoid a bad movie, then you are a leader.

What kind of leader are you? Are you pretending to be something that you’re not? You don’t have to. God has given you a purpose and will make you adequate to fulfill it. There is no reason to bulldoze over anyone along the way.

Maybe you’re a good leader, but you have never shown others why you do what you do. If you care about other people, yet you never show them, then how will they know your motives? As the old saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

While we should all be careful to follow trustworthy leaders, we also need to examine ourselves for trustworthiness. What kind of fruit are our lives bearing? What is it growing out of? We don’t need to take advantage of others to do God’s will. Whatever we lack, God will supply.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Why Shortcuts Come Up Short

By Allen White

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14

Have you ever sat through a seminar where the speaker promised a surefire way to get rich quick? I’m always waiting for the punchline to be: If you want to get rich like me, then sell tickets to your own seminar. After all, if their methods worked so well, why are they being so generous with their information? 

Shortcuts usually come up short. We do learn our lesson – don’t give 50 bucks to any fast talking stranger who blows through town. See, this devotional has already made you $50 richer.

The wide gate gives plenty of elbow room. You go with the crowd and go with the flow. But, if the whole crowd took a shortcut to being rich, then who would be rich? Everybody would have the same. If the whole crowd gave the least of themselves to gain spiritual assurance, then no wonder so many flounder in spiritual mediocrity.

But, the narrow gate – it’s a bottle neck. It’s inconvenient. It requires sacrifice. It makes us uncomfortable. But, it also leads to Heaven. The wide gate, according to Jesus, leads to the other place.

Many of us spent much of our teenage years trying to be unique by blending in with the crowd. We fought our parents over expressing our individuality by dressing exactly like our peers. Our concern wasn’t creativity, but conformity. Only the freaks and geeks stood out. No one wanted to sit at that table.

How much has the world squeezed us into its mold? Many people want to be religious enough for a good reputation, but not so religious to stand out. Now, we all know a few people who are “over-saved.” These are the folks who make every statement into a spiritual analogy. “Boy, I saved a lot at the mall.” “Well, Jesus saves us completely.” You get the picture.

The wide gate caters to Christian consumers who need to be entertained to stay interested in church. Let’s be honest. If someone has to put on a show in order for you to follow Christ, what is this getting you? If you want a show, stay home and watch TV.

The narrow way is radical. It dangerously sets you apart from the crowd. The narrow way will take you to places where you never imagined yourself going. The narrow way is risky. The wide gate is safe, well, until you reach the end.

How are you playing it safe in your relationship with God? Is He your spiritual blankey or binky when you have trouble? Or is God the director of your life?

As Francis Chan puts it, “You have a choice each day to depend on yourself, to live safely, and to try to control your life.

“Or you can live as you were created to live – as a temple of the Holy Spirit of God, as a person dependent on Him, desperate for God the Spirit to show up and make a difference.

When you begin living a life characterized by walking with the Spirit, that is when people will begin to look not to you but to our Father in heaven and give Him the praise” (from The Forgotten God, page 156.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Key to Unlocking God’s Blessing

By Allen White

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 2 Corinthians 9:6

Not many of us are farmers any more. In fact, when my father, who was raised on a farm, took an agriculture class in high school, the teacher taught them about landscaping their yards. This would be more practical than learning to farm for most of his students. 

We left the agrarian age long ago. We are now in the information age. If we get hungry, I suppose we can eat our words. But, what we lack in our understanding of horticulture, we can make up for in our understanding of sowing and reaping.

Paul’s audience knew the reference well. If you were generous in scattering seed, you would receive a generous harvest. If you were stingy with your seed, your harvest would not be as plentiful. This principle was true regardless of drought, pestilence or other circumstances beyond the farmer’s control. After all, it rains on both the generous and the stingy. The end result fully depends on what you have invested.

So, let’s examine our crops. What areas of our lives are overflowing with abundance? Where are we scraping the bottom of the barrel? If we have rich friendships, then we have probably sown abundantly in developing those relationships. If our marriages are hanging by a thread, then guess what? If God is blessing us and we enjoy an overall sense of well-being, then we have sown well in our relationship with God.

Now, any relationship with another person is never a hundred percent on our side. Many of us have loved and lost over the years. It’s not all up to us. But, the same is true for everyone, yet some people have an abundance of great friends, while others seem to have none. Those who are generous with their time, their attention, their resources, and themselves develop great relationships.

While we don’t give just to get, if we don’t give, then we shouldn’t expect much in return. Whether we’re sharing our ideas, skills, resources or ourselves, the generous reap abundantly. Hoarders are limited to what they have.

What do you have that would greatly benefit another? How can you help others? What great idea are you sitting on that with the right partner could be a great success? What are you waiting for?

Those who go through life with a clinched fist, keep what’s theirs, but struggle to hang onto it. Those who approach life with an open hand, enrich the lives of others and live abundant lives.

Where do you need to invest? In your spouse and your children? In an idea or an opportunity? In a friend or a potential friend? Your harvest depends on what you’re willing to sow.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Hello, This is Peggy

By Allen White

Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. Ephesians 6:7-8

I took my son with me to Stop-A-Minit the other day. I was desperate for a Coke. He needed a treat – an Icee in this case. We also picked up a treat for his big brother.

As we waited in line to check out, the cashier’s attitude caught my attention. She truly enjoyed her work. You could tell that she loved serving other people. She wasn’t being fake friendly. She truly loved what she was doing.

I thought, “Gosh, I couldn’t work a minimum wage job, standing on my feet all day, and keep such a great attitude. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t be my attitude in that job.” But, this gal served wholeheartedly. I left thinking, “Gosh, if you’re going to work a job like that, then why not make the best of it and give it what you’ve got.”

Most of us have experienced half-hearted service. Whether it was the restaurant server who filled our glasses when they got around to it or “Peggy” from the credit card company, half-hearted service is not a positive experience for anyone, including the server.

But, what if you work for a terrible boss? What if they don’t pay you enough? What if your co-workers are obnoxious? What if your work environment is not very pleasant? Do circumstances like that deserve our wholehearted service? Yes, they do.

Ultimately, our “boss” is God Himself. He deserves our best. God provides for all of our needs regardless of the size of our paychecks. God loves everyone of our co-workers and wants to use our lives to influence them.

Half-hearted or mediocre service is a poor reflection on God’s children. We make excuses like “if I worked with more Christians, then things would be better…” Don’t count on that either.

You may not be able to control anything around you. The culture and environment of your workplace may be well beyond your influence. You might be overwhelmed with frustration every day. After you’ve answered the question: Why are you working there? The next step is to be obedient to God.

Regardless of how you feel about things, no matter what other people are saying or doing, regardless of the difficulty of your circumstances, your job is to be obedient to God. If you don’t know how, then plead your case to God and ask Him how you’re supposed to do it. He will show you.

What is hard for you to accept about your circumstance? Where are you tempted to cut corners? Why do you feel that the situation deserves less than your best?

You and I perform for an audience of One, God Himself. No other opinion matters more than what God thinks of us.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Secret to Pleasing God

By Allen White

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:8-10

Some of us have lived under the tyranny of a religion that said, “Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Don’t even think about doing that other thing.” Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. Dah, dah, dah. See it doesn’t work.

As Maxwell Maltz puts it, “Glance at negatives, but focus on positives.” If I love another person, then, guess what? I’m not going to envy them or steal their spouse or hate them. We don’t do things like that to people that we love.

Rather than trying hard to abstain, we must fill the void with something positive. Over-focusing on avoiding negatives, leaves us constantly thinking about negatives. Nothing positive can come out of that. It’s sort of like being on a diet and thinking about all of the things you can’t eat. Not a lot of weight loss going on there.

The Law and legalism can bog us down. What am I supposed to watch? What can I say? What can I not say? How much am I supposed to give? Do I tithe off of the gross or the net? If I can get away with it, is it okay?

The fulfillment of the law is a four letter word – L-O-V-E. What am I supposed to watch? Answer: Love. What does someone else want to watch? Maybe we should just turn the thing off and spend time with someone we love.

What should I say or not say? Answer: Love. How can I show this person that I love them by what I say or what I don’t say? Love doesn’t insult. But, we are also to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Am I holding back on something that I need to say because I want to avoid a negative reaction? Am I holding back on the last 10 percent of positive feedback I should give someone? How can I love this person with my words?

You get the picture. The question is not “What is the right thing to do?” The question we should be asking is “What is the loving thing to do?”

If I truly care about the other person, what should I do for them? If I don’t care about the person, then why should I feel that I’m right with God? You might object and say, “But, you don’t know what they did to me? You don’t know what they said about me?”

Look at what we did to God. At some point, we were (or are) God’s enemy (James 4:4). We sinned against God. We violated His character. We disobeyed. We failed. Yet, how does God respond to us? God responds with love and forgiveness and the desire to reconcile with us.

If God can get passed all of that with us, then what is keeping us from forgiving others? What is blocking our ability to truly love them? If you lack what it takes, ask God to help you love them.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

A Character Lesson from Pawn Stars

By Allen White

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12

When I was a kid, I belonged to a scouting group called the Royal Rangers. It was a church group. Boy Scouts were far too worldly for us. (For the record, my son is a Cub Scout. No hate mail, please).

At the beginning of each Royal Ranger meeting, we recited the pledge: “I will do my best to serve God, my church and my fellow man. To live by the Ranger code, and to make the Golden Rule, my daily rule.” Then, we would go outside and play kickball in the church parking lot.

In case you didn’t know, Matthew 7:12 is the Golden Rule – “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” Wouldn’t our world be a better place if everyone would follow the Golden Rule?

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Yes, my world would be a better place if people treated me right.” But, here’s the thing – making the world a better place starts with you. You and I can’t change anyone else. I hope you weren’t counting on that.

I was watching an episode of Pawn Stars a while back. A woman came in with a bejeweled spider brooch. It had been passed down to her by family. She thought it was ugly and maybe she could get a little money out of it.

After examining the piece, the dealer asked her what she wanted for it. She said she wanted $2000. The dealer looked her in the eye and said, “This is a rare Faberge’ piece. I’m an honest man, and in good conscience, I will offer you $15,000 for the piece.” Rather than bursting into a fit of excessive jubilation, the women countered with $17,000. Seriously?

The woman left the shop with $15,000 and was happy about it. The dealer could have easily made an extra $13,000 from that one deal, and the customer would have had exactly what she asked for. But, the dealer treated his customer the way he wanted others to treat him.

Now, while we need to remind our children of the Golden Rule, everyone else is off limits. We should “tell” them the Golden Rule by our good example. If someone saw us drop $20, we would want them to return it. So, return it.

If others were talking behind our backs, we would want someone to speak up for us. So, speak up about others. If we long for someone to encourage us, then we should encourage others.

You get the idea. Your world would be a different place if you thought of others the way that you think about yourself. How can you apply the Golden Rule in your home, your workplace, your traffic or your break room today?

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Will God Give Me My Dream Car?

By Allen White

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:3

Imagine going to a car show. Your eyes fall on a new car model that you’ve never seen. Your heart races. Your palms begin to sweat. It’s the car of your dreams.

The lines are clean. The interior has a ridiculous number of cup holders. The engine is powerful, yet efficient. The price is a little out of your range, but you’ve got to have this car.

As you leave the car show, you begin to see your dream car everywhere. Why have you never noticed it before? Everywhere you drive. Everywhere you park. There it is. The car seems to be beaconing to you.

You sit down to figure out your finances. It doesn’t seem that you could afford the payment even if you leased the car. You think about selling your house. You think about downsizing to one car – one dream car. Then, you imagine your kids in the dream car – what a nightmare.

You pray and ask God to provide a raise at work, help you win the lottery, or find a long lost uncle you never knew you had. But, nothing happens. You continue to cruise the town in your 12-year-old car and try to avoid looking at your dream car when it passes by.

One day you pick up the newspaper. Your dream car is on the front page. You think “Is God just trying to torture me?” The headline reads “New Car Model Recalled for Catastrophic Defect: Many Deaths from Poor Design.” You breathe a sigh of relief. Thank God that you didn’t get that death trap. Did God answer your prayer?

One test of unanswered prayer is to check our motives. That’s not to say that every unanswered prayer comes from wrong motives. When my son continued to get sicker in the hospital even though we prayed fervently, we weren’t praying with wrong motives. But, some prayers fit exactly what this verse is talking about.

If God knew that answering our prayer would be harmful to us, why would He say “Yes”? Just like our children asking for too many sweets, God knows what’s good for us and what will make us sick.

Now, sometimes we’re not sure why God hasn’t answered our prayer. If our motives seem okay, then why haven’t we heard an answer? Remember that God answers in one of three ways: Yes, No and Wait.

What answer are you waiting for? Why are you asking? Sometimes your motives can block an answer to prayer.

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