Here Am I Lord, Stretch Me!

main-qimg-6ec01da6e0f1c3634009fd1ecb2d6194There is a misunderstanding about God that too often believers  embrace. This belief assumes that if one is walking in God’s will, that means everything should go well; no problems, no challenges, no inconveniences. But that has never been God’s paradigm. Think about the people to whom God chose to bless and use…

  • Noah… build something that has never been built, even if you are mocked
  • Abraham… leave your homeland and follow me to a Promised Land
  • Moses… Go lead my people from the bondage of the most powerful government
  • David… Face the giant and defeat him
  • Peter… come, walk on the water
  • Paul… despite beatings, stonings, accusations, shipwrecks, keep preaching.

God created us similar on the order of a rubber band. A rubber band is made to stretch. When it is not being stretched, it is small, relaxed and useless, and as long as it remains in that shape, it is not doing what it was made to do. When it is being stretched, it is enlarged; it becomes dynamic; full of potential, and it does what it was made to do.

God created you to be stretched.

Does that scare you? Sometimes those circumstances, responsibilities, challenges can be intimidating, because they force us to change… to be stretched.

What is your potential? You will never know unless you allow God to use your circumstance to stretch you. What dreams has God given you? You will never realize those dreams unless you allow God to use your circumstance to stretch you. You and I will grow to the stature to which we are stretched through our trials and challenges. Charles Swindoll once wrote,

“Alleged ‘impossibilities’ are opportunities furor capacities to be stretched.”

Sometimes a believer with cower with intimidation because God has led them to face their giant. Sometimes churches recoil in their vision and mission because God has led them to a place of stretching. Both of these falter not because of their inability, but because they forgot who was leading them. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” -Psalm 23:4

How is God growing and stretching you right now?
Don’t hesitate to recognize and cooperate with what God is doing. Let’s allow God take us out of our comfort zone, growing us in ways we could have never imagined, finding strength we didn’t know we had, and encountering victories to be celebrated.

Just thinking…
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Work as Worship

479965723_640Well, I have turned the page heading into a  new chapter in my life; from pastoring a great church in beautiful Niagara Falls to directing a Doctor of Ministry program in Sunny Florida. It appears to be a big change for me, but should it be?


This change has helped to remind me why I/we work in life. There is a purpose for all of us to be useful for God as we walk this planet.

I hope you see your job or career as an extension of your faith as well. No matter where it is, regardless of location, salary level, blue/white color, or self-employment. No matter what it is (pastoring, teaching, plumbing, medical, mechanical, clerical, managerial, government, retail…).

The Apostle Paul wrote,
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” -Colossians 3:23

Elsewhere Paul wrote,
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12  so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders…” -1Thessalonians 4:11-12

Can you see yourself as a minister of “Go“, being paid by your employer to do two things; be productive in your work, be a God-follower in your example.

Puritan Thomas Brooks wrote, “Example is the most powerful rhetoric.”

You may not have ordination papers, but you are ordained by God, to be a witness wherever God has placed you.

As you pursue your work, be faithful, be ethical, be productive, but most of all be an example for His glory. In doing so, you transform your work into worship.

…just thinking.

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Peace in the Midst of Broken Pieces

Slide1During the dark days of the American Civil War, Henry W. Longfellow wrote the lyrics of ‘I heard the Bells on Christmas Day.’ With an honest reflection, he wrote, “For hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on earth, good will to men.” His honesty can be an affront to our determination to see only the good this Christmas season, while trying to ignore the pain and evil.

The news headlines are disparaging. The reality of tragedies, violence and hate among nations and neighbors hits home. And it is hard to know what to say to those enduring this season without their loved ones for the first time. Yet despite all this, there is still a message ringing through the air: Peace On Earth.

So where does this real peace come from …a peace despite the pain? “For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20 NLT)

You see this is Good News that is not afraid of the dark. This is good news that is not negated by evil. This Good news is not intimidated by the worst the world could throw at anyone of us. Because over 2000 years ago, in the midst of the darkness, the Light has come!

Longfellow was right. Tragedies constantly darken our lives, yet there is a light that pierces this darkness. If we see with our hearts, and not judge with our eyes or our minds, we can see it too.

“Then rang the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead nor does he sleepPeace on earth, Peace on earth… The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with Peace on Earth, goodwill to men.”

With great compassion, God saw the condition of earth and made provision for change. So despite the news and loss, peace is not only available, it is possible.

May the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation.” (2 Thessalonians 3:16 NLT)

Have a Merry & Peace-full Christmas!

Pastor Jim
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Nothing may be Something

ex-nihilo

Scripture describes God in the beginning creating the universe out of nothing more than his creativity and his words… no raw material, no additional resource, no borrowed insights. The theologians called it “creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing.

I am encouraged to think that there is a God who doesn’t need to look around scraping up resources to make things work. Instead he just speaks a word. That also means that he doesn’t need “me”. But because he pursues me and cares for me, it suggests that he does it because he loves me.

I am learning to approach God in a much different way than I am accustomed to when approaching others. I assume I need to demonstrate my worth to others in order to be valued by them, but with God that is unnecessary… he doesn’t “need us”, he just loves us. So approaching God ought to be with empty hands. I like how Martin Luther put it, “God creates out of nothing. Therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.”

I am wondering if we limit God’s influence and miracles in our lives because we are still holding on to resources, perspectives or agendas we think He ought to use, forgetting that he creates “ex nihilo.” I hope we can just come before him with empty hands, humble hearts and a faith that is focused solely on him. In fact, it is okay if you are at the end of your wits and have no other options to rely on, that is the sort of stuff (or lack of stuff) with which God works.

“As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer” (Psalms 40:17 ESV)

Pastor Jim
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Being Salt & Light in Ministry Leadership

Slide1
Leadership holds a bit of tension. On the one hand it demands that the leader be connected to those whom she is leading. It calls for an authentic and caring relationship with others. Without it, leadership loses confidence, and influence.

On the other hand, the leader is called to be set apart from his followers. He is to be different, pioneering a vision of places, ideas, and opportunities where others have not yet focused their attention. The leader ought to reflect within their passion and character the benefits of their vision so as to inspire others to follow along.

For Leaders to be effective in this unique relationship there are at least four things they ought to keep in mind when balancing both intimacy and transcendency:

1. Invest in Integrity.
Two things that make or break a leader: character and competence. It is too easier to focus all our energy on our skills while faking our way through in our character. But people will give a leader a second chance much more easily if they fall short in competence than in character.

You can lead for a while with great skill but if you don’t have character, people will turn their backs on you and cease to follow. A follower must trust a leader. No character, no trust.

In his work, Rhetoric, Aristotle describes three essentials to what we would call leadership; logos, pathos, and ethos:

  • Logos: you have to be logical in your vision.
  • Pathos: you should be passionate about your vision.
  • Ethos: you must maintain that vision (regardless how logical or passionate it is) with ethics.

I like what one mentor told me years ago about maintaining these virtues, “Be cutting edge without cutting corners”. That is our challenge.

2. Posture a Positive Presence.
No follower will be inspired by a leader whose vision is tainted with negativity. In fact, eventual even optimistic followers will react negatively to this sort of vision. It becomes a deadly virus to vision and loyalty.

A salt and light leader will be one who optimistically asks, “What good can come from this?” this kind of leader is one who sees a better world despite obstacles. She chooses to believe that something good can come from negative circumstances and that the future will be better than the present. It is living with a Romans 8:28 mentality: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them (NLT).”

3. Be more Interested than Interesting.
In other words, look not only to your own interest, but also the interest of others. Leadership will always be about relationships. You have to learn how to create, develop, and maintain healthy relationships.

Paul presents Jesus as the greatest example of a leader when he describes Jesus by saying. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” within just a few strokes of the pen earlier, he gave this leadership characteristic, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4-5 ESV). In following Jesus example, what is even more important than being interesting, is being interested.

4. Excel in Excellence.
People are attracted to excellence because they want to have more and be more excellent themselves. Be excellent in: your physical appearance, emotional health, intellectual growth, spiritual depth, relational continuity, charitable giving.

We need as much salt and light as we can get to make a difference in our world, our ministry and our church, and the lives of those who will follow us. Give it your best. Give God your best.

JV

FINDING GOD IN UNLIKELY PLACES

20140729-081224-29544274.jpgI have found that each day I am faced with experiences and challenges that often stretch me or that are bigger (sometimes MUCH bigger) than me. Sometimes those overshadowing encounters can be intimidating, and discouraging, but sometimes they are awe-inspiring and encouraging. In my journey I am concluding that God often places these transcending experiences and challenges in our lives to move us to look beyond ourselves. When we do that we often find Him. Banning Liebscher wrote, “God stirs your heart to seek Him because He intends to be found.”
Recognize that life is bigger than you… but it shouldn’t jerk our heads down in discouragement, rather life’s challenges should lift our eyes to the Life-giver. As the poet David confessed, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Transform your intimidating circumstances into a place where God is welcomed, because He intends to be found.

-JV
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ownedbyGod.

Slide1
I am finding that the older I get the less my body chooses to cooperate with me; Playing softball, I’ve tried to tell it to run faster as I make my way around second base… but it doesn’t listen. I try to convince myself that my body doesn’t need my meds, but it doesn’t listen.  Despite my pleas in the morning mirror, my hair is still turning grey or turning loose, it doesn’t listen…

My body seems to have a mind of its own… even when it comes to trying to bridle in its selfish and depraved desires. Those are not so humorous issues. Especially in these cases I need to remind myself who is really in charge here.  So who’s the boss? It is not my body… nor is it me.  I am owned by God.

I like the way the Apostle Paul put it, Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor 6:19-20 ESV). Elsewhere the apostle added, “I plead with you to give your body to God because of all he has done for you. Let it be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” (Romans 12:1-2 NLT)

Think about that very truth; Jesus gave up his body for us, so that we can live, but unless we give up ours to him we undermine all that he has done for us… so…

  • The feet that led you in sin should now be directed in the Ways of God,
  • The eyes that once looked upon things that lacked purity should now be focused upon the sinless Son of God.
  • The ears that once listened to deception should now be eager to hear the Word of God.
  • The mind that distorted our thoughts and attitudes should now be yielded to the Spirit of God.
  • The hands that once were swift to hold tightly to harmful habits should now be engaged in the Ministry of God.
  • The tongue that once talked so carelessly should now be singing the Praises of God and declaring the Love of God.
  • The heart that was set upon earthly passions should now be embracing the Desires of God.

Let’s remember, your body belongs to God. “Present your body as a living and holy sacrifice unto God.”

-jv

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Who Cares?

who caresSelf-centeredness in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. If you think about it when we focus on ourselves, our world shrinks and becomes lonely. But when we focus on others, our world expands and we increase our capacity for connection and compassion.

I like what David Platt once wrote, “We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.”

It seems that life’s fulfillment and purpose will only be discovered when we look beyond ourselves. The less connected the person is from others, the less capable that person will be in discovering their life purpose.

So…
For a good reputation, speak well of others…
For a confident posture, stand up for others…
For strong hands, reach out to others…
For attractive eyes, look for the good in others…
For a wise perspective, understand the views of others…
For powerful speech, speak words of life to others…
For self-worth, invest in others.

The Apostle Paul put it this way, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…” -Philippians 2:3-5 NIV

Don’t spend your life, invest it… in others.

-JV
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A Good Weirdness

Have you ever experienced those occasions where you have seen or heard of fellow Christians acting in embarrassing ways that cause a bit of liability to the gospel. I don’t mean the obvious examples such as the Westboro Baptist Church known for their extremely negative ideologies. Sometimes we Christians can come across to the world as that socially challenged PC guy along side the socially and emotionally intelligent Mac guy.

We need not be a church of the 70’s or even the 90’s. We don’t live there. Neither are we called to reach those eras. Like Jesus, we are called to be incarnate in our 2014 society. They need to see how the power of God is lived out during these critical times.

But, living out a Kingdom Culture, in the midst of a fallen 21st century culture will still make us different; different because of the hope in us, not the clothes on us… Different because of the virtues we live out, not the vices that come out; Different in the life giving words we speak, not the words of cynicism.

I like what Christian ethicist Jaques Ellul once wrote, “Christians were never meant to be normal. We’ve always been holy troublemakers, we’ve always been creators of uncertainty, agents of dimension that’s incompatible with the status quo; we do not accept the world as it is, but we insist on the world becoming the way that God wants it to be. And the Kingdom of God is different from the patterns of this world.”

That’s weird, but a good weird.

There is a weirdness that is refreshing to a hurting society. There is a weirdness that promotes love in an apathetic world. There is a weirdness in a life motivated by holiness in a world led by fallen appetites. There is even a weirdness in a joy and peace experienced by believers even in the midst of struggles.

Jesus explained it this way,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” -Matt 5:14-16

Be weird, but in a good God way…

-JV
jimvigil.com

20140530-215407-78847737.jpg

Follow the Leader

Slide1

I once heard a person joke, “I don’t mind following the leader, as long as he is heading in the same direction as I.”

That may sound a bit arrogant, presumptuous, and perhaps irrational. After all, to be a follower assumes that you surrender your agenda to another. I think too often we get angry with God because he doesn’t act the way we expect him to.
…we assume he will carry out our agenda
…we assume he will keep to our timetable
…we assume he will maintain our priorities
…we even assume he will always take our side.

I like what President Lincoln once said, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

It would seem that the true test of a follower is not when the leader’s steps match the same cadence and direction as your desires… No, the test of the follower is when we can still keep in step with him even when we have to follow him in the dark. 

David said,
“The Lord is my shepherd, he leads me… and though I walk through the valley… I will fear no evil.” 
Habakkuk prayed, 
“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and… the fields lie empty and barren…
yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!”

Jesus directed us to,  
“Let your hearts not be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.”

God wants you to know and follow him. I encourage you to fully trust in the Lord, charting your course based on how he leads, not on your own understanding. As you acknowledge him in this way, he will direct your paths. Or as that old hymn declares, “While we do his good will, he abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey.”

Follow the Leader… even in the Dark.

-jv
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