Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dying to Live

Alicia got a head cold and was running out of gas as she reached the finish line.  So I had the privilege of helping to write the last post out of 31 posts putting a wrapper on the Dying to Live series.  If you haven't read any of the series I guarantee you that you will be blessed by looking closely at the richness of Christ's relationship with His Father.

Dying to Live

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Painted Bars

In trying to explain what happened to me in Uganda to someone that didn't go, I put into words what I had been struggling to wrap my mind around all along.  How was it that we felt so much more set free in Uganda than we did in America.  Every one of us felt such a strong sense of being set free, that we didn't really want to come back.  I write those words and can hardly believe them myself.  I missed my children and family as we were away 2 weeks at that point.  What was it that was drawing us back like a bug to a light.  I think it is this, we are set free in Christ Jesus our Lord from the prison of sin and self.  But rather than live a life of faith and trust in Christ for our daily sustenance, we prefer control and comfort instead thinking these bars will keep us safe and secure.  We prefer to go back into the prison that we have been set free from.  We take out our paint brush and paint the bars until we can hardly tell they are there.  The problem is we can't paint the outside of the bars.  When you travel so far out of the jail cell and look back, you can see every black iron bar that held you back from truly resting in Christ for your everything and resting in intimacy with Him.

We call this cell our comfort zone, yet we are held in it by fear.  By Fear we are kept in this zone we call comfort.  There is a reason none who had been set free wanted to step back into the jail cell.  We could finally see it for what it was, bars of fear and doubt that held us back from enjoying freedom in Christ. 

Hebrews 4:1 Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Rest...less or Rest...Lest

I have spent the last 10 days going non-stop here in Africa.  Today was the first day that there was scheduled time to slow down and decompress.  The team prepared to go white water rafting this morning on the White Nile and I was excited about going, but instead was awakened by the Lord impressing on my restless heart, Rest Lest.  I wasn't sure what the Lord desired to teach me, but I knew I needed to pass on the rafting and seek time alone with the Lord.  It was actually surprising how brief the moments were the last 10 days that I have had alone with the Lord.  All of our time had been rich in the Lord, but it was always together with others.
It has been an incredible trip filled with seeing God do miraculous things on a near daily basis.  It has been a trip that has been most humbling and rewarding to me, having the opportunity to be used to bless Morris's church in Mbale by pointing them to the beauty of the holiness of Christ, being used to share the gospel and see lives changed by the power of Christ, and having the high honor of getting to preach the first Sunday in the church we planted a sermon pointing to a foundation of grace for our lives and the church.  Through all of this I have seen God working on each team member and through each team member, but I felt as though God had not done any major overhauling on my heart this trip.  I longed for God to break up any hard places in my heart.

Hosea 10:12 Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.

There was finally a break through, light penetrating though a tiny pinhole in my heart.  There had been a recurring theme popping up that we should "Rest In God", but the impact never went to the depth I believe I needed or rather God desired.  I spent the morning reading Ecclesiastes and even taking a nap with prayers on my heart and scripture in my thoughts.  It was ok, because I had time to rest.  In time the Lord opened my eyes to see that I am usually resting on my own strength, resting on my own understanding, resting or better said, "TRUSTING" in my own abilities.  When I do this, I am the one who receives the glory and yet I was created by God with the chief end to bring glory to Him.  When I trust in and rely on myself I am actually robbing God of glory.  It is as if I am marching into the treasury of heaven and robbing from God's treasuries of glory.  Satan desired God's glory, Adam and Eve desired it, and so do I.  Ouch!

I will be flushing out more that God began opening my eyes to in the days ahead, but to start the journey into better understanding "Rest in God...Lest we rob Him of glory" lets look at some verses to set our course.

1Cor 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1Peter 4:10-11 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:  whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Rev 1:5-6 To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom of priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Eph 3:21 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Rev 7:12 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Rom 11:34-36 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?  Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

The early church founders understood this when they coined the Latin phrase Soli Deo Gloria - Solely To God Be Glory!

This challenges me and convicts me that I am untroubled by my robbing from God.  Add it to the list of 10 commandments that I break daily.  The more I seek the Lord the more I relate to Paul's words in Romans 7, "who can save me from this wretched body of death?  Thanks be to the Lord Jesus Christ."

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Relational Bank Accounts

Confession Time, pull up a chair. Two things that really upset me as a parent: the first is when one of my children tell me all kinds of horrible things that someone else has done to them and it is all the other child's fault.  Given the info the only way to respond is to be upset with the other child.  You confront the other child only to be blindsided by the fact that there is a major part of the story that has been left out.  Namely the part the original child did to start the whole incident. Just really irks me when I feel lied to

The second thing that I hate is when you tell your children to do something and the moment you step out of the room, they totally stop doing what you have instructed and begin doing something totally off task, (like playing the Wii).  You step back into the room later and they quickly jump to working on what it was you wanted like they have been slaving away the whole time. 1

Well both happened today while Alicia and I were going to get our immunizations to travel to Uganda.  After several phone calls to help resolve arguments and fights, I was good and irritated by the time we got back home.  I was determined to make sure this never happened again.  I really wanted to make them pay.  That thought about paying popped into my head.  I thought I've got to think of a way to not ring their necks, and connect the consequences to the offense with creativity.  A thought I think was inspired by Kevin Lehman's "Have a new kid by Friday" book.

I decided to do something that would shut all the bickering up quickly and create a high pucker factor.  I said, "Go get all of your money and bring it in here."  All of our kids have more money than I do, so I knew they would all have a full piggy bank.  While they were getting the money, I decide to bring home the point that they are emptying their relational bank accounts by making them pay one another for each they they did wrong to each other.  1 dollar for disrespect and 2 dollars for hitting/inflicting pain.

When we began they all were put out with one another and everything was an argument.  They told me every event that happened and I made them pay.  Some incredible lessons came out of it.  They all felt they had been wronged worse, but when the final money was paid it was almost equal.  It is really interesting how skewed our perspective of our offenses really is.  Everyone's is worse than our own, yet we tend to even things out much more than we really think.  We really do see the speck in other's, but fail to see the plank in our own.  Funny I was wrestling with this passage in my studies right after this.  You can listen to the sermon here

Once money got involved they were much more motivated to treat each other with respect, but we should value the relationships that are eternal more than pieces of paper.  We really do struggle with our love of money over relationships from an early age.  The fact my kids had to learn this from me was pretty convicting.

The power of accounts to level out, for good or bad.  It really was funny watching the handing over of cash for every wrong action cause real frustration with the one having to pay.  It seemed so unfair.  But before long it was coming right back to them.  It was almost perfectly balanced with A LOT of dollars being passed back and forth.  I had no idea it would end up this way.

After doing this exercise everything seemed to be resolved between each other.  They didn't realize how much they had done until they had to pay for each thing.  Seeing their own offenses humbled them and made the hurtfulness of others diminish.  They didn't even seem upset any more at all with all the things that had them so upset just minutes before.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Calluses of the Heart

I often ponder the question, "How would my life look different if I was sensitive to everything God wanted to do in me and through me?"  I find that God does some of the most profound things in my life with such delicate and gentle promptings that I almost missed it.  It causes me to shudder to think the number of times when I go through my day and never sense the gentle touch and leading of the Holy Spirit in my life.  Or the sheer number of days that I don't want to be bothered because I am so focused on doing important things.  Many times the things of God seem to come as interruptions even, only to see what incredible beauty I almost missed.

It is a callused heart that forever resists and doesn't want to obey or even feel the gentle promptings of the Lord.  I forever remember the story from my brother Brian's life that taught all who would hear that sensitivity to the Holy Spirit is a matter of life and death, physically and spiritually.  He had been praying for a time that the Lord would remove the flesh that hinders him sensing the prompting of the Holy Spirit in his life.  He found himself at a party with an audience telling the tales of a recent great hunt.  It was the best part of the story when an odd thought popped into his head, "Where is Bryson."  He knew it was the Lord, but he sure hated to miss delivering the most impressive part of the story.  He decided to obey even though his wife was watching their son.  Well Bryson had jumped into the swimming pool without anyone seeing it happen and was on the bottom of the pool looking up for help.  Bryan saw him and jumped in saving his life.  He was holding his breath and no harm done other than the addition of a few more grey hairs on Brian's head.

God was good and gracious that day to Brian and our entire family, but what incredible truths poured out of that encounter with God.  The Holy Spirit is God and is not to be put off, told to "Check back with me later.", or even questioned, "Are you sure Lord."  To obey the Holy Spirit's prompting is to allow God to reign as Lord of our lives and to do anything else is disobedience.  It also produces the most incredible view on life as you literally see the miraculous works of God before your eyes on a regular basis.

I recently had an encounter with the Lord that left me humbled by the goodness of God and the blinding hardness of my heart.  I continue to trust in my eyes more than I do in the Lord.  I think I see things so clearly only to be so very wrong.  Yet, again and again, I trust my eyes, my understanding, and my wisdom, instead of just trusting in the sufficiency of Christ.  Oh the calluses on this heart of mine.

I meet with a group of guys at Whataburger on Thursday mornings.  We have developed a whole group of friends that we call our Whataburger buddies.  On this occasion it was Edna and Tiffany who were showing up for their shift that would start at 6am.  Our group has prayed for each of these ladies over a dozen times when they would come by with our food or coffee.  I caught Tiffany in the parking lot finishing her cigarette just before going in.  I thought it might be a chance to encourage her to quit smoking by using the book of psalms.  Every time you have an urge to smoke, open up your bible and read whatever psalm you turn to.  Let your craving for nicotine fuel a craving for the Lord, and watch nicotine's hold diminish and God's hold on your life explode.  I also had the opportunity to ask her what she needed prayer for in addition to help quitting smoking.  She gave her usual vague answer about prayer for friends and family.  I then asked her a question that popped into my mind.  It cut through all of the smoke and vague generalities to the heart of the issue she had been struggling with so much that it startled her.  Edna walked up at that time and I prayed for both of them in the parking lot.

As we entered the restaurant Tiffany was still looking at me and asking how I could know exactly what she was dealing with.  All I could tell her was that, "God knows what her struggles are and has the answers if she would just trust in Him."  About that time I see a "big 'ol boy" sitting with a rather scowl look on his face as he sat waiting for his order.  A gentle thought brushed past me that prompted me to pray for him.  Like I had done so many times before.  But this guy was a big dude and didn't look all that happy.  I hung around the counter and drinks as I tried to convince God not to have me get totally shot down in front of my friends and whataburger buddies that I had just so impressed with my godliness.  I reasoned I was just being carried away with the moment, that God had no intention of blessing that big guy.  I thought it would just make him uncomfortable, and me along with him.

Finally, I had to step out in obedience, even if I was suddenly a big chicken.  I said, "Hi!" and introduced myself and asked him how he was doing.  Trying to figure out how to do this prayer thing that had suddenly gotten very hard to do.  That is when he asked me if we came here regularly and what church we were with.  He shared how he grew up in a small church, but was feeling lost in the very large church he was attending since coming to the area.  I then asked him the question that had kicked me out of my comfort zone in the first place.  "Well is there any way that we can pray for you this morning?"  His response, "Yeah, actually I could really use your prayers this morning!"  Standing where you would place your order, My friend Tyson and I prayed for our new friend Philip as God continued to soften this calloused heart.

An incredible update to this whole story.  It was in May when God showed Tiffany that He knew exactly what she was dealing with.  Last Thursday when she came over to our table I asked her how we could pray for her.  She didn't give the simple friends and family answer, but rather hung in thought as she struggled to answer the question.  She finally said, "Man, that is a tough question."  I don't know why I asked her it, but I just felt a nudge or quirky idea pop in my head.  I then asked her," If you were at the end of your life and stood before God and He asked you why He should let you into heaven, what would you tell Him?"  "Oh man that's even harder to answer!  I guess I give my life to Him and ask Him for the forgiveness of my sins"  A great conversation ensued in just how to do that now and not wait til the end of her life.  She prayed to receive Christ as her Lord and Savior standing at the end of our table.

What joy God has brought to her life and each of ours when we trust and obey!

Jeremiah 3:25
Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us. For we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day, and we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.
Jeremiah 4:3-4
"Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns, circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts,

My prayer: "Dear Father, forgive me for being so slow of heart to trust you and so hard of heart to think I always know better than you.  Train my heart to be sensitive to your still, calm, gentle voice, and give me the grace to have the faith to trust in you above all things.  Amen!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What does it do to you?

Have you ever wondered what your life would look like if God was in complete control of ever ounce and second of your life?  This verse in Psalm 80 has really been stirring me to ponder the question: what does God actually desire to do in and through my life?  If God didn't have to worry about His blessings ruining me and distracting me, how different would my life look?  How much does God desire to pour out blessings on me, but can't because my life is still too much about me?

Psalm 80:11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.
NO GOOD THING does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

He wants to turn the crank wide open, but can't!  Does God ever have to hold back good things in my life, because I am often quick to bask in the glory from others that can come when He uses me?  To lust after His glory, basically.  There have been so many prayers that I have prayed that did not receive the answer I asked for.  Only later to see that it was for the best that I didn't receive that blessing.  I would have turned away from the giver of the blessing and focused on just the blessing. 

I recognize that Jesus lived such a power filled life, how much of that does Jesus still desire to do today?  Much of my life does not seem power filled and overflowing with Christ.  Does he desire to do more miracles in and through my life?

Do you want God to feel no restraint in pouring out blessings in your life?  Then walk uprightly!  Ouch...

Prayer: Oh Lord, it reveals that there is still much sin in my life.  I confess that I am so quick to turn away from you when things go too well.  Or that I am too quick to savor the praise of man for just a little while, when only you deserve the praise, glory, and honor.  I am slow to trust in your plan and quick to trust in my own abilities.  I fight you for control in my life and become angry often when I don't get my way.  Lord bring the holiness of Christ to my life more and more that you would be more free to show me your true heart.  I hunger and thirst for more of the righteousness of Christ in my life.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Snowball of ....


I was recently describing Grace to a friend and used the illustration of a snowball.  Though from a distance it seems small and insignificant as it rolls in your direction.  Not sure it is even worth your attention with so many larger and more pressing issues in life to focus on.

Rom 5:20 The law came along to multiply the trespass. But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more.

But continue to look at that ball of Grace and it starts picking up more speed and size.  You begin to see the snow that it has rolled over adding to it mass with each rotation.  You see things that God has placed in your life that you once thought you were responsible for that now have a different look about them.  You begin to recognize that you didn't really deserve all of those blessings in your life, yet there they are rolling towards you.  You know about what Jesus did on the cross and you begin to meditate on the truths of scripture that cause this snowball of Grace to come closer and faster rolling down from His throne of Grace.

Rom 6:1-4 What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply?Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. 

Many people today are afraid that if more Christians hear the message of Grace that they will run and act wild only to expect Grace to take away any guilt.  We are afraid that Grace will disconnect the consequences of sin from the sinner.  First of all this is Mercy-not receiving the consequences that we do deserve.  Second, when we think our sin is small and the consequences are also we only need a little mercy to be on our way again.  He who is forgiven little, loves little.  But Grace is receiving a gift that we didn't deserve.  This is why grace is multiplied, layer upon layer, super abounding!  It is not that we are forgiven to go walk again in our old way of life, but that Christ lives in us and through us.  We get to walk in a "New Way of Life"!  By the time this little snowball gets to us there is no way that I think I can take advantage of it, push it where I want it, or presume to pull it out whenever I want.

Brace for impact!  Incoming!  Those are the terms we should use for God's Grace.  God is infinite in His Graciousness.  When our eyes open to see ALL that I have, has been given to me from my gracious Father in Heaven it starts to press in on us.  You think I've gone too far?  What part did you play in whether or not you were even born, how 'bout how your brain is wired.  Are you a logical left brained thinker, I guess you can take credit for that....NO.  How about when someone is a gifted athlete.  Look at the words we use.  "Gifted" because we know Shaq had nothing to do with his height  or Johnny Football's incredibly "gifted" hand eye coordination.  We marvel at them instead of the God who formed them!

The things of this life become little compared to what Christ has done for us.  Things that will leave you humbled for eternity!  No, Grace is no small thing to take advantage of.  It rolls over all in its path and leaves them mashed into it going forward into life as an instrument of His Grace in the lives of others.  We feel compelled to lay down our lives for Christ, because He has done so much for us that we could never have earned or deserved.

How much of an impact has God's Grace left on your life?

Friday, January 11, 2013

4D movies

How do you take movie watching to the next level? Something beyond the millions of dollars spent on salaries for the best actors, something even beyond the mega millions spent on special effects, or hiring the best writers to create story lines that blow your mind. I will tell you what Lego Land came up with. They put water sprayers, big fans, and bubble blowers in the ceiling. When the Monster growls and has spit fly out of his mouth, they turn on the sprayers. When the helicopter flies by it blows air over you, then when it snows, they blow tiny pieces of bubbles on you. You haven't had your date clinging to you in the movie theater until she gets sprayed down repeatedly and then has fans blowing over her each time as well. It got me thinking that it was a lot like reading the bible. Many times we mistakenly assume that the bible is boring, or the bible is humdrum reading. We think it is a 2D duty that we have to press through. But what is often the amazing part about it is that there are times it spits on you, times it sends a chill down your spine. There are many times that it comforts you, calms you, and settles you.  Here's to having a not so quiet time in God's word today.

Step Number 136,428,629....

Job 31:4  Does not he see my ways and number all my steps?

Interesting fact:  The average person takes 7,500 steps and day and 216,262,500 steps in their lifetime. An average person, with an average stride, living to the age of 80 will walk about 108,131 miles.  Have you lost count?

I spent several hours down at the Med Center in Houston.  I entered through the Emergency Room at Ben Taub and encountered grieving families seemingly every where I turned.  I passed a lady slumped over outside weeping, and trying to smoke a cigarette while crying into the phone.  My heart tugged at me to not just walk past, but turn around and pray that I might be used by God to bring comfort.  "Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted."  Here's the story she shared.

She is a mother of 5 children and loves her husband.  Last Monday he woke up early and talked her into riding their motorcycle to Galveston so they could watch the sunrise together.  Then they could come back home and take the kids to IHOP for pancakes.  "Things were going so good!" she wept.  Then she woke up in a hospital in Lake Jackson only to find out her husband was in a coma downtown.  "He was always my rock and there for me, now I don't have him when I need him most!  He was such a good dad to my older kids that I don't know how to tell my younger two kids they may not even have a dad."

She was angry at God for the growing injustice in her mind, that he was a good man and didn't deserve this.  Maybe her, but not him!  She felt God wasn't listening to her pleas and that He was distant when she most needed Him.  She sobbed, "What was a life of faith if He is of no help when you need Him most."

She blamed herself for not saying "No" to the early morning ride, like she had done so many times before.  She also shared of all the people who had come by or called to offer support and told stories of all of the kind things her husband had done for them.  Many things she didn't even know.  She was left thinking she should have loved him more and not found as many opportunities to be less than a loving wife to him.  She had avoided seeing her own children for a week and a half because she couldn't hold it together to be strong for them.  She didn't even know what or how to tell her children the news of their father.  She knew the family business needed attention also and that her kids needed her, but didn't feel she could help hold anyone else up.  There was a mountain of grief, fear, regrets that engulfed her like a tsunami.

I was reminded of the quote that, "Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of Christ in the midst of the storm."  All I could do is help carry her to the cross of Christ.  I shared with her Job 31 and asked her what step number she was on.  She had no idea.  I told her that God knew even the number of steps she had taken in her life that led her right here.  If He knew and cared about her to that level of detail, then He could be trusted when He tells her, "Step here and I will hold you up."

I asked her if she thought her husbands accident was a greater injustice than when God allowed Christ to die on the cross at the hands of evil men for our sins.  She said, "no".  I reminded her that we call that Friday, Good Friday, not Injustice Friday.  She smiled and said a less strained breath, "Yeahhhhhh"  I reminded her again that if God does love you and your children and your husband more perfectly than you do.  If he even knows what step number each of you are on.  The words in Romans 8:28 "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."  That God can bring the very best good in her life, her kids life, and her husbands life.  Their good and His glory!  She sighed again able to breath a whole breath.  

"But what do I tell my kids?"  I encouraged her to unashamedly rely on, look to, and rest in Jesus, and even help her children to do the same.  Rest in His goodness and in the fact He knows all your ways, even the step number each of us are one.  The presence of Christ changed this lady right before my eyes.  She was comforted by Christ, she was strengthened when she looked to Him.  She did know the He loved her and her family, but needed reminding again.  As hard as God's sovereignty is to comprehend in these moments, she also needed reminding that there is an absence of guilt for the shoulda, coulda, wouldas that come from the barrage of attacks by Satan when we rest in the sovereignty of God and His goodness and love for us.

Pray for this family that God would carry them through this storm knowing the presence of Christ and his lovingkindness in the midst of these difficult days ahead. 

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