Friday, December 10, 2010

Splitting wood and splitting hairs

Got to spend the morning with Owen today. Kelly was in the Little Rock & the girls were at school so it was just me and my boy. And so naturally, we planned lots of manly things to do. Actually just one manly thing. But it was about as manly as you can get-we had to split and stack firewood. Since we had such studly, beastly chores awaiting us we needed to fuel up with a manly breakfast. So we went to the truck stop for a healthy serving of grease, salt, and pork fat (3 of the 6 man food groups, by the way). With our bellies full, we headed out to tackle the job ahead of us.

Now understand that Owen was crazy excited about helping. But after a few minutes of stacking his enthusiasm began to wane. So I, in my wisdom, knew a trick that would get his attention back-I let him chop some wood. Now before you report me for turning a 3 year old loose with an axe, understand that I didn't just give him a pole axe and let him run wild. I gave him a small hatchet, one that he could handle, and lectured him thoroughly about safety. After the lecture it was time for the fun. He set up his first piece and gave it all he had...and almost made a mark on the wood. So he tried again. And again. Seeing that his confidence was getting shaky I did the next best thing. I found a really green piece and told him to chop away at it. And chop away he did. He was having a grand old time. When he got done it looked like a rabid beaver had attacked that stick. And then I noticed he had started "splitting" wood again. And I put that in quotations because he really wasn't splitting wood-when faced with the difficult task of actually splitting wood, he changed the definition. Rather than try and split firewood, he took large pieces of bark that were knocked loose from the wood and chopped them into smaller pieces. Each time he did this he said, "Look Daddy, I did it!" And being the great dad I am, I encouraged him, gave him an attaboy each time.

Now what's the point here? I'm glad you asked. As I watched him redefine success I realized that we often do the exact same thing as we try and serve God. We see what God wants from us, we learn about what He expects of us. And we give it a try. But then we find it difficult. And so what do we do? Do we cry out to God for strength? Do we surrender to Him and let the Holy Spirit work through us to accomplish what we can't? Nope. We do something even better. We change the definition of success. Or more specifically, we split hairs. We call partial success (or even complete failure) success. Want some examples?

We know we ought to read God's word consistently, right? And many of us do. But how often do we spend the day acting on what we've read that morning? If you're like a lot of folks, you read scripture each day not because you want to commune with God, and not because you want God to show you something that you can do to bring Him glory; you read it to check it off your spiritual 'to-do' list. Jesus said the proof that we love Him is that we obey His commands. If all we do is read His word, and don't actually put it into practice, there's no reason to believe we love Jesus. James says that when we hear God's word and not do it, we deceive ourselves. Here's another example.

We know we ought to love others, right? And we say that's important to us. But be honest; nobody's looking or anything. How often do you really love someone and how often do you just fake it? Sadly we often fake it. We put on an outward, look all spiritual and Christian-y but inside we are thinking about how much we can't stand that person. And somehow we've convinced ourselves that this is what God expects of us. But if scripture teaches us anything, it's that God is more concerned with who we are on the inside than with what we do on the outside. If just being good outwardly were enough then the Pharisees would be held up as a standard for all of us. Instead, Jesus vilified them, calling them "white-washed tombs", i.e., pretty on the outside but full of death and decay on the inside. Jesus demands that we love each other. In fact, He says that the way the world will know we are His followers is that we love each other-not with an outward show but with an inward reality.

So what do we do with this? 2 things. First, don't try and change the definition of success. God is perfect, He is infinitely holy. And He calls me to that same kind of holiness. God deserves so much more than half-hearted effort and lazy attempts at holiness. He deserves my soul, my life, my all. May I never dishonor Him by arguing with Him about what He wants for me. He wants perfection. Second, I've got to rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ. The paradox of Christianity is that God calls me to a perfection I can never attain. And the natural response to that is to split hairs; to change the definition of success. To say, "I did it!" when I actually failed. The proper response is to rest in the work of Christ. To understand that His righteousness has been imputed to me, and that my good works aren't the grounds by which I'm made acceptable to God-the good works of Jesus are. And even though I can't always be who God has called me to be, God knew this when He saved me. And so I rest in Christ. I commit to serve Him, to love Him, to obey Him, to do all that He's called me to do-and when I fail, I cling to the cross, I receive the forgiveness that was made available by the sacrifice of King Jesus. We don't have to split hairs-we have to live in the realization that God has declared us to be righteous, based on the finished work of Jesus. So don't try and make excuses-embrace your weakness and rest in the One who loves you in spite of it.

Father, thank You for Your patience with me. Thank You for loving me not because of what I do, but in spite of what I do. Thank You for providing a perfect salvation in Jesus. Thank You for granting me His perfect righteousness. Help me to serve You with all that is within me; but help me to rest in the finished work of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kitty Cats, Medical Diagnoses, and Other Things we Can Not Understand

If you've followed my facebook postings the last few days you've seen that I've spent a lot of time praying for one of the families that I shepherd at Beech Street, the Blackwells. In case you haven't, here's a short summary: Dee had been sick for a few days last week. On Sunday afternoon, Allen tried to wake her up and she was unresponsive. She was taken to Baptist in Arkadelphia, then quickly flown to Baptist in Little Rock. As of this writing she has made some improvements-she's off the ventilator and her liver continues to show signs of improvement; however, she still hasn't woken (woke? awoke? awoken? you grammar nerds help me out) up yet.

It's always hard when a family that you love and care for is going through a hard time. It gets even tougher when your kids are crazy about that family. My kids love Ms. Dee. They love going to her house, they love hanging out with her, they love spending the night over there. And so they were naturally a upset to find out that she was sick and in the hospital. Owen asked me, "Why did Ms. Dee get sick?" To which I honestly answered, "I don't know, son." He thought about it for a second and said, "I think it was kitty cats."

I sort of chuckled to myself for a minute, thought that was pretty cute. I also thought it was a little funny that 3 year old Owen was ready to make a diagnosis of Dee's condition. But then I had another thought-I realized that this is pretty much what it looks like when I try to explain why God does the things He does.

Let me explain. Often when things come about that I don't understand, things that I don't like, my first inclination is to try and figure out the reason, to explain why it happened; to diagnose the problem if you will. But there's a passage of scripture that I ought to remember; it's Isaiah 55:8-9 and it says this: "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." Now often when that verse is read people will say, "What a cop out." But the longer I live, the more I hold to the fact that this isn't a cop out; it's a humble submission to an obvious reality-God does things differently than I do. He has a whole different way of looking at things than I do. And when things happen that I don't understand-like a dear friend getting dangerously sick-there's no way that I'll figure out why it happened. There's no way I can reason myself to the point where the light bulb comes on and I say, "Now I see, God. It all makes sense now!" Unless God decides to tell me why He has done something, I can't figure it out. I've got as much chance to figure out why God is doing something as my 3 year old does of arriving at the correct medical diagnosis.

Remember when Job was questioning God? If anyone had reason to ask God, "Why did this happen?" it was Job. And for 4 chapters God makes it painfully clear that Job is in no position to question Him. He says, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?", Job 38:1. "Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness?", Job 38:19. "Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars?", Job 39:26. God's point isn't to blast Job for asking a question; His point is to make certain that Job-and all of us-understand that the things that are very basic for God, things like laying the foundation of the earth and keeping the light & darkness in their dwelling places, and teaching the hawk to fly, all these things that are so basic for Him are above our understanding. And if the basic things are above our understanding, how much more are the things that are truly complex-like how God can be glorified even when His people suffer?

And so we're left with a couple options. If, like Owen, I'm completely unable to diagnose a complex medical condition, and figure out all the reasons why an eternally wise and gracious God would allow such a condition to come about, then here's all I can do.

First, understand that God is completely within His rights to do whatever He wants. Psalm 24:1, "The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein..." If the earth belongs to God, and everyone who dwells in it it His, then guess what? He can do whatever He wants, whenever He wants, however He wants, and to whomever He wants. Why? It's His. We belong to Him. He has the final say in what happens, not us. Now we don't like that; sort of chafes, doesn't it? But the fact is that the world is God's. And whatever He does with the world is His prerogative. That's easy to say when things are easy; hard to say when one you love is suffering. Or when you are suffering. But circumstances don't affect who God is. So when things happen that I don't understand and don't like, I have to understand that God is completely within His rights.

But secondly, I have to understand that God is trustworthy. Joshua 1:5, "I will not leave you or forsake you." God has promised that He will remain with me. Not just in easy times, but in all times. Psalm 23:4, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil." Why? "For You are with me." God has promised to never leave me. He's promised to never forsake me. And He always keeps His word. So when things happen that I don't understand-and they will; when things happen that I don't like-and they do; I simply have to bow my knee, submit to my King and say, "Not my will, but Your will be done." And I have to rest in His unchanging goodness.

Father, thank You for loving me. Thank You for promising to never leave me or forsake me. Thank You for being big enough to understand the things that I can't. Thank You for being so awesome that you can take times of hardship and trouble and still use them for Your honor and glory. Forgive my unspeakable arrogance in assuming that I can understand the ways of One who is higher and greater than I'll ever be. Forgive me for not trusting in You. Help me to bow before Your sovereignty. And help me to remember Your faithfulness. Amen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Of Clean Belly Buttons and Other Important Issues

So the other night as I was giving Emma her bath she said, "I want some soap in my hand." When I asked her why she said, "So I can wash my belly button." I thought that sounded reasonable so I gave her some soap and she proceeded to give her belly button as thorough a cleaning as one can give an umbilicus (look it up-or just use context clues).

Now I was certainly proud of her desire to have a clean navel. But here's the problem-that's all she cared about washing. Her sole focus was on her belly button. And don't misunderstand, I'm not opposed to clean belly buttons. In fact, I'm a big proponent of belly button washing. But if all one washes is the belly button, one can hardly call oneself clean. Which brings us to the point.

Sometimes followers of Christ are guilty of this same type of misguided focus. We place all our attention on a certain area and neglect other things that are equally important. Jesus confronted this very problem (misguided spiritual focus, not belly button washing) in Luke 11. He confronts the Pharisees with these words from verse 42. "But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." Jesus says, "You guys are focusing all your attention on one area and are so neglecting all the others." And it's important that we not miss this. It's terribly easy for us in our lives to focus all our attention on a few areas. And usually these are outward things, outward displays of our righteousness. Or said another way, a list of "don'ts". And there are certainly some things we should avoid. Problem is, we focus so intently on these "don'ts" that we ignore the "dos." There is so much more to following Christ than outward rule keeping. Jesus wants us to deal with the heart issues. We get it backwards. We want to deal with outward actions and not focus on the inward realities. But here's something that is just as true as anything I can say-God is more concerned about who you are than what you do. Here's why; I can do all the right things and still be unrighteous. If I've never repented of my sins and trusted in Christ alone for my right standing with God, I'm just a Pharisee. I'm just going through the motions. But if I focus my attention on who I am-my thoughts, my desires, my emotions, the inward part of my being-if my attention is there and I am constantly seeking to surrender these to God, guess what happens? It affects what I do.

Again, don't misunderstand-Jesus didn't blast the Pharisees for tithing; He blasted them because they were doing this and not dealing with justice and the love of God. If I'm not inwardly who I should be, then what I do is worthless. And so Jesus says, "Don't focus so much on the one that you ignore the other." Following Jesus isn't an either/or kind of deal. It's a both/and life. I'm not going to choose between either one thing or the other. I'm going to do both to the glory of God. And I'm going to do both with a heart that is surrendered to the will of God, and completely taken with a desire to see King Jesus glorified in my life.

So is it bad to wash your belly button? I should say not. But if you only wash it and nothing else, you can hardly consider yourself clean. And in the very same way, if all my focus is on outward rule keeping and I ignore inward purity then I can hardly call myself obedient.

Father, thank You for caring about not just what I do, but who I am. Thank You for providing a salvation that can change me completely-not just outwardly, but inwardly. Forgive me for focusing so much on what not to do that I neglect what I'm supposed to do. Forgive me for acting like a Pharisee sometimes, and neglecting the weightier matters of Your law. Help me to bring you glory in everything, and help me live in total surrender to You. Amen.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Heaven is for Real

Here's book review numero tres.

Ever wonder about the reality of heaven? I know all followers of Christ claim to believe in such a place but to be honest, we often view it as more of an abstract idea rather than a literal, physical place. In Todd Burpo's Heaven is for Real, though, heaven isn't talked about as an idea or a dream. It's presented as an actual place. And the amazing thing is that all the information was gathered first hand-by the author's 4 year old son.

When Colton Burpo was 4 he underwent emergency appendectomy surgery. And several months afterward, he began to talk to his parents about what he had seen when he went to heaven. As his parents began to talk about this experience in more detail, they were shocked at what they heard. Colton was able to describe things he had seen and people he had met in amazing detail-including long deceased family members he had never met.

Now any book that purports to tell of an 'out of body' experience is always met with much skepticism-especially by me. But after reading this book I have to confess that I was blown away. The descriptions offered by this little boy are amazingly accurate, and line up with the record of scripture. Having said that, this isn't a theology book. It's a book that recounts the visions of a 4 year old boy. But again, all that he says matches up with scripture.

I found this book very encouraging. It's so easy to take the reality out of heaven, when in fact there's no place more real than heaven. This book makes you long to be there, to see loved ones that you've lost; and most of all, to look upon the One who gave His life to secure your place there. Read it with an open Bible and with a large grain of salt-but I'd encourage you to read it nonetheless.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Transforming Church in Rural America

And we're off with book review #2.

As a pastor I'm interested in anything that will help foster growth in the church. And as a pastor of a church in a rural area, the title of this book was intriguing. The content was even better. I honestly can't remember the last time I read a better church-growth book. And the reason is that this isn't a typical church growth book. It isn't full of flow charts and diagrams (nothing wrong with those things-they can be useful tools); and it isn't just a rah-rah time for the author to pat himself on the back. This book is a challenge to pastors everywhere-a challenge to believe that God can use your church, in your community to do great things for His glory.

The book begins with the author's story, which is a fascinating, compelling account of how he was led from large church in an urban area to a much smaller church in a not-at-all urban area. And in a conversational style, he explains the things he did as pastor of his church-the things that worked great and the things that were spectacular failures. It's as though you were sitting down for a nice conversation with a friend who says, "This is what we've done; this is what worked for us. Take and use whatever works for you."

The author includes many specific ideas (always careful to state that he isn't recommending you do exactly what he did, but that you find what will work in your area), and several links to videos and documents that can offer further assistance.

There's tons of good stuff in this book and I would recommend it to anyone.
Disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. I did so because I liked the book!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Outlive Your Life by Max Lucado

So the other day I signed up at They send me books, I review them. Pretty sweet deal. Here's my first review.

"These are devastating times: 1.75 billion people are desperately poor, one billion are hungry." So begins Max Lucado's latest offering, "Outlive Your Life." If you're familiar with Lucado's work, the subject matter might be a bit of a shock. In books like “A Gentle Thunder” and “When God Whispers Your Name”, Lucado primarily encourages his readers. In this book he seeks to challenge them. In his warm, gentle style, Lucado helps open the eyes of Christians who are far too often blind to how the rest of the world lives. Using the early church as his reference point, Lucado helps us see just what an impact these 1st century Christians made on the world around them-not just from a spiritual viewpoint, but from a physical viewpoint as well.

Unfortunately, when you discuss how the church can minister to the physical needs of the world, objections are often raised; usually they sound something like, "The most important thing we can do is preach the gospel!" And on this point, Lucado is very plain; the most important thing the church can offer the world is the gospel of Jesus Christ. But at the same time, when we have opportunity to minister to the physical needs of those around us, we should.

Lucado's book reads quickly and his point is simple; if God created us to make a difference, shouldn't we be making that difference? He skillfully handles this potentially thorny topic without lecturing or condescending. He simply points his readers to the truth of God's word and lets them choose for themselves. This is a challenging book, but a highly recommended one as well.

Disclaimer: In accordance with new regulations introduced by the Federal Trade Commission,I am required to mention that Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc. has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of writing a review. Sending me a free copy in no way is compensation for, or a guarantee of, a positive review.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Of old razors and other things that shouldn't be forgotten

So the other day I stumbled across a website that trumpeted the values of shaving like a man. Not with disposable, fancy pants razors like some people use. And not even with the cartridge refills. No, this author was a proponent of old school razors. And considering how expensive cartridges are, and how badly disposables irritate, I decided to give it a try. I remembered that my grandfather used to have a really cool razor (not pictured above-but the one I have is just like it; only way better, because it was my grandfather's), so I called mom. She found it and brought it to me.

Now the website had also warned about the dangers of using such a razor, especially if you're used to disposables. So I carefully lathered up with shaving cream (yes, I used a brush for that-I'm old school all the way, baby) and gave it a go. And you know what? I think I got the best shave of my life. My face was about 16 kinds of smooth-and I didn't even nick myself. I can't tell you how happy I was with the results, and how proud I was at myself for not severing my carotid artery in one, clean stroke.

But the point of this post isn't to brag on myself for avoiding self-mutilation. Using the old razor actually got me thinking about how sometimes, older is better. Gramps' old razor is way better than any of the new stuff I've used; and believe me, I've just about used it all. His razor is better for the environment-rather than buying new cartridges each month, or using disposable razors that will pretty much never go away, all I waste is a small blade. In fact, I could even recycle it if I really gave a hoot about the environment. Point is, sometimes older is better. That's true with razors and it's also true in our walk with God.

Jeremiah 6:16 says, "Thus says the LORD: “ Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls." God instructs His people to ask for the 'old ways', i.e., the ways of obedience to Him. We live in a world that is always looking for the next new thing, the next great thing. And to be fair, I suppose that's always been the case. But we're always on the lookout for the next new thing; especially in the church. Go to the bookstore and see how many books you can find that all seem to have the next big idea, the next new thing to try. People snatch those books up as quickly as they can, try some of the ideas; and a few months later are hungry for the next new thing.

Now don't misunderstand, there are times when churches need to make changes. If you think the only music that honors God comes from a piano, you're wrong. If you think the King James Version is the only Bible worth reading, you're wrong. If you think "the blacks" ought to stay in "their" churches and not bother us in ours, you're wrong. Some things need to change. But some things need to stay the same. There are some old paths that we ought to never turn away from: paths of obedience and holiness and prayer and personal times of devotion with God's word. Those are old paths-but they are good paths. God's word promises that when we walk in these old paths, we find rest for our souls.

Could it be that the gnawing hunger in our souls, the craving that we interpret as a desire for something new could actually be filled by something old? Could it be that, rather than calling out for something new, our souls are calling our for something as old as our faith itself? Let's don't turn away from the old paths. Again, I'm not suggesting churches and Christians should never change-of course we should. But there are some things we ought never change; our commitment to God's word, our commitment to sharing the gospel through our words and our actions, and our commitment to personal holiness. Seek the old paths.

Father, thank You for loving us and saving us. Thank You for laying out the path for us to walk. Help us never deviate from it. Help us to commit ourselves, with all that we have, to staying on the paths that you've set for us. Help us to be flexible in our desire to reach others, but help us to be rigid in our commitment to not turn from what You've called us do, and who You've called us to be. Amen.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Love for the Law?

When I was a kid there were things about my parents that I absolutely loved. I loved that we spent time together, that dad would take me hunting and fishing, that they were both so encouraging and loving to me-so many things to be thankful for. But there were other things that I wasn't so thankful for-specifically, the rules they laid down for my brother and I. Seriously, what kid is grateful for the boundaries parents set? As a parent myself, it's interesting to see that tension again; and it's strange to be on the other side of it. Once I was the one grousing about the rules, now I'm the one making the rules. And needless to say, the kids aren't exactly thrilled about it. In fact, when Lily had reached the wise age of 5 she once told me, and I quote, "This house is like a jail." I swear I'm not making that up. Kids don't like the rules mom and dad lay down, do they?

And kids aren't the only ones. Adults have just as much disdain for rules as kids. For example, who is thrilled about the speed limit? Who gets a tingly feeling in their leg when they have to yield to oncoming traffic? Who gets all giggly when they are paying personal property taxes? We don't like rules.

All of which brings me to the point of today's post. In Psalm 119:47-48 David says something peculiar; "And I will delight myself in Your commandments, which I love. My hands also will I lift up to Your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on Your statutes." See what he said? Look at the last part of each sentence again. David says that he loves God's commandments. Twice, in fact, he declares his love for the commands of God.

What's so radical about this is that he doesn't declare his love for God's word-many of us would gladly make that same profession. Richard Holdsworth said, "There are some parts of the will and word of God that even ungodly men will be content to love...all men gather and catch at the promises, and show love to these." That's not really out of the ordinary. Everybody loves to take hold of God's blessings. But David is declaring a love for God's commands; and as I read that I couldn't help but wonder, "Do I love God's law?" Do I love God's law so much that I worship Him for it? Do I worship Him for His commands in my life, the rules that He demands I live by? And I know that the answer is 'no.' I want to worship Him for the blessings He gives me, and rightfully so. But I ought to be able to worship Him for His commands as well. Anyone can worship God for the 'things' He gives us. But only as we grow and mature in our faith can we worship Him, can we 'lift our hands' to Him for the law He has given us. And I think the key to doing this is that we have to change our perspective regarding God's law; we have to look at it differently. Let me share with you some reasons we ought to worship God for His law.

First, it shows us our need of a savior. In Galatians 3:24, Paul says that the law was a tutor that brought us to Christ, i.e., the law shined the light of God's holiness on our lives and opened our sin-blinded eyes to our need. We wouldn't know the standard God has for us had He not revealed that standard to us-and that standard is His perfect law. We ought to worship Him for Hi's law because it shows us our need; it drives us to our knees, breaks our pride and our self-worth and causes us to call on the name of the Lord-and whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Second, it teaches us about God. The 10 commandments are essentially God's self-portrait. It shows how we are to live by showing us who God is. We are to avoid taking murder and theft because God doesn't murder or steal. We are to abstain from bearing false witness because God doesn't bear false witness. We are have no other gods before us because there is no other god before our Great King. The law of God teaches us about the nature of God; that He is holy and righteous and just and loving and merciful and absolutely perfect. God wants us to worship Him in truth-the law demonstrates for us the truth by which we are to worship Him.

Finally, the law shows me how to please God. We understand that we are saved by grace through faith; not because we keep the law so well, but because we are unable to keep it and in repentance and faith we cry out for mercy. But after the divine transaction takes place God expects us to keep His law. Not to maintain our salvation, but to give evidence of our salvation, to bear the fruits worthy of repentance. The law is our guide-it shows us how God expects us to behave, how we are to interact with others, how we are to think and talk and move and live. And as we keep this law, we are become progressively more like Jesus. Charles Spurgeon said, "Where holy hands and holy hearts go, the whole man will one day follow." As we discipline ourselves, and surrender ourselves to obedience to God's law, we are made more like Jesus.

What an incredible blessing it is to have the law of God-we ought to thank Him for it, we ought to worship Him for it. And we ought to commit ourselves to being obedient to it.

Father, thank You for the perfect, eternal law You have given us. We acknowledge our inability to faithfully keep it; we admit to you that we fail daily. But we also know that You promise forgiveness when we confess our sins to You. And we confess that we are sinners and unable to walk in perfect obedience. But Father, our inability to perfectly obey doesn't indicate that we don't love Your law. Rather, we worship You for it. We thank You for revealing it to us. And we pray that You'll strengthen us to more faithfully obey Your perfect law-not because we want to earn salvation, not because we want to earn Your favor-but because we want to be like You. Continue to remake us into Your perfect image. Amen.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Finish Well

So according to news reports coming out today, Brett Favre is going to retire. Again. But this time it's for good. Or maybe not. But one thing we can be sure of is that he's possibly telling his teammates in Minnesota, and the Vikings ownership, that he's done. Maybe.

The Brett Favre saga has become something of a summer ritual over the last few years. And whether or not he'll return this year is unknown. But one thing that is known about him is that when he finally hangs up the cleats for good, he'll go down in history as one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game. Love him or hate him, he was always fun to watch. And when he leaves, he'll take some impressive records with him. Brett Favre has thrown more touchdown passes than any other quarterback. He has won more games as a starting quarterback, and started in more consecutive games than any other player at his position-285. To put that into perspective, Favre hasn't missed a day of work in 18 years. In addition, he's thrown for more yards and completed more passes than any other quarterback.

All impressive stats, right? But you wouldn't have figured he would have turned out this way based on how he began. Favre was drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Falcons, a pick that the coach at the time didn't want made on Favre. And his first year stats were less than dismal. His first pass in the NFL was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. And his stats for the entire year were just sad; 5 attempts, no completions, 2 interceptions. But obviously, Favre bounced back from this start and went on to become one of the great ones.

What's the point of all this? It reminds us that how we start isn't nearly as important as how we finish. I know that's a cliche, but guess what? It's true. It's true for football, it's true for business, and most of all, it's true for our faith. What matters most as we follow Jesus isn't how we start, it's how we finish.

In Matthew 24:13, Jesus said these remarkable words: "He who endures to the end will be saved." Now don't read over that too quickly. Read it again, and consider what He's saying. Jesus doesn't say, "He who is a member of the right church will be saved. He who gives the most money, or lives the most morally upright life, or has the most dramatic testimony will be saved." He simply says that those who endure will be saved. What does that mean? We have to finish well.

The most important thing in following Jesus is following Jesus. Everyday we have to get up, deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus. Nothing flashy, nothing fancy. Just a daily death to ourselves. A daily surrender to the Lordship of King Jesus. He who endures will be saved.

I've heard many preachers say something like, "If you can go back to a time when you trusted in Jesus, you are saved." Friends, that's not what Jesus says. He isn't interested in a time in the past. He says, "He who endures to the end will be saved." If you trusted Jesus before, you'll be trusting Him now. If you gave Him your heart in the past, He'll have your heart in the present, and in the future. Doesn't mean we won't have times when we stumble into sin or turn away for a moment. But true followers of Jesus will always return to Him. And the promise is that all who endure will be saved. As followers of Jesus, we must finish well. Did you have a rocky start in your walk with Christ? Don't worry about it. Jesus is much more interested in how we finish than how we started. At the end of the day, when we're in the presence of Jesus, it won't really matter how we started, will it? All that will matter is that we finished the race, that we fought the good fight-not perfectly, but consistently. And when we bow before our Great King, when we fall before Him in adoration, basking in the glory of His splendor, all that will matter is that we endured to the end. My friends, let's finish well.

Father, thank You for loving us. Thank You for saving us. Thank You for Your infinite patience with us. Even though we stumble and fall, you continue to lift us up, to give us strength to endure. Help us to finish well. Help us to serve You consistently. Your word is clear-if we endure, we are saved. Give us the strength to endure; and when we can't walk, carry us into Your presence-for Your honor, and for Your glory. Amen.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Thoughts on holiness and socks

So the other day I had to buy some new socks. And I really don't like buying new socks-not that I'm opposed to wearing new socks or anything, it's just that when I think about buying something new, I want it to be something cool, something that I really, really want. And when I think of things that are cool, socks rarely come to mind. But I needed socks, so socks it was. And as I was putting my socks away the other night, I noticed something remarkable. My old socks were incredibly dingy. Now I knew already that they weren't as bright as they were when I bought them; but compared to the new socks, they looked pretty bad. So bad, in fact, that I'm considering buying more new socks-and as you might have heard, I don't like buying new socks.

But that's not the point. The point is, new socks can teach us something about holiness. I know, you don't expect to learn anything about holiness by looking at new socks. But I did. My old socks looked OK to me-until I compared them to a different standard, a higher standard than my own opinion. And compared to that different standard, compared to that higher standard, my old socks didn't measure up. I saw things wrong with them, things that I hadn't noticed before. Compared to new socks, my old socks didn't look very nice anymore.

And in the very same way, you and I can look at our lives and think that we're pretty good. When our only standard is our own opinion, we can come out looking pretty well. But the standard by which we must be judged isn't our own standard, isn't our own opinion or anything like that. The standard is God. And His standard is remarkably higher than our own. I Peter 1:15-16 says, "...but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

My life is like my old socks. When looked at based on my own opinions and my own judgments I can come out looking pretty good. I go to church regularly, I try to serve the Lord; or, as I've heard it said before, "I don't smoke, I don't chew, and I don't go with girls who do." I'm a pretty good person. But God's standard isn't goodness; it isn't morality or any of that. God's standard is holiness, absolute perfection. He says, "Be holy because I am holy." Holiness is what God demands because holiness is Who He is. And there is no debate, no wavering on this point. Spurgeon said, "As the God who must do right, the Lord cannot shut his eyes to the iniquities of man; he must visit transgression with its punishment." God demands holiness-and the standard by which we are judged is Himself. And when I judge myself against the glorious holiness of God, I know begin to see things that I didn't see before. When judged against the perfect holiness of the LORD, all my church attendance doesn't seem as impressive as it did before; my feeble, inconsistent attempts at obedience begin to look less like garments of righteousness and more like the tattered rags of a spiritual beggar. I am lost and undone compared to the holiness and righteousness of a great and holy Judge.

Sounds pretty hopeless, doesn't it? Here's the good news-God wants to give you new socks. Isaiah 61:10, "I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels." See that? God wants to clothe us the righteousness of Jesus Christ. When we see our own goodness as insufficient, when we see that we are unable to be holy we cry out for mercy. And that mercy comes in the form of righteousness-not our own righteousness, but the righteousness of Jesus Christ. God grants to us the righteousness of Jesus. And so even though we couldn't live a holy life on our own, we are treated as though we lived the perfect life that Jesus lived. All this happens when we come to God in faith and repentance-we trade our old, dirty socks for the perfect righteousness of King Jesus. All in all, not a bad deal is it? So rejoice in the righteousness that is yours through Jesus Christ. Exult in your good standing with God; and worship the One who made that standing possible-Jesus Christ. And check your sock drawer for dingy socks.

Father, thank You for mercy and grace. Thank You for being such a gloriously holy God. Thank You for revealing Yourself to us-though we were dead in trespasses and sins, You have called us to Yourself and have clothed us in the perfect righteousness of Jesus. And now we are a part of Your family-not because of any good works we have done, but because of the good works that Jesus did. Thank You for the gospel, and for appropriating it in our lives. Amen.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The one about politics

OK, so this one is going to be a little about politics. You've been warned. If you don't want to read it I'll harbor no ill feelings; scroll down and find the Punky Brewster pic-you'll like that one, I'm sure. Last chance to go...still there? OK, I'm officially climbing on my soapbox now.

Psalm 20:7 says, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." Great, great verse of scripture. It draws a beautiful comparison, doesn't it? "There are those", says the Psalmist, "who hold to temporal things. These temporal things have the appearance of power, and compared to you and I they are powerful indeed. But compared to the Lord our God they are weak and impotent. And so rather than trust in these things that have only the shadow of power, our trust is in the One who is eternally powerful, Who is eternally good and will eternally save us." You could preach for weeks on that, right? But what I've noticed is that many of us Christians say we believe that verse, but our hope is actually in something else-namely, politics; specifically, our government.

Now depending on which side of the political aisle you sit you probably think that either we've got the brightest, most intelligent, articulate President in recent memory (if not in history), or we're headed to Hell in a communist basket that's being carried by Nazis and Fascists. Unfortunately, neither are true. Our President can give the heck out of a speech-but that doesn't make him a genius. And I disagree with many of his policies-but that doesn't make him the next Hitler. "What does any of this have to do with Psalm 20:7", you might ask. Here's the answer; I'm afraid that our passion for politics betrays our misplaced trust. Many of us have placed our trust in our government, in the political system of our nation. Nothing gets our dander up quite like politics. And there's nothing wrong with that, per se. But if our trust is really in the Lord, why so much fear and anxiety? I'm not being flip, and I'm certainly not suggesting that we don't stay in contact with our representatives and Senators, or that we somehow remove ourselves from the public square. What I am suggesting is that none of that really matters so much.

Before you get all huffy, consider the words of Jesus. Matthew 6:25, " “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?" Read that one more time, a little more slowly. I'll wait. Consider what Jesus is saying. We are told by Jesus, commanded by Jesus to not concern ourselves with food, drink, or clothing. But you want me to believe that I'm supposed to be worried about who sits in the Oval Office, or get all worked up over what laws Congress passes? Again, not saying we shouldn't vote our conscience, or that we shouldn't care about it-but we care as though we didn't care. Let me explain.

In I Cor. 7, Paul is encouraging the church to have an eternal, rather than a temporal focus. And he says that those who have wives should be as though they didn't have wives; those who weep as though they didn't weep, and those who rejoice as though they didn't rejoice. And his point is that our passion shouldn't be for the temporal-it should be for the eternal. An illustration might help-I love my wife. I'm nuts about her. Seriously, it's borderline disgusting how crazy I am about my wife. If my high school self could meet my present day self, high school Randy would mock old, married Randy (but old married Randy would go home to a lovely lady so who's laughing now, chief?). But as much as I love my wife, I love my Lord even more. And my greatest passion, my greatest satisfaction is not found in my wife; it's found in King Jesus. The gift of my wife doesn't remove my passion for my Lord; it reminds me of His goodness towards me, that He has given me such a priceless treasure. And so while I love her, and I'm crazy about her-my passion remains with King Jesus. In the very same way, I love my country. I'm so glad I'm an American, I'm so grateful for this land. But my highest passion isn't found in who sits in the Oval Office or what laws are passed. My highest passion is found in King Jesus; in knowing Him, serving Him, and fellowshipping with Him. And so while I'll make my voice heard, while I'll vote-I'll do so with my eyes on eternity, not on temporal things like governments and nations.

"Some trust in chariots and horses-we trust in the Lord", said the Psalmist. Is our trust in the Lord, or in our government? You might say, "Well I trust in the Lord, but I think we're supposed to stand up for what's right." I agree. But show me in the New Testament where the early church was commanded to act like the church in America does. Change is not supposed to come from the White House, it's supposed to come from the church house. Congress can't change unregenerate hearts. A government can't look at those who are spiritually dead and say, "Live!" Only Christ can do that. And for many of us, we have taken the mission of the church and given it to the government. And so we've transferred our trust from the One who is trustworthy to something that is temporal.

Now I'm sure that many will disagree with this, and that's OK. I don't mind you disagreeing with me if you don't mind being wrong :) But in my experience, this has been the case. If I make a post on Facebook about the Lord, or about the lost I'll get a few "likes", maybe a comment or two. But if I make a political comment, my page becomes a message board. Hasn't that been the case in your own life? Ask your fellow Christians about missions or the lost and you'll get a couple grunts. Ask them about politics and the fight is on. If we're so passionate about it, that must mean that we've transferred our trust to it. But our trust must be in the Lord.

Again, doesn't mean we remove ourselves from the political discussion. The Psalmist wasn't saying that he opposed the use of chariots or horses. His point was that his trust wasn't in these temporal things; apart from the Lord, it was useless. And so it is with us. Apart from a trust in the Lord Jesus, all our marching, and sign holding, and slogan chanting and all that is useless. Make your voice heard-but don't put your trust in temporal things. Let others trust in a government, or in an Office; we'll trust in the Lord.

Father, thank You for sovereignly ruling all things. Thank You for holding the hearts of leaders in Your hand, and for turning them wherever You please. Help us to put our trust in You, not in temporal things like governments and politicians. Help us to guard our passions, and to not care too deeply about politics. Help us to find our greatest passion, and our greatest satisfaction, in You and You alone. Amen.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What's in a Name?

William Shakespeare's Juliet famously asked, "What's in a name?", and on my way to work this morning I heard a song that made me ponder the same question. The song was Lincoln Brewster's new one The Power of Your Name, and one particular line he sang stuck out (and to be honest, I'm glad it did; when Brewster first came on the scene I couldn't really concentrate on his songs-each time the DJ said, "Lincoln Brewster" all I could think of was Punky Brewster, and that distraction would cause me to miss at least half of the song-but at least you now know why Punky is grinning at you from the top of this post). The line was, "Jesus Your name holds everything I need."

Now scholars and others who are much smarter than I tell us that when the Bible references the 'name' of Jesus or the 'name' of God, it deals with much more than how they are called. It deals with their titles, with their personalities, i.e., all that They are is wrapped up in the name. And so when Punky, I mean Lincoln, (see, I can't help myself!) sings about the name of Jesus holding all that we need, he's reminding himself (and us) that who Jesus is is sufficient for all we need. It's really a declaration of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ.

This isn't new theological ground he's breaking, is it? This is a theme that we hear in our churches, we study in our morning devotions, and I would venture to say that if we follower Christ we claim to believe this. But do we? Do we really believe it? You see, belief influences action. What we believe influences what we do. For example, I've never been to the Grand Canyon. I'd like to because I'm a boy and few things are cooler to a boy than holes in the ground. And I hear that the Grand Canyon is a fair sized hole. But if I ever get there, one thing I'm going to be sure and do-with all that is within me, I'm going to try and make certain that I don't fall to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. You see, I've got this personal philosophy about that. I believe that if I fall to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I'm going to die. And since I believe that, I'm going to avoid falling at all costs. What I believe influences what I do. If I simply said I believed that, but then didn't act as though I did, you might be inclined to wonder if I truly believed it.

How often, as a follower of Christ, do I demonstrate by my life that I believe that Jesus is sufficient? Conversely, how often do I demonstrate that I simply claim to believe that He's sufficient? The Bible couldn't be clearer. Colossians 2:10, "and you are complete in Him..." That means that if I've truly trusted in Christ alone for salvation, I need nothing else. Mentally, emotionally, psychologically, etc. Jesus is all. John MacArthur said, "Having the Lord Jesus Christ is to have everything needed in spiritual life for time and eternity. To have Him is to have everything. Not to have Him is to have absolutely nothing at all. All joy, peace, meaning, value, purpose, hope, fulfillment in life now and forever is bound up in Christ. And when a person receives Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they enter in to an all-sufficient relationship with an all-sufficient Christ."

I claim to believe that. But do I? Does my life give evidence that I trust that Jesus is truly sufficient? Unfortunately, I'm afraid that I don't always. I get distracted by the things the world has to offer-even though the world is passing away. Isn't it sad that we sometimes trade the temporal for the eternal? What a shameful thing for a follower of Christ to profess that Jesus is sufficient, that He is all but then, by his/her life, to demonstrate that He's not really sufficient. And how often I'm guilty of this. Thankfully, we can rest in the sufficient grace of a Savior who loves us not because of what we do, but in spite of what we do.

So what's in a name? Quite a lot. Everything, in fact. As long as that name is Jesus. Let's trust in the sufficiency of Jesus. Let's rest in the sufficiency of Jesus. We are complete in Him-in the mighty name of Jesus Christ.

Father, thank You for being all I need. Thank You for being more than I need. Thank You for making me complete in Jesus. Help me to see and savor the greatness of King Jesus. Help me to rest in His goodness and grace and not be distracted by temporal things. Help me to hold onto Your sufficiency and find my rest in it. Help me to show, by my life, that You are greater and more wonderful than anything the world has to offer. Amen.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dead Man Walking-A Lesson from Lazarus

Last night I was preaching from the story of Lazarus. And there's something really important to point out from that story. Actually there are several really important things to point out, but I'm only going to point out one of them. Normally we focus on the part of the story where Jesus reanimates Lazarus. And that's certainly a dramatic point. Imagine being there and seeing Jesus call for the dead man to come out of the ground. The only thing more outrageous than calling for a dead man to come back to life is when a dead man actually comes back to life. Imagine what it must have been like to see him come out of the tomb, wrapped in grave clothes. And of course we focus on Jesus' command that he be loosed and let go. Lots of good stuff in all of that. But it's the very next verse, John 11:45 that I want to consider; "Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him."

Did you see that? Read it again. Something of colossal importance is made clear; and it's in the very first word. "Then." What's the significance? After Lazarus rose from the dead, many came to faith in Christ. Up to that point they had heard Christ's preaching, and apparently had seen some of His works-but they hadn't trusted in Him. But after Lazarus is raised from the dead, then they believed.

What's the point? Simply this; God will sometimes put His followers through a hard time for the sake of others. God used Lazarus being raised from the dead as the catalyst for the salvation of these folks. Now certainly God is sovereign; and He certainly could have used anything else to bring these people to repentance. But He chose, in His sovereign pleasure, to use the resurrection of Lazarus. And of course, Lazarus wouldn't have needed to be resurrected had he not died. And he wouldn't have died had he not gotten sick. The point is, God brought this into Lazarus' life for the benefit of others.

Now how often, when we face something difficult in our lives, do we immediately think, "I must have done something wrong, God must be punishing me"? And that might be the case. The Bible certainly says that God chastises those whom He loves. When I'm disobedient, I can expect consequences. But there are times when God is pleased to bring hardship into my life not as punishment, and not as correction, but so that He can do something that will glorify Himself; and maybe, it will even bring unbelievers to a place of faith.

To be fair, we aren't wired that way are we? We don't want to be used for the benefit of others. Our focus is on self. But the Bible says that God is the potter and we are the clay. That means He has the sovereign right to do with us as He sees fit. Sometimes that means happiness and blessing; sometimes that's going to mean sorrow and hardship. But we can rest in the fact that even when we're in the middle of a hard time, God is still able to use that for His honor and glory. And maybe, He'll use it to bring someone to Himself.

Our desire, then, ought to be for a willingness to be submissive to what God has for us. We ought to try and cultivate an outward focus rather than an inward focus. Instead of saying "Woe is me!", we ought to say, "Lord, how can I face this situation in a way that will most honor You?" Because of what Lazarus went through, the lost were found. Am I willing to be a Lazarus in my life? Or am I so concerned with my own comfort and my own happiness that I don't want to be used to minister to others?

Father, thank You for Your power and Your grace. It's so wonderful to serve a God who is so amazing that You can take hard times and use them for Your glory. Help me to be submissive to what You want for my life. Use me to benefit others, for Your honor and for Your glory. Amen.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Our sweet Emma-bug has recently accomplished quite a feat and Kelly and I are very proud of her. What is this grand feat that our beautiful 4 year old has accomplished? Has she composed her first Concerto? Has she taken the brush of prose and with fine, measured strokes written a literary masterpiece? Has she scaled the summit of Everest? While she hasn't yet done these things, what she has accomplished is pretty much the same thing-Emma has mastered the art of brushing her teeth all by herself. (guess the picture sort of gave it away there, didn't it?) I'll wait while you "ooh", "ahh", and applaud...still waiting...done? OK.

Now you might say, "Why are you excited about that? Brushing your own teeth isn't such a big deal." And in the grand scheme of things, you're correct. Emma's ability to independently brush her teeth isn't going to change the world; she's not going to win any prizes or accolades for it. But I'm still proud of her. Why? Because I'm her daddy. And it doesn't take much to impress a daddy. When my kids do anything worthwhile, I'm proud of them (and sometimes, I'm proud even when it isn't worthwhile at all). Most any parent is this way, right? When our kids learn to do the smallest things, we're proud of them. When they can brush their teeth, we applaud; when they can change their own clothes, we praise them. At each stage of life, we applaud their accomplishments. We don't expect everything they do to change the world; we're just proud of them for what they've done. They're our children, they belong to us. And since that's the case, we rejoice in even the smallest things they do.

What's the point of this? Simple. As I was swelling with pride about Emma's new accomplishment, I was reminded that God gets proud of us over little things too. Now for some reason we don't want to believe that, do we? We think that we've got to accomplish great things for God. And we certainly ought to, in the words of William Carey, "Attempt great things for God." But like any parent, God is proud of us for little stuff too. Want an example? Matthew 8, Jesus is approached by a centurion. This soldier had a sick servant at home and asked Jesus to heal him. Jesus agrees to come to his house and heal his servant. But the centurion's reply really caught Jesus' attention. He said, vs8, "“Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed." The centurion clearly recognized Jesus' authority, and His ability to heal. He recognized that a Man who could heal sickness would have no problem healing from great distances, right? A pretty simple, pretty logical deduction. But notice what happened next, 10; "When Jesus heard it, He marveled..." What does that mean? He was stunned; He was amazed. He went on to say, "Assuredly I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!" Sounds to me like Jesus was pretty proud of this guy. And it didn't take much to impress Him, did it? A simple recognition of His authority and His ability, and Jesus is marveling at this centurion.

Now how often in our lives do we live in guilt, beating ourselves up about our perceived failures? We think, "Lord, I've never done anything 'big' for You, I'm not accomplishing much for Your kingdom." And if you aren't following Jesus, if you aren't trying to advance His kingdom you ought to feel guilty about that. It's the duty of every follower of Christ to faithfully serve Christ. But sometimes, we feel guilty even when we're following Him, don't we? Here's what we've got to take hold of: it doesn't take much to impress God. He knows what we're capable of. Ps. 103:14, "For He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust." God knows that we aren't capable of much. Frankly, apart from Him we aren't capable of anything. That's why when He sees such a small display of faith, He marvels. And that's why, when He sees anything that we do in His name and for His glory, He's proud. And the reason He's proud isn't that we've done something that will change the world (Although, who knows what God can do through our tiny offerings of obedience and faith? We're still talking about this centurion's act of faith 2000 years later). It's that we belong to Him. And even more, when we do things in His name for His glory, that's evidence of Christ within us. Paul said that he could do all things through Christ who gave him strength. Whenever we're doing things for the glory of God, we're not doing them in our own ability, we're doing them through the supernatural enabling of the Son of God, through the Spirit of God. And that's the whole reason God saved us, isn't it? To glorify Him, through obedience and faith. Don't think that you've got to move mountains, swim oceans or any of that stuff. Concentrate on obeying God. Concentrate on taking one step at a time, by faith in God, through the power of God. And know that when you do, your Father is proud of you. God didn't save you because of what you could do for Him. He saved you in spite of the fact that you could do nothing for Him-and He loved you anyway.

Father, thank You for saving me. Thank You for calling me to Yourself, for granting Me faith and repentance, and for forgiving my sins. Thank You for letting me serve You. Help me remember that You do all the hard work-my job is to trust in You, and to obey when You call me. Help me to not listen to the lies of the enemy. Help me to embrace the fact that I am loved and accepted and a part of Your family-not because of anything I've done, but because of Jesus has done for me. Help me live in that truth, and share it with others. Amen.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Best Days of My Life?

In 1984, Brian Adams released the now classic song, "Summer of '69." It's a nostalgic look at an important time in his life, and it resonates with lots of folks. Now that's pretty understandable; when we drive down the dusty roads of our memories, things usually look better than they really were. But there's always been a line in that song that always bothered me a little. At the end of each verse he sings, "those were the best days of my life." And the first time I heard that I thought, "What a sad thing to say." It's heartbreaking to me to think about having to look back at a time that I would consider the 'best days of my life', as opposed to living in the best days of my life. Maybe I'm just incredibly naive, but there's not a time I can look back on and say, "That was the best time in my life." Each season of my life has been the 'best days of my life.'

High school was a blast for me. Not because I was super popular or anything. In fact, I was the opposite of super popular. But I didn't really care because round about the 10th grade or so, I discovered the secret to surviving high school. Want to know what it is? Well I'm not telling. Just kidding. The secret to surviving high school is figuring out that everyone else is just as insecure as you are. They're worried about their clothes, too. They get zits just like you do. They want to be liked and accepted and thought well of as much as anyone else. That goes for everyone there. And when I figured that out, there was freedom in that. I didn't have to spend all my time worrying about what other people thought about me. I just enjoyed myself. I wasn't an athlete (at 5'8", 145 lbs., not a lot you can do-except for maybe women's gymnastics). I wasn't a ladies' man or anything. But high school was a great time for me. Some of the best days of my life.

Then came college, another blast. Made some of the best friends of my life. Met some of the biggest jerks, too. Like Adam Thomas. Man, I hate that guy. College was a great time for me. I learned a ton of stuff, grew up a lot. And best of all, I met Kelly Mitchell. Yowza. Some of the best days of my life.

Then came marriage. Again, fabulous time in my life. Difficult, challenging, all that. But it was amazing. Kelly and I began to learn how to make our marriage work, and that wasn't always fun. But it was incredible. Some of the best days of my life.

Then fatherhood-nothing changes you like fatherhood. When they give you that kid, and you realize that she's your little girl, or your little boy, everything changes. Nothing will ever be the same for you once you've held your child for the first time. And so I entered that season of my life. And it's been incredible. God has given me amazing children, whom I love intensely. There have been rough days, especially with our first child. Not because Lily was a bad baby, but because when you're a first time parent, you get a little freaked out. After a few days at home I started thinking, "OK, when are the parents going to come get their kid?" And then Kelly reminded me that Lily was our kid. Some of the best days of my life.

And then I started pastoring. Another challenging time, but a great time. Got to move to Wakita, Oklahoma, met some amazing people who put up with a young punk who knew absolutely nothing-but they loved me anyway. Then I moved to Hermitage; more great people, more great times. And now I'm in Gurdon. God has again provided amazing folks for me to minister to, and I'm having a great time. Some of the best days of my life.

My point is that there's not one time in my life that I look back on and say, "Those were the best days of my life." And I don't want there to ever be a time that I look back and say that. These are the best days of my life! Right now is the best time of my life. And when this season is over, the next phase of my life will be the best time of my life. Don't dress up a particular time in your life in the unreal decoration of nostalgia. Embrace this season of your life. Embrace this time. Don't waste your life looking at time that's gone by. Take hold of the time God has given you and use it for His honor and His glory. If it's a good season, enjoy it to the fullest. If it's a difficult season, learn from it what you can, and cling to Jesus. But embrace the time you're in, and use it for God's honor and glory.

Lamentations 3:23 says that God's mercies "...are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness." Every day can be the best day of your life because God's mercies are new to us each day. I can find joy regardless of my circumstances if I find my joy in Christ. Circumstances change-Christ never does. Let's live as though these are the best days of our lives; and try to forget about the times we tight-rolled our jeans.

Father, thank You for life. Thank You for the innumerable blessings you've poured out on me. Thank You for the friends You've given me, the circumstances and experiences You've brought me. And thank You for what lies ahead. Help me to keep my eyes on You; and help me to continue to live for Your honor and Your glory. Amen.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Of snooze buttons and other immoral things

There was a time in my life when I was adamantly opposed to snooze buttons. I sprang from bed each morning, alert and awake, ready to face the day. This continued through my college days (although I'll admit that there were many mornings when I rolled out of bed rather than sprang from it). Many of my friends enjoyed the snooze button. They would set their alarm to go off a long while before they actually had to get up, sometimes as much as an hour before. And then every 9 minutes they would hit that stupid button. I never understood it. "What does that extra 9 minutes really do for you?", I would ask. And then I got married. And I discovered, to my horror, that my wife was an advocate of the snooze button. I could never wrap my head around the logic of waking up, hitting the button, sleeping for a few minutes more, then hearing that stupid alarm again only to...wait for it...hit the button again. And then one day, for reasons I can't quite explain, I hit the snooze button; and I became that which I once despised.

Now in my defense, I don't hit the snooze button every morning. In fact, I don't hit a 'snooze' button at all. My phone is my alarm clock, but that's beside the point. Even though I'm now a user of the snooze button, I still don't understand why. What does that 9 minutes of extra sleep really do, other than make it that much harder for me to get out of bed? After several hours of sleep, is several minutes more going to matter? Has anyone ever said, "Boy, I was still so sleep when my alarm went off, but after I snoozed a couple times, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!"? (on a completely unrelated note, what does it mean to be "bushy-tailed" in the mornings? that sounds to me like something you would want to avoid at all costs. but i digress). The point is, that extra few minutes isn't helping anything. In fact, it's only making me put off what I need to do-get out of bed and get started on my day. I think the only reason we hit that button is that it gives us the illusion of more rest. Those 9 minutes aren't really going to do us any good; but we think we need it. And so we hit that button.

Now that's the reason for this rambling, incoherent post? Good question. Thinking about the logical fallacy that is the snooze button got me thinking about sin. See, sin is a lot like the snooze button. I know that I should avoid it at all costs. The Bible says the wages of sin is death. And even though I'm a follower of Christ, even though my sins have been forgiven and I don't have to face the eternal consequence for them, I'm still faced with the temporal consequences. And I know this. Intellectually, I know and acknowledge the fact that sin is dangerous; that it displeases my King, it injures my testimony, and it is ruinious to my life. But there are still times when I convince myself that I need it. There are times when I think I've got to have whatever it is that the flesh is pining for. And just like I know that hitting the snooze button will offer no benefit, but I do it anyway-I know that sin will benefit me nothing; but I engage in it anyway.

Hebrews 11:25 refers to the 'passing pleasures of sin', i.e., sin is enjoyable-for a season. When we indulge the flesh, it is pleasurable-for a time. Just like when we hit the snooze button, roll over and burrow back under the covers, that's a nice feeling; but it doesn't last. And the fact remains that I've still got to get up. In the very same way, sin is lots of fun-for a little while. But the fact remains that the wages of sin is death; and when I embrace wickedness rather than holiness, I invite the consequences for that sin on my life. One of the most important lessons every Christ-follower must learn is that the passing pleasures of sin aren't worth the consequences for our sin. Our sin, no matter how much the flesh may enjoy it and revel in it, only drags us down. It brings reproach on the name of our Great King. It brings guilt and shame. It is ruinous for our lives. Though it is certainly pleasurable, that pleasure is passing-it won't last. But God offers us joy and fulfillment that lasts forever. Psalm 16:11, "In Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore." Now which makes more sense, pleasures that pass away and lead to ruin, or fullness of joy and pleasures that last forever?
So, got any spiritual snooze buttons in your life? The pleasure they offer is temporary; don't be deceived by them. Let's pray for one another, that we can get rid of them; that we'll arise from sleep, that we'll wake up to the holy life Christ has called us to-and that we'll embrace the eternal pleasures of Jesus rather than the passing pleasures of sin.

Father, thank You for grace. Thank You for being patient with me, and for not giving me what my sinfulness has earned. Thank You for clothing me in the righteousness of Jesus. Forgive my sins, help me to hate sin as You do. Help me to run from it, and run to You. Help me to cast aside everything that slows me down, and the sin that so easily entangles me, and help me run with perseverance the race You've set out for me. And help me to do this for Your honor and for Your glory. Amen.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When is God Worthy of Praise?

So this morning started out pretty well. It was a gorgeous morning-sun shining, birds singing, all the cliches that you need for a great day. Lily and I even left a little early, which NEVER happens. I got her to school, walked her in, got my goodbye kiss and headed out. On my way to the car I got to visit with a couple church members, pick on a few kids, and just generally engage in activities that put a little spring in my step. I get to the car and think, "This is going to be a great day." All the way to the office I'm thinking about the Lord, how good He is to me and my family; I'm thinking about my text for Sunday's sermon, praying about it, etc. All in all, things are going fantastically well. And then, as I was about to turn left at an intersection, I happened to look back to my left and see a car coming over the hill, a car that wasn't there the first time I looked. Fortunately I had plenty of time to wait for them. As I made my left turn (after looking 3 or 4 additional times) I thought, "That could have been a little messy." And I couldn't help but think how differently my morning would have gone had I pulled out in front of this car and gotten T-Boned. Now understand, the other car was moving at a pretty good clip; and I wasn't wearing my seat belt (I know, I know, save your comments; I promise to wear it next time). Had I gotten hit, it would have been directly on my door, with the other car probably going about 50 miles an hour. As I said, would have been a little messy. And as I rolled that thought around I was struck by another thought; had I pulled out in front of the car and gotten hit would God be any less worthy of praise?

Important question, isn't it? Because it gets to the heart of what we believe about God. Is God worthy of praise only when He does good things for us? Should we praise Him only because of what He does? Or is God worthy of praise regardless of what happens, i.e., should we praise Him because of who He is?

Very important to consider. Our answer demonstrates what we believe about the worthiness of God. And maybe the best illustration of how we should respond is found in the life of Job. We remember his story well, but the problem is that we know it so well we sort of gloss over it. We read about him losing everything without pausing to consider the implications of that. He lost everything. The Bible records that in rapid-fire succession, Job was informed that he had lost his fortune and his family. Now put yourself there. Your day stars like any other. Maybe you're having a cup of coffee at the local diner. And you see a friend's car pull up, skid to a stop and your friend gets out of the car running; he comes to you as fast as he can and breathlessly announces that he just came from your house and it had burned to the ground. While he's talking another friend runs up and says that all your investments have just failed and you're left with nothing. And while he's still talking another person runs up, tears in his eyes, and tells you that all your children were just killed in a freak storm. Now let all that sink in. What emotions would you feel? What would you want to say to God? We know what Job said. He tore his robe and shaved his head (both signs of intense mourning), and then said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away: Blessed be the name of the Lord."

I could imagine I would want to say a lot of things if I received such news; but "blessed be the name of the Lord" isn't at the top of the list. But why shouldn't it be? According to scripture, God is worthy of praise; that means He deserves it. Not because of what He does, but because of who He is. His nature is praiseworthy; who He is demands our adoration and praise. One of the hardest lessons we have to learn is that God's worthy isn't dependant on our circumstances. God is worthy of praise whether the sun is shining or it's cloudy outside. God is worthy when I've got money and when I'm broke. He's worthy when good things happen and when bad things happen. God is worthy. No matter what happens in my life, He deserves the honor and the glory and power and the worship, forever. Today, remember the worthiness of God; and praise Him regardless of what happens.

Father, thank You for being worthy of praise. Thank You for being so majestic, so awesome, so incredible and incomprehensible that you are worthy of praise regardless of what happens in my life. Help me to see beyond myself, take away my selfishness and help me to see Your worth. Help me to praise you in all things. Help me to join with Job and say, "Blessed be the name of the Lord." Amen.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Coffee and Christianity

For most of my life I've been a morning person. I like to sleep in from time to time but by and large I enjoy getting an early start on the day. Sometimes I hear people say things like, "I've never seen the sun come up, I can't imagine getting up that early!", while I simply can't imagine not seeing a sunrise. Things are still quiet, you have a chance to think about the day, to consider what needs to be accomplished, and hopefully spend some time in the presence of the Lord. Nothing like early mornings. And one of the things that makes early mornings so enjoyable is a good cup of coffee. I don't think there's another time of day that coffee smells better than first thing in the morning. Nothing like brewing up a good cup and watching the sunrise. Which brings me to one of the most frustrating things about mornings; my inability to brew coffee consistently. I know, it isn't rocket science; you put the coffee in, add the water, and push the button. A monkey could figure it out. Unfortunately, I'm apparently not as smart as a monkey. Because some days I'm able to brew as fine a cup of coffee as you could drink. No kidding around, I'll brew some stuff that is just fantastic. But after a couple days of fine java, I brew up some tar water. Just bitter, nasty tasting brown water that would gag a maggot (you're welcome for that visual image, btw). It's just frustrating being unable to consistently brew a good cup of coffee.
I've discovered the same frustrations as I try to walk with Christ. Some days I do pretty well. I turn from immorality and embrace righteousness. I walk close to the Lord, surrendering to His leadership in my life. I'm willing to go out of my way to try and minister to someone, eager to obey my King. But there are other days where I fail miserably. And it's so frustrating because I can't seem to figure out what's causing the incongruity. I think I'm doing things the same way each time, but sometimes I get good results, sometimes not. But here's the good thing; I'm not accepted by God based on how well I perform. I'm accepted by God based on how well Jesus performed. See, sometimes we get this idea that God will only accept us if we're good enough. But the Bible says we can't be good enough. Isaiah 64:6 says, "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags..." That means the best I have to offer God is no better than filthy rags. In fact, the word used here refers to menstrual cloths. What a shocking choice of words for the prophet! He says that the best we can offer God is unclean, unacceptable in His sight. And that's why Jesus came to live in our place. The best I could offer God would never be good enough. God's standard is absolute perfection, and I could never be perfect. So Jesus came to be perfect in my place. And when I bowed my knee to Him as Lord and Master, when I repented of my sins and asked for His mercy, the righteousness/perfection of Jesus was credited to my account. 2 Corinthians 5:21, "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." The righteousness of Jesus was applied to my life. It's just as though I lived the perfect life that Jesus lived. And so even when I fail, even when I sin and fall short of God's standard for my life, I'm still acceptable to God. Because the basis of my acceptance isn't what I do; it's what Jesus did for me. That's good news. That will make you have a great day; even when you brew lousy coffee.

Father, thank You for Your mercy. Thank You for saving me even though I didn't deserve it then and don't deserve it now. Thank You for Your patience when I fail You. And most of all, thank You for robing me with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Help me to walk worthy of Your calling for me, and help me to always bring You honor and glory. Amen.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Kenya Dig It?

So I probably should have updated the blog before now. I know that when you tell people you've gone to Africa, they immediately want to hear all the stories. And I've got stories, believe you me. But at the same time, spending a few days in Kenya, preaching the gospel and ministering in churches is a unique experience. You come home very conflicted. On the one hand you're incredibly grateful for the things you have, and the lifestyle you can enjoy. On the other, your mind drifts to new friends who have so little, and you wonder about the apparent disparity of it. And of course there are all the amazing times we spent in worship services together. And truth be told, coming home can be a bit of a let down. In the churches we ministered to, the minimum amount of time spent in praise and worship was at least an hour. Then the sermon needed to be at least that long. In fact, the services began at 6 on Sunday morning, and didn't conclude until about 1:30. And the amazing thing is how it flew by; being in God's presence with passionate worshippers made the time pass so quickly. And then you come home and church is most often the opposite of that. And sadly, you immediately find yourself falling into that rut again. You let yourself be ruled by the clock, or by what others may think. And that's terribly unfortunate. I ought not come back and return to who I was; I ought to come back reflecting the things God taught me, the things He did to me and through me.
I'll have more to post in the future; stories that will break your heart, and stories that will make you smile. But for now, know that God was glorified this week. God did what He loves to do; He took an unworthy vessel and used it for His honor and His glory. His church was strengthened; people professed their hope in Christ as their savior. We were protected and blessed and filled and strengthened and challenged and encouraged and broken and lifted up and exhausted and sustained and troubled and happy and a million other feelings/emotions. Thanks to those who checked in on us, and those who prayed for us. Your prayers sustained us, and your partnership with us was such an encouragement. Sola Deo Gloria.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Lessons from the Timer

One of the joys of living in a home with 3 women (other than the exercise I get while treading water in a bottomless sea of estrogen) is being constantly amazed at how long they can take in the shower. Seriously, I think Global Warming isn't happening from carbon or any of that other stuff; it's happening because of all the steam escaping from homes where women spend so much time in the shower. And I've discovered that this isn't limited just to adult women; it's a trait that's shared by women-in-training as well. Like Lily. I love my Lily-bug; coolest kid around. But she could spend all day in the shower. It was getting to be quite a problem because she likes to shower in the mornings rather than the evenings but was taking so long she was consistently late for school. And it's hard to explain to teachers why your kid is late when you only live 2 blocks from the school. So we finally settled on a solution; the good old fashioned kitchen timer. We set it when she gets in the shower and it when it goes off, she knows it's time to get out. The first few times were kind of tough, especially since she still had soap in her hair. But we told her to toughen up and she would be fine.
As I was setting her timer this morning (and yes, we have to set the timer for her as she isn't fully awake until about 20 minutes after her shower), I was struck by the thought that we're all on a timer. There is a limited amount of time we're given. And the funny thing is, we don't know how much time it is. It would be nice if we knew how many minutes were on our timer, wouldn't it? I don't mean in a morbid way, I just mean that we would be more focused on what matters. We would give ourselves to the things that have significance rather than wasting some of our precious minutes and hours on stupid, inconsequential things.
In Psalm 90:12 we read, "So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Wisdom comes when we learn to number our days; not try and affix a specific amount of time to our lives, but realize we are given but a finite time here. This life will not last forever. And so the choice before is simple; what will we do with the time we have? And don't misunderstand, this isn't a "You better repent before you die" kind of post-although you should. This is just a reminder that the years we're given aren't infinite; that the moment you're in your life won't last forever; that the season you're in will one day pass. One day my kids will be grown and gone; some days I wish for that. But when that day comes, will I look back on how I spent my time with them and be proud? Or will I look back with regret? Will I look back on how I treated others and be content? Or will I be filled with remorse for stupid words and thoughtless actions? And most of all, when I look back on how I regarded my Savior, will I be able to say that I kept the faith and ran the race? Or will I look back and see that I shamed my King?
Our lives are on the timer, so to speak; you may have decades yet to live, and I hope you do. I hope I do. But I may not. If not, what am I doing today that matters? What am I doing now that will last? Am I numbering my days? Or am I wasting them?
Father, thank You for the gift of life. Thank You for granting me the years I've had. Help me to remember that those years are finite, that there will come a day when the timer of my life will run out. Help me to live in such a way that when that day comes I won't be ashamed, I won't be sad. Rather, I'll be able to rejoice in Your provision, and look back with gratitude on how You led me to spend my days wisely. Help me to do what matters in regards to my family, my church, and most of all, in regards to You, my King. Amen.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Cold Feet and Selfish Hearts

The other night Lily and Emma had a classic fight, one that's been had by anyone who's ever had to share a bed with someone who has really cold feet. First, a little background. When we lived in Hermitage the girls shared a room but had separate beds. We had stackable bunk beds and for a while that worked great; it stopped working great the day I walked into their room and saw Owen, who was 1 at the time, standing on the top bunk, with his back towards the ladder. Needless to say, the stackable bunks were quickly unstacked. When we moved to Gurdon, though, there wasn't room in the girls' bedroom for both beds (one was a twin bunk, the other a futon). So we just let them share a full size bed-an arrangement with which Emma was thrilled and Lily, being way too cool to share a bed with her kid sister, hated. Nevertheless, here we are.
So as I was tucking them in, fixing covers and all that, Lily said, "Emma, get your feet off me!" Apparently in place of feet, Emma had two toddler size blocks of ice attached directly beneath her ankles. Emma replied, "But my feet are cold and you're warm!" Who hasn't had this argument, right? Cold feet are pulled, as though by gravity itself, towards a source of warmth-which is generally the person with whom you share your bed. Kelly and I have had this argument on several occasions (by the way, she's got the coldest friggin' feet in history; some nights I think she dips them in liquid nitrogen before coming to bed-love ya, babe!)
Now here's the point of this seemingly incoherent rambling; Emma and Lily's spat demonstrates the selfishness that resides in all our hearts. Outwardly we can be pretty good, can't we? We can say the right things, do the right things, smile when we're supposed to, cry when we're supposed to, etc. But inwardly, we are wicked. We fit the description that Jesus used of the Pharisees when He called them 'white-washed tombs'-pretty on the outside, full of decay and rot on the inside. And don't misunderstand; putting cold feet on someone isn't a crime worthy of death or anything, but it demonstrates the way we want to put ourselves first. Emma gave no thought to the discomfort she might cause Lily; her only concern was herself (I'm not bashing my kid, by the way, so keep your comments to yourself; she's 4, she's learning; I'm just illustrating a point). And that's exactly how many of us live. Our only concern is ourselves. We want what's best for us and we want it right now.
Don't believe me? Think back to the last time you got stuck behind someone who was going about 20 miles per hour below the speed limit, and wouldn't move over so you could pass. Did you think, "I'm sure they have a good reason, perhaps they don't notice me; I'll simply be patient"? Or did you begin to conjugate new verbs, and wish a pox and pestilence on them? We focus on ourselves, don't we? And that's the opposite of what Jesus has commanded us to do. In Philippians chapter 2, we're implored to think of others first. Verses 3-4 read, "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." Now what's remarkable is that the very next verse tells us to have the same attitude as Jesus; which means that vs3-4 describe in part what that attitude was. No matter what you think about Jesus and Christianity, you've got to admit that the world would be a much better place if everyone did that. Imagine a place where we thought of others first rather than ourselves. That's exactly what we're called to do. How often do I obey this command (and it is a command, by the way, not a suggestion)? How often do I instead focus on myself? Jesus calls me to a life of self-denial; to put the needs and desires of others above my own. Will obey? Or will I continue to put my cold feet on others?

Father, forgive me for my selfishness. Forgive me for putting my self above others. Forgive me for not following Your example. Help me to have the mind of Christ regarding others. Help me walk in Your ways rather than my own. And by my obedience, may the world get a glimpse of Your incredible, self-less love; a love that led you to the cross to pay for my sins.