Sunday, December 17, 2006

Everybody Needs a Little Jolt

Wow, it sure has been a long "blog hiatus", hasn't it? I sincerely apologize for this. It has been 1 month since my last entry. There is good reason for this, though. Things have really been kicking in our house as we are preparing for a big move, and a step into God's will for us. More on that later though, I have something write about right now.

Last Thursday, my wife and I found ourselves in the Southwest Airlines terminal at Detroit Metro Airport, waiting for our evening flight to Baltimore, and our final destination of Orlando, FL. We were going there to meet with the principal of a Christian school where my wife will be teaching this winter. But, as we got settled in the terminal, I could feel the long day beginning to catch up with me. I couldn't help but notice the Starbucks mini-coffee shop, and so, I made my way over there and ordered myself a Tall (medium for you fellow Americans) regular coffee. As I was waiting, I decided to try something new: I asked for a shot of espresso in the coffee. The friendly folks behind the counter happily obliged me, and I walked off after paying with my now turbo-charged coffee. I tasted it as I walked away. Not bad, a little stronger tasting than regular Starbucks, but not so strong I couldn't take it. At the gate with my wife, I finished the coffee, and too soon the effects of that little shot of espresso were all to evident. I was suddenly wide awake, and quite wired!

You see, that's what espresso is supposed to do. It gives an ordinary cup of Joe a kickstart. It's kind of an octane boost for coffee. I think that in our relationship with Christ, there are moments when we need a "spiritual espresso shot". We spend time in prayer and in study, worshipping the Lord. We go to church, and if we aren't careful, it will become more routine than relationship. Sometimes, we need to do something to snap ourselves out of our rut we get into at times.

So, what is a spiritual shot of espresso? To me, it is getting out of our comfort zone and deciding to become radical in our relationship with Jesus. It's realizing that there is more to life than simply sitting inside our little box and hoping that all goes well for us. I think there are times that we just have to get off our behinds and take a chance on God. Take a step of faith. Whether that step takes you to the street corner, the coworker, or Africa. Let's get out of the house and talk to the neighbors about Christ. The risk is you may get rejected and mocked, or you may see them saved. But either way, you stepped out of the boat and dared to walk on water. Hey, we all have ragged on Peter for sinking that night, but how many of us can say we walked on water, even a step or 2? What's that sound I hear, crickets chirping? That's what I thought. Peter sank, but at least he got out if the boat.

I like the story of Saul's son Jonathan in 1 Samuel 14. In that particular account, as Saul and his army sat around hoping for another confirmation from God of something they already knew to do, Jonathan and his armor-bearer did something so crazy, it would have been labeled suicidal today. They decided to attack the entire Philstine army by themselves, just the 2 of them. Jonathan's only thought? "Perhaps the Lord will work for us". Jonathan didn't get word from the prophet. He wasn't commanded to do it. He simply said, "let's just see what God does!". The result? God did a mighty miracle that day, all because someone decided to order that shot of espresso in their spiritual coffee.

This is just a simple thought that has been in my heart for a few days. I pray that it blesses and challenges you out there to live a turbo-charged life for the Lord Jesus Christ.

I'll post more about in the coming days about our coming move to Florida.

God bless!

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Non-Trivial Pursuit

We chase after a lot of things in life, don’t we? Somehow, we humans seem to have a need for pursuit hard-wired into our genetic make-up. I pursued my wife. I got her phone number years ago, called her, and started the dating process. It must’ve worked, because we’ve been married for 8 ½ years now. I pursued the approval of peers in school. It was crucial to “fit in”, to know that I was accepted at all costs.

Now that I’m older, one thing I’ve written about recently is my health. I am pursuing better health. I am chasing after more strength. I am doing what I can to lose some much needed pounds from my midsection. This is a very necessary pursuit as I age my way through the 30’s, and one I need to stay focused on. That is one pursuit that is very easy to end.

But, these past few days have seen a different kind of pursuit. I’m not after this with this kind of zeal, but many are. It’s the pursuit of the Playstation 3. I have seen local news stories on TV all week about people literally camping out in front of Best Buy in tents to be the first in line to get their hands on one of these puppies. People are lined up at these electronics stores by the hundreds to get their hands on these and most stores will only get a few dozen in!

Now, I love video games. I am a child of the 80’s, and I grew up on Atari 2600 and the original Nintendo game system. I know Pitfall, River Raid, Super Mario and Donkey Kong. Even now, an Xbox sits in my entertainment center. And from what I’ve heard, this new system from Sony is absolutely amazing. But, is it worth camping all week in the rain for? Is it worth shelling out $600 for? I say wait a year and get it for half that. Not these brave, and may I say, crazy souls. I even heard today that one man was shot in the line for a machine at a Wal-mart because he refused to give up his cash (sad, and I pray for that man). Another was offered $3500 cash for his spot in line, and refused it! Yet again, I saw one on Ebay already. Want to hear the starting bid? Take your heart pills first. $25,000! Talk about a trivial pursuit! It’s not just a board game, friends.

People are creatures of pursuit, and we will pay dearly for it, whether that’s a game console or the thrill of free-falling at 5,000 feet. And, I believe that we as God’s creation were made this way by Him. He didn’t want to make a bunch of robots. He wanted people that would choose to love him. But that means we also have a million other choices besides God. Yes, I’m sure it pains God to know that people he created to love and enjoy Him forever ignore His goodness and chase after stuff that won’t last. But that is just how much He loves us. He loves us enough to let us choose to love Him.

I think of my own kids love for me. There are times I pick them up and hold them, demanding hug or a kiss, them in protest the whole time (Hey, the TV is more appealing them, you know!). Finally, out of frustration, they give me the hug and the kiss, and happily return to the tube, or the toy, or whatever. Then there’s the times that they seek me out, and climb in my lap, and give me hugs and kisses. The times they come just to tell me that they love me. You know, I’ll take the enforced hugs and “I love you’s”, but I rather have those that they freely give me. When they want to seek me out and tell me that they love me. Friend, if we feel that way about our kids, how much more does our heavenly Father about us?

This makes me think of one of my favorite verses: “…but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Phil. 3:12b. I love this verse because of speaks of the only pursuit with eternal value and blessings. It speaks of our pursuit of God, of knowing him intimately. I’m not just talking about theological knowledge. I mean a real relationship with God Almighty. We need to get our drive for pursuit going the right way. This is what that drive is about.

I don’t want to trivialize every other thing we go after. I wouldn’t have a wife or family if I hadn’t pursued my wife. I wouldn’t have a house if I hadn’t pursued a home. I wouldn’t have a job if I didn’t pursue employment. But the most crucial chase one can engage in is the one most neglected. Friends, it’s time to chase down God.

By the way, did you know that he is on a pursuit himself? But, tune in next time for that one!

God bless!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Here I Go Again!

Well, I'm at again. I once again decided that I need to start taking better care of myself. I need to get back in shape, and tone up. I started last week, and so far I've stuck with it. I decided to try a combination of things to get myself into optimal health. I am doing a cardiovascular workout of Cardio-kickboxing. I did this years ago, and it really works wonders. You can burn up to 800 calories per hour!

I also have been doing research on isometric exercise as a means of toning up. Basically, one isolates the muscle at the point where it is worked out the most. In the case of a push-up or bench press, that would be with the arms almost fully extended at shoulder level. So holding a push-up that point does it, as well as putting your palms together at shoulder level and pushing against the other hand as hard as possible for at least 7-10 seconds. The result? In 7-10 seconds you have done the work of a set, isolating the muscle. It also reduces the chances of injury. There are no weights to lift up, no back to hurt, etc. You know, so far, I have the "workout soreness" that follows a really good workout. And so far, I am feeling better.
I addition to the exercise, I am also trying to eat better. You know the saying, "garbage in, garbage out". So, I'm cutting down on the snacks and junk like chips and such. I'm trying to get more protein, and good carbs. I'm trying to eat more vegetables like carrots and broccoli, and also peppers. I do feel better!

This of course is a reminder to me personally that as important that my physical health is, especially that I'm getting a bit older, my spiritual health is much more important. And, just as we have to decide to start getting the needed exercise, so we have to decide to keep our spirits in shape too. We need to take the time to pray, not just prayers, but to live our lives in communion with Christ. To "keep the lines open". How do we do that? Worship is one way. The Bible says that we should "sing and make melody in our hearts to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19).
We tune up our spirits in prayer. I think prayer is summed up nicely in one particular verse: "Keep on praying" (1 Thess. 5:17). Now that doesn't mean to live on ours knees, but it does mean that we need to keep an attitude of prayer. It's keeping the line open.

We keep in top spiritual shape by reading God's word. "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God's way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do." (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

And finally, I'll stop here. We keep in spiritual shape by giving. God is a giver. Just read the most well known verse of the entire Bible, John 3:16- "For God so loved...that he gave...". Just read this passage from 2 Corinthians 9- "And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, 'Godly people give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will never be forgotten.' For God is the one who gives seed to the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will give you many opportunities to do good, and he will produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched so that you can give even more generously. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will break out in thanksgiving to God." (vs. 8-11, bold emphasis mine)

Giving doesn't just have to be about money, either. Don't get me wrong, the Bible tells us to honor God with our money (Prov. 3:9-10), but we need to honor him with all areas that we can give from. Like our time, and our talents. When you learn to give, and let God work that giving heart in you, you will come away blessed many times over in every area of life.
So, here's to good health, both spiritually and physically. God bless!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Timmy's 3!

Hey, all, well, it's hard to believe that my son Timmy is now 3 years old! It seems like just days ago that he was born. I remember the day vividly. It was Sunday, November 2, 2003. Our church's first service in our new building, and we weren't present because we were delivering Timmy. He now runs all over that building like he owns the place.
We are constantly learning new things as a result of having Timmy. Most readers know that we have 2 older girls, 7 and almost 5. But, as I guess I should know, boys are different. After all, I am one! Just yesterday, my dear wife was wondering why Timmy loves to seemingly painfully throw himself around the place, jumping, purposely falling, and sliding around. He seems play much rougher than our girls do. My only answer: he's a boy. We're different than you girls. Look, I've done my share of crazy boy stuff too. (Don't be too shocked if you read this, Mom!) As I mentioned in past blog entries, I once made a makeshift hanglider out of scrap wood and garbage bags, and tried gliding off the shed. Word to the wise: it doesn't work. I did my share of "smear the queer" style football, full-contact basketball, and attempting to invent "skateboard hockey". My brother and I would string our bedsheets across our room from one dresser to another and practice "diving over the line" with a football into the bed "endzone". So, yes, my wife can expect Timmy to venture off into much more physical play as he gets older (I really pray he doesn't try the hangliding thing!) Hey, at least we'll have a heads up for when Jayden starts getting mobile!
So, to Timmy, I love you buddy! I hope you have a great birthday today. Now go play nicely with your sisters!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Chasing Lions (My First Book Review)

*This is my first ever book review. I have no idea how it should be done. I pray that this review makes you want to click the book title and buy up a copy on Amazon!

I've read a lot of books. I've read a lot of good authors. People like C.S. Lewis, Max Lucado, and John Piper. I have one more author to add to my list-Mark Batterson. Mark is the Lead Pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., a church that is innovative even down to its multiple locations it meets at. The book Pastor Mark has recently written, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, is as unique a book as its somewhat odd title would lead you to believe. Taking an obscure story from 2 Samuel 23 about one of David's mighty men, who dared to chase down a lion and kill it in a pit all while in the snow, he begins to encourage us that there is a lion-chaser somewhere in all of us.

Now, chasing a lion is crazy. The first reaction to seeing a lion in its territory is one of flight. But Mark's point: a lion-chaser is a different kind of person. It's the person who realizes that life's biggest problems are all too often hidden opportunities from God.

Citing personal times of lion-chasing, and the experiences of friends and church members, Pastor Mark skillfully lights a fire that makes you want to take a risk for God, and his purposes. He encourages us to find our natural weirdness. To think outside the box.

This book is for preacher and parishioner alike. Everyone has a calling. Everyone Christian is a minister. And, in the end, the things you'll most regret in life are the lions you never chased, the chances you never took, the opportunities you passed up on.

So what are you waiting for? Chase that lion!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

One Slimy Job!

Last night, I spent some time outside on the deck with my kids, cleaning out a pumpkin. Of course, during this time of the year, that isn’t an uncommon sight. But, since we don’t do the whole trick or treat, and jack-o-lantern on the porch thing, one might wonder why I would be out there scooping out the biggest pumpkin I could find at the grocery store. In what has become kind of a little tradition for our family, we buy a pumpkin to get the seeds. What a tasty snack! I love roasted pumpkin seeds, and so do my kids.

There is one thing I really hate about gutting a pumpkin and separating out hundreds and hundreds of seeds, though. I hate the slimy, gooey orange gunk. It smells funny, and with the eczema I deal with starting every fall, it dries out my hands and irritates the skin. Plus, as much as I love those little seeds, when they are slime-coated, it’s like trying to grab a bar of wet soap. Seed-harvesting is no small task!

As I sat there hand-picking the seeds with my kids, the girls using spoons to keep free of the slime (once a girl, always a girl!), I got to thinking about how messy our lives can be. When I look at my life, and I see where I fall short, and the mistakes I’ve made, and the attitudes I try hard to ward off, it seems that God really has his work cut out for him. It seems that the slime just never ends. Thank God he isn’t afraid to go where it smells bad. He isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty to bring me of out the gunk. And, I rejoice, because in the midst of all that slime, there are precious seeds of blessing that God is harvesting. It reminds me of one of my favorite verses in the Bible:

“And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.” Philippians 1:6

That is an immensely encouraging message for me. I know my shortcomings. I’m painfully aware of my sin. I see the areas of struggle in my life. God knows all that, too. What’s so amazing is that even though he sees everything I do, knows every thought, and hears every word, he still loves me. He cares. And he digs through the slime of my life, and tosses it aside, leaving his nature in me.

So be encouraged, friends. God is working, and he promised to see the construction job through till the end. We are works in progress, but one day, when we finally see the Jesus face to face, we will be completed works or Christ’s righteousness.

God bless!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Powerful Video

Good morning, all. I decided to post a video today that I saw this weekend. It is by the band Casting Crowns, and the song is called "Does Anybody Hear Her?" This video a reminder to what we Christians are to do as the Body of Christ.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Unlikely Heros

Yesterday, my wife brought home a movie that she thought I'd get a kick out of, Napoleon Dynamite. I have to say, this movie brought back memories of my own time in high school. I appears to take place in the same era, the early to mid 90's. I gathered that from the hair and clothing styles. Also, I got a good laugh out of the cheesy saying of the geeky main character, Napoleon, because I remember people talking like that. Plus, you have to dig his moon boots!

The movie is about a few people that are the "invisble" types in school, those that the "cool kids" love to hate and pick on, coming together to do something that defies everyone's expectations. In this case, with the help of his shy friend Deb, they get his new friend Pedro elected as class president (Hence, the "Vote for Pedro" T-shirts seen from time to time).

Upon reflection this morning, the theme that emerges out of this movie is that the peole that seem the least likely to make a splash end up making the biggest splash. I think that God works in a similar way. He takes takes those that the world would consider foolish and weak, and uses them to put the world's perceived wisdom and strength to shame. That's why a young teenaged shepherd boy named David became a giant killer, and eventually a king. That's why a man called Gideon who thought that he was the weakest guy in his family really became a mighty warrior. That's how poor, everyday fisherman became apostles of Christ and mighty preachers of the Gospel. God takes the weak, and through Jesus Christ, makes them strong. Even the Jewish leaders that questioned Peter and John that day had to admit that there was something radically different about these men. Where they saw fear in them after Jesus was taken and killed, now they saw boldness.

"When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus." Acts 4:13

Listen friends. There is a giant killer waiting in the wings of your weakness. You may feel that you are just watching sheep, but God is preparing you for greater things. Go with his flow. He is using everything you encounter in life to mold you into the person he's created you to be-for his glory. Remember Romans 8:28- "All things work together for good to those that love God, to the called according to his purpose." And look at the honor role of people that God used:

Jacob- an lying con man turned prince of God
Joseph- hated by his brothers, enslaved, imprisoned, exalted to leadership
Moses- from a prince to a shepherd to the deliverer of his people
Gideon- the least in his family, which was the weakest of the tribe of Manasseh, yet a mighty man of valor
David- shepherd boy, youngest son, yet a lion, bear, and giant killer, and a king

This list could go on and on and on!

God is in the business of making unlikely heros!

Guess what? That includes you!

God bless!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Imitating God

Last year, I had been faced with a strong case of the flu. Body aches, a runny nose, and a fever. Oh, the misery! If there is anything my wife can’t take, it’s me sick. I can’t be sick silently. I share it with the world.

“My head hurts!” “No screaming, kids!” “Where’s the Tylenol?”

It annoys her to no end. When she gets sick, she refuses to get near me. I don’t think that she is really concerned that I stay well. Really, I wonder if she just doesn’t want to take care of another “kid” for a few days. I can’t blame her. I’m a bad sick person!

Well, toward the end of my flu bout, when the headache was subsiding and the aches and pains were finally over, I found myself with energy I hadn’t had in days. Plus, I had done nothing but sleep. But, there was a problem with the energy boost. As thrilled as I was to have some strength back, the timing was odd. It was about 3 AM when I noticed it! I was wide awake and rested. Oh well, may as well do something.

So, I got up. I walked into the living room, and saw what my poor wife had to contend with while my rear was out of gear. It’s hard keeping up on the house when both of us are on it, with 3 out of 4 kids mobile. I know how it is when she is out of commission. So, I did something that thrilled her socks off. I took my newly acquired energy, and cleaned the house. I straightened up the living room. I loaded the dishwasher, and started it. I swept the floor. I think I may have even mopped the kitchen! I was a cleaning fool. And after about an hour, I had it looking nice, and was feeling tired again, so, off to bed I went.

You should have seen the look on her face that morning when she got up. It was like the cleaning fairy had come while we were all asleep and cleaned house. She was in heaven! And, I might add, quite happy that her man decided to just do something to make the place nicer, and take a load off of her back. Can you say “brownie points”?

Sometimes I wonder if God feels that way when we do things to advance his Kingdom. Does he rejoice when we see that homeless guy on the exit ramp and joyfully help him out? Does it make him happy when his children reach out to the hungry with a meal and a kind word? I don’t think I’d be stretching the bounds of my authority if I said that God loves to see his children imitating him. In fact, I can pin scripture down on it:

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2 NIV

God is pleased when he sees us do what his only begotten Son did-sacrifice. You see, it cost God to save us. It cost Jesus Christ. And he longs to see the love and attitude of Christ displayed in us as we grow in our faith. And following Christ means lives of sacrifice. Sacrifice doesn’t necessarily mean that we are laying down our lives, though that certainly fits the description. Every time we look beyond our own comfort, and look beyond our desires to see the needs of those around us, we sacrifice. For Jesus, since he is God, it was leaving the glories of heaven, his majestic throne, and service from myriads of angels to take on a human body, and be born in a smelly stable. It was a sacrifice for him just to grace us with his presence, though we didn’t recognize him. It was love that motivated God the Father to send his only begotten Son into this sin-infested world and die the most brutal death, and bleed on that cross. It was Christ’s love for us that held him on that cross. Sacrifice. It’ll cost something.

What are some ways that you can look beyond yourself to see the need of your neighbor today? In what ways can you splash some of God’s love around on those who need him? That’s what Jesus meant when he said to “take up our cross”. The imagery to the first century Jew or Roman was clear. The cross was a form of the death penalty. To us, the cross is a religious symbol above the baptistery at church. It’s a piece of jewelry on a necklace. Not then. It represented death; death to our own human wills; death to our selfish ambitions and comforts.

So, what has to die so you can be a Christ-imitator to your neighbor?
God bless!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Revisiting Spiritual Bungee Jumping

Hey, all, I just wanted to take some time today and expound a little bit on just what taking risks means to me. I read the comments on my entry from Friday, and I am thankful for the words of encouragement, and Roughrider's "permission". But, I know that some reading the blog from Friday can come away with some concern, and I felt that it is approriate to take some time and dive a bit deeper into what it is I am talking about.

When I talk about taking risks for the Lord, I am not talking unwise or foolish risks. Scripture gives me a mandate to make sure that my family is provided for. So, if God is calling me (hypothetically) to a certain area of the country out of driving distance from my current home, I would do the obvious stuff like land a job and find a home first. Once in that area and established in work and home, then we would work on the ministry calling. Though God calls us to step out in faith, I don't think he wants us to lay God-given wisdom aside. My first and most important ministry is to my wife and children. In fact, the Bible says that to neglect my family makes me worse than an infidel, or an unbeliever. So, I must first consider my family.

So, what would be a "spiritual bungee jump" for me? It would be stepping out to start a ministry, such as a church in the Detroit area, as I do feel called to do. What make it so risky? To me, what makes it risky isn't really a money issue. I wouldn't be required to quit my job to do it. Such an undertaking is done usually with support from a local church that "mothers" a new church till it can stand on its own 2 feet. The risk for me is in the fear of failing. What if that new church falls flat? What if no one comes? What if no one supports it? If it does fail, will I be looked upon by those who supported it as incompetent?

When the apostle Paul arrived in the city of Corinth, it was a fearful time for him. That city had an "anything goes" feel to it that eventually infiltrated the church (just read 1 Cor. 5!). Paul himself said that when he came to that city, it was in "weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling" (see 1 Cor. 2:3). But, he faced that weakness and fear head-on and saw a great church eventually come together. But something to consider that is pure wisdom for potential church-planters is that Paul didn't go it alone. He had people that traveled with him, like Barnabas, Silas, Timothy and Luke, who wrote the book of Acts. Though some have successfully done it, I don't think it's wise to launch something like a church without people coming alongside to help it out. We can be wise in our risks.

Anyway, I just wanted to add some more clarity to Friday's post. God bless!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Spiritual Bungee Jumping

I've been thinking a lot lately on being a risk-taker. It seems everything from books to sermons, taking risks for the Kingdom of God has been on the brain. I have been confronted in the past 2 weeks by Pastor Mark Batterson's new book, not even released yet, about taking risks. (You can read the first few pages of In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day here.) Whether it was Moses stepping out and commanding Pharoah to let his people go, or Jonathan and his armor-bearer taking on the Philistines themselves, I've been confronted in my own spirit about being a risk-taker, being entrepreneurial for Jesus. Now, I don't mean becoming a business owner, but stepping out, sticking my neck out and taking a chance in what I feel God is calling me and my family to do. Frankly, it's scary.

Why is it so scary? As a kid, did I think twice about climbing ladders and hanging out on the roof with my dad as he did work up there? Nope. Did I stop to consider the consequences shed-jumping? Please! I even once tried to make a hang-glider out of some of dad's scrap wood and a garbage bag! Not only did I frame a rough glider, I climbed to the top of the 10 or 12 foot peak on the shed and jumped, thinking that I actually could glide. Instead, I fell like a rock. I mean, those endeavors included the possibility of serious injury, even death, but I didn't think twice about it!

Taking risks for the Lord for me means that I am safe from hanging gliding, skydiving and bungee jumping. But it does means risking total failure. It means I may possibly look bad to other people. For years, I have not only dreamed about starting a church, but I truly feel that God wants me to do it. But, truthfully, a fear rises up in me every time I decide to step out and do it. It becomes easier for me to simply wait for a church that is in operation already to come open, and become their pastor. It seems safer. But God doesn't necessarily lead us down a path of total safety. Remember, David wrote in the 23rd Psalm that God lead him into the valley of the shadow of death. That doesn't sound so safe and comfortable to me. But as long as God was leading him, he had the all comfort he needed. In fact, God has a habit of leading his people into situations that are less than ideal. Just ask Gideon, whose big army got reduced to 300 men by God himself. Or Elijah, who God sent to get in the face of one the most wicked kings in Israel's history, Ahab, and pronounce judgment that was really the king's doing.

So, here I am, once again at a crossroads. Will I step out and take that plunge of faith that I feel God is telling me too, or will I continue to weasel out of it, hoping that something "easier" pops up? You know, taking risks for God shouldn't be difficult for me. It isn't like I haven't done it before. Just the fact that this blog is here and has been for more than a year now is proof that I have taken the risk of being ridiculed, thinking that some may take one read of my stuff, and dismiss me as a literary wannabe. But, God has been faithful, and many have been touched by what God has led me to write. So, just a note to myself, taking risks for me is not an unprecedented thing.

This post may be more for myself today than anyone else. Sometimes, I just need a swift kick in the butt to remind myself of what I am truly called to do. But, just as the foreign languages that the 120 disciples miraculously spoke on the day of Pentecost served to preach the Gospel to the people visiting town for the feast of Pentecost, so this writing is hopefully going to be a blessing to someone else today, not just me.

Well, as the great Porky the Pig said, That's all folks! God bless!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

How's Your Resume?

Today, as I opened up my email, I was greeted by one of those job-seeking website emails that I subscribe to. The third position down happened to be with a former employer of mine. It's a great place to work, and the job was right up my wife's alley, so I called her and told her about it. She immediately began to refine her resume, and wanted my input. I am not resume expert, as a glance at my own will reveal. But, I did a little research, and found a website that specializes in helping us common folk write killer resumes. I found out something so obvious, yet it hit me like a 2 x 4 in a tornado. A resume is really an advertisement for potential employer to see. It's like a commercial in printed form. So, to get that coveted interview, it is vital to put your best foot forward, and really sell yourself in a way that captures the prospective employer's attention in the first few seconds. This first impression can make all the difference in the world. How does one do that? The site I visited suggested focusing on the employer's needs, and using power words such as "extraordinary", "highly qualified", and such. It's about making the recruiter want to read more.

If you think about it, as born-again believers in Jesus Christ, our lives are a kind of "resume for Jesus". When people watch us, and interact with us, what they observe can either make or break our Christian testimony. People judge the greatness of the Savior by those who follow him. That's why it's vital to live our lives in front of people in a godly manner. They need to see love demonstrated. They need to see patience displayed. They need to see a changed life that is in the world, but not influenced by the world. What good is Jesus to a lost sinner if the the Christian who follows him is seen as no different?

Paul the Apostle understood that his life was to be a "resume for Jesus". He took that truth seriously, and that's why he was able to tell the Corinthian Christians to "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1 NIV). He wasn't living his life in such a way as to lead people into sin. That doesn't mean that we are living in sinless perfection, but that we aim to be like Christ Jesus in all that we do.

Not only did Paul have such expectations for his own life, but he expected those under his apostolic authority to be "resumes" as well. In 2 Cor. 3, he essentially told the same people he had to rebuke sharply that they were "living letters" of not only Christ and the Gospel, but of Paul and his ministry. Their lives were now showing the changes that made them more Christ-like, giving more validity to Paul's message, and his standing as Christ's chosen apostle to the non-Jewish people.

In these past few weeks, I have really been focused on what it means to be a "missional-minded", or an outward-focused Christian. Our task is not to shut ourselves away and hold out till the rapture of the Church, but to hit the harvest fields of people needing Christ and win them to him. Jesus said that we are like that city on a hill, whose lights are visible in the darkness. In the dark world that we live in, we shine our light in the way we live our lives.

"...let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Mat. 5:16 NIV)

So, shine that love that God has poured into you. Shine that mercy, that compassion, that joy that endures even the hardest trials life throws at you. When the lost people of this world begin to see that there is something different in you, they are sure to ask and, maybe, just maybe, you'll harvest that soul and see them come to Christ and become a "resume for Jesus", too!

I'm off to work on my resume!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

No Gas Equals Forced Exercise?

This morning it finally happened. I can honestly say that it has never happened to me, at least I can't remember it ever happening. I ran out of gas. First, I must give you all the pertinent information, so you will have a clear picture of what brought me to this point. I drive an older car, a 1992 Ford Crown Victoria. Great car, it has gotten me from point A to point B for a few years now. But the electronic gas gauage is broken. It tells me the miles till empty, which can literally read a full tank with only five or ten gallons in the tank. Or, it can read near empty with a good amount of gas. The gallons left feature is just as unreliable. Anyway, it read over 132 miles till empty, then dipped to 34. Then I ran out! I managed to get a good way to work, but still a half mile from the nearest station. So, I called my wife and told her to be ready to come with the lawn mower gas can. Then I decided to walk back to that station, and I had to buy a small gas can, plus $2 in gas. Then I walked back to the car, over a mile, total walking distance! I emptied the gas in the car, and it started up. All's well that ends well. My wife didn't have to drive the nearly 20 miles to help me out.

But, as you can tell from my title today, it forced me to get some exercise. Now, we all know that exercise is a good thing, but it takes determination and a will set like flint to make it a regular discipline. That's the hard part for me. Yet, funny how our circumstances can force us to take action. For me, it was an empty tank of gas. For others, it might me a threat of diabetes, or heart problems. But, someday, sometime, trouble will rear it's ugly head, and when it does, it pays to be in good shape. Today, I found out the hard way that I am not.

We do the same thing spiritually, don't we? We often let our spiritual tanks run dry. How often do we neglect our relationship with the Lord, neglect reading his Word, the Bible? How often do we neglect spending time with Him in prayer? We don't spend time in worship personally. We allow spiritual laziness to set in, and it dulls our sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. There will be crisis times in our lives, and in the lives of those around us who may need our prayers, but we often are so stopped up with the cares of this life and our own stuff that we can't hear the still, small voice of God calling us to pray for people in what is called a kairos moment. Kairos is a Greek word from the New Testament meaning "an opportune or seasonable time". This is different than the other Greek word for time, chronos, which simply refers to chronological time. There are times when I sense that God is calling me to special moments of prayer. Maybe to pray for someone in particular, or for several people. Sometimes, I don't even know what I am praying about! But God calls us to these times. That is why it is so urgent to "not run out of gas" spiritually. We need to be shaped up for the task at hand.

So, are you low on gas today? Take the time to steal away with the Lord and pray. Grab a Bible and read it. Take the Word of God in your spirit. Spend some time in personal worship, just you and the Lord Jesus. You are "filling up the tank" when you do these.

That's it for today. I pray that this has sparked someone into investing more into their relationship with God today. God bless!

Monday, October 02, 2006

What's That in Your Hand?

*I was inspired by Pastor Darrell Garrett today. Click his name, or the link to the Dawghowse on the right, so you too can read his thought-provoking blog today.

What are some of the names you remember from your childhood Sunday School class? Think back on those old Bible stories to recall some of the people, and their actions, that got them honorable mention in the very Word of God.

How about Moses? Shamgar comes to mind. Gideon. Samson. Jonathan and his armor-bearer. David. The list could go on and on. What is the purpose of listing a bunch names from deep in the pages of the Old Testment? To encourage you, the reader. How? Read on.

Each of these men were just average plain guys. Sure, Moses had once been a prince in Egypt, but after killing a man he fled to the backside of the desert where he got married, and kept his father-in-law's sheep. But he had something beside a call from God. He had a shepherd's staff, the very stick that God used to reveal his wonders to a hardened Pharoah.

Shamgar? Perhaps this is a name that simply blends in with the other judges of Israel with funny names that are hard to pronounce. But his actions are anything but boring. When the enemy Philistines were attacking, Shamgar won a miraculous victory using what he used in his farming career-an ox goad. Nothing but a sharp, long stick to poke lazy oxen with when they stopped, and a flat opposite end to clean off the plow. Yet this simple piece of farming equipment in the hands of a God-inspired man delivered his countrymen from the terror these heartless attackers brought with them. Six hundred Philistines met their maker that day, because one man took a risk and let God use him and whatever was in his hand (see Judges 3).

I don't have the time to write a chapter about it, but there's Gideon's small 300-man army, Samson and the jawbone of a donkey, Jonathan and his armor-bearer against the huge Philistine army, and David and his sling versus Goliath, nine feet of solid warrior. All of these people were used by God, having only the tools of the trade, so to speak. These men stepped out in faith and believed God to move on their behalf, and each saw the miraculous happen. They were Godly risk-takers.

So, what is my point? The Philistines of our day are coming against us. Not a real army, but the forces of sin, ungodly worldviews, perversion, greed, and materialism. Students, regardless of the grade or institution, are being subjected to radical ideas from fringe people that seem to flock to our schools. MTV, Hollywood and the media send messages that are absolutely contrary to Godly morals and Biblical teaching. Am I surprised? No, darkness has always worked against the light. But we have been called by God to shine as lights in a dark place. Newsflash-God wants to use you to make an impact on this world!

So, what's in your hand? God can use you, he can use your talents, giftings, etc., to reach a world that he loved so much, that he sent his only begotten Son to die for. Perhaps you have the gift of gab, like my 4-year old daughter, quite appropriately named Gabbie. Use it. Strike up conversation. Talk to those who need to hear the message. Are you a natural leader? Are people drawn to you? There's your platform, friend. Use that influence to lead them to Christ. Is your area of expertise in song? Then sing to the world about the Savior.

Me? Well, I have a fairly easy time with computers and the 'net, and I love to write. So, for now, this blog is my staff, my ox-goad. May God use it for his glory, and may many come into the light of Jesus Christ.

What it comes down to is being a risk-taker for God. Each of the men I profiled stepped out and took a major step of faith. That isn't easy to do. But, God rewards active faith. Just ask James, who told us in his slice of the Bible that faith without works is dead. In other words, if our faith is alive and kicking, there darn well should be some vital signs. Those signs are actions done out of our faith and love for Christ. And these men didn't have much. Just the everyday tools they used to get by. God still uses yielded hearts and simple tools in our hands.

So how did Pastor Darrell's blog inspire, exactly? Simply put, there is a world out there that needs to hear our message, but we seem to speak the wrong language. God didn't create us to be clones of the countless Christians sitting in pews across America. He made me to be me. He made you to be you. So, take that heart for Christ, and that staff or ox-goad in your hand, whatever form that takes, and reach out to those that God has placed you near.

God bless!

Friday, September 29, 2006

More Missional...

I just finished reading the biography of the most influential missionary to China, Hudson Taylor. Talk about a man with zeal! He spent most of his adult life there, reaching out to the people of China.

At that time, missionaries did there work in there own westernized style. Taylor, however, was famous for adopting the clothing of the people he was ministering too. He wore native Chinese clothes. He was sensitive the culture of the Chinese people.

Taylor was a man that exemplied what today is called incarnation. Now, we all know about the Incarnation, that is, Jesus Christ becoming human, leaving his heavenly position, with all that glory. He "took on the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man" (Phil. 2:7). Christ identified with us people when he became a man. He knew what it was to be hungry, to be tired, to experience human emotion. He knew what it was like to be impoverished. He knew what it was to experience pain. Finally, he knew what it meant to suffer death. The Bible says that he is "touched with the feelings of our infirmities". He knows what we humans go through.

Jesus also showed us what God is like. He told his disciples that to see and know him is to see and know the Father. Jesus put a face on God that we people could understand. He showed us God's grace, God's mercy. He demonstrated God's love.

That is what Taylor did. That is the whole key to being missional in our faith. Look, every company with a product or service has a mission, right? And they take their products to the people via advertising. We Christians do the same, but we must also be able to identify with the people we are trying to reach. We have to meet them on their plane. In some areas, like an inner-city, that may mean food, clothing and shelter, and a listening ear. Hearing their struggles, being concerned for them. In some towns, it may be in a coffee shop during open mic night.

But just as Christ used his incarnation not just to "feel our pains", but to show us the glory of God in him, so we too must show those around us who Christ is. By coming alongside others to get to know them, we open up a door by which they can begin to see God in us, and that God truly cares for them. We open up a door to demonstrate God's love to them.

As Pentecostal Christians, we believe in being led by the Holy Spirit. Friends, is this not what the Spirit of God empowers us to do? We were baptized in the Spirit not to have great church services, but to be witnesses of Christ. I believe that the Spirit of God will help us to come alongside a sinful world so that we can show them who Christ really is.

I am thinking outloud again in this entry today. It is a departure yet again from my usual writing style, but necessary in my own growth in Christ. It helps me to put these thoughts into writing to make sense out of what God is doing in my life.

Thanks for being a listening ear! God bless!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Guess Who's 7?

September 27, 1999 is a day that my life was changed forever. That day my oldest kid, Machaela was born, about 3:20 in the afternoon. It's so hard to believe that seven years have now passed.

It seems like just last week, I was holding that precious little girl for the first time, with tears streaming down my face. I remember so clearly seeing her all wrapped up in a blanket, that tiny pink hat on her head. I remember talking to her and calling her by her name (we had already decided on Machaela). She focused in on me when she heard me talking.

It seems like just days ago we were dealing with teething. Now I'm having to pull those same baby teeth out as they hang on by a little thread of gum. It seems like we were just cheering her first words on. Now she talks circles around us, and even pulls out vocabulary words I didn't know till I was older! It seems that we were just rooting her on as she took her first steps at ten months old. Now she's learning to ride a 2-wheel bike!

Lord, what happened? Our baby is growing up! I know I can't stop it, so I may as well cheer her on like when she took those very first steps.

I could pull a sermon out of this, but I will spare everyone today. Today, I just want to honor Machaela. She is growing fast, but she will always be Daddy's little girl.

Machaela, Daddy loves you! Happy birthday!

*This post was done purposely in Machaela's favorite color, blue!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Missional:Theory to Practice (Personally)

A few day back I wrote a short article on what it means to be a Missional Christian. Well, lately I have been trying to come to terms with my calling and ministry in the light of realizing that true Christians are called to be outward-focused missionaries to those around us. I am realizing more and more that I have a growing passion to reach out specifically to the younger, post-modern generation. It's a passion for those who are in college, subjected more often than not to some professor with a captive audience that rails on about his wacky ideas, derailing the morals and beliefs of many instilled in them from the time they were born. I want to reach young families so they can know that there is so much more to life than pressing on toward the American Dream of wealth that leaves bitterness and emptiness. I want to reach young people that see no hope in this life, and show them the only true hope that we find in Jesus Christ.

Pastoral ministry is my heart's desire. It's almost like something is missing right now. Like a hole in my life that the Lord intends to fill with people that he has called me to love on, to pour into, to lift up and see them grow in the Lord Jesus. It almost feels like somewhere out there, there are people in need of me. Maybe those people are meeting in an established church. Maybe they've not yet come the Christ to be forgiven. But I know that God has people out there that he has called me to shepherd. I just don't know where.

Nor do I know why God has called me to do this. I feel like I can identify with the Apostle Paul's statement of being "less than the least of all the saints" (see Eph. 3:8). What do I have to give these people? What knowledge can I possibly bring? What accolades? I have no letters after my name. I have no degree. I have no real ability that I can readily see. But none of that matters with God. It doesn't make sense, but God's word tells me that he uses the foolish things to put to shame the wise things. He chooses the weak things over the strong.

I know what I do have. I have a willing heart. I am willing to do what God says to do, say what God says to say, go where God says to go. I have a love for these people that I don't even know yet. I have a desire to see them come to salvation in Christ, to see them grow in the faith. I want to help them become faithful ministers of Christ, not necessarily behind a pulpit somewhere, but to their families, on their jobs, at their schools.

This is where my frustration comes into play. The questions I keep asking God is "when?" and "Where?" But no answer. Even in my personal time of prayer, I can't get away from this calling. I sense it more strongly every time I pray. It is consuming my thoughts right now. I just can't shake it off. And whenever I try to pull a Moses and tell God he called the wrong guy, it comes back on me even stronger. I can't run from it. God doesn't call us according to our knowledge, our experiences, our talents, or our education. He doesn't call the qualified; he qualifies the called.

Pray for me, friends. I know that this is a serious departure from my usual blogging style. This entry is totally impromptu, and I'm sure it shows. I just hurt so much for this younger generation that has no anchor, nothing it can see worth holding on to. I wish I knew where to start.

God bless.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Getting the Roots Out

Last week I got an instant message from my wife while I was working. She was doing laundry, one of her most favorite things to do, when while the washer was draining, water suddenly started backing up into the toilet and bathtub. Soap suds and dirty, linty water was cascading out of the bowl, and filling up the tub. So great was the mess that I had to actually leave work a couple hours early to look at what could be causing such a problem.

I dealt with this all week, and we were really starting to wear down our stockpile of clean clothes. Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel was coming into view. Roto-Rooter, the plumbing service, came out Saturday morning. When the guy unscrewed the cap from the clean-out pipe, and shined a flashlight into it, he saw the problem.

The plumber went to his van and retrieved his sewer snake machine, and began rooting out our sewer line-literally! You see, what was causing all of our plumbing woes were tree roots. Our sewer line runs directly under a birch tree in the front yard. All those roots look for moisture to soak up so the tree can have plenty of water. Often, these roots find the needed moisture in the sewer lines that run through our yards, and the small roots find their way in through little cracks. They do this especially during times of drought and dryness. They can really cause a big mess.

I stood their talking with the plumber as he worked, and as we shot the breeze, I noticed the snake bring up a huge clump of roots. Then another. And then another again. Finally, when he could find nothing more, and the line was flowing freely, I paid the man and he went on his way. But I didn't just walk away with clean pipes; I walked away with an object lesson in maintaining our relationship with God. Let's read Galatians 5:16, from the NIV:

"So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature."

You see, just like that sewer line, things can "get into our pipes" spiritually. We are always going to be faced with temptation. Temptation is not a sin, even Jesus was tempted. But our trouble comes when we give in to that temptation. The more we give in to temptation and sin, the easier it becomes to do so. Before we know it, we are finding ourselves totally clogged with the roots of sin. I would say that especially when we allow ourselves to become dry spiritually, we are at risk to getting our hearts clogged up. When we step back from the life -giving Word of God, when we draw from his goodness and mercy less often, when we don't spend time in prayer and communion with the Lord on daily basis, we start to dry out. In our dryness, we look for something to wet us down.

So friends, I just want to encourage you to recognize when sin comes knocking on your door. As enticing as it may seem, shun it. Run from it. Keep feeding your spirit on God's Word, spend your day with Him, in close communication with him. Stay in God's presence. In so doing, you will help keep your heart clear of spiritual roots that will only damage you.

God bless!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

It's No Fad

*My thanks to Pastor Neil for making me think about this some more!

What are some of the fads you remember growing up? Fashion is always changing, and it has had its memorable moments. Being born in 1975, I don't recall really any of the '70s. But, I do remember the '80s. Just a movie on TV from the era reminds me of the now embarrassing things we thought were cool.

Who remembers parachute pants? These were nylon pants loaded with pockets and zippers. What about stonewashed jeans complete with manufacturer holes? And of course, we couldn't just throw the jeans on, we had to carefully fold the pant leg over at the ankle and roll them up 2 or 3 times. Then I remember the Hypercolor T-shirts that actually changed color when exposed to the heat or water. Talk about cheesy! We had the tall spiked hair and jean jackets, and we thought we looked so cool!

Well, we in the Christian church have had our share of changes, too. And I don't mean fashion. I remember the Brownsville Revival. God truly moved and saved many at that very long running revival. Yet, preachers would actually study what they did in that revival and try to duplicate it at their churches, hoping that God would bring a massive revival to their towns, too. But Brownsville wasn't about the setup on stage, it was about a praying people that sought God to touch the city of Pensacola, and God shook a nation.

I also remember the Purpose Driven phenomenon, about discovering your purpose on this planet. Or the Prayer of Jabez. How many folks went out and bought these books hoping to bring lasting change to their lives, me included? And we got some good stuff from them. They were certainly blessings, but as fast as they hit the Evangelical scene, they faded into obscurity. You just don't hear much about these teachings nowadays.

Well, now we have talk going on about the Emergent Church, or Emerging Church. While I don't fully understand what this is, the aim is to engage a post-modern, post-Christian society and meet them where they are at. And, some are yelling that this is just another Christian fad. I don't think that this is the case. But I am going to dig a bit deeper than simply talking about the Emergent Church. I want to talk about what drives them. The driving force is the realization that the church is to be missional. That is another buzz word being tossed around lately. I'm sure some are calling it faddish. But I'm not. I call it getting back to the roots of what being a Christ-follower is. Christ called us to reach out to the world with the Gospel. Just listen to Matthew 28:18-20:

"Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: 'God authorized and commanded me me to commision you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I'll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up the end of the age.'" The Message

I think that we get too inward-focused as Christians. We live for Sunday. We come in the back door of the church house, sing some songs, praise the Lord, listen to a sermon, and leave waiting for next week. We push through the week, concerned with our own issues and problems. How often do we think of our coworkers? Our extended families? Our neighbors? These people need to hear the life-changing message of Jesus Christ, but we pass them by. The church, from the text I quoted, is to be outward-focused. In fact, the Apostle Paul said we are to follow the example of Jesus, who left the glory of heaven to become a man and die a torturous death for us on a cross. He thought more of me and you than he did of his own comforts. How much more should we be more concerned with our neighbor than ourselves? (See Philippians 2) Being missional means being outward-focused, a missionary in our own sphere of influence.

So, I am a man on a mission. I have loved ones, friends and coworkers that do not know Jesus Christ. I can't sit any longer in a nice little Christian sub-culture, insulated from the world Jesus died for. I have realized my place as a missionary. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I am going to show people who Jesus Christ is, through my words and through my life. It is time to emerge out of the four walls of the church to realize that we have been equipped to reach the lost.

So, friends, make no mistake. This is no fad. This is learning to become all things to all people so that we may see them saved (see 1 Cor. 9). This is learning to reach people in relevant ways that show them the love of Christ. I am missional. Are you?

God bless!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Modern-Day Psalm 46

Fearful. Anxious. Worried. How many of us could add some additional words to make a more complete picture of what life on earth has the potential to be? Humanity, it seems, is always finding its fair share of struggles. The book of Job puts it nicely: “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble” (14:1). Yup, we people know how to find trouble. Or, sometimes the trouble seems to find us. Layoffs, divorce, cutback or cancer, we go through the storm. And such has been our existence since Adam and Eve decided that they knew what was best.

The days certainly to the casual observer seem dark. The problems we face can seem like such a cruel tormentor. And we Christians are not in anyway exempted from the storms of life. In the 46th Psalm, the writer also seems to be describing a time of trouble. Whatever that trouble was, the nation of Israel was under some kind of distress. Yet, the writer found himself looking above the battle to see the God that held them in his Everlasting Arms (Deut. 33:27). He reminded them that even if the world seemed destined to fall apart as the mountains shook and the waters roared, God was with them, and he was their refuge. He was the help they needed, always ready to come the aid of his people (vs. 1).

Not only did the psalmist speak of God’s hand helping them, he spoke of the joy of the Lord. “There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God” (vs. 4). We New Testament believers can look at this and see its fulfillment in us as the Church. Jesus said that out of us believers would rivers of living water. He spoke of the Holy Spirit, who comforts us in all our trials. Friends, whatever the battle, we have the Spirit of God to bring us comfort and joy.

When I think about my problems, I often do what I can to help myself out of them. However, sometimes there is simply nothing I can do. So, what to do when there’s nothing to do? Do what God says to do, which is “Be still, and know that I am God”(vs. 10). Huh? How can I be still when the whole world is coming against me? But friends, according the Word of God, if all things are against you, you are still in great shape because the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing God is with you! Sometimes, we just have to sit still, relax (really what that phrase, “be still” means) in God’s wisdom, and trust him to bring us through. When we do, we are really telling the Lord that he is big enough, smart enough and caring enough to know what to do, always with the promise that whatever he does will work out for our good (Rom. 8:28).

Perhaps it was a foreign army that was coming against Israel. May it was some natural catastrophe. But whatever it was, God made it clear that it was no match for him. So, whatever battle you find yourself in today, realize that God hasn’t forgotten you. He knows where you are at, and is more than ready to give you the grace you need. God bless!


I just realized that I seem to beating the same drum lately. But this was in my heart to write, so I pray that it is a blessing to someone, even if it seems a bit monotonous lately.

Monday, September 11, 2006

When Trouble Comes...

5 years ago today. I remember that day clearly. I was at work when someone came in the back door and said a plane hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center. At first it was thought to be a freak accident. We didn't know what was happening. At least till the other tower was hit with another jet, and the Pentagon as well. It became all too obvious what was happening. Terrorists had hijacked 4 planes that day. Three hit their targets, and the fourth was downed in a Pennsylvania field when passengers rose up and fought back against the terrorists that took over United Flight 93. It was thought that the terrorists that were stopped on that flight intended to hit either the Capitol Building or the White House in Washington, DC.

That day was a day that trouble came to both Christian and non-Christian alike. The monsters that took over those planes saw no differences in the people they murdered. And the effect was far-reaching. More than 3000 different families were forever changed directly because they lost a loved one in the attack. Many more were affected by the devastation. It didn't matter who they were, what standing they had in the community, or what faith they had. The victims all met the same fate, and the families all were crushed by the same grief.

What am I getting at? Simply, we Christians have the promised Holy Spirit, the Comforter that Jesus himself said he would send to us from the Father. He is sent to comfort us, encourage us, convict us of our sin, to embolden us to preach the Gospel. But, friends, the Spirit of God isn't given to those who don't know Christ. "And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Rom. 8:9 NIV). To put it bluntly, friends, we have something the world doesn't, God himself indwelling us. We have Jesus Christ himself taking up for us before the Throne of God in heaven, as I talked about this past Friday. That should make us rejoice, yet it should also make us look out to those who don't know the Lord Jesus Christ. Consider this from Matthew's gospel:

"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Matt. 5:43-45 NASB

I added emphasis to the last part of that passage to bring out something I don't think we pay much attention to. That is that everyone on the face of this planet has to endure hardship. Whether that is the death of an innocent child or victim like on 9-11, devastating natural disasters like the tsunami that killed over 200,000 people in Indonesia, or stresses like financial problems and depression. We all go through stuff. It rains on us all. But when it rains on us Christians, we don't endure it alone! We have a Comforter who will come alongside us and help us through. Literally, that word, comforter, is the Greek word parakletos, which means to come to one's side. When storms churn up our lives, we have One who comes to our aid and gets us through it. Friends, those who don't have Christ don't have this blessing in their lives, but they can. The mere fact that God comforts us should motivate us to reach out with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and tell people that there is hope!

I believe it was Benjamin Franklin that said there are two definite things in life: death and taxes. True words indeed, but he should have added one more, spoken centuries before by the Lord Jesus: "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33). Friends, we aren't promised tomorrow, or even the next minute. We are, however, promised that trouble will come to us at some time. So won't you take the time to go to someone today and tell them that there is hope for them in Christ? He doesn't promise to take away their pain and hard times, but he will forgive them and help them through this stormy life to an eternity on the other side where the storms will end and the tears will be permanently wiped away!

God bless!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Always on the Clock

I don't exercise like I should. I know, I just wrote about an exercise bike that was given to us and I still haven't gotten off my lazy rear to start riding it. But that is for another day. At times, I do get bitten by the workout bug. And when I do, watch out, because I dive right in to it. Maybe at times too hard, but that is for another day too.

It never fails. The day after I start exercising is excruciating. I know, duh! Of course it is. Those are the times when we press through the pain and keep going with the program. We're supposed to, anyway. But I don't. By the time my body aches have subsided and I can move my arms again, the desire that I had is gone. I should press through the lack of desire and keep going. But I don't. It's simply easier to be lazy and not work out. I fall away from the shape I want to be in because I won't endure the pain and work, and so it's easier to sit down and watch House on TV and eat popcorn.

Now, while I deal with the exercise bug spray of laziness, hear where I'm going with this today. The early church had problems of endurance, too. The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians that were facing extremely hard times because of faith in their Messiah, Jesus Christ. Most Jews hated Christ, and hated anyone who was a Christ disciple. They, along with the Romans, made things very hard for the Christian believers. Just read the book of Acts and see the things they went through. From prison to whippings to stonings to beheadings, they felt the heat. And that heat was starting to get to them. Many were starting to feel that it was just easier to leave the faith and go back to Old Covenant Judaism. "If I just turn back to the Law, I won't have these people threatening me anymore."

That's when Mr. Unnamed Author wrote a divinely inspired letter to them that we call the book of Hebrews. It was written to encourage these hurting Christians to continue in the faith. It reasons that if one thought Judaism was good, Jesus has it beat on all points. He is better than the angels God used. He was better than Moses. He better than the human high priest. The blood he shed on the cross was better than than the blood of the millions of sacrificed bulls and lambs throughout their history. Jesus was simply superior, because absolutely everything God used in the Old Testament acted as a sign to point us to Christ.

If there is one main idea that Hebrews puts forward, I think that this would be it: Jesus knows what you are going through, and he cares. This writing tells us that he is a great High Priest that is touched by our struggles. He is "touched with the feelings of our infirmities". He knows what we have to endure. He knows our temptations. In fact, he experienced temptation, and came out sin-free. So now we can come to the Throne of Grace and he will give us what we need. You couldn't get that from a man acting as high priest, because he had his own problems. But, Jesus is better.

In the seventh chapter, the writer in comparing Jesus with the earthly high priest, makes this statement, from the Message paraphrase:

"He's there from now to eternity to save everyone who comes to God through him, always on the job to speak up for them." Heb. 7:25 MSG

You see, not only does Jesus know your stuff, but he is always on the clock! How many times have I had a sick kid at night and had to call the doctor, only to wait for him to call back because someone else had problems, or he had to wake up? With Christ, there is no calling back! There is no leaving a message hoping that Michael the Archangel will post a sticky-note on Jesus' desk! There is no heavenly voice mail telling you that Jesus is on the celestial back nine playing a round with the 12 apostles! He's right there. He hears you when you call. He sees your tears. And he has something for you. It's called grace, and it's God's strength when you are weak yourself! (see 2 Corithians 12:9)

Friends, don't let the adversity of life, and the struggles we face, whether that is persecution for faith in Jesus, or just life land punches, beat you down. You have a immense well of grace to draw from. Jesus is waiting. Won't you let him pour into you?

There is another part to this message, but you'll have to come back for it. Look for it this coming Monday, the five year anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

God bless!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Michigan Mountains

Hey, everyone! I am not going to get too deep today. After all, it's the unofficial end of summer. At least the travel season. So, I have posted a picture of Lake in the Clouds, in Michigan's Upper Pennisula. It is in the Porcupine Mountains. How about that? Real mountains in Michigan! You all thought you had to go south or west to find mountains!

Enjoy this picture of God's beautiful creation. Have a blessed and safe Labor Day!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Exercise Bike

It sits upstairs. In the room that we’ve nicknamed “the blue room” sits our newest addition to the Richard household. It is the exercise bike that my mother-in-law gave to us. It’s big and heavy, and it didn’t get upstairs to the blue storage room easily, but it got up there. It’s a nice bike. It has a nice digital display that estimates calories burnt and the speed one is riding. Plus I like the nice fan effect from the blades on it. It even has the cross-country ski style handles to work the upper body. Finally, I have just what I need to get back into the shape I should be in.

So, why don’t I get up on that thing and exercise like I should? There it sits in the blue room, but I don’t grace its comfortable seat for any workouts. If it weren’t for my wife, it would be a huge dust collector. I have been given the equipment needed to exercise, but I don’t seem to be motivated enough to do it.

We do the same thing spiritually. We have the Spirit of God indwelling us. We have the Bible sitting on our nightstands and bookshelves. We have access to the Father through Jesus Christ. We have our praise and worship CDs, prayer journals, devotional books, online sermons, not to mention our churches. Most of all, we have the freedom to use these, yet they sit as unused as my exercise bike upstairs. I think that there is a spiritual problem at work here. It’s called laziness, and my first finger point is at myself.

Did you know that the Bible tells us that we should exercise spiritually? Really, it does. We’re saved by grace through faith, but to grow in our faith, we have to intentionally work at it. Just listen to Paul:

“But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” 1 Tim. 4:7-8

To exercise means to exert yourself, to strive. It means to vigorously work yourself into shape. If you want to lose weight, you have to really exercise. Spiritually speaking, we exercise when we spend time with God in prayer. We exercise when we take the time to have meaningful worship. We exercise when we put into practice the word of God, doing what it says, not just hearing it. We exercise when we get together with other believers and encourage one another.

Another problem is that we are constantly looking for shortcuts and easy ways to get in shape. How many weekend and late-night infomercials have you seen that advertise “quick and easy” ways to shed off the pounds? Ab-rollers and Ab-sliders may have some benefit, but not without the additional discipline necessary. There are no shortcuts to physical fitness, and there are no shortcuts to spiritual fitness, either. If you want to be strong in Christ, you have to get busy and exercise. Look, God uses Joyce Meyer books and CDs, but if that is all you do to strengthen up, you’ll won’t get yourself into the shape you need to be in.

Of course, we have to eat right, too. That is why it is so important to fill ourselves with God’s word. There is so much junk out there that we seek to fill our spirits with. From the shows we watch, to the books we read, to the music we listen to, we fill our hearts with the spiritual equivalent of pork rinds. Remember, garbage in, garbage out. When we take the word of God into our hearts, we are giving our spirits the proper nourishment to strengthen up.

So, do you have an unused exercise bike in your life? Are you sitting on equipment that you can use to get yourself into better shape spiritually? Are you as stationary as that bike? Then it’s time to get on the bike and “lay aside the weight” as it says in Hebrews 12:2.

God bless

Monday, August 28, 2006

He Speaks Your Language

Have you ever been faced with having to explain something to a person in a way that they can easily understand? I have, and it isn’t always as easy as some may think. One instance that stands out in my mind was when I was trying to teach the concept of sanctification, or being set apart for God’s holy purposes, to a Junior High Sunday School class. Now, that can be a tricky subject for anyone, let alone an 11 or 12 year old, to grasp firmly. At that age, kids still think in a concrete way. They can’t easily grasp an abstract thought like that. I remember seeing the blank stares of the kids when I brought the subject up. I could tell that I was going to have to really break it down for them to get their brains around it. Then, an idea suddenly appeared in my mind from out of nowhere. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out my keys. Grabbing my car key, I held the whole keychain by that one key.

“Does everyone see this key I am holding? Who knows what this key is for? This is the key to my car. It is specifically made to open and start up my car. Try as I might, I can’t shove it into my front door. I can’t use it to start up another car. It is completely set apart to start up my car.”

That did the trick. I realized that to effectively communicate the concept of these kids, I had to bring it down to a level that they could understand. I had to meet them where they were at.

God does the same thing with humankind, too. Throughout scripture, we can see where God used analogy and object lessons to make sure that we understood what it was he was trying to say. From Jeremiah’s lesson of the potter and the clay (Jer. 18) to the day of Pentecost, God has met us where we are at. I am reminded of the ministry of Jesus Christ. He would do this, too. One time, he had a huge crowd of people around him, and they were hungry. Using only the small sack lunch of a little boy, he miraculously multiplied the bread and fish, so that everyone, about 5,000 men, plus uncounted women and children had enough to eat. That was upwards of probably 15,000 folks! The next day, that same crowd came looking for him, and he used the miracle meal to preach the Gospel to them (see John 6).

The Lord did it again on the day of Pentecost. Now, as one who is a Pentecostal Christian, I look at that day 2,000 years ago and think of it as a heritage. I see that this is where we Pentecostals base a good portion of our teaching and beliefs. This is where the teaching of what is called the “initial evidence” comes from. That is, that whenever someone is baptized in the Holy Spirit, it is outwardly shown and heard in that the receiver will speak in a language unknown to them. Every time you read of the Holy Spirit baptism in the book of Acts, you read that they “spoke with tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance”. On the day of the initial outpouring, there were folks from all over the surrounding region in Jerusalem, celebrating the feast of Pentecost. When the 120 disciples were filled with the Spirit, they went out into the streets of the city and they were speaking in the native languages of those in town for the feast. The Bible says that they heard them “declaring the wonderful works of God” in their own languages. They were flabbergasted! But God “met them where they were at”. He could have had the disciples run out of the room and speak Hebrew. But would that have caught the attention of the people that day? No, they would just have seen 120 crazy people running around and shouting. God used the languages they spoke at home so that they could know without a doubt that God was behind this.

God knows how to “speak our language”. He will get his message across in a way that we can grasp. To a thirsty Samaritan woman at a well, Jesus spoke about living water that quenches thirst forever. To a crowd that was full on miracle bread, Jesus spoke about the True Bread from heaven, that is, himself. And to a weary fisherman-turned Christ-follower, he used a miracle catch to tell him that one day he would catch men like he caught those fish. A promise, by the way, that was realized on that great day of Pentecost, when Peter, the once weary fisherman, preached the first sermon of the infant Church of Christ and saw 3,000 people repent of their sins and trust in Jesus. (Not bad for a rookie preacher!) Interesting to note that Jesus didn’t talk to Peter about living water, or the woman at the well about bread from heaven- he knew what these individuals needed to hear.

Okay, here is the big send-off. Follow the example set by God himself. He reached out to you one day in a way that you could grasp. Now, to borrow a Bible phrase, “go and do thou likewise”. Go meet someone where they are at and make the Gospel real to them. How you do that depends on who you talk with-each person understands differently and has a different view on things. But, you will be following a long line of ministers that reached out to those around them and managed to effectively win them for Christ, such as the Apostle Paul. In fact, I will leave you today with Paul’s inspired words from 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

God bless!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Astronomical Love

I remember hearing the story on the radio when it happened. It was in 2004, while President Bush was on the campaign trail. A man from Ohio named Lynn Faulkner had been given an extra ticket to attend the president’s campaign rally by his neighbor. So, he asked his teenage daughter Ashley if she would like to attend with him. The young woman accepted the offer, and the three of them, Ashley, her dad and the neighbor, Linda Prince, made their way to event.

They arrived early, so they could get a good seat near the front. After the president gave his speech, he began to work the line, shaking hands and greeting supporters. Mr. Faulkner got an autograph from President Bush, and as he moved on to the next person, the neighbor, Ms. Prince, said something to the Mr. Bush that changed everything.

“This girl lost her mother on 9/11.”

They said that president’s entire expression changed. In a second, the most powerful man in the free world wasn’t President Bush, he was a loving father. He stopped what he was doing and walked back to young Ashley, and, forgetting everything else, he embraced her.

“I know it’s hard”, Bush said to the young woman. “I’m okay” was her response, as she simply was held by him.

This was no publicity stunt. It wasn’t another photo op. In fact, the only picture taken that moment was taken by the girl’s dad. The press corps had been sent back to the bus to await Bush’s next stop. Of all the concerns that this president had, the war in Iraq, concerns in Afghanistan, an election to win, what mattered at that moment to the most powerful man in America was Ashley Faulkner, a young girl who had lost her mom to sick terrorists on that unforgettable day in 2001.

What a story. The President with all that was on his plate was concerned for a one young girl who had been affected by those perpetrators on September 11. What a fitting analogy for us as Christians. Listen to what the Bible says in Psalm147:3-4:

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them.”

Think about what these 2 verses are saying. God is the all-powerful creator of the universe. From every star to the minutest molecule on Earth, nothing exists without Him. Look at what the 4th verse again. “He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them.” Have you ever looked at the sky on a clear night? How about with no light pollution to hamper your view? They sky is absolutely full of them. Why, in just the Milky Way galaxy alone, there are literally billions of stars! That is billions with a “B”! Not only does God know exactly how many there are, this passage actually says that He has given names to each one! I have a hard enough time getting the names of those in my own home straight! “Machaela, brush your teeth!” “I’m not Machaela, I’m Gabbie!” It is absolutely mind-boggling to think about His greatness and His infinite wisdom and power!

Yet, in all His wonder, in all His power, that very same passage tells us that he cares for us. He cares about our hurts. He understands our pain. He can identify with our struggles. As I said in my last post, he is a faithful High Priest that can sympathize with our struggles. And He not only knows our pains, He said that He would heal them. He binds up our wounds.

Friend, God sees that pain that plagues your heart. From finances to family issues, divorce to death, He sees, He cares, He acts.

What is your struggle? What is your pain? Reader, you have a Friend that sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24). Sure, He is powerful enough to suspend stars in space, but close enough to wipe the tears running down your cheek right now.

Won’t you come to him today?

God bless!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

It Behooved Him

As I was reading the second chapter of the book of Hebrews, in the Bible this morning, I came across the 17th and 18th verses that say:

"Wherefore, it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor (help) them that are tempted." Heb. 2:17,18

So, what does this all mean? The book of Hebrews was written to Christians that were facing very hard trials. They were considering a return to Judaism because of the pain that the name of Jesus was seemingly bring on them. This letter was written to encourage them to stay the course and keep on living for Jesus. The writer wanted them to know that Jesus understood what they were going through. This chapter tells us that Jesus took on a human body, and became a man. What it is saying was that not only did Jesus become a man to die for our sins on the cross, but that he felt compelled to do so. That old word, "behoove", carries the meaning of owing something. And why did Christ feel compelled, that as other translations say, he had to die for us? We are his creation. In fact, the Bible says that he was made like his brothers, referring to us as mankind.

Perhaps an analogy is appropriate here. I have an older brother. He is about 2 years older. Now, he did typical older brother things, like pick on me and stuff. He knew, like an older brother should, how to get under my skin. There were many times that we must have given our mom a migraine from our constant bickering. But, inspite of all that, there was a bond there that remains till this day, and will always be there. As much as he knew how to bug me, he was my biggest defender. I remember one time, when I was little, I threw a GI Joe into the street (don't ask me why!). One of the neighborhood kids saw it and declared the old "finders keepers, losers weepers" claim. My brother knew it was mine, and he promptly set out to get it back. He and the other kid duked it out in the street and he won back my beloved action figure.

Another time, when I was in middle school, he came to my aid again. There was a huge crowd of skateboarders walking and skating through the area around the house. We were playing some hockey with a couple friends out back, when someone in the crowd started messing with a friend. Well, they started to fight right in my yard! I stepped in to break it up, and one of the guys friends raised his skateboard at me as if he was going to hit me with it. My brother ran up behind him when he saw that, grabbed the skateboard out of his hand, throwing it into the street. He then grabbed the kid by the back of his shirt, swung him around and tossed him. The kid sheepishly retrieved his skateboard and rejoined the crowd.

Why did my brother come to my aid like that? Simply put, it behooved him to help his little brother. He felt a sense of responsibility to take up for me. We are family. That is what Hebrews is saying about the Lord Jesus. It behooved him to take up for us, and, as this chapter says, to "destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" (vs. 14). You see, God loves us as his creation. Isn't that what John 3:16 says? "For God so loved the world...". Christ loved us too much to just let us go about in sin with no hope. He became a man and died in our place on that cross.

What's more, because he became a human being, he got to taste firsthand what we struggle with, what tempts us. The 18th verse says that he himself has been tempted, and he is able to help us who are tempted. Hebrews 4:15 says it like this:

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin." (NIV)

What this means is that Jesus knows our struggles and temptations. He knows what we go through, and it behooves him to take up for us. He will give us the grace we need to overcome that temptation that seeks to destroy us. That is why we are told to "approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb. 4:16).

So, whatever you are going through right now, rememeber that Jesus is your elder brother. He is able to take up for you, and more than that, he will. He did not bring you this far just to leave you. Won't you let him pour his grace into your life today?

God bless!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Well, today is August 22. That means that it is Pennesha's birthday. For those who don't know, Pennesha is the beautiful woman in the picture next me, at her graduation this past April. She is 31 today. Also, today marks 8 years of marriage for us, as well! Time goes by so fast. It seems like just last week when we stood in front of Pastor Stewart and recited our vows. That was back in 1998.

Hey, Pennesha, sweetie! Here's to many more years! I love you!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Do I Look Like My Father?

I hear often from both my mom and my wife how much my oldest child, Machaela, looks like me. So, to demonstrate of likeness, I put some photos of us on today. The little guy holding the toy screwdriver is a very young me, circa 1978. I was about 3 years old. Machaela is in the other picture holding the newest addition to the Richard family, Jayden Michael. So, you be the judge. Does she look like her father?

I was reading last night in 2 Samuel 6, where David was bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, to set it up in the tabernacle where it belonged. The Ark had been away for years, at first taken by the Philistines, but after God had stricken them with tumors, which in Hebrew means hemorrhoids, they got rid of it. (Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor?) Now, years later, King Saul dead, and David installed as the new king of Israel, he decided to bring the Ark back.

It was a festive event. There was rejoicing and praise to God. David began to dance and whirl around as he praised God. But, there always has to be a party-pooper, doesn't there? This was no exception. Her name was Michal, his wife and Saul's daughter. Well, Michal, in all her royal snootiness, took serious issue with the way that David had behaved himself. Here was David, coming home to bless his family, and he is met with a snarl that would make a rottweiler whimper. "How glorious the king of Israel looked today! He exposed himself to the servant girls like any indecent person might do!" (2 Sam. 6:20) What could explain Michal's horrible attitude in the face of such a joyful occasion? Simply put, she looked like her father.

Now, I don't mean a physical resemblance like my daughter to me. They shared the same heart. They suffered from the same attitude illness. And why not? This young lady had grown up on knee of one the worst kings in the nation's history.

So, do we look like our Father? As Christians, we have a Father in heaven. So, how do we know if we look like him? God is a Spirit, and we can't look on him. But Jesus could be looked upon. He could be touched, he could be known. One day, one of his disciples, Philip, asked Jesus to show them the heavenly Father. This was his answer:

"Jesus answered: Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?" John 14:9

You see, Jesus looked like his Father. He put all the glorious attributes of a holy God into human skin so we could see just what the Father is like. And because Jesus shows us what the Father God is like, we can now, through the work of the Spirit of God in us, look like Him too!

So, do I look like my Father?

Am I merciful?

Am I loving?

Am I gracious?

Do I find joy in what God finds joy in?

Do the things that grieve God grieve me, too?

Does a sin-sick world compel me to lay aside my comfort so I can pull some out of sin's grip?

Do I look like my Father?

So, friends, look to Jesus, and let him make you like your Father! God bless!