Monday, May 30, 2011

Two Voices that Cry Out

From Pastor Bayless Conley's Answers for Each Day

Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth (James 5:3-4).

These words are written to believers, to Christians who are hoarding up wealth rather than giving to support the spread of the gospel.

The reapers in verse 4 are those preaching and working out in the harvest fields of the world. Notice it says that the Lord has heard their cry. But if you read carefully, you will find that another cry has entered the Lord's ears as well.

"The wages" of the laborers cry out to God as well! The tithes and offerings that have been withheld cry out. Monies that should have been sown into the cause of Christ are raising their voices in a mighty chorus to heaven!

Large amounts of undesignated and unused funds that sit in bank vaults cry out. Funds God has graciously given to His people that have been withheld from their purpose—to bring a living Jesus to a dying world—cry out and cry out and cry out!

Are you sitting on a talking wallet today? Is your purse crying out to God? If you could hear their voice, what would they cry? "China! Europe! Africa! The Middle East!"??

Are you generously supporting the work of your own local church? Do not let your money testify against you! Give where, when, and how much God directs— consistently—into the work of His Kingdom.

If the precious fruit of the earth is going to be reaped, we have to support those who labor in the field.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Look up?

As humans, we’re always looking to others for a variety of things such as mentoring, measuring our own lives and examples of how things are done. Sadly, we often look at the position others have without seeing the impact they leave behind. Especially those of us who spent a big part of our formative years without a solid role model in our daily lives.

For a considerable amount of my life, I was lacking in direct role models, so I looked to the same places far too many young people do: celebrities. I admired professional football players, idolized professional musicians, dreamed of being wealthy like many in the public eye and desired the fame they had.

Why is that? What good can fame and fortune really do? Sure, the people I admired from a distance seemed to have great lives, carefree and unburdened by the worries that weighed me down. But, I was too naïve to really look at what sort of shadow they cast and how that was a true reflection of where their lives were.

Many of these ‘idols’ seemed to be worthy of envy, with fancy cars, big houses and never a fear about where their next meal would come from. However, a lot of them aren’t doing anything that carries a truly positive impact on the world around them. In fact, if you really look deep enough, many of them are behaving in a satanic manner, that is, doing things that lead people away from Christ and toward the things of this world.

Getting rich and famous is hardly a be-all, end-all for life. How do I know this, since I’m far from either in a worldly sense? Just dig into the lives many of these celebrities lead and you’ll see for yourself: broken homes, addictions, spiritual emptiness, devotion to money and all that it brings. That’s certainly not something worth envying.

Over the last many years, I’ve realized this, especially in the last few where my family went from being “rich” by worldly standards to living just above the poverty line in a matter of a year. In that time, I not only realized my priorities had been wrong for a long, long time, but I also discovered a lot of it had to do with where I let my vision fall.

Now, I look to men such as Max Lucado, Mark Driscoll, Greg Rohlinger, Craig Groeshel as my new “celebrities”. Each of these men has achieved a level of fame and fortune, but in Not Of This World terms, instead of what I used to quantify as success.

Each of these men casts a shadow that leaves behind uplifted souls. Each of these men is doing something to fulfill Billy Graham’s great quote that I’ll paraphrase here “My job is to get to Heaven and bring as many people with me as possible!”

One of my big turning points occurred when I saw a very famous ex-football player give a tour of his house on the NFL Network. When they got to his closet, he revealed over 1900 custom-tailored suits that cost in excess of $1000 each. He stored these suits in a two-story closet that was roughly 2500 square feet in size. Instead of feeling envy at this man’s fame and fortune, I immediately felt revulsion inside. Imagine what he could do with $1.9 million dollars for God’s Kingdom. That’s game changing money… but instead, he benched it and let it go to the evil one.

While the player does boast of having great faith, I see a camel and the eye of a needle in his future. Hopefully, I’m wrong.

Thankfully, I learned God’s lessons about money before I hit the eye of that needle. Although I have the ability and potential to back slide at any moment, so, I need to keep focusing on the Godly role models I have now, such as my Father-in-law, my mentor and the men I mentioned above.

This brings me to the question of how I’m living. Since we all have the ability to be someone’s role model, what shadow am I casting? The kind that says “Life is all about getting rich and living like a King here on Earth” or the kind that says “I need to get to Heaven and bring as many people with me as possible”?

I’m very appreciative that God humbled me and has shown me the former is no way to live and the latter is far more rewarding than anything I could store in my closet, no matter how much I spend. But, I know if I fail to remember that, I’m only a few steps from the edge at any given moment. So, please say a prayer that I continue to grow spiritually, continue to learn only from those walking towards God and always cast a shadow that shows my son where his priorities should fall, not in this world, but in the next.

Can We Believe the Bible? - By Max Lucado

(This is from the most recent weekly devotional penned by Max Lucado)

Max on Life #72

The following is a one of 172 questions and answers from the new book, Max on Life

Can we believe the Bible? How can we know it is anything more than a collection of sayings and stories? Can we truly believe that the Bible is the Word of God?

There are many reasons I believe in the Bible. Here are a few:

Composition. It was composed over sixteen centuries by forty authors with one central theme. Written by soldiers, shepherds, scholars, and fishermen. Begun by Moses in lonely Arabia, finished by John on lonely Patmos. Penned by kings in palaces, shepherds in tents, and inmates in prisons.
Forty writers, most unknown to each other, writing in different countries and three different languages, separated by three times the number of centuries since Columbus discovered America—was it possible for these authors to produce a book of singular theme unless behind them there was one mind, one designer? The Bible is remarkable in composition.
Durability. It is the single most published book in history. The top seller for three hundred years. Translated into twelve hundred languages by an army of translators. Bibles have been burned by dictators and banished from courtrooms, but God’s Word continues. The death knell has tolled a hundred times, but each time the grave is opened, and God’s Word continues. The Bible is remarkable in durability.
Prophecy. The pages of your Bible contain more than three hundred fulfilled prophecies about the life of Christ. A substantial biography was written about Jesus five hundred years before he was born. Can you imagine if the same occurred today? Can you imagine if we found a book written in 1900 that prophesied two world wars, a depression, an atomic bomb, and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King? What would we think of the book? Wouldn’t we trust it?
Applicability. Paul says the Bible “is useful for teaching, for showing people what is wrong in their lives, for correcting faults, and for teaching how to live right” (2 Tim. 3:16 NCV).

Apply the principles of stewardship to your budget, and see if you don’t get out of debt.
Apply the principles of fidelity to your marriage, and see if you don’t have a happier home.
Apply the principles of forgiveness to your relationships, and see if you aren’t more peaceful.
Apply the principles of honesty at school, and see if you don’t succeed.
Apply the Bible, and see if you don’t agree—the Bible works.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Praise God

Whenever I have a “crisis of faith” I think about the story in Mark 4: 37-38

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.
Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"

These are the very same men who watched all the miracles Jesus performed in his ministry, yet they still fell prey to their flesh, fearing death and assuming Jesus didn’t care.

I think we all do that from time to time. Some more than others, some less.

On Tuesday, I flew down to Austin to secure a new home for my family. In the weeks leading up to the trip, it was really amazing to see all the doors God has opened for us to move down there. Including plugging us in with a great church in Austin, Gateway. One of the fine folks on staff at Gateway introduced us to a Realtor team and they set us up with a custom web interface where we could view homes that fit our criteria.

Now, before I headed down to Austin, Angie and I had played a game of “what would be a great home for our family” and decided that we wanted a combination of our two houses in Phoenix. The place we’d built had a better layout, but the second one had a much nicer fit & finish that really just made life easier on many levels.

The week prior to heading down, our awesome Realtors’ web site had roughly twenty houses for us to chose from that seemed to fit our needs. Then, last Friday, well over half of them went off the market. I went from feeling super confident that I’d have lots of choices to simply hoping God would leave the perfect house open for us. And the doubts started blowing in around the edges, like the winds before a storm.

I landed in Austin on Tuesday and Trey, the husband half of our great Realtor team, picked me up and we dove right into the house hunting. After a few hours and multiple houses, we hadn’t found a single one that would actually work. Some were in neighborhoods that just didn’t seem like a good place for my family, a few others looked like the prior tenants thought the house was an annex for the local dump and the two that were in nice ‘hoods and weren’t trashed inside just didn’t work from a layout standpoint. Since we need two home offices, plus space for Zach, we couldn’t just pick any house. Admittedly, this made it a bit more difficult than it would be for most folks.

I have to be honest and say that at this point I was starting to get discouraged. However, I made the conscious decision to remain faithful. God had opened all these doors; He certainly wasn’t going to close the most crucial one now. I started deciding we could make due if need be with one of the prior houses we’d seen already. I just knew I needed to realize God would take care of us, as He always has.

And, then we found a house that we could make work. It certainly wasn’t what we’d hoped for, but it would provide shelter and get us in Texas so we could find a better place in a year. I didn’t want to have to move again next summer, as we’ve moved way too many times recently, but it was the best option so far and I figured we could get by with it.

Just as I was settling my mind on the fact that we could make this one work, even if we would be settling for something under what we’d hoped to find, I got an email with God opening yet another door. A financial blessing I’d not expected for several weeks (if it came at all) was heading our way and I immediately called Angie back in Minnesota. The two of us decided we could raise our house budget by $100/month based on the blessing God had just given us.

So, we went back to the Realtor site, raised the dollar amount and a handful of new houses popped up. One really jumped out, as it had a car in the driveway that was a twin to one Angie had a few years ago. It’s funny how God knows what to put in a picture to catch our eye. It was as if He was saying “Can you see yourself living here now?”

The Realtor and I headed over to the house and it was just about the perfect hybrid of our two old houses. Now, it wasn’t the greatest house ever, but it met just about all of our criteria and did so with style.

When I walked into this house, I felt a peace come over me, like I knew I was home.

Well, to make a long story short, we had to jump through a lot more hoops than normal, where time and again the wind and waves battered our boat and I found myself slipping back into the thoughts of maybe God didn’t care where we lived or other such flesh laden doubts, but I steeled my mind to have faith and know God would rebuke the wind and waves.

As soon as the plane touched down in Minnesota, Trey called and told me we had gotten the house.

Praise God.

Praise Him in the storms and praise Him when the sun is shining. And, no matter what, always remember God does care about our wants and needs. But, make sure to give them over to Him so He knows you’re sure about it. I’ve found out the hard way if I lose faith and try to take the wheel, my navigation skills aren’t nearly as solid as God’s and I’ll end up going down with the ship. Better to wait for Jesus to move. Because when He does, great things happen.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Focus In… Focus Out

God has really been blessing us in a tremendous number of ways lately. Each of these rivers of blessing all seem to draw from a spring of obedience in our lives. In each area where Angie and I have “given it to God” things have turned our way, doors have opened and he’s poured out blessings all over us. It’s really pretty fascinating to see it happen and realize the root of it all: Focus on God.

One area of amazing blessings I want to praise Him for, and hope you’ll celebrate too, is Angie’s weight loss. She gave her weight troubles over to God and he gave her the strength to overcome it. And wow has she overcome it! As of yesterday, she has just over five pounds left to lose (update: she sat down while I was proof reading this and told me she has 4.5 pounds left to lose). While losing five pounds doesn’t sound like some miraculous triumph, knowing when she started she had just under 100 to lose certainly does. That’s an entire Back Street Boy! Way to go, babe! I love you!

Another area of tremendous blessing is my writing. I gave in to what God has been trying to tell me since I was a kid and he rewarded me with my first two full-length novel deals. While I have close to a hundred stories out, this is the first time that it’s all my creation, all my story and all my vision from cover to cover in a full-size novel. While that’s not nearly as impressive as Angie’s weight loss, it’s still a blessing that has had similar spiritual results.

With Angie’s weight loss, she’s been touched by God, which has not only lightened her frame, but lightened her soul. She exudes a confidence and happiness I’ve not seen in her since we were first married. She’s always been a beautiful daughter of Christ and I think she now completely believes that 100%. Thank you, Father!

With my book deals, He touched me too. I finally feel a sense of value in my own God-given abilities that isn’t just built-up pride or overcompensation for an undervalued sense of self-worth. I truly feel like I’m doing what God designed me to do and it makes my soul sing.

With both of these landmarks in our lives, we’ve found ourselves the focus of others. For Angie, there are a lot of women (and men), who are looking to her as a source of inspiration and motivation. She’s handled it with all the grace and maturity one would expect from such an awesome woman, but she’s also cognizant of the pitfalls such focus brings.

For me, there’s the fanfare of the announcements, the kudos and ‘attaboys’ I’ve received from friends, family and fans. With that I’ve become very aware of the chance to fall from the pedestal the ego-boosts might build beneath my feet.

These are the areas where the enemy loves to play. Build up human pride and then push us off the edge, all the while blaming God for our fall.

So, I’d like to ask that all of you pray for us in this area, that we don’t lose focus on what God does for us. Pray that our obedience to God is a witness to others to follow His path. And pray we use these blessings (and the many others I’ve not mentioned in this post) to honor and glorify Him. We don’t deserve the praise, but He does. Every effort we make needs to push the focus to God.

Focus in, focus out.

Father God,
Thank you so much for every blessing you pour out on us. From the ones we take for granted as small and trivial, to the ones that really get our attention and make us shine.
Please help us maintain focus on you, Father, and never forget that every good thing comes from you and is not of our doing, but of yours.

I pray these things in your Son’s precious and holy name,

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Spirit of Love

To those who look forward to my ramblings on this blog, my apologies for not having written anything new lately. I've been exceedingly busy with work related writing and our preparation for moving. I have several topics I want to explore on here soon, so please don't change the channel.

In the meantime, I wanted to share another great devotional from Pastor Bayless Conley.

    A More Excellent Way
    In 1 Corinthians 14:1, we are given a foundational truth,

    Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.

    Notice that this verse leads off with a very direct command.  We are to pursue love.

    It is interesting that this command is given in the context of Paul's teaching on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 deal with the gifts of the Spirit:  the word of knowledge, the word of wisdom, the discerning of spirits, the gift of faith, the working of miracles, the gifts of healing, the gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues, and the gift of prophecy.

    Chapter 12 gives us the definition of those gifts, chapter 13 teaches us the spirit that should characterize their use, and chapter 14 gives us guidelines for their functioning within the context of the local church.

    When it comes to the operation of the gifts of the Spirit, Paul is very clear.  He tells us, "Desire the gifts.  Seek to have these things operating in your life and operating in the life of the local church, but they need to be practiced in love."

    It is with that thought in mind that Paul writes 1 Corinthians 12:31.  Here is what he says,

    But earnestly desire the best gifts.  And yet I show you a more excellent way.

    As we read the following verses we are told that the more excellent way is love.  Again, Paul is giving us the spirit that should characterize the use of the gifts of the Spirit as they function within the context of the local church.

    Desire the gifts.  Earnestly covet them.  But let them operate through a spirit of love.  - Bayless Conley