Friday, July 29, 2011

Give it Our All?

Romans 9:1
I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

What would this world look like if all of us had the same conviction of faith that Paul has? It's moving to see someone willing to lay down their earthly life for others. We call these people heroes. Men who pulled children from burning buildings, or face enemy fire to save their comrades, all the brave men and women who rushed into the towers on 9/11 without a thought for their own safety.

But, how much more heroic is it to lay down your eternal life that others might find salvation? Taking a bullet for my wife or son or Father-in-law or others I'm close to would be something I'd do without thinking about it. But, giving up my eternal life so some complete stranger can spend eternity in Heaven? I'm afraid to admit that I don't know if that decision would come so easily… if at all.

It's sobering to think of that reality. I like to believe I'm a solid Christ follower, but if I truly was, this sort of all-in behavior from Paul would seem normal to me, instead of something that gives me pause.

I have a hard time talking to a stranger about Christ, much less offering to give up the most important thing I'll ever have.

What about you? Where is the line where you no longer sacrifice on instinct, but have to stop and think about it? Would you give up your eternal life for your family? Friends? Co-workers? Neighbors? Strangers?

It's thought provoking if nothing else…

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Recover Your Greatness

It's always amazing to me how many people's 'default setting' to the potential of answered prayers is a negative one. Those who are pessimistic by nature automatically disbelieve that the majority of prayers get answered and those who are optimists often seem pleasantly surprised when the answers come.

It's like someone has conditioned us to believe that God doesn't hear our prayers and if He does, could care less.

If you believe that, don’t. It's a lie.

Not only does God care, like any good parent, He wants to give us the desires of our heart. But, I think part of the trouble comes in when we allow our heart to fill with desires that don't do justice to who we are as children of God.

I really want a new 60" flat-panel TV for the living room of our new house. I can pray for that and maybe God will give us one, but chances are it won't happen. Why? Because it really does nothing for the Kingdom for us to have a fancy-pants television.

Proverbs 15:8 The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him.

But, if I pray for things that align with the life God designed me to live, guess what? They do come true. It says so in the Word:

Psalm 20:4 May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.

Case in point: I awoke in the middle of the night Monday and was suddenly overcome with a mental uncomfortableness (not discomfort, mind you, but just a general lack of comfort) in my spirit with what my family was achieving for God in our current situation. When we were still up north, both my wife and I were integral parts of EBC's volunteer structure, doing work for the church every week. We also were a solid part of a wonderful small group, blossoming with three other families as we all "did life" together, growing, learning to be transparent with one another and seeking to be the people God designed us to be.

Since landing here in Texas, we've done some preliminary things and explored possibilities as we've started to acclimate to Gateway Church, which we love. However, we've yet to really roll up our sleeves and dig in.

The heavy realization that we weren't being effective for God set in and pushed from my mind any chance of returning to sleep quickly. So, I lay there and prayed that God would present us with the opportunity to do that Monday. I prayed specifically, fervently and with all my heart that He would show us the road and equip us to drive down it.

Well, let me put the car in reverse for a minute and fill you in on some back-story. Several years ago, Angie and I were making mad money but we were up to our eyeballs in financial quicksand.

We made "American Dream" kind of income and had "American Nightmare" kind of debt.

Our old church, Palm Valley Church, announced a class called Financial Peace University. Not only did that class teach us how to use our money biblically, it made us fans of Dave Ramsey and planted a big fire in Angie's heart to get people to put their financial houses in biblical order and then give to Kingdom efforts as effectively as possible. This dovetailed with my drive to motivate people to passionately support the local church.

Fast forward to about a year ago when Angie and I were discussing possible ministries we could launch and one that seemed to stick involved helping people find ways to channel their financial resources to help the Kingdom. Fast forward to just a few months ago when I was suddenly inspired to craft a church message that details how God uses individuals to fund His work (He blesses us so we can be a blessing to others!) - and how individuals rob the Kingdom by failing to be generous. After writing this, I submitted it to a good friend on staff at Gateway, who forwarded it on to Sara, a wonderful woman that works in Gateway's giving and generosity ministries. She, Angie and I discussed getting together at some point and exploring it further, but after being here for a month, it had yet to come to fruition and I'd sort of mentally 'back-burnered' it, figuring if God wanted it to happen, it would.

That brings us back to my prayers.

And His answer.

Yesterday, out of the blue, we received an email from Sara, saying she wanted us to have a meeting with her and Gateway's Executive Pastor to share our ideas and passion for this and how we might implement something.

An hour later, Angie watched this, from Dave Ramsey: The Great Recovery detailing his plan for economic recovery in the American church.

I can't emphasis enough how YOU need to watch the video at that link. Not only will it help your family directly, but it will help you help others in your local Church, which in turn helps your local Church help the local community and beyond. We're called to BE the Church and that link will help you do just that.

Now, God prepared Angie and I through experiences. He aligned our hearts to pray for things that help the Kingdom. He woke me in the middle of the night and prompted me through the Holy Spirit to ask for those things, then he answered that prayer.

How great is our God? Great enough to plant the need in Dave Ramsey's heart to launch The Great Recovery and great enough to tie in hundreds of thousands of others to help bring it to fruition.

Now, go. Be. The Church needs you. God's Kingdom needs you. Your family needs you. It's a blessing to be needed, but a sin to not answer that call. Thankfully, if you've read this far, you're ready to be a blessing. Thank you.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Are You Wretched, Too?

Romans 7:15-24
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

When I think about Paul, I think about a man who was intelligent, passionate, driven and effective. His life’s work speaks for itself, clearly indicating he never wasted hours on the couch watching sitcoms, or hanging out with friends drinking beer and slinging playful insults. It’s doubtful Paul lost himself in games or the pursuit of his own personal pleasures. I can't say the same.

Paul seemed to be the kind of man who, once taken by the Holy Spirit, lived every moment for the Lord. Living intentionally, purposefully and effectively to spread the Word and help build the Kingdom. His legacy is known only to God, for who can count the vast number of people saved by Paul’s words, either firsthand, secondhand or read in the Book? Surely, they are "like the stars..."

Trying to live to the standard Paul set is nearly as tough as trying to live to the standard Jesus set.

But, unlike Jesus, who lived a perfect and sinless life, Paul was like the rest of us.

“…the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

How many times have I thought I need to stop being impatient with others? Stop overeating? Stop reacting harshly? I need to make a conscious effort to be happier? Be more appreciative of the blessings I have? How many times have I begged God to make me into the man He designed me to be while a cloud of anger or dismay or despondency roiled around in my mind, affecting my decisions and actions?

Not as many times as I’ve thought “What a wretched man I am!”

Then, I start to kick myself and embrace the idea that I am wretched.

Thankfully, Paul was too.

It’s no secret that Romans might just be my favorite book in the bible. And, that might boil down to this passage. I relate to Paul greatly as I lived a very destructive, disruptive life prior to coming to Christ – as did Paul. Knowing he still struggled, even after maturing in his faith, helps me to put things in perspective.

The maturation ends when the heart stops beating and not a moment before.

And, while it’s uplifting to know Paul had the same struggles, the real ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ moment is the next passage:

Romans 7:25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

No matter how many times I get caught in a dark cloud, I know the Son will always shine through.

To keep that at forefront of every day, I suggest this passage, which serves as a constant reminder of what we all have offered to us:

Psalm 23:6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Intersection of Self Worth and Strength

I've recently run into a bit of nearly overwhelming unexpected stress and anxiety from work related areas. It got so bad the other day I actually considered throwing in the towel and going back to an old career path that leads nowhere good, but pays very well.

Last night, I got on the phone with one of my best friends and he brought up Elijah sitting by the stream, watching it dry up. Elijah knew God's calling in his life and when all was said and done, despite the unexpected stress and anxiety, God's will prevailed and everything worked out for Elijah.

Since he and Paul are my two favorite biblical figures, and I'm very familiar with this story - which seems to have bookended our recently ended, two-year trip through the Kerith Ravine, when my friend Gary brought this up it hit me like a hammer.

Then, this morning, I opened up a few devotional emails and started reading. Oddly enough (or just as expected for those who know God's craftsmanship in our lives) the first two I read dove-tailed together and into this overall journey of the last few days. The first is from Bayless Conley, the second from Joe Gibbs.

Here they are:

Your Weakness, God's Power

2 Corinthians 12:9 is a powerful reminder of God's provision for you and me when we reach the end of our strength.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."

When Paul wrote these words, he was being harassed everywhere he went by an evil spirit that he referred to as "a thorn in the flesh." It was a messenger sent from Satan to buffet him, to constantly harass him.

The constant harassment of this spirit finally got to him, and he begged God three times to take it away. Paul was clearly at the end of his rope.

But, even though Paul prayed for God's intervention three times, the spirit did not depart. And God's response to Paul was the verse we read above. His strength is made perfect in weakness.

What does perfect mean? It means that His power comes to full maturity…it blossoms…it is fully expressed in our weakness.

What was Paul's response? He went on to say in verses 9-10 of that same chapter,

Therefore most gladly I would rather boast in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions and distresses for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

It seems that sometimes we have to get to the end of ourselves before we will look fully to God. But when we do, we find that He is more than enough. If you are there today or close to that point, take hold of God's strength.

Put your trust in Him. He will bring you to the place of your breakthrough, and you will find the strength and direction you need.

This really resonated with me because it's so universal to first rely on our own strength and understanding and then feel like the walls are closing in when things don't go all roses and sunshine for us. But it reminds me of the old saying "If life was perfect, why would you need God?"

Then, as I contemplated that, I read Coach Gibb's devo:

Room to Be Human

We definitely live in a celebrity culture. How many industries—from sports talk to memorabilia sales—are manufactured on the backs of a culture that can't get enough scoop or goods on today's headline makers? We know they're just people, but somehow we're willing to let them be larger-than-life. It's in our cultural DNA.

But even those who impress us with their skill and swagger—the ones who are among the best at what they do—miss a lot of reads in the course of a game. They foul a lot of balls into the stands. They push a lot of shots wide of the fairway. Success is a matter of consistent skill and effort, but nowhere near perfection. There's never been a superstar who didn't know how it felt to pace the sidelines, frustrated with his play.

If you're in one of those funks where you're down on yourself for making an unwise decision at work, or underestimating how long something would take, or guessing wrong on a snap judgment call, maybe this would be a good day to cut yourself some slack. Nobody gets everything right, and God understands that about us. "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" (Psalm 103:13-14).

Be fair with yourself today. Don't let a little pop-out keep you from swinging for the fences.

Pray this prayer: Lord God, thank you for knowing me better than I know myself, for being willing to forgive me when I foul things up. I pray for the courage to get back in and try again—for your glory.

So, that brings us to a crossroads. If things aren't going your way and you make a bad move or decision or action, it compounds things. That's when the doubt creeps in. That's when the enemy starts whispering in our ear, telling us all sorts of devaluing things.

"You're worthless..."

"You're an idiot..."

"You don't deserve the outcome you want..."

"Your life was meant to be terrible, look at you..."

And, it's at that point where we need God. In Exodus, God's presence is described like that of a mighty storm. Well, when things don't go our way and we compound that with mistakes, it's definitely a storm of sorts.

But at the eye of every storm is the Hand of the One Who Loves Us.

So, if you're struggling with a stream that's drying up, or living with the outcome of your less-than-perfect actions or decisions, look to God. It's hard to be influenced by what's wrong when you're focusing at all that's right.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Praying for Prayers

Something that is on my heart lately is prayer; don’t get me wrong, it’s been on my heart previously, but it’s risen like a high tide lately. The subject has been roiling around in the undercurrents of my thoughts for some time and just recently the wave has finally risen up and hit the beach.

Prayer is a direct link to God. It’s as if the power of the Holy Spirit is a vast oil reserve and all we need to do to drill into it and pump it out is set up a prayer well.

Matthew 7:7-10 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”

Some people are great at solid prayer and do it so well it amazes me. I’ve had several people tell me I’m one such person. But, I must confess I don’t think that’s true. Sure, I’m a wordsmith by trade and I can string together some compelling syntax, but as we can tell from the bible, polished vocabularies and purple prose don’t define a heart truly smitten with God. In fact, the bible is rife with grammatical errors and commentary that proves many who authored the passages were poorly educated in the literary sense. The ability to write well and speak well doesn’t necessarily equal the ability to pray well – even if it might seem so on the outside. The white-washed fence analogy comes to mind…

In thinking how to fix this, there’s a need to tally up the many of the obstacles I face. When I stop to consider who and what I want to pray for, I’m nearly overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. There’s always a seemingly unending list of people who need prayer. There’s always a list of things my family and friends need. There’s always a list of things others ask me to pray for and always a need for prayer for the church.

While John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, managed to find time to pray for eight hours a day, I just don’t see that happening in my life. And, if it did, I still feel like when I said the day’s final ‘amen’ I’d immediately think of something or someone I left out. Doh!

Another thing that scratches at me like a thorn in my shoe is the old “I’ll be praying for you” spiel. How often do we say that, meaning full well to lift others up, but never go beyond that comment? I do it far more than I’d like to admit. I know by saying that, I’ve made a covenant to lift someone or something up to God, so why don’t I always follow through 100%?

By saying “I’ll be praying for you” are we really doing anything more than offering comfort to those who hear the words? I honestly think it does little good beyond that if we don’t follow through with real, heartfelt prayer.

Another thing that gets me is almost a shame of knowing I should be praying more fervently, a notion that “I’m not worthy” that creeps in when I realize my prayers aren’t as frequent, specific and often as they should be. Knowing these things, why don’t I take full advantage of the power God has placed within me and within my grasp?

Furthermore, why do so many others who walk with Christ do the same thing? I’m sure it’s a combination of our fallen flesh, the storms of life and spiritual warfare, culminating in a prayer drought. But, this is something I’ve known for awhile, yet I still fall short…
What I’d like to ask today is that everyone reading these words join with me in praying one specific prayer, every day.

Father God,
Please help us become more effective with our prayers, every moment of every day.

I ask this is your Son’s precious and Holy name.

Matthew 18:19 "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.

If we all pray that every day, fervently, meaningfully and sincerely, then we’ll all drill deeper into the power of the Holy Spirit, giving us all renewed strength in Him.

The feeling I get when I see a prayer answered is incredible. Knowing we can all experience that feeling every day is exciting.

If you’re willing, I’d ask that you experience it with me.

Now, I need to stop typing and start praying. When you’re done reading this, I ask that you pray, then reply to let everyone know that prayers are going out. Power is going out and Jesus is alive.

Luke 8:46 But Jesus said, "Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Why I Have a Problem with Stagnant Churches.

I've never understood how a church can grow to the "average" size of around 250 and then close the doors. Too many churches out there are spending too much of their resources to only tend to those already in their midst and not enough effort in following the great commission.

Nowhere in the bible does it say we're to come together in small groups and insulate ourselves from the outer world. Yet, every community has church organizations that do just that.

I'm so passionate about this issue, that I actually have a book deal in the negotiation stages to cover this very subject. While I've only lain the groundwork for the book so far, every week or so I come across something new to add in, some fresh angle that further backs the point of view that churches were never meant to behave with a closed hand.

If your church isn't actively putting a vast effort into seeking and saving, then I submit to you that your church is dysfunctional.

Along those lines, is today's devotional from Pastor Bayless Conley.

The Vital Sign of Passion to Reach the Lost

One of the major signs that someone needs to be revived is a lack of concern for the lost. In David's psalm of repentance, Psalm 51:10-13, he says,

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.

When David says, Renew a steadfast spirit in me…Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, he is saying, "God, revive me, restore me, renew me." One of the fruits we find in a heart that has been revived is a desire to see others converted. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.

When a person's spiritual life wanes, there is very little thought and very little action aimed at reaching the lost. Yet, someone who has been revived and is spiritually healthy will be actively engaged in the evangelization of the lost.

Read carefully these words from Elton Trueblood, a Quaker scholar. He said, "Evangelism occurs when Christians are so ignited by their contact with Christ that they in turn set other fires. It is easy to determine when something is aflame. It ignites other material. Any fire that does not spread will eventually go out."

When you are spiritually revived, you will think about the spiritual state of the people that you rub shoulders with every day. It is inevitable that when your heart is revived and close to God, you will have a concern for the lost.

Do 'average size' churches, that don't seek growth simply think they've done enough? My evangelism professor spoke of a church that interviewed him to lead their church into a new era. He laid out his plans for reaching lost people and growing their church and in turn, they responded by telling him they wanted him to remain in his office during business hours so he could address the concerns of the existing congregation. They didn't have time to seek & save, they were too wrapped up in their own problems.

I'd submit that their problem was the inward focus. While introspection and healing are necessary, they should never be the end game. If they are, the game is over.

If this describes your church, I pray God will convict you to either effect change or remove your family and find a new place of worship that actively spreads the Word. God blessed us to be a blessing to others and his blessings are as numerous as the stars; so too should be the people we all seek to bless.

There are a few people we're close to who exist in churches such as the type I describe and they actively defend the insular behavior. These churches sit in large metro areas with hundreds of thousands of lost souls within a 30 minute drive, yet these churches are content to exist mainly for themselves and to worship God. All I can think of when I hear them talk is they've done what so many other churches have done and bought into a lie from the deceiver.

I remember reading once that faith is like an escalator, if you're not actively moving up, your heading down - there is no standing still.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, - Matthew 28:19

Jesus tells us to go forth and make disciples. He doesn't command us to go huddle in a building and sing Kumbayah while people lose their lives all around us.

...and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:20

"obey everything I have commanded you" means to go forth and make disciples. How much clearer does it need to be?

If you think you can't do it, you're listening to the lies of the enemy. If you think your church can't do it, the same applies. Once we accept Christ, we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us which is not bound by the enemy, unless we let it be so. Don't let it be.

I beg you, go forth and be fishers of men. God gives us so much and asks so little in return. How can we not obey?