Archive for January, 2015

For those who may be reading my ramblings who are not familiar with my setting – I live and minister in America.  And not just America – I live and minister in the state of Texas.  And not just in the great state of Texas, but in the region of Texas we affectionately know as west Texas.  Just so that you can better grasp the environment, west does not just refer to the direction, it is a description.  Yes, we live in the western part of the state, but west Texas is more than just a direction – it is a mindset.  People do not live in west Texas for the beauty of the geography necessarily.  And the smell of feedlots and oil production aren’t a real draw either – unless you own the rights to one of those industries.

I have often mused that the only reason people settled in west Texas in the first place was because the wheels fell off their wagons during the migration to the west coast in the 1800’s and they simply decided to declare this unlikely plLocked armsace “home.”

So why do people live in west Texas?  The answer to that question would be as varied as the number of folks you ask.  But I think a common denominator to each response would be the people.  The people in our are of the state are – for the most part – genuine and friendly.  But another quality of Texans, dare I say Americans, is the attitude of individuality.  And west Texans seem to exemplify that attitude more so than many other folks I meet.  There is something of a frontier spirit – a boldness – an attitude that “I don’t need anyone else – I will make it on my own.”  And in our western mindset, we are conditioned to think of ourselves first.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” has been modified to “Do unto others before they have a chance to do unto you.”  As genuine and friendly as we may be, we are selfish and self-centered at our core.

And so we live our lives looking out for ourselves.  But the Bible speaks of another way.  The Bible teaches that we really do need each other – that we were created and wired for relationships.  Life is not meant to be lived in solitude.  The old adage that no man is an island is not only true but Biblical.  God created us to not only enjoy being around others but to actually be dependent on others.

As an American living in west Texas, that cuts against the grain.  It is not how I am conditioned.  But when I get very honest with myself, I know, somewhere down deep inside, that it is true.  We all need each other.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the church.  We were each created completely and utterly unique, just like everyone else.  We each have unique qualities, gifts and passions that, when used together, compliment each other and work to fulfill God’s kingdom objectives in a way that we could never do alone.

God created us for community for a purpose.

Regardless of where you live, this truth is relevant to you in your setting.  God created you to serve alongside other believers for the benefit of the kingdom.

Are you plugged into a larger community?

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Slow Down and Listen

Each morning, I have roughly a thirty minute commute to work. While there are days I wish I could be to the office quicker, most days I use the time in prayer and meditating on the day ahead – a prayer drive.  It continues to be a beneficial time for me because I know the minute I hit the office, it will be pretty much non-stop until time to go home.

This morning, during my prayer drive I found myself praying when something hit me.  The past few weeks, we have had a lot going on.  As a family we have been facing some pretty big decisions and so I caught myself praying “at God” this morning.  I was firing off all these things I need from God – direction, peace, clarity – when I had a sense that God was telling me, “slow down and listen.”

I must be honest, that was not the first time I have heard that same instruction from God.  I tend to be a type A, get it done personality and find myself doing all the talking when I pray most of the time.  But I have to remind myself that prayer is more than airing a laundry list of needs and desires with an expectation that God’s primary role in creation is sitting patiently listening to my needs and then fulfilling them.  Prayer is a two way line of communication.  But if we fail to slow down and listen, we have made prayer something else.

So today, will you listen?  Not that you do not need to share your heart with God – but will you then allow God to share his heart with you?

It takes discipline and practice – but it is necessary as we seek to become more like the master each day.

Slow down . . . Listen.

Be blessed.

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Go Ahead and Knock

This morning, the verse of the day on Bible Gateway was Matthew 7:7-8 – a very familiar passage.  When I was younger, we sang these words in a song.  I memorized these verses as a child and have been back to them in my personal journey all my life.

But this morning, as a I meditated on Jesus’ words in these two verses, I began to see them in a different light.  Here is what Jesus said:

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; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

The thought hit me, rather than seeing these three examples of seeking God as Jesus simply restating the same action, what if we look at Jesus’ words as a progression toward spiritual maturity.  

At the first stage, we are just curious.  We make some inquiries about God and what God might be up to in the world.  As we gain answers to those questions, we determine to pursue it further.  We make an intentional decision to put some effort into investigating – we now have skin in the game – we become more invested.  Our seeking reveals the truth that caught our attention and peaked our curiosity that began this process.  But now, we are faced with the truth we have sought out and we must decide what to do with it.  At that point, we have to have the courage to follow through – to actually put ourselves out there and risk – we have to actually “knock.”

As we progress along The Way, we will be faced with things about God and this journey that we are on that grab our interest.  Those things will move us to seek out new or renewed truth.  But we have not arrived just because we have been exposed to that truth.  We have to do something with it – we have to step out and follow through – we have to begin to live it.

Don’t just ask today.  And don’t stop short by simply seeking.  Follow through.

Be blessed!

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Living Hope That Drives

This evening, we will begin a Bible study working through the letter of 1 Peter.  So this morning, I decided to look back over the first 12 verses of chapter 1.  We most likely won’t get through it all in one sitting.  In fact, we could spend several sessions just giving a background of the man Peter.  But as I sit with my coffee, I get to verse 3 and I pause, letting the idea of a living hope surround me like the smell of the brewing coffee coming from behind the counter.

I sip my coffee and watch people come in and go out of Starbucks, and I wonder . . .

Does that guy have a living hope?  Does the young lady in scrubs, grabbing a coffee before heading to the hospital have a hope that is alive and will drive her day?  Do the two DPS troopers sitting at the table next to me know that even in the midst of all the bad things they will see today, God is bigger than the evil of this world and that fact offers hope?

Peter’s words in verse 3 say: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead . . .”  A living hope.

The Reformation Study Bible defines hope this way: In the Bible, hope is not uncertainty or wishful thinking, but a confident expectation of future blessing based on facts and promises.  I find this understanding of hope extremely meaningful.  Hope is not some fanciful wish that my life will somehow become perfect – no struggles, no stress.  It is not a childish belief that all my problems will be magically removed.

Rather it is a “confident expectation” that God is really who God claims to be and that God will hold true to the promises of his word.  It is not a wish or half-hearted belief that God might be God and I am going to hedge my bets and put a little trust in God just in case scripture is true.  Hope is knowing God is in control and God has a plan – and not just any plan but a plan that includes a meaningful life for you.  Jesus does not promise a life without problems but he does promise a life of fulfillment when we truly follow him on a daily basis (John 10:10).

I don’t know about you, but that is the kind of hope I want – a confident expectation that God is who God says he is.  A hope that truly transforms my attitude and drives my actions each and every day.

Is that the hope you have?  I wonder . . .

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This past week, a friend asked me a very difficult but insightful question, “What is the biggest issue or crisis the church faces today?”  I did not have to think too long about my response.  Not because it is an easy question but because I have been wrestling with it for quite some time.

There are so many issues facing the church today – immigration, abortion, homosexuality, denominational bias and in-fighting.  But over the past few months, I have come to believe the greatest crisis we face today is perceived irrelevance.  The world does not see a need for the church – the body of Christ serves little or no purpose in the world in a growing percentage of minds around the globe.

Is it possible that post-modernity ushered in post-christianity?  When culture accepts the lie that there is no absolute truth, where does that leave the church?  The answer – – it leaves the church in a state of perceived irrelevance.  A culture that does not value truth sees no need for a system of organized beliefs.

We should not be surprised by the state in which we find ourselves as evangelical Christ followers.  What troubles me though is putting my finger on how we got here.  And more importantly, where do we go from here?

These are mammoth issues with no easy answers but I think complacency has something to do with how we got into this mess.  We have become too comfortable over the years.  All the years that church involvement was the social norm lulled us to sleep.  We did not have to work at reaching people and sharing the hope of Jesus – they were coming to us.  But regardless of whether you agree with my thoughts, the real issue is what do we do about it?

I believe that the first thing we should do in any situation where we face struggles is to seek God fully.  2 Chronicles 20 tells of a king named Jehoshaphat who, when faced with opposing armies coming at them from all directions, gathered the people together and in the presence of all gathered prayed to God.  And here is key point to his prayer: “We don’t know what to do but our eyes are on you.”  Maybe, when we find ourselves facing situations, we should whisper this prayer.

The church is not irrelevant.  It is God’s plan for communicating the hope of salvation to a world with no hope.  The church must continually be finding ways to share God’s truth in relevant ways.  The truth never changes but the way we share it must remain relevant.

As overwhelming as all this sounds, I have to be honest – it invigorates me.  God calls us to partner with him to reach our world and we have been gifted with talents and passions that, when used for the Kingdom, bring life and hope.  We can make a difference in our world.  We can affect change in the situation in which we find ourselves – – but not by our power and skill.  We are able to have impact because the one who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world.  (1 John 4:4)

God is still in control.

Will we be faithful?

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If you follow the church calendar, this coming Sunday is the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time.  We have made it through Advent and it is not yet time to experience Lent (which starts next month with Ash Wednesday).  So now we find ourselves in the midst of ordinary time.  One of this Sunday’s scripture readings comes from 1 Samuel 3.

As I was reading this week, I read the 1 Samuel passage (you can read it for yourself here).  It is the story of God’s calling Samuel as a boy.  One evening God called out to Samuel three times.  Each time God called to Samuel, he assumed it was Eli calling from the other room.  So he made his way to Eli each time and each time Eli explained that he had not called out for Samuel.  Finally, by the third time, Eli realized that it must be God calling the boy.  So he instructed Samuel to return to his room and if God called him again to respond by saying, “Speak, your servant is listening.”

The passage tells us that God did call out to Samuel again and he responded as Eli had instructed.  And then the passage moves to a wonderfully descriptive summary of Samuel’s life calling and ministry.  Verse 19 summarizes the remainder of Samuel’s life by simply stating, “Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.”  Some translations render that last phrase as “and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground.”

As I read that summary I stopped in amazement.  I have heard this story from my childhood.  I have read it many times through the years and know the story of the rest of Samuel’s life, but I had never really thought about the weight of this one little verse.  In one sentence, the author states something that should be the goal of each of our lives.

Shouldn’t it be possible for our aspirations and passions to be summarized in such a way?  Could there be anything more concise?

As a pastor, my desire should be that God be with me all my days and that everything I do and say have lasting impact.

God, may it be so!

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Closed sign

Last week I met a friend for breakfast and I encountered an interesting phenomenon.  We were to meet at 6:30 at a local restaurant.  I arrived a few minutes early thinking that I could have a little time to think and pray.  As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed the lot was practically full of vehicles but the lights to the restaurant were not on.  Thinking that strange, I gathered my things and headed to the door.  On the door, the hours of operation were posted – opening at 6:30, but I could see through the glass door and all the windows that there were people at 4 different tables inside, sitting in the dark.

Being the curious person that I am, I entered the restaurant, found a table by the light coming from the fountain drink machine and began to observe.  All the patrons were drinking coffee and talking as if this were a normal day.  Occasionally, one of the men would get up, go to the coffee pot and make the rounds refilling cups.   At 6:30, the owner came out of the kitchen and turned on the lights, then went right back to the kitchen.

Once the customary restaurant operations began, I asked the waitress (who also happened to be the owner) about what I had just witnessed.  Her basic response was that she arrived everyday a little before 6 and put the coffee on, unlocked the door and people began showing up to drink coffee and talk.  But she did not allow the lights to be turned on because that would communicate to the passersby that the restaurant was open for business.

As I have reflected on that odd experience, it has reminded me of the importance of community.  We were created for relationships – for community.  We need one another.

These patrons were willing to sit in the dark in order to have community.  Could they wait until 6:30 to have community?  Certainly I would think so.  But they found a place that would allow them to gather and they take advantage of it each morning – even if it means sitting in the dark.

All of us need community.  Unfortunately, many never turn to the church for those relationships – they turn to coffee shops and bars to fill the need.  And the question I have to ask is, “Why?”  Shouldn’t the church be the one place people can find genuine community?  Shouldn’t people feel welcome with God’s people?

I realize the topic is not as simple as I make it sound.  Some don’t feel comfortable in church because they know the values upheld by the church and they have no intention of living by those values.  But even given that reality, shouldn’t the church strive to remind people that none of us are perfect and we all need one another to make it through the day?

I would suggest that the patrons in the restaurant, sitting in the dark to have community, are experiencing both a literal and figurative mere shadow of what genuine community should be.  Church should be the real deal because Jesus should be part of it.

Something to think about on this day.

Be blessed!

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2015 is here and with it, the excitement of something new – a fresh start, a new year full of opportunity and possibility.

But how long will that excitement last?  How long before the stress of the everyday wears you out?  How long before the negative occurrences of the world begin to stack up and weigh you down?  It will be easy to allow the mundane or the tragic to rob you of your plans and your passion.  It might even happen without you noticing – because it is subtle.  You may look up three months from now and wonder to yourself, “What happened to my good intentions?  Oh well, that is just how it goes.”  So you’ll shrug and acquiesce to the reality that this year is just like the one before.

I would like to offer a different alternative.  What if this year, we expect more?  What if we expect more of ourselves?  What if we expect more of others?  What if we expect more of God?

Marv Knox is the editor of the Texas Baptist weekly publication, the Baptist Standard.  My inspiration for this thought comes from him.  He suggested last week that life could be different for us in 2015 if we expect more.

Do you believe that God is capable of making a change in your life?  Do you believe God is willing to make a change?  Does your life reflect that belief?

Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Approach God’s throne of grace with confidence.  Some translations say “with boldness.”  The writer reminds us that we, as believers, can approach God with boldness, with confidence – with expectation.  Not because we deserve God’s action but because we believe God is a big God.

My challenge for you in 2015 is to make this a year in which you dare to expect more.  Dream big and expect God to move.  I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Be blessed!

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What will 2015 hold for us – for you?  What do you think God will do this year?  What will you do this year to make 2015 at least as memorable as 2014?

All over the world, people are making resolutions – and some have most likely already been broken.  We resolve to lose weight or live more healthily.  We resolve that we will work harder at being a better employee or spouse or parent.  Some of us might even resolve to make God a bigger part of our lives in the coming year.

The reality is, as worthy as each of these resolutions is, the majority of us won’t keep our commitments.  The good intentions solidified into an actual resolution will end up being just that, good intentions.  The result?  Another year, pretty much like last.

Now, before you get frustrated with my negativity, let me offer a simple thought that could make a difference in 2015 for you.

Instead of thinking about all the things you don’t like about yourself and your situation and resolving to change, ask yourself this question:  What are the desires God has for me this year?

In listing what you believe God wants for you this year, remember this criteria:

  1. God desperately wants a  relationship with you.
  2. Whatever you believe God’s desires for you to be – they must line up with scripture.

If you will consider what God would want 2015 to look like for you and do so with these two thoughts in mind, I think you will arrive at some healthy goals for 2015.

Goals are important.  When we aim for nothing we normally hit it.  So give it some thought.

God does love you and desires your fulfillment – just make sure you are looking for that fulfillment in the right place.

Be blessed!

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Here we are at the onset of a brand new year.  Call it sentimental, idealistic or simply psychological – but for me, standing here refreshes my soul and ignites my passion.  I see opportunity and adventure that comes with a new year.

Some may say, “January 1st is just another day like any other.”  I suppose that is true from a literal sense.  But for me, there is something exciting – even liberating and life-giving – about starting a new segment in time, a new leg of the journey.

Sometimes it might seem safer to hold on to the past and try and maintain what we see as comfortable.  Don’t get me wrong.  We need to remember the past – to reflect on it, celebrate it and learn from it.  The path before us is often harder to see if we don’t know where we are and where we have been.  So we look to the past as a reference, but we cannot dwell there.  Life demands that we press forward.

Isaiah 43:18-19 says this:

18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

The writer reminds us that we cannot get lost in the past, we have to keep looking forward. God is doing something new. The tone of the author is that we need to pay attention so that we don’t miss it.  Eugene Peterson in The Message translates this idea like this: Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?” He may have taken a bit of liberty with the text but I think he nailed the intent.  

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the past and take a passive attitude toward the future – as if the future is what is going to happen to us.  The writer of Isaiah reminds us that God is at work doing something fresh and new and we need to pay attention so that we can be actively involved in what is happening.

2015 is here.  We stand on the shore of a vast sea of possibility.  God is already at work creating something new and we are invited to join in.  Don’t miss it because you are too busy looking at the past.

How will you approach this opportunity?

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