Archive for January, 2023

Today Is The Day

Our Proyecto Fortaleza team all arrived safely yesterday and we made our way south to McAllen, Texas. Today, we will welcome over 20 couples to a retreat here at Casa de Palmas. The theme of the retreat is Regaining Joy. As I went through my presentation again last night, I reflected on the joy God provides when we gather together. Some of the couples attending this weekend will be servants we know – and some will become new friends through this weekend together. But whether they have been with us before or are here for the first time, there will be joy in being together because of the love of the Father.

Each morning, one of the readings that shows up in my inbox comes from the writings of Dallas Willard. I thought the message I received today was very fitting. It comes from his Renewing the Christian Mind essays. He said, We trace him (Jesus) through those uncomprehending encounters on the first Easter morning, and on through the amazingly different historical periods of the church. But we also find him now active among his disciples. Who he is, is revealed in an essential way in his people.

The thought that who Jesus is, is revealed in his people is at the same time, both exciting and convicting. When we are at our best in community, we see glimpses of Jesus. So we need to make sure we strive to be at our best.

Today, I ask for your prayer for our team and for the pastors and their spouses who will gather to see Jesus. Pray that his love will fill the room and the joy of his salvation will be renewed.

Psalm 51:12 – Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Thanks for your partnership in prayer!

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An Important Work

Who pastors the pastor?

That is a question that has driven a ministry I participate in, and have for well over a decade. The need to offer a respite and encouragement to pastors has not gotten smaller with time. In fact, with the pandemic, this need has become more acute and urgent. In 2021, Catapult published results of a survey of over 3,100 pastors in America. One of the most staggering findings of that survey was that 55.7% of the pastors surveyed had actively sought to leave the pastorate in the previous year.

Proyecto Fortaleza (or The Strengthening Project) began in 2006, as an effort to encourage pastors and their spouses in Juarez, Mexico. Over the next few years, this ministry became more focused to encourage pastors and their spouses in the areas of spiritual progression and marriage enrichment. Now, one of the biggest things we do is offer an overnight retreat (at no cost to the couples) as a way of giving pastors and their spouses an opportunity to rest and renew.

This weekend, our Proyecto Fortaleza team will be offering a retreat for pastors and their spouses in McAllen, Texas, serving couples from the valley. Proverbs 27:17 says, As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. On Friday, over twenty couples will gather to be rest, to recuperate, to recover their joy and to sharpen one another.

I ask for your prayers for these faithful servants. Pray that God will use this time and our team to bring rest and renewal to those in attendance. There is truth to the statement – As the pastor goes, so goes the church. Renewed and passionate pastors make a huge difference in the churches the serve. So pray that God will work in the hearts and lives of these servants.

If you would like more information about this ministry, you can find it here.

Thank you for your prayers!

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In my last post, I talked about how the pandemic forced our church – and most churches – to move to an online presence. Prior to the pandemic, gathering in person was the primary experience of most church attenders. To say that the disruption changed the way we worship would be a gross understatement. The change definitely affected our worship but it had additional, possibly even more damaging effects as well.

Humans are, by nature, relational beings. The isolation forced by the pandemic resulted in many unhealthy outcomes – increased depression and other mental health issues, anger, frustration, loneliness and crime rates. As it pertains to the church, the unhealthy outcome continues to linger. Instead of returning to the family, connecting online has become the norm for many.

We live in such a consumer driven culture that having access to “church on my terms” has just been easier. We can connect with thousands of churches while at the gym or on a break. We can listen to sermons and worship music while we drive. We can tune in to a Bible study any time we want. We can even watch a service in our pajamas on the sofa with a cup of coffee.

While moving to that platform was crucial to keeping our family together, it does not take the place of the relationships that make the church what it is – the family of God. The writer of Hebrews warned his readers that becoming distracted and wandering from the faith is a real danger. Therefore we are to encourage each other daily. He went on to say in Hebrews 10:24-25,  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,  not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

I know that online church has become the norm for many. But when we forsake the gathering we not only deprive ourselves of needed relationships and the encouragement those relationships offer, we do the same to others in the family.

It’s time to come back to church.

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How Is Your Bandwidth?

One of the things the pandemic brought about in church life is the move to an online presence. As things shut down and everyone was forced into isolation, groups could not gather. Prior to the pandemic, gathering as a group was somewhat of a big deal! The weekly gathering of the family was the primary focus of the church – most every church.

I will address the importance of the gathering in my next post, but today, I want to follow the thought from my last post of being stretched.

Each pastor in America had to quickly become a “televangelist.” Our church was no different. Overnight, I went from preaching to faces and bodies in the room to preaching to a camera! For a communicator, that is not an easy transition – or at least it was not for someone of my competency level. But apart from the difference in how I communicated, there were other issues that arose quickly – the most crucial was the internet connection. All of the sudden, bandwidth became an important word in our conversations.

Because our services had been on local television for years, we had the equipment in place to stream our services. But what we did not have was the bandwidth to actually stream. Steps were taken to increase our internet service to take care of that issue. Once the bandwidth was increased, one of our issues was resolved.

There is a similarity in our journey in The Way. We encounter opportunities each day for us to be light and love – to live as Jesus would live. But we are always pushed and pulled by other pressures in our lives – pressures that distract and take up bandwidth that could otherwise be used to serve Jesus better.

I have lived long enough to realize that the pressures of this life are not going away. We can learn to minimize them occasionally, but we will never be free from them. So we have two choices. We can do nothing and simply allow the pressures of life to minimize our effectiveness or we can increase our bandwidth.

When we spend time with Jesus, in his word and in prayer, in silence and reflection, his Spirit goes to work on us increasing our ability to follow him effectively. Jesus expressed the idea of connection in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” It is all about the connection!

When our church was forced to stream our services, we discovered quickly that the connection was vital to success. It is the same with our spiritual walk – our connection to Jesus is key!

So today, put space in your day to spend time with Jesus and allow him to increase your bandwidth.

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Willing To Stretch

In my last post, I mentioned that I led our Bible study group on Sunday night through the spiritual practice of prayerful reading. I also mentioned that the process was a stretch for many of those gathered there. Since that time, I have continued to reflect on the importance of stretching. Athletes know that muscles have to be stretched and ready before they perform. Real damage can be done when things are attempted before the body is ready.

This is true of our spiritual lives as well. We are called to grow to be more like Jesus each day. This requires real commitment and dedication. Discipline is key in spending time with Jesus in His word and in prayer. But just spending time each day in reading and prayer falls short if we do not follow through with what we hear from God in this process. More times than not, this follow through requires us to get out of our comfort zone – to stretch to meet the calling.

As we are stretched to be more like Jesus, our capacity grows. Our ability to see things from His perspective grows more sharp. Our sensitivity to His moving is heightened. Our willingness to make a difference grows.

With our expanded capacity comes more growth and the cycle continues.

Are you willing to stretch?

How will Jesus use you today that may stretch you from your comfort zone?

Be a blessing this day – while it is still called Today!

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Last night in our Bible study, I stretched our group beyond what was probably the comfort zone for some. I walked them through a Christian practice called Prayerful Reading or Lectio Divina. With this practice, we try to settle ourselves and our minds and intently listen to a short passage of scripture. The passage is read two or three times with space between to reflect and meditate on words or ideas that stand out from the passage. Our group was a participatory bunch so it went fairly well.

When we had walked through the practice together, I asked for response. There were varied comments about how hard it is to settle our minds and become still. We talked about the importance of listening. And then I asked about specific things that individuals heard as they listened.

The passage we used included three verses from Psalm 119. Verses 103 through 105 say this, How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

One of the gentlemen in the group spoke up and said what stood out to him in listening to the passage was the importance of spending time in God’s word which brings greater understanding of what is right in God’s eyes so that we have the wisdom to see what is not right. That led to discussion about how easy it is to accept what culture says is true if we do not know what is actually true.

God has given us His word to help us understand what is true and right. We don’t use that truth as a weapon but rather a guide to help us live lives that please the Father.

May we hold fast to His truth today as we walk this path to becoming more like Jesus.

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Lessons On the Way Home

I occasionally take a different route home from work. Most often I do it for a change of pace but then there are those times that the time of day dictates the route I take. One of those instances was this week. I left the office and knew that traffic would be slow on my normal route, so I headed to the freeway with the expectation it would be quicker.

I was right – I was able to make it the other side of town in record time. And then the unexpected happened. The last leg home brought the whole thing to a stop. Had I known that I would encounter power line work and lane closures, I would certainly not have chosen the deviation from the normal route.

My plan to make it home sooner – backfired. I am not sure my normal route would have been faster, but it most likely would have been less frustrating. As I sat in dead still traffic, I was reminded that often, life is like this. I was also reminded that scripture teaches us that God’s ways are not our ways. Isaiah 55:8 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

In life, we so often make our plans and then ask God to bless them. My traffic lesson reminded me that I am not smart enough to figure it all out. I need to know that my plans will always have a chance of failure. But God’s plans are always right.

So today, trust God with your life. Seek to follow his plans. I have found when I do that, the frustrations in life seem much smaller.

Be blessed!

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Grateful to Serve

One of my readings today comes from Mark 1. In verses 29 through 31, we find an account of Jesus leaving the synagogue with his disciples and entering the home of Simon. Once they got to the house, Jesus was quickly informed that Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever. The first thing Jesus did was to go to her, take her by the hand and help her up. We are told the fever left her as Jesus helped her up. Then we are told that the woman began serving them.

As I have reflected on this passage, so many things have come to mind. Why had no one told Jesus about her before now? Why was she sick? What was her relationship with Jesus prior to this occurrence? Why did Jesus choose to heal her? Why did she immediately begin to serve them?

One might think that Jesus healed her so that she could get busy doing what hosts did in that day and time – serve the guests. But that is not the idea we get from this passage. The heart of the savior was to heal and bring relief. The response of the one healed was grateful relief and a desire to serve.

This story reminds me of so many other healing accounts in the Gospels. Within the various healing stories, some of those healed went about their day and we don’t hear of them again. And then there those who turn to say “Thank you,” and express a desire to follow the healer.

Today, each of us come to this text from different places. Some are need of some sort of healing – whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual. Some are in the pit and need rescuing. And then there are some of us who are on solid ground and things are going smoothly.

For those of us in need of a touch from Jesus, be assured it will come – he reaches out his hand even now. What will you do in response? Will you go about the rest of your day like normal – or will you turn and offer thanks and praise?

For those who have things going your way today, realize that Jesus has given you the ability to take in breath, yet another day, and you are able to read these words. All life is a gift from the King. What will you do as your response to his care?

Simon’s mother-in-law got up and began serving them. May we follow her lead and serve today out of gratitude and worship for what Jesus has done for us.

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Don’t Forget Today

This time of year is given to focusing on the opportunities ahead of us. January 1st brings 365 new possibilities each year. So it is natural for us – and healthy – to think about the future and what God is going to do in and through us in the coming year.

But today I want to encourage you not to focus so intently down the road that you miss the opportunity right in front of you. Hebrews 3:13 says, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

The preacher of this sermon is telling his listeners that each of us have a responsibility to one another to offer encouragement. This encouragement is to be offered daily. And not just general encouragement but rather, very relevant and timely encouragement. He strongly emphasizes the timeliness of this encouragement by stating it should be offered “as long as it is called Today.” Do you hear the immediacy in this directive? While it is still THIS DAY, we are to offer encouragement.

It is so easy to put things off isn’t it? Here it is Monday as I write this. It would be so easy to look at the To Do list and say, “well that can be done tomorrow – and that can wait until Thursday.” That phone call to encourage a friend who just lost a loved one, or that email to a family member you haven’t talked to in a while – these are things that are easy to put off.

But today – make the most of this day – while it is still Today!

Who do you need to encourage TODAY?

Have a blessed Today as you bless someone else’s Today!

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A Rhythm of Moments

If you are like me, you get excited with the onset of a new year – so many opportunities and the prospects of so many new experiences. We plan and dream and think about all we can get done. Then we launch out to conquer the world. We attack 2023 with a passion to see great things happen.

But today, I’d like to offer a bit of encouragement and, hopefully, a bit of wisdom. Don’t try to do it all in the first week. Pace yourself.

This is the time of year for resolutions. But according to an Inc. Magazine report from early 2020, most don’t succeed in keeping their resolutions. In fact, the report quotes a study done by Strava, in which they name January 19th as “Quitters Day” because that is when the majority of folks throw in the towel on their passion to make a change. (You can take a look at the article here)

What I have found is that change happens over time and comes as a result of quiet, determined obedience – what Eugene Peterson would call, “A Long Obedience In the Same Direction.” The best practice is to simply determine small steps and commit to them each day.

As an example, I might say, “I want to grow closer to Jesus this year.” That is a worthy goal and, I would say, a Biblical one. But setting out the first week of January to read my Bible for 2 hours per day and pray for another hour is probably not the best practice. My experience is that when we try to do too much, we get bogged down and it becomes easy to let it slip. Then guilt sets in and we feel defeated and abandon the goal completely.

Instead, we need to understand that spiritual growth does not happen all at once nor does it happen in a vacuum. Becoming more like Jesus results from moments strung together to form habits. Never dismiss the importance of moments.

So establish a simple rhythm. Don’t rush out to make it all happen in the first week or even the first month. Just focus on the rhythm of moments with Jesus in his word, in prayer, in worship, in community and in service.

Moment by moment we will move forward. And December 31, 2023, we will look back and see growth.

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