Shhhhh…

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Is your average day like mine?

Kids, Peers, Cars, Music, Food, Air Conditioning, Chores, Cleaning, and so much more?

Each day we get swept into the routine we have voluntarily set for ourselves as we motor from activity to activity spending so much time on the go that we forget.

We forget to listen.

It’s hard to hear the silence.

Through the bustle of every day we don’t even take notice of how loud our world has become.  Even as I type this in my office, alone, I hear the swamp cooler on the roof and the click of the keyboard and the laughter of children in the building outside my door.

I have taken silence for granted.

Have you ever been introduced to something so refreshing that you cannot imagine how you ever lived without it?  Think back to life without cell phones if you can.  We didn’t know what we were missing, yet now we can’t imagine life without them.

When we went into the Grand Canyon for our rafting trip I expected grandeur and excitement and new compadres.  What I didn’t expect was the quiet.

There were times when I could hear nothing but the sounds God created into the world: the trickle of water, the buzzing of insects, the wind in the reeds, and the bird song. In those moments, with no deadlines and no expectations, I found peace.

Now that I am back I struggle more than I used to with all the noise.  I crave silence and solitude.  I crave the inner peace that comes from true communion with creation.

Can you relate? Jesus could.

Even he often withdrew to lonely, quiet places to pray – to be with His Father on a mountain or by the shore.

God may be whispering to us, “Here is peace.” Yet we are so busy, distracted by the noise, that we miss His peace.

I want to hear the silence again.  I want to hear His creation again.  I want to hear Him.

Do you?


Inventory


It’s time to take an inventory.

Take a moment to inventory your friends list. Not the one on Facebook full of people you barely know; I’m talking about your friends you communicate with regularly. Do you have it? 

What are they like? Do they function at a similar economic level as you? Do you frequent the same places for fun? Do you have similar moral and religious beliefs? Are you roughly the same age?

When was the last time you spent an extended period of time with people vastly different than you? 

Some people hesitate to surround themselves with people of questionable morality or intentions. They are afraid that doing so will be a sign of condoning such behavior. Some are afraid that doing so will cause them to fall into sin (a worthy concern). Yet who did Jesus spend time eating and fellowshipping with? 

Over and over we see Jesus with people who aren’t religious. They aren’t moral. In fact, they are the people looked down on by others. They are the people with bad reputations. They were the people used as examples by the religious leaders. Yet Jesus went directly to them – not to preach at them, but to love them.

But how can we love someone so blatantly different than us? 

Matthew 9:36

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Jesus had compassion on the crowd. He didn’t look down on them in pity. He saw them as lost and helpless, and he hurt for them. They needed love first – then guidance. They needed acceptance – then deliverance. They needed true interest from him – then transformation. 

Jesus wouldn’t have been the great game-changer of history if he had gone around lambasting everyone for their blatant disregard for the law of God. No one would have listened. Instead, he loved people. He loved them in spite of their anger, lying, fornication, ignorance, betrayal, distrust, immorality, etc. He loves us in spite of our humanity. Maybe he loves us because of our humanity. 

Maybe you need to hang out in a place that is uncomfortable for you. Not just once. Hang out there often enough for people to get to know you and you to know them. And just love them no strings attached. 

It’s hard sometimes. 

When you’re surrounded by drunks it’s hard. When people are spewing immorality it’s hard. When someone walks up displaying their alternative lifestyle it’s hard. 

But it’s right to love them. 

Sometimes the hardest thing isn’t being there. Sometimes the hardest thing is keeping your mouth shut when you want to get preachy and share some superior moral wisdom. 

But when they see you genuinely love them, you may have more than ample opportunity in the future to share the love of Jesus with words because they saw his love in your actions. 


Worry is Lord

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“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:7-8)

Worried, Anxious, Nervous, Concerned. Fearful.

Why do we deal with such emotions?

As we walk through life there are many unknown. We don’t know about tomorrow or even the next minute. We don’t know how our children will turn out or what may happen to them. We can’t control the government or the weather.

We have influence in our lives as to their outcomes, and this little bit of influence goes to our head in the form of perceived control over the outcomes of our lives. Are we really in control?

We say Jesus is Lord, but we worry like we are.

We say we trust God, but we are nervous about whether He may or may not act.

We say the Holy Spirit is alive, but we live like He is imaginary.

When we look at the scriptures, we see that God has PROMISED to take care of us, and Jesus had PROMISED to provide for us, and the Holy Spirit has PROMISED to guide us. Do we believe this?

How can we keep from worrying so much?

First, we need to recognize that we don’t own anything – even our lives. Maybe we need to wake up each morning and speak this truth out loud: This life is Yours. These Kids are Yours. This money is Yours, This job is Yours. These hands are yours. These feet are Yours. This day is Yours. Everything is Yours.

Next we need to be willing to follow the ways of Jesus by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This will require bible reading/study and prayer. It will include wise counsel from other faithful followers of Jesus.

Finally, upon succeeding to recognize each of these concepts, we begin to actually have faith when we live out our trust for the One who gives life. We live with the understanding that everything that happens is covered by Romans 8:28 and Matthew 6:33.

We should be people of peace, but when we live under our own power and guidance, then worry about the unknown becomes a controlling force.

This isn’t easy to fix; it may take years to get better, but once you are able to focus on the Kingdom of God and His provision – taking each moment as a gift – you can find peace in His presence as you walk in life.


A Biblical Memorial Day

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This coming Monday is Memorial Day, a day in which we, as a nation, stop to remember those who have given their lives so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have in this country. It is an honorable day whether or not you believe in what the government is fighting for.

Did you know that the Bible actually recommends that every day be memorial day in our lives as Christians? Look at Hebrews 11. This chapter is full of names of people and examples of how they lived and died to bring about examples of righteous living and spiritual success. Towards the end of the chapter it even talks of those who have died as examples to us that we should learn from their dedication to the gospel of Christ.

The greatest memorial is mentioned in chapter 12, however, as the writer of Hebrews talks about Jesus. It is because Jesus died that we have freedom. Jesus serves as a reminder that we have not yet resisted temptation or persecution to the point of shedding our blood for the gospel.

I cannot help but think on this week about Christ, though. He lived his life perfectly and was killed anyway. He died a cruel and unjust death after an illegal trial. Then he rose from the dead on the third day. All of this, he says, is to bring us forgiveness and real life here and in heaven beyond. But most of all, it says he did this to set us free.

Galatians 3:22 declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin. If you’ve sinned (and you have) then you are in bondage to the consequences and continuation of a life in bondage where the warden is the evil one. Romans 6:23 says that once you sinned, you deserved death. Such a life is no life at all.

But then, the passage in Romans says that through Jesus, we can have eternal life. This picture is not a life in bondage, but a life of joy and freedom in Christ. So many people think that Christianity is a religion that restricts its adherents from being able to have fun and live life to the fullest. On the contrary, Jesus said that he had come so that we might have life to the fullest..abundant life. In fact, in Galatians 5:1, we are encouraged with these words:

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

When I understand the extent to which God sacrificed his love and very self for me, then I want to give my life in return to him. I do not live in bondage in Christ, I am free. There are actually only two laws in Christianity: Love God with everything you are and have, and love your neighbor as yourself. By the way, that is WAY fewer laws than we have here in the US.

If you truly want to have a life of freedom, it should be found in Christ as you see what true freedom really is.

So remember all the soldiers who have died…we all know so many personally and honor their lives and deaths this week. But don’t forget the One who gave you the truest freedom: Christ. And remember that you truly are free to live life to the fullest in Him.

If you don’t have that life of freedom from sin yet, then please contact me. I would love to tell you more about how you can be rid of the sin that holds you captive and separated from God.


A Goal In Mind


This coming June I will have an opportunity of a lifetime: Rafting the Grand Canyon. 

Jody and I will join Trenton Keeling and 14 others on a 277 mile, three week excursion to survive some of the biggest whitewater in the country amidst some of the most remote terrain on earth.  It looks to be an awe-inspiring trip with many opportunities to rejoice in the majesty of God. 

I won’t be able to go on the entire three week trip. Instead, I plan to hike down to Phantom Ranch (nearly ten miles of downhill) and join the group for the last two weeks.  

Recognizing that this trip will be more taxing than my usual office time behind the desk or lunch meetings with various people, I began last January to try and train for this adventure. I have run and run and run and mountain biked and hiked and done push-ups, squats, dips and sit-ups. None of this has been pleasant. 

In fact, sometimes it’s downright uncomfortable. One morning I needed to run, but it had snowed the night before, so I was running in wet shoes as I trudged through the snow across the bridges. The first time I began rowing training, it was 49° outside with a 30 mile per hour wind. I have been saddle sore and had aching tendons. I have sweat and sweat and sweat. I have turned town French fries with my meal! 

Today I’m supposed to join Trenton and Jody and raft through Durango. The high up there is a balmy 44°. I’ve never rowed through Durango.  This might be a near-hypothermic day.  

Yet I continue to train because I know what the end result needs to be. I need to be stronger. I need more skill. I need to lose weight. I need to be mentally prepared.  And I need to do whatever it takes to achieve these goals recognizing that the suffering I may endure is eclipsed by the benefit of having trained. 

Did you know that the apostle, Paul, uses similar terminology to refer to our life in Christ? 

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Do you see the language? Training. Discipline. Running. Goals. 

What’s your goal as a Christian? If you became a Christian because you simply wanted forgiveness of sins, you’re missing out on the greatest blessings of Christianity. Christianity should be about life transformation. We should daily be striving to follow the ways of Jesus. We should be reading how to live in His word, the Bible. We then be praying (it’s like drinking energy drinks or protein shakes for the soul) to find strength. Then we should be training – actively striving to put into practice what we have read from Jesus and seen in Jesus. 

A person who “gets saved” but doesn’t strive for a transformed life is in danger of falling back into the world. It is possible to walk away from God once you’ve “been saved”, but most of the time it doesn’t happen overnight. Most times falling away from God looks like spiritual apathy as a person claims Christianity but continues in the autopilot of living like the world. This leads back to spiritual death. 

So what’s your goal as a Christian? Do you want to grow in your life in Christ so as to enjoy all the blessings you’ve been given through Jesus? It’s going to take work, training, discipline. But it’s worth it. 

Hebrews 12:11-14

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

God bless you as you train. 


Priorities Askew

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When I was a boy I had a hard time saving money for things. I would get a few dollars for some work I did, and it was like there was some strange, unseen force that compelled me to “need” everything I saw that cost less than the amount I had earned. Forget the magnificent toy I would need to save up for, my sights were on the quick, easy, immediate gratification prizes.

I didn’t understand it at the time, but that lack of ability to save for the future was a symptom of a greater cultural problem of my day that persists today as well.

What was the greater cultural problem? Skewed priorities.

I was putting my selfish need for immediate gratification above the needed experience of saving or even of giving to others. I was the most important person on the planet.

In many marriages today we see struggles and often divorce because of this skewed hierarchy of priorities. In many marriages today it seems that the kids come first, and everything else come somewhere behind the children. In many relationships, the husband/wife relationship is put somewhere far down on the list if there’s room.

No wonder there are so many struggling families today!

This doesn’t have to be the way of every marriage, however. You can have a happy, healthy marriage if you will, as a couple, decide to rearrange your priorities.

First priority needs to be your relationship with God. You claimed Jesus as “Lord” when you gave your life to Christ. Jesus said you need to seek his Kingdom first. When you focus on growing in your relationship with God and helping your spouse do the same many great things will happen. First, you will begin to change into the person God created you to be. Second, you will grow closer to your spouse as you pursue the Kingdom of God together. Third, you will lead our children by example in a way that will hopefully create a lasting legacy of faith in them.

The second priority in your marriage needs to be…wait for it…your marriage. No! The kids don’t come first!! As a husband or wife, your devotion is first to God and then to your spouse. When you focus on the kids before your mate you neglect the covenant you vowed to uphold at your wedding. You must find time for each other to rekindle the relationship that started your family. Do things you both love to do together. Show the children how to honor one another above yourself, and you will model for them the kind of relationship you hope they will have.

The third priority in your marriage is kids and everyone else. Yes, I lumped them all together. Your kids need to be raised by you, but they don’t need to be the sole focus of your life. They need to see you model interactions with others as you serve and communicate with other people. They need to see your devotion to God and your spouse. A society that focuses primarily on the children is a relatively new concept that really took flight once television was invented. When commercials started targeting children, the culture followed in its focus. You don’t have to make your children the center of your universe for them to be healthy, and doing so keeps you from being healthy in your relationship with God and your spouse.

When marriages rearrange their priorities in this way they see growth and change for the good. They become a stronger family. Thoughts of divorce fade away.

How are your priorities? Do you need to re-evaluate?


Dear Church


Dear Church,

On behalf of church leaders everywhere, I’m sorry.

The American church isn’t growing in most areas.  In some areas the growth that is happening is slow and often times fueled by births.  However, the death rate and rate of abandonment in churches is overcoming the birth rate and evangelism rate.

As I’ve been thinking about such a statistic, I’ve realized that this is largely our fault – the leaders in your churches. So, I’m sorry.

We teach weekly about the need for salvation for all.  We tell people what the scripture says about sharing their faith.  We show the theory behind the great commission, and yet we decline in numbers as a movement.

We evangelize.  We bring people to the churches.  We study with them in small groups and personal bible studies, and we even bring people to the Lord! But these conversions cannot overcome the rates of evacuation from deaths and people leaving the church.

As a teacher I should know better.  I have been taught the most effective way to train people.  Yet I fall into the same rut of the status-quo church expectations of mere teaching and preaching.  I try to lead by example, but this is done at a distance.  And, in effort to not offend anyone, I try not to put people on the spot as often as possible.

Yet I know that growth doesn’t come from mere information gathering or even casual observation but from intentional training.  Growth comes when I invite someone to walk with me and see, up close, what I do.  Growth comes when I begin to pass responsibilities on to the ones I’ve called to walk with me.  Growth comes when I stop talking and doing and let others take on roles in spreading the Gospel as I encourage, guide, and shepherd.

Jesus walked with his disciples for around three years.  How many preachers have taught the same people for over twenty years yet the churches are stagnant or in decline?

Jesus allowed his disciples to walk closely with him – watching him in his every movement and doing life with them that they may emulate him.  How many church leaders don’t involve church members in their everyday life?  How many church leaders are satisfied with their friends (many times often other church leaders), so the main part of the body wanders aimlessly with no physical examples?

Jesus gave responsibility and authority to his disciples a little at a time. This charge wasn’t by volunteer – they volunteered to follow Him.  This charge was a delegation, an encouraged expectancy hoping and watching for the disciple to grow through personal experience. How many churches are full of people, but it is expected that only a handful have the talents and abilities to continue the work of the church as it has always been done? How many church people have been turned away when they desired to volunteer because some leader wasn’t sure of their ability? How many church people have given up volunteering because of leaders that have to maintain control in spite of a lack of success or sometimes even effort?

Jesus eventually left his disciples in charge to make new disciples.  He didn’t stick around and micromanage them.  How many church leaders will only allow someone else to take over a ministry if it is done in the way THEY did it?  How many church people don’t feel empowered by the leadership?

Dear church, I’m sorry.

So what can we do to fix this?  How can we become a church that thrives and grows again?  We do so by following the example of Jesus beginning with our church leaderships.  We walk with people and invite them to join us in ministry.  We model for them.  We mentor them through encouraged involvement and responsibility.  When the time is right – before we are dead – we turn responsibility over to the next generation and/or encourage new activity and ministry within the church.  We actively seek to multiply the work God is doing through us by raising up disciples of Jesus who learn to walk in His ways by following the ways of His followers.

Learning can happen through listening, but learning and growing and maturing happens most often through modeling, mentoring and motivating.  These are actions.  The church is to be on the move, not stationary.  The people are to join in the work of God by actively seeking to spread the kingdom daily in their lives.

If you don’t feel that your church leadership is mentoring you in this way, ask them. Encourage them to take you under their wing. Watch what they do. If they follow Jesus, follow them. If not, look for a mentor who does. Then, as you grow in confidence in the Holy Spirit who lives in you, you go be the leader, the evangelist, the minister, the missionary, the disciple. 


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