Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

I was hungry and you formed committees.

I was thirsty and you preached sermons.

I was naked and you said, “That’ not in the budget.”

I was sick and you sang another chorus while internally debating traditional verse contemporary style of worship.

I was lonely and you rushed to the restaurant to get the best booth.

I was in prison an you held another congregational meeting.

I tell you the truth: whatever you did to the least of these, you did unto me.

The last couple of nights Joshua has been extra clingy (is that a word?).  He wants me by him constantly. While he is playing, he wants me by him. When he is laying down, he wants me by him. I love it, yet it is draining. Sometimes I just need to have a break. I feel drained. Yet, at the same time, I enjoy the fact that he loves me so much. All he wants is for his daddy to be around. He wants to know he is safe. He wants to know he is not alone. He wants to know I am near by.

I want to enjoy these moments. I know that one day he will be older and we will not get this moment back. He will be wanting to do his own thing and I will long to be near him. I pray I learn to embrace these moments.

As I think about Joshua’s desire to be near to his daddy, I am forced to think of my own relationship with God. We are encouraged to draw near to God (James 4:8).  I have to ask myself the hard question: Am I seeking to draw near to God? DO I desire to get closer to Him each day?Do I so long to be with Him that I cannot stand the idea of not being near him? Do I, like Joshua, just want to be near my daddy? I believe God wants me to be that in love with Him. He wants me to seek Him. He wants me to love being with him. He longs for me to long after him. God is my daddy and he loves his child.

I am thankful for the lessons we learn through children. My prayer is that we can all learn to love God so much we cannot stand the thought of not being near Him. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

It began like any other Sunday. I clocked out at work at 6:00 AM and drove home to try to get some sleep before it was time to leave for worship. We were running late and by the time we checked the kids into their classes, we had missed a couple of songs. A video played discussing mission work in Cyprus, but there was a technical glitch and it kept stopping and starting. When it was decided the video would not play, the band came back up to lead us in a few songs.

In all honesty, my mind was wandering all over the place.  I was thinking about being late and how I hate being late. I was thinking about my day and how I did not have enough sleep. I was wondering what was wrong with the video and why it wasn’t playing.  I was distracted.  I said a silent prayer to God asking Him to let me focus.

Josh (our worship leader) introduced the next song and I was immediately brought back into focus. The song was Chris Tomlin’s Our God. It talks about how great our God is. He is greater, stronger, higher than any other. It then had the words “Our God is healer, awesome in power.” I began to think of healing. My mind first went to my dad, who had been in the hospital for a while and who was not doing well during that stay. He is now improving daily and I thanked God for being his healer. I then thought about my own life and the healing taking place. I had been bitter and guilty for quite some time after losing my last ministry job, I felt like such a failure. Tears were forming in my eyes as I sang about God being my healer. He is healing me more and more each day as I seek His will. He is healing my hurts; my pain; my brokenness.  He is is greater than my pain. He is stronger than my guilt. He is healer of my sorrows. He is Lord. By the time we got to the part of the song that reinforces if our God is for us, what can stand against us, I was so excited to be God’s child.

A little later in the worship time we sang the old hymn My Hope is Built on Nothing Less. The chorus states “on Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” I began to thank God for being the solid rock I can stand upon. I also wondered why so many times, I try to stand on ground that isn’t solid. I look at the sinking sand around me and think, “I can make it across before I start to sink.” That is not true. Every time I try to stand on anything other than Christ, I sink deep into the quick sand. The more I struggle to get free, the deeper I sink. Why do I keep trying to stand on anything but Jesus? He is the solid rock. He holds me up in a world of sinking sand. He heals my hurts, pains, sorrows, shame, guilt, and regrets.  I am so thankful for the way God answered my prayer Sunday morning. He used the songs to minister to me. He always knows just what I need and He is always ready to point me back to him if I am only willing to listen. I pray we can learn to put aside our distractions and listen to His still quiet voice as He so deeply longs to speak to us.

So much time has passed since I last posted. In fact, I do not know that I have updated my blog since just after the new year. So much has changed in my life and I have been trying to process it all. Life is like a roller coaster ride. It is filled with ups and downs and sudden twists that take you completely by surprise. Sometimes all we can do is hold on tight and trust we will make it through the ride safely and with a better appreciation for the calm moments.

It feels as though the last 10 months or so have been a giant roller coaster with sudden turns and corkscrews and loops with no area of straight track. It feels as though I am holding on tight and trying not to fall out. What I am learning is to trust the ride operator. God is guiding and leading and I am slowly learning to trust Him, loosen my grip on the safety bar, and enjoy the ride. In all honesty, it has been an incredibly painful  and emotional lesson, but I am thankful for what I am gaining from the ride.

Back in October, our then one-year-old son, Joshua was admitted into the hospital. We were told by the hospital staff and doctors that he was near death. We brought him in just in time. Our life was rocked. Nothing else mattered to us except making sure our baby was okay. We cried; we prayed; we worried; we stood strong; we struggled, but still trusted in God. After about a week in the hospital , he was released and doing well. This was one roller ride we did not want to experience again. We learned valuable faith lessons, but no parent wants to see their child suffer like that.

Fast forward a few weeks. I sat in my office responding to emails and working on a children’s Christmas musical for the church. An elder approached me and said I was needed in the conference room. I sat down and listened as the elders asked me to resign as children’s minister. My heart sunk. I did not know how to respond. I was always told that I was a great teacher and the kids were learning so much, yet it was explained that because of my struggle to find teachers, I needed to resign my position. Every emotion imaginable overtook my spirit: anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, and even relief. It is hard to explain. I was quite bitter for a couple of months. I felt like such a failure. I was depressed.

I struggled to find any type of work at all. I applied at retail stores, restaurants, and even fast food places. With each rejection, I sank a little lower. I finally took a job cleaning a department store and probably wouldn’t have even found that job if my brother-in-law hadn’t recommended me. I wondered what was wrong with me. I wondered how I could have my ministry taken away from me. Nothing seemed to matter at that point. Rather, I didn’t think I mattered at that point. I felt so low; so useless; so powerless. I sat in the worship service not knowing what to do. I had always had some role to fill – preach the sermon, teach the class, lead the communion, be up front, share a word of wisdom – now I just sat there. Yes, I understand that one does not need to be up front to participate in the worship and life of the church, but that was all I had ever known. Now, I felt…insignificant. All I had ever worked for was gone.

I was one the roller coaster of life and it was making me sick. I became disoriented from all the turn and sudden drops. I cried the ride operator (Jesus) for help. He didn’t stop the ride, he didn’t even slow it down –  but  he did teach me how to learn from the ride and even enjoy some of the moments. I learned a very valuable lesson. My identity is found in being God’s child – nothing more, nothing less. My identity is not a title of minister, it is not a great sermon, or a good lesson. My identity is not found in being a good teacher. My identity is not wrapped up in my ability to organize. It is not found in being an introvert or an extrovert. My identity is found in Jesus. My identity is not others expectations of me. My identity is God’s son. I had never realized I viewed my identity in being a minister and having a title, but when that was taken away, I had never felt so insignificant. I have now learned my true identity. I am God’s and He is mine.

Do I miss doing full time ministry -yes, I miss parts of it. I miss teaching and preaching. But I will not trade the valuable lesson I have learned. It nearly cost me everything, but I have gained the only thing that mattered. I have gained an understanding of my true identity.

The roller coaster did not end there. You can read about Kellie’s job change and see that God is still trying to teach us something. Sometimes, I just want to scream out, “Okay God I get it. You can stop now.” But I am so thankful for this new-found identity. It was there all along, it just took a major wake up call to realize I was burying it somewhere and didn’t even realize it.

My life looks much different today than it did a year ago. I am now a forklift operator at a local warehouse. It is so different from what I am used to and I struggle to find my place there sometimes. I used to preach about staying faithful during the darkest times of life and now I am experiencing what that means. I once talked about freedom in Christ and now I am truly experiencing it. I am God’s child – nothing more, nothing less. Lord teach me to always find my identity in you.

John records a scene in chapter thirteen of his gospel about Jesus that is so heartbreaking. Jesus knows that his time to bear the cross is drawing near. In verses 37-38, we are told of an incident that brings tears to eyes of many. “Peter asked him, ‘Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life you.’ Then Jesus answered, ‘Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” Can you see the tears in Jesus’ eyes as he speaks those words? Can you hear the pain in his voice? He knows that Peter loves him. He knows that Peter is sincere, but he also knows that Peter will indeed deny him three times.

How many times do we deny Christ? How many times do we say with all sincerity, “I will lay down my life for you,” but when the hardship comes we deny him? With a compassion that can only be felt by our Lord, he weeps and cries over us. With tears in his eyes and with nails in his hands and feet, he says, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” He forgave Peter for denying him, just as he continually forgives us.

Today, make up your mind to celebrate that forgiveness. Rejoice with Peter in experiencing the grace and mercy of a God who loves us beyond all comprehension. Even now as you have so many thoughts on your mind and heart about all those times you denied your Jesus, you can take comfort in those words spoken on the cross and for eternity, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

When we look at the world around us, we can see so much pain and suffering. It gets depressing just watching the news these days. We hear of another rape, another murder, another robbery. We see another terrorist act, another casualty in the war. We see suffering all around. Many of you can recall where you were the exact moment a tragedy such as the Oklahoma City bombing or 9/11 occurred. Bad news is all around us. Tragedy often seems to be around every corner. Human suffering invades our lives on a continual basis.

We live in unstable times. We can recall the things that once seemed so safe and how they now have been scarred. Recall the group of people shopping in a mall when someone opened fire and claimed innocent lives. The tragedy that took place at a college campus when an alienated student went on a shooting rampage. What about the people attending a worship service that is suddenly interrupted by gun fire  – it wasn’t in a communist country it was in the heartland of the United States. We live in a time of uncertainty. And the people cry out, “Where is God?” They say, “If God is such a loving God, then why did this happen? Why did He allow it? Why didn’t He stop it?” We live in uncertain times. Each day people face tragedy: loss of a loved one, unemployment, bankruptcy, victims of violence, homelessness, hunger, poverty, and the list could go on and on. And they cry out, “Where is God? Does He care? Does He even exist?”

I have faced some tragedies of my own and I have found myself asking the same questions at times. I think back to driving in the car on Christmas Eve from Oklahoma City to Muskogee after leaving my grandfather’s funeral. Christmas Eve was always such a special time in our family and yet this one carried with it the loss of a dearly loved man. I think back to those times when I felt so rejected by people. I think back to the kid who was one of the leaders in a gang who said he wanted to make a change. When he asked if I could meet with him the next day, I responded yes and as I went to the housing project where he lived and hugged the kids in the neighborhood who were my friends and talked with parents, uncles, and siblings I hear gun shots and there lies the gang member who said he wanted a better life…And I cried out, “Why?”Why didn’t I make a choice to take him home with me the night before to get him out of the neighborhood? Why did God let this happen?” Tragedy has a way of slapping us in the face and daring us to respond.

Bad news is all around us. Not much has changed over the last couple of millenia. Since the beginning of sin, people have questioned why. Since sin entered the world, bad news has been showing its ugly face. And it is in those moments of bad news that we need hope. It is in the midst of tragedy that we need peace. It is in the eye of the emotional storm that we feel helpless to control that we need to experience the calm, gentle breeze.

God looked at this world and saw the hurt and pain that seemed to have overtaken us as a people. He sent prophets to the people and he sent various messengers, yet God still seemed so distant. He still seemed so far away. God knew the perfect solution. While He would still use people, He would do something that would truly impact the world. He came into the world and walked and talked and lived among us.

Luke 2:8-11 states: And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

This time of year is a reminder that God made a decision to come to this earth in the form of a baby named Jesus. He could not sit by and watch His people suffer, he responded by becoming flesh and blood and moving into the neighborhood. He went through the trials we go through, he suffered like we suffer – that is good news. And although tragedy still occurs, we know how to deal with it because He put on flesh and blood and taught us how to live. He understands what we go through. Have you experienced the death of a loved one, he understands. Have you ever been abandoned and betrayed by a friend, he understands. Have you ever put all your effort into helping someone only to have them reject you, he knows what that is like. That is good news for us. We have a God who understands pain. That is the Christmas story, that is God being proactive. He put on flesh and entered the world as flesh and blood so you and I could have a more peaceful life. This isn’t about nativity scenes, it’s about a God who gave himself as a gift.

Jesus life was spent serving others and bringing them hope, peace, and good news. One of my favorite sayings of Jesus is this: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” DO you need some rest? The world is full of bad news. Wouldn’t you like to take a rest. That tragedy has been heavy on your heart for so long – wouldn’t you like for him to carry it for you? That guilt and shame has taken your peace for too long now – wouldn’t you like to rest? God’s response to this suffering world is an invitation to rest. We live busy lives. We have appointments and deadlines. We have stress and burdens. We get tired and want to rest, but we say we must continue. We think we must keep carrying this weight, we must stay stressed. We feel that life is meant to be stressful, but Jesus offer rest.

When I look at the tragedies around me I wonder, “Where are you, God?” His response is that he is right here offering me some rest, but I look everywhere else. Don’t you think you have looked everywhere else long enough? Wouldn’t you like to rest in Jesus?

I have three questions for you to think about . Feel free to respond on this post or just to quietly answer these for yourself:

What personal hardship has affected your life?

How has it changed your life?

How do you need God to respond?

I always love how our children can teach us about God. Over the years, this blog has been filled with spiritual lessons I learned through being a father and watching my children. Joshua is growing so big. He is walking, running, getting into all kinds of mischief. He enjoys life and is very playful.

One of his interesting characteristic is that he is learning to become a little more independent, yet he wants to be able to see us. He want to know we are nearby. Joshua will go in the other room and play, but every so often he comes into the room we are in to make sure we are still there. He wants to be near his parents. If I have to leave and he sees me grab my jacket and walk toward the door, he begins to cry and hold out his arms for me to take him with me. He is even worse with his mommy. He wants to know we are there to care for him, to love on him, to be near him. He needs the reassurance that we will protect him and take care of him.

I suppose most kids are similar. Most small children I know hate when mom or dad leaves them with a baby sitter or nursery worker.  I wonder if there is a spiritual lesson for us. Kids love to be with their parents. They want to have their mom and dad nearby. I wonder if that is part of what Jesus meant when he talked about our need to become like children. Do I have those feelings for God? Do I so want to be near Him that I can’t stand it when I do not see Him? I want eyes that long to see God. I want to see Him at work. I want to see that He is nearby; that He loves me; that He will protect me and take care of me. I need to see Him. When He is not near, I am not the same. He is the only one I can fully trust. Others let me down, but He loves me unconditionally.

A child growing up in a healthy environment usually hates when mom and dad leave, yet something changes as they (we) become older. It seems we become comfortable. We learn that even though mom or dad had to go to work, we will see them at the end of the day. We learn that even though they leave us with a baby sitter, they will be back in a couple of hours. Soon we become used to the fact that we are loved and taken care of – then our own attitude seems to shift. We don’t mind when mom or dad leave as much. We may miss them, but we are fine watching tv or playing outside with the sitter until they return. We become comfortable with the idea that sometimes they have to leave. I wonder if this carries over into our spiritual lives. When we first become Christians, we are babies in the faith. We want to spend every minute with our Father. We can’t stand it when we are apart. Then after a while we miss a prayer time, we skip a day’s reading and over time, we become comfortable. We are comfortable with God’s love so much that we have forgotten how much that love cost. Soon we have spent so much time apart that we don’t really even miss being with our Father. We are content to watch TV, or work , or spend time with our hobbies until next Sunday when it is time to go to spend time with our Father again. I wonder what God thinks of all this? What happens to us? How do we go from being so in love with our Father that we cannot stand to be apart to being content with only spending time with Him once a week in a large crowd where we don’t have to be really intimate in our relationship with Him? God forgive us! Let us see. May we become like the child that longs to spend each minute with you.