How is Your Heart?

Posted: November 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

Nearly a month has passed since that day. I had not been feeling well. I was constantly fatigued and kept having dizzy spells. After a lot of prodding from my wife, I finally decided to go to the hospital. The doctor ran all kinds of tests. I had CT scans and ultrasounds, treadmill test, and an echo cardiogram. I wore a heart monitor for nearly a month. No major problems were found, but a lot of monitoring was done.

I began to think about our spiritual life. What if we had the ability to look into our spiritual hearts? What would we see? Would our heart be healthy? Would we see areas of concern that we needed to focus on? Would there be changes we would need to make?

I believe we do have such a spiritual heart monitor. The Bible is a guide, a monitor that can expose our heart’s true spiritual condition. It shows areas where we are in need of change.

How is your heart? Do you see the areas that need work? Do you need to incorporate a healthy diet of study of God’s word? Ask God to show you what changes you need to make.


Sitting at the Feet of Grace

Posted: November 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

Recently I was reading the account of Jesus at the hoe of Mary and Martha in the gospel of Luke (10:38-42). Recall the scene in your mind. Jesus was with his disciples when Martha opened up her home to him. Remember that Mary (Martha’s sister) was sitting at the feet of Jesus, while Martha was busy worrying about the preparations.

Can you imagine? Jesus is in your home! You want everything to be perfect. You begin cleaning and there is nothing out of place. You are slaving all day long over the hot stove baking and cooking and cleaning. You then come to the realization that your sister, Mary, is in the other room just listening and talking with Jesus. You become green with envy! After all, you’re the one that invited him over in the first place. You should be the one listening to his words. But no, you’re stuck in here baking while Mary is the one who is being lazy and making you do all the work. You become furious, and finally you just can’t take it anymore. You come stomping into the room where the others are and you say, “Lord! Don’t you care that Mary has left me to do all the work? Tell her to get in here and help me!”

Then Jesus says these words to her, “Martha, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen what is better.”

The only thing that matters is sitting at the feet of our Lord and learning from him and listening to him. Have you ever been guilty of being too busy to get down at the feet of our gracious Lord and learn from him? I pray that you learn what is most important and sit at his feet and not become so busy with other things that you become blind as to what is really important.

The second chapter of Philippians uses words such as encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness, and compassion. Later on in verse ten, the Bible says “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

Encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness, and compassion all come with bowing down at the feet of Christ. Make it your goal to take the time to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from him. Bow down and humble yourself and realize what is most important: Jesus! I challenge you to join Mary and sit down at the feet of grace.

The Joy of Trials

Posted: October 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 

James 1:2-4

“Consider it pure joy…” the phrase seems out of place. The words can hardly be uttered without a sense of doubt or perhaps cynicism. Can you imagine telling  Ruth those words after losing her husband? Who would speak such a phrase to Naomi after losing her own husband and both of her sons. The road will now be lonely. Ruth is a foreigner and a widow. Naomi is now a childless widow. “Count it joy.”

Who would dare to speak such a phrase to Job? I imagine the conversation: “Job, I was in the field and all your livestock were killed…count it joy.” Or,what about a servant who comes in and says, “Job, I was with your children and they were feasting when the roof collapsed and they all died… count it pure joy.” Who would dare have the audacity to turn to job in his misery and see the pain he is suffering as he tries to scratch and cut himself to find relief and utter, “count it pure joy?”

Yet James tells us to count it joy when we face trials because they produce perseverance. The trials help us mature. Thinking again about the story of Ruth and Naomi, we can see some blessings that result from the trials they face. Namoi learns of a daughter-in-law who loves her and is fully devoted to her. Ruth receives the blessing of provision as Boaz allows her to work in his field. She receives so much more as she is eventually married to boaz who serves as her kinsman redeemer.

Job faces many trials. He loses everything. Yet, later he is bless by a double portion. He gains more wealth, he enjoys great health, he has more children.

Our own testing is never pleasant at the time. We wish it would just pass. We long for relief from the hurt; a cure for the pain; an umbrella of protection from the storm. However, the reality is that without the trial we would be unable to mature. The perseverance, even when we do not understand what is going on, teaches us about our relationship with God. So we can be thankful for the lesson we learned. We can begin the journey toward counting it pure joy.

A Reflection of Psalm 23

Posted: October 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

Psalm 23 is perhaps the most famous of all the Psalms David penned.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. David knew shepherding. It was his role in the family. He was assigned the sheep to take care of. While the concept can seem foreign to many in today’s culture, David understood. While my knowledge of what a shepherd does is from a distant observation, David lived and experienced it. He protected the sheep. He looked after them. He knew them by name. He had only in mind what was best for the sheep. He would lead the shape to wonderful pastures for grazing and water for drinking. When a predator came, David would risk his life to save the sheep. He would kill or drive away any that would seek to harm the sheep. Yes, David knew shepherding. Perhaps that is why this Psalm is so famous, for David wrote with intimate knowledge and insight – the Lord is my shepherd. I wonder if David recalled the times he looked after his families sheep as he penned this Psalm? He makes me lie down in green pastures – perhaps David recalls those moments of peace as the sheep safely grazed and he looked after them. Did he use this time to reflect on his own heart for his sheep and the great care he took on behalf of his sheep? He leads me beside quiet waters – I wonder if David remembers the peace he and the sheep felt during those time of eating and drinking. As David pens the phrase, “he refreshes my souls. He guides me along the right paths for his names sake” all is at peace. David is at rest, the sheep are safe.

There comes a sudden shift in this Psalm as David writes “even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil.” David recalls how the sheep would often become prey and be hunted by the lion or the bear. David also realizes he is a hunted man. Saul’s jealousy has taken over and he wants David dead. David is often seen running, yet God is always with him directing his paths and allowing to live in safety.

David realizes that in the midst of the chaos around him: the wars, the running from Saul, the people that are out for his life, he remains safe. He is able to have peace, for the Lord (his Shepherd) has prepared a table for him in the midst of his enemies and he is able to feast on the Lord even when so much is going on around him.

We need to be reminded of our shepherd. He loves us. We are His sheep; His children. He takes care of us and watches over us. He provides our needs. Our only task is to follow our shepherd. We follow his lead and trust that He will do what is needed to take care of us. Even when the predator comes seeking to devour us, we trust in the Shepherd. Then we can gladly say along with David, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Let the Chains Fall Away

Posted: March 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

This passed weekend was the Tulsa Workshop. It is always the highlight of my year. I always leave challenged and refreshed. I love to walk around the booths and see what ministries and missions there are around the world. I love to see old friends and catch up with what is going on in their lives. I especially love to attend the classes and hear great men of faith pour out God’s truth in a challenging and inspiring way.

This year’s theme was “Let the Chains Fall Away.” What a powerful message. So many chains seem to bind us as Christians. We are held in bondage by our traditions, our pride, our inferiority, our hypocrisy, our view of God, and the list could go on and on. Although I love the workshop and enjoyed each nights worship and keynote session, I have to confess that I was often distracted. I often find myself distracted. My mind wanders a thousand different directions and I find myself having to constantly refocus my thoughts. Friday night was one of those nights that I found myself distracted. I had spent the day at the workshop. Just Joshua and I went during the day and he was in child care. I was free to attend the classes and I loved it. I had the car and I knew Kellie and the boys wanted to come to the workshop for the night session. I left at 4:00 to get Kellie, Andrew, and Timothy. It took over an hour to get from Tulsa to Muskogee because of construction. We were hoping to make it to the Acappella concert at 6:00 before the evening worship at 7:00. Well, we didn’t make it until close to 6:40. We rushed inside and caught the last few songs. I was frustrated that it took so long to get back to Tulsa. I was distracted by all the kids running around throwing balls and toy cars while I was trying to get into the mode of praise and worship. It is then that I noticed him. A few rows away sat a young man who was obviously “intellectually delayed.” While everyone around him seemed to have a distracted look on their face because of the noise around them, this young man stood with his arms raised in the air, tears in his eyes, singing to his Lord. He was not held prisoner by the circumstances around him, he was just praising. We had a short break between the concert and the evening session, so we took the boys to their class and Kellie and I came back into the pavilion. We sat in a different area this time, but I could still see this young man. He had his arms raised in the air and I could see the emotion and gratitude in his demeanor as he worshiped. In that moment when my mind was racing and I was still watching the kids throw their toys and wondering why their parents were  not doing anything to stop them, that God began to work on my heart. It was though He was saying, “See that guy right there? That is how I want you to live.” God wants me  (and you) to live life free of the chains. The chains of pride, the chains of undiscipline, the chains a lukewarm life. God wants me to be free. Regardless of my surroundings, He is calling me to give Him the worship He is worthy of. When all the world want to distract me, He wants me to focus completely on Him. When the noise of this earthly life is loud, God offers me complete peace in Him.

I thanked God for His freedom. I thanked him for that young  man God used to teach me. I am thankful for freedom in Christ. It is true freedom. Eternal freedom. this life on earth is but a vapor and if all freedoms were taken away, I can still have true freedom in Christ. It is a choice. Following God is a choice. Will I choose to follow Him and experience His freedom? … or am I content to live in chains because that is my comfort zone? What about you? What choice will you make? Will you allow the world to distract you and keep you chained … or will you choose to completely surrender to Christ and be free?

“If the Son set you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

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?

Today is the big day. My fantasy football team has its first matchup. I do not yet know the outcome. I have to wait until all the games have been played. Fantasy football is about drafting players from each skill position and your points are based their actual performances. We had a live draft on a Monday night. We went into a classroom at our church and began the draft process. I recall the conversations regarding the various players.  We each made statements like “he has a lot of potential.”  “He is such a great player if he can stay healthy.”  “He would be awesome if he would stop complaining and start doing his job on the team.”  I suppose it is a little silly for grown men to sit in a room and pretend to be owners and managers of a football team, but it was a great time of fellowship.

Later, I began thinking about the church and about men and women of faith throughout history. What if we could have a fantasy draft for our church? Who would we choose? Why would we choose them? I began to think of people we read about in the Bible and how they had great faith. Perhaps someone may pick Noah. After all, he was faithful in a time when no one else was. God chose to save Noah and his family and start all over. What a great man of faith. We should definitely choose him for our fantasy faith team. The only problem is that when he is finally able to stand on dry ground again , he passes out drunk and naked. Perhaps we can rethink this pick.

What about Abraham? He would be great. God told him to pack his belongings and set off for a place. Abraham did not know where he was going, but he trusted that God would direct his path and protect him. At least, he trusted that God would protect him sometimes. He had his wife Sarai lie a couple of time and say she was his sister in order to save himself because although he knew God, he still thought he had to take precautions (being deceitful) in order to stay safe. Maybe you want to wait until a later round now before you decide to draft Abraham.

What about David? Now there is a first round pick if ever there was one. A shepherd boy who fearlessly faced a giant named Goliath. The giant was a trained warrior, yet David faced him when all of Israel’s fighting men were too afraid. From shepherd to king – that is the man I want on my team. I choose David first. He is perfect for my team. Wait, there was that thing with Bathsheba. He was outside and she was in the tub. He glanced in her direction, then he glanced again. Then he stared. Then he lusted. Then he slept with her and she became pregnant and he plotted to have her husband murdered. Maybe I should rethink picking David for my team.

I choose Peter. He was one of Jesus’ closest friends. Surely he would be close to the heart of God. I mean he walked with Jesus for three years. He saw Jesus perform miracle after miracle. Peter heard God’s voice in the form of Jesus. He touched God’s shoulder in the form of Jesus. He sat at the table and dined with the Son of God. I am definitely picking Peter as my first choice. He delivered the great message at Pentecost where thousands came to Christ. He followed Jesus ready to fight and die for him. I choose Peter. He even walked on the water. I definitely choose Peter. Okay, so while walking on the water, he got scared and began to sink. At least he still had the courage to do it in the first place. Oh, and there was the whole thing where Jesus told Peter he would deny him. Of course, Peter said “I would never do that, Lord.” Way to go Peter! But then they came to arrest Jesus. Peter followed at a distance and while warming himself by a fire, people began questioning him and asking if he was a Jesus follower. What did he do? He denied it. He denied it again. Then he denied a third time. Maybe I should rethink choosing Peter to be on my team as well.

The point is that we all have flaws. Some of the greatest men and women in the Bible have major issues. They sin. They make mistakes. They struggle with their faith. For me, that gives me hope. I can see the people as real. They are real people with real flaws. They have struggles. they doubt. They fall flat on their face. They make mistakes. They are human. Just like our group of men sitting in a room talking about the strengths and weaknesses of various players, we all have strengths and weaknesses. We often do the same when it comes to church. “That person is such a gifted teacher” while at the same time saying “if he could just be more organized.” We say “what a great singer” but also “she keeps finding the wrong men.” We have men of great talent, but they struggle with pornography. We have women with so much to offer, yet they suffer from deep depression. We are a church of flawed people. We have major character flaws. We sin. We doubt. We struggle. Yet at the same time – we love, we serve, we have faith.

I am thankful that the Bible shows us the strengths and the weaknesses of people. It gives me hope. I am thankful that men were not allowed to edit their lives and share only the strong points, but that we are also exposed to their vulnerabilities and weaknesses. We can have hope. Hebrews 11 is often referred to as the “hall of faith.” It is filled with names of great men and women who showed amazing faith. For the purpose of this post, I will refer to it as God’s starting lineup. The men and women listed there had amazing faith and courage, yet they also had flaws. they were murderers, adulterers, and even prostitutes. Yet God chose them to be on his team. It gives me hope. If they can be drafted onto God’s team, maybe I have a chance at being drafted too. thank you, God, for letting me be on your team.