Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for March, 2012

Only a small percentage of us approach the end of our earthly life with the clear-sighted focus that Jesus did.  Jesus came to this earth on purpose and with a purpose.  The culmination of that purpose was found in Holy Week.  Holy week is the pivotal week in human history and Easter morning is the crux of it all.  Sadly to many are not aware of the wonder of this glorious day or they are so distracted that they fail to prepare for it and miss the precious gift that it offers.  Today I offer a few tips to make the most of Holy Week.

First, if you are not aware, Jesus stands alone as unique among all persons who have ever lived.  Jesus was killed by the ancient Roman custom of crucifixion.  He was confirmed dead and put into the tomb owned by a Jewish leader, Joseph of Arimathea.  Jesus did not stay in the tomb though.  God raised Him up to life after three days.  This really happened.  It was foretold ahead of time by prophets.  Jesus said it would happen.  And literally hundreds of witnesses saw Jesus alive after His resurrection.  Jesus is the only person who has ever lived, died, and lived again in their earthly body.

There are points that critics bring up to try to dispute the fact of Jesus resurrection.  They all need a conspiracy of some sort to show why Jesus body has never been found.  Every single theory falls flat though when the evidence is analyzed.  In his book, Born Again, Chuck Colson who was a member of President Richard Nixon’s inner team explains how he was convinced that Jesus was resurrected.  President Nixon resigned in disgrace when it was learned that he knew about efforts to coverup involvement in certain illegal political activities.  Chuck Colson was in the small group who knew about this.  Chuck was among those that served prison time for their role in the coverup.  The fact that a small group of people faithfully committed to one of the most powerful persons in the world at that time couldn’t keep a secret was very telling.  Colson then draws a parallel to the 12 apostles, Jesus’ inner circle.  These men who were supposed conspirators in foisting the Jesus is Alive story all the while knowing they had stolen His body.  The fact that these 12 men went throughout the world spreading the story of Jesus resurrection.  The final end of 11 of the 12 was martyrdom.  They were executed for their faith and the message they proclaimed.  This is very telling.  A person may, and I emphasize may, die for something they strongly believe to be true.  But to die for something you know to be a lie, it doesn’t happen.  And for all of them to die for a lie takes immeasurably more faith than to believe the wealth of evidence that says Jesus truly is alive.

So point one as we approach Holy Week is that Jesus is Alive.  This brings on the question – So what?  What does Jesus’ death and resurrection mean to me?  I mentioned before that Holy Week is the pivotal point in all of human history.  That is a huge statement, but I believe it to be true from both a sociological point of view and from a personal point of view.  I shared in one of my early posts about my conversion.  This speaks to how my life has been changed by Jesus.  My oldest daughter has recently found new life in Christ and she is writing about it in her blog growingthroughchrist.wordpress.com.  Since Jesus was raised from the dead, everything He said suddenly changes from good advice from a wise man, to words from God.  He is different from prophets.  Prophets occasionally spoke words from God.  They were still fully human and for that reason we can find prophets who make mistakes.  Jesus didn’t make mistakes.

Jesus was the sinless Son of God who came to earth with a very specific purpose.  He lived long enough to prove His deity.  He touched lives mainly within the Jewish people of that day.  But His primary purpose was culminated in Holy Week when He willingly offered Himself up as a sacrifice in our place.  Sin cannot go unpunished.  Sin separates us from God and if not atoned for, will keep us forever separate from God.  Jesus took our sin, my sin, upon Himself when He died on the cross.  Unless you have put your faith in Jesus, that sin is not atoned for.  I know that God works in our lives even before we come to faith.  Faith itself is a gift from God.  Faith is what happens when we trust God.

One last thing before I close for the day.  I have discussed Jesus with a number of people.  The one thing I have found is that no one has ever been able to refute the historical and logical conclusions of the evidence surrounding Jesus life and death.  I am an engineer.  I am wired to think in a logical way.  (Which at times drives my family to distraction.)  When based purely upon well researched evidence, a jury would have to say Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  (For excellent research on this topic read Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict.) In many cases where I have had this discussion, the person I was speaking with chose to ignore the facts in deference to their own world view.  In most cases they held a belief that contrasted squarely with biblical teaching on moral law that they were not willing to give up.  In other words they chose to build a world view that allowed them to do what they wanted and not try to find truth and then go where truth led them.  I have seen this enough to understand the powerful persuasiveness of sin.  But I also know the incredible freedom and joy that I now have through my relationship with God.

This is my encouragement to you.  As you approach Holy Week meditate upon the resurrection.  See if God is speaking to you about a life decision.  Ask Him to give you faith to believe for your next step in a relationship with Him.  If you do not have a church home, check out NewSpring.cc on the internet.  I pray this will be the most amazing Easter you have ever experienced.  God bless you today.

Read Full Post »

A thankful heart is a shield, an antidote, and a bridge. Psalm 138 begins, “I give You thanks O God with my whole heart.” It is our right response.  God is the giver of all good gifts and He is worthy of all praise and thanksgiving.  And within this dynamic world He has made, thanksgiving freely offered releases God’s power in marvelous ways.

A thankful heart is a shield.  Bad things happen in life.  Some we can see coming while others we cannot.  Our response to difficulties shapes us more than anything if we let it.  During difficulty it is easy to lose sight of the things most helpful… that God loves us, that He is with us, that God truly cares for us.  These truths, and they are fundamental truths that remain even when all hell breaks loose against us, are a bulwark against fear, doubt, despair, and the host of other negatives that accompany pain and loss.  When we focus our eyes upon Jesus and give Him thanks for what He has provided, a wall against the secondary effects of difficulties is set in place to protect our heart.  Pain, suffering, and grief are not removed.  They are natural and right responses which will eventually diminish.  However despair, hatred, revenge and other attitudes are not God’s best for us.  Thanksgiving sets a barrier against the intentional acts of the enemy to keep us down.

A thankful heart is an antidote.  Giving thanks to God, not only in the midst of a bad thing, but for the bad thing, requires an act of faith.  When we do our faith is enlarged and the load we carry becomes a bit lighter.  But thankfulness should also spring forth when things are going fine.  Complacency is one of the most subtle and effective of satan’s tactics.  When we are complacent and satisfied we are prone to believe that we are fine and we have everything under control.  Thankfulness at this point is essential to propel us toward the vibrant faith and action to which God has called us.  Perhaps the most obvious area where thankfulness serves as an antidote is when things are going great.  At the point of receiving good news it is right to open our hearts and mouth in immediate thanksgiving and praise to God.  Pride is a real challenge for the persons who have much.  True thanksgiving springs from a humble heart.  It is based upon the recognition that there is One greater who has provided the gift and verbalizes this reality.

A thankful heart is a bridge.  One of the most powerful acts a person can give is forgiveness.  Jesus exhorts us to forgive one another as the Father has forgiven us.  Our natural tendency is to hold on to our anger until we achieve justice (or more precisely justice as we see it).  The Lord knows that grudges only do damage.  And they generally do much more damage to the person holding the grudge than to the one who is the focal point of the grudge.  How do you find forgiveness when you have a legitimate complaint against another?  I have found that when I consider God’s legitimate complaint against me for ignoring His standard for living, for breaking His law, for treating His overwhelming love and grace with low regard and yet He died on a cross for me, I am thankful.  And from that place of thankfulness I can extend forgiveness toward another.  In this way a thankful heart begins building the bridge.

We have so much to be thankful for – we can begin with the things of beauty God has placed in our lives.  I saw a beautiful sunset last night that was worthy of a “thank You, Lord”.  The people who God has placed in our lives.  My son-in-law called last night and we had a great chat.  “Thanks for calling Jeff, and thank You Lord for another son in my later years.”  My wife who makes me laugh… a lot.  “Thank you Lisa for the sparkle and spice you bring to my life, and thank You Lord for the blessing of a soul mate whom I love and who loves me.”  Now I am giving examples from the last hour or so of my evening and I could name many more.  Yet just that little bit has me so encouraged and thankful to our Father that I am ready for the day.  That makes me think of one more benefit of a thankful heart – it is a motivator.

Lord give us eyes to see Your hand at work in our lives today.  Then give us thankful hearts to express the gratitude that You most assuredly deserve. 

Read Full Post »

Lisa and I attended a Real Marriage conference the past two days.  Pastor Mark Driscoll and his wife Grace brought the message that Real Marriage is fun.  As I have shared in earlier posts, God has done a wonderful work in our marriage over the past 2+ months and the catalyst for all of this was Lisa’s broken leg.  Our marriage has gone from OK (which means it’s a relatively successful business partnership with occasional periods of zing) to amazing in this brief a time span because we have begun practicing the majority of what Grace and Mark talked about… and we had not read the book yet.  As I listened to Mark speak I realized that for many people learning about the 4 big ideas will revolutionize their marriage.  For Lisa and I it drilled home truths that we knew as head knowledge, but we had not made heart knowledge that we acted upon consistently.  Lisa’s leg break has caused us to act from the heart much more than from the head.  I think God graciously timed this conference so we could establish these principles in our marriage from henceforth.

One more point before I dive into today’s post.  During the conference there was a brief demonstration of Logos Bible Software.  It looks like a great tool for really digging into the Word of God.  They picked out this verse from John 4.  23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  Obviously the words from the original text often have other subtle shifts in meaning.  The word for truth carries with it the sense of nothing hidden or transparent.

As I awoke this morning I realized that for most of my life I have worked hard to control how I (or my family) are viewed by others.  Since becoming a Christian I have worked to be a believer who looks right, talks right, and lives right.  I believe I have missed the mark at times though because I tried to put on faith in the way of my choosing and not allow God to create that faith within me.  Ephesians makes it clear that faith is a gift from God 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  Often I am more concerned with what others think that simply doing what pleases God.  The motivation was wrong.

The first “big idea” Mark and Grace introduced was that spouses must be best friends.  They gave a picture of three types of relationships.  Back-to-back which represents an unhealthy, adversarial relationship.  Shoulder-to-shoulder which represents that working together to accomplish a set of goals much like a business partnership.  And the third which is Face-to-face.  Face-to-face is the pattern God has for friendship and particularly for marriage.  We have lived in the shoulder-to-shoulder marriage for most of our almost 27 years.  It is not that I didn’t love my wife and express my commitment to her often.  But I did not look her in the eye and show her the love, respect, and admiration that she needed and I, as the husband of a wonderful woman, should provide.

The second big idea was that marriages need regular trash removal and clean up to be healthy and whole.  Marriages are unions of two sinners in need of repentance and forgiveness.  We were given examples of how to “fight” in a way that ushers in healing and growth and not ever-increasing pain and isolation.  I am sure I will speak on this more in other posts.

The third bid idea was that sex is a gift God has given within the context of marriage to be enjoyed.  This contrasts against the unholy view the world has that places sex as a god and the equally invalid view of sex as gross.  The later view unfortunately is all too common within church circles.  Again this is a topic for another time.

The last topic asked the question “Are you a selfish lover or a servant lover?”  Like so many questions of this nature, I know what the answer is supposed to be.  I mean I am in church so it has to be servant lover – right?  This is another time when the word truth and the subtle meaning of nothing hidden whacks me right between the eyes… I am still a selfish person so much of the time.  While I hate to have to admit that, it is true.  Lord help me to abandon my selfish ways, thoughts, words, and actions.

When Lisa and I first married, we immediately plunged into life at a fairly breakneck pace.  Rhiannon was just a little shy of 2 years old when we got married so we were already a family.  Lisa continued working for a brief period and then she stopped working so she could go to college full-time.  Before long the next child and then the next arrived.  Soon the Momma to do list was always longer than the what-Momma-accomplished list.

We honestly did not disagree or fight much at all.  Today I recognize that this may not have been the best thing because it allowed small issues to be stuffed away rather than dealt with and resolved.  Undercurrents of dissatisfaction began growing and this began to manifest itself in less intimacy.  I can so relate to the shoulder to shoulder kind of relationship because the relatively small amount of face-to-face we had experienced was now replaced with almost exclusively shoulder to shoulder.  Things which should have been brought out into the open and discussed were left to fester.  Sadly, but in being totally honest, the back-to-back which had never been a part of our marriage, began to show up.  Mark mentioned that a sure sign of an unhealthy friendship within the marriage was going to sleep back-to-back.  Well this had become us.

My heavy travel schedule (read busy and not at home much) and Lisa’s successful (read busy and not engaged at home much) allowed only a few opportunities to really talk about and deal with the dissatisfaction and frustration we were both feeling.

Now I have to step back just a moment in time to give you a little more background in what was going on inside of me.  I recognized that the dissatisfaction was not healthy.  I had prayed for some time for God to heal our marriage.  Now while I was open to the fact that we both probably needed to change I know my hope and intent was for God to fix Lisa.  And I thank God that He is faithful and doesn’t just leave us to our own devices.  During this period He consistently spoke to me exactly what was needed.  “Dan, love Lisa like I love the church.”  I could not get anything else… because I was not doing this.  Don’t misunderstand, I resolved every time to love Lisa better.  Reading the rest of Ephesians 5 where Paul writes about this, I knew that meant I had to die for her.  But I couldn’t.  I didn’t.

Rhiannon, our oldest daughter, recently shared how her Mom’s broken leg changed her life.  Well that is my story too.  My love for Lisa has come out of this as more real and tangible.  I recognize a difference and my beloved does as well.  A lot of selfishness has been blown away.  (I look forward to the day when ALL of it is gone, but until then I am walking by faith.)  It’s really funny, before Lisa broke her leg I would get frustrated that I had to come home from 3 or 4 days away and I had to do a “lot” of household chores.  Today I am doing at least 4 times that and not only am I not frustrated, I am happy to be a help to Lisa.  It is amazing.

On Lisa’s side a transformation is taking place as well.  Mark mentioned that husbands are unrealistic if they expect their wives to look at 50 what they looked like at 25.  After 4 children and a sweet tooth that she often satisfied, Lisa did not look like she had at 25 and I was unrealistic.  Since she broke her leg she has lost 40 pounds… and she still is not able to walk or put weight on her leg.  And she has done this in a healthy manner.  I know because I fix most of her meals at her direction.  I am excitedly looking forward to the day when Lisa’s leg has healed and we can hike together.  I want to hike in the mountains finding scenic waterfalls hidden among the rhododendron together.

It is my hope and prayer that someone out there can benefit from our story.  While I wish Lisa didn’t have to endure the pain of a broken leg, I am so thankful that God has moved through this difficult time to bring so much good.  And Lisa feels the same.  Our laughter and joy has simply exploded the past two months.  And we can only give God all the credit.  He has done marvelously, miraculously more than we could ever ask or imagine.  To Him be the glory, honor, praise and dominion forever and ever.  Amen!

PS. I strongly recommend Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book: Real Marriage – The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together.

Read Full Post »

Since I am a reliability engineer, I know a lot about equipment failures.  For the majority of failures, what we see when the thing stops working is not when it fails.  The failure began earlier, often much earlier.  The pattern followed by equipment as it progresses from fully functional to a wreck is the same as marriages that die.  Armed with this knowledge, I believe we can be better prepared to intervene and save our marriages.  With divorce an all to common occurrence I think this is a worthy activity.

In our analogy let’s use a common piece of equipment that we are almost all familiar with – a car.  Initially our car runs fine.  In reliability terms we say it is performing its intended function.  In the marriage this is when life is good, husband and wife are actively engaged in each other’s lives.  Communication is good and mutual support and attentiveness is the norm.

As time progresses subtle changes take place.  For our car it could be that the brakes have worn significantly, our oil has become contaminated, or a wheel bearing has experienced heat and wear.  At some point the performance of our car  begins to suffer slightly.  It is not detectable yet, but the loss of function has started.  In a marriage a similar point is reached when stress and distractions begin to subtly pull the couple apart.  The list is a long one on what these can be – money issues, health problems, children’s needs / demands, work stresses, etc.  

At this point in our example we can actually head off a failure with rather simple steps.  By identifying and performing the correct preventive maintenance tasks or basic care tasks we can restore the full function of both our car and our marriage.  For our car we should routinely inspect it for wear in the brakes, tires, etc and all lube should be periodically changed and / or replenished.  In our marriage we should periodically and routinely inspect it for wear and tear from the stresses of life.  Our communication should also be periodically changed and / or replenished.  A regular date night and brief times away from home together are two important ingredients in our marriage basic care program.  Without these activities a small problem will grow over time.

Without good basic care and preventive maintenance activities, incipient failures progress to the point they begin to manifest themselves in ways that become detectable.  Our brakes will begin to squeak, our car will take longer to stop, minor irritants in our marriage will escalate into conflict and hurtful words.  Detecting these failures early is important in achieving a prompt and relatively simply resolution.  

Assuming the problems, be they vehicular or marital, are not addressed degradation will continue.  In a lot of equipment such as bearings a failure will accelerate as the debris from the original failure becomes the source of additional failure sites on a microscopic level.  In our marriages unresolved hurts introduce emotional pain and strained communication that accelerate toward a failure of the marriage. 

At some point the signs that are noticeable only to those most intimate with the marriage become obvious to family, friends, and even casual acquaintances.  Full functional failure is still preventable but only with prompt intervention and significant effort.  In the case of our brakes, instead of simply replacing brake pads we may have to turn rotors – a more intrusive and costly repair.  In a marriage it will likely include active intervention and support from family and friends and perhaps even professional counselling.  Again a more intrusive and costly repair.

The final stage is a complete failure.  For our car it means brakes locking up or ceasing to stop us followed closely by a loud crash.  In our marriage it means broken hopes, dreams, and emotional trauma as two persons who were once in love divorce and go their separate ways.

Recognizing that a marriage actual begins to fail much earlier and intervening at the earliest possible point can head off the painful and damaging results.  Here is a list of steps that can be taken to strengthen your marriage and ward off the decline so many couples experience.

Respect.  Mutual respect is an important ingredient in any healthy relationship, but even more so in a marriage.  Make up your mind that your mate is valuable and worthy of your esteem.  Think back to what drew you to them.  Think of what they are good at and dwell on these things.  And let them know that you value them.  We all have faults, but it does not help to dwell on our spouse’s faults.  Offer these up to God in prayer, but with your spouse focus on the positive.  (Eph 5:25-33)

Communication.  This includes all the verbal and non-verbal forms of communication.  Usually one person in the marriage talks more than the other.  Whichever you are, be intentional to do more of what you usually do less.  For the talker try to listen more.  For the quiet one, work to express yourself more.  Consider your non-verbal messages too. 

Identify and remove distractions.  This is necessary for enabling us to get to the true root causes of the problem.  Too much time and energy is wasted dealing with peripheral issues or the secondary effects of bad decisions rather than identifying and dealing with the underlying thought patterns and behaviours that caused the bad decisions.  Another way to approach this is to simplify your life.

Include Preventive Maintenance into your Marriage.  In the equipment realm Preventive Maintenance are those regular, often calendar-based activities undertaken to make sure that everything is performing as it should.  Discrepancies are addressed, usually with minor adjustments, and the equipment is restored to full function.  Marriages need the same regular care.  I mentioned a date night earlier, but it can be any technique where you and your spouse are engaged in time together, apart from distractions, and intentional about checking the vital signs of your marriage.

Fellowship.  Spend time with others of similar values, beliefs, and life situation in an interactive setting.  We cannot expect to do life alone either individually or as a married couple.  We are meant to live in community.  We have a large and close extended family and they form our primary area of fellowship, but we also have Lisa’s work family and there is our church family.

Develop Marriage Condition-monitoring into your personal reflection time.  Condition-monitoring simply looks for the telltale signs that identify that the function of equipment is beginning to deteriorate.  We can do the same thing in our marriage.  Here are a few suggestions. 

  • Check the temperature with the Romance Meter.  If the romance in your marriage has cooled, then look for the causes and address them.  Hugs, kisses at times other than…, touching, quality time alone are all aspects of the Romance Meter that we should check.  When these diminish or begin to be more rote than spontaneous it is time to dig deeper into causes and make some changes.  At this time the changes will usually be subtle, but the benefits can be oh so marvelous. 
  • Take a vibration check of the emotional stability.  If things are becoming a bit shaky in the emotional arena for either one or both of you (yes guys I said BOTH), then it is time to slow down, assess more deeply, and talk about it.
  • Gauge the communication depth.  If your discussions are shallow and don’t get to the issues and challenges of the day and work through toward support and understanding then you have uncovered an opportunity for improvement.  Talking only about the kids does not qualify for the depth needed.  We need to talk about the children and during the years we are raising a family it will be very high on the list of priorities.  For a healthy marriage it cannot become THE priority.  The priority must be the marriage itself. 

While there is more that can be said, I see I must wrap up for today.  Perhaps I will share some of Lisa’s and my story at a later date.  We have experienced much of the joy of marriage, but like all couples we have weathered our seasons of difficulty.  With God’s help and the prayers of family and friends we have weathered these and come out stronger in our commitment and love for each other.  It is my prayer for all married persons who read this that you will find comfort, solace, and a tidbit that will help you.  For those not married I encourage you to consider these suggestions for the day you either get married or in your times of supporting married friends.

God bless and may the light shine brightly where you tread.

Read Full Post »

The most wonderous and perhaps the most hazardous period in a bird’s life is when it first learns to fly. Given wings by the Creator a bird is meant to fly. Yet in those first few days of flight a young bird is liable to find itself on the ground stranded and within reach of cats and other animals that are more likely to swallow it than help it back up into a tree.  New believers are a lot like those young birds.  Entering a life changing relationship with the Lord gives us wings and prompts us to desire flight.  But it is dangerous to believe we are ready for all the world, the flesh, and the devil are going to throw at us now that we are on God’s side opposing them.  We must realize that becoming a believer in Jesus Christ means we are at war.  The verse, “the devil prowls like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” certainly applies and new believers are his particular target.  Knowing this to be true and having a daughter who is enthusiastically embracing her newfound faith, I thought it would be appropriate to share a few keys that I have learned about flying the flight God created us to fly.

As in many list of “To Do’s” the following will be categorized into what I understand are 1) Must Do, 2) Ought to Do, and 3) Nice to Do.  I encourage you to ask the Lord to highlight to you which of these you need to prioritize more or less.

MUST DO

1) Get an easy to understand bible and dive in.  I read several translations, but I recommend getting one that has a fair amount of scholarship behind it like the NIV or NASB.  While all the bible is “God-breathed” (See 2 Tim 3:16) the gospels are the best place to start.  Get to know Jesus, our Saviour and Lord.  After the Gospels I would move through the New Testament before tackling large portions of the Old Testament.  I have gone through Psalms and Proverbs a number of times reading small sections each day with longer readings from the New Testament. 

2) Since the bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit ask the Holy Spirit to give you understanding as you read.  It is His story and He wants you to understand and apply it to your life.  Take time to think about what the Word of God is saying.  This time of meditating upon the Word should be intentional.  A time to quietly talk to God and listen for Him to speak through His Word is a vital element in our life.

3) Talk with God.  When we are His, God says He will never leave us or forsake us.  Take time to begin to converse with Him.  This will begin with our talking… most of the time.  But be aware that He will impress truths from the bible upon your heart.  That is one of the ways He communes with us.  There are many types of prayer: adoration where we simply glory in Who God is, supplication where we lay our needs before Him, intercession where we lift up the needs of others, confession where we open our hearts to God and pour out the dirty laundry of our lives and ask His forgiveness.  All of these have their time.  But every day set aside time to just talk with the Lord.  And whenever you think of Him offer up a word of thanks.

4) Find a local body of believers and join them.  The Church was God’s idea.  He calls the Church His bride.  Therefore we should joyfully seek out a faithful, bible-believing, gospel-living church and join.  As in all our decisions after we become believers we should ask Him to guide us.  Sadly not all churches are faithful or bible-believing, or gospel-living.  Steer clear of those churches.  The Lord wants you to be plugged in and nurtured so He will guide your steps.

5) Give.  Jesus is our model… He GAVE His life for us.  God is our model… He GAVE His only begotten Son.  We are encouraged to give over and over.  I suggest reading about giving and tithing then praying for God’s guidance in this area.  Jesus talked about money more than prayer.  I think it is because money and how we handle it are a much clearer indicator of the condition of our heart than whether we pray or not.  Prayer comes easily and in a way it is usually doesn’t cost much.  Tithing always costs us, but the growth of our faith is assured when we tithe trusting in God to provide.

OUGHT TO DO

7) Get plugged into a small group.  This may happen through your association with a local church, but if not then seek out a group of believers who share your faith and a lot of your interests.  If there is a co-worker, a neighbor, or friend who exemplifies the faith you want to have, ask them if they know of any small groups that might accept a new person.  As in seeking a church to join, pray for the Lord to help you land in the right place. 

8) Seek ways to minister to others.  I am not talking about immediately getting a guitar and beginning street evangelism.  I am saying take an inventory of your giftedness (and God has given everyone at least one gift and usually more than one) and offer it up to God.  The list of ways to minister is just about limitless.  To minister is to simply find ways to reach out and help others in Jesus name. 

9) There are 3 types of individuals that everyone should have in their life – a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy or in other words a Mentor, a Friend and Peer, and a young protegé. 

Paul in the bible was a leader in the early church and wrote many of the New Testament epistles.  One of the characteristics of Paul’s life was that He took a few individuals under His wing and acted as a mentor to these younger believers.  So a Paul is a mature believer who can mentor you. 

Barnabas was a peer with Paul.  Barnabas was known as an encourager.  He acted as an intermediary in a personality clash between believers and helped bring reconciliation.  So a Barnabas is a friend and peer in the faith.

Timothy was one of the young men that Paul mentored.  He was following in Paul’s footsteps although he seemed to lack a lot of Paul’s confidence early on.  Two of the epistles are actually letters from Paul to Timothy where Paul exhorts Timothy in the work of the church.  Timothy is a young believer that you can pour into from what God has given you.

A word of caution here as I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me – these should be persons of the same sex as you.  If you are male these persons should be male and if you are female then they should be female.

10) Practice spiritual introspection.  Those are fancy words that simply mean you ask God to reveal things in your life that need to change and then, with His help, you change them.  If you are doing the things mentioned above; reading the Word, Praying, having Godly fellowship then these will come up sooner rather than later.  I was intentional about this early in my walk and there were several things that I realized did not fit with the new person that I had become.  The bible says we are a “new creation”.  It is incongruous to be a new creation and walk in the same old sin.  You will not know lasting peace until you go through this.  In reality you will still have deep-rooted things to address later as you mature, so you might as well get started early.

11) Ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit.  This is closely related to the item above.  I would rather put this in the must do list, but…

I am a strong-willed person.  That can be positive and negative.  In the positive, when I commit to something I am going to fulfill my commitment.  In the negative, I can go good places that God did not intend for me to go.  I have realized that I must be submitted to God completely, even to the point of giving Him authority over my will.  When we are born again His Holy Spirit is placed within us.  However the Holy Spirit is a gentleman.  He does not dominate or dictate.  He moves and fills what we give over to Him.  I realized I wanted the Holy Spirit to fill all of me.  That is my continual prayer… God have your way in me completely.  Holy Spirit fill me completely.  He has transformed much of me and I anxiously await His continuing work in me.  I urge new believers to begin this transformation. 

NICE TO DO

12) Begin reading good literature.  CS Lewis is my favorite author.  There are outstanding thinkers and there are outstanding writers.  CS Lewis was one of the greatest of both.  There is a plethora of great things to read that edify the mind and spirit.  I encourage you to read deeply of the godly authors and classic literature.

13) Begin listening to uplifting music.  There is an area of our soul that music touches that talks, sermons, and writings can’t quite reach.  Music that glorifies God is a balm that soothes the spirit.  While my personal preference is contemporary christian music, there is much that does not specifically fall under that genre that can still be refreshing and uplifting.  For both of these two follow the admonition of Philippians 4:8, “Fix your thought on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  This about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

14) Get fit.  The bible says our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  We should treat that temple as something special.  Diet, exercise, and getting out of addictive and hurtful habits should become our goal.  While this may have the same end result physically as getting in shape for vanity reasons, it is radically different.  We don’t look good for others to admire.  We are fit because we are made in God’s image and we are special to Him.

15) Work diligently.  As Christians we reflect on our Lord.  If we are poor workers then we give people a bad impression of the Lord.  Paul admonishes us to “work as unto the Lord.”  We should be the top performers where we work because we have reasons to have a great attitude, we are empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, and we know that God’s got our back.

These are 15 areas that I have found as helpful in my walk with Christ.  Even as I wrap up I can think of other helpful steps, but for now these will do.  Please send comments with the steps that you found most needful when you first came to faith in Jesus.  I would love to hear from you.

Take care and God Bless.

Read Full Post »

Who’s in Charge?

Bob Dylan, one of the most influential figures in 20th century music wrote a song “Gotta Serve Somebody” which won a Grammy Award in 1980.  The chorus of the song was;

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

The premise is that everyone has to serve someone.  Ultimately it gets down to two choices – the devil or the Lord.  He was right. 

Joshua was the leader of the Israel during one of the most successful periods of the nation’s existence.  He took over from Moses as the 40 year sojourn in the desert was ending and the conquest of the Promised Land was about to commence.  The time of apprenticeship was over and the mantle of leadership had been passed.  Moses had been left on the other side of the Jordan River and Joshua and the people had just crossed the Jordan River as described in Joshua 4.  Notice that in verse 14 Joshua becomes a great leader in the eyes of Israel on the day that they cross the Jordan River.  In truth he had not accomplished very much at this point, but God’s favor came upon him at that point and his leadership never wavered after that.

At the end of Joshua 5 there is an exchange recorded that puts into context why Joshua was a great leader and why Israel was so successful during his leadership.  As they approach Jericho, the first city to conquer, Joshua meets a “Man”.  Joshua did not know who it was other than it was not one of the Israelites.  He confronts the man with sword drawn.  I believe the man was one of two persons – either this Jesus or Michael, the arch angel.  (My best guess is Jesus because He does not rebuke Joshua for falling down in worship and in other instances when men fall down at the feet of an angel they are gently rebuked and told not to worship them.  Also the fact that He is told to take off his sandals for the place is holy harkens back to Moses and the burning bush.) 

Two important points come out of this brief exchange.  First the man does NOT tell Joshua that he is on his side, but that he is the commander of the Lord’s army.  I think it is very important to note that God does not pick sides.  God is God, He IS the side that it right, good, and true.  We have a choice to be on His side, but He does not take sides.  He is always the side of good.  (What does this says about praying for God to help our team win a sporting event?)  Second, Joshua immediately submits himself to the will of the man.  I am convinced that Joshua’s submission to the Lord was the reason for both his success and the success of Israel under his leadership.  The chain of command was clearly focused up to God.

The nation of Israel had not come to this place in a single instant of clarity, “Oh I think I will wholeheartedly submit myself to the Lord for the rest of my life” and then immediately they were successful.  They had seen God’s faithfulness and miracles over time.  They had been practicing faith and training themselves in obedience for 40 years in the desert.  They took note that what God said, He did.  The result was they knew God was Who He said He was and they willingly submitted themselves to Him.  There was only one Lord and He was God.

Jesus picks up this theme often.  He articulates this in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters.  For you will hate one and love the other; your will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money.”  You will serve someone or something and it is prudent to consider carefully your choice.

I don’t believe it is wrong to recognize that there are other things that can fill the blank where the word money is… fame, power, self, a political agenda, etc.  There are so many things that can take the place of preeminence in our lives.  When any thing other than the Lord is our top priority we have lapsed into idolatry.  Anything that takes the place rightfully Gods’ is an idol.  I know that my reputation and what people thought of me has been an idol at times.  I want people to like me and think well of me.  However, this can be a trap if it becomes more important than doing what the Lord says and following Him with my whole life. 

What are the things in your life that vie for “top spot” in your thoughts, hopes, and dreams?  Be aware that we are so easily led that these things which might begin seemingly closely tied to our faith in God, can take us places we never expected to go. 

I am reminded of a special season of prayer when I was living in Louisiana.  I was up late at night praising and praying to the Lord.  I was in our closet and I was specifically praying for my brother back east.  I remember the Lord speaking to my heart and saying, “Dan, I am going to give you the desires of your heart.”  I immediately responded, “No Lord, not my desires but yours.”  To which He immediately replied, “That is why I am going to give you the desires of your heart.”  Shortly after that circumstances rapidly changed and I was given an opportunity to move back east closer to family.  It was a wonderful blessing that I believe came directly from submitting myself to the Lord wholeheartedly.  (I don’t even think I was praying for this, but it was a desire of my heart.)

Joshua and the nation of Israel were able to conquer the promised land because they were submitted to God wholeheartedly.  God was fully in charge.  We can be confident that when we truly submit to the Lord, He will faithfully lead us.  All other paths are dead-ends.  While they may seem right for a time, if they are not leading to living for the Lord then they are leading away from Him.  And like Bob Dylan says there are ultimately two choices in who we serve.

 

One final quote from Bob Dylan’s “born-again” years.  I find it interesting.

Years ago they … said I was a prophet. I used to say, “No I’m not a prophet” they say “Yes you are, you’re a prophet.” I said, “No it’s not me.” They used to say “You sure are a prophet.” They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, “Bob Dylan’s no prophet.” They just can’t handle it.[183]

Read Full Post »

The Doxology is running through my head today.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,

Praise Him all creatures here below,

Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts,

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

My family is in the middle of one of the richest seasons of blessing that we have ever walked in.  Some of them are truly huge like restoration with a child you have loved for years, but not quite had the relationship that you wanted.  Others are a bit more subtle like the change in me where the feeling of being “put upon” and overwhelmed by so many chores has been displaced by an attitude of peace and even joy at being able to serve.  Being a bit analytical I really want to understand why this has happened so it can become the norm if possible.  I would also like to share this with others because it appears that most people experience more cloudy days than sunshine and I would like to help them enjoy the sunshine.

First off, we are not people without trials.  We have a broken leg in the house and a Momma who is limited in what she can do.  She is steadily improving, but there are plenty of ways that she could be discouraged.  But she is not.  In fact a number of the blessings flow directly out of Lisa’s attitude and approach to her broken leg.  Even though she has been in a lot of pain, she has not shown it.  The past several days she has pushed herself to do as much normal life as possible.  The result is a growing sense of normalcy for the family, but what they don’t see is the leg swelling and pain at night.  Instead of letting this get her down Lisa is relying upon the Lord more than ever before.  Her words of encouragement from out of her affliction are uplifting.  God is honoring that growing faith in tangible ways.

The prophet Jeremiah was God’s spokesman to the nation of Israel at one of their darkest times – the captivity in Babylon.  In the midst of that captivity God had Jeremiah send a letter to the exiles in Babylon.  This is found in Jeremiah 29.  God dictated this letter not only for the Jewish people of that day, but for all of us who find ourselves is difficult and seemingly impossible situations.  Verses 11 – 13 are God speaking to every single person.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you.”

We are experiencing this in our life right now.

So the reasons we are in the season of blessing are summed up in this scripture.  1) Call upon God, 2) Come to God, 3) Pray to God, 4) Seek God, 5) Seek God with all your heart.

As I look at this list I realize for the first time how the progression is exactly what happened to me at my conversion.  It is also the path I have followed since that time when I have begun to stray from the life God has called me to.  And it is what has happened to us through what we are calling “Momma’s broken leg season”.

Call upon God.  The beginning is to realize that there is a Someone greater than all others.  It can be in recognizing that all of creation with it’s infinite complexity and interconnectedness had to begin with an intelligent design.  It was not a cosmic accident.  To believe in no design is to ignore the obvious and takes infinitely more faith than to believe there is a design behind it all.  If there is an intelligent design then there must be a designer.  Call out to that designer.  He is God and He is patiently waiting for each one of His children to turn to Him.  Calling out to God can be an act of desperation since it often begins when we have run out of other options.  How much better if we do not wait until we are desperate.  A broken leg got us ALL calling out to God.

Come to God.  Coming to God must be by faith and it must be based upon truth.  When we are totally honest we realize that we cannot in our own righteousness approach a holy God.  Now there are a lot of “religious” approaches that we can try in approaching God, but from everything I have observed and experienced, God is not impressed with religion.  In fact religion is often an expression of man trying to fit God into a box.  We do this so we can control God or so we don’t have to deal with the thing that prevents us from approaching God, our sin.  God is a spiritual being who wants to relate to us directly.  He made that possible by becoming a man – Jesus, and living among us.  And through Jesus, God dealt with the problem of sin that keeps us separate from a Holy God.  Through faith in Jesus, we can enter into a living, vital relationship with God.  When we recognise our sin and turn away from it and toward God we can be immediately brought close to Him.  For several of us walking through “momma’s broken leg season” we have been given pause to look at our lives and realize that we needed to come to God through repentance.

Pray to God.  Once we have established that relationship by coming to God through faith in His Son, Jesus, we begin the work of growing in that relationship.  Now no one can expect a relationship to grow without ongoing interaction.  This interaction is found in our conversation with God called prayer.  Fortunately for us, He has given us an absolutely trustworthy account of His will in the written word – the Bible.  Even though God already knows every detail of our life, He enjoys speaking with us about it.  As I have shared before I have experienced God speaking directly to my heart on a number of occasions.  Most of these were when I was speaking to Him and He chose to impress something upon my heart in a way that I knew it was Him.  On a few occasions it was more spontaneous, yet it was still coming from a prayerful life.  Never have I heard anything that contradicted scripture.  I have had some of my religious beliefs blown up, but the scripture has never been violated.  And in most cases what the Lord spoke was directly tied to His written Word.  For Lisa and I we have been reading a wonderful devotional titled “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young.  The Lord has used this devotional and the accompanying scriptures numerous times over the past two months to speak directly to our hearts.

Seek God.  If prayer is talking to God, then seeking God is diving into a deep conversation with Him.  Where prayer is telling God about your day and asking for His help with a few things, then seeking God is laying aside the more trivial aspects of living and beginning to search out God’s purpose for you in this life.  It will encompass a diligent and more personal search of the scripture.  Many people have studied scripture to learn what it says and gather information.  The Pharisees were accomplished at this.  But God wants us to study scripture to meet Him and get to know Him more and more intimately.  We must strive to KNOW Jesus, not know ABOUT Jesus.  One of the saddest things in life is to know the bible and miss the Word.

In this season we have seen our prayer blossom into times of earnestly seeking God.

Seek God with all your heart.  Finally there is the total immersion in loving God and being exactly who He has created us to be.  The best illustration of the difference in Seeking God and Seeking God with all your heart is the difference between courtship and marriage.  While Lisa and I were dating I was convinced she was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.  We believed that we knew each other well enough to make that kind of commitment but we also knew we didn’t know everything.  In the courtship there was still the option to chose to go another direction.  When we said “I do” we sealed our commitment to each other, and to God, that our hearts were melded together from that point on.  There are no other options.  Lisa has my heart, it is hers.  And I have her heart.  The bible says the two become one flesh.  If we can set aside what man has done in his brokeness to minimize the beautiful covenant of marriage and get the picture of what God was doing when He established marriage, we can see it wonderfully reflects what God wants for us with Him… the melding of our heart with His in a forever relationship.

Back to why we are experiencing such a season of blessing, I believe that God is prompting us in this way so that we will truly seek Him with all our heart.  I believe that together we are closer than we have ever been.  We are not there yet.  We still have areas to be transformed.  And like in the courtship stage where we don’t know what we don’t know, I am sure there are still areas in each of our lives that the Father will bring to light that must be dealt with.  However He is gently, consistently leading us on to that point.  And right now I am just so thankful that He is lovingly at work in my family and me that the doxology keeps running through my head.

By the way Lisa wants me to know that there only needs to be one “Momma’s broken leg season”.  She is encouraged by all that has transpired and the blessings that have flowed forth.  But she said the next time we need this type of spiritual shake up she said it is my turn… Praise God from whom all blessings flow…

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »