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Archive for the ‘Salvation’ Category

It has been a hard week.  Last weekend a tragic car crash took the lives of four of my son’s friends – one a roommate, two other teammates with him on his college soccer team, the fourth a senior female tennis player who epitomized friendliness and zest for life.  I have watched and at times tried to help, but in the immediacy of the situation, words are of little comfort.  The past two days I have given my son space that he and I both needed.  He has been with friends comforting and being comforted.  I slipped up into the mountains and let the Lord minister to my soul.  I have four things I have had reinforced through this that I would like to share with you today.  I doubt any of these will be new to most of you, but they are foundational truths that will help us in the good times and the tough times.

The first truth the Lord spoke to me Wednesday night after attending two of the funerals.  Admittedly I was feeling sad for a different reason than you might suspect.  While I empathized with the parents to the extent that I could and I can relate with the students to a degree because of losses I have suffered, my sadness was that I had spent 12 hours “being there” for Sam and it didn’t seem like he needed me.  Even at the time I realized that my feelings were indicative of my own insecurity and, to a degree, selfishness.  I wanted to be needed.  As I sat there praying, I groaned, “Lord please help my son, please draw him close to you and comfort him.  And please help me to know what to do to help.”  And the Lord spoke to my spirit, “Who’s son is he?”  I was a little taken back by the firmness in the question, however I quickly realized my mistake.  As our children were growing up, we often prayed prayers of relinquishment over them.  We are given responsibility to train up our children, but we are only stewards for a short time.  They never cease to be God’s children.  And as they get older the relationship shifts such that we must… MUST… get out of God’s way.  He loves them more than we ever can.  Even our most faithful, most effective parenting falls short of our heavenly Father’s love for them.  I have to chuckle as I write this because there are times when prayers of relinquishment are easy… like when you have about pulled out every hair on your head and you are down to your last nerve…  But Sam and his friends were hurting and my desire was to wrap them in my arms and to take them to a safe and peaceful place… but that was NOT my role.  Needless to say, I prayed the prayer of relinquishment.  God is Sam’s heavenly Father.  I love Sam and I will be there for him, but he is God’s child and as such I can fully trust the Lord to provide for him.

The second truth is that we all have choices.  We gain wisdom from many different sources – our parents, teachers, coaches, pastors, friends.  It is vital that we take that wisdom and use it to make wise choices.  Our choices have consequences.  Good choices lead to more positive outcomes.  Poor choices, or not making a choice but just going with the flow, can lead to outcomes that are less desirable.  Professionally I am a Reliability Engineer.  One of the things that I have done a lot of is failure investigations.  In every significant failure there are a number of things that went wrong to result in the failure and negative outcome.  While we will never have absolute control over all the circumstances we find ourselves in, we do have an opportunity to make wise choices that reduce the risk of negative outcomes and increase the probability of good outcomes.

The third truth is relationships are paramount.  We can accumulate things, we can be successful in our professional life, we can even cultivate a good reputation, but the reason we are here is for the relationships we build and the lives we touch.  Jesus came to earth and became a man.  He lived a full live in his thirty years from infant to adulthood in relationship with others.  Living in meaningful relationship with others has certain key components, the chief among them is love.  Kyle, the roommate and best friend to one of the boys who passed away shared a brief vignette.  He described how passionate James was, not just about his sport, but about life.  One of the things James would do is he would always tell his friends, “I love you, man.”  And he would wait expectantly for his friend to acknowledge and respond.  It was a game of sorts, but at it’s heart was a young man who understood the importance of relationships.  Almost every Sunday James would take as many friends as he could back to his parent’s home to have Sunday dinner and hang out.  He knew the value of relationships.  And James’ investment in others has not gone in vain.  I got word of appreciation from James’ mother last night.  It seems this week was James’ younger brother’s birthday.  My son and some other boys went to their home and spent the day with Landon celebrating his birthday, making it memorable.  That’s what you do when you love, when you understand the value God puts on relationships.

Finally, the fourth truth is that this life is but a prelude.  This has been a theme that the Lord has hammered home for me for about seven years, but experiencing the end of the earthly life of four great young adults emphasizes anew the brevity of life.  Scripture tells us that this is not the end, but only the beginning.  Every one of us are created by God to exist forever.  The part of us that is spirit and soul will continue after our physical body has stopped working.  His desire is that we live with Him forever, but He has allowed us to make that choice.  Actually this point is a summation of all the previous points – real life is found in the perfect Father – God.  We all have choices with the most important choice being what are we going to do about Jesus.  And our relationship with Jesus followed by the myriad other relationships are the ultimate reason we are here.  Our relationships now give color and value to life on this side of the grave and, to a degree we can’t fully understand until we have crossed over, they impact life on the other side of the grave too.

The two young men whose funerals I attended this week had experienced salvation by trusting in Jesus earlier in their life.  Today they are experiencing REAL LIFE, a larger life than we can imagine.  As I hiked and experienced God’s refreshing over the past two days, I was repeatedly reminded that the best this life offers, – the most stunning sunrise, the most beautiful location we will ever see, the most touching moment of intimacy, the most exhilarating thrill we ever experience is but a foretaste of what God has in store for His children when they come home.

Pretty Place, Camp Greenville, SC, Oct 16, 2015 (47) Pretty Place, Camp Greenville, SC, Oct 16, 2015 (113) Pretty Place, Camp Greenville, SC, Oct 16, 2015 (129)

Thank you Father for the lives of James, Josh, Mills, and Sarah who my son and many others had the privilege of knowing and being friends with.  Bless and comfort their family and friends.  Please use their loss to touch many and to draw them closer to you.  Thank you for the manifestation of your great love in mercy and grace.  Amen.

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God changed the trajectory of thousands of lives last week at Gauntlet X.  Over 4500 youth and 1300 volunteers descended upon Daytona Beach, Florida and we celebrated God’s great love in a most amazing way.  As of Thursday afternoon 1062 people had accepted Christ as their savior and 1529 had been baptized in a mass ocean baptism at sunrise Thursday morning.  But it didn’t stop there.  God continued to move on the bus rides home.  In some buses the open mic was used and as young people gave their testimony to what God had done, what He had delivered them from, what He had saved them from, then remaining hold-outs were drawn to accept Christ as their Lord.  I heard of two buses that had nine saved on one and ten saved on another.  Amazing!

This hits near to my heart on a number of fronts.  I came to faith at age 23 at a retreat so I can definitely relate to going away and coming back a changed person.  I then worked as a youth volunteer for about 10 years until my work demands and family obligations became too much and the youth work had to be set aside.  In a way it felt like slipping into something warm and familiar chatting with the young people, hearing the earnestness in their voices, answering questions that as an adult we don’t often spend a lot of time on, but as teenagers they seem all-important.

The Wednesday night service will remain etched in my mind forever.  After a simple, straight-forward message Pastor P gave an altar call.  It appeared like close to 300 responded.  We then began celebrating what God had done.  For 5 – 6 solid minutes the 6000 of us left shouted and clapped and praised the Lord.  And then the miracle began.  Even though the volume was tremendous and constant we heard a burst of shouting above the din.  Another person had stood to go forward.  A few seconds later another stood.  The clamor continued but as we watched every 5 – 15 seconds another person would rise and go forward.  This went on for another 30 minutes. It was the most amazing thing.  There was no prompting from the stage.  No impassioned pleas from Perry.  Just loud, heartfelt, sustained praise of the Most High God… and the Spirit of God moved.  We saw the manifestation of the verse, “The Lord inhabits the praises of His people.”  Someone kept track and said Perry preached for 41 minutes and the altar call then lasted for 52 minutes.  In reality the Holy Spirit continues to move from that event as many more have given their lives to Christ since then.

As I ponder the impact of what God has done and pray for my young friends who have crossed from death to life I am awed.  God has changed the trajectory of so many lives.  Lives that were headed down dead-ends are now turned and heading on the right road, the road of God’s choosing.  In some, self-loathing and destruction has been replaced with life and joy.  In others, a self-centered heart has been made new and is being shaped by the Spirit of God to be God-centered and Others-centered.  I am convinced the changes will be profound.  The ripples of this move of God will impact families, schools, churches (not everyone who comes is from our church), communities, our state, our nation, and the world.  There were four persons who traveled here from Israel to attend.  One, a young man named Israel, gave His life to Christ and became a completed Jew, one of the Jewish faith who now recognizes that Jesus is the Messiah his people have been waiting for all these years.  Halleluiah!!!

As I have prayed about the significance of what God has done, I am thoroughly convinced that this move of God is not a stand-alone, one time event.  It is fit into His plan of rebirth and renewal for His people around the world.  I find it hard to contain my enthusiasm for what God is doing and going to bring forth.  What politicians, governments, advocacy groups, and various well-meaning citizens have tried to do, God, by His Spirit moving in a receptive and obedient people will accomplish.  He may use some of those groups above, but true, lasting change comes from the Spirit of God moving in individual lives, united with other changed lives, becoming a move of God that transforms society.  I believe that course correction is underway.  Please join me in praying for God’s grace to be manifest in lives, families, churches, communities, our state, nation and around the world.

God is SO GOOD!

Be blessed today and be a blessing as the Father uses your love, your gifts, and your obedience to impact the world right where you live.

My new friends as we head to the first session on Monday night.

My new friends as we head to the first session on Monday night.

Over 6100 filled the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach experienced God's grace in a mighty way.

Over 6100 filled the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach experienced God’s grace in a mighty way.

My new friend, Jaylen, heading into the surf for his baptism.

My new friend, Jaylen, heading into the surf for his baptism.

1529 people publically declared their allegiance to Jesus Christ as their Lord in baptism.

1529 people publically declared their allegiance to Jesus Christ as their Lord in baptism.

For over 1500 baptisms it took over 2 hours to coordinate and baptize.  I hearkened back to the Day of Pentecost when 3000 were added to the Church in one day.

For 1500+ baptisms it took over 2 hours to coordinate and baptize. I hearkened back to the Day of Pentecost when 3000 were added to the Church in one day.

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What is the first thing you do in the morning when you wake up?  It’s  probably not what most of you just thought of.  The answer I am looking for is what you do as you are going to do the thing you likely thought of.  You walk through an open door.

Now one of the reasons this didn’t come to mind is because we do it all the time.  I think it is safe to say we pass through dozens of doors every day.  My father raised my brothers and I to be courteous of others and to be gentlemen.  (Truth in reporting, any shortcoming in this area is not due to a lack of effort on Dad’s part, but stubbornness on mine or my brother’s side.)   What did sink in is that doors represent an opportunity.  If I am walking with a group, I will quicken my pace as we approach a door so I can hold it open for others.  In particular, Dad taught me to hold a door open for ladies and children.  What to do for other men was never really clear in my mind…  As I ponder it a moment I have to chuckle as I think of the number of awkward moments as I would approach a door at the same time as another guy and we would both wave the other through.  As we would stand there pedestrian traffic would back up waiting for us to decide.  Many times we would decide to walk through at the same time and then it really got interesting as we now weren’t sure what to do.

A door is simply the access point from one area to another that a person can pass through.  In our home we have doors into the bedrooms.  As I slip out earlier than my wife on most mornings I ensure that the door is closed to minimize the noise that would disturb her sleep and to let the grandsons know not to go inside just yet.  One of the things we liked about our home before we bought it was the welcoming front door.  It is attractive and inviting.  However it also has a deadbolt and is sturdily built.  For friends and visitors our door is opening and welcoming.  But for intruders and persons of ill-intent the door is a barrier.

I can think of many other doors I’ve seen and passed through in my life.  For some of those there is a lot of emotion tied to them – job interviews, the doors of the church as I headed in to await my new bride at the altar, classroom doors at school for the first time, the office door of an unhappy boss, the door of a new shop, emergency room doors.  There are other doors I have not passed through and, for some I hope I never have to – the doors of a courtroom where I am a party to the litigation, into a jail cell, a police station, the door at a home for an employee who has been injured or worse on my watch.

Scott was my best friend in high school.  We did all the things best friends do; we argued some, we played a lot, we had each other’s back all the time, and we grew from boys to young men together.  My job out of college took me several states away and Scott and I didn’t get to connect as often, but when we did it was always great to catch up.  It’s funny, I remember reading Scott’s last letter a number of times… the handwriting was the same, his sense of humor still showed through, and my heart was warmed by the friendship we still shared even though we were hundreds of miles apart.  Shortly after Scott’s 40th birthday my wife called me at work. She had just gotten word that Scott had died in his sleep the night before.  I can honestly say that was one of the hardest blows I have ever suffered.  Scott knew about my faith and he had said he was happy for me, but we had not really taken the time to grow in our faith together.  I still miss my friend, but it is not a sense of gone forever since I am confident that we shared a faith in God and in the completed work of Jesus.

Two and a half weeks ago, I found out on Facebook that Scott’s mom, Liz, was very ill and in her final days.  My heart went out to her husband and her family.  Obviously I prayed for them and their comfort.  I also prayed for the easing of Liz’s pain.  But I also could not suppress a sense of joy as I prayed for Liz.  I can still picture her as the beautiful, young mother who always had a smile even as she foiled another one of Scott’s and my schemes.  I can hear the sweet southern lilt in her voice as she said, “Now boys you know that you’re not supposed to…”  As I prayed for Liz in the days leading up to her passing the recurring picture I had was of Liz approaching a large door.  I could feel the mixture of emotions as she was sad to be leaving her beloved husband, children, and grandchildren, but I could feel the excited anticipation of seeing Her Lord face to face and being reunited with her son, Scott.

I attended Liz’s funeral a week ago.  To me it was a perfect blend of sad farewell, celebration of a life well-lived, and the joy of graduation to something greater.  The memory of it lingers with me.

Additionally the picture of the Final Door remains.  They say that death is one of the two certainties in life.  It is inescapable.  For each one of us we will face that Final Door.  Do you know what is beyond that final door for you?  Do you have an understanding based upon first hand knowledge of someone who has been there and come back?  There is One who is an authority.  The bible says Jesus conquered death and the grave.  Over 500 people saw Him physically returned after He was crucified.  Many of these followers died martyr’s deaths refusing to give up on the truth of having seen Jesus alive after His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.  His promise is life, eternal life, to all who would put their trust in Him.

I encourage you in the privacy of your own home, in your secret place to look into what I am telling you.  Pick up a bible and read what it says.  Begin in the gospels.  Ask God to show you truth.  Comment back to me if you would like to start a conversation.  God wants to enter into a relationship with you and He wants to give you a surety about what you will see on the other side of that Final Door.  Today, right now is a good time to nail that down.

If you already know Jesus and to you the Final Door is simply the passage to your final home, then rejoice with me in the grace God has given us tell someone today about the hope you have within you.

Take care and have a most blessed day.

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Many of us live lives that are damaged, bruised, and broken.  Even those who seem to “have it all together” often have scars and reminders of the brokenness we all must deal with.  Relationships with those around us – spouse, family, friends, acquaintances are subject to the influences of mood, circumstances, miscommunication, egos, and sin in all its varied forms.  It’s no wonder that from time to time we experience pain in every facet of our being whether it be emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual.  But this is not our end state.  Nor do we have to remain trapped in the lonely, unhappy place this brokenness takes us.  In John’s gospel we read.   8:31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”   There has been one thought that has rumbled through my consciousness all week that is tremendously liberating.  God promises to those who are His that He will never leave us or forsake us.  This is a bedrock truth that fits tightly with the cornerstone of faith which is Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 

This truth was what Jesus said the day I turned my life over to Him.  As I knelt in the chapel at Camp Hardtner in the piney woods of central Louisiana I knew I had an important decision before me.  At 23 years of age I had been a church-goer all my life and seemingly for the most part, a pretty good guy…  But in reality I was living mostly for myself and there were plenty of times when the choice to do what I knew was right was overwhelmed by the decision to do what I wanted to do in that moment.  I was in Camp Hardtner because the leader of the youth group where I was helping had suggested that I go to the Cursillo weekend.  Well, a day and a half of being loved on by people who knew and loved the Lord combined with simple, yet powerful talks by people whose lives were being touched by a very real, very personal God had me in the chapel pondering what it all meant for me.

You see, I entered the chapel to get alone for a few minutes to gather my thoughts and try to process what I was hearing, thinking, and feeling.  But in reality I was coming to a divine appointment with Jesus.  As I knelt there looking at the cross in the chapel I started talking to God knowing that He was real and that He could hear me.  As I poured out my questions I became aware that I was not alone.  I realized Jesus was right behind me, listening to my words and listening to my heart.  I stopped talking and I just listened.  Then Jesus spoke to me.  Even though it was over 31 years ago, I remember the details very vividly.  He first clarified the question.  “Dan, will you continue living as you have been living or will you follow me?”  He didn’t have to say that my “following Him when it was convenient” wasn’t really following Him.  That was what the day and a half at the camp had brought into crystal clarity.  I remember at this point holding my hands in front of me, palms up.  I saw that I was holding up everything that meant something to me in life…my family, my job, my car, my reputation, even my future hopes and dreams.  I guess I subconsciously knew I was making an offering of my life at that point, but Jesus made it even clearer with His next words.  At that moment he referred to my left hand and He said, “Dan, this is your life… your parents, your brothers, your sister, friends, job, reputation, your hopes and dreams… everything that you call your own.  Everything that makes up your life now.”  And then He switched the focus to my right hand which at this point was empty since everything that defined me was resting in a pile in my other hand.  And then He said, “This is the life I offer you.  I promise you only one thing, I will never leave you or forsake you.” 

I knew I had a decision… the most important decision of my life.  I had a lot in my left hand compared to what was visible in my right hand – a life given to Jesus with only the promise that He would never leave me or forsake me.  But God gave me the faith and courage to make the decision for Him.  In my mind I offered up everything in my left hand, one by one, to God for Him to have and do with as He saw fit.  My family was the hardest, but at 23, my hopes and dreams were a close second.  Funny thing is, in releasing those things, whatever control they had over me was gone.  I still loved my family, in fact I believe I have been able to love more deeply, but since they were the Lord’s I did not fret over them.  In my case, the majority of the things that I gave up, the Lord allowed to remain and become better because they were now all viewed as gifts from God.  The things I needed to give up and be done with were easy to walk from since I had truly “turned them over to God”.  I forsook and left those things that were of no lasting value and I gained a relationship with the One who promised never to leave or forsake me.  I am reminded of a quote by the martyred missionary Jim Elliot.  He said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

The Lord’s peace gently came over me that afternoon which was greatly reassuring.  Our Father meets us in a manner that is perfect for us.  I have heard of others who are absolutely overwhelmed by God’s grace and power at the moment of salvation.  For me it was more like the tide turned and began to rise.  I knew immediately that God and I had entered into a life relationship and I experienced His peace, but over the rest of the weekend that peace and joy steadily grew.  By the time the weekend ended I had experienced a healing of my heart that I didn’t even realize I needed and my heart was truly full.

Today, some 31+ years later, I can honestly say God is faithful to His Word and to the specific word he spoke to me that day.  He has never left me or forsaken me.  That includes the times when I have stumbled in my walk.  It includes the few times when regretfully I grieved Him.  Even when I have gone through challenging and spiritually dry times, I could look back and see He was there with me through them all.  He has remained patient, loving, and present at all times.

As you read this, take heart because Jesus loves you and desires an intimate relationship with you.  If you are already His, take a moment to dwell on His promise repeated over and over in scripture (Jos 1:5, Psalm 37:28, Psalm 94:14, Hebrews 13:5, Isaiah 42:16, John 14 – 17) that He will never leave you or forsake you.  Rejoice in that truth.  If you are not His, I believe you are reading this as another time He is reaching out to you, calling you to Himself.  In fact, if you are willing it can be your moment of truth, your moment of decision just like I had in a little church camp many years ago.  I encourage you to take Him up on His offer.  While my life was already full of stuff, I didn’t realize there was still an emptiness until He offered me a life totally committed to Him.  I have learned that a Full Life in Him is way beyond a life full of stuff.  And while stuff fades, breaks, gets lost or stolen Jesus and His love will never leave us or forsake us… forever and ever, world without end.  Amen.

If you have made a decision for Christ today please let someone know.  And drop me a note as I would like to encourage you in your new life in Christ.

Have and unbelievably awesome day today.  Be blessed beyond all measure and be a blessing to someone else.

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When Prodigals Return

There is rejoicing in heaven when a prodigal child returns home.  The joy of the parents here on earth is pretty intense too.  Today I am experiencing that joy.  I mentioned in an earlier post that my wife’s broken leg has been the catalyst for so much positive in our lives.  Last night one of our children said to me, “Dad, I hate that Mom broke her leg, but I have to tell you it changed my life.”  And I have been watching that transformation for weeks now in silent thanksgiving, but last night as she said that I could no longer be silent in my thanksgiving… Alleluia, Thank You Heavenly Father!!!

Our child has been going through a very difficult time at work.  She has some very legitimate issues with promises that were made to her by leadership but broken by the next round of leaders to step in.  The flesh side of our nature is so volatile.  When we feel wronged it is natural to become angry, frustrated, upset – all normal responses.  But also not responses that should rule over us.  Another comment she made was that when she prayed to God she asked what she had done wrong she was immediately reminded of the verse – Love your neighbor as yourself.  Her response was repentance and forgiveness.  And God has taken away the depth and pain of the emotions as she did so.  As we talked I could clearly see a woman who has been through a mighty battle emerging victorious.  She is a bit battered and bruised, but victorious none-the-less.  God is working in her life and for the first time in a long time they are working diligently together.

One side note, shortly after Lisa broke her leg our daughter shared some of her work turmoil with me.  Obviously it became a prayer concern of mine.  I run a good bit so I was praying for her as I ran.  I distinctly remember as I got to the cul-de-sac at the end of our neighborhood the Lord speaking to my heart.  He said, “When R gets to the end of herself, she will find Me”.  When I got home I mentioned it to my wife.  Last night’s conversation was the fulfillment of that word.  (I just noticed the symbolism in that the Lord spoke when I hit the cul-de-sac and had to turn around…Wow)

That reminds me of another thing she said, “You know we are all Prodigals to one extent or another.” From my experience I believe so.  I know I rebelled against God and His moral law.  Several of those persons who I look to as examples of godly virtue have shared that they were once rebels against God.  And this agrees with the scripture in Romans 3:23  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  I am so thankful that God made a way to reconcile us to Himself and to others.  Jesus and His sacrifice on our behalf has made a way for us to be put in right standing with God.  And He gives us His Holy Spirit to live within us as He transforms us from the rebels we once were to the saints He has destined us to be.  What glory and wonder we get to experience!

Today I am so thankful to God.  He promises that if we train up a child in the way they should go, when they are old they will not depart from it.  I have believed that for 20+ years.  Today that believing is seeing.  He promises that if we pray believing, then we shall have that which we pray for.  Today we have one of the most precious things we have been praying for.  He describes the love He has for the prodigal child and the loving response when they return.  Today our daughter is embraced by her Heavenly Father (and as soon as I can get my arms around her by me too!).  There is a robe with her name on it and a fattened calf that is mooing its last moo somewhere as well.

Alleluia, Praise the Name of the Living Lord – Who was and is and is to come.  Honor, Glory, Power, and Praise be unto Him forever and ever. AMEN!

 

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