Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Consumption

"Our soul is stuffed with the small things, and there is no room for the great." - John Piper, Hunger for God

Monday, September 29, 2008

Don't Think, Pray!

Last Monday my friend (my associate pastor) and I were just pulling into his driveway when my cell phone rang. We were returning from a 150 mile round trip to Shreveport to visit a church member in the hospital who had just had surgery. The phone call was from my wife. She had been to the doctor to check on some pressure she was having in her lower abdomen. She told me the doctor had found a tumor, felt it could be cancerous, and that she would spend the rest of the day doing blood work and tests before the surgery he had scheduled her for the very next morning. The blood drained from my face, and we exchanged a few more words as the shock of this information sunk in. I hung up, told my friend what she had said, and these were his very next words, "Let me pray for you, man." He then prayed.

As word spread, other people began to pray. Several, as I spoke to them, never said a word about prayer. I heard many times, "We'll be thinking about you." I realize it's something that we just say to express our concern, but it is also something we just do. It is natural to think about people who are hurting. It is natural to be concerned about people who are your friends, but it is not unnatural. Living the unnatural life requires making intentional decisions to live unnaturally. Not to split hairs but if I ever get cancer, or have a heart attack, or my child is in a life-threatening accident, please do something unnatural. Don't just think about us. Pray for us! It is good to know that people are thinking about you. It is better to know that they are praying for you.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Seeking Sovereignty

She shouted, "How could God let this happen?" I remember once praying, "Why me, Lord?" There is no rest in those questions, no peace at all. While I firmly believe God can handle all such questions, I know there is only one answer. He is God, sovereign, and we are not. If we define peace as the absence of war, or the absence of conflict, or the absence of trials and trouble, then we have defined a peace that we can never have here. Some seek peace in acceptance. The human mind can work to "accept the things I cannot change," and then broaden that list to include almost everything in life. Yet, in the end, this kind of acceptance leads to a passivity that is just as unfulfilling to the human soul as the injustices it forces its adherants to ignore. Peace, in the end, is found only in the sovereignty of God, and faith in His sovereignty is the key. For the peace that surpasses all understanding must not rely upon understanding, but upon faith in God and His sovereign stewardship of all that is. We may claim our own sovereignty and try to find our own peace, or we may accept the sovereignty of God and find His peace. I choose His, though I must choose it constantly. Life is one continuous peace-rattling event after another. Peace can rattle my humanity, but it cannot rattle His sovereignty. Paul knew about peace and sovereignty when he wrote Romans 8:28. The peace-rattling events in his life were more severe than most of us will ever know and still, with confidence, he could write, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Vista

As I stared out the window on the sixth floor of the hospital, my mind and soul cleared. The various hues of green were slowly changing as the sun came up over the horizon. Days in a hospital room are not unlike days in jail: incarcerated by illness rather than for a crime. I needed the vista this morning. I needed it to be the son God wants and to be he husband my wife needs today. I needed to look out and remember that life and God are so much greater than this light and momentary trial. Something in the sky caught my eye. I thought it as an airplane on the horizon, then perhaps a huge bird closer by. As I continued to look, I realized it was a blemish on the outside of the window. At that point my thoughts became aware of the buildup of water spots and smudges on the outside of our sixth floor window. Now when I look through at the vista, I cannot help but see them, too. The view that had been my strength is now clouded by the imperfections so close to my own eyes.

Too often, we live our lives like this. When we get serious about following Christ, we get serious about ourselves. Sometimes Satan and Self ally to saboutage our sanctification by twisting our focus. They keep us so focused on our sin, our immaturity, and our own personal needs that we forget to look beyond to Christ, the goal set before us. Through Paul, God gives us clear direction. "I say then, walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh." (Gal. 5:16) To focus on self and sin will only lead to a sin-focused life. To focus on God, on Christ, and walking after the Spirit, will lead us to the life we desire. Christ is our vista.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Better, But Not O.K.

Monday, I was not o.k. Tuesday, I was better. My best friend, who I have been married to for nearly twenty-five years, called me from the doctor's office in another town and told me she had a tumor that needed to come out quickly. Did I say that I was not o.k. on Monday? I was with a good friend when I got the news, and he stopped immediately and prayed. I called another good friend to pray. He reminded me about the sovereignty of God. Then I called another, and he just wept with me, telling me how much he loved us and then he prayed. At this point, I was better, but not o.k. So, I found my prayer closet, got on my face before God, cried out and prayed. After spending time with Him, I was better.

Word spread. People began to pray for my wife, my family. As she spent the afternoon doing paperwork and lab work, I prepared for the days we would spend in the hospital. We told our kids, I led my Monday men's group, and all of us prayed. That night I was defnitely better, but not o.k.

She was to go into surgery at 11:00 am yesterday, but it didn't start until 2:00 pm. I was better, but not o.k. But, I was again surrounded by members of the body. The surgery was miraculously short, and the doctor came to give me the report. The day before he had said, "It could be cancer." After the surgery, the first thing he said was, "It was benign." No doubt about it, I was better. I rounded the corner to my cadre of friends in the waiting room, told them the news, and asked our director of missions to pray. I would have fallen apart in the waiting room if I had tried, because even though I was better I was definitely not o.k.

This morning, Wednesday, my wife is better and so am I. Yet, she is not o.k. Thank God she will not now have to endure the trial of cancer, but she will have to recover from this surgery. We both know that no matter what had happened in the last two days, God would have more than sustained us. And, we know that there is more ahead. So, we are better, but not yet o.k. We will only be o.k. when we have finished this race. Until then, by the grace of God, we will continue to be better. And, we will walk with others who are just like us. In Christ, they continue to grow, but they still groan from the difficulties and trials of this world until one day when we are all o.k.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Wind In Your Sails

A sailing ship without wind is not a sailing ship. It is simply a raft, floating on the see. A life without wind in the sails is the same. And yet it is different.

Many winds move us - great sweeping stories, new hobbies, and time with loved ones are winds in our sails. Great and challenging tasks can fill our sails, as can new opportunities. Parents'
sails are often filled with the accomplishments of their children, pastors' the status or success of their church. All these winds move us, but they cannot sustain us.

God is gracious, and he will not allow us to be deceived by any wind other than the the wind of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the failure of a child will remind us to trust his wind. Sometimes a phone call from a loved one saying, "The doctor says I have a mass. He says we need to do surgery in the morning." will reveal the true nature of the wind in our sails.

There is one wind that blows throughout eternity, one wind that will carry us through to the other shore. God loves us too much to fail us, and too much to allow us to be blown by any wind that will fail to see us through.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Betrothal

In three weeks we will dedicate our new fellowship area. In three weeks we will say goodbye to a family that has served so faithfully here at Calvary. In three weeks we will ordain five men to serve as deacons. In three weeks I will leave on a month long sabbatical. That may mean little to you, but it is all incredibly stressful and exciting for me. So, I am wired for sound and running full bore. I have a million details to work out, and not enough time to get it all done. I am ready for this to happen, often irritated at the wait, and excited. . . all at the same time.

I feel like I am engaged again. Twenty-five years ago this November, I asked Denise to marry me. She, throwing caution to the wind, said yes. I wanted to marry in December. Our anniversary is August 11th. It took ten months to prepare for the wedding. I was ready for it to happen, often irritated at the wait, and excited. . . all at the same time.

There is another betrothal in process. It sounds strange to those who do not know Him, but we who follow Christ are all betrothed to Him. We are the bride, and He is the groom, and we are all here preparing for the wedding. As I ran the isles of Lowe's again today, searching for those last things needed to finish the fellowship hall while thinking about friends moving and leaders being raised up and all the details of sabbatical and preaching this Sunday, I could not help but think about those ten months that I waited to marry my beloved. And, I could not help but think about the day I met Him and all the days between then and now. Man, I am ready for this to happen, often irritated at the wait, and excited . . . all at the same time.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Living With The Lights Off

"Humbly, quietly, with scarcely a movement, she brings up out of the dark places of my soul the dissatisfactions in relationships, the frustrations of the ministry, the fears of failure, the emptiness of wasted time. And just when my heart begins to retreat to the delicious hope of eating supper with friends at Pizza Hut, she quietly reminds me: not tonight." (John Piper on the Handmaiden of Fasting)

We seem hardwired to cover up our true selves. Our souls are a void, and we will attempt to fill them with anything and everything. Even once we know Christ, we fear facing ourselves. We would rather live with the lights off, stumbling through life: hoping not to run into anything. Fasting, as with any other trial, turns the lights on. It gives us the opportunity to see who we really are so that we can really change.

Stones, Sinners, Crosses

One day a group of men, who loved their version of God's truth more than God or people, drug a woman caught in adultery to Jesus. They did it to prove themselves right and Jesus wrong, having no care at all for the woman. They wanted to trap Jesus into either violating Moses' law or Roman law. If Jesus agreed with Moses' law and told them to stone her, he would be in trouble with Rome, who reserved the death penalty for itself. If Jesus said they could not stone her because of Ceasar, they would have him for blaspheming Moses' law. They had the woman in one hand, stones to kill her in the other, and no room for God in their hearts. Jesus sprung their trap. He said they were free to stone her, and that any one of them who had no sin should feel free to cast the first stone. They dropped their stones.

I hate making more than one trip, so I load up my arms with everything I can carry, usually dropping something along the way. It is impossible to carry a stone, a sinner, and the cross. We will have dropped the cross. Without the cross, there is no love in our hearts. All our truth will be absent of love. Dorothy Day (anarchist turned Catholic) wrote, "I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least." John the apostle wrote, "We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?"

The cross, above all else, is a constant reminder that we will forever be sinners who desperately require grace. No sinner who knows and believes this, can ever comfortably carry a stone for long, nor can he carry the cross without desiring to carry a sinner to Jesus - not for condemnation, but for forgiveness and freedom from sin.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Deer Blind Evangelism

I was lifting some weights in the gym when a hunting show on the television caught my eye. In between sets (I sound like some kind of muscle head) the bow hunter dumped out a package of baited grain on the ground. My first thought was, "You're cheating." Seventeen yards in front of his stand, he dumps out an entire bag of baited grain meal. That is not the kind of hunting I grew up doing. Well, in about thirty minutes, an incredible white tail buck came almost running to the bait. The guy nailed him and the buck fell less than fifty yards away. Notice the steps. First, find a place where deer are known to roam. Then, build a stand in a nice location. Make sure the stand is comfortable. You will be spending many hours in it, sitting and waiting. Now, find a good bait. Put the bait out where the dear will smell it and eat it, but don't put it too far away from the stand. Get your weapon ready. Wait patiently. When the dear comes, nail him.

When I saw the video, I immediately thought about how many churches "do" evangelism. We find a location where lost and unchurched people are known to roam. We build a comfortable church there and spend a great deal of time in it. We discover and utilize various types of bait to get the lost and unchurched within reach of our church. Is this wrong? Probably not. Look, without Jesus Christ, people are going to spend eternity suffering. But, this is not the only way to reach lost and unchurched people.

When I was a kid, I didn't know what a deer blind was. We picked up our guns and stalked deer. We walked along bluffs, and quietly scouted ravines and dry creek beds. We hid behind cedars and patches of grass. The last time I killed a deer in Texas I was standing right in front of him when he came out of the brush. Do all you can to reach people who don't know Jesus. They are in serious trouble without Him, but don't rely on deer blind evangelism alone. While it is more difficult, and requires more effort and skill, making evangelism a way of life is so much more exciting and effective than waiting for them to come to you.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Prayer In The Political Arena

Dan Yeary, whose church John McCain attends, was asked to say the closing prayer at the RNC last week. Dan is the pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church, where Cindy McCain is a member. In the light of John McCain's mantra, "Country First," I thank Brother Dan for reminding all present and all of us that there is one who comes first, even before country.

"Almighty God, we are grateful for the gift called America. We're thankful for the freedom to celebrate as we are doing and have done this week. We have repeatedly invoked Your blessing on our country, and as we do, we're reminded of the words You gave to Solomon: 'If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways,' You will hear from heaven and heal our land.' So we pray, humble us Lord, humble us as a people to serve You. Help us to seek Your face, alone. Give us the courage to turn from our self-centered wicked ways. Hear us, oh Lord, as we ask You to heal our land."

We ask You to still the storms on our eastern coast. Tonight, we ask that You protect our young men and young women who are protecting us from terrorism. And Lord, we ask Your very special blessings on our brother, John McCain. Father, we feel that he has been prepared for such a time as this. We ask that You give him wisdom and courage -- wisdom that comes from You and courage because of his relationship with You. We ask for Your blessing and divine protection upon Cindy and the children, and may they see such honor and integrity in their parents that they rise up and call them blessed. And, oh Lord, in humility, we ask that You remind us that we cannot put our country first unless You are foremost. For as Jesus taught His disciples, Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Feeders

The coolness of this morning is a wonderful portent of fall. Mist drifts off the roof as the first rays of the Sun warm the heavy dew that collected in the early morning hours. The birds are beginning to awaken and gather. Black-capped chickadees, cardinals, ring-necked and Mexican doves, common sparrows, house finches, gold finches, purple finches, an occasional jay and our family of warblers come each morning to feed. The hummingbirds are beginning to swarm the feeders as they prepare to make their migratory pilgrammage south. None of them would be here if not for the feeders. Less of them would be here if it were not for the specific seeds and nectar those feeders hold. The gold finches come for the thistle, the doves for the millet, and the cardinals for the sunflower seed. None of them care for the nectar in the hummingbird feeders, and the hummingbirds care nothing for their seeds. Yet, they all gather in my backyard because I feed them.

I cannot help but think about feeding people spiritually as I watch the birds. One man told me recently, "I like the way you preach. You use lots of Scripture. I don't like it when a preacher just takes one verse, and then spends an hour hooping and hollering." Then again, I remember the time a woman told me she did not like my preaching, that I did not hoop or holler' enough. There is a balance in feeding people spiritually between the truth of Scripture and the culture of the hearer. The proclaimer must remain true to the truths of God while communicating them in languages that can be understood. It is interesting that we have no trouble understanding the need for the translation of English into Spanish or Mandarin, but are often resistant to translate our seminary vocabulary into the common Greek of the day (the cultures in which we live).

Food has always been part of our lives. In the beginning, God placed us in a garden filled with it. Covenants and treaties have include the ritual meal and cup. Church fellowships are filled with chicken and deviled eggs. Even the remembrance of Christ's death includes eating and drinking. Yet, food was also part of the first temptation. That is the way it is with spiritual food.

We need it, but sometimes we do not want what we need. Sometimes we like the millet, but need the thistle. Those who preach to us and teach us are tempted to serve only those foods we like; to tickle our ears rather than to pierce our hearts. And they are sometimes tempted to reach to the heights of theological vocabulary and preach messages that will impress seminarians and pulpit committees, while their hearers go home hungry; unable to understand the truths they heard so eloquently orated.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Forgotten

It is so easy to forget. Hurricane Rita was a forgotten storm. There was still so much focus on Katrina, that it received very little press. But, for those of us who went through it, we remember. Those who lost everything still remember.

Gustav is the same. Once the levees were safe in New Orleans, national attention shifted to Sarah Pailin and the Republican Convention. Yet as much as a third of the population of Louisiana was without power. Hundreds of thousands are still misplaced, and the torrential rains and storms continued until yesterday. Yet, already, we here are trying to get back to normal.

We forget. The world is a continuous distraction to the Christian life. We focus on the crises. When they pass, we want to go back to business as usual. We forget that since we became believers business is not, nor will it ever be usual. To the world, our spiritual lives are unnatural. They do not fit here, nor will they ever fit. The world resists our unnatural lives. That's why we need to come to Him and His Word every day, early in the day, not after a day of distraction. That's why we need regular contact with His body, and weekly worship together with a local church. This world is a continual distraction to the life God wants us to live.

We will forget. It's not dementia. It's the world, and living in a body effected by sin. We need reminding.

By the way, don't forget the hundreds of thousands who are still in the middle of Gustav. You can find out how to help them at http://www.lbc.org/ .

Monday, September 1, 2008

In The Eye Of God's Will

There is no wind in the eye of a hurricane. It is still, majestic, and frightening. The sky clears, the wind abates, and the storm swirls all around.

"I just hate my life," the man said. He didn't like his job, though he was making a very good living for his family. He didn't like the community. It just didn't fit his style. He didn't have any friends. His wife was unhappy. He wanted to get out, to move away, to find another opportunity. He was convinced that his dissatisfaction with life was God's indicator to him that he needed to apply for a job in another state and move there. He then said something that sounded spiritually dangerous, "I know I can serve God better there than I can here." He moved to avoid the storm, and found he had moved out of the eye and into the storm itself.

Judging the will of God by what is going on around us is dangerous. Often pastors are the most guilty as they look for the golden opportunity to come along. How many times have I spoken with a friend in the ministry who looked for a greener pasture and found it full of fire ants and weeds. Sometimes God moves us. Sometimes He gets us out of the storm. Sometimes He keeps us right in the middle of it all.