Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Perfect Gift - YOU!

      I am a horrible gift giver.  Brain freeze takes over when faced with choosing a present for someone.  It is as if  I don't know the person.  It doesn't matter the occasion: wedding, graduation, birthday, anniversary, house warming, going away party, Christmas, etc..  The more I care about the person, the more I stress.  The stress comes as a result of having failed miserably with past gifts.  Example:  My wife sings like a lark and loves to write songs.  I've got the perfect gift, I thought to myself.  Get her a guitar, she can learn a few chords and that will help her music world.  Not interested.  Bad gift, expensive, but bad.  I wanted her to learn to play; she didn't want her to play.
      On the other hand, there is nothing like knocking it out of the park with a gift.  That gift that exceeds all wishes and expectations.  Now I have to be honest, I can count on one hand the number of gifts that fit that description and have enough fingers left to eat an overstuffed sandwich.  But one such occasion, I will never forget.  My daughter Cassidy was four years old and really getting into the Christmas gift thing pretty big.  They learn so young.  She got her usual barrage of  toys, dress up stuff, stuffed animals, electronic games and then the big surprise.  Drum roll please!  We wrapped up a pet carrier, sized for a small dog.  To a four year old, that was a pretty big package and big packages at Christmas excited them!  Here were her words, "A puppy box for when I get a puppy!"  Okay smarty pants, you are getting ahead of me.  What she didn't know was in the back of the kennel still shielded by wrapping paper was a 4 lb poodle pup.  Up popped the pup and a four year old little girl went nuts.  The perfect gift:  Cassidy's Christmas Angel was her name.  We called her Angel.  I will never forget that moment as long as I live.
     I can think of a lot of gifts I've seen exchanged around the Christmas tree.  Many of them very nice, but its those perfect gifts that turn into perfect moments, never to be forgotten.  The expressions on the faces are priceless and certainly treasured.
     There are two others I know of that gave gifts that will never be forgotten.  Their gifts have put smiles on peoples faces that were drowning in despair, mended broken hearts and gave purpose and meaning to directionless lives.  They were gifts that were both desired and needed.  These gifts exceeded all expectations.  They were expensive gifts, one of a kind.  They were chosen out of love.  God gave His only begotten Son and His Son gave His life.  Two costly perfect gift.  Our lives are full a good gifts from heaven.  Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father above.
      God gave us Jesus.  Wow!  Jesus gave us Himself.  Wow!  But there is another gift I want to mention.  It is a gift that God is going to give Jesus.  If there ever was the perfect gift giver, it was God and He is not done yet.
      Jude verse 1 ends with the phrase, "kept for Jesus".  Wow! What an awesome thought.  God kept us, preserved us , prepared us so that one day He will be able to present us to Jesus as a prize.  You and I will be a gift to the one who gave His life for us.  God must love us a lot the consider us worthy to be a gift to give His own Son.  He is after all, the perfect gift giver.  Live your life so you will be well wrapped ready to be a present.  It is a part of the journey and I want you to JOIN THE JOURNEY!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Catch Me If You Can!

      This has been A fun journey the past two months.  Identifying all the different ways God shows us He loves us.  It is only when we understand that love that we will trust Him with our lives.  When we really believe that He wants more for us that we ever have wanted for ourselves.  When we know that He is more committed to our good than we are ourselves, we can start to live for Him.  When I was a child, I would rather my mother kiss my "boo-boo" than put a bandage on it.  There is something about love that heals our wounds, soothes our hurts and turns fear into courage.  It is God's love that draws us to Him when we are fearful, hurting and broken.  I am convinced when we understand just how passionate God is about us,  it changes everything, but until then, we are reticent to yield our dreams, hopes, plans, our lives to Him.
      I often imagine in my mind what it would be like to hear a conversation between God and Jesus about me.  I can hear Jesus say, "That Keith, he is such a knucklehead.  I told him I would provide everything he needs if he will just trust me.  I don't understand why he keeps worrying!"  "Yeah, I know what you mean," God says.  "I have given him gifts, talents, abilities; if he would just use them in serving me and others, everything would fall right in place."  "Why do you think he is that way?"  "The only thing I can think of is that he doesn't know how much we love him and want good for him."  "Well, I guess we'll just have to keep showing him.  It will make sense to him some day."
      You know, it just may be that simple.  Why do you think He goes to such measures to prove His love for us.  It is because there is such freedom and power in that realization.  We are free to abandon ourselves to His plans for our lives, because we know how much He loves us.  We can face any challenge, any giant because we are secure in His love.  We can live a worry free life of faith and trust  because the One who is passionate about us has "promised" to take care of us.  We can attempt bold and big things because we know He loved us so much when He made us that He gave us the talents necessary to do great things for Him.  We can simply be ourselves, because it best serves Him and us to "just be me."
      That is why we have spent so much time making these "love stops" along the journey.  The best you, the most free you, the most useful you and the most unstoppable you comes when you realize how much God loves you.  Who has He put in your life that makes it better? That's His love.  What experiences have you had that has made life more rewarding?  That's His love.  What successes have you had? That's His love.  What failures have you grown from?  That's His love.  Those times you have been used to help a hurting friend, lift up a fallen brother, encourage a struggling traveler!  That's His love.  Everything we have experienced on the journey that adds quality to our lives are all signs of His love.
      I  love to chase the little kids at church.  Off they run, laughing the whole way.  Its as though they are saying, "catch me, if you can!"  They love it when I catch 'em, hug 'em, tickle 'em and just love on 'em.  They are so fast, sometimes they have to let me catch them and they do.
      Let me make a suggestion.  LET GOD CATCH YOU!!!  He just wants to love on you.  When you allow His love to engulf you, you will be taking the first step on the most incredible journey you ever imagined.  Come on!  JOIN THE JOURNEY.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Jesus Loves Me, This I Know!

      The famous Swedish theologian, Karl Barth, was once asked what he consider the greatest theological truth he had ever known.   The audience waited, expecting to hear something that would need further explanation.  Something deep and profound.  His answer: "Jesus loves me, this I know, because the Bible tells me so."  The audience was shocked, but applauded his sincere simple answer.  He knew that if we don't grasp that simple but powerful truth, we will miss it all. 
      I don't use a lot of Scripture in my blogs because I want to remain conversational and I seldom blurt out Scripture in my general conversations.  However, this week is the last week we will be on the How God Shows Us He Loves Us part of the journey.  So I want to give you an opportunity to help me write this blog.  Here's how it works.  I want you to think of a story in your life when you were clearly aware that God was saying to you, "I love you!"  Try to put that story in a single paragraph and post it in the comment box at the end of this blog.  If you do not know how to leave a comment, select anonymous and type your name at the end of your comment.  In addition to or instead of the story, share your favorite verse about God's love for you. 
     I'll get us started.  In Ephesians the third chapter, verses 14 thru 21 Paul prays for the church at Ephesus.  It is an interesting pray because of the simplicity of prayer.  Three things mentioned in this passage that sheds some truth about God's love that is more than the wonderful warm fuzzy feeling of simply knowing God loves you.  In verse 17 we see that having an understanding of God's love, anchors us.  Being rooted and established in His love brings stability to our lives.  When there are tough times we will find a solid footing, simply by understanding His love for us.  Not only finding a firm footing, we also find power linked to an understanding of His love.  Power comes from being firmly planted in the assurance of God's love for us.  It is not power for ourselves, but rather something we share together (v. 18).  The rest of verse eighteen and verse 19 is one of my favorite verses on God's love.  How wide, how long, how high, how deep is God's love.  The idea is that we are encompassed with His love.  No matter what we are going thru, we face it being totally surrounded in God's love. 
       Paul wants us to grasp just how "big" God's love is.  That is why he uses dimensions that carry the idea of vastness.  Paul says this is more important to understand than having knowledge.  It is not knowledge that brings us into a vibrant relationship with God.  There are a lot of people who have a knowledge of God, but not a relationship with God.  Paul says when we rest in His love, we will begin to experience the fullness of God.  That is incredible!  His love roots us, empowers us and fills us with all God has for us. 
      That is why we have spent two months talking about how God shows us His love.  Without understanding and being secure in His love, we become nothing more than fleshly encyclopedias.  It is experiencing His love that pumps us full of life, gives us purpose and meaning. 
      Please take time to share your favorite "God's Love" verse or story.  I look forward to reading them.  Remember, God loves you and that is why it is exciting to JOIN THE JOURNEY.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Side Street - Rob Bell & Hell

      Remember the ground rules of my blog.  When you see "side street" in the title, it means I am leaving the main theme we've been traveling on and taking a side street to address an issue or share something really strong on my heart.
      If you have been following the ministry blogs, reading any ministry articles or pubs., then you are aware of the "ROAR" Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins, has caused.  He has been called everything from a false prophet, a heretic, apostate, lost, universalist and list goes on and on.  In my opinion, the attack in many cases has been on Rob rather than his book.  I have been embarrassed at some of the facebook posts, blogs and articles that I've read.  So much poison spewing out.  Certainly, some of it does not honor Christ.
      Here's my take.  I do not agree with Rob's position on everyone eventually being won over by love, so no one ends up in hell;  if that is what he is saying.  I have not read the book.  Is it even out yet?  The first barrage of attacks came before it was published.  It is important to stand against false teachings and stand for the truth, however, everyone who is roasting Rob probably has differing views on heaven and hell. Some of them must be some of the things they called Rob since their beliefs differ.  Summary of this paragraph:  Jesus is the only way to heaven and anyone who does not accept Him as their personal payment for their sins will spend an eternity separated from God.  He has done everything necessary for all to spend eternity with Him. 
      Now back to Rob Bell.  The true test for a false prophet, according to scripture,  is not their teaching as much as it is their fruit.  The Bible says to judge them by their fruit.  I would suspect that if there were a "fruit inspection station" set up, many of those who roasted Rob Bell, would pale in comparison to the fruit Rob's ministry has produced.  I would not want to be in the line after his fruit was inspected with mine on the table next.  He has been a leader in getting church people off the pews into the streets making a difference.  So, although I disagree with what I think he is saying (not sure), I will not be showing up at the Rob Bell Celebrity Roast!
      David Platt, one of my fav preachers, makes a good point when he says it is far more dangerous to live like we don't believe anyone is going to hell than it is to teach that no one is going to hell.  There are 1.15 billion people living in India.  97 %  of them profess a belief other than Jesus.  96 % percent of us will spend our lives building mega churches, with big buildings, big budgets, big everything.  Or at least that is our goal, although we would never admit.  Doesn't sound spiritual.  We all say that this is what God has called us to do.  I have a hard time believing God calls only 4 % of us to take on the task of evangelizing  90% of the lost world.  My percentages may be off a few, but you get the point.  Unless we are willing to pack up our families and go after those whom we  say are doomed to an eternal hell, we probably have our emphasis on the wrong thing.  We need to come out of our theological "guard shacks" and hit the mission fields.  Paragraph summary:  Seems to me, I've heard more "ROAR" over Rob Bell than over millions going to hell.  Seems as though some are willing to guard the truth, but maybe  not as many live the truth.
      One more paragraph and I'm done.  I do not believe that you have to be theologically correct to be holy.  I do not believe you have to be theologically correct to serve God faithfully.  I do believe that we need to be more upset about the lost, the hungry, the poor than someone who missed it on a point of theology.  Focus on the fruit and JOIN THE JOURNEY. 
     One last thing.  I know where you can get a special on a box of rocks whenever you are ready to start throwing.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Journey of Questions

      Today's blog was inspired by a blog written by Kendra Logan.  In her blog she talks about the energy that unanswered questions bring to our lives.  In Columbus' day,  "Is the world flat or round?"  Science has now answered that question, but imagine being a part of that debate before the answer was known.  I'm sure they were lively.  Does the sun rotate around the earth or the earth around the sun?  We know now, but quite a debate for a long time.  Can we find a cure for polio, measles, diabetes, cancer, and the list goes on and on.   There will always be some unanswered questions in the scientific world.  Knowing that there will always be the unknown keeps me awake.
       There is another line of questioning I want us to follow today.  The answer to these questions might determine if you are one of those looking for cures to diseases, alternative fuels, nuclear meltdowns, or how to mend a broken heart, feed the hungry of the world, foster creativity in children or invent things that change the world.  Answers involve people.  There always has to be that person willing to ponder the questions that others find meaningless. 
      Today I want to ask questions that could go unasked and things could go on as usual.  You would still get up, go to work, pick up the kids at school, buy groceries, fix a meal, eat, watch American Idol, go to bed and repeat tomorrow.  But for some of us, finding the answers to the questions I am going to throw out would change everything in our lives.  Tomorrows routine would look nothing like today's.  What we spend our money on would be totally different.  Who we interact with would be totally changed.  Our understanding of who we are and what we are about would transform our minds, the way we think, where we're headed.  As we answer these questions collectively, it might change how we do church.  How we do community.  How we do life.
      Are you ready for the questions.  Here goes.  Did God really make me different than everyone else on the inside?  I know we are all different on the outside, but am I unique on the inside?  Did He give me something special given to no one else?  If yes, why?  What great stories are waiting for me to be written?  Have you ever known anyone who was totally surrendered to God?  Who?   Did they change history?  Could you be that someone?  If I made a choice to surrender to His design, His destiny, His dreams for my life, how big a difference in my world would it make?  Is being radical good or bad?  What does it look like?  Do you have a willing heart?  What are you willing to give up?  What if we had to change the way we do church completely?  Any suggestions?  How different would my beliefs be if I lived in a third world country?  How important are possessions to me?  How would someone observing me answer that?  Do I have any talents that I am using for myself, or do I have any talents I am not using for God?   Why not?  Am I afraid?  Who am I afraid of?  What am I afraid of?  Do I believe God can really use me?  Why isn't He?  Is He waiting on me?  How do I know His will?  How can I be for sure?  What is a vision?  Does He give everyone a different one?  Can we share the vision with some one else?  Can it be equally all of ours?  How about the vision for the church?
      I have personally asked every one of those questions, and many I am still asking today, believing that if I keep asking them, I will find some answers.  Those answers could change everything and if there has ever been a time I wanted change, IT IS NOW!  Are you asking those questions too?  If so, we share a journey and we could probably be an encouragement to each other.  Which of those questions are you asking now?  Maybe we could pray for each other, specifically.  Maybe we can surrender to God in a pact together.
      I am not looking for someone who knows the answers.  I am looking for someone who is asking the questions.  Can you imagine what fun it would be, how exciting, to be in pursuit of the answers with a group of people equally devoted to finding the answers and responding to the challenge those answers present.  Would church be different?  You bet it would, because we would be different and we are the church.  Would what we invest in be different?  You bet it would, because our hearts desires would change.  Would our lives be different?  You bet they would, because we would be headed in a different direction.  
      Here is how to be a part.  Leave a comment on this blog.  Share which question you are most asking right now.  As we seek those answers together, I believe we will discover a level of God's love we have never known.  That is the journey we have been on these past few months, discovering God's love for us.  Be a part of the conversation.  Leave a comment, ask a question, JOIN THE JOURNEY!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Promises, Promises, Promises

      Have you ever mad a promise that you didn't keep?  Don't you feel like a jerk?  Even if you tried your very best to keep it.  When we attach the word promise it becomes far more than good intentions.  All the sudden it carries with it the weight of who we are.  Our name is at stake.  People's reputations have been tarnished by not keeping promises, intentional or unintentional.  That is why we shy away from using the word "promise".  When you "promise" something, you understand that it could turn into a long term commitment. It attaches you to the person until the promise is fulfilled, even if we don't want to be attached.  It is like intentions on steroids.  I promised my daughter a car for Christmas two years ago.  Still no car and it has haunted me all this time.  I will not rest until she gets her car.  I will make good on my promise.
      A spoken promise, if witnessed by others, can be legally binding in some cases.  We sign promissory notes which gives us an obligation to pay.  Young men give their main squeeze "promise" rings, committing to more than just girlfriend status.  It is indication that someone is loved.  Promises are made, when the fulfillment can not be experienced in the present, but you can count on it as if it already was done.  I seldom use the word unless it is with someone I love.
      My daughter is okay with the fact the car is not in the driveway yet.  She knows the day will come when I will toss her the keys of her very own car. She knows that the reality of the car is affected by the reality of some extreme financial struggles, however, she lives as though the car is a  future reality.  Those two words are almost an oxymoron.   Actually, we all live today based on what we believe tomorrow will bring.  That can be rather shaky when it depends on people.
      Not so with God.  A promise today is tomorrows reality when the promise is from God.  One thing we all can see just by reading the Bible is that God does not shy away from making promises.  One of the most popular gifts for graduates is a book of God's Promises.  It comes in hundreds of different versions.  Leather bound, some for girls and some for boys.  Large versions for coffee tables, small versions for backpacks.  One  reason they are so popular is because these young grads will face tough challenges in the near and far future and they will need an anchor.  There is nothing more secure to hold on to than God's promises.  He even gave us the rainbow to remind us of His faithfulness to His promises.  God does not hesitate to make promises because there are no limitations on His fulfilling them.  His promises keep Him engaged in our everyday  lives.  He wants to be attached to us so making a promise keeps Him running on the original tracks He had in mind.  He is in it for the long haul so any.promise He makes will in time be fulfilled.   He makes them simply because He loves us and wants us to be secure in that love.  As a matter of fact, because of His love, He is unable not to keep His promise.  That is a double negative for emphasis. Drives English teachers crazy, but gets the point across.   He will not fail us.  So, no matter how tough the journey becomes you can count on His promises.  So strap in, hold on and JOIN THE JOURNEY!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Easy Exchange Policy

      First of all, I want to say thank you to each of you who take the time out of your busy schedule to read Join the Journey.  I especially want to thank those who take the time to comment.  Your opinion and input is valuable to me as I try to determine what vein to continue in for the future.  I know there are thousands of blogs out there to read much better than mine, however, my prayer is that you will be encouraged in your journey.  Thanks!
      The customer service desk.  We have all been there.  When you think about it, it is a pretty cool place.  I have something that doesn't fit, doesn't work, I simply carry it up to the customer service desk and tell them I want one that fits, works and the exchange is made.  It gives you confidence in a store that allows you to do that.  You don't have to shop with the fear, "if this doesn't work, I'm stuck with it."  Instead, you shop freely, knowing that the exchange is possible.  Stores that have an easy exchange policy usually have big customer loyalty.   They love their customers and their customers love them.  That is essential to succeed in retail business.
      That is a very good picture of the Christian life.  We can bring our feet of clay, broken vessels, our weaknesses, failures, inabilities, fears and exchange them for something that works.  We usually need to acknowledge what's defective so it can possibly be fixed, but if not, it still can be exchanged for whatever is needed to bring satisfaction to the dysfunction.  We are both the merchandise and the ones who use the merchandise.  In other words, we are the defective misfits and the exchanged working merchandise and the ones who now have something capable of being used.  All because of God's "easy exchange policy".  Scripture teaches us that when we are weak, He makes us strong.  EXCHANGED!  He has not given us a spirit of fear, but boldness and a sound mind.  EXCHANGED!  When we lack wisdom, we ask and He gives  liberally.  EXCHANGED!  When our GPS is not working, He directs our paths.  EXCHANGED!  When we lack abilities, He gives us talents.  EXCHANGED!  When our drive is broken, He gives us a fire within.  EXCHANGED!  When  our "figureitoutter" is malfunctioning, He gives us creativity.  EXCHANGED!  When we lose our life, He gives us our life.  Ashes for beauty, spirit of heaviness for rejoicing.  EXCHANGED!______________________________.  EXCHANGED!  You fill in your own blanks.
       That is a pretty good exchange policy and because of this policy we know HE LOVES US .   Well, there is good news and bad news with that policy.  The bad news, the small print, that should be LARGE PRINT, is that this exchange policy eliminates all excuses for failure to serve.  Everything that didn't work has been replaced with things that work far beyond what you and I can imagine. As a matter of fact, we have a spiritual technician who goes out on the job with us to make sure everything is in working order.  He even makes everything work better than we thought it was designed to.  (can I end a sentence with "to"?)  He puts His authority, His ability, His power behind the warranty.
     The good news, He is ready for you to go to work with all the EXCHANGED merchandise and He is your co-worker.  JOIN THE JOURNEY with the EXCHANGED LIFE!     


Monday, March 14, 2011

"And I Helped!"

      I'm from West Texas.  People from other parts of Texas make fun of the accent of someone from West Texas.  Our own people.  What's up with that?  I have a chip on my shoulder.  Not really.  I'm proud of my accent and don't want to ever loose it.  Now that I have moved to NC and spent some time in VA, I have heard some interesting accents.  Now, isn't that much nicer said than just laughing at someone's accent like they did to West Texans.  It reminds me of a commercial I used to see on TV.  As soon as I mention the commercial, you will immediately hear the accent in your mind.  I don't know where it is from, but it could very well be VA.  Here we go:  Shake and Bake.  I was right wasn't I.  You heard it in your mind.  If you remember it, you probably can picture the girl with a grin from ear to ear.  If this blog were a pulpit, we could all repeat together, "And I helped!"  She was so proud and happy because she was able to help.  That ad would make sentimental people go, "Awwwh" because it gave you the warm fuzzies.  Why?  Because that kitchen was full of love.  She was so proud to be the one to help momma!  She sensed her mom's adoration and love.  All because she got to help.
      You may think I'm really stretching it here.  You may not see it as a way God show His love to us, but I do!  I believe that some of God's love nudges come when we have the opportunity to help.  I differentiate this from just being a role player, as mentioned in my last blog.  This is a specific event or moment when we can say, "And I helped!"  We get an internal push on the shoulder, rub on the head or pat on the back from God.  God shows His pleasure when we are available to be used.  In that moment when we realize that God just allowed us to help in His task, then we sense His adoration and love.  We have partnered with God to accomplish something He wanted done.  Not only do we get the satisfaction of helping that other person, but also a sense of pride (the good kind) working hand in hand with God.  Its almost like we have accomplished something with our best friend.  Do the same thing with someone else and it is not quite as meaningful.  It is in those moments we feel God's pleasure.   That sense of God's pleasure is soaked in his love for us.  Next time you do something good for someone and they see it as a blessing, a gift from God, an answer to prayer I want to try something.  Look at the smile on their face, the grateful tears in their eyes or the snug hug and see if you don't feel Him watching, not just them, but watching you.  See if you don't feel His presence.  You will want to fist pump Him.  He is beaming with pride as you, in your heart, say "and I helped."  For the fun of it, say it out loud.  I guarantee you will smile from ear to ear.
      God shows His love by allowing us to help in many of those special moments.  He places His arm on our shoulders and says, "well done, good and faithful servant."  Our chest swells with the sense that we just helped God bring heaven to earth.  Along the journey, you will feel His love as you help Him love others.  When God loves others through you, you can't help but have love spill all over you.   That's why I encourage you to JOIN THE JOURNEY!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Superstar or Role Player?

Well, I just hit just hit a key in the middle of my blog, actually in my last paragraph and it just disappeared.  So this is the second attempt to finish the blog I was supposed to post yesterday.  If it happens again, you are just going to have to wait until Monday's blog.  I have such a love hate relationship with computers and satellite "so called" high speed internet.  Stuff disappears all the time, I get in the flesh and have nothing valuable to say at that time.
      I was reflecting on why I failed to post yesterday.  My commitment is to post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  If I miss a day I will make it up the following day.  No good excuse, but the one I have chosen to use is March Madness.  I am a Madness junkie.  It is the best time of the sports year.  Underdogs, Cinderellas, new stars are born.  You never know what is going to happen.  The conference tournaments have been unbelievable, with many overtimes, last second winning shots.  It doesn't get any better than this.  Then the selection show on Sunday, which 68 teams get to go to the "big dance"?  How many first timers?  The inside stories are unbelievable.  We all have our dark horses and wonder which 16 seed will go the deepest into the tournament.  What unlikely player will be the hero?  What giants will fall to the hands of the most unsuspecting team?  Drama in "ball" form.  That's the lure of every single game.  You want to watch them all because of the unexpected.
      That is a lot like the Christian life.  We are always amazed whoHe uses.  Sometimes it is the most unlikely person that God uses in the most significant way.  I am always surprised when God seems to use me, because I know me.  Not only that He would choose to use me, but that He is able, is always amazing to me.  When you consider the motley crew He called disciples, it should leave us all with hope that He has plans for us too.  Just think, He left the early stages of the Gospel to them to get it going.  I would not have selected them if I had my big plans at stake.  They didn't seem like real motivators, movers and shakers.  I have to remind myself that it really wasn't about them, but about Him.   HE uses the foolish to confound the wise. Ah ha!  I'm a prime candidate all of the sudden.  Foolish?  Yep, that's me.  Ever feel that way about yourself, at least compared to the superstars that are out there.  The cool thing is, He looks to and fro to find people just like you and I.  He is not looking to make superstars out of us, just role players.  When we play that role, no one can do it better than us..  No superstar can play your role better than you because that part was written for you.
       To me, there is love behind that kind of playing.  God knows that abundant life is a life that finds its significance in serving Him and others.  Roles players team up with other role players and slay giants.  We don't need superstars in the church, we need you!  We need you to find your role and play it like it was meant for no one else.  You will be happy and we will be powerful.  It is exciting to know that we have the superstar on the team, JESUS!  Let's be role players and we will advance to the end.   You are a champion.  Play like one.  Enjoy the "big dance" and JOIN THE JOURNEY!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

God of a Second Chance, That's Bad News!

      Once heard a preacher preach a sermon entitled, "He's the God of a Second Chance."  If that is true, I'm screwed.  I mean I am so far in the hole, I will never see the top again.  Every time I hear that second chance thing, I think it is so far off the mark that it might give someone the wrong idea.  It almost sounds as if there is a limit to the chances.
      It reminds me of the statement of Peter, "how many times do I forgive?  Seven times."  Nope,  seven times seventy.  Let's see, that's 490.  Now that's a lot, but I'm still way over the limit.  In matter of fact, 490 is not even in sight.  I blew past that years ago, probably 50 years ago.  The truth is, He is not the God of  a second chance or of 490 chances, but He is the God of unlimited chances.  Now that's Good News!
      Now don't accuse me of teaching a license to sin, because I'll sin and call you a name.  What I am saying is that God so loves you and I, that regardless of how many times we fail and fall, He is there ready for us to get up, dust off and give it another shot.  As a matter of fact, He helps us up and dusts us off.  God wants us to know that our sins will never conquer His love.  It will never tip the scales, leaving love on the lighter side.  His love, will always tip the scales. 
       While we were sinners, He chose to die for us.  If that doesn't tell you that His love is greater than our sins, nothing will be able to communicate that truth to you.  Why is that such an important truth any way?  It is not just salvation that hangs on that truth.  It is hope for a meaningful, growing relationship with God.  It allows us access to God, without counting on our performance.  It is not by what we have done, but by what Jesus did that gives us access to God.  That puts us on a little firmer ground, wouldn't you agree?
        That's important because most of us would be less likely to keep returning to God if access to Him was in any way based on our performance.  We would have a tendency to want to avoid Him, sort of like the principal when I was growing up.  When I had a bad day at school (got my butt in trouble) I was hoping the principal had a sick day.  I got to know him quite well and it really wasn't a fun experience.  It was solely based on my performance.  Approaching God has nothing to do with my performance, but solely on Jesus' sacrifice.
      That's important because it allows us to run to God instead of from God when we screw up which is always our tendency.  We think we can't approach Him because He is mad at us or so disappointed with us that we would be better off avoiding the confrontation.  When you approach the throne, hand them the invitation given you at Calvary, signed by Jesus with His own blood.  You will not be turned away.  Your presence will be celebrated.  He is extravagant with His mercy and love.  So focus on the love, the sacrifice and you will always feel welcome into His presence.  That kind of love is what makes the journey doable.  He loves you and wants you to JOIN THE JOURNEY.

Monday, March 7, 2011

God's Big Dream

      I am coming off of an exciting weekend.  I had the opportunity to preach while the Pastor was away and we had our first Journeys Youth Rally Sunday evening.  The folks at our church really pitched in and made it a great weekend for the youth.  I could not be any more proud of our youth for their effort too..  It is the start of an exciting Journey for these young people.  Our theme was "choices" and the focus verse was Joshua 24:15.  "Choose you this day whom you will for me and my friends (house) we will serve the Lord."  We talked about 5 big truths about choices and then presented a challenge for them to make a commitment, along with their friends, to "choose" a life path of serving God.  We had a Journeys Canvas for each, willing to make that commitment, to sign.  If they were making that as a commitment together as friends,  they were to sign their names close together.  It was amazing to watch them file forward, hit their knees and sign the Canvas as friends committed to God and to each other.
      What a great opportunity for God to show a group of young people just how much He loves them.  He showed up, spoke to their hearts and accepted their worship and their commitments.  What an awesome God.  To be able to say to a group of young people, "God loves you, wants to be involved in your life and wants to use you!", with the real belief  He will do just that, speaks volumes to how much He loves us. 
      I think some of the young people caught a glimpse of how God can use their "choices" to, not only change their own future, but to impact others.  We make the choices, then God adds influence to those choices.  That is why it is so important to make good choices!  It gives God something to work with.  Our gifts, talents, efforts, choices are of very little value if we are not in partnership with God to use them.  It is not our idea.  It has been His plan from the beginning.  He designs us uniquely, with everything we would ever need to do anything He would ever call us to do, but not alone.  He orchestrates  the connections, the relationships, the encounters, the timing.  Does that not just blow your mind!  An infinite God, who has a burning desire to redeem a whole world to himself, also makes a "choice".  He chooses to use you and me, as broken as we are, to accomplish His burning passion. 
      Wow, He really does love us.  To say to you and I, "I choose you as my partner!"  He doesn't choose you second or last, but right out of the chute,  He chooses you.  (I have to take a break for a second, my brain is smoking again)  That is just to much for this weak mind to comprehend: An infinite, all knowing God says I am an important part of His strategy.  (Brain on fire!)  If that doesn't say to you and I that He loves us and believes in us, then He may never be able to convince us of His love.  Awesome, you and I have a "huge" part in His big dreamWE ARE HIS STRATEGY!.  NO FREAKING WAY!  YES WAY!!! I am excited and invite you to JOIN THE JOURNEY!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Side Street - The Road to Worship

      Those of you who have been on the journey with us from the beginning remember some ground rules that were laid down.  Since these blogs come from my "thought castle", I get to make the rules.  Not many, but one of them was that I could go down a "side street" occasionally to say something that is not on the same road we've been traveling down.  Our Journey through February and March has been all the different ways God shows us how He loves us.
      Our "side street" is akin to our main road of travel, but flipped around.  Instead of talking about how He loves us, I want to share a few thoughts on how we can show Him how much we love Him.  Just as we have seen many different ways He shows us His love, we have a lot of different ways we are able to show Him we love Him.
       I want to talk about three that we will actually experience this weekend at our church   First of all, I want to mention forgiveness.  I will have the opportunity to preach at our Sunday morning and that will be my topic.  There is no better way to show our love for Him, than to mirror Him.  The more we attempt to think and act like Him the more we show our love for Him.  "Let this mind be in you that is in Christ Jesus" and "be ye imitators of Christ Jesus".  There is no better way to think and act like Jesus than forgive.  It is the very heart beat of Jesus and the central tof the Gospel.  The longer we take to forgive, the more difficult it is to forgive,  Jesus never hesitated to forgive and He is most pleased when He sees that same immediate response to a wrong.  Don't you think when you forgive as a natural instinct, that He is honored and feels loved.  Simple as this, you forgive others you are loving Him.
      Secondly, I want to talk about worship.  I know I put so little into my preparation for worship.  Actually, if my life is not lived out of a gratitude for the privilege of serving Him, then it is going to be hard to turn on my "worship switch" and have this divine encounter.  Worship time on Sunday simply is most meaningful to Him and us when it comes from the overflow of the week.  If I have truly served Him during the week, then I will have experienced His partnership and power in moving someone closer to heaven.  God looks to and fro to find someone who is willing to put aside self interests and put the Kingdom first and the needs of others ahead of their own.  When He finds that person, He uses them.  When you bring to church on Sunday the experiences of a  week of service, you find it much easier to worship.  Worship is not raising your hands and closing your eyes.  It is opening your heart and allowing the thankfulness to flow out.  Thankfulness for His using you, for His empowering and partnering with you.  You serve Him well in the week, you will worship Him well on Sunday.  Try it next week.  You might even get an occasional "thank you" from God and that will certainly cause you to worship.
      Lastly, I want us to always keep in mind that our "choices" are a tremendous indication of how much we love God.  Sunday night we are having our first Journeys Youth Rally and the topic is "choices".  We are constantly making choices.  Life is a series of choices!  It is the small daily choices that really set the course we travel down.  If we don't constantly  "keep our focus on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith", we will in small measures drift off course and find ourselves way off course over the long haul.  That's why every small decision that has Kingdom purpose in it will keep us on track and we then will have a life that honors Him.  When you honor Him you love Him. 
      A journey in forgiveness, in service and making choices that honor Him will put you on a collision course the Divine.  Heaven will touch earth and worship will be effortless.  JOIN THE JOURNEY!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Power of Unspoken Words

     I need to take care of a little business today before I get into today's blog.  I got a call from my "neighbors" and their "daughter"  asking why they were not referred to as "best friends" and "niece".  The names were withheld to protect the innocent (I think that's what Elliott Ness used to say).  Truth is they are best friends, for many years and their names are Rock and Monya Griffin, and my niece's name is Catelyn (Sonny's owner) and I love her dearly.  Now I have completed my first Editor's Retraction, Editor's Correction or  whatever you call it.  If you  are confused, read my last blog.
      My Dad was a quite man.  Didn't have a lot of words, but was a master communicator with his eyes and his posture.  I could get a clearer message from him by just the way he looked at me, or a hug, pat on the head or some other silent gesture.   After one of my football games, I could walk into the house and he could give me a look and I knew instantly whether or not he thought I played a good game.  I could ask questions and he would answer them, but I knew the way the conversation was going to go from what he already said with his eyes and his posture.
      I remember going to work with him on a Saturday morning when I was a little tyke.  Saturday was a finish up day for jobs he didn't quite get finished during the week. Usually, half days work.   Most of the time it was just him or maybe one other person to help him on Saturdays.  He was a heavy duty mechanic, working on road construction equipment.  His shop was huge to a little boy, a whole other world.   Magnets, wrenches, air hoses, metal scraps, springs, nuts, bolts, and on and on.  My creative juices kicked in immediately and the challenge was to create something before time ran out.  I usually brought one of my best friends with me.  We made robots, tanks, guns, wagons, and a million other things that a little boys mind could think up.  None of them were functional, but we conquered the world with them.
      We couldn't wait to show my dad at the end of the day.  He would always smile and rub our heads and say something like, "That's pretty neat boys!  Take it home and show mommy."  Definitely some of the best memories of my boyhood.  When he scuffed my hair and smiled at me, I could feel it all the way down to the bottom of my feet.  He could have told me a hundred times, "I love you, I love you, I love you" and I would not have heard as clearly as the rub on the head and the smile.  I thought he was so proud of me, when in reality what we made was totally useless and had no value at all.  I now know that it was our effort and our creativity that he was proud of, not the finished product.  He wanted to encourage that part of me, knowing that someday that creative drive in me would create something that would make life better for others.  He always told me I was going to do great things.
      Well, the truth is I haven't, but 50 years later I am still trying with all the creative drive I have in me.  I still draw strength from those head rubs and smiles.  I can still hear him tell me that someday I am going to do great things.  The love of a father, in a quiet but powerful way never dies.
      God has never scuffed my hair or even spoke words that I could hear, but I have clearly got the message that He loves me in a lot of ways.  Sometimes, with a childish imagination, I picture God with these huge mechanical arms moving everyone around, in and out of each others lives.  Bringing  the right people with the right words or the right actions at the right time into the right person's life. It is through these people encounters that God is telling us that He loves us.
      Have you received an encouraging word to continue something when you were just about to quit because you thought it was doing no good.  That is God saying, "I love you!"   Have you ever received a teary "thank you" when you thought your act of kindness was unnoticed.  That is God saying, "I love you!"  Maybe a word letting you know, "you are making a difference!"  That is God saying, "I love you!"  A smile, a hug, a pat on the back, a wink, a hand shake, these are all ways that God uses to tell us He loves us.
      But the one we miss the most, is probably the most powerful.  It is those moments when something inside of us tells us, "good job, that was the right thing to do."  Most of us have not developed the habit of listening for the voice of God in our spirits.  We have to depend on the messages He sends through others and that is so important, but sometimes we desperately need to hear Him say to us in our spirit,  "Well done, good and faithful servant,  I love you."  It is that inward feeling that God is speaking to you.  You may not always know exactly what He is saying, but just to know He is speaking provides a tremendous amount of strength and encouragement.  If it is a word of correction receive it.  He speaks it because He loves you.  If it is a word of encouragement, receive it because it is spoken out of love.  Whatever it is, receive it because He loves you.
       I have a challenge for you.  Find some time today and go to a place where you won't be distracted and do this little exercise.  Out loud, speak these words:  "God speak to my heart, my spirit.  I am listening."  Then listen.  Don't guide your thoughts, just listen.  In that real moment, I believe you will experience an unbelievable connect between earth and heaven.  You may know exactly what He is saying, but HE WILL SPEAK!  It may just be, "I hear your cry."  On the other hand you may be impressed to do something.  If you feel you need to hear something specific, don't be afraid to ask Him to say it.  Maybe you need to simply hear Him say, "I love you", then say, "God,  in my spirit, let me hear, "I love you."  You may be surprised what wells up inside you.  Don't miss that still small voice simply because you don't take the time to speak and listen.  He so desperately wants you to know that He loves you.  Hear it right now!  Listen!  You will need to hear it along the journey.  Speak, listen and JOIN THE JOURNEY!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Bad Guy

      I was in town the other day for some of our young people's basketball games.  While waiting for two late night championship games, I received a phone call from my neighbors saying they thought something was wrong with one of my horses.  He was lying down and they could not get him up.  I asked them if they saw any injury, bones, blood, etc.  They said did not appear to be any visible problems.  Next question.  Is he rolling back and forth.  The answer: Yes.  My unprofessional diagnosis was COLIC.  He needed to get up and walk.  Colic is an impaction in the disgestive system and if he lies there he could soon die.  "Do whatever you have to to get him up". I told them.   If he continued to roll he could twist his intestines and the only way to save him then would be a very expensive surgery and it would not be a sure thing.
      I was about 35 minutes away and every minute could prove crucial.  When I arrived, Sonny (the horse) was lying against the fence and my neighbors' eyes were full of tears.  Sonny belonged to their teenage daughter.  They had pulled, pushed and encouraged in every way they knew to get him up to no avail.  They had simply been unable to get him up and feared the worst.  We had no idea how long he had been lying there or how many times he had rolled.  He had knocked the gate off the hinges of his stall, probably while rolling in the stall in the early stages of his colic.  Long story short, we knew he had been down at least and hour.  Time was of the essence.
      I asked them to step back, pulled his hoofs off of the wire fence he was lying against and commenced to attack him like a "bear", sound effects and everything.  My knee landed in the middle of his stomach with a thud.  I yelled, holler and kicked like a wild Banchee (don't have a clue if that is spelled correctly) Indian.  Ten seconds later he was up.  That was a far cry from the consoling strokes on the forehead my neighbors lovingly were giving him.  She looked at me like I was the meanest man she had ever seen and I admit I was in panic mode.  She had known me for years and had never seen me loose my cool like that.  Needless to say Sonny didn't know what had hit him.  I'm not exactly the Horse Whisperer, but I could hear Sonny (the horse) saying, "Hey dude, what's up with you.  I thought I was your bud.  I was just lying here doing nothing to you and you attack me.  That ain't right." However, the reason I jumped in the middle of his stomach, kicked him and tried to scare the "poop" out of him LITERALLY, was because I wanted him to live.  I care deeply for all my horses and I fall apart if one goes to "horsey heaven".  By the way, after walking Sonny from 8:30 to midnight, pumping him full of mineral oil, he is doing fine today.  Probably a bit bruised in the ribs, sore on the butt, but alive and well.  He does seem a bit apprehensive when I approach, just kidding.  I think he sensed I was on his side.
      That is exactly how God is.  He is willing to look like the "bad guy" when He knows it is what is best for us.  We can't even begin to imagine how much God wants us to love Him.  He is passionate about us and He is a jealous God, but even at the risk of appearing like a bully, He so loves us  that He is willing to do the hard things in our lives.  This is certainly not to drive us away, although many turn their back on Him during these tough times.  They perceive Him unfair, unjust, harsh, uncaring or at least unconcerned.  He looks bad and they are done with Him, when in reality He draws us back to Himself during the toughest times.  He wants us to depend on Him, to need Him, to want Him and sometimes its only the hard times that cause us to seek Him.
      Many times He has jumped on me with both feet to get my attention.  Why?  Because He wants me to live.  I may think, "God, I was down here minding my own business and you allow all hell to break loose.  How long do we have to go through this.  Do You not care?"  Andre Crouch had a song in my college years called, "Through It All" that hit a nerve with the Christian community.  There was line that went this way, "if I never had a problem, I wouldn't know He could solve them, I wouldn't know what faith in God could do". It is in those toughest times when God may appear the meanest, the most distant that He is the most loving.
      It is that God that makes everyday an adventure.  He holds my feet to the fire, but never lets it burn me.  You will find His greatest love in the darkest times and that is why the journey is incredible.  JOIN THE JOURNEY.