12 Witnesses

Let these stones be a witness to what we have done here this day.

Four reasons to think about Eternity

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I’ve always had a bit of push back within me toward the idea of “pondering Heaven.”  It seemed to me that I had too much work to do here to allow myself to become “so eternally focused to be any earthly good.” Despite the fact that the idea of sitting on a hillside and awaiting the return of Christ has always seemed like lunacy to me, I’ve recently come to embrace the odd moment or two sitting quietly and looking forward to the time when this world is no more and I am at home with God.

The story of how I got from the one place to the other is a long one and the topic for some other time, perhaps. Suffice it to say that as my understanding of the Gospel has broadened, I see the whole picture of God’s redemption more clearly.  Included in that, of course, is the picture of ultimate redemption pointed to throughout Scripture in such images as the Garden of Eden as that which was lost, yet to be redeemed; hope for dry land from within the Ark; the land flowing with milk and honey, as promised to those delivered from slavery; Jesus’ promise that He goes to prepare a place for us; Paul’s assurance that we will see face to face what we now see dimly, as if through a clouded glass; Peter’s urging that we should walk as temporary residents of this world; and God speaking to John in the Revelation (chapter 21) the most clear picture that we will dwell with Him and He with us and all the pains of this world will be, finally, washed away.

This is just a small list of the many references to eternity throughout Scripture. If the Gospel is so full of this thought, it must benefit us to dwell on ultimate redemption once in a while.

Here are four benefits I’ve found to doing so:

1. It lends perspective. When faced with difficulties, we often blow them out of proportion.  It’s a first world habit I’m prone to indulge and, if you are reading this on your internet capable home or office computer,  or even smart phone… you are too. No matter what our problems though, Eternity face to face with Christ causes all of them fade in importance.  Even martyrs throughout the ages testified in their death that the ultimate redemption was enough to see them through.  (This requires that you are prone to find your satisfaction in Christ, of course.)

2. Perspective calms me. Frazzled by a hectic world, recognition that my citizenship is in Heaven helps me to care less about the things that I can not control and are of (come on and let’s be honest, now) lesser importance. They mean less and I worry less.

3. It strengthens my resolve. I am in this world, however, with all of its trials. Big and small, I face them all… but with the knowledge that I have a task to do, and that task has a time limit. I am not free to wait for eternity ignoring all that will spend their eternity apart from the God that promises me such fulfillment.

4. It grants me peace. I know that the God that has authored the narrative of history is not leaving loose ends.  If I can trust Him with my eternity, I can certainly trust Him with my temporality.  Is that a word? It is now. Just coined it.

 

The True Meaning of Love

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A high school classmate of mine (Bellaire, 1985), Greg Stanford, asked me to write an article on the true meaning of love.

The concept of love is such a mess in our world.  It’s hard to get a handle on it.  Teens and even pre-teens fall in and out of “love” while adults tsk tsk their seemingly frivolous relationships, talking about how “love is a commitment.” All the while we burn through divorce lawyers at an alarming rate.

We won’t get much farther in our understanding, either, until we understand that our love and inclination to love is an echo of the God who made us in His image.  When we understand what it means to Him, we will stand a chance at applying it to our world in a meaningful way.

The Bible defines love pretty clearly:

1 John 4:7-12

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [sacrifice of atonement] for our sins. 11 Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is perfected in us.

[sacrifice...] – mine, emphasis – mine

God created everything and made humanity in His image as the centerpiece of creation and we, all of us, turned away from Him. So for God, “Love” is that He pursued us and sacrificed of Himself to redeem us.  That we love God is in response to Him loving us first and demonstrating that to us.  He has wooed us with sacrificial redemption.

Sacrificial redemption. We need to apply that to our relationships and see what happens.

When we sacrifice ourselves in order to redeem others we woo them into a mutual love.  This is the image of God in us.

I know.  You were expecting me to quote 1 Corinthians 13 in discussing the meaning of love.  That passage is great at describing how true love acts.  1 John 4 describes what true love is.

But, so that you aren’t disappointed…  If we seek to redeem through self sacrifice, it should look a lot like this:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends.

Listening for the whisper

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A few weeks ago, following a sermon series through the book of James, I preached a sermon called “Elijah, a Man with a nature like ours” as a clarification of James’ claim that we all come from the same stuff and that God might use any of us like He used Elijah, if we were willing. The text was 1 Kings 19:9-18. If that doesn’t ring a bell, and you don’t desire to follow the link and read the Scripture, it is the story of Elijah in the cave, after the showdown with the prophets of Baal.  God told Elijah to go to the mouth of the cave, where Elijah expects to hear from the Lord.  At the mouth of the cave, there is a fierce wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but God did not speak to Elijah in any of those things. Finally, there was a still, small voice and God was in the voice.  Elijah recognized God’s presence, pulled his mantle over his head in a sign of reverence and listened.

Like us, Elijah’s problem, the one God was addressing with this parade of big, empty things, was that he was prone to take off and do something before listening to God.  In the scene before Elijah journeys to the cave, He is seen calling down fire from heaven and calling Israel to the Lord.  The people respond, reject and kill the prophets of Baal and turn to the God they had only heard did great things like this.  The main difference in the journey toward the showdown and the journey to the cave is that God had sent Elijah to former, but Elijah took the latter on himself.

Imagine a life of constant communion with God, but where God only speaks through enormous actions.  Your average day would be fraught with near misses and calamities on every side.  That’s not what God desires and the scene at the mouth of the cave was a teaching moment to Elijah.  Remember, the first words from God in Verse 10? “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  As in, who told you to do this?  Not me… Must’ve been you.

Here are 5 things that can help us to live lives that are increasingly attentive to the still, small voice.  Lives that are more powerfully used by God.

1.  Stop inundating ourselves with meaningless media.  God has to use big things to cut through the blare of white noise that are our lives.  Technology is not evil. Media is not evil.  Giving massive amounts of our time and attention to both train us to listen carefully to them, ignoring more important things, like the Holy Spirit.

2. Spend earnest time tending to our hearts.  Spiritual Disciplines, Prayer, Scripture Memory, Bible Study, and honest Introspection are necessary to the heart of the growing believer.  We don’t have to prove anything to God.  This is not a burden to carry.  If we want the joy of a deeply personal walk in connection with the Holy Spirit, though, we will pursue God.

3. Be obedient. If God speaks, don’t say no.  Why is God going to continue to speak to a heart that is periodically being hardened?  He is not going to reinforce bad behavior. If we have a point of known disobedience, we must immediately go back and make it right.  If He says go, we must go.

4. Crucify the flesh.  We are constantly tempted away from a life of obedience to God.  Victory is not dependent on us, but on Christ. Nevertheless, our acceptance of Grace is participation in the Crucifixion of the flesh and is formed in obedient cooperation when the Spirit points out what must be pruned.  “The fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faith, Gentleness, Self Control.  Against such things there is no law.  Now the one who belongs to Christ has crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we walk by the Spirit, we must follow the Spirit.  We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5:22-24.

5. Meditate.  Spend time being still and quiet.  Our world works against this at every turn.  If cutting down on media is the first step, this is the last.  This would be other side of the coin, so to speak.  I’ve learned how to do this a bit in the last year.  It is a powerful thing to still your thoughts and simply focus them on God.

Why is it?

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Why is it that after a prolonged absence, we feel the need to explain where we’ve been to the odd half dozen or so folks who still check in from time to time?  Really, most of the traffic (I still get some, can you believe it?) comes from search engines that are funneling folks to specific articles I’ve written in years past.  A few still hit my home page, lately to find my last article from October 31, 2011.  Yes.  8 months ago.

It almost begs an explanation, though I recognize that I’ve already published several over the last couple of years.  The only thing to do is ignore it or come clean.  Never one to miss an opportunity to over share, let’s go with coming clean.

Several things have conspired to to keep me from writing.  Among them

1) Discovering an emptiness in the topics of political observation within the SBC.  Old news and no reason for further comment.

2) Busy-ness within the responsibilities of the Pastorate that kept me from managing this blog and my church responsibilities.  I was new to the pastorate in 2006 and new to my church as well.  It takes a while to become fluent with the minutiae of any job and I had plenty on my plate.  Add to that the changes that we were working through and I was tired of writing.

3) (This is the coming clean part…) I had several church members that were frequenting my blog, often misconstruing or just misunderstanding what I had written (sometimes years before) and then repeating their misconstruction/misunderstanding to others at the church.  It’s no secret that change is rarely embraced readily by all and we had all our plates could handle moving through ours.  When some were adding the misinformation coming from others claiming this blog as the source, it just wasn’t worth it.  So I quit writing to remove a source of misunderstanding.

I should add that I am not accusing everyone from my church who read my blog of misrepresenting me to garner political support within our church.  I think that was actually quite rare.  Nevertheless, any stream of misunderstanding that can be removed, should be.  I prioritized the church over this blog and I doubt anyone would second guess that decision.

So what’s changed? Several things!

I’ve had a personal spiritual growth like I’ve never experienced before.  Call it a Gospel Awakening.  I’m sure we’ll get to that in the near future.  For now, simply consider that God, in His mercy, considered it His pleasure to crush me in order to shape me in an image more like His Son.  For this, I am grateful.  Honestly, “grateful” doesn’t cover it.  Even for an aspiring writer, I have no words for how I feel about this.  I consider it worth everything.  More later.

The church has come to a place of peace.  We still have some issues and we honestly need to move forward in some areas, which means change.  Small ones, but still…  Nevertheless, Earlier this year, God wrought a situation that allowed us to finally air our heart in a loving way.  It has brought a tremendous peace on the church and we gather together without fear of dissension breaking out.  We are praying for Spiritual Awakening and have been since the Spring.  We are beginning to see the fruits of it and have enjoyed God moving among us significantly over the last couple of months.

With my life and the church in the throws of burgeoning renewal, the desire to write as presented itself once more.

And since I’m paying good money to host this blog, I thought I would be a better steward of that opportunity.

If you’d like to subscribe to an email notification, there is a box at the top right to let you do that.  Every time I write a new article, it will let you know and should give you a preview of what’s here.

A few thoughts on the busy-ness of life and our relationship with God

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I can go no further down the road of my responsibilities without stopping to spend time in prayer and meditation.  God has been faithful to me.  I must be dependent on Him.

I find that when I am not making myself depend on Him that He is making me depend on Him.  The latter is the more painful of the two that bring me to the same place.

And all things depend on Him.  He is trustworthy.  I can only live well in this life when I conform to this truth.

I waste time when I spend it on “responsibilities” to the detriment of time in prayer and meditation on God’s Word.  When the shallow consumes the eternal, there is little hope of joy or any spiritual success.

I am best able to handle everything the more I am conformed to the image of Christ.

In all things and in all ways I must pursue the image of Christ being revealed in me.

Grace: Why I am grateful for the hard Grace I’ve received

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Grace is not just the soft comfort of God loving the broken.  That is a part of Grace, but not the whole of it.  Grace is also God denying us those things that we chase that are not Him.

Grace is God pursuing us in redemption to establish that relationship with Him for which He longs and for which we were created.

But the brokenness of us is often pursuing cheap substitutes.  We crave satisfaction but are only briefly numbed by infatuation with one relationship after another, chemical distortion of drugs and alcohol, sexual exploits that mock true intimacy, money and possessions that trick us into thinking that we are valuable or important or even cared for by those around us who really just want our stuff.

But God is gracious and will, in His mercy toward us, kill that cheap thing and rip it from our clutching hands so that we will realize the shallow nature of that which we’ve worshiped.  He does it so that we will turn to Him and find what we really need.  We find what will actually satisfy and in which we will find ourselves complete.

We find Him.

I have always been moved by the love and acceptance of others.  There are many reasons why, but for now let us just say that need for approval is just the way I’m broken. It numbed me, temporarily, to the reality that I was a mess.  I felt good about myself, for a minute.

So last year I found myself in the process of having that idol crushed and torn away.  When acceptance and adoration of others is your idol, the way God kills it, at least in my case, is public contempt by others.  A year ago, I faced several public meetings where people I cared about assaulted my character, my skills and my value.

The good news is that, though some of those relationships remain wounded, others were restored and our church experienced healing, unity and peace during this year.

The best news is that in God taking from me what I should not have worshiped, He replaced it with Himself.  In that, I have found myself in the greatest time of growth and peace in my walk with Him.  I’ve never been more close to Him than I am.  I’ve never loved Him more. I’ve never been more sure of His love for me.  I’ve never needed public adulation less.

And I owe it all to the hard Grace of public ridicule.  Thank God for His Grace.

To someone considering the ministry…

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I’ve had a few people I’ve known consider going into the ministry at one point in time or another.  A few things to consider as you discern your path.

  • Obviously, be convinced God is leading you to this.  I’ve known people in ministry that God never called there, but they thought it would make a good career.  Aside from the bumps and bruises that you might avoid not being where you should be, you will actually be in the way of God’s work, since you will be attempting what you are doing on your own.
  • If you are able to lay out a plan for higher education, get an undergraduate degree in something other than theology, ministry, Christian education, etc.  You can get your theological training in Seminary afterward and then you will be very broad in your knowledge and abilities.  It might come in handy one day when you are called to a mission filed, bi-vocational ministry or even if you are fired from your church.  Hey, it happens.  A lot.
  • Tend to your personal spiritual growth.  Education is important, but it is no substitute for a deep walk with God.  Leadership of the Holy Spirit means more than your IQ ever will.
  • Develop organizational skills.  You have to be organized to lead.
  • Develop personal relationship skills.  You have to love people to lead.
  • Develop thick skin.  You will be critiqued (fairly and unfairly) when you lead.
  • Be the example.  You can’t ask others to do what you aren’t doing in giving, service, passion, discipleship, positive talk or friendship.
  • Don’t let your failures get to you.  You will make mistakes and you will not be the shining example you want to be.  Confess and do better.  This is called growth.
  • Don’t let people hold you or your family to unreasonable standards of perfection.  They aren’t the Judge. (But don’t take that whole, “Only God can judge me” thing as a license to be an idiot.)

Other thoughts?

Tulsa’s Christmas… er… Holiday Parade

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The city of Tulsa has had a “Christmas Parade” downtown for about 70 years, put on privately.  Originally it was moved to downtown to attract business, or so I’ve been told.

Last year, the organizers changed the name to the “Holiday Parade” to be more inclusive.  I don’t remember a flap about it then, but we have one now. The publicity seemed to have taken off when Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe declined to participate as a form of protest over the name change. Since then, the situation has been mentioned by Conan O’Brian, John Stewart and Bill O’Reilly.  And by a few locals who have felt compelled to address the issue.

Earlier this week, the City Council approved the parade permit amidst a torrent of discussion.  The Tulsa World carries the story here.  You might also be interested in some of the other articles, including letters to the editor concerning the situation.

While I am obviously a Christian and not a participant in anything else the organizers are trying to include… my primary concern is with the behavior of people who have reacted negatively toward the move.

More specifically, I don’t think people calling themselves Christians should sin in defense of, well, of anything, much less the defense of a parade’s name.

If you don’t agree with the parade organizers, then you are free to say so.  If you don’t want to participate, then you are free to do something else with your time.

What you are not free to do is incriminate the Name of Christ by doing what He would not.  Be careful with your words.  People are listening.  Jesus said it is not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him, but what comes out.

Example:  I have a friend, a Christian, who works in a local business participating in the parade.  After the City Council meeting where the debate and subsequent permit approval vote was held, a woman attempting to represent Christ called the business where my friend works and berated him over this issue for ten minutes.  When he got off the phone, his coworkers told him that it was because of that kind of stuff that they didn’t want anything to do with being a Christian.

Bottom line:  Take every stand you feel you should, but do so in a way that Christ would, or have you to do so.

Goals for my 45th year

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The day after my birthday, Friday, I spent some time in introspection and came up with a list of goals that I wanted to accomplish in my 45th year on the earth, if God is so gracious to leave me here that long.

I shared one of these goals that had been bouncing around in my head for a while with some friends last week and one of them replied, “It’s good to have goals.”  The unspoken phrase that followed in my mind:  It’s better to actually achieve them.  Or at least attempt to do so.

So here are my goals.

Spiritually

  • Continue to grow in the practice of Spiritual Disciplines.  This is something that has been a point of growth for me over a couple of decades, but I have much farther to go, I feel.
  • Take at least 2 Spiritual Retreats by myself.
  • Explore the Spiritual Discipline of Silence.  I don’t know much about this and I can tell you that my mind is rarely quiet.  I want to study and begin to practice this.

Financially

  • Eliminate (certain $ amount) of spending.
  • Apply above described saved money to debts. For reasons I won’t enumerate, though likely obvious for those of my generation, we took on a lot of debt early in our lives and have been working our way out of it for years.  While we have made significant progress at times, I am frustrated with how slowly it is going.  I want to move faster.
  • Give more to opportunities beyond my normal avenues.

Family

  • 1 Vacation with just us this year. Typically our vacation is spent visiting extended family, which is a good thing.  Still, we need some time with just us together.
  • Read more on marriage.  While I love my marriage and think it’s pretty awesome, everything is capable of being improved and I can do that best by improving me within our marriage.
  • Date Bonnie more.  We’ve been dating quite a bit since our kids got older, but we need to do this more.
  • 1 event (big, not small like an ice cream cone over 45 mins) per month with each child – just me and them.

Physically

  • Eat better, lose weight.  Again.  My weight is like a yo-yo and I struggle with it.  I need to get better control of it.
  • Continue to exercise regularly.  I’ve joined a gym for $10 a month and have been working out there.  Got to keep going.
  • Start running triathlons.  I know.  That sounds crazy, especially for a person struggling with their weight.  But it features running, swimming and cycling and variety keeps me engaged.  Also, I am not running Iron Man level triathlons.  Whenever people hear that word, they think of Hawaii and the Iron Man they do there.  That’s for elite athletes.  They have much smaller events (sprint triathlons) that are manageable for beginners.  Still, this is likely to be the most demanding goal on the board.

I have a few other thoughts about lifestyle issues.  I intend to read more, take more pictures, paint more, write more, etc. but they aren’t goals, so… I’ll just stick them here at the end.

Life Lessons on my Birthday

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It’s my birthday, and I’m 44.  According to the Insurance Actuarial Tables, I’m probably more than halfway through.

That just sounds depressing.  Especially if you are older than me.  Sorry.

Let’s look at it another way…  About half of my life thus far was spent just learning the basics, let’s say to my early 20′s.  After that, I’ve been in adult life graduate school, learning the more intricate things that I need to know.

That means that probably have 2/3 of my adult life left (let’s hope and pray) and I’ve learned a lot of good stuff on the way.  Here are a few lessons off the top of my head as I write this the night before.

  • Life’s not easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.  Sometimes the hard things make life easier later on.  I could never have dealt with some of the things I deal with now on a regular basis, had I not been through what I thought was horrible earlier in life.  Now I think I was a wimp before.  Which I probably was.
  • Marriage is cool.  Be sure you get the right one.  It’s hard at first for everyone.  It gets easier if you just have one rule:  Nobody gets out alive.  That’s actually in the vows, if you look them up.  If you know that you are in it for the long haul, you work hard to make it better.  Go to counseling if you need it.  We did and it made an enormous difference for the better.  And remember that your family is the most important thing you are responsible for in this life (I’m including taking care of yourself in this sentence on the family).  If you don’t take care of that, what point is the rest of it?
  • Do what you love, if you can make a living at it.  If you can’t, then do what is helpful and do your best to love it.  It’s easier to do a job that you love and wretched to do what you hate.  A lot of the attitude you bring to the job is up to you, though.  Be positive in your mind about it, but if you just can’t do that then find something else as quick as possible so that you and everyone around you aren’t miserable.
  • Argue less.  A lot of things I used to think were life and death aren’t even close.  Most stuff that we get upset about isn’t worth the energy of being disconcerted and probably, if we are honest, we don’t have a right to be angry about it.  Let it go, if you can.  If not, deal with people in a way that brings reconciliation.  Don’t dump people if you can help it.  It’s probably a mistake to cut them out of your life.  Unless it’s not, in which case you should choose carefully who influences you.
  • Have a hobby.  Have twelve.  You need something to enjoy and accomplish that isn’t tied to work or making ends meet.  Consuming media (tv, music, internet, etc.) is not a hobby – it’s a pastime.  You accomplish nothing and get no sense of self worth from it, nor do you get to be creative and do things without limits from others.  You need creative, accomplishy sorts of things and lots of them.  My list of hobbies (some I am doing more than others) are:  cycling, exercising at the gym (I know, don’t laugh), frisbee golf, golf, photography, guitar, water color painting…  I’m sure there’s more.  Oh, yeah.  Writing.
  • Be outside more.  I had become accustomed to air conditioned office life and the heat was not fun.  Then, last summer, I started doing a lot of outdoor activities and my body adjusted to the heat.  It was awesome.  I loved it.  Outdoors is way more cool than indoors.  WAAAAAYYY more cool.  In the “hip” sense of cool, not the temperature sense.  You probably knew that.
  • Take care of your body.  It declines quickly and the more you ignore it early, the harder it gets later.  A 50 year old that has been fit all his/her life is in much better shape than the 50 year old that got in shape in his/her mid forties.  I learned this the hard way.  I’ve got so many things deteriorating on my body, it’s silly.  One of my biggest regrets is not staying shape.  I used to be in shape. Then I got married.  I did marry the right one.  The one I married is an awesome cook.  I quit even trying to burn off anything I consumed.  18 years later (the day after Christmas is 18 years), one of my hobbies is working out at the gym.  Ugh.

That’s all I can think of at the moment.  Any you’d like to add?  Feel free.

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