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Monday, September 5, 2011

New blog carrying weekly devotional thoughts.

I guess I am feeling challenged.  I am going to attempt to start a separate blog titled, "Weekly Devotional Thoughts."  Now I have to blog weekly.  One thing it will do for me is get me into the Word more.  I'll share my thoughts as I read the text myself.  Below is the first installment and the link.

http://weeklydevotionalthoughts.blogspot.com/

Week 36

Psalm 46:10  He says, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."

I have read that verse and sung the little devotional song that comes from it so many times in my life.  But, how often have I followed what that passage has said.  In this face-paced, busy society (Of which I am caught up in) I do not take the time to be still enough.  I even keep searching for God and His will in my most busy of times.  Now, I'm not saying He doesn't speak during my busy times, or that He does not guide me through my fast-paced life.  But, there is something to be said about "being still" and listening for God.

Scholars and Authors believe (Including Richard Foster; Celebration of Discipline, Henry Blackabay, Experiencing God, and James Bryan Smith; The Good and Beautiful God) that silence is an essential part of drawing closer to God.  In fact in I Kings 19, God came to Elijah in a whisper after Elijah looked for Him in many awesome wonders.  God coming to Elijah in a whisper has always intrigued me. 

So, why is it so difficult for me to listen for God in the midst of silence?  I don't know about you, but I'm addicted to noise.  I have to have something going all the time.  I get into my vehicle and have the radio already on.  I come into the house and turn on the TV or radio.  When I sleep I have a fan going (Not just because I am hot natured) in order to have "white noise".  Furthermore, my noise does not have to have volume.  I am continually checking email, checking websites, looking at Facebook, playing games on my phone, etc.  Sometimes I can see God at work amongst the noise, but do I really hear Him speak during those times?  Rarely.

So, here is my challenge to myself and to you.  Practice silence and listen.  This is difficult to do.  I have done it in the past and fallen away from it.  James Bryan Smith in The Good and Beautiful God gives some great pointers.  Here are some of them.

1.  Block out some time to have silence in your day.  Even if it is a couple of minutes.  Build up to five minutes, 10 minutes.  I know some simply turn off the radio in their cars going to work.  The challenge here is to listen and not be in prayer.

2.  As you spend your time in silence, journal.  At first, journal the noise that distracts you from your silence.  You will notice as you practice this that your distractive noises will decrease.

3.  Listen and pay attention to random thoughts.  Write these down if needed.  God may be speaking in these random thoughts.  Ask God/Jesus, "What do you want me to get out of these thoughts?"  The answer may not come to you right away; it may show itself days later.  In one of the men's groups I attend, we actually practice an exercise called "Tending to Jesus."  Simply, we pray for Jesus' guidance then spend time in silence listening for what may come up.  We pay attention to random thoughts.  After our time of silence, we share what came up for us.  We don't give advice or prophesy; we just speak what came to heart.  If what we have spoken sticks with a person in the group, we figure it came from Jesus and that person pays attention to where it shows up in his/her life.  I've been amazed at what God has done through this type of work.

4.  As eluded to in the above exercise, after a time of silence, pay attention over the next few days to what comes from your time of silence and what God put on your heart. 

There are other forms of silence that can be practiced as well.  The three books mentioned above are a good start.  I challenge each one of us to learn how to "Be Still" more often.

Study questions/challenges:

1.  Are you addicted to noise?

2.  Do you feel as if you are distant from God?

3.  Could it be your noise getting in the way?

4.  Are you willing to take the challenge this week to practice silence?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Crucible Men's Weekend

It has been said, “You can’t keep going down the same road and expect to get to a different destination.”  Are you tired of chasing down the same road looking to draw closer to God yet still finding the same results?  Are you tired of “playing church” and wondering if God is there?  Are you weary of reading the Bible more, praying harder, listening to the right sermons, reading all the right Christian books, yet feeling you are stuck in the same place?  Are you hoping that it will all just get better?  Have you told yourself something like, “This is just the way it is and I have to have faith to get through it.”? 

As a man, have you or do you feel like you are just not getting “it” right.  Deep inside are you feeling inadequate?  Does it seem like you’ve lost a handle on your anger?  Are you feeling a deep and bitter anger burning just under the surface?  Do you feel like you are way too passive and life around you is spinning out of control?  Do you get the sense that your foundation you have built your life and beliefs upon has cracks and you just don’t know how to start repair on them?  Are you tired of wearing the mask you put on everyday because this is life and that is way you think you ought to act?  Have you worn your mask for so long that you really don’t know who you are anymore?  Are you tired of protecting your vulnerable parts of you with this mask? 

Do you feel you are lacking adventure in your life?  Do you dream of having passion like you once had when you were younger?  Do you wonder, “Where did the faith I had as a young man go?” Are you tired of the hardened shell created by the tough life around you?  Do you ask yourself in some fashion, “Do I really have what it takes…?”

Do you have trouble staying in integrity?  Do you struggle with keeping your word and/or commitments? 

I know there are many other questions like these you (and other men) have been asking yourself for maybe years.  Are you willing to look at those places?  Do you want to make that change?  Do you want to take a risk and go down a new road?  Are you longing for true grace like you have never felt before?  Do you want to experience God in a real and powerful way?  You are not alone.

Many men have gone before you and done just that.  Many men have started a journey down a new road.  I am one of those men.

I have been a Christian 30 years.  I’ve done the Bible studies.  I’ve been to camp.  I’ve taught classes.  “I’ve had mountain top experiences.”  I’ve felt God’s presence.  I’ve heard countless stirring sermons.  Yet, I still felt I was missing something.  I was hiding and covering the wounded parts of me.  I needed a change in my spiritual life.  Along came the Crucible Men’s Weekend.  It has changed my life.  I experienced grace like I never had before.  God touched my wounded spirit and poured His grace inside.  Now I know where my anger resides, and how to use it as God intended.  I love deeper and more authentic.  I am more authentic. And, I have found a community of Christian men who are authentic as well.  Are we perfect?  No!  But we welcome that imperfection and give it true grace.  Can this weekend be just another mountain top experience?  If I let it...  But I refuse.  I cannot let the power of the Crucible Men’s Weekend go to waste.  And neither do the men in the community we have built off of the weekend.  Want to know more? 

There are weekends offered year-round in several locations.  If you have interest click here.  If you want to register, then click here.
 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Overcoming Temptation

The following is another one of my favorite devotional thoughts:

What does it take to overcome temptation?  Really, simply, know the word of God.  Is it really that simple?  I believe it can be.  One of my favorite stories is the one about Jesus going into the wilderness for a forty day fast.  In both Matthew 4 and Luke 4 we read about this story.  Now, for years I believed that the devil tempted Jesus just three times.  As I read the story again I see, especially in Luke, that the devil tempted him the whole time he was in the wilderness.

Luke 4:1-2:  1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.  He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. 

So, the devil was working on him from the beginning.  Now, before we move on here, I want to make note of the fact that Jesus has just been baptized and is full of the Holy Spirit.  How many times in my life have I come off of a spiritual high to be attacked very quickly afterward by the devil?  Can you relate?  It happened to Jesus, it will happen to us.

As I read these two verses, I envision a continual battle over temptation.  Now, for any who have fasted from food before…you know this is an added difficulty.  Richard Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline points out how reflective fasting can be:

More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.  This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.  We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface.  If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately.  David writes, “I humbled my soul with fasting” (Ps. 69:10).  Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, they will surface during fasting.  At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we will realize that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us.  We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ. (Pg. 55)

Jesus was a man.  He was God in the flesh, yet he lived as a man.  He had to be tempted, deeply and succeed so that we would have an example.  His fasting made it all the more extreme. 

I believe that the three written examples of the temptations were the three types of methods Satan used through out the forty days.  Many Scholars believe that these three types of temptation were equivalent to the types of temptation used by the serpent on Adam and Eve.  Those three types of temptation are:  1. Lust of the eyes.  2.  Lust of the flesh.  3.  The pride of life.  When Adam was tempted, (and I refer to Adam because he has standing with Eve the whole time the serpent was working her [in my blog article Men and Integrity I refer to this]) these three types of temptation were used by the serpent.  Lust of the eyes=the woman saw that the fruit was pleasing to the eye.  Lust of the flesh=you will be like God.  Pride of life=desirable for gaining wisdom. (Genesis 3)

Now Satan uses the same three types of temptation on Jesus.  I believe it is no accident that the writers used these three examples.  They knew them by heart for they knew the Genesis story by heart.  Lust of the eyes=tempting him to throw himself down for the angels to guard him.  Lust of the flesh=turn this stone to bread and feed yourself.  Pride of life=worship the devil and he will give Jesus power over-all of the earthly kingdom.  Who knows how many different examples of these three types Satan used during that forty days. 

An interesting twist is revealed through Jesus’ temptation.  Satan uses scripture.  If you think about it…this is a common tool for him.  Most who have been around church can finish this phrase from Romans 3:23…”for all have sinned…”  You are finishing the verse as you read it…”and fall short of the glory of God,”…Notice the comma at the end of that phrase.  Many do not know what follows the comma because I believe Satan has used that verse to discourage us from having joy in the Lord.  Verse 24 finishes that phrase in the positive, “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Satan commonly uses God’s word and twists and perverts it in order to draw us further away from God.  During Jesus’ temptation, Satan used scripture that is quoted in both Matthew and Luke.  Satan took out of context Psalm 91:11-12 concerning the angels.  Satan did the same with Adam and Eve.  He did not have scripture to twist. However, he did twist God’s word.  Notice in Genesis 3, 1b“…Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  Then again, 4”You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman, 5”for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  And they did not die…right away.  They did die later, which I do not think was the plan.  Satan twisted God’s word.  God did not tell them when they would die if they ate of the tree.  After the fact in 3:19 God tells Adam of his fate by ending the verse with…”for dust you are and to dust you will return.” 

Returning to the original question, “How do we overcome temptation?”  The simple answer is, “with scripture.”  Notice Jesus response to all three examples of Satan’s temptation.  In Luke 4, vs. 4, “It is written:  ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”(Deuteronomy 8:3)  In vs. 8, “It is written:  ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”(Deuteronomy 6:13)  And in vs. 12, “It is said:  ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”(Deuteronomy 6:16)  Scripture is a powerful source of overcoming temptation.  Knowing God’s word, having it written on our hearts, prepares us for the temptations that come our way.  One thing to recognize, it is not always Satan that sends temptation our way.  Many times, temptation comes from within.  It is born from our remnant of sin left from when we became a new creation in Christ (See my article on Transformation Observations).  Either way, scripture is a strong defense against temptation.

So, for years, I would hear, “you need to read your Bible.”  I would feel guilty because I did not read my Bible.  Today, I do not get into my Bible enough.  But, for so long I approached Bible study with an approach of learning and following right from wrong.  I felt like I needed to read it in order to earn some “Heaven” points.  Or, I would read it in order to answer questions and opposition by those who did not believe.  Or, even worse, I would read it in order to have a strong argument against someone who interpreted the word differently than I did.  Years ago I began to recognize the importance of scripture against the power of temptation.  I would find myself avoiding certain situations because of what I knew in the word.  It was written on my heart, even from the little bit I read and from the Bible class teaching I received in my Christian school and college.  The Spirit revealed to me how important the Bible is in the spiritual battle in which I am engaged. It is scripture written on my heart that helps me face my on fleshly desires and Satan’s attacks.  In the last few months I have visited a website called Setting Captives Free: http://www.settingcaptivesfree.com/ . This website is dedicated to helping those with several struggles and addictions.  Some of the greatest power in this site and its authors is the push for feasting on God’s word.  This feasting allows for defense against temptation.  The more we know the word, the more access we have to weapons to fight with against the temptations that come our way.  The Spirit works through the word to speak to our spirit to stand strong or even flee. 

My plea and exhortation is to urge all in Christ to stay in His word and gain strength from the knowledge the Spirit instills in us from the word.  Remember I Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.

Scripture gives us that base, that way out.  It worked for Jesus while he was under great duress, it can work for us.

Peace and Grace.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Making deals with God


The following has been one of my favorite devotional thoughts for years.  I have used it in many settings, usually with teens.  However, it is a lesson we all can use and a great reminder to me.

How many times have we made deals with God?  When we were young we would say things like, “God, if you would get me out of this, then I will never sin again.”  Or, “Help me pass this test and I promise I will study from the beginning next time.”  Or, “If you will get me through this situation, I will be more devoted to you.”  The list can go on and on.  Of course, when we were young, many of these deals were the kind we could not keep.  Even though we are a new creation in Christ, the remnant of sin is still being flushed out of our system and we will fail to keep some promises, deals, or vows.  Even now I make my deals with God.  Those deals may not be out loud like in my youth, but they are deals just the same.  I think, “If I just pray more, God will bless me.”  “If I follow this ‘method’ I will draw near to Him and Him to me.”  Maybe this jars some memories for you and your deals with God.  The thing about making deals with God is…He may hold you to your end of the deal.  And sometimes that is not pleasant. 

Several years ago a passage of scripture I had read over many times really began to stick to my heart.  As I re-read and study this passage I continue to gain new insights into God and how he works.  It gave me chills to think about the deals I had made with God.  It is the story of the judge Jephthah (Judges 11 and 12).  Jephthah is about to go into battle with the Ammonites.  Beginning in Judges 11:30, Jephthah makes a vow with God as he enters into this battle.

30And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord:  “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”

God gave Jephthah the victory he asked for.  In fact, he routed the Ammonites.  God kept His end of the deal…now comes Jephthah’s part.

34When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines!  She was an only child.  Except for her he had neither son nor daughter.  35When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh!  My daughter!  You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.” Judges 11:34-35

Now before I get to the ‘deal’, I want to go down a quick rabbit trail here.  I’m not sure if this is just how it is translated to English or if there is any intent of this phrase toward how I will critique it but notice what Jephthah says, “Oh!  My daughter!  You have made me miserable and wretched…”  Notice how it is phrased.  How many times have I done something rash, and the result made me realize how rash it was, and in an emotional outburst, cast the blame on someone else?  Wow, that one hit me square between the eyes.  Initially, one of God’s appointed did not own his decision, he blamed his daughter.  That phrase is both comforting and scary.  Comforting because I know I am not alone, nor the first, when casting blame in an emotional moment.  Scary because a righteous man of God can fall into that trap even though it is a natural reaction.

Now, back to the ‘deal’ Jephthah made.  I fantasize that Jephthah envisioned that when he would get home coming to meet him at the gate would be one of the sheep or goats or even his trusty dog Rover.  But no, it is his only daughter.  It could have even been his wife.  Jephthah made a deal with God and God kept His end of the bargain.  What is interesting is the vow Jephthah made.  He could have stopped at:  “…whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s…”   It’s a reasonable deal to dedicate whatever he met at the gate to the Lord.  That’s a safe play.  I mean, Hannah dedicated Samuel to the Lord.  She didn’t get to raise him, but he didn’t die either.  So, why did Jephthah go to the extent of not only dedicating to the Lord, but also offering to sacrifice to the Lord?  Scholars are divided in their interpretation of this story.  Some believe that because the Spirit of the Lord (vs. 29) had come upon Jephthah he could not sacrifice his daughter.  They look at the text as saying just making a sacrifice (burnt offering) in general and essentially cursing his daughter to never marry or bear children the rest of her life.  They also believe that human sacrifice is against God’s law (easy to believe).  However, these same scholars believe that the vow was to sacrifice a human because a dog and/or many other animals would have been unacceptable sacrifices.  Others believe that Jephthah took inspiration from Abraham and how God rescued Isaac from his hand, hoping that God would do the same for him.  Even others believe that he did go through with his vow because he had made it to God and had no choice.  Jephthah also lived in area where the Israelites had begun some of the practices of the neighboring countries and that Jephthah was influenced by them.

Regardless of the interpretation of Jephthah’s final decision, what are some lessons we can take from this text?  One, I must be intentional and discerning about promises and vows that I make with God.  This is God, the one true God that I am dealing with.  As I continue to read scripture, God is a God of mercy and grace.  However, when it comes to oaths, there are many passages where he holds his people to their oaths.  God does not give us a pass on a rash vow or oath.  Jesus talks about oaths and letting your “…Yes be Yes, and your No, No.” (Matthew 5:37)  God takes vows seriously.  Vows to God are not all bad…but what is our intent?  Is it to gain the blessing am I vowing for and is my want misguided to the point that I am not thinking about what I am promising God?  I am not saying “play it safe” here by choosing something to vow that is easy to follow through with.  There must be some sacrifice to a vow of this nature.  What I am asking here is, “What is my intent?”  Is my vow to gain blessing or is my vow to honor God regardless the answer?

Secondly, are my vows rooted in my lack of trust for God?  Am I so lacking in faith at times that I have to make a deal with God thinking it will prompt him to action?  Again, lacking in faith is normal as we have seen in many of the great men and women of the Bible.  Sometimes the vow gives us focus and clarity we may not have had before. 

Third, when I make a vow, I need to follow through in order to stay in integrity.  If it is up to me, I must fulfill the vow.  In some circumstances when obvious blocks to finishing the vow keep me from it (I am not condoning looking for those blocks as a cop out) it must be God either saying, “You’ve done enough” (like I envision he felt for Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice Isaac), or, “This is not what I wanted from you.”  Otherwise, I am to finish or keep my vow to God.

Fourth, my vows to God can affect those around me.  Just like making choices can affect my family, friends, and others (even long term), so can my vows to God.  Jephthah’s vow affected more than just him.  Imagine the conversation with his wife.  Wife:  “I don’t know if this is a good idea.”  Jephthah:  “God will take care of me.”  Later…Wife:  “I told you so!”  Jephthah:  “Maybe I should listen to your intuition.”  There are vows to ministries that have affected my family and still do.  My current job is a ministry that puts us in a position that my wife has to work full time.  There are times where that puts a strain on us.  Think long term when considering a vow with God.  It does not mean, do not vow, but be intentional and discerning.

Finally, notice the attitude and submissiveness of Jephthah’s daughter.  Now, I am well aware that the time in history and the Israelite culture was very patriarchal.  Children were trained to be submissive.  However, what an awesome example of submissiveness to authority this example is for us.  Ultimately, we must submit to God’s authority.  Even in times of trouble, like Job, God asks for submission, expects submission.  Some of this submission is out of fear.  Some of this submission stems from faith.  Some of this submission is for our own good…God knows what is best for us.  Some of this submission is so we can understand authority and be in authority ourselves.  God will further His kingdom with or without us.  Our submission allows us to join Him in His work.  I have always been amazed by Jephthah’s daughter’s submissiveness.  I do not know many daughters today who would be that submissive. 

In conclusion, the story of Jephthah and his vow to God is choke full lessons.  I am sure there are many more stories and lessons to be learned out of these few verses in the Old Testament. I encourage all to review Old Testament stories we all grew up with and look at them from more mature eyes.  God has revealed to me many new insights into His nature, character, and personality.  Obviously, I am only scratching the surface of such an ominous God.  But, this little piece draws me closer.

 Peace and Grace

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Just a thought for the day on Community

Reading the book Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw, I came across this quote:

"There is an ancient proverb that states, 'One man is no man.'  This saying underscores our basic human need for community, which underscores our need for relationships and social life.  Not one of us could have made it without someone being there for us.  Human beings need help.  Not one of us is so strong that he does not need love, intimacy and dialogue in community."

Reading this draws me to Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:  If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  NIV

I am made aware daily, in this individualistic culture, that we are in need of community...when I look around me and see all the pain and woundedness...when I look around me and see absentee parenting...when I look around me and see teens (and many adults) looking for acceptance and initiation into adulthood through sex, addictions, and gangs...when I look around me and see men who are deeply wounded by life around them...I see a need for genuine community.  Why are teens addicted to text and facebook (many adults now too)?  They are in search of that community.  Why are the bars full?  They are in search of community.

We as Christians need to be more about community and less about what our doctrine says.  Doctrine is important...tradition is important...knowing God's Word is important...but we will never be able to reach those around us without creating a loving community.

Think community, offer community, love as a community, then you will reach the lost.

Just a thought.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Transformation Observations

This article could also be titled “Why does Transformation take so long?”

I used to hear friends, preachers, and/or people who I saw as very close to God talk about transformation.  As I continued in my walk with God, I would wonder, “Am I different, have I been transformed.”  As I was going through this questioning, I realized I need to be paying more attention to what transformation meant and how it applies to me.  Therefore, I had to have some sort of definition to work from.  A dear friend who ministers in the area of transformation defines it this way:  “Transformation happens when God’s love meets my undefended vulnerability.”  Some define it as a regeneration of sorts.  Many look at transformation as a change in how you think, feel, and do things…doing those things from a godly point of view.  David Brenner, in Surrender to Love gives this thought:  “It is the experience (not the knowledge) of love that is transformational.  You simply cannot bask in divine love and not be affected.” 

So, why does transformation seem to take so long?  Why do I struggle with the feeling that I am not being transformed?  God has all power; He can transform me in an instant.  Why is He not doing that?

Let’s start with my motivation to be transformed.  Why do I want to be transformed?  Is my motivation to be godlier?  Is my motivation to be a better father and husband?  Is my motivation to get me to heaven?  Is my motivation to rid myself of sin?  Is my motivation to have a Christian image?  The list can go on and on.  All of these are good motivations to be transformed.  However, I believe that my motivation should be to glorify and draw closer to God.  Like so many other things in my life, I try to improve myself for the wrong or other motivations.  My motivation to be transformed in any part of my life should be to the glory of God.  If it is not, it is likely to not stick.  Like I said before, those other motivations are good and many times noble, but they are connected to things that are fleeting and mortal.  If my motivation is tied to glorifying God…It is tied to something eternal…something that lasts and has a strong support system.  Furthermore, I try to transform myself, by my own power.  I may set out to be a more patient man.  I can keep it up for a while, but eventually I am going to crumble somewhere and not be patient.  I do not have the strength alone to keep my patience in this world.  I have to draw on the power of God.  My motivation must rely on a higher power than just me.

Many times I ask, “Why is God not transforming me in an instant?  God can do what He wants when He wants.”  It’s not a question of whether He can, or if He will.  God is capable of anything.  Because He is capable of anything, He transforms me in His time.  This is very difficult to comprehend for me at times.  This concept relates heavily to my last article:  A Societal Dilemma.  In that article I talked about a microwave philosophy vs. a crock pot philosophy.  I want microwave transformation, God uses a crock pot.  I want to see and feel it happen right now.  At times, I even feel a sudden rush of transformation.  So many of us have felt that power of the Holy Spirit move us quite a distance in a short period.  We are moved by a sermon, or experience something on a retreat, and/or through a study and we feel that transformation happening.  However, it does not seem to last, at least it does not feel that way.  Part of this is our microwave solution.  Those experiences are transforming, but they are only the beginning of the journey that the transformation God is doing in our lives, in my life.  The experience is the initial boiling of the water in the crock pot.  Now, God has turned it down to simmer that really makes the ingredients blend for the final, tasty dish He has created.  The problem for me is that during the “simmer” I may not be seeing or feeling the change that is happening in me.  I have found after those “mountain top” type experiences, I need follow-up to keep the transformation on track.  It’s like adding salt occasionally to keep the taste working.  Even the follow-up does not always allow me to see where I am as opposed to where I was.  And, many times the follow-up is painful and uncomfortable.  That does not mean God is not working.  In fact, it means HE IS working.  He is changing me from what I was to what I am or am going to be.  But, what about repeating the same sin?  How am I transformed when I continue in the sin I have been washed of? 

I buy in to two things about that.  One, Satan is a liar.  He whispers in my ear “you keep repeating your sin, you cannot be forgiven; God will give up on you and throw you away.”  Recently in our men’s group, we were doing an exercise on shame.  During that exercise the passage about the woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus was used.  Now, what is significant about this passage is who the condemners are; they are not Jesus, they are the Pharisees, the ones who have bought Satan’s lies.  In fact as I read through the Bible, God may give consequences to His people, but He does not condemn.  Satan is called the accuser in Revelation.  Our condemnation about our sin comes from Satan, not God.  Now, God is holy and in Him is no sin, but He is constantly working on our hearts to redeem us from that sin.  Guilt we feel for violating God’s commands are only to draw us to Him.  Guilt that cripples us is from the evil one.

The second thought about my sin and my transformation is said best by James Bryan Smith in his book The Good and Beautiful God.  Beginning on page 156 he says:

“…even though we have become new people spiritually, we still live our lives in our old self’s body, which contains the remnants of sin.  We still have our old narratives, our old memories and our old habits.  We still live in a world that stands diametrically opposed to the truth of God.  This why we still struggle with sin even after we’re regenerated.”


“The battle between flesh and Spirit does not end when we come up from the waters of baptism—in fact, that is precisely when it begins.”

This is a key to my transformation.  I need not focus on what I was. I need to focus on what I have become and where I am going.  I do not need to listen to the liar, but the Redeemer.

I ask myself, “What are some ways I can see my transformation in action when it seems to me it is not happening?”  First, and obvious, remembering those “mountain top” experiences that God placed in my path.  God uncovers a part of me and pours in His grace.  I warn you, some of these experiences are not always pleasant…that does not mean God is not working.  As I reflect back on those, those were turns or new paths in my journey that God has revealed.

Second, the follow-up to those experiences helps me to dig deeper into what God has uncovered.  If I do not follow-up, I am likely to let what could be a transformational experience die away. Or, God re-kindles it with a similar experience.

Third, (and this one is risky because it takes me out of my comfort zone) I check in with people who know me well.  I ask them about changes they have seen in me. Also, along those lines, listen to people who I am around regularly and pick up on whether or not I am a changed person in a certain arena.

Fourth, I practice journaling and silence.  Now, I am not some great and/or consistent journal writer…I journal in spurts.  However, I have written things in the past in some sort of fashion and I run across these writings occasionally (And I believe this is not by accident, God is revealing a piece of my transformation) and find that I have come some distance in my journey.  Times of silence and reflection show me where I have come.

Finally, I look at my context.  Where is my faith right now?  Am I making an impact?  What am I doing with God?  As I look at those things, I see some distance and growth in my journey.  I see where I am partnering with God in His work.  I have to stop and do this occasionally because I tend to look past where I am with Him in order to look for something “bigger” to do.

In retrospect, as I ponder on the questions at the beginning of this article, I realize that God gives me glimpses into my own transformation.  Even the writing on this blog is a transformational experience for me.  If you would have asked me several years ago if I thought I would be a blogger, I would have told you, “You’re nuts!”  It is only by God’s nudging and redemption that I am where I am right now.  However, my journey still continues.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A SOCIETAL DILEMMA

As I write this entry, I realize that this may be more of a rant than a rambling.  I’m not sure where I heard this, maybe Dave Ramsey.  It is the concept of microwave vs. crock pot.  I live in a microwave society when many of my life situations require a crock pot.
Let me see if I can explain.  When I was younger (college age and young professional) I was in such a hurry to get to my destination of being settled, married, wealthy and I wanted it all right then.  I did not want to go through the pain, struggle, and rigors of life to reach a point of “comfort” (this comfort in and of itself is really just male passivity, a topic for another time).  What is interesting is that I experienced this feeling during the infancy of cable television, CNN, 24 hour stores, etc.  And I certainly was going through this before cell phones, texting, internet, and other forms of instant access.  Needless to say, at least when I was young, patience was not one of my virtues.   Now, add in all those instant access features of today and imagine what my patience is like now.  However, now that I look back, I may not want to repeat the last 20 years or so, but I surely do not want to replace them.  At that young age I used to ask God for wisdom because I admired that in Solomon.  I now realize, especially after reading through Ecclesiastes a few times, be careful for what I ask for.  With wisdom comes many trials and struggles to gain it.  And, really, knowing what I know now has not stopped me from having a microwave mentality.  Now I want my retirement to be set up now, no waiting, now.  Will I ever learn?   I can go further and relate it to my spiritual life.  I see men doing great things in the kingdom and think to myself, “when am I going to be used for something big like that?
Over the last few years I have realized, as I read over a lot of the stories of the Old Testament heroes, how much time God spent preparing them for the big things He had in store for them.   When I look at the lives of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, just to name a few, I see how many years passed for them before God used them for the stories that I read.  When I read their stories, it may take me minutes to an hour or so to read each story.  What I read is just a snapshot of their lives.  I do not get to see the daily “grind” they went through.  And when I look at the genealogies (wow, those boring things do come in handy) I see the many years that pass before God’s promises come true. I mean, Abraham was 100 when he got the son He was promised.  Jacob waited years for his calling.  Moses was 80 when he came back to lead Israel out of slavery…in fact, Moses was 40 years tending sheep before he went back.  The stories go on and on.  Henry Blackaby in his study Experiencing God, Talks about how God uses many little situations for me to do His work to prepare me for something big He may have for me.  Furthermore, God may never use me for something big (or what I perceive as big).   I may very well be just one of the many “nameless” of God’s people just doing His work on a daily basis (I know I am not nameless to Him).  Either way, I am in the crock pot being prepared, if for nothing else, eternity with God.
So, what is my rant?  I have become increasingly aware of our microwave society as of late.  Let me start with a personal example and move outward from there.  When I took over my first Varsity team (boys basketball), I had aspirations of winning a State Championship, right away!  Now, any successful coach should believe he/she could be competing at that level.  Otherwise, he/she may never be successful.  But, I knew it was going to happen.  I perceived I was the one who could do it and I had a great team.  It did not happen.  Even in the years following, I had some of the best teams our school had fielded, and still no State Championship.  It would leave me asking God, “what in the world?”   It was years later , in another sport (Girls Softball) that not only was I able to coach a State Championship team, I was fortunate to coach for 6 of them.  Now, I do not know if God really cares about the championships that much except that He is interested in what I am interested in (like a father is in his son), but I know He had a hand in my training as a coach.  He was essentially saying to me, “Not yet, I have more to teach you about coaching, it’s not just about winning.”  I was in the crock pot expecting a microwave result.
Now, as I watch our current society, I see the microwave in action.  I watch as our college-age and young professionals want what their parents have now, not seeing that it took years for their parents to get to the point they are now.  The parents have been (and are still) in the crock pot.  That young generation wants the microwave.  In fact, many of my generation were fooled by the microwave, wanted what our parents have, and now are in deep debt trying to get to that point.  If we are not careful, this younger generation will be in deep trouble buying into the microwave philosophy.  I am watching our high school athlete’s fall into this trap.  These athletes will work hard for a short stretch, because coach told them hard work equals wins, and then are dumbfounded when wins don’t come quickly…fooled by the microwave.  What is difficult to watch is…many of them give up before it can get better.  They have never experienced the full flavor of the crock pot.   The stories and examples can go on and on. 
So, what is the answer to this societal plight?  Unfortunately, I do not have one.  I struggle with an answer to give.  Right now, in my crock pot, I am good at seeing and identifying the problem.  But, for some reason, I am struggling with any wisdom to impart for an answer.  Maybe I need to stew some more before I impart any wisdom on the subject.  One thing I do know…as I look back on my impatience, I see where God has brought me to and from.  I see now the slow cooking and added ingredients that I could not see when I was thrown into the pot.  Another view came from a friend I was visiting with just today.  I was sharing some of my thoughts on this article and he said, “Man is the microwave, God is the crock pot.”  Well said my friend…and I told him I would quote this.  Yeah, when I do not wait on God, I am essentially using the microwave.  And, I tend to use the microwave a lot.  That scares me at times, because Saul didn’t wait on the Lord and he lost his kingdom over it.  It relates to another friend’s quote I hear often, “God doesn’t always work quickly, but He will work suddenly.”  In prayers I ask and ask and an answer just does not come in the microwave fashion I desire.  Then, all of a sudden the answer is there, many times after I have quit praying over the situation.  God uses the crock pot.  He wants it to be ready correctly, He wants the right ingredients, and He certainly knows the right amount of time it takes to cook.
Like I said early on this may be more of a rant than a rambling.  Then again, maybe it’s a rambling rant.  One thing is for sure, I would love to hear your thoughts on what you think may be some solutions to the societal dilemma between the microwave and the crock pot.  Give me some feedback.
Peace

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why the title, "Random Ramblings"?

In some small and weak effort I will try and explain why I chose this as my blog space title:

“Pay attention to random thoughts.”  A friend and mentor Tod Brown says that phrase often in an exercise we do in a men’s group with which I am involved.  The idea is that when in silence and paying attention to the Lord and what He might have to say…pay attention to random thoughts, He may be speaking through those thoughts.  I have found that to be true many times both during that exercise and in other places of my life. 
The title of this blog space is “Random Ramblings.”  And as one of my friends pointed out…what I write is not necessarily random but from what God has put on my heart…what I write still stems from what I perceive as random.  Part of my motivation to blog was to put in writing things that were on my heart for periods of time longer than a passing thought.  I would have these mini-sermons, so to speak, in my head and on my heart for days at a time.  Eventually they would fade and I would remember them no more.  Therefore, I have attempted to put these thoughts and themes in writing.  At least they would be out there to access again and to receive feedback from others to see if what I had written was from God. 
So, in one way, my friend is right.  These are not truly random if they are from God.  And, in another way, they are random, at least to me.  Sometimes what we consider random is not random to God at all.  Case in point:  Many times in my life I have had thoughts and memories about a friend I have not seen in a long time.  Within a few days, that friend contacts me or I run into him or her.  Was God preparing my heart to see that individual?  I think so. 
I see in my life many times where God works in themes (that is how I describe it).  For me, it works like this:  There will be a particular life situation that is either re-occurring or has come up different from the direction I am going.  Then I notice that a sermon or a passage I am studying matches my life situation.  I will also run into friends who are sharing similar experiences.  Songs I hear match where I am, and so on.  Sometimes I use these themes as devotional or chapel thoughts at my school. 
So…why the title:  “Random Ramblings?”  These themes in my life seem to be random.  I realize down in my heart that it is God working on me and using me for His purposes.  To me at times, it seems so random.  I do not want to lose what I have experienced…therefore I am trying to blog those themes in my life to keep record of where God has brought me. 
I want to speak back to the paying attention to random thoughts.  Many of the random thoughts I experience are from God and I see Him reveal Himself to me as things unfold in my life.  However, if I do not spend enough time listening or paying attention to these thoughts, I miss what God is revealing to me.  I am so addicted to noise that I need a time set aside just to practice the discipline of silence.  Furthermore, if I do not pay attention to these random thoughts, I may miss that they are a manifestation of selfishness or some other sin suggested by the evil one.  One thing I cannot discount is the schemes by the evil one.
Finally, what I would say is, “pay attention.”  Pay attention to random thoughts.  Pay attention to little things around you.  Be self-aware.  God may be speaking to you in ways you may have never realized.  He has to me…Hence the title:  “Random Ramblings.”

Peace

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Books, studies, sermons, and/or other avenues

It has been quite some time since I have blogged last.  I am not sure if it is because I was in leveled off spot in my walk with God, was too busy, did not feel the creative juices flowing, or something else.  Whatever the reason, it’s been a while.   So, here goes:
I was reflecting on where I have come over the past few years as a Christian.  Something that has stood out to me is how I approach books, studies, sermons, and other methods of learning.  In the past, as I came upon something, among these forms of media, that I would disagree with fundamentally or theologically I would either stop where I was and throw the whole medium out or just “check out mentally”.
Fortunately, God has matured my discernment to the point of being able to pick out the truths (or at least what I perceive to be the truths) that are being presented.  So many times in the past I would hear or read something that I believed went against biblical truth and would completely disregard the whole message.  It is now that I realize that many times God has something relating to where I am hidden (so to speak) in that message.  I have had a good friend say many times, “truth is truth, no matter where you find it.”  A great example of this is the law of gravity.  Nowhere in the bible does it talk about the revolutions of the earth creating gravity that hold us to the map.  However, it is a truth.  God gave us the bible as a guide for living and discovering Him and most of all to know His Son Jesus and the redemption that comes with His sacrifice.  And, the bible is where we go to validate what we have heard.  It is one of the many ways God speaks to us, but not the only way.
One way that has helped me with discerning messages and still hearing from God has been a study I have done several times.  The study is Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby.  In this study, Blackaby teaches ways you hear from God, how to look for where He is working, and how to know it is God who is speaking.  His main point is for us to verify what we have heard through the bible, prayer, circumstances, the church, and other people. 
Another way that has helped me has been when the message I am hearing is seemingly repeated in several different ways in a short span of time. The same friend who talked about truth also believes that if it is from God, it “sticks” in some way.  I have found that to be true on several occasions.  The same “theme” as I call it keeps coming up and it matches the situation I am in.  Usually, when this is occurring, a common phrase I use is, “God works in themes.”
Now, one thing I do note is this:  When God is speaking or working, it is not always pleasant.  Somewhere in my life I picked up this notion that when God works I will get this euphoric feeling of some sort.  As you read through the stories of God speaking to men in the bible, you see that what He has planned for them is not always pleasant.  In fact, many times it is very hard, so that God may be glorified.
So, back to the point I wanted to make.  During those years that I would “throw out the baby with the bath water”… I believe that I missed out on some great messages and teachings from God.  As I have stayed with a study or a sermon or a book, I have found places where God has spoken directly to my situation.  One of the reasons that I can understand this now is because of my own messages that I have delivered in the past.  When I was in a situation to teach something about God or give some wisdom relating to His kingdom, I have found that most of what I was presenting was from God.  However, there is (for me) always that little part where I interject my own wisdom, my own thought.  Sometimes, this little bit of me may be contradictory to what God had in mind.  My hope would be that the listener would hold on to the part from God that “sticks” and throw out my wisdom without throwing out the whole message.
I have also found that God is speaking directly to something that I need to change in my life and I just don’t want to.  Kind of like when Jonah did not want to preach to Nineveh and ran the opposite way.  I have found, like Jonah, that God will get His message across one way or another.  His purpose will be accomplished. 
So, my challenge to the readership of this article would be this:  As you begin a book, a study, listen to a sermon, etc., listen for where God is speaking and applying His knowledge.  Fight through the resistance to the whole message and find that message that God is speaking.  You will find it has a purpose for where you are at that point in your life, or even something He has planned for your future.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Why did I go?

Why did I go on the Crucible Men’s Weekend (formerly known as the Dare to Soar Weekend)?  It all really began when a group of us dads were planning a study and special weekend for our thirteen-year-old sons.  One of the ministers at our church was leading us as a group in a discussion and planning session for this event for our sons.  We were to meet weekly as a group with our boys and go through a study by Robert Lewis on Becoming a Man, based out of his Raising a Modern Day Knight materials.  At the end of the series, we were going to take our boys out of school on a Friday and travel to a ranch where the boys would go through a series of events culminating with a sword presentation and blessing for each boy.  All of this was an initiation process, one that is lacking in our society today.  There are more details to the study and weekend, but that is not the point of this article. 
As we were planning this whole experience for our boys, a fire was lit in several of us.  Many of the men in the group voiced “I wish my dad had done this for me”, or “I wish I was getting a sword”.  The Minister who was leading us informed us that there was a Men’s weekend that was spiritually, physically, and emotionally challenging. He explained that he would give us more information at a future point.  He even said that he was working on bringing this weekend to Texas.  At that point…I was in!  At the time, I was thinking “what a ministry opportunity to be involved with.”  Little did I know…
In August of that same year, an opportunity arose to go to Chicago for a Dare to Soar weekend.  Several men from our church were planning on going.  The timing could not have been any worse for me.  We were not financially where I could go and the weekend fell just before the first day of school and the arrival back into town would not occur until mid-day of the first day of school.  As Principal, that was not an option for me.  I was filled with jealousy and grief.  And, as the men returned and shared what they could about their weekend, I grew more and more sad that I had not gone at that time.  The following January, leaders from Chicago, combined with the men who had gone in August held the first Texas weekend.  Again, I was out because of coaching responsibilities.  It felt, as if the time and opportunity was slipping away for me.  This was something I wanted to be a part of.  Little did I know…
Now comes October of that year.  My time has come.  I have signed up for the weekend.  It was one of if not the most impactful experience (next to marrying my wife and having my children) on my life since I have been a Christian.  I described it this way when I got home:  “I have experienced God in many ways in my 25+ years of being a Christian, but never like this.”  Now, this weekend could have been just another “mountain top” experience.  I decided, NOT THIS TIME!  What I experienced, I was going to apply.  There are optional follow up groups for these weekends.  Optional was not for me.  I made sure I was in a group and have gone and had training in order to lead a group.  I have been co-leading for 11 months now.  I have also staffed 3 weekends and about to staff a 4th in January. 
So what was it about this weekend that has me hooked?  There are multiple answers to that question.  I think first, the weekend actually began a journey for me.  I started a new journey…down a new road.  I’ve heard it said, you cannot keep taking the same road and expect to get to a different destination. Before my weekend, I was stuck in my Christian walk.  I was doing all the right “church” things, acting the right “church” way.  I was in prayer, reading the Bible, teaching Bible classes, working in a Christian school, doing the occasional deep Bible study, co-leading a Life Group, etc.  Yet, I was feeling like I was spinning my wheels.  I had a critical spirit.  I was angry…a lot!  I was in church, doing church work and saying church things but was feeling distant from God.  I thought to myself, “I just need to try harder, work harder and better at my spiritual disciplines…’those who wait upon the Lord…’ this will get better.”  I was depressed. I was taking the same old road.  I needed a change. The weekend began my journey down a new road.
Second, and related to the new road, I was allowed to go to my broken places and God met me there.  I was able to find the compassion I had lost in my critical spirit.  I was able to touch my anger.  I was able to take all the things I had been struggling with and put them out in front of me and let God touch the sores and heal me.  I have never felt grace like I did on my initial weekend.  The good news is…I continue to see, feel, and understand better that grace. 
Third, I was able to see that I am not alone with what I feel.  Every weekend I am a part of, I identify with several of the men there.  Satan had done a number on me, like he does so many.  He made me feel like I am alone in my darkness.  I have posed for this image of being a good Christian man for so long that I thought I was alone with my hidden parts.  I experienced life with other posers feeling the same way.
Fourth, I re-experienced my hidden goodness.  I had hidden the good parts of my character not believing they were real.  I was so focused on my sin and shame that I believed there could be no good in me.  This weekend showed me blessing, tenderness, love, and goodness that I had not touched in years.
Fifth, I reconnected with men and masculinity.  I have been one for years who has not trusted men.  Oh, I could hang with them, talk the language, put on the bravado and act like them.  The weekend gave me a deeper relationship (that I needed) with other men.  There are certain parts of masculinity that can only be understood by other men.
All of this made me feel more whole as a man.  It has allowed me more patience. It has allowed me more proper avenues for my anger.  It has given me more compassion for others.  I understand better where others are coming from.  I keep those dark parts of me in view so that God can heal me.  I have looked at the plank or log in my own eye and can see more clearly.  I have learned to own the parts of me that are out of integrity and find ways to regain that integrity.
Now, I am not saying I am perfect or whole.  We live in a fallen and broken world.  I am a fallen and broken creature.  However, I no longer deny it.  Furthermore, I no longer let it weigh me down like it once did.  I have my bad days.  I still go to the wrong places in my heart and relationships for validation as a man.  The good part is, I recognize it a lot faster and have some tools to counter it.  I have group of men I can check-in with to keep me on my new road.  These men allow me to live a life of authenticity, not as a poser.  Do you know how freeing that is?!
The best part, I have learned to see Jesus in a new light.  I am more able pay attention to where God is working and how He is trying to get my attention.  His Word has more in depth meaning and is even more applicable to my everyday life.  I could go on and on.
If I were to ask each man who has been on a weekend and is still continuing his journey to write an essay, you would hear different but similar aspects of the weekend that impacted them.  Each man does his own work on a weekend, but God’s grace remains the same.
Some will read this and say, “That’s great, I’m glad it had an impact on your life.”  And, that is fine.  Some will read this and it will light a fire or strike a chord in their heart and they will say, “Where do I sign up?”  For some, it will touch you somewhere but now is not your time.  One thing I have discovered, a man will go when God has him ready to go.  I am also well aware that a weekend like this is not for everyone.  One thing I will not do is make judgment against anyone for not choosing to go.   I just felt compelled to attempt to put into writing what this weekend has done for me and for those I have experienced it power with.
God bless you all and thank you for taking time to read this blog entry.