All We Do is WIN!!

All We Do is WIN!!

Jacob as a sympathetic figure? Most of us aren’t likely to really believe that. However, if we look closer at his story, we find that he went through a season where it really felt like he was reaping what he had sown in deception. Where was the blessing? Good ole Dad had blessed him instead of his brother by some well-formed trickeration. In our minds, Jacob should have been good, right? Cause the blessing would immediately reveal itself and Jacob would be in the money. However, we find him working for his uncle, Laban, who is as much a “Jacob” as Jacob is. Some might say that he invented the “Jacob”. I mean, guys, how would you feel if your future father-in-law switched daughters with you on your wedding night? And then made you work off the debt doubly? What a season. Absolutely horrible.

But what we learn from the life of Jacob in this difficult season is that even in seasons where we feel lost and forgotten, seasons where we think that God has surely forgotten us, that His promises have fallen by the wayside, there are still opportunities for us to realize His faithfulness.

I imagine Jacob tilling the rocky soil at Laban’s singing Elevation Church’s song “Do it Again”, almost bemoaning his fate here. I’m sure that he was thinking about how his life had lead to this point. 2 wives, when he really only wanted one. Laban has him doing all kinds of work, and I’m sure that Laban was just waiting on Jacob to fail so that he could heap even more work on him, but Jacob was smart. And he believed God. And even during these difficult times, God proved faithful time and time again. In the midst of a hard season, Jacob grew from a boy into a man. I believe it was this time in his life that prepared him to meet Esau after leaving Laban. Jacob prospered. He prospered Laban, and God prospered Jacob. Jacob worked hard, and God honored his efforts.

What is the lesson for us?

It’s simple. Quit embracing the escape mentality. No matter what season you are in, quit running. if you keep trying to run from one season into a better season, you won’t be able to handle that comes your way in that season! We go through seasons for a purpose. We have to have the perspective to grow in the season. it is not enough to promise to grow after that season is already done because then we will have missed the entire point of what we found ourselves in. And that is a major problem. We have to steward the environment we find ourselves in. There is always a silver lining. There is always a test to be passed. A challenge to be overcome. And when we start embracing those challenges instead of allowing them to whip us into submission, then no matter what season we go through, we are equipped to thrive! And that is God’s intention. It’s not simply that we find success when the situation is amenable to success. It is that we find success and conquer because that is who we are at our core. It is who God created us to be!

Have the resolve that you will overcome any season not by running away from it. Stand up. Turn around. Face your challenges. Stare your bad season in the face and embrace what it is trying to teach you. Embrace what God wishes to do for you in that season. Commit to growing IN the season, and now when you come out of it.

I’m convinced that this is important stuff. I’m also convinced that it is for me as well as anyone who reads this.

The mark of a mature Christian is that he or she has the foresight and perspective to win, no matter the circumstances! No matter the season. No matter the obstacles. In Christ, all we do is WIN, because Christ WON!

And when we get this accurate view of ourselves, well….

watch what happens next.

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Sermons I’d Love to Preach: Concealed Carry

Sermons I’d Love to Preach: Concealed Carry

I’m starting a new category on my blog called Sermons I’d Love to Preach. I figure that I’m always getting ideas for messages, but I never write them down. If I blog a bit about them, when I am asked to preach, I can always come back to my blog to see what I thought about the subject then. and what I think about the subject now. I call that being a good steward.

A good friend of mine and I were talking a few weeks ago about the trip to Vegas that he took with his wife. AS we talked, he told me that his favorite part of that entire experience was getting a chance to just talk with various guys about stuff that they don’t talk about often. it is no surprise that men are secretive. We struggle with sin and the shame that accompanies it more often than we would like to let on, which is why those things tend to hold us back as long as we allow them to. He talked about this whole idea of conceal and carry. Now, I’m no gun owner….yet (my daughter is about to be 13, so I have my application ready), so I don’t know the ins and outs of gun legislation. But just from the name, I know that when licensed, a gun owner can carry their weapon in a concealed manner. Some say it is for safety. Some think it makes them tough. Others just are fulfilling their Wyatt Earp fantasies from childhood. Whatever the reason, concealed carried weapons are legal, and within the right of every citizen.

Where the Kingdom of Heaven is concerned, concealing and carrying is almost like a self- imposed death sentence. The very things that we hold inside can keep us from truly living life on the terms provided by God. Sure, we have the right to carry our own burdens. but we can not make the excuse that we are protecting ourselves. In fact, what we are doing is neglecting to allow people that God has put in our lives to help us, to do their jobs. There is no shame in having sin in your life and telling someone. There is no shame is someone helping us to carry a burden that has been killing us for a long time. There is no shame in being weak and vulnerable before trusted friends. In this way, God heals us. When we are open about our faults and struggles, our needs and desperate pleas, God can use people to bless us in ways that can’t get to us when we choose to conceal and carry our own burdens.

In 1 Peter 5:7, Peter writes,

Casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you…”

Casting here is in a present tense. That means that while we might admit out sin at salvation, we should never stop talking to God about those things that ail us. Of course, He knows, but he also knows that the things that ail us most, are the things that we sometimes don’t want to discuss. Yet, when we trust Him, and the people that He has placed around us, we are able to experience His love and faithfulness in a whole new way.  When we open ourselves up to the possibility that God really DOES love and care for us, our future and present become open to the fullness of God.

I’m not the best at open carry. I tend to conceal some things deeper than others. I concealed my porn addiction for years before opening up to a few trusted people about it. The shame that accompanies those hidden things is overwhelming and unnecessary. God accepts us. He already has chosen us. He already loves us. There is nothing more to be gained from God. He has given us all things to enjoy. We have to trust Him and open up. He cares and has placed people around us who care.

While concealing and carrying might be our legal right, it is not in our best interest. I dare you to find trusted people to be honest and open with. Who knows, you just might get set free!

One last thing. While self-defense might be a human right, a Christian knows that God is our true defense. We have to trust Him with our hearts and our hurts.

Be blessed!

Circle of Greatness

Circle of Greatness

C.S. Lewis and J. R.R. Tolkien are a couple of my favorite writers. EVER. Their work has stood the test of time and has earned a revered status among English Teachers and artists alike. Courses are taught on their greatness. What is also so great about these men are that they were Christians. While it is apparent in Lewis’ works, J. R. R. Tolkien was not as plain in his usage of his faith in his books, but he was a believer in Christ, and like Lewis, dedicated his creativity to God. What I have found cool about these gentlemen is that they ran in the same circle. Along with writers Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, Hugo Dyson, Robert Harvard, and others, they would meet together to discuss their craft, but also would provide encouragement to one another to keep pushing. A story is told about Tolkien where a tree that he used as inspiration was chopped down suddenly by a neighbor. This really dispaired him, because he looked at that tree as a symbol of the success of the book The Lord of the Rings was tied to this tree. It represented his own “inner tree”. As World War II moved closer and closer to Britain, he also despaired that he would never be able to finish what would have been his greatest work. Fortunately, he had surrounded himself with men who also pursued greatness in their craft, but also believed in creating for God, and used that to push them in everything that they did. These men, mentioned above, stayed on Tolkien until he did indeed finish the famous novel. These men were called “The Inklings”.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

I love that story, because it is true, but also because it is a timelessly relevant theme. Who we surround ourselves with has as much to do with our maturity, spiritual and otherwise, as anything else that we do. I can read the Bible, fast and pray every day of my life, but if my circle does not encourage me to keep pressing deeper and living based on the convictions that I read about, then my life will not reflect those beliefs. The greatness that has been placed inside of us truly becomes something special when we have our own circles of greatness, people who are willing to encourage us, support us, challenge us, push us, call us out on our crap, and, ultimately, love us.

One of the most fulfilling things in life is to have a crew with you, where all of you are striving for greatness together. Those are the sweetest moments in life.

Who are “your people”?

What benefits do they add to your life?

How transparent are you with them?

What greatness are you pursuing together for the Kingdom?

What shared dreams are you having?

Finally, if you have nothing like this, it has is time for let your guard down and allow God to put you with others who have His best in mind for your life. We are interdependent creations, made to depend on our Father, but also on those, He has blessed us with to live life with.

Don’t miss out on the blessings of the right kind of fellowship.

What Do You Want?

What Do You Want?

I’m reading a devotional right now that is focused on getting all that we can out of the life that we have to live. It is timely for where I am right now in life. I have these moments when I feel so dissatisfied, that even my own skin feels itchy and uncomfortable. In the back of my mind I have been wrestling with this whole idea of “what am I believing God for”, and “what am I willing to do to receive the more that I feel is out there?”

Enter this devotional with a question this morning that really hit me in my heart. The essential question is simply this.

“What Do You Want?”

It talks about the story of the two blind men on the side of the road who refuse to have their voices drowned out by the crowd as Jesus leaves Jericho. When Jesus hears them and goes over to them, he asks them,”What do you want?”

This is a poignant moment. So many times I think I know what I want, but then when it comes down to that moment where Jesus asks me, I stumble and stutter, and come up with things that are temporary, or fruitful now, but not later. I think I know what I want, but I discover in a moment of supreme frustration that I have no idea what I want.

From the Devo:

“…..He wasn’t asking because He didn’t know what they wanted, but because HE NEEDED them to declare what they wanted God to do on their behalves.”

Jesus knows our heart, but He needs to hear our voices. Why? Because we will only speak what is in our hearts. Our voices are the ultimate barometer of what is happening in our hearts, and it is often in speaking that we reveal what is happening inside of us.

In Psalms, it tells us that if we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will grant us the desires of our hearts. The curious thing here is that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, spending meaningful time with Him, and seeking Him above everything else, the desires of our hearts are transformed into the desires of His heart. Then it becomes not what we want, but what HE wants for us.

Again from the Devo:

“If you don’t know what you want, then God trying to give you what HE wants is a wasted effort. You have to want whatGod wants in order to receive what God wants to give you. There are times in life when it is not within the scope of God’s intention for our lives to give us certain things we ask for. But wouldn’t you rather err by asking for too much rather than too little?”

Wow. So many times I don’t even ask. I just assume. I ponder. I sulk. I wonder. But I don’t use my voice because deep down I don’t feel like I deserve what I’m asking. That I haven’t earned it. It is so funny that someone who knows that Christianity is not about earning or works can be tripped up by thinking that I have to live a certain way to earn the blessings of God.

So I stay silent. My asks are general and not specific. And still, I can hear Jesus asking me, the blind man on the side of the road, “What do you want?”

Do you hear Him asking you as well?

Be blessed!

Hope

Hope

I don’t normally post the same thing on two different blogs, but I had more to say on this than I originally thought.

I know that I’m going to come back to this topic later on, but I want to spend just a few sentences this morning addressing Charlottesville. The topic that I want to focus on is hope. As in, even in the midst of this crisis of perspective, there is hope.

When I first saw the news coverage as the protesting by white “nationalists” had just begun, I didn’t pay it much attention. It disgusted me, so I didn’t want to give my energy and attention to it. As thing began to escalate however, I couldn’t resist looking to read the horrors and view the pictures. I began reading articles posted by Shaun King, an activist that I really reading. I looked at social media posts from many of my FB friends who are very active in the struggle for equality. I looked at the reprehensible pictures. All of these things informed me, but none more than what I looked around and saw with my own eyes. I saw people, white people, standing up and saying, “This isn’t who we are. This isn’t right!” I dear friend of mine who adopted a child of color made multiple posts on the responsibility of other cultures to stand up for people of color in this fight. I could hear the distaste in the mouths of people that I know, people who would fight for our family if we ever found ourselves in a situation like this.

See, I live in Missouri, the same state that the NAACP issued a travel advisory for. Missouri has it’s issues, but to be painted with such a wide brush is disheartening to me. When we first moved here, the family that introduced themselves to us were white. They made us comfortable. The first church that I visited, Destiny Church, a Hispanic pastor shook my hands and welcomed me. Multiple white people hugged me and made me feel at home. They have loved our family! They have helped us grow. We worship together and pray together. I work in a district that is predominantly white among faculty and staff. Have I ever felt singled out? Not at all. I have only felt welcomed.

So to see so much rhetoric about “white people this” and “black people this” makes me think that we are missing the point of this entire thing. God didn’t create the spectrum of colors and cultures so that one could feel superior to any other. He expressed His love and creativity through the colors on our skin, hoping that we would see beyond any of that into what binds us all together. Our humanity and His Spirit.

Racism is a spirit. It is demonic. It is afflictive. It is still very rampant. The conversations cannot stop about this. We have to speak up! It doesn’t matter what we look like…the human race is threatened so long as we continue to allow ourselves to be divided.

But there is hope. I have hope when I have a discussion with my friend about what it will be like to have a black son in this world. It frightens him as much as it sometimes frightens me. I have hope when I have students who look at me as just another person and not their “Black Teacher”. I have hope when I can laugh and joke with my best friend, who happens to be a white male. I have hope when I know the hearts of those who love our own children and know that they would give their lives for them if necessary.

See, all of this “alt-right” nonsense is designed to get our eyes off of the prize. What is that prize? It is the glorious calling of Jesus Christ! In Him, there is no black, white or Hispanic. There is no Gentile or Jew. He looks through the eyes of love at each one of us and loves us with an unfailing love. That is my hope. Some might say that I’m taking the easy way out by relying on faith. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still speaking out. I will fight as God shows me. But my hope is in none of these things.

Ultimate Hope.

I won’t take my cues from what a President says or does not say. I never have. I won’t start now. I won’t take my cues from liberals or conservatives. I won’t take my cues from Fox News or CNN.

I will take my cues from what I see around me every day, and what my Bible tells me is the truth. I won’t trust in facts because sometimes facts aren’t the truth. The world around me tells me that everything is going to hell.

But I have HOPE.

Dear Peanut

Dear Peanut

Dear Peanut,

No, this won’t be your nickname. All of your siblings were called the same thing before we knew whether they were boys or girls. Seeing as though you’re now only 14 weeks into your development, we have plenty of time to come up with a proper name and nickname for you. Then again, Peanut could stick! Be prepared either way.

Today was an interesting day. I spent over 7 hours in an Emergency Room in Mercy Hospital, where you will eventually be born. The first trip was with your oldest brother, Caleb. I had to take him at 1:00 a.m. because he is having stomach issues. We finally got home at around 4 this morning, and I was fortunate to sleep until 10. However, and thus the focus of this letter to you, I returned with your mother at 12:45, because you gave us a scare. And so we sat at the hospital until 5:30 this evening waiting for confirmation that you were still healthy inside of Mommy. You can’t imagine the relief that we felt. The tears that almost came to our eyes. We thought that we might lose you, so try to imagine the prayer of thanks that we sent to God.

See, I’m going to tell you the truth because my mind traveled back to the moment your Mom told me that we were having you. She was afraid that I would be angry with her. Was I happy that we were having another child? No. Out of all of the emotions that I felt, happiness was not high on the list. There was concern that we wouldn’t be able to care for you. We worried that it was already hard enough to care for your 4 siblings and ourselves. We worried that people would mock us, and have all manner of things to say about us. We worried, honestly, that maybe our only contribution to the world would be kids. Now as silly as that sounds, and as noble a calling as parenting is, we didn’t think that we could properly accomplish anything else. So we questioned God. Maybe we were just called to make babies! Deep inside we knew that was not the case, but we couldn’t really see how this fit with the plan. it didn’t fit with our plan. We despaired. We cried.

Today as we sat and waited, I reflected on those early days. They felt foreign to me now. This summer we have met so many people with 4 and 5 children. They were still working for the Kingdom of God. Their lives were hectic, but they had joy. They had peace. They were happy. All of this only served to underscore the fact that inside of our hearts, enthusiasm had been born.

And suddenly it didn’t matter what anybody else thought of our loud and craziness. Going out to eat will still be a challenge. So will movies. But anyone with a bad word to say can just kick rocks! This is our family, and God is pleased with it. So are we!

I have to be honest about another thing too, Peanut. You are coming into a very busy, uncertain season for us. I’m going back to school with the goal of becoming a Principal one day. Mommy is taking classes to get a very important certification. We are Children’s Pastors who are trying to engage children’s hearts for Christ. Caleb is playing football. Kaila and Zyla will take dance. Canaan? We haven’t figured out an activity for him as of right now. You’ll learn quickly though. Canaan is Canaan. We have also started a business. That is the biggest uncertainty, beause it is so far outside of our wheelhouse, but we are determined that it will work.

Yet even as we look out on the horizon of all of this, there is an excitement that begins with an enthusiasm and joy for your coming. And sitting inside of a hospital room, the same one that I had been in earlier with your brother…the EXACT same room, the point was driven home into our hearts that we were so stupid! Of course, we are excited! We thought that our lives were complete with four, but now faced with the uncertainty of losing you, we realized that you will complete our not-so-little family.

I realized how much I loved you already. And so I want you to know that. Today we were afraid. And then we rejoiced. You are healthy and growing inside of Mommy. Right where you should be. God has blessed us, and you are the capstone to a wonderful story of faith.

You are coming into a family of diverse personalities. Kaila, your oldest sister, will be a wonderful model for you. She has such a gentle spirit and tries her hardest to be a help. She can sometimes be bossy, but we need her to step in many times for us when we are occupied with other things. Caleb is 9. He is trying his best to mature. You will learn that is not an easy process, especially for some boys. He is a gentle soul, and we are trying to help him find his way. His athleticism is off the charts. We just want him to see that his brilliance is as well. Canaan is dynamite, but he is also quick to cuddle. He is still trying to make his place, and sometimes that leads him to lash out. He is very smart as well, and he brings so much joy to our house….and so many explosions! Zyla is just Zyla. We think that she and Canaan were going to be twins, but God had mercy on us and split them up. They are the dynamic duo. Look out! They are sure to take you under their wings and teach you a few things!

Your Mommy? She is one of the most special people that I know. Her insight and work ethic inspires me. Her love for everyone is something to behold. She doesn’t truly realize just how magical she is, but I try my best to tell her every moment that I can. You’re going to see me kissing and hugging on her. That is the example that I want you to see of love because the way you see me love your Mom is the way that I’m going to love on you as well. Totally. Completely.

And me? I’m a mess. I try and fail many times, but all that I do is so that my family can have the best. And be the best. I get frustrated with myself, and I often lack the confidence that I probably should have, but this family is always there to lift me up. That’s what we do.

That is who we are.

Peanut, we don’t have it all together. We might not have everything that we need when you come. Things might not be the way that we want them to be when you get here, but no matter the stakes and what might be lacking, you will NEVER lack love. You will have it in spades. From us and the crazy people in our circle who have been asking for you since Zyla was born.

Did I mention they were crazy?

So, I wanted to chronicle this day. When you read this one day, you will know. Above all else, whether you are a girl or boy, our love for you will be fierce, yet only a shadow of what God’s love for you will be. And there is no better way to have it.

Rest. Grow. Eat. Wiggle.

We can’t wait to meet you, but we can wait to meet you.

See you in January, Peanut! I love you so much!

Love Always and Forever,

Dad

Christian- Christ= Pharisee

Christian- Christ= Pharisee

I think this topic has been percolating inside of me for quite a while. It’s a bothersome topic, I must admit. It buzzes around inside of my head like a hungry mosquito, so I figure that I need to do what I know I need to do.

When did Christians become so Pharisee-like? It’s so sad to me to see religion on full display. So many times, we walk around bound in the chains of a legalistic view of God. We wear our “Sunday Best”, sing our hymns, and nod our heads in the “Holy” way. We regard others with only middling interest at best. We take in the world, and see Christ through eyes that are trained only on what we regard are the rules, and pathway for getting into heaven. The “reward” of heaven is our ultimate goal. This makes me think so much about the Pharisees, and it has been irking me all week. Why can’t we just get out of our own way and make Christianity the heart issue that Jesus meant for it to be?

We can’t serve God with our brains. We think too much about the wrong things. We can’t serve God with our emotions. They are all over the place, and are not to be trusted when it comes to the things of God. Our intellect? It can’t truly perceive God because our knowledge is imperfect. The only way that we can really, and I mean REALLY know God is through our hearts and minds being transformed by the knowledge of the truth. This is knowledge that supersedes everything that we think we know, and every thing that we think that we are. It is a transformation from sinful to righteous that does not make sense, that we are not worthy of, and that we do not have to understand in order to walk in it.

The Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, and those guys were pieces of work.  They were the guys who prayed out loud in the square. They were the bible thumpers. They were the soapbox preachers. They were the judges, juries, and executioners of all things “godly”. At every turn, Jesus was slapping these guys around with a truth that they could not connect with. Even Paul, in Galatians 1, said that he spent 3 years in the desert. He had been so indoctrinated with the poison of religion that God literally had to isolate him and give him one on one tutorial in Kingdom Knowledge 101, before releasing him into the ministry that had been prepared for Him via the Holy Spirit. Yet, we do the same things. We worship a formless God with tightened lips and stiff hands, not realizing that the chains around our hands ad feet are real. We think that there is safety in being bound to the rules, that knowing the 10 Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer are good signs of living a good Christian life. I would submit to you all this morning that we have it all wrong.

Most of you know this. I know that there are so many churches out there who teach that relationship outweighs religion in the eyes of God. so, most of you out there get this, but it’s the ones who have not been liberated that I worry about. Often times, it is these brothers and sisters in Christ who others see and equate Christianity with. Who wants to be a Christian after observing these ways of life? It’s our job to show them our God in all of His beauty, honor, and love. By living legalistic lives, and lives that use rules and chains to define who God is, we instead give them over to all of the reasons why we should not even try to approach God, because we are not worthy in our own right. This is wrong.

Christ came to establish a Kingdom of Love. Love is His very nature. By this Love, we are known as Christians. By this Love, we can relate to Christ. This Love pushes us to become uncomfortable around others, to welcome those who may not “have it all together”. This love arrests us and forces us to live lives of vulnerability, to take chances and risks designed to mature us, and welcome others into the fold. I am convinced that our ultimate goal as Christians is not to make it to heaven. Heaven is just the cream and cherry on top of an uber tasty sundae. Our ultimate reward is witnessing the transformation of lives who have been changed by God’s love, just as ours are.

I could get off into other tangents, but that would not be the point. We simply must remember that without Christ, our “Christianity” is merely a form of godliness without the power thereof. We are no better than the Pharisees is we refuse to live lives of love, and walk free from the chains of rules. Christ’s love calls us to a way of life that is even higher than the rules we support and believe in. His righteousness is a higher definition of living. We can’t forget Christ. We can’t forget love. We can’t become Pharisees. People don’ t need those people. People need Jesus.

until next time, be blessed.