A Floating Observation

Last week we took a three-day vacation to South Padre. We had some fun in the sun and enjoyed the chance to get away if only for a few days. As we drifted through the water park something quickly gained my attention. There were scores of people floating on tubes with their phones around their necks in water-proof cases. Many of them texting and messaging as they moved through the water. Perhaps I’m showing my age once again.
 
A lot of kids are just coming to the park to float around, have fun and talk to their friends. I get it. I’m coming for a different reason – to lay in the sun, swim in the water and NOT to talk to anyone else. But I do think it’s reflective of our increasing inability to unplug. For many, silence is anything but golden.
 
God created each of us with a need to rest. His example is shown at creation. He created the Sabbath, a word that literally means ‘rest’ and commanded His people to observe it. We need to rest physically, mentally and emotionally. And for many of us, technology has become a difficult hurdle to clear.
 
Studies indicate that children ages 8 – 18 years of age spend between 7 and 8 hours per day behind a screen of some type. Adults are no better. Too much screen time negatively affects us physically, mentally, socially, educationally and spiritually.
 
Technology is a wonderful thing when used correctly and kept in balance. I’m making use of it right now. But each of us have to find ways to allow our technology to serve us rather than control us. So what can we do?
 
This past Sunday, I offered our church some basic steps we could take, habits we could establish, to keep our lives balanced and in good health. I offer those to you today.
 
First things first. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these (other) things will be added to you. Until He is first in all things, our lives will always be imbalanced. Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:16). How much more should we?
 

Rest. Not every issue is a spiritual issue. God created you body, soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5). He created you with the need to rest. Practice daily time alone with God, weekly time off and occasional time away. Remember, if we don’t make time, our bodies will take time. We are spiritual beings in physical bodies. The two are closely tied.

         
Build healthy relationships that strengthen your faith; this includes your family, church and friends. Many children for example, feel unloved or uncared for by their parents, because their mom and dad will stop in the middle of any activity or conversation to take a random call, text or message. It speaks louder than you might think. Haven’t we all experienced this?
 
Each of these suggestions are part of your God-given design. You were created to know God and walk with Him. You were created with the need for rest. You were created to need others. Let’s do our best to live within His design. His ways are right. His will is best.
 

These habits will lead to true fun in the Son.

 



In All Your Ways

I made confession to my family this past week.
 
My paternal grandmother died in 1991. Each grandchild has at least one of her possessions by which to remember her. I asked for her cookie jar.
 
I loved that cookie jar. It’s an old ceramic bear. It’s a miracle to still be in one piece. But here is my confession that until Sunday, I had told no one.
 
It’s been missing since 2006.
 
Somewhere in the move from our former to current house, it was lost. I had wondered if it had been stolen, broken or left behind. I felt terrible but told no one.
 
A month ago I was repairing hurricane damage to our garage with a friend. We moved boxes around to make room for repairs to the back wall. I saw a small box with some obscure writing. I opened it out of curiosity and there it was – the ceramic bear. I wasn’t looking for it. In fact, I had forgotten about it, having assumed it was lost.
 
And there was much rejoicing.

 

I was surprised at how happy I was to have discovered what I thought was lost forever. I know it’s just a ceramic bear, but it meant a lot to me. I realize it’s just stuff, but it’s stuff with great memories. I also know that like all stuff, it could be stolen or broken (oh, please no).
 
Jesus talked about these very things – a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son (Luke 15). In each parable, something was lost, something was found and there was much rejoicing.
 
That’s why Jesus came. He came to seek and save those who are lost. He left the perfection of heaven to endure the worst man could offer. He left the 99 in search of one lost sheep. He risked His life so you might be saved. “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent (Luke 15:7).”
 
We all know wandering sheep, separated from the flock. They may even live in your home or have lived in your home in years past. If so, I’d consider it a privilege to pray for them. For those receiving this by email, send back a note with the name of your lost sheep. If you’re reading this through social media, private message me.
 
In no way do I want to embarrass anyone. I simply want to “come boldly to the throne of grace for mercy and grace to help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
 
I pray there will be much rejoicing for not simply a ceramic bear, but for an eternal being. Who will you pray for today?
 
          “O the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.
 
          O it chases me down, fights ‘til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine.”
 

          – Corey Asbury, Christian artist



Real Ministry Can Be Real Messy

Years ago I remember a young family in our church. They had two boys. Across the street was a family with several other boys, whose house was literally in shambles and their home life wasn’t good.
 
They reached out to the family and brought the boys to church, where they were taught the Bible. Their kids played together and you could see them making a real effort to reach these boys for Jesus.
 
The next Sunday all the boys came to church with burr hair cuts. While they were sharing the Gospel, the boys unknowingly were sharing lice.
 
Ministry can be messy.
 

That’s not what we always want to hear, but I promise you, it’s true. Ministry is messy because our world is messy and appears to be growing increasingly messier by the day. It’s making lice look like a walk in the park.

 

So how should you respond?
 
First, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you’re called to ministry. Every member is a minister. You may never be more like Jesus than when you’re serving others. I am so grateful for personal friends of mine, people just like you, who each week speak in the jail, visit nursing homes, build wheel chair ramps, help the displaced find housing, listen to the those who are hurting and more. Understand that ministry is not something we pay others to do, but it’s a life-long calling for every believer. And yes, sometimes it’s messy.
 
Second, there is nothing too difficult for the Lord. Jesus said, “With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).” Don’t be overwhelmed by what appear to be monumental tasks. What we see as mountains are only molehills to God. “Our God weighs the islands as though they were fine dust (Isaiah 40:15).”
 
Third, do not underestimate the power of prayer. You were not called to shoulder heavy burdens. You were called to “come boldly to the throne of grace so you might find mercy and grace to help in your time of need (Hebrews 4:16).” Jesus said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer” and that “we ought always pray and never give up.” There is great power in prayer because there is great power in God. Something very unique can occur when people gather to call upon the name of the Lord.

 

The family never gave up on the boys. I would see them regularly at church as they continued to give them rides. I lost touch with the family after we moved away but I sometimes look back, laugh and wonder how their lives were now different because of someone’s love and perseverance. There are some things we may never know this side of heaven.
 

Are you ready to get messy?

 



Who Is First?

In baseball, it’s your line-up.
 
Hospitals call it triage.
 
Financially speaking, your budget.
 
It’s all about priorities. Who or what will be first?
 
There are priorities for the follower of Christ as well. Jesus summed it up this way: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”
 

“These things” are all those things that compete for our attention, our allegiance.

“These things” are not necessarily bad things, but become wrong things when we allow them to leapfrog in priority. We begin to seek them first rather than God. And when we place them before God they become our American idol.
 
But Jesus gave us the antidote to all of our idol-making tendencies, whether carved from stone or produced in factories. Seek first. Seek first His Kingdom. Seek first His righteousness. Give Him priority and all these other things will be given to you as well.
 
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? If you will seek the Lord first, trusting Him to provide your needs, you will worry less and worship more.
 
Over the years, I have found I can gauge my walk with the Lord by answering two or three basic questions. It’s not an official test, but it has certainly proven true for me personally.
 
(1) Am I reading God’s Word consistently?
(2) Am I spending quality time in prayer?

(3) Am I sharing my faith in Christ with others?

 

If these are my habits, I’m seeking first His Kingdom.
 
A kingdom is where someone rules. A kingdom is a defined area under the leadership of a ruler or ruling body. And Jesus wants to rule on the throne of your heart.
 
Most of us have this nasty tendency to want to be in charge. We are control freaks. Our kingdom come. Our will be done. And it can happen quickly when we’re not first seeking His kingdom and His righteousness. It takes only a moment to harden your heart to God.
 

Read the Scripture. Let the Word of God dwell richly in your heart.

Pray. Call on the name of the Lord.
 
Share your faith. Be part of God’s kingdom expansion.
 
And if it has been some time since you have done so, start right now. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. All the other things will be added to you as well.
 


What’s that Smell?

We do a lot of laundry at our house.
 
We have a sorting system in place and occasionally we follow it. On top of this, as the kids grow older it’s not easy for me to tell which clothes belong to which kid or even which pile is clean.
 
There’s nothing like smelling clothes you think are clean only to learn they are dirty. Surely that’s a middle eastern proverb or something. Someone should write that on a t-shirt.
 
How many times did you think you were getting one thing only to learn it was another? Have you ever bought a lemon? Ever gone to someone’s house for dinner when they unexpectedly began telling you and others you didn’t know were coming about a new investment opportunity?
 
Sometimes it is even more personal. A co-worker, neighbor, minister or confidant, turns out to be someone you never imagined they could be. “You’re not Santa. You smell like beef and cheese!”
 
Some of you need to reel yourself back in about now. You have mentally left this writing and are thinking about the hurt you felt when betrayed by another. Most of us have been there at one time, though some of you at much deeper levels than me.
 
But here is what I want you to think about today.
 
The Bible says we are “to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is our spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1).” Your life is to be offered daily unto Lord. Like a burning sacrifice, its aroma is rising to the very throne room of God.
 
And God has a pretty good sense of smell.
 
He smelled the pleasing aroma of Noah’s sacrifice (Genesis 8) and “the soothing aroma” from the Israel’s tabernacle. None surpassed that of Jesus who “loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to the God (Ephesians 5:2).
 
He refused the aroma of others (Leviticus 26) and through the prophet Amos declared He “could not stand the stench of their assemblies.” They were going through the motions with hearts far from Him. It was like smelling clothes they thought were clean only to learn they were dirty.
 
If your heart is dirty, come clean. If you’re heart is clean, rejoice.
 
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place (2 Corinthians 2:14).”
 

What’s that I’m smelling?



One Thing You Know

“Whether (Jesus) is a sinner or not, I don’t know.
One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” – John 9:25
 
He was blind from birth, having never seen things most take for granted – blue skies, red birds, sad faces. But after a brief encounter with Jesus and a dip in the Pool of Siloam, everything changed.
 
He didn’t yet know much about Jesus, but he was willing to do what Jesus told him to do. He washed the mud from his eyes and suddenly, for the first time in his life, he could see. His life was forever changed by Jesus.
 
As believers in Christ, a common fear we have is that someone will ask a question about our faith we don’t know how to answer. Why do people suffer? What about those who have never heard of Jesus? We’re unsure how to respond to the person who says “the Bible is full of mistakes.” (By the way, which mistakes in the Bible are bothering you most?)
 
Sometimes we think of verses to share but forget where it is found. Or we know some of the verse but not all of the verse.
 
We should spend time with the Scriptures and learn the Scriptures. We should hone our skills in speaking to others of salvation. And like most things, the more you do so, the more proficient and confident you become.
 
But for those of us not there yet, don’t stay silent. You don’t need all the answers. None of my children came with instruction manuals but by the grace of God and continued effort, we’re doing a pretty good job I think.
 
Still there is one thing you should know. You once were blind, but now you see. There has been a change. When you surrendered your life to Jesus as Savior, He forever changed your life. He’s forever changing your life. The story of a changed life is a powerful thing.
 
One might disagree with your theology. Others may even think Jesus is a hoax and a religious crutch for the weak-minded. But when the evidence of change is staring you in the face, it’s a difficult thing to deny. When you see a blind man now pointing to objects in the distance, what can you say?
 
You can say whatever you want actually. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day didn’t know what to say to the blind man, so they resorted to calling him names and tossing him out (a common tactic for those without answers). As we like to say, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Or was he? Forever etched in their minds was a man once blind who now could see.
 
What I’m saying is this: Your story is enough. You may not have been born blind. You may never have been in prison or hooked on drugs. You may have been raised in the best of homes with the best of families. But somewhere along the way, by faith, you trusted Jesus. He changed who you are and that has changed what you do.
 
Who will share your story with today?


Play the Hand

“A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.”
 
 

What do you make of that statement? It’s sort of like we say in Texas, “Play the hand you’re dealt.”

Those are actually the words of John the Baptist in response to some of his worried disciples. It seems Jesus and His disciples were also baptizing on the other side of the Jordan River “and everyone was going over to him (John 1:26).” Jesus’ group was growing and John’s was shrinking. And all this didn’t settle too well with them.
 
John’s reply was to the point: A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. He knew his role and was content within his role. His job was to point others to Jesus as Messiah and then get out of the way. Or as John would say a few verses later: “He must become greater; I must become less (v.30).”
 
John’s role was specific. John’s role was important. In many ways, John’s role was difficult. But John’s role was one he received from heaven.
 
Some hands are hard to play. I’ve watched some of you walk through dark times, accept difficult challenges. Others are there now and none of us have any idea.
 
Other hands are still to be dealt. God alone knows the future. We live on this timeline of earth while God is above the line. He’s the paper on which the line is drawn.
 
But John said something else about his role. He said it was joyful. “That joy is mine and it is now complete (v. 29). John found joy in the journey. And so can you.
 
Trust the Lord. The problem for the follower of Christ is NOT that you can only receive what’s given you from heaven. Your problem (assuming there may be one) is more likely you’re receiving only a portion of what God has to offer you from heaven. You must position yourself to receive what is to be given you from heaven. I believe God has more in store for you than you realize.
 
But as we position ourselves before God through prayer, through time alone with Him, through the daily emptying of ourselves, we position ourselves to receive what the Lord has in store. Until then, it may remain in storage.
 
“For God gives the Spirit without limit (v. 34).” He isn’t slack in His giving. He is generous to the surrendered, to those who trust Him and walk with Him.
 
Will you trust Him today? Will you position yourself to receive whatever He may have for you? Will you walk with Him and play the hand He deals? If you do you will find joy. That joy will be yours and your joy will be complete.
 


Christmas Isn’t All Good News

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Each year our church has a special Greening Service where together we decorate the sanctuary, sing Christmas carols and read from Scripture of the birth of Jesus. It’s celebrative, somewhat loud and always memorable.
 
With kids encircled about her on the floor, a woman began reading the events surrounding Jesus’ birth – all of them. She read about Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, and the birth in a stable. She read about the shepherds and even the Wise Men with their beautiful gifts for the King.

All the kids were smiling, listening to the familiar story of Jesus. But she didn’t stop there. And I knew what was coming.
 
She read about Herod’s anger as the Magi outwitted him, returning to their country by another route. And how in anger, he ordered all boys two years of age and younger to be killed. From the front row, I saw firsthand the expression on children’s faces, some who looked sad and surprised by this ugly, prophetic event.

Had they not heard that part of the story before? Had we been avoiding the harsh reality in favor of the silent night so not to ruin our Christmas celebration? I personally don’t recall ever reading that portion of Scripture at Christmas.
 
Truth is, the Christmas story isn’t all good news. And I’m quite certain we cannot fully grasp the good news of Christmas without a complete acceptance of the bad.

As the angel told Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will rescue his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).”  The good news we have our Rescuer. The bad news is that we all need rescuing, a fact you must come to believe. It’s impossible to receive Jesus as Rescuer without admitting your need to be rescued.
 
Oswald Chambers: “The greatest blessing spiritually is the knowledge that we are destitute; until we get there Our Lord is powerless…We have to enter into His Kingdom through the door of destitution.”

So come all you faithful, joyful and triumphant. Confess your sin and welcome the Savior. Surrender your all to the Rescuer, the Lord Jesus Christ, for He will save His people from their sins.


Your Most Precious Commodity

YOUR MOST PRECIOUS COMMODITY

In the 2015 movie “Concussion” highlighting the effects of football-related brain trauma, actor Albert Brooks is speaking to neuropathologist Bennet Omalu (played by Wil Smith) about the impact of his study on professional football:  “The NFL owns a day of the week.  The same day the church used to own.  Now it’s theirs.”

When multiple athletes began kneeling during the National Anthem in an act of protest and as a call for social justice, I decided for me, that was enough.  I believe there is social injustice of many types in our nation and they need to be addressed.  But my simple response to this type of protest has been simply to turn it off (#TurnItOff).  I enjoy football, but not to this extent.

But here is what I’d like you to understand.  I’m not writing this morning so you can renew your anger at those kneeling during the National Anthem or rise in agreement with their social protest.  Really I am not.  I am writing so you will consider the value of your most precious commodity given you by God – your time.  That is what I find myself doing.

It was strange turning off the NFL, but less painful than expected.  In fact, I am pretty sure I haven’t lost anything and in return have gained much.  And time is at the top of that list.

There always exists (at least in theory) the opportunity to make more money, but not more time.  Each day consists of 24 hours; no more, no less.  The only question is, “How I will use the time I’ve been given?”  As the psalmist wrote, “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom (Psalm 90:12).”  And this applies to numerous areas, not simply professional football.

I still enjoy watching sports whether it’s my daughter’s soccer game or tennis match, the World Series or college football.  And I confess I’m not sure I have yet to strike the correct balance.  I think people who accomplish the most in this life are unfamiliar with the finalists of The Voice or who is winning a fantasy football league.  They have devoted their time to other people or stronger causes.  And I am challenging others, including myself, to do the same.

I want to be a good manager of everything God has placed in my care including my family, my resources and yes my time.  I want to apply my heart more wisely.  I want to be a “good and faithful servant and share in my Master’s happiness.”  I want to please Him with the use of time.
You can’t stop time.  You can’t save time.  You can only use time.  Harry Ironside wrote, “Time is given us to use in view of eternity”
The NFL may indeed own a day of the week.  But today is the day the Lord has made.  It’s His without question.  If there are other owners, it is most likely you have given it to them by choice.


Start Now

Start Now

There is an old saying, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The second best time is now.”
 
The recent destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey reminds us of the unexpected.  It’s not a matter of IF a storm will occur, but WHEN a storm will occur.  No one really knows the timing of when.  The best thing we can do is to prepare NOW.

Psalm 118:24 declares, “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

We can’t go back twenty years.  We can’t go back twenty days.  We are not even promised the future here on earth.  What we have is today.  This is the day the Lord has made.
 
Life is filled with the unexpected, because as mere humans, we have no idea what tomorrow might bring.  The greatest thing you can do to navigate through the unexpected, is to walk with God today.

Athletic teams know their performance in season is a direct result of their work in the off-season.

The military knows the more you sweat in times of peace the less you bleed in times of war.

The follower of Christ who lives out his faith in public has been praying and seeking God in private.  He is walking with God in the present, enabling him to navigate the future.

If you are reading this today, having never trusted Jesus as Savior, surrender your life to Him today.  Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be rescued.  If you’re a born-again follower of Jesus, keep following Jesus – to this you were called.
         
“For he shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water which bring forth fruit in its season (Psalm 1:3).”
 
Put down your roots in Christ today.