Saturday, December 31, 2011

Last Day

It's the last day of 2011 and in a somewhat cliche & typical manner I find myself looking back over the past 365 days (I actually have been for most of the month of December.) I don't believe that I could accurately reflect on all that this year delivered (and in some instances didn't deliver) in one blog. I will admit that it has been a tough and challenging year both spiritually and professionally. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it still has me sorting out the lessons that need to be carried over and implemented, and which ones can be set aside. There have been tremendous blessings for my family and God has certainly shown us favor and love in multiple ways. Our family has grown closer together this year and we have seen God's answer to prayers for our children and continue to seek Him for more. God is working in and through us to see His will made complete and even if I don't understand everything as it occurs I know that His plan will prevail.

I'm not finished ruminating on all that 2011 offered, but I also don't want to get trapped looking at the past when there are opportunities for growth in front of me that need to be grabbed onto. I look forward to seeing goals accomplished personally and professionally and know that success will be a blend of God's blessing & guidance and my faithful obedience and perseverance.

To paraphrase a popular sports writer: and this year will be better than the last.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Not Yet

I seem to have fallen off of the blogging wagon these last few days of 2011. I have had many thoughts of blogs to write, but have lacked the time and zeal to sit and write them out. In fact, I would even argue that I have fallen victim to dwelling in these thoughts a little too much in the busyness of the Christmas schedule.

The thought that I have been mulling over more than any other is a question that I read in a leadership blog last week: Will you be where you want to be in five years by doing what you are doing today? That requires forethought and an understanding of the choices that you make today building towards a future. It means having a vision of where you want to be and what kind of person you want to develop into. Achieving that vision requires discipline to stay committed to the plan that God has revealed to you even when the journey seems difficult.

My immediate answer when I first read that question was a resounding "No." But while I am not entirely satisfied with my progress in this journey, the meditation on the future has caused me to carefully examine all facets of my current life & what I believe to be God's vision for the future.

I posit that there is a greater follower of Christ, husband, father, and pastor in my future. The faithful and obedient work that lies in front of me can be daunting, but I have full confidence in God's refining process. I pray for the focused discipline to continually work towards that future and eagerly look forward to the progress along the journey.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Better Half

I could blog today about all the details of life with my incredible wife. I could write of how we can finish each other's sentences, how her hand fits so perfectly in mine, and how she understands me like no one else does. I could write about the joy I find in making her happy, how I love to watch her walk into and out of a room, or her passion for God, our children and me. I could blog about how she has seen me at my best and my worst and loves me anyway. Details could pour forth on the journey of our marriage and how God has certainly been at work through it all-in the rock bottom times and the highest joys. I could regale you with stories of her character and her passionate desire for what is right even when it is difficult. My blog about her compassion for hurting people, both near & far, would speak to the depth of her heart.

Instead I will simply say that today we celebrate 17 years of marriage and I recognize that I am blessed far beyond what I deserve. When God has gifted you with a companion for life there is nothing sweeter than growing old together through that journey. Wherever life may lead us, I take confidence in knowing that my bride goes with me.

You have my heart and my love as long as I have breath to give it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Get In the Ring

The body will naturally do one of two things when confronted with stress: fight or flight. There are no other options. When confronted with a situation that causes anxiety we either use the natural rush of adrenaline to stand firm or to find a reason to quickly escape. I saw it in athletes for many years and it resulted in championships for those that refused to run and disappointment for those that didn't recognize that their bodies & emotions had betrayed them. I saw it happen many times in youth ministry as God's truth become evident to young people who either fought the good fight of faith or simply disappeared to never return.

I am pondering this natural, God-created response as I think about the people that I know need to make a decision to follow Christ. There are so many that are sitting in church (not just Northridge either) and are being exposed to the beauty of choosing God's way and yet they don't choose to follow. I sense the Holy Spirit bringing people right to the edge of radical change and then see them run. Fighting isn't easy (it's not called the "nap or flight" reaction) but it reveals our confidence in God's power over our circumstances. It's a trade-off that we are not always consciously making. Do we run from the challenge of life change or stand firm on the promises of God to give us a life that is abundantly full? It's a decision that we must continue to make daily if we want to stay on the narrow path that leads to salvation.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Still Good

It has been a full week. That sentence alone carries more weight than six words should.

I sit here at the end of it and have a hard time fathoming all that has been packed into seven days. I have experienced the joy of seeing others blessed through Christmas gifts and Christmas dinner. I have witnessed warmth as senior citizens came together for a celebration of Christmas through songs and a meal. I have laughed and cried with staff members as we tirelessly work to fulfill God's calling on us and struggle to deal with the trials of our personal lives. I have been overwhelmed by the beauty of the birth of Christ through our Live Nativity and touched by the tears of a father who stopped to thank me for giving his family an opportunity to witness it. I have officiated a wedding, calmed nerves, and asked for God's blessing over a young couple just starting their life together. My heart has been heavy with sorrow over the death of a young man that left us far too early and my tears flowed as I missed grieving with friends. I have prayed and meditated over sharing a message from God to our church and been blessed as God allowed me to preach it.

I am overwhelmed with so many emotions as I look back on this week and I do not know what the week ahead holds for me. I do know that God is still King and that He is still good. No matter what lies ahead those facts will not change. There is great comfort and encouragement in knowing that I worship a God who does not change based on my circumstances.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Too Soon

I experienced one of the coolest athletic feats at a CIY Move conference several years ago. We had a team in the annual dodgeball tournament and were actually playing pretty well. We had moved through the first few rounds and were playing against the worship band. Five of the six members of our team got knocked out very quickly and it looked like our run was over. What happened next was incredible to watch and is a story that I have shared with many people since.

Our one remaining team member was a young man named Trent Turner. Trent was a natural athlete with an incredible arm. He realized how the odds were stacked against him and seemed to take his intensity up a notch (as if it could be any higher for him.) He started methodically mowing down the opposite team by catching everything they threw at him and then knocking them off one at a time. He was throwing so hard that the ball bounced off of their chests as they tried to catch it. When he knocked out a few of them and we realized that he had a shot at pulling this off our cheers grew louder. The crowd surrounding the court started to grow as people came running over to witness this great comeback. When Trent knocked out the last opposing team member we rushed the court with shouts of victory and picked him up to carry him around. It was like we had won the World Series or the Super Bowl.

Trent passed away this week in a car accident-another life taken from us far too soon and my heart is heavy for my own grief and for that of his family & friends. I think back to that day of dodgeball and see how it encapsulates my thoughts of Trent. He lived life with passion and intensity. He drew people to him-we all loved him and his infectious personality and laughter. He would fight for those he loved and for those who couldn't fight for themselves. When he was fired up about a project or goal there was no stopping him from getting it done. All of us wanted to see him succeed and to cheer him on when he did. He lived life at full throttle and I treasure the times of laughter, tears, sweat, worship, and service that we shared together.

You will be missed my friend. I am grateful for the gift that you were to the lives around you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Comparison Shopping

When we make an inexpensive, impulse buy at a store we make a quick judgment in our mind that it isn't a big deal because the item was cheap and easy to purchase. If we were going to buy a flat screen TV however, we would probably search for the best possible deal, make sure that it had all of the features that we need, and even then may choose not to purchase it. We are putting into practice the principle of assigning value.

At some point in our lives we put a value on spiritual things. We will have to determine whether we want to stay in a small comfort zone or step into the wild journey of following Christ. A decision will have to made about our lifestyle and maintaining it as it is, or whether we will exchange it for God's way of life. We will have to choose either the pleasures of God's Kingdom or the pleasures of sin.

We make these decisions as we determine the cost of declaring allegiance to the King. It is a continual, daily process of assigning value that requires us to actively choose who we will follow.

Monday, December 12, 2011

It Doesn't Matter

Alice "I was just wondering if you could help me find my way."
Cheshire Cat "Well that depends on where you want to go."
Alice "Oh, it really doesn't matter, as long as..."
Cheshire Cat "Then it really doesn't matter which way you go."

I want to be a better husband, father, pastor, and follower of Christ. I'm not satisfied with my current standing in any of those areas and I know that God has greater plans for me than what I am currently experiencing. I have full confidence in God's ability to work in and through me. I strongly believe in the fulfillment of His will and that His plan will prevail.

I also recognize that I can't passively sit back and hope that my future is revealed and fulfilled. He desires for me to take an active role in increasing my faith and growing as a godly man. That requires intentional daily effort and constant seeking of direction and vision from God. I have to be willing to fervently ask God for a vision of the future, have the faith to believe that He will reveal it, and then faithfully pray and work to see it come to fruition through the power of His Holy Spirit. 

If we aren't willing to seek that specific vision and passionately work towards it we have neglected true revelation from God. Then our prayers and intentions are merely pleasant platitudes that make us feel good about becoming better people without actually living out a Holy Spirit filled existence.

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Lindsay Bug

Today my oldest daughter turns 14 and I have a difficult time reconciling how quickly it seems that she has reached this point. We had our traditional daddy-daughter breakfast this morning and enjoyed the simple time together. Her birthday present was an iPod touch which she saved for the last year to pay 1/2 of the cost. When we got home after breakfast and gave it to her she chose to wait to set it up so she could go and buy Christmas presents for a child we are sponsoring this year. I couldn't be any prouder of the young lady that she has become.

She is confident in who she is and is able to talk with adults as well as connect with children much younger than her. She is always wanting to help-whether it is bringing in groceries from the car or getting up early on a Saturday to hand out food to those in need. She is beautiful inside and out and I am already prepared to beat the brakes off any young man that approaches her inappropriately. I love her sense of humor, her passion for God, and her little idiosyncrasies that make her uniquely Lindsay. I still love the fact that she will wander in a room and want me to hug her for ten minutes while I stand talking to her mother. I have a hard time believing that I have anything to do with how incredibly awesome she is (her mother deserves most of that credit!) I love her and her sisters more than it should be possible to love other people.

Happy birthday my Lou-bug. I am grateful for you and the privilege of being your father.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

You've Got to Pray

I was blessed to spend time in prayer tonight with our elders and couple of our staff members. We cried out to God on behalf of spiritually wounded people, for friends who had just lost loved ones, for physical healing in far too many cases, and for satan's strongholds to be shattered in our community. It was an intense time and yet powerfully refreshing and encouraging to battle for people together. I am honored to have the opportunity to pray for others and even more so to petition God with good friends and brothers. It is in these times of intense spiritual warfare that our community with each other is developed. More importantly, it is through this that our confidence in God's ability to redeem and restore His people is strengthened. No wonder satan does everything in his limited power to distract us from prayer.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Under Arrest

I find it slightly ironic that this blog title comes on a day that I attended the ribbon cutting for the new prison here in town, but it actually doesn't have anything to do with incarceration. I'm also grateful that I was allowed to leave of my own volition-not that I was overly concerned, but you still never know what might happen when touring with Mike Waers.

I was reading this morning in a book by A.W. Tozer (one of my favorite authors and pastors) and he used the phrase "arrested development" to describe the faith of people within the church. His premise for this statement was that people tend to progress to a certain point and then just stop growing. They cease to develop and become stuck without moving any further.

I think that this unfortunately describes far too many Christians. There may have been some excitement about our faith in the beginning, but now it has become just simply part of who we are and what we do. There is a stagnation in how we worship God that reflects the lack of new frontiers and a hesitance to stretch ourselves into new territories. If we aren't willing to aggressively address this lack of forward growth we will cease to be effective in leading our families and reaching our community.

God is able to do more than we could possibly think or imagine and there are things that He hasn't begun to reveal to us yet. If we suffer from arrested development of our faith the fault doesn't lie with Him. It will require an intentional act on our part to grow beyond where we are now by working to shake up our patterns of spiritual discipline and taking bold (and sometimes risky) steps of trust in God's ability to draw us closer to Him.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Relentless Grace

I just finished reading the book Relentless by John Bevere and came away with an enlarged perspective of God's grace for us. I have always attributed most of the power of grace to the forgiveness of sin in my life, but Bevere brings new understanding through the power of Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit. He makes bold statements about the work of grace in our lives, but always provides Biblical texts to add authority.

The powerful charge (as given by grace) is that we are to rule in life through Christ. The grace that God gives to those that choose to follow Him daily is the force that enables us to overcome opposition to life and godliness. Bevere states that it is the evidence of that grace in our lives that truly identifies a follower of Christ and not just a one-time public proclamation of faith or regular attendance at church. It is a continual process of grace refining our lives and not a one-time experience. He writes, "Grace is not merely a God-given cover-up of our sin. It empowers us to live like Jesus, to rule in this life by manifesting heaven's authority and power to change our world of influence."

Bevere does an excellent job of expressing the meaning of grace as shown through the Bible and builds a strong foundation of understanding and faith. He is able to expand upon that base of grace and communicate how much bigger God's vision of grace is for us than our own. The testimonies offered in the book only reinforce the truth of the power of God's grace. It is an essential element in the life of a Christ-follower that is based on all that God has to offer and our willingness to accept His gift and utilize it as fully as possible in this temporary life.

I would recommend this book for fans of John Bevere and for anyone who is looking for greater depth in their understanding of God's intentions for us in this life. It has certainly made me reevaluate my own belief in God's ability to influence my life through grace and how fervently and humbly I should be seeking more of it.

"I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review" 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Salt & Pepper

I read something tonight that only reinforced lessons that I have been learning for the past 17 years. It revolves around the analogy of salt & pepper (and I'm not talking about the increasing change in my hair color.)

A CEO was talking about the balance of leadership and power and that people tend to fall more deeply in love with the concept of power. She likened pepper to power-it is independently sharp, strong, and definitely has an impact on what it chooses to season. Salt however, is like leadership-it brings out the flavor in things, sharpens what is already there and brings enhancement. Both of them are necessary and shouldn't be separated, but pepper (in a management sense) should be used sparingly and wisely.

Power comes easily to a management role, but it is not always used well. History is littered with the remains of families, churches, corporations, and nations where power was abused. When it is combined with a legitimate concern for people and a desire to bring out the best in them, power actually doesn't have to be utilized very often. When you have a strong personality it takes more work to bring out the "salt" in who you are, but I have found (through much trial & error) that it is more rewarding for all of us if leadership is in the driver's seat.

I am still working through my own development as a leader (and will never stop until my last breath here.) I genuinely care for the people that I have had the opportunity to influence-even if my efforts didn't always reflect that. It is part of my continual life goal to be aware of the need to "season" appropriately and trust that God will work even through my mistakes.

Friday, December 2, 2011

I Have Decided

I was listening to music from my friends at Salty Church in Ormond Beach this morning and they sang the words to the old hymn, I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. The truth contained in those lyrics is timeless and brought me to contemplate what it really means to live those words out.

Following is more than saying a prayer or being baptized-it is a commitment to letting Christ lead you throughout the rest of your life. It is a journey that is started by being willing to leave everything else behind-job, social status, friends, addictions, sin, life goals, family history, selfishness and more. Choosing to follow means that you stick with it even when it's tough-when you have relationship difficulties, when your reputation is being damaged, when your emotions are telling you something that is contradictory to what God is telling you, when you are unsure of what is next and how to move on. It is a matter of trusting in the One who is leading. It is putting our confidence in His ability to take us where we need to go and having faith that His way is the best way.

When we decide to follow Jesus it is more than a statement made with our voices. It is a declaration of allegiance to the King and His guidance and plan. It must infiltrate all of our decisions, passions, attitudes and talents if it is going to be an accurate representation of our heart's intent. This level of faith isn't attained overnight, but is a journey of discovery and endurance that is traveled by keeping our eyes focused on the One who leads us.

"Christian faith is not so much what you say you believe, 
but how you behave in a consistent manner." A.W. Tozer

Thursday, December 1, 2011

My Bailey Boo

Today my middle daughter turns 13 and we have already started her day of honor with our traditional daddy-daughter breakfast. As we ate and talked with each other I could see just how much she is growing-not just physically, but maturing in her thoughts and desires. It's hard as a parent to reconcile the image of that tiny baby with big blue eyes that would stare up at me with the young lady that was sitting and drinking her coffee. So much of her is changing and yet she still possesses the innocence of heart that I pray will always be part of who she is. I hope that she will always exclaim loudly and gleefully at surprises. I treasure her excitement at seeing me come home as she runs to my car with her sisters to get hugs & kisses and dread the day it ceases to happen. She will always be my deep-thinker and dreamer-just as content to sit alone and stare at the water as she is with other people. She is uniquely and wonderfully Bailey and it warms my heart to see her love for others and her excitement for life.

I'm proud of you my girl. God is doing incredible things in and through you and He's not done yet. I'm more grateful than you could ever know for the gift that you are to us.