Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Solitude and silence

So glad to be back home in Texas. Thanks for your prayers. Susan and I are so thankful to be reunited.

On the plane rides home, I read more of Ruth Barton's excellent book, Sacred Rhythms. She was the main speaker at the retreat. I heard her also in a class at the conference, where she talked about teams of spiritual leaders becoming communities. Very good.

The chapter in this book that I read and pondered yesterday was on solitude -- which I had a lot of these past eight days. Here's an excerpt:

"I am aware of longings that run much deeper than what technology can address...I long to be one who waits and listens deeply for the still, small voice of God, even if it means I must unplug from technology in order to become quiet enough to hear...

One of the fundamental purpose of solitude is to give us a concrete way of entering into such stillness, so that God can come in and do what only God can do."

At the end of each chapter is a practice section, where Ruth leads the reader through an exercise in a certain discipline. As I was flying from Dallas to Abilene, I practiced this time of solitude for about 30 minutes, just being still before God. Not trying to figure out how to solve certain problems in my life or to plan out how to implement at my ministry some of the things I learned at the conference. Rather, I just rested before the Lord, giving Him all these things and asking Him to work for me. It was a time of surrender. Of letting go. Of not trying to figure everything out.

You might try this exercise this week. Find a quite place where you don't have to do anything but be still before God and letting Him hear the cries of your heart...and to listen to His heart. You might meditate on this verse, which Ruth Barton suggested: Exodus 14:13-14.

I'd love to hear from you sometime what you heard from the Lord and how He changed you during this alone time with Him....and beyond.

In His peace,


Monday, February 27, 2006

Heading Home

I'm eating breakfast with my brother and sister-in-law early Monday morning in Ventura, Calif. Preparing to drive to the LA. airport, hop on a plane and head back to Texas. What a week it's been! So much to ponder, process and pray over. Yesterday I attended a funeral with my mother and brother -- for a long-time friend of my parents. His step-children were four "kids" that I grew up with in my first neighborhood. These moments really get you to think about your life, your death, your purpose in life.

I thouht back to a journal entry I made a week ago on the first day of this trip. Here are some excerpts:

"As I was driving down the San Diego Freeway and then Highway 5, witnessing the beautfy of Irvine, San Juan Capistrano, etc, I wondered why I left all this beautfy of Southern California. As I sit here at Vista Point, looking at the Pacific Ocean and hearing the seagulls, it hit me -- 27 years ago I left Calif. and moved to Dallas. And I lived here 27 years before leaving this gorgeous state. Would I trade staying here for moving away 27 years ago? No way! I would never have met my beloved bride, Susan. Never have had Aaron and Shannon, our children. Wouldn't have had all those experiences of living in different parts of the country. There would never have been all those mission trips to Mexico and the three campaigns to Brazil. I wouldn't have been at my beloved church, Highland.

Lord, as much as I love visiting here in Southern California, I rest in and trust in Your sovereignty that You have placed me for now in Abilene, Texas. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Have you ever thought of how your life would be so different if you had never left home and tried some place new? There's a passage in Acts that says that God has appointed man to live in a certain place. I want to rest more in God's loving grace and direction. And let Him use me where He places me. To the praise of His glory.

If you read this post this morning, please pray for my safety as I fly home. Can't wait to see my precious bride tonight at the Abilene airport!

In His grip,


Friday, February 24, 2006

Reflections from San Diego

All week I've been in the San Diego area, attending a National Pastors Retreat and a National Pastors Convention. Such righ stuff! I have experienced and learned enough to blog for a week or two!

I met with about 70 church leaders Monday night at a Mission retreat center in Oceanside. Ruth Haley Barton, who wrote the book, Sacred Rhythms (which I bought). She led us into a time of reflection, prayer and seeking God is solitude. Tuesday afternoon we spent four hours on our own, listening to God and journaling. What a powerful four hours! I havent' done this in years. For the first two hours I just couldn't seem to hear anything from the Lord. But when I finally settled down, I read a section of Ruth's book where she told a story of when she was on a plane and began to bask in the goodness of God. She just thanked Him over and over.

That's when the Holy Spirit gripped me -- both in conviction of my perfection, ingratitude and complaining spirit -- and in why I should be so grateful. I wrote pages and pages of things I thanked God for. I felt humbled and overwhelmed with the goodness and love of God. I basked in His grace and mercy and love.

I hope to take out time for solitude on a regular basis. Too often I'm so busy and always asking God for more and grumbling about the few things that aren't going well in my life, and thus miss all the amazing and awesome things that Jesus is doing in my life! I want to be with Him more.

How about you? Have you slowed down lately, let go of trying to control your life, stilled yourself before the Lord and allowed Him to speak into your life? I'd love to hear what He says to you and does in you.

Your friend on the journey,


Monday, February 20, 2006

Look at those who are honest and good

Yesterday Susan and I were blessed to attend a luncheon honoring the Alumnus of the Year at Abilene Christian University. His name is Don Crisp, a Dallas businessman of tremendous integrity, wonderful family man, elder and chirman of the board at ACU for the past 14 years.

It was especially meaningful to us as he was our Bible class teacher for the singles class at the Prestoncrest Church in Dallas -- where Susan and I met. We loved him and his wife, Carol,so much. Because of his influence on us through his Christ-character and loving spirit, Susan and I asked him to perform our wedding. He agreed and performed a beautiful ceremony.

His life exemplifies what Eugene Peterson called "a long obedience in the same direction." When I read this passage in my quiet time this morning, I thought of Don's life: "Look at those who are honest and good, for a wonderful future lies before those who love peace."

Before the lunch began, I walked up to Don and said, "Don, of all the accomplishments in your life that I see, I'm most proud that you allowed the Lord continue to change you." His reply was, "He had a lot of work to do."

Who are the "long obedience" mentors in your life? Those who day by day keep following Jesus and thus do the right thing...for His glory?

I'll be gone all this week to attend the National Pastors Retreat and Conference in California. So I may not blog much until next week.

In His grip,


Friday, February 17, 2006

O, That Wonderful Cross

On the way to work I thought of that song that Michael W. Smith sings on his first "Worship" CD (by the way, "Smitty" is in an acting role in a new film coming out today called "Second Chances").

That wonderful cross. Reading Leviticus early this morning triggered a memory from a few years ago that made me think of what Jesus has done for us. Our small group was meeting one Sunday night and one of our members, Tina, said that she was in Bible Study Fellowship and had been studying all about the sacrifices in the Old Testament. Then she said something that has stuck with me for years: "Reading about all the sacrifices that the Israelites were required to offer made me think of why we need Jesus so much."

I read over and over this morning about all the blood that flowed every day at the altar of the Tabernacle, as the priests offered these animals to atone for their sins or the sins of the Israelite community . No wonder we need a Savior! We can't atone for our own sins. We need a substitute. That's what the cross is all about.

These excerpts from Romans 5, in The Message, describes this truth so beautifully:

"God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were o f no use whatever to him...

" If, when were were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we're at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life!...

"Sin didn't, and doesn't , have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it's sin versus grace, grace wins hand down.

"God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life -- a life that goes on and on and on, world without end."

May we all trust in Christ alone, glorying in nothing but the cross, and experience in the very depths of our souls this "aggressive forgiveness we call grace!"


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Pushing Through Our Fears

I read in today's sports' page that U.S. Skier Lindsey Kildow tied for eighth in yesterday's down hill final. No medals for her. However, I want to give her a gold medal for bravery.

You probably saw replays on T.V. of her infamous, spectacular and horrifying fall on a practice run earlier this week. While rushing down the hill at 50 m.p.h., Lindsey lost her balance, did an awkward leg split, flew 15 feet in the air, and then came crashing down on the hard slope. They rushed her to the hospital where they found that she had suffered a bruised thigh, and anching back and a sore pelvis.

Amazingly, Lindsey left the hospital two days later , put her skis back on and hurtled down the hill and got 8th place. Could you imagine the fear she faced as she came to the spot where she had fallen and escaped major injury. I admire her for her amazing courage.

Made me thinkof how at times we're called to push through our fears. My son had to do this a few nights ago where he was called to referee a playoff basketball game. It was held at a large college gym, a huge crowd and television cameras all around. He told me, "Dad, I could barely breathe the first half I was so nervous. But I made it through that half and then calmed down and did fine in the second half." I was so proud of him.

I just spoke to a farely large crowd this morning -- not nearly as scary as a downhill ski run. But still, like with many people, public speaking makes me nervous. Now I need to do it again in a few minutes. Feeling that God called me to do this and asking for His strength, I felt Him empower me as I pushed through that fear. And hopefully blessed the listeners...and brought glory to the Lord.

What fears have you been having to push through lately?


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Washed with Water and the Word

It takes patience to work through a reading of all the details in Exodus that describes the making of the Tabernacle. And it may seem at first quite irrelevant to the Christian. After all, when Jesus died on that cross the curtain in the temple was torn in two. Through our crucified and resurrected Savior we can now by faith enter into the presence of the holiness of God. That still blows my mind.

Yet I find the symbolism of this Tabernacle quite relevant to us as believers. This morning I found it fascinating that the LORD instructed Moses to have the people "place the basin between the Tent of Meeting and the altar and put water in it. " Then He said, "Bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and wash them with water."

The symbol of baptism came to mind as I read this passage. What a beautiful sacrament of our initiation into Christ --being cleansed by the water, which represents the cleansing we need by the blood of Christ in order to come to God.

This fellowship I've been in for 28 + years has put a great emphasis on water baptism. At times too much emphasis, I feel, in which we overlooked the power of the cross and the truth that coming to Jesus is all about His grace and mercy and love -- and that we're saved by grace through faith. People have accused us of being like the Galatians -- adding our obedience to faith. Some say we've taught baptismal regeneration(a teaching which I firmly reject). And I think these critics have made some good points. Thank the Lord, we have changed in many ways (at least in the circles I've been blessed to be a part of the past 20 years or so).

While I want to stay open to these correctives -- and emphasize salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone -- I still want to hold on to the beauty of baptism. And to encourage every person who has turned to Christ to follow their Lord in baptism -- and not put it off. The converts in the book of Acts did it right away.

I love the words of the great Baptist scholar, G.R. Beasley-Murray:

"in his (the apostle Paul's) teaching, faith in God manifested in Christ is prior to baptism, and faith receives the gift of God in baptism, and faith in God is the constitutive principle of the Christ life after baptism. ...It is desirable to avoid the term 'necessary' when considering the meaning of baptism, since the word has given rise to so much misunderstanding. ..Is it not better to recognize positively that God has graciously given us sacraments for our good and that it is our part to receive them gratefully?"

How do you strike this balance when talking to others about baptism, whether they're new believers or have not yet accepted Christ?


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Valentine for you

This morning as I was getting ready for work I hugged my precious bride of 24 plus years and told her how thankful to God I was for her. Then I thought of another Valentine -- God's love for us in Christ. I know. For the believer, this is obvious. He is our ultimate Valentine. But how often do I slow down long enough to meditate upon this extravagant love of the Father that He extends to us through His Son Jesus Christ?

Susan and I always pray out loud ewith each other every morning before I head out the door to work. Today she thanked the Lord for how His love has enriched our love so much. I was especially grateful for our relationship this morning as I recalled the news we heard recently of another couple we know whose marriage hit the rocks. Susan and I know deep in our hearts that Christ is the bond that keeps us together and fills us with a love for Him and each other that makes our marriage not only work but thrive. And so we give Him all the praise.

On the way to work I popped in the CD player one of my favorite songs of Dennis Jernigan, "When the Night is Falling." It was such a soul filling experience hearing Dennis sing "How I love you, child I love you," as he drew us into the reality of the Father singing over us. It made me think again of one of my favorite "love of God" Scriptures:

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." – Zeph 3:17

It's funny how that song started to replay as I arrived at work. I hadn't hit the "Repeat" button. Maybe God did -- He wanted me to hear this message again, perhaps.

At our devotional this morning, I asked the volunteers to share their favorite verses about the love of God. Edith, an elderly woman who glows with the love of Christ and serves our neighbors through the food pantry ministry, quoted John 3:16:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

We can't hear that promise too often, can we. After our prayer, I told the group that I wanted them to hear the Dennis Jernigan song, telling them that while the song played they could get up and go to work if they wanted to. Yet they all stayed, captured by this beautiful love song. I felt the urge to leave but decided to stay with the group and just receive this love from the Father.

Jernigan sang over and over the words, "How I love you, child, I love you. How I love you, child , I love you. "

As I look back on my years as a Christ-follower, I realize that for so long I worked hard for God but didn't really grasp the depths of His love and bathe in that love. How could I have missed such promises from God's word, such as "God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." (Rom. 5:5a)?

There was no particular defining moment that God used to begin capturing me with His love. He used several moments, actually -- words and songs of others, the love of other believers, signifcant experiences, such as:

* The books of Max Lucado, Brennan Manning and John Eldredge

* Going on a Walk to Emmaus and then working them as a team member (This song by Jernigan reminds me of worship times at these Walks, where the Spirit of the living God plunged us into an experience of His love)

* Being loved, accepted and forgiven over and over by my wife and kids for the times when I didn't act very Jesus-like, especially in those times when I spoke harshly to them

* Being gripped by the power of the gospel, recognizing that I am a sinner in desperate need of the grace of God. The "music of the gospel" broke through as the Lord helped me see the depths of my sin, the power of the cross, and the beauty of God's saving faith in Jesus Christ."

* Men God put in my life to whom I could confess my sins and some of my deepest struggles...and then be received, guided with spiritual counsel and loved.

How did our Lord open your eyes to see how much He loves you and that you are His beloved child by grace through faith in the work of the cross?
Happy Valentines Day -- in Jesus!

In the grip of His love,


Monday, February 13, 2006

Movie Reviews

One of my favorite times of the week are late Friday afternoons when Susan and I rush off to the Century theater and pay the "cheap price" for tickets to a film. The last two movies we saw there were definite winners.

First, "The End of the Spear." Beautifully photographed. Tremendously moving and inspiring story of the five men who took their families to Quito, Ecuador in the 1950's. Their goal was to reach the Auca Indians who were so bent on killing each other that their existence was close to extinction. As I watched the early scenes of the Aucas spearing each other, exacting revenge back and forth, I thought, "Mankind is bent towards evil. Our fallen nature is so deep. No wonder we all so desperately need Jesus!" And Jesus was the message these men and their families brought to these tribes -- at a tremendous cost.

I read this story years ago when I was in graduate school. A stirring book called Through Gates of Splendor, written by Elizabeth Elliott, the wife of Jim Elliott who was one of the men who died while sharing Christ with these people. If you haven't already, I highly recommend that you see this film -- and then read Elliott's book. Another suggestion -- read Shadow of the Almighty, also by Elliott. It is a compilation of Jim's journals. This man was deeply consecrated to Christ, and penned the famous words: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep...to gain what he cannot lose."

Film # 2 -- "Glory Road."

I was a bit hesitant to go see this one, but Susan insisted. I thought it might be a somewhat corny story about underdogs fighting back. But how wrong I was! Set in the early and mid-60's, it is a very well written and nicely acted film that tells the painful story of racism in our country. And how one courageous coach resisted this trend and recruited several African-American players to play for an obscure school in El Paso. Josh Lucas, who plays the coach, is excellent.

And be sure to sit through the credits of both these films -- you'll see and hear some wonderful interviews of those on whom these movies were based on.

Related to the theme of the film, Glory Road, I recommend that you read Mike Cope's blog today (mikecope.blogspot.com). Great interview with Dr. Jerry Taylor, an African-American brother in Christ who is the associate preaching minister at our church. Jerry is an outstanding preacher, is humble of heart and truly loves the Lord.


Friday, February 10, 2006

Eternity minded

Woke up at 4 A.M. this morning and couldn't sleep. I was wrestling with how we can reach those precious neighbors that come to our Wednesday night Oasis meals. The Lord gave me an opportunity to speak to them about the gospel. But my message was too short, I felt. Some of them kept talking and eating, probably not paying attention. It bothered me that we're not making that more of an evangelistic event. And I know that others who have been hosting that meal are struggling with how to reach these people. I told the elders one night that I feel strongly that we need to do some proclamation of the gospel during or after that meal. Please join me in asking the Lord how we can more boldly and creatively share the message of Jesus Christ with these guests that come for the meal each Wednesday night.

What got me to thinking of this, and maybe why I woke up, was two brief messages I heard early last night. One was a CD that I ordered called "The Life God Blesses" by Bruce Wilkinson (of The Prayer of Jabez fame). He has done extensive research on what Jesus says about His promises to His followers. Wilkinson said that our destination for eternity depends on what we believe. And yet our experience of heaven and how much we'll be rewarded will depend on how we behave. Though we're saved by grace, not by our works, the way we respond to God's grace through our obedience has a profound impact on our eternal rewards. I'll tell you more about what Wilkinson says as I keep hearing the CD. He got me to thinking about what really matters, and to seek not comfort in this world but rather ways to honor Jesus in how we treat others.

The second message I heard was an interview on Dobson of Chuck Colson (one of my heroes) who recently wrote a book entitled The Good Life. Chuck recounted how in the early 1970's he was in such an influential and prestigious position as an assistant to the president. It didn't give him true meaning and fulfillment, however. When he ended up going to prison because of his involvement in Watergate, that's when Colson realized his sinfulness and great need for a Savior. After his conversion, Colson went on to be one of the most influential Christian writers, speakers and change agent for prisoners. Looking back on his 30 years of knowing and living for Christ, Colson told his good friend Dobson that he truly has been living "the good life." It's a life not found in comfort and pleasures and power. But in service to others, keeping eternity in mind, and doing everything for the sake of the Lord Jesus.

At 5:30 this morning, when I still couldn't sleep, it seemed that the Lord impressed on my mind that He has given me and the others working at the Christian Service Center a wonderful opportunity each day to make an eternal difference in the lives of those who come through our doors. Many of them are broken -- having been abused by boyfriends, sabotaging their own lives with alcohol, suffering disabilities, or struggling to get by on minimum wage jobs. I want us to show Jesus to them. To help them see that no matter how bad life has become for them, they can have an eternal life with Jesus.

Please pray for us that we'll see each person as made in the image of God, a person for whom Christ died...an eternal soul that will live forever either with God or separated from Him. May we all see those who cross our paths the way Jesus sees them. And may we truly live a life that God blesses...and experience the good life Jesus promises to those who trust in Him and follow in His path.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Random Reflections

Random bits and pieces that are on my mind this morning…

· Last night I spoke briefly to the group eating dinner at Highland church last night, many of whom were neighbors from our community. I had prepared a brief message on the gospel, but my time was limited and it was a difficult setting for people to hear, given the bad acoustics and the fact that some of them kept talking while I was speaking. However, I did get to say a few things that I pray were used by the Lord to draw them closer to Him

I told them that I had some good news to share with them. God is not mad at us. Instead, He loves us. I then said, “Did you know that? Do you believe that He loves you? I know He loves you and me because He told me so this afternoon.” Then I read these words of Jesus from John 3:16 in the wonderful paraphrase by Eugene Peterson, The Message:

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help to put the world right again. Anyone who trust in him is acquitted…”

I then prayed over the dinner crowd, pleading with God to help these neighbors come to Jesus and experience that “whole and lasting life.” I love that phrase – a “whole and lasting life.” Who else but Jesus could give us such a life? Don’t you love Him?

· Big sports weekend coming up – the Winter Olympics and the Pebble Beach Pro-Am Golf Tournament. Why is it there is so much last minute construction, conflict and controversy before these games begin? In spite of all the problems, they always put on a good show. My highlights of these winter games are ice-skating, the downhill run and freestyle skiing. And it will be so cool to see the snowboard competition. The opening shots of Turin with that wonderful theme song of the Olympics will once more be so stirring.

Then there is Pebble Beach. Hosted at one of God’s masterpiece of creations along the Pacific Ocean. Watching on T.V. the scenic views from such holes as the 17th and 18th will trigger some wonderful memories for my son and me. Last summer Aaron and I drove up with Susan to Northern California and played at Pebble Beach. It was very expensive. But it was worth every step we took on that course, every golf swing, each hole. We spent close to 7 hours there. We warmed up on the putting green (I took a picture of Aaron putting by himself on that green where so many golf pros have stood over the years – he was beside himself in being able to be there), We took our time playing the course, in awe of the beauty of the cliffs and ocean. Susan joined us on the 17th hole to take pictures and walk with us along the 18th hole where so many championships were won. After wards we bought the cliché Pebble Beach golf shirts, ate a late lunch and just soaked it all in. It really was a golfer’s heaven. We felt so privileged to be able to play there.

This summer, on our annual trek to California to be with my extended family, Aaron and I hope to travel south this time, to play at Torrey Pines. It’s a course along the coast in La Jolla, one of the most gorgeous spots in Southern California – nestled along the Pacific Ocean. It will be the home of the 2008 U.S. Open. Since leaving my home town of Ventura, California 26 years ago, I cherish those summers when we can visit there – especially to cool off from the 90 + degree summers of West Texas. And yet ironically, I love living in Abilene – where Susan and I love our work, where we raised our family, the home of our beloved church at Highland, all the mission trips we’ve taken to Mexico and Brazil with Highland folk. This is where the Lord put us for now, for His purposes, and so we’ll contentedly stay here and serve Him.
· Please be in prayer for my brother-in-law, Michael Nevin. He and my sister, Sandra, have lived in the San Francisco area for 30 + years. Last weekend he was injured while sawing some wood, accidentally sawing off his left thumb. Doctors in a hospital that specializes in re-attaching limbs attached his thumb and he is apparently recovering well. The doctors are quite hopeful about his thumb being saved. My sister asked that our Highland family pray for Michael’s healing. Please do so – and may God get all the glory.

· My prayer for you today, from our reading at this morning’s staff and volunteer devotional:

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”

– 1 Thess. 3:12-13


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Our Mediator

I love the story that Max Lucado tells in the introduction of one of my favorite books of his, In the Grip of Grace. He describes how he was at one time such a religious man, so sure of how right he was in his doctrine. He proudly wore what he called "my wardrobe of self-righteousness. But over a period of months this wardrobe became tattered and threadbare. He tried to stitch it together and cover his mistakes, but withoot success. He came to recognize his spiritual nakedness and then on a lonely drive one wintry day in West Texas he heard on the radio a riveting message about the cross. Max pulled over to the side of the roa, confessed his sin of self-righteousness and his deep need for Christ. He stepped into the presence of Jesus and asked Him to clothe him with His righteousness. Which Jesus graciously did.

I find it so significant how God has blessed Max's ministry -- a thriving church, record-selling books. Everything he writes ultimately points to the love of the Father, the grace of God and the cross of Christ. And of course the Lord will always bless the ministry of those who lift up His Son and continually proclaim the gospel.

This story of Max came to mind after I read this passage from Exodus and was once more struck with the holiness of God:

"Make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it as on a seal: HOLY TO THE LORD. Fasten a blue cord to it to attach it to the turban; it is to be on the front of the turban. It will be on Aaron's forehead, and he will bear the guilt involved in the sacred gifts the Israelites consecrate, whatever their gifts may be. It will be on Aaron's forehead continually so that they will be acceptable to the LORD." -- Ex. 28:36-38

I'm not sure what all this means, but what came to mind immediately is how Jesus is our high priest and bore our guilt on the cross. Only through Him can you and I be made acceptable before God. I know that and believe that. I claim Jesus as my mediator. And yet studying about and encountering the utter holiness of God, and in contrast seeing my sinfulness inherited from Adam, I once more see how desperately I need a mediator, a Savior. And how much I love Him.

Lord, please grip our hearts as you gripped Max's that day you penetrated his heart with the message of the cross. Clothe us with Your righteousness, Jesus, and fill our hearts and minds and mouths with the message of the gospel. You are Holy, Holy, Holy. Please empower us to live holy lives for Your glory, honor and praise.

Through Jesus, our righteousness, Amen.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Kneeling before a Holy God

As I've been working my way through the book of Exodus in my morning quiet times, last week I came across a very familiar story that struck me deeply. Through this reading the Lord showed me once more a glimpse of His holiness:

"On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him." -- Ex. 19:16-19 (Emphasis mine)

Don't you know that if we had been there all of us would have trembled, too, in seeing and hearing this manifestation of the holiness of almighty God.

As I was driving to work this morning thinking about this story, a scene from nearly 12 years ago came to mind. It was a hot June Saturday morning in Denton, Texas. I was sitting in a football stadium with about 10,000 men, attending my first Promise Keepers event. As the praise band led us in worship and then when the first keynote speaker delivered a riveting message out of the book of Romans, the holiness of God was present like I had never experienced before. My soul trembled. I felt like Isaiah in Isaiah 6, feeling deep in my soul how sinful I was and how desperately I needed a Savior.

The morning I read this story in Exodus, I immediately thought of the book of Hebrews and quickly flipped over to that precious book. Here's one of my favorite verses in that book:

"brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. -- Heb. 10:19-22

In light of this fresh glimpse into holiness of God I was especially comforted with this passage, and made more aware of why the gospel is so powerful...and why we so desperately need Jesus. I realized once more how prayer is such an incredible privilege -- because of the shed blood of Jesus we can, by faith, now approach our Holy Father with boldness and confidence, knowing that the Father loves us and won't turn us away. Wow!

Tomorrow night I'm speaking to our community friends who will be coming to our Wednesday night meal at Highland. We have a prayer corner and I'll be inviting them to go to the corner and share their prayer concerns. And I want to first share with them this message of God's holiness and grace and how communion with Him is made possible only through the atoning sacrifice of our Savior. Please pray for me as I speak and the community friends as they hear. May the Spirit of the living God fill that room as we all cry out to Him and declare His holiness and goodness and grace.


Monday, February 06, 2006

Telling the truth

Susan and I heard a man speak this past Saturday night. He said something that I've been pondering ever since. He brought up the story from the book of Exodus of how the LORD wanted to deliver His people from the bondage of Egyptian slavery so that they could go to the desert and worship Him.

Here was his application -- we cannot truly worship the living God if we are in bondage to something. I went away from that gathering asking the Lord, "What am I in bondage to?" "Whatever it is, Lord, please set me free from it!"

Before going to bed that night I read some more from Joyce Meyer's Approval Addiction. And then Sunday morning I heard Jerry Taylor speak from Jesus' words about how we're to let our "Yes be yes and our No be no." He talked about speaking the truth to others and being people of integrity, even if it offends others. Even if people don't like us, speak the truth anyway. And let your life match what you say.

Later that afternoon while Susan and I were talking about Jerry's message, she said, "Maybe this is the bondage the Lord wants to free you from." I think she was right.

I want to be a person of integrity. I long to be a person who speaks the truth in love. I pray that the Lord will change me into a man whose walk matches his words. And that I won't worry so much about what people will say or think of me when I speak the truth of Jesus Christ in love, and live out that truth each day.

Taped to my computer monitor is a passage that reminds me to be a God-pleaser:

"Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." -- Gal. 1:10

Paul wrote these words in the context of a letter to the churches where he urged them to resist those who wanted to bind legalism on believers. He called them to stand boldly for the gospel, making it so clear that we're saved by grace through faith.

I'm reminded of a recent incident where a Christian brother I know stood up to his employer and told him he could not, and would not, do some things he was told to do that were obviously unethical. My friend lost his job by taking this stand as a disciple of Christ -- but he maintained his integrity! Hallelujah!

What challenges do you face in being a people-pleaser, rather than a God-pleaser? How do you lovingly draw boundaries and let people know what you believe and how you feel -- even if it may make them mad at you or be otherwise costly to you?

May the Lord Jesus empower us to be men and women of integrity, not afraid to tell others the truth. And then as He frees us from this bondage of the approval addiction, may we worship Him.


Friday, February 03, 2006

With hands lifted high

A couple experiences the past 24 hours made me think of the power of intercessory prayer, along with a timely reading in my quite time this morning.

Last night Susan and I took our friend, Foy Jackson, out to the Baptist Encampment in Leuders, Texas. He was beginning his weekend-long Walk to Emmaus, which one person described as a plunge into the love of God. I know the experience well, having gone on a Walk and worked several of them. Why is it that God works so powerfully on people's hearts that weekend, and beyond, on these Walks? I'm firmly convinced it's because the Lord truly answers the prayers of His people. And what intense prayer there is those 72 hours! From Thursday night through Sunday afternoon, three people are in a prayer room at the camp from 7 a.m. - 11 P.M each day. And then there are people all over Abilene and elsewhere who are praying in 30 minute slots throughout the weekend -- 24/7.

Then I think of early this morning, praying with a few elders about some important things that are on our hearts. As I said in yesterday's post, this is a group of men, imperfect sinners as we are, who really believe that God hears the cries of His people.

On the way to the prayer session this morning, it seemed that the Lord brought to mind this passage that I had read a few minutes before:

"So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning..."

A few years ago in some article or book I read how this story of Moses holding up his hands, while Joshua was leading the battle, serves as a wonderful metaphor for intercessory prayer. When we ask God to mend a marriage, protect one of our children from the evil one, heal a friend waiting on results from a lab report-- in essence, holding up our hands to heaven-- we're calling upon almighty God to fight a battle that we (or the one we're praying for) cannot win without divine intervention.

I'm reminded of our team of prayer warriors at Highland, led by Carolyn Dycus, who are continually interceding for our church family and the lost in Abilene and in different parts of the world. They continually call us to keep relying on the Holy Spirit and thus to persevere in prayer about everything we face. Last weekend they organized a 24 hour prayer vigil for the church as we asked God to bless our missions contribution. Once more the Lord was so faithful in answering our prayers. A goal was set for the church to give $196,000 towards missions. As of two days ago, $181,000 in checks, cash and pledges have already been given. And we're confident that the Lord will help us reach the goal as more money is given to this mission special. God is faithful.

I realize that at times we pray and we pray, and then things just don't turn out like we thought they would...or thought they should. The marriage collapses in spite of all our interceding. The person for whom we prayed doesn't survive cancer. The couple who asks us to pray for their funding towards their mission plans faces frustration when the money never comes in.

Yet isn't prayer more than just asking God to do what we want Him to do? Isn't it rather an experience of a relationship -- a reliance upon and a communion with Abba Father? He delights to hear His children come to Him, declaring our love for Him and deep dependence upon Him for everything we face.

For too many years my prayers were mainly, "Lord, please do this, help me with this.." I want to be more balanced in my prayer life, thanking the Lord and praising Him and surrendering to Him myself and my concerns for others. I want to turn over to God all these people and situations that I care for --asking God to do His will, and not carry out my agenda.

Isn't' the bottom line in our prayers that Jesus Christ be magnified in and through our lives and prayers, as His will is carried out?

What's been your experience in prayer lately? Tell us about a recent prayer victory. But I also want to know how you've gone deeper in your knowledge of Christ as you've been on your knee...and especially when you've been on a long-term journey persevering in prayer for someone or some situation that didn't seem to change.

I'd love to hear your story of what God has done in your life as you've lifted your hands up to heaven on behalf of others.

Praying for all of you today,


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Time with the shepherds

What comes to your mind when you think of elders meetings? Have you ever been called to "meet with the elders?" Did this invitation elicit excitement and sweet anticipation in your heart -- or dread? ("Oh, know. I'm in trouble with the elders. What are they going to say to me?")

Years ago the thought of elders' meetings may have conjured up in our minds images of stern-faced men in dark suits sitting around a table making decisions. I hope that sort of board meeting model is fading away.

At my home church, Highland in Abilene, where my family has been for 15 + years, they at one time had such elders meetings. I've seen the old pictures of the men in their suits. And heard stories of many years ago where they sat around the proverbial table (yes, in their dark suits) making decisions. And yet I've had conversations with men such as Clois Fowler, a long-time Highland elder and deacon who shared with me many tales of the leadership at Highland. He described how even in "those days" the elders made some very courageous and Christ-centered decisions -- supporting Juan Monroy as a missionary (who was not brought to Christ through our fellowship and yet shared the dream of non-denominational Christianity); beginning Christian Homes, a wonderful adoption agency; becoming overseers of Herald of Truth, a media ministry where I worked for nine years; hiring Lynn Anderson, a young and progressive Canadian; and then for the next 19 years giving Lynn the freedom to preach expository sermons which often challenged traditional thinking.

Lynn Anderson and David Wray (an educational and spiritual formation minister for many years, as well as an elder at Highland) were used by God to help move our elders from the board meeting model to a shepherding model.

The last two years I've had the incredible privilege of serving with these men as a fellow shepherd. And I must say that our twice-a-month elders' meetings are always one of the highlights of my week. They are mostly ongoing prayer sessions. I think about last night...

1. Praying over and thanking God for Bryan and Becky Gibbs, for their work with the missiosn committee and the long-term impact Bryan has had in his work with Continent of Great Cities in recruiting teams to take the gospel to South America and beyond.

2. Having Wendell and Betty Broom come tell us of their latest missionary effort, as they prepare to head back to St. Petersburg, Russia to train leaders. In their golden years they don't indulge themselves with golf and bridge but instead continue investing in the kingdom.

3. Crying with and praying over a couple who have had a severe loss in their family.

4. Hearing some of our elders standing up and sharing some of their personal struggles and asking for the prayers of their fellow elders.

Yes, at times we are a decision-making body. However, since so much of the business decisions are made at the weekly Administrative elders meetings, our all-elder meetings are mainly about intercessory prayer. Anyone is invited to come for prayer, anointing and prayer for healing, to report on a new ministry, whatever.

I feel deeply privileged to be a part of this shepherd community. Yes, we're imperfect and make mistakes. But I truly believe it's a group of men who are seeking to be led by the Holy Spirit and to follow after the Good Shepherd --Who is the One ultimately overseeing this flock of sheep we call the Highland church.

Would you share with us any positive stories you have concerning elders meetings or being pastored by your shepherds?


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Saved to praise

I think I was about 10 years old. My godmother (I was raised a Catholic) took my sister, brother and me to see a blockbuster film. It was playing at the 101 Drive-In Theater in Ventura, California --my hometown (I miss those old Drive-ins). She wanted us to see the movie, "The Ten Commandments."

All of us remember Cecille DeMille's classic film -- where Charleton Heston, that is Moses, lifted his staff and the waters of the Red Sea parted. Pretty amazing special effects for the early '60's --long before George Lucas and his Industrial Light and Magic team were around to do their computerized wonders on film.

That scene flashed back to me this morning as I was taking a shower. I had just read Exodus 14 and 15 for my quiet time. It was so fascinating to read of how the Lord kept hardening Pharoah's heart for this purpose -- that almighty God would receive the glory He deserves to receive.

"I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will follow the Israelites into the sea. Then I will receive great glory at the expense of Pharaoh and his armies, chariots, and charioteers. " -- Ex. 14:15

These past few mornings I've been reading about all the plagues. Over and over the Bible said that the LORD hardened Pharoah's heart. Then in Exodus 14 we read why the Lord did this -- so that He might receive glory! And oh how He did!

Can you picture in your mind that scene again from the movie? All the Israelites going safely through the sea on dry land -- and then the Egyptian army being swallowed up and drowned as the walls of water crashed down on them.

The song of praise in Ex. 15:1-17 is an awesome description of how powerful and majestic the Lord is:

Your right hand, O Lord,
is glorious in power. - Ex. 15:6

It made me think of how the deliverance of the God's people from the bondage of Egyptian slavery is such a beautiful metaphor of how Christ delivers us from Satan's clutches --- when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. Try this -- read Ex. 15:1-17 and apply it to how Jesus has rescued you from the clutches of the enemy. And how He loves you, since you are part of His chosen people, grafted in through His grace by faith in Jesus. I love this promise:

"With unfailing love you will lead
this people whom you have ransomed.
You will guide them in your strength."

I'm wondering if our hearts would be filled more with praise to our God if each day we dwelled on the truth that through Jesus' sacrifice we have been delivered from our sin. Rescued. Redeemed. And now deeply loved by the Father.

Because of my early bondage to legalism and thinking I wasn't such a bad person, I don't think I really grasped the reality of my salvation and the awesomeness of Jesus and the cross -- until He woke me up to the gospel and His amazing grace. He made me see that I was a sinner saved by nothing I had done...saved by "nothing but the blood of Jesus."

When did God put a song of praise in your heart, when you realized that you were saved by grace? That He delivered you from your own "Egyptian bondage?"