Monday, July 31, 2006

Continualy Saved by Grace

“Continually Saved by Grace”

What is it about our sinful self that creeps up on us and takes us off guard? I can be so nice to people at work all day. And yet when something goes wrong at home with those closest to me, I can lose my temper so quickly. Happened again late Friday night.

We drove to Keller, Texas with our family, Shannon’s friend and Aaron’s girlfriend. We planned to spend the night at Susan’s sister’s house, get up very early in the morning, and fly to California to visit my family. We were all so excited about getting out of the heat and heading to the west coast to spend some days at the beach. .

When we got to the house and started to unload the luggage, Shannon announced that she needed to take her big suitcase in the house. Then she dropped her bottle of Starbucks Frapucinno on the driveway and broke it. I let her know how annoyed I was at her. Here we are about to go on this great vacation and I made a big stink about a piece of luggage and a broken bottle. I felt terrible about myself.

Before going to bed I apologized to Shannon and, as always, she told me she forgave me. Before I dozed off to sleep trying to push away the guilt and self-condemnation. I was reminded once more that there is no good in this flesh of mine and how desperately I need the Holy Spirit to curb that sinful tendency we all have.

This incident also reminds me of an article from the paper that Susan had cut out and saved for me earlier that day. It was Billy Graham’s column. A person wrote Billy telling of his doubts and guilt because he sinned after inviting Christ into his heart. He wondered if he had lost his salvation. Billy assured him that if he truly asked Christ to forgive his sins and come into his life, then he was saved. We will still sin even after becoming a child of God, Dr. Graham assured this troubled young man. In fact, we sin at times unwillfully. Yet this sin does not make us lose our salvation. We don’t go in and out of our salvation. WE ARE SAVED BY CHRIST ALONE – not by anything we do or don’t do. It doesn’t’ depend on us. Our security in Christ depends solely on Christ.

I need to hear this assurance every day, because it’s so easy for me to fall into the self-flagellation mode after incidents like last night. This does not mean I take sin lightly. I don’t want to sin because I don’t want to hurt my Savior – and because when I sin I often hurt others – even those I love dearly. And yet I know that I have been and am continually saved by what Jesus did for me on that wondrous cross.

Thank you, Billy, for this reminder. And thank You, Jesus, for the eternal security we have in You.


Friday, July 28, 2006

Being Encouragers...Not Critics

My daughter had a hard day at work yesterday. During the summer she has been working full-time at a day care center. At times it is a very demanding job. But she hangs in there, partially because she loves those babies. And they love "Miss Shannon." But yesterday was especially tough because the bosses paid the center a visit. Since it's a day care funded by state money, there are tons of rules and regulations to follow. And the visiting bosses enforce them strictly - but at times with not much grace. Shannon said that all they seemed to do is point out what the workers were doing wrong.

After Shannon finished telling of this burden, I told her of a recent article I read in the paper. It described an experiment in management education. Two volunteers are selected from a classroom and asked to leave the room. Those who stayed in the classroom were told to help the first volunteer do a particular task when they came back in the room -- erase something from the chalkboard or throw away some paper. The class was to help their classmate figure out what the task was through what is called "performance feedback." The first volunteer came in and every time he or she got close to doing the task, their classmates cheered them on. But if they were far away from the task, the class just sat still in silence. About 90 percent of the time this volunteer would figure out the task -- encouraged by the positive feedback of their classmates.

The second volunteer came into the room with same assignment --- but this time if they moved toward the task, the classmates became stone-faced and gave no positive feedback. If the volunteer moved away from the task to be done, the peers would hiss and boo and reprimand them. About 90 percent of the time, the second volunteer would give up because they were so discouraged!

The point of the experiment is obvious -- leaders need to learn that using more reward and less punishment and criticism will bring about optimal performance of their people.

After I told that story, Shannon said, "Wow. That is exactly what went on today. We just felt criticized and were all so nervous when these supervisors showed up."

I told her how vital it is for leaders to cheer on their workers when they perform well. To be encouragers. To catch them doing something well and praising them. And this is so true in parenting, too. Criticism and nagging and pointing out faults just discourages the child. While they need discipline, they also need an enormous amount of affirmation. Now I'm not saying that we do this to the point that we love the children because of their performance. We need to love them unconditionally. What I am saying is that children, as well as subordinates, do so much better when those leading them are encouraging coaches, standing in their corner and cheering them on.

I realize that our human tendency is to be critics, to point out what people are doing wrong – especially perfectionists like me. That’s why we Christian leaders and parents need to continually ask Jesus to change us so that we won’t be fault-finders but instead bring out the best in those they lead. Not just so our children will do well or that we’ll maximize the performance of those we supervise at work – but because it is one more way to honor the Lord, who came here not to be served but to serve.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Letting this God who LOVES us fight our battles

I love those mornings like today when I go out to get the paper and see a beautiful sunrise. I stood on our driveway for a couple minutes staring at this gorgeous scene that our Lord painted -- in awe of His power, His creativity. It was one of those mornings where I knew that I needed to have my quiet time outside. So I grabbed a couple chairs, my coffee and cereal, and my One Year Bible and sat on my driveway for about 30 minutes. What a glorious half hour it was.

I was in a particular thankful mood today because of what happened last night. Our Brazil 2006 team reported to the Highland church about the great deeds of the Lord that we saw during that week at the camp (of course, there was so much unseen that went on which, by faith, we claim that God did...continues to do).

It was a great evening. We heard testimonies of those who had been to Brazil the first time. Watched a video of the camp. And looked back on the six years of Highland's partnership with the church in Itu, including our four summer mission trips there -- and reflected on all the wonderful things God has done. And so, I was in a very thankful mood this morning.

Then I read one of my favorite stories from the Bible -- from 1 Chron. 20. I've used this story so much personally and even preached it two or three times. It's when King Jehoshaphat heard that he was about to be attacked by a huge army of several countries. He proclaimed a fast in all of Judah then went to the temple and prayed. It's so interesting that in his prayer he talked about the mighty deeds of the Lord in Israel's past -- something we talked about in yesterday's post.

I love this prayer of his! Here are a few quotes that have especially gripped me over the years as I've read and taught this story:

"Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you."

"For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you."

Then a prophet of the Lord appears and tells the king and the people:

"Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.'"

As they went out to battle, it says that "Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: "Give thanks to the LORD, for his love endures forever."

What struck me especialy this morning was this song they sang. They could have been singing "The Battle Belongs to the Lord" (which would have been a good song, too). But instead, they thanked the Lord and praised Him for His love.

Made me think of the battles we face -- money struggles, parenting challenges, marriage problems, job problems. My tendency when facing problems has been to pray prayers like, "help me, Lord. Get me out of this." (when I was struggling with job problems in the early '90's, that was my main prayer). And yet the song of the praise band that led Jehoshaphat's army out to battle was about thanking the Lord and focusing on His love.

I think I'll do that all day today. Not just as I reflect about all the good things He's done for me and others lately, such as last night. But when I look towards the future and encounter the challenges and difficulties of the day. I want to be in a spirit of thankfulness and praise to the Lord -- convinced that through Jesus He LOVES me. And He loves you, too! And He WILL be with you in your battles, my friend. He promised you!


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Reflecting on the mighty deeds of the LORD

Do you ever go through times when you wonder where God is in your life? You’re not sure why you're going through these difficult times? In Psalm 77, the writer seems to be going through some times of doubting God and his work in his life. But then he shifts gears and starts to look back on his life and God’s faithfulness. He says,

“Then I thought, "To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.”

Tonight at Highland our Brazil 2006 team is giving a praise report to the congregation. And part of what we'll do is look back on the "mighty deeds of God" that we've seen these past six years of participating in campaigns in Brazil. As I wrote my part of the program tonight and asked for input from others (those who have gone there from Abilene and the missionary Highland supports in Itu, Brazil) I was amazed to see all the good things God has done in the people in Itu...and in our hearts. And we don't see it all! Only God does! But He certainly has drawn back the curtain enough to see how faithful He is to His word that when we lift up Jesus, He does draw men and women to Himself. (John 12).

If you ever get down in the dumps and wonder where the Lord is in your life, you might try reading Psalm 77:1-2. And then begin looking back on your life, even if it's the past several weeks. Ask God to bring to mind how faithful and good He has been to you -- in big ways and quiet ways. You could do what my wife does and is encouraging me to do -- start a "Thank You, Lord" journal in which you write down every answer prayer and other blessings you have seen from Him in your life.

It delights our Lord for His children to be in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving. And having a thankful heart keeps us focused on Christ and His goodness - and steers us away from our self-centeredness and tendency to just dwell on the negative.

I'd like to hear what happens to you today when you ask God to give you more of a thankful spirit and to reveal to you how good He has been to you. Let us know.

May we all join Jeremiah in saying, "Give thanks to the LORD Almighty, for the LORD is good; his love endures forever." -- Jer. 33:11


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Finishing Strong

Several years ago I read an excellent book by Steve Farrar called Finishing Strong. One of his most interesting observations was that so many leaders listed in the Bible started out strong in their commitment to the Lord. But later in life they faltered and their lives ended tragically in disobedience.

I thought of that book this morning when reading the story of Asa in 2 Chronicles 15:1 - 16:14. It was so encouraging to read of his commitment to the Lord, since I recall how so many of the kings of Judah and Israel "did evil in the eyes of the Lord." The Bible says of Asa:

"Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God. He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles."

Later in Asa's reign, he faces a huge army of one million men. As he cries out to God for help in this beautiful prayer:

"LORD, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army."

And the Lord defeated this mighty army and gave Asa and the kingdom of Judah an amazing victory.

One verse said of Asa, "Asa's heart was fully committed to the LORD all his life." I read that verse and thought, "Wow, what a great example of a king that led well because his heart was turned towards God."

And yet I became sad when reading how when Asa grew older, he turned away from trusting the Lord. He made a treaty with a king rather than relying on God. When his feet became severely diseased "even in his illness he did not seek help from the LORD, but only from the physicians."

After reading this story and meditating on it, I pulled down from my bookshelf Farrar's book and read this quote, "In the Christian life, it's not how you start that matters. It's how you finish."

I want so much to finish strong. To stay deeply committed and faithful to my bride until either one of us dies. To be a Christ-centered example to my children and their children. To not let pride creep into my heart as a leader. And to fall in love with Jesus more and more.

The good news is that through the power of the Holy Spirit you and I are not on our own in staying strong to the end. To the Corinthian church, which was certainly not on a trajectory of finishing strong, Paul reminds these Christ-followers:

Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong right up to the end ( 1 Cor. 1:8)

And as a prophet told Asa, reminding him of the days when this king did rely on the Lord, "the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him."

After you read this blog, you might do this: pray for one fellow believer you know who is really struggling in their faith. Ask the Lord to strengthen their feeble faith and remind them that He will strengthen their hearts as they rely on Him. May your friend finish strong. And may we, also.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Out of Africa

About three weeks ago, Susan and I were on a bus with about 40 others, heading from the Sao Paulo, Brazil airport to the city of Itu, the church we've worked with these past six years. We sat next to Mitzi Adams, who had just spent two weeks in northern Zambia with her husband David and several others from the Hillcrest church in Abilene. As she told stories of spending a fortnight with Zambians who lived very simply, I felt like I was there -- seeing the kids in bare feet, watching the women carry pots on their heads, and witnessing the thousands crowded into a refugee camp that David visited. It's clear that since David and Mitzi came "out of Africa" their perspective on money and possessions and the vast wealth we enjoy has been altered tremendously.

Last Friday Mitzi commented on my blog about Rick Warren's interview concerning what to do with all of his riches. I think Mitzi has lots of insights that we wealthy Americans need to hear. Not so we'll just feel guilty, but instead that we will live beneath our means, resist our culture's pull to buy more of this and more of that, and instead give generously and joyfully to those in need. To the glory and praise of our Lord.


Jim, This is much food for thought. I came back from Africa, a land of poverty and need, into this land of wealth and want. It is a very difficult thing to process the vastness of resources I have available to me. I am so encouraged to read of this Godly man who has so straightforwardly proclaimed that his wealth and notoriety are only gifts from God to be used solely for His purposes and not for the satisfaction of his flesh.

Self-denial is at the heart and soul of the teachings of Jesus, and yet we (I) want to look at this in terms of where I fit in the spectrum of obedience... comparing myself to others and how they are managing their own wealth. (I have to remind myself that I have great wealth...All I have is wealth.) This interview reminds me that it is not a relative issue. It is a matter of obedience or defiance. I want to be obedient.

Help me, O Lord, in the midst of disobedient actions. Convict me and convince me of the beauty of walking in submission to You...with all I have. Satisfy me with Your Word. Fill me with joy, uncomplicated, unadulterated, uncompromised joy.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Purpose Driven Interview...with Rick Warren

Nearly four years ago I was going through an extended period of unemployment. It was a rather scary time. And this career and financial crisis literally drove me to my knees. In the midst of this time of testing, the Lord taught me so much about trusting in Him, leaning on the body of Christ, surrender and allowing Christ to transform me in my troubles.

That last phrase came from an outstanding book that the Lord put in my path during these five and a half of months of looking for a job -- what is now a huge bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. That one chapter, # 25, "Transformed by Your Troubles," put such perspective on what I was going through. Warren helps the reader reframe their problems, seeing them as opportunities for the Lord Jesus to change us in the midst of the struggles, and not necessarily take all the struggles away.

I haven't thought about that book lately -- until a good friend of mine sent me an e-mail late yesterday afternoon. It was a copy of a recent interview with Rick Warren, with an update on the amazing success of his book, recent trials he has faced, and what he is doing with those mega-millions he's made off that book. Below is the interview. I believe it will bless you tremendously.

Trying to live purposely, for His glory,


"People ask me, What is the purpose of life? And I respond: In a nutshell, life is preparation for eternity. We were made to last forever, and God wants us to be with Him in Heaven. One day my heart is going to stop, and that will be the end of my body-- but not the end of me.

I may live 60 to 100 years on earth, but I am going to spend Trillions of years in eternity. This is the warm-up act - the dress rehearsal. God wants us to practice on earth what we will do forever in eternity. We were made by God and for God, and until you figure that out, life isn't going to make sense.

Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, you're just coming out of one, or you're getting ready to go into another one.

The reason for this is that God is more interested in your character than your comfort. God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making Your life happy. We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that's not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ likeness.

This past year has been the greatest year of my life but also the toughest, with my wife, Kay, getting cancer.

I used to think that life was hills and valleys - you go through a Dark time, then you go to the mountaintop, back and forth. I don't believe that anymore. Rather than life being hills and valleys, I believe that it's kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and at all times you have something good and something bad in your life.

No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on. And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for.

You can focus on your purposes, or you can focus on your problems. If you focus on your problems, you're going into self-centeredness, "which is my problem, my issues, my pain." But one of the easiest ways to get rid of pain is to get your focus off yourself and onto God and others.

We discovered quickly that in spite of the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people, God was not going to heal Kay or make it easy for her. It has been very difficult for her, and yet God has strengthened her character, given her a ministry of helping other people, given her a testimony, drawn her closer to Him and to people.

You have to learn to deal with both the good and the bad of life. Actually, sometimes learning to deal with the good is harder. For instance, this past year, all of a sudden, when the book sold 15 million copies, it made me instantly very wealthy.

It also brought a lot of notoriety that I had never had to deal with before. I don't think God gives you money or notoriety for your own ego or for you to live a life of ease. So I began to ask God what He wanted me to do with this money, Notoriety and influence. He gave me two different passages that helped me decide what to do, II Corinthians 9 and Psalm 72.

First, in spite of all the money coming in, we would not change our Lifestyle one bit. We made no major purchases. Second, about midway through last year, I stopped taking a salary from the church. Third, we set up foundations to fund an initiative we call The Peace Plan to plant churches, equip leaders, assist the poor, care for the sick, and educate the next generation. Fourth, I added up all that the church had paid me in the 24 years since I started the church, and I gave it all back. It was liberating to be able to serve God for free.

We need to ask ourselves: Am I going to live for Possessions? Popularity? Am I going to be driven by pressures? Guilt? Bitterness? Materialism? Or am I going to be driven by God's purposes (for my life)?

When I get up in the morning, I sit on the side of my bed and say, "God, if I don't get anything else done today, I want to know You more and Love You better." God didn't put me on earth just to fulfill a to-do list. He's more interested in what I am than what I do. That's why we're called human beings, not human doings.

Happy moments, PRAISE GOD.
Difficult moments, SEEK GOD.
Quiet moments, WORSHIP GOD.
Painful moments, TRUST GOD.
Every moment, THANK GOD.

When She or He Becomes They

As we woke up this morning, Susan and I knew that we must watch the last part of that Beth Moore DVD on the Patriarchs. She really is an anointed teacher of the word of God.

Beth continued her explanation of how Islam came out of Ishmael. Two passages she had us read were particularly relevant:

In Gen. 16, the angel of the LORD said of Ishmael: "his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers." (my emphasis)

Then in Gen. 25, in describing Ishmael's descendants: : "they lived in hostility toward all their brothers." ( Again, emphasis mine)

What was true of Ishmael became true of his descendants! It was a legacy of hostility towards others. Beth said that in the 1,300 year history of Islam, there have only been 100 years of collective peace among this group.

But then she got personal with us. She said, "What do want your descendants to be like?" I immediately thought of our kids, Aaron and Shannon. And their kids. And their children's children. Of course, Susan and I want them to love the Lord and to be great influencers for Christ. And Beth basically repeated what we were thinking. We would love for our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be faithful to the Lord.

Then came the kicker: "The type of people you want your descendants to be, be that yourselves!" In other words, if we want our children to do more than just be church-goers and believe a few facts about God, then let's not just be nominal Christians. Instead, let's ask the Lord to give us a white-hot passion for Him. To fall in love with Him more. What if we pleaded with Him to help us experience that deeply personal relationship with Christ that He offers us. And to be passionate about seeking and saving the lost.

I'm reminded of Christian biographies that I love to read. Stories of people like George Muller, that great man of faith who founded these amazing orphans homes in England -- and his profound reliance on God to provide everything he needed to take care of these children. He prayed in over $2 million of donations!

And I think of a much lesser known man -- a dear brother in Christ named Humberto, who lives in Saltillo, Mexico. He is a professional man, who spends his time off from work sharing the gospel through preaching and one-on-one Bible studies. I met him 10 years ago while on a campaign to Saltillo. All of us on that campaign were greatly impacted by Humberto's humble attitude and focus on Christ and His mission.

These people didn't tell me what to do and how to live. It was their example of passion for Christ that impacted me so much.

And I think of how we can have that same impact on our kids. And their kids. And when we're gone, our example will continue influencing future generations.

One day "she" or "he" will become "they." I want to be a better "he" -- transformed more by Christ, more deeply in love with Christ, carrying out to the fullest the mission that Jesus has given me. And then pray, in the words of that old Steve Green song, "May those who go behind us find us faithful."


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Insecurities and jealousy

You might want to see the comments to yesterday's blogs -- some great insights from some readers. They are way above my head in critical thinking.

Now I'm going to radically switch gears -- dealing with a topic my wife and I discussed this morning. Ironically, early this morning I departed from my normal quiet time routine, which is reading a portion of my One Year Bible. Instead, I joined Susan in watching some of a Beth Moore DVD. (Interesting -- I "studied" the Bible on DVD). This summer Susan is in a class with other women at our church who are studying Beth Moore's new DVD/study guide/small group discussion entitled "The Patriarchs." Since she was gone to Brazil and thus missed one of the studies, Susan borrowed the DVD and watched it with me this morning. It was excellent stuff.

Beth described the separation of Ishamel's descendants from those of Isaac. Isaac was, of course, the son of the promise. And yet in Genesis 25, the Bible says that God blessed Ishmael. He had 12 sons before Isaac had any. Beth claims that the Islamic religion is descended from Ishmael (I may tell more about that in tomorrow's blog).

The part that really hit home with me in this DVD today was Ishmael's insecurity in not being part of the blessing of Abraham. And thus he was very jealous of Isaac.

Then Beth got the audience and viewer to think of what the green eye of jealousy does to all of us. Like Ishmael, we can say that we are blessed by God -- especially if we are Christians. However, our human tendency is to overlook our blessings and dwell on wanting the blessings of others. And then we fall into the sin of jealousy. Whoa, Beth. You're hitting too close to home!

You see, I feel very blessed by the Lord. When I read Ephesians 1, I'm reminded by God's word of all the spiritual blessings that I have through Christ -- totally by His grace:

He chose us in him ...he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ...In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins...he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.

But even as I ponder these blessings and experience these blessings, and know that God has been so good to me in the wife and children and ministry and church family that He has given me -- His love is lavish! -- I still battle this green eyed monster of jealousy. It's so easy for me to want the blessings of others -- who seem to have a better life: a bigger house, newer car, a swimming pool, and a closer relationship with the Lord.

As I took a shower this morning after hearing Beth's application on what jealousy does to us, I began asking the Lord to deliver me from jealousy. And to help me see how blessed I am in Christ and in the unique gifts and position in this life that He has given me -- so that His Name woudl be praised.

Lord Jesus, deliver us from jealousy and open our eyes to see Your amazing blessings in our lives. And to be thankful, content free from comparisons, coveting and envy. In Your Name and for Your glory. Amen.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Films, books and their differing influences

Last night after dinner, Susan, Shannon and I relaxed in our living room and talked about our days. Then I said to Shannon, "You have information that neither I nor Mom have...and we need to hear it." I was referring to the fact that Sunday night she and some of her Brazil team buddies went to see the film, "Superman Returns." She loved it. After she described a few scenes, it made me want to see it. Of course, I have great memories of seeing director Richard Donner's rendition of Superman, released in 1978, starring Christopher Reeve.

After Shannon told us a bit about this film, I began to reflect on the difference between reading a book and watching a movie. So I asked Susan and Shannon, "Why is it that movies are so popular in our culture? And what does a movie have that a book doesn't offer?"

Here were their answers:

1. You can experience a story a lot quicker by watching a film than reading a book.

2. There is the added effect of sound and visualization (and in today's cinema of special effects, computer graphics and Dolby sound, the visual and audio experience have been bumped up to extreme levels).

3. You generally watch a movie with others -- you experience it together.

I added this: In a film, there is a synergy brought about by music, sound, and visuals. And when all of this is combined with a very dramatic moment in a movie, the impact on us is at times emotionally overwhelming. A few examples:

-- The last scene of "It's a Wonderful Life," when George Bailey is reunited with his family, with friends and family coming to his house and giving him money to bail him out of his financial crisis. There he is, Jimmy Stewart surrounded by Donna Reed and his kids, with the moving music, seeing this outpouring of love from the community. Director Frank Capra puts all the right elements together and when we watch this scene, most of us can't help but crying.

-- The climatic moment in the Lord of the Rings, "Return of the King," where Sam and Frodo are climbing that mountain with the goal of throwing the ring into the fire. When Sam realizes that Frodo is too exhausted to climb any more, he picks up his dear friend and carries him the rest of the way. Again, the visuals, Howard Shore's beautiful music, and the sweetness of this plot grips our hearts as we watch this scene (and likely watch it with other people in the theater or our living room).

Now I love movies like most others. I even made a few -- on surfing and skateboarding. I have always loved the combination of film and music.

And yet I love a good book also. There is usually a stack of them on my nightstand.

I'm just wondering how our film-saturated, DVD-addicted culture impacts us and how it influences the way we approach reading Scripture. Could it be that our children, even college age children, have a difficult time sitting down to read God's word on a regular basis partially because they are so used to the multi-sensing media?

I’m reminded of Neil Postman’s excellent book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, which I read some a few years ago. He described how media (particularly television) has impacted us. One quote from his book:

“In a print culture, to be intelligent you must be able to stay still for some time (to read), read, be somewhat objective to interpret the stance of the author, judge the quality of an argument over the duration of the work…”

If we read less and watch television and movies more, are we losing some of our ability to think things through for ourselves? Reading is so active. Watching a film or television is so passive. And if the majority of the films and T.V. that we watch are antithetical to a biblical world view (even if it’s a subtle message, which is even more dangerous), aren’t we being far too influenced by the enemy of our souls?

For example, is our culture more open to alternative lifestyles and sexual promiscuity not because we have thought through these moral issues but because our senses have been bombarded by images (and music and plots) in music videos/movies, T.V. ads and programs that tell our subconscience that immorality is okay, it’s normal, it’s acceptable)?

I want to keep enjoying good films. But I want to do so with the discernment of the Holy Spirit, and of course get a steady, daily diet of reading His word – to reshape my mind and soul. That’s the kind of “special effects” we Christ followers need each day.

Any thoughts on this topic, dear bloggers?


Monday, July 17, 2006

Productivity and Sabbath Rest

I conducted an experiment yesterday. It was prompted by the continual pleadings, and example, of my sweet wife. And also by a tremendous chapter I read while in Brazil -- from the book I've mentioned before in this blog -- Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton.

This particular chapter I read was on Sabbath rest. Excellent stuff. Here are a few quotes:

"The heart of sabbath is that we cease our work so that we can rest and delight in God and God's good gifts."

"After seven days without rest, we are at risk of becoming dangerously tired."

Ruth provides some great questions to guide us in how to take a rest:

"What activities will I refuse to engage in so that it is truly a day of rest, worship and delight?

"What activities bring me delight, and how will I incorporate them?"

After reading this chapter, I was finally convinced -- I needed to establish a regular time of rest. No "To Do" lists. Instead, I need to do what replenishes me (which for me is reading and hanging out at the house with my family).

So, I tried it yesterday. The experiment of taking a Sabbath rest. After a very busy, productive Saturday of cleaning the garage, trimming the hedges and changing light bulbs, it was time to take a day off. I decided that I would not work at all on Sunday -- until around 8 P.M., when I would get ready for work the next day.

After getting home from church and lunch with our children, I settled on the bed with Susan -- reading the paper and taking a long nap. Then I woke up around 3 P.M. and found myself feeling very restless. I thought, "Five more hours until I can work again! What will I "do" for the next five hours? Just lie around, read and not accomplish anything?" The words of my friend, Albert Acosta, come to mind: "It takes a lot of faith to take a day off." But yesterday afternoon, I could barely handle five hours of unproductivity.

What is it about us humans that we feel better about ourselves when we are accomplishing something? Being productive in itself isn't wrong. We need to work, avoid slothfulness, and be a responsible person and citizen. It takes a lot of activity to keep up with all the tasks that surround us -- mowing lawns, washing clothes, cooking meals, fixing appliances and cars, cleaning the house. And there is great joy in work -- which is why I believe that work is a gift from God. And why so many people go crazy when they're forced to retire (I don't want to retire -- maybe slow down a bit, but never fully retire).

Do I have such a difficult time slowing down and cease working because my self-esteem is based on how much I accomplish? And let me take this a bit deeper: Am I so intent on keeping busy because unconsciously I believe that God accepts me because of all that I do for Him?

I realize that the Bible teaches that Jesus is our Sabbath rest, as we read in the book of Hebrews. Ray Steadman says, “the true sabbath is to cease from your own labors, your own efforts, your own activity; to cease from your own works. The implication is that you cease from your own efforts and depend on the work of Another. That is the whole import of the book of Hebrews, another One is going to work through you. This is why Paul cries, "Not I, but Christ. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me," (cf, Gal 2:20).

While I'm convinced in the depths of my soul that it is not my activites and work that earns my salvation and keeps me in the love of God, I still have such a hard time resting. But I'm going to keep trying. To disengage from productivity and entrust to God all the things I "need" to do. Perhaps the best thing I could do is get away from the house. Go with Susan to a park (when it's cooler) or Starbucks. Head to a bookstore. Whatever I do, I know it's vital that I cease from work on a regular (weekly) basis in order to allow the Lord to replenish my mind, body and soul.

I'd like to hear how you practice Sabbath rest and deal with those challenges I face of not wanting to slow down?


Friday, July 14, 2006

Denominations and Personalities

Last night I got to meet with a sweet group of elderly Christians for dinner. It's an interdenominational group of senior saints that meet that travel together, support different ministries and just meet monthly to enjoy fellowship in Christ. Each year they invite me to join them and tell about Operation Blue Jeans. Then they take up a collection to support this work.

Unfortunately, I was called away from this meeting before I could speak. Our daughter, Shannon, called me on my cell phone -- screaming hysterically. Within a few moments she calmed down enough to tell me that she had a minor wreck. She's okay, but after talking a few of the folks around the dinner table I thought it wise to dismiss myself and head home quickly to console Shannon. She's fine. The car's not. But cars can be fixed.

Thinking about last night, I pondered how different personalities are attracted to and feel more at home in different denominations. This group was mainly Baptist, somewhat "country" Baptist. Though I felt so loved and welcomed by this sweet group of Christian folks, I don't think I'd feel at home being a member there. Nor would I at other denominations. Even though I sometimes get mad at my Church of Christ family -- especially if I detect legalism and a sectarian spirit -- I guess that in many ways I fit in this fellowship. Especially at grace-filled, Spirit-led churches like Highland, as imperfect as it is (it's made up of imperfect believers like me!).

Maybe I'm a bit kooky, but in my experiences as a follower of Jesus these past thirty years, I've observed that certain personalities fit in particular Christian fellowships. I have a good friend who is very expressive and she loves her church home which is more charismatic. Another friend has been in the Church of Christ all her life, but recently she has felt led by the Lord to join a church that emphasizes prophecy and other gifts of the Spirit.

Then again I know some wonderful believers who are much more at home at a conservative Presbyterian church. They may not raise their hands while in worship, but they love the Lord so much. When I've visited certain liturgical, high church churches, I tend to cringe. But if I go to community churches where there is great worship with a band (not too loud) and solid expository preaching, I love the experience. Going to Richland Hills to hear Rick Atchley is always such a treat to me. His preaching feeds my mind and soul (no, that church doesn't have a band, but a great acapella worship team).

And I know of one family whose children were all raised in a conservative church of Christ and yet two of the adult children and some of the grandchildren are now members of either conservative Baptist churches or community churches. They are going where their souls are fed and where they not fit in their walk with the Lord.

I pray that our children and their children will be a part of a Christian fellowship where they will grow in the Lord and be used mightily in His kingdom. Maybe it will be in the church tradition they were raised in. Perhaps not. That's okay.

I just think that it's vital that all followers of Jesus Christ honor the diversity in the body of Christ, not try to squeeze others into our particular denominational mold, and let God use each of us with our particular personality and preferences to serve Him in a church where we thrive in the Spirit.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Heart Filled with Praise

Reading this morning the story of David ordering the Ark of the covenant to be brought into Jerusalem gave me more insights into His deep love for the Lord. I can just envision the scene of the Levites holding the poles, carefully and reverently walking towards the tent David had constructed to house the Ark. In the meantime, there was this huge praise band of Levites leading the Israelites in worshipping the Lord.

After reading through David's words of praise (see 1 Chron. 16:8-36) I decided to pray those words. You might try this -- use the words of David to exalt and worship King Jesus as Savior. Here's just an excerpt:

Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced..."

While pondering this morning this psalm of praise, I thought and prayed, "I want to have a heart for God like David does." I want to be so filled with praise to the Lord that I won't think about myself -- my problems, my needs being met -- but instead of being consumed with the living God. And I know that as I fix my eyes on Jesus and continually praise Him, He will change me and make me into a more loving, joyful person that serves as a signpost for Him -- always pointing to Him.

And if others are annoyed or think it's odd that I rejoice before the Lord, talk about Him all the time, even dance before the Lord as David did (I'm thinking of how David's wife, Michal despised him for how he was so exuberant before the Lord), then let them think I'm weird. I want to be a God pleaser, not a man pleaser. Besides, He is so holy and good and full of mercy and powerful -- and thus deserves our praise.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Create in Me a Clean Heart

On our last Sunday morning in Brazil, we met with the wonderful group of saints in the city of Itu. Mark Love preached a very powerful sermon on Psalm 51. I was very touched by this message of how God's nature is mercy and He extends His grace and mercy to us humans, who are sinful from birth. But it really came home after last night's incident.

My daughter and I had a fight over money after last night's dinner. I grumbled about how she owes us some money because of the car we helped her purchase. She has worked hard all summer, each week day, at a day care center. And she has promised to pay us what we agreed for her to owe. And yet I really hurt her feelings last night in how I handled this discussion. We initially parted our ways as I went to bed and she kept watching T.V. -- with the matter unresolved. But thank the Lord we ended up talking and forgiving each other before I finally went to sleep.

Ps. 51 and Mark's message came to mind as I tossed and turned in bed for awhile. Once more I admitted that I really am a sinner in desperate need of God's grace. My flesh doesn't want to admit this sinfulness. I want to be a good person and be known as a good person. But I'm not. My only goodness comes from the righteousness of Christ that I claim by faith. And I need to use David's words on regular basis:

"Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin...Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." (vss. 2, 10)

After sinning and hurting another family member (and recognizing with David that my sin is ultimately against God), I can tend to go into the self-punishing mode. But this is counterproductive and actually very self-centered. The proper response and only healing response is to turn back to Jesus. To call upon His Name. To agree with Him that I am a sinner. To once more repent of my sin. Ask Him for cleansing. Make restitution with those I've hurt. And rejoice in His grace.

I love the words of John Newton, who wrote "Amazing Grace." In his later years he declared, "I am a great sinner, saved by a great Savior."

Me, too, John. Me, too. He saved, and continues to save, a wretch like me. Hallelujah. What a Savior.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Back from Brazil

Yesterday afternoon I dragged through work, having just flown all night from Brazil. It's amazing that you can be in Sao Paulo, Brazil at 9:30 P.M. and be in Dallas (6,000 miles away) early the next morning. As soon as I arrived at work, there were reporters from the Abilene Reporter News and KTXS to interview me about our annual Operation Blue Jeans drive. As soon as I finished those interviewers there were two more reporters in our lobby wanting to do a story -- this time from KTAB. I really don't care to be interviewed -- would prefer that the real stars of this place, our volunteers, could tell the story of how we help low-income children get new school clothes and supplies. But I was thankful for the great coverage. It is such a joy to see this team of peoples serve these families. And as I told one reporter, it is much more than the Service Center helping out these children. It is a community - so many folks in Abilene help us pull off this blue jeans and school supplies drive: financial supporters (churches, individuals, foundations) and volunteers that come here to interview families or help them get their clothes. Thank God for all those in this great city who care so much for the poor -- and do something about it.

I'm still in a bit of a daze from the Brazil trip. Awesome campaign. God is so faithful. The majority of our time was spent at this beautiful camp site that is run by a lovely Spirit-filled couple from the Presbyterian church. If you ever have been on a Walk to Emmaus, that would describe much of what our camp was like. There were about 53 of us from the states working the camp. About 48 teenagers and adults from Itu, Brazil who attended the camp. The worship, small groups, prayer times, meals, games were all so joyful. The Spirit of God was obviously at work. Although we did not witness any dramatic conversions and there have not been any baptisms yet, we trust the Lord that He did His work of transformation during this camp -- and wil continue to do so in the days, weeks and months ahead.

And oh how those Brazilians love to dance! Two evenings we met in the game area and took turns doing American dances (line dancing, Cotton Eye Joe) and Brazilian dances. It is such a community experience. So much fun. So much joy. They taught us a lot about how to enjoy life in wholesome ways.

Later this week I'll give you more reports about the camp. I'll ask you to pray for certain people. Right now I ask that you pray for Edson and Jacenta. They were a couple that Susan and I had lunch with Sunday. They are both fairly new Christians. Jacenta is very involved with the church there and really seems to be growing in the Lord. But her husbnad, Edson, who was baptized at last year's campaign, has stopped coming to church. He still considers himself a believer in Jesus Christ, but for some reason he doesn't hunger for fellowship with other believers.

I realize that we're not saved by going to church, but I am convinced that we cannot grow in Christ without constant interaction with the rest of the body of Christ. So please, bring before the Lord Edson and his wife, Jacenta. Susan and I had long talks with her the Sunday before and when she came by the hotel for a brief visit. She is very concerned for him.

Thank you for your prayers. God truly answered your prayers as He used our team once more to be ambassadors for Christ in Brazil.

With gratitude and joy,