Friday, December 29, 2006

Wise Words from Joni

I have two favorite journals that I usually devour when they come in the mail -- Leadership Journal and Discipleship Journal (DJ). Often I copy articles from each of these and pass them around the office, or give them to my wife or fellow elders (Each journal gives permission to do so).

This month's DJ appears to be another winner. What I especially have liked so far is the five minute interview with Joni Erickson. Unless you've lived on another planet the past thirty years or so, you likely know her story. Injured in a diving accident, becoming a quadriplegic. She went through a dark time of depression and despair. Through the power of Christ, however, Joni emerged as a dynamic witness for Jesus. Her book, movie, and ministry to the disabled have all deeply ministered to millions.

A few years ago I heard her speak at a conference. What anointed words about suffering and living for Jesus! I showed the video of this speech to our Bible class and it impacted all of us.

Here are a few quotes from the interview in this quarter's DJ:

What keeps your relationship with God alive?

Every morning I preach the gospel to myself. My salvation didn't just happen years ago when I first embraced Christ; it's happening now. I also ask God, "What is my mission today? What fresh things about Yourself will You show me?" It's really the only way to wake up.

What have you learned about walking with God?

That you can't live on yesterday's grace; that God is full of surprises, sweet and sobering; and that knowing Him is far richer than anything I could experience on my feet.

How do you maintain hope in the midst of adversity?

Several friends and I memorize psalms and other Scripture passages. I can't tell you how many times those scriptures pop to mind on nights when I can't sleep. Also, my wheelchair constantly pushes my focus toward heavenly glories, where I will receive much more than I lost on earth. My quadriplegic bones are thin and tired, so I'm already halfway to heaven -- at least in my heart.

The greatest lessons I've learned about life in Christ have come from those who have suffered in some way. Joni is certainly one we can glean tremendous lessons about this pilgrim walk.

May the Lord bless you with a safe New Year's weekend. Lord willing, I'll "see" you in the new year.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

He Wants Our Hearts

This morning I thought about weddings, baptism, and our hearts. I'm going back to the Christmas Eve service where Max urged all of us to give our hearts to Jesus this Christmas. To those who were doing so for their first time, Max asked them to write their decision on a card in the bulletin and drop it in the plate. He promised that someone would contact them for follow-up in this critical decision in their lives.

In our fellowship, many people might protest this approach to evangelism. They'd likely say, "Why isn't there anything said about baptism?" One can criticize the Oak Hills church all they want, but hopefully their criticism would be silenced once they learned that over 500 new believers have been baptized there. This church believes in baptism -- in their statement of belief, published on the back of their bulletin, it says, "Salvation is available for all who put their trust in Christ as Savior. Those trusting Christ should repent of sin, confess their faith, and be baptized."

What I appreciate about the approach of this church is their emphasis on giving one's heart to Christ. Don't you think if we start there, letting Jesus come into our hearts, we will turn from our sins and confess our faith publically in baptism?

In my early years as a Christian in the late 70's, it confused me when there was so much emphasis on "getting people baptized." I noticed that those who were pushed to "get baptized" didn't seem to change that much. While others I knew, outside of the fellowship I was in, had these transforming experiences the day or night they met Jesus and gave their heart to Him.

This is where I come to the subject of weddings. What if we told couples they just need to get married, to go through the ritual? Then they'd be married and stay together for life. Right? But what if their hearts weren't into it? Will they likely stay married? Or will they have just gone through a ceremony?

I know of a man who was married with two children..and then last year told his wife he didn't love her any more. And now he's abandoned that family and has remarried. He went through the ceremony with this first wife, but some how, some way his heart grew cold towards his first wife. And he switched his heart's allegiance to another woman.

Have you wondered why those churches that emphasize the heart -- giving our hearts to Jesus, becoming a follower of Jesus, urging believers to allow the Holy Spirit to take control -- tend to grow a lot more than those who emphasize the ordinances (as important as they are)? I've been bothered by this for years.

So I come back to the heart. Each day I want to give my heart to Jesus, more of myself to Him. All of my allegiance to Him. I never want to let that allegiance grow cold. And I want to urge others to do the same.

Any thoughts on this, fellow bloggers? Has any of this bothered you?


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas with the Fam

I love our family's routine at Christmas time. We closed the Service Center at noon, the 21st, and had the volunteers and staff over to our house for lunch, reflection time and Christmas songs. At three different tables we took turns answering different questions that I had prepared -- about Christmas memories, favorite presents, etc. The response I liked the most was to this question: "Who do you know that is lonely or sad during this season and needs to receive Christ's love from you?" One of our star volunteers came to our table and said he's going to pick up an elderly friend who has dimentia (along with her son who has many physical problems) and take them to church and then their home for a meal.

After Christmas carols we called Bert, one of the volunteers who couldn't make it to the party because of health reason, and sang "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." He told me this morning that the phone call and song lifted his weary spirit.

That next day we got ready for our Christmas meal (family tradition). Susan's face was beaming as she spent most of the afternoon baking cookies, making the dinner and hearing our kids in the den laughing. She kept saying to me, "Jimminy, we are RICH." How right she is.

On Christmas Eve, after opening presents and having another traditional breakfast (Susan makes the coffee cake that my mother made for years every Dec. 25) we headed to San Antonio to spend time with her parents, two sisters and all the cousins. That night we went to the Christmas Eve service at Oak Hills church. Wow! Eric Wilson on the clarinet. A stirring choir led by Jeff Nelson. Max's simple yet profound message about the manger and the cross. And then his oldest daughter, Jenna, singing one of my favorite songs of Chris Rice, "Come to Jesus."

Oak Hills now has three "campuses" within one church. Max's sermons are broadcast to these satellite churches. I heard that over 500 people have confessed their faith in Jesus in baptism this year. As I reflected on this exploding church, I asked myself "Why are so many people are coming to Christ there?" One thing that kept coming to mind -- they continually emphasize the cross of Christ and call folks to give their hearts to Jesus -- as Max did again last Sunday night. It's all about the heart.

I love seeing our kids interact with their cousins at Christmas time. Playing games, participating in a dart tournament (which the adults also did), talking about college, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc. What a blessing to have this extended family of Christians.

We capped off the time together by going to see the film "We are Marshall." I HIGHLY recommend it. One of the most exhilirating and emotionally satisfying films I've seen in quite a while. Matthew McGonohey (sp?) was terrific! I'm so glad we ended our time that way -- even though it meant getting home at 12:40 this morning. But we're safely home, filled with Christmas memories. God is so good.

Hope your Christmas time went well. Any highlights you want to share?


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Passionate and Strong

I've never been loved more by another human than I have by my bride of 25 plus years. When I look into Susan's eyes, I sense her deep love and commitment to me. As I watch her run around buying Christmas gifts for her family, friends and extended family, I witness a woman who really knows how to love others. Of course, this love comes from the deep well of God's love for her in Christ. It's a manifestation of the Holy Spirit working in her heart.

Have you ever thought of God's love for you being that strong -- and even stronger? I was reading Zechariah this morning and came across a verse I don't recall ever really seeing. After the angel of the Lord told this prophet about the Lord's anger at His people for all their sin, he instructs Zechariah to declare this good news:

“Shout this message for all to hear: ‘this is what the LORD Almighty says: My love for Jerusalem and Mount Zion is passionate and strong." -- Zech. 1:14 (Emphasis mine)

Passionate and strong. That is the love that Father God has for His covenant people. When I was in Bible Study Fellowship and we were working our way through the Minor Prophets, our teaching leader would urge us to look for God's character when studying the Old Testament. That's what I did again this morning while reading this minor prophet. I see God's holiness and His anger at sin. But I also see His unfathomable, relentless love for His own. Reminds me of that song by Darryl Evans, "Your Love is Extravagant."

I love how The Message translates these verses in 1 John about God's love for us:

This is the kind of love we are talking about -- not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loves us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they've done to our relationship with God. ...God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we're free of worry on Judgment Day -- our standing in the world is identical with Christ's. -- 1 John 4:10, 16-17

Do you have someone in your life where you see this kind of love reflected in them -- even though it is an imperfect love? Then you've seen a glimpse of Jesus' love for you.

This Christmas, may the lavish love of Jesus Christ, who bought us with His precious blood, be poured out into your heart in a mighty way. His love for us is passionate, strong and never ending. Believe in this love, receive this love and drink it up. Then pass it on to others.

Merry Christmas, dear friends. I'll see you in blog land next week, Lord willing.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

ADC's (Adult Children of Divorce)

Last Saturday night while finishing up my prep for our men's class, I re-read a section on healing in John Eldredge's excellent book that we're studying, Waking the Dead. Eldredge suggests that Christians ask Jesus to bring to mind things in our past that have hindered our walk with Him -- and then ask the Lord to heal our wounds. I decided that if I were to teach this section of the book in a more transforming way, I had better do more than give an academic lesson. So I got on my knees and asked Jesus to reveal areas of my heart that need healing -- and then invited Him in to do His heart surgery on me. What came to mind was my parents' divorce when I was about 12 years old.*

That next morning I told the guys about this experience and how I wondered if some of my insecurities and anger came from not processing those painful memories. I told of how I once read Judith Wallerstein's ground-breaking book, Second Chances. She tells of her findings from a 25-year study of the impact of divorce on adult children. As I read her book and thought of my own experiences as a pre-adolescent witnessing our household being ripped apart, I began to realize how those childhood wounds had effected me negatively.

The pain of divorce really hits home during the holidays, when the parents try figuring out where the kids go for dinner and opening presents. I went through this for eight years. This Christmas let's you and I pray for those children we know who now live in a fractured home. They're in for a long-term need for healing from the Lord.

I have a friend here in Abilene who told me last week that his wife took their four kids to live with her mother. And now the grandmother is standing in the way of him, blocking him from seeing his own children. I pray for my friend and for his precious young kids. We're in a spiritual battle for families, my brothers and sisters. For those of us married, let's stay deeply committed to our spouses. And for all of us, may we especially be in prayer for those families hit by the tidal wave of divorce that is slamming our country.

Lord Jesus, have mercy on us all. And please heal our land -- begining with children of divorce. Amen.


* A wonderful postscript to my parents' story is that they remarried each other nine years later and stayed together until my father's death in 2003. I praise God for their reconciliation.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Cross in Christmas

I've heard this hymn sung by so many talented singers. But never has my soul been so stirred than when I heard the rendition of "O Holy Night" by Michael Crawford (of "Phantom of the Opera" fame). The children singing back up, Michael's incredible voice, the awesome crescendo at the end -- it truly brought me to tears the first time I heard it, while driving in my truck -- with the speakers at full volume. Our local Christian radio station, 98.1, has been playing it quite a bit. I plan to download this hymn from I-Tunes and play it at the end of our volunteers' Christmas lunch this Thursday.

In my reading of Zephaniah this morning, God gave me a glimpse of why Christmas was such a holy night. The prophet declares that God's fearsome wrath is about to come down on the nations that mistreat His beloved Israel. Sadly, he also announced that Almighty God would punish His chosen nation for their wickedness. It is such strong language:

I will crush Judah and Jerusalem with my fist and destroy every last trace of their Baal worship...I will destroy those who used to worship me but now no longer do. They no longer ask for the LORD’s guidance or seek my blessings...the LORD’s anger will be poured out. It is a day of terrible distress and anguish..." (1:4, 6, and 15)

Then the prophet shifts gears and declares a day of hope for Israel: "On that day I will purify the lips of all people, so that everyone will be able to worship the LORD together...On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be, “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! For the LORD your God has arrived to live among you. He is a mighty savior. He will rejoice over you with great gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will exult over you by singing a happy song.”

Until this morning, I had never thought of these words applying to Christmas. However, when I witnessed the wrath of God as revealed in Scripture, I'm reminded that every one of us is under a sentence of death because of our sin... if it weren't for Jesus. He took that wrath upon Himself on the cross. And for those who accept this gift of grace by faith in Jesus, the Lord holds no wrath against us but instead exults over us with singing, lavishing us with His love and mercy.

I once more see a cross at Christmas. Our sins are forgiven, we've been pardoned from a death sentence, and we're now totally secure in our salvation. And so I join Michael Crawford in exulting Christ, for it was the most holy night of all...the night our precious Savior was born.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Waiting patiently

"these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed." -- Hab. 2:3

Yesterday afternoon, hundreds of us were packed in the Chapel on the Hill, witnessing the marriage of Chase Craig and L'Nae Jensen. Both of these "young people" grew up in the Highland Church. They started dating their senior year in high school and are now seniors in college. One of the most tender moments in the ceremony was when the mothers lit candles and then the parents, bride and groom all hugged each other. It was obvious that both parents were so pleased with this union, an answer to many, many prayers.

One of the most interesting aspects of the wedding was the Powerpoint slide show during the prelude. Many of the photos were of various friends and Highland people who had been part of the Jensen and Craig lives for many years. I thought of how powerful it is to raise one's children in a Christian community. And then to see your children marry another believer and carry on that legacy.

Throughout the wedding and during the receptoin, it was hard not to think of our own children and how much I look forward to each of them marrying someone whom they love and we love. And most importantly, that they will wed a strong believer in Jesus. I know it takes time, and patience and lots and lots of prayer. Susan and I have been praying fervently for Aaron and Shannon to marry someone who loves Jesus deeply.

As I read Habbakuk this morning, it made me think of the value of trusting the Lord and waiting on His timing. I realize that I'm pulling this verse way out of context. Yet I just believe that the Lord does great things in the lives of those who deeply trust Him and wait on Him to work, surrendering to His timing and His will.

I certainly saw this happen yesterday afternoon. And I pray it will one day occur in Aaron and Shannon's lives. So that we will once more see the faithfulness of our Lord.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Sunday Morning at the Movies

Last Saturday evening Susan and I attended a wonderful senior program in the recital hall of the new music building at ACU. Lauren Allred, a very talented theater arts major, and a Highland girl, belted out all these great songs. What stage presence! We were so proud of her.

During the reception I had a long visit with Terry Browder, who decorated the food table -- talking about another great talent! I mentioned to him the ongoing angst I have of wanting to use my gifts more -- this longing always seems to surface when I attend an event like Lauren's recital, where I see someone else's gifts showcased. When I told Terry that I want to get more involved in photography and film he told me his story. For many years Terry has had a very successful business in title research. And yet his great passion is decorating. After years of asking the Lord to let him use this talent in some way that would glorify God, opportunities began to come his way. Someone told him about a house for sale that was three houses down from the Highland building. He used his decorating gifts to turn this old house into a beautiful home that he and his wife have named the Hospitality House. I've mentioned it before. It has blessed so many people needing a temporary place to stay -- sometimes during a crisis in their lives.

Terry urged me to give to God this desire of mine -- to let Him use this passion for photography and film for His glory. And then he said, "I'm going to pray for you, Jim, that God will reveal His will for you in this area."

That next day at church, my friend Dale Blackburn came up to me and said, "Jim, I have an idea for a film. What if we made a movie about our struggle with contentment? We can show it in our Bible class on finances." I got very excited about Dale's proposal...and suddenly remembered Terry's offer to pray.

That next evening Dale and I were at the Abilene Mall, filming several sequences of different shoppers (who just "happened" to be the leaders in the Christian finances class). We shot nearly the whole film that night. Last night Dale and I sat in the den of Mark Sutphen, who graciously offered his services in editing our project. What a whiz he is with Pinnacle software -- a PC moviemaking gizmo. By midnight we came very close to producing the final cut. It is going to be a hilarious 9 minute film.

This Sunday in Dale's class the film will have its world premier. I pray it will have a great impact on its viewers. Who knows...maybe you can see it on "You Tube "some day.

It's such a joy to use one's God-given gifts to create. Thank You, Lord, for how You answered Terry Browder's prayer so quickly.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

His Unfailing Love

"God did not need to create the universe; he chose to create it. Why? God is love, and love is best expressed toward something or someone else—so God created the world and people as an expression of his love."

- Intro. to Genesis, New Living Translation Bible

While completing my graduate training in ministry, I was required to take two semesters of Hebrew. Such an odd language, which is read backwards. When I first purchased a Hebrew Bible and opened it up, I was quite intimidated. Greek seemed hard enough to learn. But Hebrew? How would I ever understand this ancient language?

Our professor, David Wallace, coffee mug in hand, patiently guided us through this study and made the text come alive. By the second semester we were actually able to translate some Old Testament verses. And as it happened in my Greek class, reading in the original language truly made certain passages sing. I'll always remember how moved I was as our class translated the entire book of Jonah. God's awesome nature was so vividly displayed in this short book.

This morning I read Jonah for the umpteenth time -- but in English this time. Yet it still packed a punch as God once more revealed to me His nature in these four short chapters. The sermons that I've heard on this minor prophet book usually focus on how Jonah ran away from God and His call on the reluctant prophet -- and how we tend to do the same. We hear about the great consequences of turning our backs on God -- which there definitely are. But in this morning's reading, what emerged in my mind was God's unfailing love for both the prophet and the lost people of Nineveh.

The Lord's final words to this whining prophet were: "Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

Reminds me of the words of Jesus at the close of His scathing rebuke of the Pharisees and teachers of the law: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me." -- Matt. 23:37

When our own kids rebel against our love, ignore our counsel and end up in the quagmire of sin, our hearts our broken. God's heart breaks each day for all His kids who choose to live in spiritual darkness, far away from His arms of love.

I love the story that Max Lucado tells of a mother in Brazil whose daughter left home and ended up in the streets as a prostitute. The mother wanted her back so badly that she decided to print hundreds of photos of her daughter and post them in various parts of the city where she knew her daughter lived. One day her daughter spotted one of these photos, turned the picture over and found these words written on the back:

"Whatever you've done, where ever you are, it doesn't matter. Please come home."

And she eventually did go home.

I'm just wondering how many lost people and straying prodigals would run home to the Father if they realized that He's not waiting there to punish them or shame them but rather to simply love and forgive them. And welcome them home.

And I wonder also how Jesus could use me to be a light on the porch, so to speak, letting others know through my words and actions that He is full of mercy and grace, abounding in unfailing love. He longs for those wandering in darkness to come home to the light of His love.

I pray for them right now, that they would come home.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Empty Dog Dish

"As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
till he shows us his mercy." -- Ps. 123:2

As I was shaving this morning, I sensed that someone was staring at me. I looked down and noticed that it was our dog, Oreo. She was the "someone" who was standing by her empty food bowl. If she could talk, Oreo would have probably said, "I'm hungry. Would you please give me some food?"

As I scooped up some dry dog food and put it in the dog's bowl, I told Susan that Oreo depends on us to feed her every day. And though we may not realize it, each day we are completely reliant on the Lord for all of our needs -- our food, our jobs, health, His constant forgiveness...every breath we take. What does that passage say in Acts? "In him we live and move and have our being.'" And yet too often I forget how much I rely on God for everything. Thus, pride and self-sufficiency and lack of compassion for others who can't seem to get it together creep in my soul so subtly and easily.

I've noticed that when my employment is steady, our marriage is peaceful, our children are getting along well, and health is good, I can get a bit complacent and feel self-sufficient. And then I get impatient with those who come to the Service Center or to me personally -- asking for help one more time. I tend to get prideful, looking down on those in such chronic need. Then the Lord brings to mind how good He has been to me in my lowest points. He did that early this morning when I went out to get the paper. A story from Matthew 18 surfaced in my mind -- when the man who had been forgiven millions of dollars in debt turned around and demanded that a man owing him 20 bucks pay him back right away.

I recall those days when I was out of work, needed to borrow money from my mother, and lived month by month-- barely making it by financially. And yet God provided for us, rescuing us over and over -- often through the generosity of friends, family and the body of Christ. As I think of the goodness of the Lord to me, how can I not be open-handed with those who come to me needing help with rent, clothes or medicine?

And I remember those times when I sinned greatly against the Lord and hurt my family through my harsh words. God forgave me. How can I not extend that same grace to others?

Each morning when I wake up, there's a "bowl of food" waiting for me -- prepared by the Master's hand. He provides all my needs in Christ Jesus -- over and over and over again. I want to do the same for others by being a grace-filled, open-handed, non-judgmental giver to everyone God sends my way. For I truly am a beggar sharing with other beggars the food so graciously given to me by the Bread of Life.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

If Someone Else Has Done It, Can't I, Too?

I sat across from a woman at a church lunch recently who is a motivational speaker. She lectures to many high school student groups. While I didn't buy all she was saying, there was one phrase from her lips that lingered in my soul these past few days: "If someone else has done something, then you can do it."

Now I don't believe what she said is unequivocal truth. I don't think God has wired me to be a NASA engineer or a brain surgeon. My hunch is that if I were to try supporting my family as an auto mechanic, we would all be very poor.

And I don't buy into this thinking of "you can do anything if you just believe in yourself."

And yet...and yet, my experience has shown me that our self confidence (or lack of it) can deeply impact our willingness to try new things.

I remember the first time that I tried using a computer. We were in St. Louis, training with a team to prepare for a church plant in the Northeast. I needed to write a guided research paper for a Masters degree - -and so I knew it was time to learn how to use a computer. My friend, Dale, let me use his computer at the church we were attending. At that time, the software was DOS -- Windows and Microsoft Word and "mouses" weren't invented yet. And I was intimidated by this monitor glaring at me as I pecked away at the key board . I had to push through my doubts and rely on the encouragement of others in order to eventually master the use of this machine. Today I'm a constant user of the computer as I've written hundreds and hundreds of letters, booklets, e-mails, blogs and even two books.

But what if I let my doubts and insecurities about learning something new hold me back -- and I stuck with hand-writing everything and relied on others to transcribe my scribblings on a computer?

Is there something you want to do that you realize you have some knack for, but you may be held back for some reason? Maybe you want to write a book. Or teach a class. Perhaps explore photography or learn scrap booking. Don't let those internal nay sayers keep you chained to your doubts and reluctance to take risks. Go for it. Try something new. Realize that thousands of others have done what you want to try doing.

Quite honesty, I had my doubts about whether I could start a blog and then sustain it. However, by God's grace, I've written 223 posts as of today. Praise God. There are probably millions of others writing blogs, so why can't I join that number. And perhaps minister to a few folks on this earth that need encouragement, hope and strength in Jesus Christ.

And maybe, just maybe, that by taking this risk each week day to write something on this blog, I've been used by God to motivate someone out there to let God stretch them and try something new -- all to His glory.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Being the Answer to Someone Else's Prayers

I heard the greatest story yesterday. A friend of mine shared his prayer request in his Bible class. He was in dire need of some temporary housing. The man who was taking the requests and about to lead the prayer said to my friend in front of everyone, "Expect an answer." Little did my friend know how quickly that answer would come.

Near the end of the class my buddy stepped out of the room to use the restroom and as he returned to the classroom, there was Terry Browder, standing at the door. Terry and his wife, Laura, are members of that same class and heard the prayer request. They started a cool ministry a few years ago when they turned a house near the Highland building into what they call "The Hospitality House." It's for those needing a place to stay for a few weeks -- missionaries that are visiting, folks who are in town because a loved one is in the hospital, a family in crisis. Terry handed my friend a brochure of the hospitality house and said, "It's empty. You can stay there for awhile. It's fully furnished."

My friend was absolutely blown away at the goodness of God. As the class leader had said, "Expect an answer from God." It turned out that Terry and Laura decided to be the answer to my friend's prayer.

On the way to work I was thinking about prayer and how to look at it from a different perspective. Most often I see intercessory prayer as me asking God to do something and then waiting for Him to answer it -- His way, of course. However, what if you and I prayed a different sort of prayer, something like, "Lord, would You please use me to be an answer to someone else's prayer." I'm not sure if that's what Terry and Laura had done before going to class and yet they did establish that hospitality house in order to bless those in need of temporary housing. And the Lord has surely used them to be the answer to the prayers of many -- including my friend yesterday.

We might try praying that prayer today. And even listen in on others' prayers and then ask the Lord, "Father, please use me in some way to be an answer to that person's needs." It may involve just giving someone a call. Sending an e-mail. Or buying a person in poverty a tank of gas or some Christmas presents for their kids.

Our Savior is a such a generous giver. I want to be like Him and always be ready to give to others -- so that people will know that the living God truly does answer prayers -- and often does so through the kind acts of His people.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Remaining in His Care

At the end of each year, our mailboxes are usually deluged with requests from various ministries and charities, asking for a year-end gift. Like all other non-profits (and many churches) we tend to make our year-end budget through the generosity of dear folks who give late in the year. It's a good time to give in order to avoid taxes on IRA withdrawals, etc.

A good part of my time is spent in writing grants, sending thank you notes to donors and managing our budget. And yet I want to always remember that donors, foundations, and generous churches are not the ultimate source of our income. God is. He simply uses people as His instruments of providing for us. If I forget that truth, I can easily slip into idolatry -- putting my trust in money and wealthy people and well-endowed foundations, rather than in the living God.

The more I read the Old Testament, the more I realize that the unregenerated hearts of mankind are bent towards idolatry. People put their trust in what they can see and touch. Powerful leaders, individual prosperity, and a strong economy can give us the illusion that we really don't need God. But inevitability, money and people will let us down. It has for me.

There is a powerful chapter in Hosea 14 that I read this morning. I was so moved in reading how the Lord, heartbroken by His people's idolatry, is wooing them back to Himself. He says,

O Israel, stay away from idols! I am the one who looks after you and cares for you. I am like a tree that is always green, giving my fruit to you all through the year. Let those who are wise understand these things. Let those who are discerning listen carefully. The paths of the LORD are true and right, and righteous people live by walking in them. But sinners stumble and fall along the way. -- Hos. 14:9

I think I'll print that verse on a 3 by 5 card and carry it around with me all day. It will be a reminder that my loving Father will provide everything I need because He indeed is the One who looks after His children and cares for us.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jesus With Skin On It

I love small group meetings like last night. The Highland staff decided to spend two Wednesday nights in a row having the church break up into small groups and meet with their shepherding groups. We met in the gym for Starbucks coffee, which is a great way to begin fellowship. Then we went to our various rooms to meet and minister to one another.

Jim and Jody Reese, a fellow elder couple, joined Susan and me in hosting our shepherding groups. We had them go around the circle, interviewing their neighbor and then letting them tell about the person they interviewed. We learned so much about one another.

Then I asked them a couple questions on a handout that Dickie Porche, our administrative minister, had prepared. Several of us told stories of how we've seen the Lord work in the Highland church. The most touching stories to me were those people told about how the body of Christ ministered to them. They mentioned how they had faced a crisis in their life and tried to handle it on their own. It wasn't until they opened up to some fellow Christians and asked for prayer that they were deeply helped.

We closed our time together by standing in a circle for a prayer and to sing one verse of "Great is Thy Faithfulness." I asked Foy Jackson, who led singing for Highland during his college days, to lead us. Before he did, he told the coolest story about why this song means so much to him. When his mother was in a hospital dying of cancer, one of her sources of comfort was listening over and over to a Sandi Patti tape -- singing "Great is Thy Faithfulness." Through an amazing set of circumstances, Sandi got wind of this and called Foy's mother at the hospital, telling her how much it meant to her to know that her voice blessed this woman. She then prayed for Foy's mother on the phone...and in a few days this ailing woman went home to sing to Jesus for eternity.

During our elders meeting a few of us processed what happened in our shepherding groups. Apparently a number of them also had wonderful experiences as we did. At the end, Foy Pinson led a beautiful prayer, thanking the Lord for how we meet Him and are so often ministered by Him through the body of Christ.

When I reflected this morning about how we saw the Lord work last night, this phrase came to mind: Jesus with skin on it. That's what we were experiencing. That's Who we were experiencing.

Over the 30 years of knowing and following Jesus, He has taught me that the more dependent and confessional and honest we are with the body of Christ, the more Jesus shows up. We experience His healing touch, at times His gentle rebuke, and His daily provision when we allow Jesus to love us through our fellow believers.

And little may we realize that today, when we do even the smallest thing for another person because of our love for Christ, they will meet Jesus once more -- Jesus wrapped up in our skin.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006


I tried watching some of that new show, "Heroes." But I could not get into it. And yet I like the title -- reminds me of folks with whom I work each day.

Yesterday our son, Aaron, came to the Service Center, armed with a digital camera. He needed to do a project for his photography class at ACU and decided to document the happenings here at my hangout. As I took Aaron around to help him get some good shots, I introduced him to several of our volunteers -- many of whom have worked here for years. After getting Aaron to meet and photograph several of these volunteers, I told him about a few of them:

Bert, who is a World War 2 vet that fought on the beaches of Normandy. He's now 84 and usually opens up the building every morning and then runs our men's clothing department.

Bobby, who is 91 and has volunteered here for 24 years. She works all day each Tuesday. As Aaron and I were walking down a hallway, we noticed Bobby coming towards us, carrying a rather heavy box back to our kitchen utensils room. When I asked her if I could carry the box for her, Bobby politely declined: "No, I'm fine. I've got it."

Then of course there's Imogene. 92 years old. On a walker. A 20 year veteran here. Her mind is still razor sharp. She still drives. And is one of the most tireless and joyful workers here. She loves serving the Lord at the Christian Service Center.

Aaron was amazed as he met all these elderly people. They could be sitting home feeling sorry for themselves but instead were involved in meaningful ministry to the poor. And they experience so much joy doing this each day -- joy that I believe comes from the Lord.

These are a few of my heroes. Who are some of your heroes who are in their sunset years and yet are still involved in service to others?


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

War and Peace

In our 25 years of mostly marital bliss, one of our main sources of conflict has been (surprise!): MONEY. I'm a tightwad Scotsman. Susan loves to spend. It's been a push me, pull me battle/challenge all the way. And yet in His grace and mercy, the Lord has given us a unity and healthy balance. But it hasn't always been that way.

Since we first married, we maintained a continual Visa balance of around $1,500. For some kooky reason, we thought that this is the norm -- always carrying some credit card debt. We finally began to implement some of the principles advocated by Larry Burkett -- sort of. On the first Saturday of each month we sit down and have a finance meeting, using his one page monthly budget guide which is so helpful. And yet it wasn't until we attended a couple financial classes at church that we really got serious -- especially after the Dave Ramsey "Financial Peace" class that Paul and Lenda Jensen led us through at the first of this year. On the second Sunday class, we and some others cut up our credit cards. It was scary, but in time it was so freeing. And we now use a debit card, have no debt but our house (o yes, I also owe my Mom some money). We're really trying to stay within our means. God is giving us true financial peace. And yet that does't mean the war is over.

Last Saturday we had a battle over what to spend on Christmas presents. My thinking is to be very moderate. Susan, on the other hand, loves to give presents to our kids, me and her sisters (al four of them!). I reluctantly agreed to spend the "exorbitant" amount she desires for this Christmas.

Then we faced a bedroom furniture decision. We prayed and shopped and prayed and shopped. And I was so proud of Susan for urging us to be very careful and prayerful about this decision. We finally found a bedroom set we both love. And we were on the verge of getting a short-term loan and buying it. Quite frankly, I didn't want to pray about it -- afraid that the Lord might tell us to wait. (He already has told us about borrowing and debt -- it's all over the place in Scriptures).

I saw Paul Jensen at church Sunday and didn't want to tell him that we were thinking of borrowing that money to buy the furniture. Then last night, when we were about to make our decision, we turned on Dobson at 6:30 and the guest was Dave Ramsey. After hearing him, praying some more, Susan and I both came to the decision to hold off on the furniture purchase, save up for several months, and use our tax return money to buy it in April. We both went to sleep last night feeling so much at peace.

It is an ongoing battle for us -- the spender and the saver. But we thank God for the victories He is giving us in finances. And after all, it's all His money. We're just His managers of it for awhile. And when we keep submitting to Him and His way of managing funds, He always gives us peace.


Monday, December 04, 2006

The Power of One

One of our favorite dates is when Susan and I spend a couple hours in a bookstore. We drink coffee and peruse several of the new books. I could spend many hours at one sitting doing this.

There was one book that I lingered over for some time last Saturday night: The Unusual Suspect by Stephen Baldwin. Stephen is one of the Baldwin brothers, all of whom are well-known Hollywood actors. However, this particular brother definitely marches to the beat of another drummer. He is in love with Jesus.

When he was a young actor in New York City, Stephen met his soon-to-be wife on a bus. Her name was Kennya, a beautiful Brazilian design student. After getting married, they lived for awhile in Tuscon while Stephen was busy acting in "The Young Riders" T.V. show. By then they had two children and Stephen's wife felt the need for a nanny/housekeeper. Her extended family suggested that Kennya hire a Brazilian to do this work. Within a few weeks a woman moved from Brazil and spent a year with the Baldwins. She only spoke Portuguese, and yet she communicated a very powerful message that Stephen eventually "heard": all throughout the day she sang to Jesus.

This humble maid had such a profound impact on Kennya and Stephen that they eventually began attending a church, started reading their Bibles and committed their lives to Jesus Christ. In reading his book Saturday night, I could tell that the Baldwins are truly on fire for the Lord -- and are making a huge impact on others.

Isn't interesting how God often uses the most unlikely people -- humble, obscure, and nondescript -- to proclaim the life-saving message of Jesus to others? I thought of the fill-in preacher on a snowy Sunday in England who preached the gospel and reached young Charles Spurgeon, who later became one of the greatest preachers in England. Or the street corner preacher whom God used to turn A.W. Tozer's heart to Christ.

That Brazilian cleaning lady may have had no idea that her influence would one day impact a rising Hollywood star who would eventually write a book about his conversion and then profoundly effect others for Jesus Christ.

You may think, "But I'm just one person. And I'm not a Billy Graham. Or a Mother Teresa. Or a Max Lucado." However, if you and I are filled with the Spirit of Christ and willing to be used by God in whatever way He has planned for us, then He will use us in amazing ways. And we may never know the extent of our influence until we arrive in heaven.

There really is great power in one person, if he or she is captivated and consumed with the One who has all the power in the world.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Known fully and loved completely

I've been experiencing chronic pain in my neck for the past two months. After trying various other things, my doctor finally ordered an MRI. Thank the Lord, the results came back yesterday saying that my brain was clear (I was thankful they found a brain!). However, I they did discover that I have a herniated disk in my neck. Now it's on to the physical therapist, which is manageable. I appreciate all of you who prayed for me.

I've never had an MRI before and was a bit nervous, especially when the technician asked me right before sending me into that huge metal tube, "Are you claustrophobic?" I am. But I just closed my eyes and tried to lay as still as possible while being bombarded by these strange noises. And the neatest thing happened. God gave me this amazing peace as He brought Scriptures and hymns to mind.

At one point I thought of how this machine was making it possible for doctors to see right into my body. What an amazing invention! And then this Scripture came to mind:

the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. -- Heb. 4:12-13

You and I cannot hide a thing from the Lord. And yet if we realized that when we're in Christ we can know that He loves us and has forgiven us because of the shed blood -- even when He sees the inmost thoughts of our hearts, the good and the bad.

Just like I wanted my doctor to see what was going on in my head and neck, to find the source of the pain and then seek the proper remedy, I want the Lord to examine me each day. Because I know He LOVES me I don't need to be frightened or run away from His MRI machine. Instead, I can be like the psalmist in Ps. 139:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

What an awesome privilege to be known fully and yet loved completely by the living God.