Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dawg-Gone Disappointment

The profanity was profuse, the beer was flowing, and the deafening boos rang out. Welcome to Cleveland Browns Stadium. Of these activities, I participated in only one - the occasional "boo" of disapproval. It was my first NFL game, and I won't soon forget it. Monday Night Football. National TV audience. As predicted, the hopeful anticipation of the first half soon turned to dismal embarrassment. Final score: Ravens 16, Browns 0. I'm pretty sure that I was more entertained by the insane fans than the game itself. Clevelanders passionately love their Brownies. They also love having no leg room, sitting in the personal space of their neighbors, waiting 25 minutes for a piece of expensive pizza and coffee, and paying $25 to park. Amid all of the inconveniences (including the horrible team), thousands of those people live for evenings like that. In a joyless world of debt, stress, and frustration, people everywhere long for something to bring happiness and fulfillment to life. By the end of the 3rd quarter, tens of thousands of angry, disappointed, and drunk fans hit the exits like cattle being herded towards greener pasture. I actually felt bad for them. Not that their team is so horrible... I felt bad that so many lives are lacking true fulfillment. Sure, I left disappointed too, but I actually looked forward to getting up and going to work on Tuesday. I get to serve God. I am genuinely fulfilled in life because of my relationship with Him. I hope you know Him in a personal way and are finding true fulfillment in life by following Jesus. "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord." Philippians 3:7-8.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Halloween Stitches

Ever wonder why scary Halloween monsters like Frankenstein and zombies always have stitches on their head or face? Do the stiches make the creature more frightening or repulsive? Or are they somehow a sign of manhood and toughness?

Like Frankenstein, I received some stiches in my head, just in time for Halloween. While they are frightening and repulsive, they are clearly a sign of manhood and toughness.
I took this picture of my stitched dome while hoping none of my collegues were secretly watching. Since you're asking, "what did you do to your head?..." let me say, my injury was intentional. That's right. I chose to have my bald head scarred for life. Before you assume I have a psychological problem, let me explain. I have noticed a weird bump growing on the back of my head under my skin. I was hoping my brain was growing, but Web MD said it was probably a cyst. For almost a year, LaVonna kept saying, "You need to go have that thing looked at." I finally obeyed her orders and off to the dermatologist I went. He agreed with my Web MD self-diagnosis: it was just a cyst, it wasn't going to disappear, and it should be surgically removed. So, I allowed the doctor to perform a partial decapitation on me... just in time for Halloween.
The Apostle Paul wrote, "I have learned, in whatever state I am... to be content." (Philippians 4:11) This verse assumes that sometimes life is inconvenient or even depressing. The verse doesn't mean that we're always happy about everything that happens. But Scripture does teach this principle: we need to accept the situation God allows for us. Complaining about it does no good. Getting mad at God is counter-productive. I can be content and secure in God's will for my life... even if it means having a partial head-amputation.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

By The Way, You're Preaching Today

It was a relatively normal Sunday morning... for a while. Praise Team rehearsal at 8 AM. Teach my ABF class at 9 AM. Lead worship at 10:15 AM. We had finished rehearsal and it was ABF class time. I was mingling in my class around 9:10 and Neal Wheeler, one of our pastors, stumbled in the back door of the room. I rushed over to him because there was something obvious wrong. Neal muttered out, "John, I just got sick." Taking several reverse steps I said, "Oh, that's terrible... Oh, wait... you're supposed to preach today... Oh no... I guess I'm preaching today now." I sent Neal home. Poor guy. He was so pale. And poor me. The pressure was on. I told Jeremy, my class assistant that I'd be back in 15 minutes. Running to my office, my mind was racing about what I should speak on. I quickly located sermon notes of a message I used in another location about 2 months ago. I ran the notes up to my screen guy so he could throw together some PowerPoint slides before the service started. I ran back to my ABF and taught my class. Then I went straight to the Worship Center, retrieved my sermon notes from the screen guy, spent 30 seconds on my knees, and then led worship. Never have I been more thankful for a long choir song than on Sunday. I had 7 or 8 minutes to silently review my notes and read my text from the Bible before it was sermon time. I didn't communicate as well as I would want, but it was amazing how God used my meager, last minute message. For whatever reason, it was obvious God was in it. That message, as well as many other archived messages are available to hear at

Later at home, LaVonna and I realized this: when an audience knows that a speaker is thrust into an awkward, under-prepared situation, they listen more intently. An audience like that generally understands the pressure, they're glad they're not in the speaker's shoes, but they want to see what the speaker will say on the spot. The bigger the crowd, the greater the pressure. I kept asking God to keep me focused and not think too much about what I was actually doing.

Life can sometimes make us reach for the panic button. We have to stay God-focused and others-oriented in ministry. Everyone wants to do a good job, but ministry is not about earning another's pat on the back. It's not about "doing a good job." Ministry is about encouraging people to trust God. His word is the key to that influence. Paul told Timothy, "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season." (2 Timothy 4:2) We never know when God will thrust us into a key opportunity to speak His truth to another. The next time you're there, don't hit the panic button. Relax, draw strength from God, and let Him use you - as you use His word.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

When the Heckler Won't Stop

Last night I had a disruptive visitor in my class. He was a Roman Catholic "expert" who came to my study on the dangers of Roman Catholic doctrine. Our topic was the Virgin Mary. This "expert" interrupted and disputed my teaching more times than I can remember throughout the evening. I am all for healthy discussion in class settings and am a big fan of interactive one-on-one conversations. In a class setting however, certain boundaries must be observed by everyone, and control must be maintained by the teacher. As the hour went on, the disruptive "Catholic expert" was clearly crossing the line and I knew I must maintain control. Several questions crossed my mind as I taught: 1) Do I ask him to leave? I almost did, but I really wanted him to hear Biblical truth. 2) How much do I allow him to talk? Sometimes I like the opposing point of view to be present because it reinforces why I'm addressing that subject. This definitely happened. It also gives God's Spirit a wonderful opportunity to correct faulty doctrine. But the opposition cannot take over. 3) How do I respectfully show him that he's Biblically wrong and that he's crossed social boundaries in the class? This is tough stuff. My goal was to reach him, but his goal was to publicly prove me (and the Bible) wrong. Once this became apparent to me and the 40+ others attending the class, I respectfully explained that his comments were no longer welcome. "I would be happy to dialogue with you individually, but I have a class of people who came to hear me teach, not you interrupt." 3-4 More times I had to make similar statements as his persistance mounted. Right up to my closing prayer, he insisted on rudely interjecting. The entire class was more than weary of him. I pray they felt sorry for him and are burdened for him. It was one of the most unique and memorable teaching hours I've ever led.

It is good for all of us to occasionally experience theological challenges. This one for me happened to be a public one (and I was sure glad I was well prepared!) We must remember that our goal is not to win - Even When the Heckler Won't Stop. God has called us to present Truth from the Bible, and to allow it to correct those who believe false doctrine. Sharing truth is not a pride competition between you and another person. We need to tactfully, lovingly, and firmly share truth. God alone changes hearts. God alone also holds the unrepentant opposition accountable.

One final thought: it is amazing how opposition makes the Body of Christ draw together in unity. I was very proud of our class and their increased desire to allow the Bible alone to determine what we believe and what we reject.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Backstage w/ Steve Green

In 10 minutes it would be concert time. The setup was complete. The worship center was packed. The busiest week of my life was almost over. I slipped back to Steve Green's private room to escort him to the platform. Steve was leading his band in prayer. He was unaware of my eves-dropping. He prayed - "Lord, help us to be a blessing to this church and the hundreds of pastors gathered. Give us genuine love in our hearts for them. We know that we will be flooded with people after the concert. Help us to be compassionate to each one and to love even the unlovely. Help us to love even those who might really annoy us... give us a love for them too. If we don't have love for these, then we are nothing more than Juan's (his drummer) cymbals. And they're nice cymbals... (laughs in the room)... but without love for these people we are nothing."

After hoping I was not one who was annoying to him, we headed to the platform. The concert was incredibly spiritually uplifting. Afterwards, I watched Steve interact with those he prayed about: the pastors, the floods of people, the unlovely, and the annoying. He treated them all the same. He patiently listened to the same words he'd heard a million times over from people saying: "we had your songs in our wedding!" "You've been my favorite singer since I was a kid!" "It is such an honor to meet you!" "Can I get a picture with you?" One missionary lady (who acted like a teenage girl talking with Elvis) said, "I can't believe I'm talking to you... I grew up on the mission field and your music was the only music we had to listen to!" He promptly, humbly, and sincerely replied, "I'm so sorry. There's so much better artists than me. But thank you so much. It really means a lot to hear you say that." I didn't see him blow off anyone all day. Steve Green is the same person on the platform as he is in a private setting. He set a living example to me of how to treat people in ministry. He prayed ahead of time for God to give him the strength to be loving and respectful - to everyone. Time and time again I got to see God answer that prayer. "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." I Corinthians 13:1

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Galatians 6:2

"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." Gal. 6:2.
But I can't even bear my own burdens! This Biblical command seems to be asking for major inconvenience and trouble. I've only been in full-time ministry for 7 years, and I am shocked at the number and the type of burdens people carry today. Unfortunately, too often people only get counsel after their burdens have already driven them to the brink of despair. We have inadvertently and tragically created a culture where getting help is a sign of weakness. This verse teaches that the local church should be a safe place to share our hurts, our burdens, and our sins. But we don't want to bother anyone with our problems. Many don't want to be bothered by another's problems. We don't want others to see our "dirty laundry." We are all too familiar with playing make-believe at church. We put on our nicest clothes. We put on our best smiles and our "everything is great" facade - all while carrying sin problems and other burdens we don't want others to see. The command is to bear one another's burdens. When we do this we fulfill the law of Christ. The principle goes both ways. 1) I must check our pride at the door. Vulnerability is a scary and risky state. But it is the protocol if we allow another to bear our burdens too. 2) I must love my neighbor as myself. Bearing another person's burden includes: befriending them, praying with them, holding them accountable, visiting them, taking them a meal, or helping in some other appropriate way. We are not to fix people. That's God's job. We are to accompany them through their burdens so they are not alone.
"God, help me to swallow my pride and share my burdens with a trustworthy Christian. Make me the safe and trustworthy person others need when they seek help. Help me to be Christ-like as I seek to bear other's burdens."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Galatians 6:1

"Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted."
Paul is now showing what to do when another Christian is unquestionably living in sin. Maybe it's an offensive sin. Maybe it's an anger problem, sexual sin, or a drug or alcohol problem. Maybe the fault is a tendency to gossip or to lie or to cheat. Paul knows that this type of thing happens and drama ensues, and relationships are damaged. It's no different in our lives today. Paul says that the spiritual response is to forgive, help, and restore that person. Our natural response however is to expose, punish, and avoid the person. There is a call in this verse for spiritual maturity. We are to treat the person how we would want to be treated if we were caught in the same fault. This is not to sugar-coat the sin. But what hope is there in the Christian life if people cannot be helped with their sin problem, and restored?

There are certain sins that bring a stiff Biblical penalty. For instance, if a pastor commits adultery, he unquestionably and permanently has disqualified himself from pastoral ministry in the local church. He may still be gifted, experienced, and passionate. But he cannot be restored to that office due to the Biblical restrictions given in I Timothy 3. However, when repentance is clear, and humility is obvious, restoration as a person is the Biblical command. The same holds true to non-pastors. If only perfect Christians can serve in ministry, there will be no one to serve - in any capacity. Let's get into the business of helping people through their spiritual faults and then getting them involved in an appropriate ministry where they can properly shine again.

Monday, August 24, 2009

When the Sump Pump Fails

Heavy rains drowned our area. Several inches of standing water provided my family an unexpected fun evening of splashing around in the backyard. The fun all ended when I descended to the basement to find that the sump crock was almost completely full of water. The submerged sump pump lay silent in its watery grave. 4 separate times during the next 2 days I became a 1-man bucket brigade - bailing out countless gallons of slimy water before it overflowed and flooded our basement. I detached the old sump pump only to discover that it was from the time of Noah - presumably the same one Noah had installed in the bottom of the ark. Off to the local mega-home improvement store for an unexpected $100+ purchase. After a long, unproductive hunt for the elusive sump pump aisle, Benjamin loudly announced, "Dad, just ask that store worker right there where the sump pumps are at." The employee smiled and walked me to the destination. I made my purchase, returned home, and successfully completed my first ever sump pump installation.
God was certainly in control. It was better to spend over $100 on a new sump pump than lose hundreds of dollars in ruined basement clutter. But even if we did have a flooded, ruined basement, would God still be in control? We tend to only celebrate God's control when everything turns out ok. The day comes for all of us that everything is not ok, but God is still in control, He is still all-powerful, and our tragedies are well within His capable care. Look at what God asked Job in his time of tragedy:

"Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder; to cause it to rain on the earth?" Job 38:25-26a

"Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? Canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth? Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee? Canst thou send lightnings that they may go, and say unto thee, 'here we are!'?" Job 38:33-35

Obviously, God alone is in control and nothing ever sends Him into a panic. We need to learn to trust Him.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Galatians 5:26

"Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another." Galatians 5:26
"Vain Glory" is another term for selfish ambition. Paul clarifies what type of selfishness he's getting at: the kind that intentionally degrades and harms people - specifically other Christians. It does something for our ego to rub another person's face in their faults or sins. When we are offended by another, our natural reaction is retaliation. We want to punish, irritate, and provoke that person - not so much to get them to change - we do this because it simply makes us feel better. Paul strongly warns against this type of retaliation. It only does more damage because it is selfishly motivated.

Secondly, he warns us to avoid envying one another. This is the opposite extreme. We envy others when we constantly feel inferior. We internally beat ourselves up because we're not as talented, spiritual, skinny, athletic, wealthy, disciplined, or happy as someone else appears to be. This act of envy is actually self-centeredness. A tendency to covet others' lives can quickly turn them into idols and their good traits into objects of lust.

These unhealthy opposites are symptoms of the same problem: self-centered ambition. This problem will be yours and mine when we choose not to walk in the Spirit. "God, help me to see others with eyes of compassion and care. When I'm offended, help me to turn the other cheek and forgive instead of my tendency to retaliate. Remind me to simply be blessed by others' strengths when I am tempted to covet and envy their strengths. Produce your spiritual fruit in me today."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Unending Circle

Ethan looked at my hand and said, "what is that thing on your finger?" The innocence and ignorance of 4-year-olds is constant entertainment. I tried to explain that mommy gave me this ring almost 10 years ago when she married me. Of course he didn't care anything about that... he only wanted me to take it off and show it to him. I never take my ring off, but was able to finally remove it and show him my initials, LaVonna's initials, and our wedding date inscribed inside the band. Ben was now interested and wanted to see pictures of our wedding day. Since our wedding album is safely stashed behind a baby-proof cabinet, it was easier just to show him the two wedding pictures we keep out in our bedroom. "Look how beautiful mommy looked in her dress!" "Look at all your hair in that picture, dad!" My ring was also visible in the photo. I explained that I have hardly ever taken it off since that picture was taken. My wedding band is a constant sign to me, LaVonna, and the world that I am happily married. I wouldn't trade our marriage for anything. This all reminded me that our boys will enter adulthood either wanting a marriage like ours, or wanting to be nothing like us. I hope and pray that we model a successful, happy, and thriving marriage. It not only affects LaVonna and me. Little eyes are watching and learning from our example. "Marriage is honorable in all..." Hebrews 13:4.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Gatalians 5:25

"If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." Galatians 5:25
This seems to be a restatement of Gal 5:16 where we were commanded to walk in the Spirit. For Paul, it was not a restatement at all: it was a more specific, clarifying command. The term, walk, is a different Greek term altogether than what Paul previously used. Before you say, "WHO CARES?", please realize this different term for walk is the key to this chapter! It means to live in conformity to a fixed standard. This verse could easily be translated like this: "since the Spirit has given us life, we should also let Him control our lives." Let's face it, this is easier said than done. Sure, we want to get saved and go to heaven. We love the idea of everlasting life. But how many of us are longing for our lives on earth to be Holy Spirit controlled? Paul is making a case for deliberate consistency in the Christian life. This verse demonstrates that God's Spirit should be in control in every area of the Christian's life: church involvement, marriage, the workplace, the business trip, our endless entertainment options, parenting, finances, relationships, and free time. As Christians, we have been given life by the Spirit. We are Biblically commanded to also walk in Him... or allow Him to control us. Can we really expect success in life if we do not give God the right to be in control?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Galatians 5:24

"And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." Pretty graphic statement when you think about it. Paul's direct audience was all too familiar with the horrors of Roman crucifixion. Crucifixion was a brutally painful way to die. It was also a method of publicly shaming the criminal while striking fear into the bystanders. The Romans had obviously crucified Jesus decades before Paul wrote Galatians. Other than believers, that culture was in denial that Jesus had risen. Paul now states, "they that are Christ's..." implying that His resurrection was real, but also that real ownership over the believer is in Christ alone. Believers are not owned by the culture, the government (praise God), or even by the church, because they are Christ's. He now states that all saved people "have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." How do we still struggle with the flesh if we have "killed" it? Paul is showing that when a believer is saved, he/she publicly transfers allegiance from the lusts of our day to Jesus Himself. We must see the lust of the flesh as an enemy or criminal which is intolerable and must be publicly shamed. This does not mean that we become perfect people free from temptation, but rather, that sin is not our master. If you are saved, you have publicly transferred your allegiance from sin to Christ. If that is so, are you serving your real master, or are you tolerating sin?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Galatians 5:22-23

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23. Paul produces another famous list: The Fruit of the Spirit. This is no ordinary physical fruit - this is the fruit developing in maturing Christian lives. Two things stand out to me: 1) "Fruit" is singular in it's Greek construction here. ("Fruit" can be singular or plural in English, and since there are 9 listed, our first glance is to assume it is plural here). Rather than 9 types of fruit, God presents a 9-dimensional type of fruit that Christians should produce. 2) It is the fruit of the Spirit. I can't just get up and try harder to be more loving, patient, or better self-controlled. Together, this 9-dimensional fruit is the natural spiritual product of following hard after God. It is something that God Himself produces in me. It is an all or nothing principle. God brings forth each "type" of fruit, leaving none to disease or drought. Each of these 9 come in conjunction with the others. Fruit trees in our world need proper surroundings to bear what they're intended to produce: Sunlight, water, proper soil drainage, and sometimes fertilizer. If these elements are lacking, the tree will suffer. Spiritually speaking, I must absorb God's word as much as possible, as often as possible for this 9-dimensional spiritual fruit to thrive in me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

An Offer I Couldn't Refuse

After the overwhelming excitement of the kiddie roller coaster, the merry-go-round, and the ferris wheel, it was time for a more manly quest: the batting cages. I recently attended a family party at Tuscora Park, which is full of nice playgrounds, a few rides, and of course, the batting cages. With every revolution of the twirly swings, my brother, Eric and I were longing more and more to go take some real swings. We each had an embarrassing round or two before we got our timing down and really started hitting. While Eric was hitting in the 35-40 mph cage (the slowest one), a guy stepped out of the next cage down and said to me, "you can hit the rest of these pitches, I'm done." Free swings? I couldn't refuse. I soon realized these pitches were much more than I could handle. It was the 80-85 mph cage. They were coming fast and furious. Not once did I even make contact... in fact, not even close. It gave me much more sympathy for pro players when they strike out, and much more appreciation for them when they hit it well. I guess that's why I make the big bucks as a pastor and not a baseball player. "Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud." Prov. 16:19

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Galatians 5:19-21

I don't normally distance myself from my kids intentionally. But if I am away too much, or am too busy at home doing chores that keep me from the kids, I know what will happen: misbehavior. It may rear it's ugly head in different ways, but it almost always happens. Their childish antics noticeably escalate when the kids don't have the time they need with me or LaVonna. What does life look like without God? In Galatians 5:19-21, the Apostle Paul intentionally lists what people do and think about when they keep God distant. The list includes everything from sexual sin, to sorcery, to outbursts of anger, jealousy, and drunkenness. Paul adds in verse 21, "and such like," as if to say, "and any other sin we might commit." This multi-verse list is God's attempt to bring everyone's head down out of the clouds. We all struggle with the works of the flesh. Here's what strikes fear into our hearts: "...they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. -vs 21b." Does this mean that if I fall into one or more of these sins that I'm no longer saved? Of course not! When we get saved God adopts us as His own children. What good father would ever disown his children just because they disobey? The word, "do," literally means to regularly, intentionally pursue something. This Greek term is sometimes used to describe the systematic practice of paying taxes or bills. The point of the verse is this: the people who regularly, and intentionally practice these types of sins have never been saved. Consequently, unsaved people regularly practice what comes naturally to them: selfish sin.
God simply doesn't allow His children to intentionally pursue a sinful lifestyle. We will not fulfill, or act upon the lust (or temptations) of the flesh when we intentionally pursue a regular walk in the Spirit. But our childish, sinful actions will escalate when we don't spend the time we need with our Father.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Childish Generosity

We've been trying to teach the boys to stop being selfish and to start caring about others. Last night was a rare golden moment of success. We arrived home from our evening VBS and played on the driveway together as it got dark. Benjamin had somehow gotten 2 bags of candy from VBS and Ethan had none. Voluntarily, Benjamin gave an entire bag of his candy to Ethan. Nothing like this has ever happened before. I was pretty sure I could hear angels singing from the skies. Out of nowhere, Ethan (4 yrs) tightly closed his eyes and started praying, "Dear God, thank you that Ben was so nice and gave me his bag of candy. I can't wait to eat it..." Are prayers allowed to be funny? LaVonna and I couldn't stop laughing. I'm pretty sure God was laughing too. "In everything give thanks." I Thessalonians 5:18.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Galatians 5:18

"If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law." - Gal. 5:18

When we use the word "if," there is normally some degree of uncertainty to our reasoning. "If" usually implies that something might happen, but it might not. To my boys I might say, "if you eat all your vegetables, I'll let you have some gum." The choice is up to them whether they receive their coveted treat. Imagine this scenario: I spy the boys secretly sneaking gum out of the cupboard after they did not eat their vegetables. From the other room I call, "If you are getting a piece of gum, you're busted!" In this situation, there is no condition. The scenario has no uncertainty: I saw them and they are busted, even though I used the typically uncertain word "if." In Galatians 5:18, this is exactly the usage of "if." Paul says, "If ye be led of the Spirit..." This Greek form of "if" actually shows certainty. It could be stated, "If ye be led by the Spirit (and you are), then ye are not under the law." So what's the point? As a believer in Christ, I am led by the Spirit, and am free from the cage of the Old Testament law. The law was and is very good. But all of it was fulfilled in Jesus. I would demonstrate an "iffy" faith in Christ should I enslave myself to the law after salvation. This verse takes my mind back to Gal. 5:1 - "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entagled again with the yoke of bondage." We can sure look "externally spiritual" if we follow some list of rules and regulations for life. Remember, we are not saved on the inside by being good on the outside. But rather, since I am saved on the inside, I am also free on the outside: Free to follow God's Spirit. "God, I could never do enough good things to be saved. I can never do enough good things to keep myself saved. Thank you for saving me and keeping me saved! Help me to stay of prideful external spirituality. Lead my by Your Spirit today."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Too Much Good Stuff

Last Friday I took Benjamin to his first Cleveland Indians game. It was a thrill watching his eyes light up as he caught his first glimpse inside of the nearly-full stadium! Everything was so exciting to him - from the gigantic escalators, to the roving stadium vendors, to the humongous scoreboard, to "Slider" the big purple/pink Indians mascot. I knew it was an atmosphere his little 6 year-old eyes had never witnessed before. He was overwhelmed. Somewhere between the 4th & 5th inning Benjamin looked at me with panic in his eyes and emphatically said, "I want to go... now!" We had just been to the restroom, so I knew he didn't need to go. I had already spent $15 on food for the 2 of us, so I knew he wasn't hungry. He had completely healed from the stomach flu several days ago, so I knew he wasn't going to heave. I took him to an uncrowded area and realized, this kid is so over-stimulated and exhausted that he almost had a panic attack. After just a few quiet minutes away from all the normal ballpark sights and noise, he was ready to take in more baseball, food, and fun. The game went 13 innings and Ben was actually fairly upset when we finally left around midnight after the 11th inning ended. This reminded me of full-time ministry. I absolutely love everything I do - worship planning and leading, discipleship, evangelism, sermon planning, counseling, and preaching & teaching. Sometimes I don't know when to stop. Then there are those times that I hit the wall and need a breather. It's the law of the Sabbath. God has made us with a built-in need for periodic rest. Once we take that needed breather... a weekly day off, or a periodic vacation, we will be much better equipped to serve God over the long haul.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Galatians 5:17

What controls my life? What wants to control my life? According to the Apostle Paul, there are only two possible answers for believers: the flesh or the Spirit. Galatians 5:17 says, "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." Ever been caught in the middle of a big fight? That's exactly where every believer finds him/herself as the Holy Spirit and our flesh duke it out for control of our lives. It seems strange to think of the Holy Spirit lusting. We normally associate lust as something dirty and secretive. The Greek term translated lust means to desire against or to protest against something. This means 2 things: 1) Our flesh actively protests against God's will and desires control of our lives, and 2) The Holy Spirit actively protests against our flesh and desires control of our lives. Like Paul says, these are obvious opposites. The result? - doing what you want to do always seems impossible. Our sinful flesh only wants us to do evil - and God's Spirit protests. God's will is for us to be Holy Spirit led - and the flesh protests.

What do we do? Paul teaches that we must commit to walking in the Spirit before we face the moment of temptation. It is much easier to follow God's leadership prior to our moments of weakness than if we decide how to act in the heat of temptation itself. When we wait until the temptation is the strongest to cry out to God, we will almost surely fail. It's like throwing a "hail mary" during the fleeting moments of a football game. Almost a sure sign that you're going to lose. "Lord, I am commiting to walking in the Spirit today. Help me to stay focused and sincere as I serve you."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Galatians 5:16

The Apostle Paul invested blood, sweat, and tears into the churches at Galatia. According to Acts 14:19-20, Paul had been stoned to the point of death in his attempt to plant and strengthen the churches in that area. Later he writes Galatians, an important letter that demonstrates how salvation is a gift of God's grace, and is not ever a result of doing good works or following rules. Now in Galatians 5:16, Paul gives this Biblical command to all saved people: Walk in the Spirit. He has invested too much in these people for them to get saved but then live in sin. "Walking in the Spirit" means to keep in consistent step with the Holy Spirit's leadership in our lives. We must recognize that God has a will for us, and a plan for us. If our values do not match God's, then we will be out of step with His leadership. Our relationship with God must define how we make life's decisions.

According to Galatians 5:16, it is impossible to have a healthy relationship with God while pursuing a sinful lifestyle. "Walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh." The word, "not" is a double negative in Greek. We aint never supposed to use double negatives in English... it's just bad English. But it is good Greek. Paul does this to show a STRONG point: When you walk in the Spirit, you will never ever fulfill the lust of the flesh.

What is absent in this verse is the reality of temptation. When we walk in the Spirit, we will not ever fulfill the lust of the flesh, though we will still be tempted by our flesh. When we seek to fulfill our fleshly desires, it is a clear indication that we have ceased to walk in the Spirit. As believers, our relationship with God will always remain intact, but any sin we pursue will damage and weaken than relationship. When we choose to daily walk with God, He will keep us strong in the face of temptation every time.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Good Side of the Flu

"I need you home... now!" Anytime you hear those words, it's bad news. It was Saturday morning and I was in a counseling session in my office. My dear wife called my cell and frantically said, "I need you home, now! All 3 kids are throwing up!" Now on the one hand, I want to be there to help my wife and kids. On the other hand, imagining the smell, sound, or sights of everyone with the stomach flu, the thought did cross my mind to just stay in the office and do "pastoral things." I did the right thing, ended my meeting, and hurried home to help out. By late afternoon, LaVonna went down with it too. Ever been in a house where everyone is throwing up... except you? One of the worst days imaginable. Amazingly, I felt closer to my wife and each of my kids as I ran around all day taking care of each one. Showing people how much you love them is so important. Sometimes it's a hug, a date, a bedtime story, a gift, or a game of baseball together. But nothing says "I love you" more than holding the ol' barf bucket for someone else. "...walk in love, as Christ loved us." Eph. 5:2a