Thursday, August 30, 2007

ibc : refreshing

A year and a half ago, I met with Pantego Bible Church leaders and put a root beer in each of their hands. I urged them to continue making PBC an IBC culture--a church of "Irresistible Biblical Community." Fortunately, the foundation had been carefully laid before I ever arrived and godly men and women have endured in their commitment to make our church more than just a Sunday experience. So many people are experiencing genuine community.

I confess that in the months since, immersed in ministry, I had been unable to see the forest for the trees. Today, at our weekly leadership meeting, I asked Phil Anderson to offer his most significant observation of PBC. Phil, an out of town pastor, has been visiting with our staff during the last two weeks to learn more about our Connecting Church model of ministry. He paused for a moment and then commented that our picture of community is what stood out the most. People really do love one another. Hearts are really being knit together. It's authentic. Not just a paradigm. God is at work in our church in the most extraordinary way enabling people to share their lives with one another. I'm glad Phil noticed. I'm more glad I get to be a part of it. Irresistible Biblical Community. Refreshing!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

no divine shadows

As I drove to church today, during the early morning hours, I caught the tail end of the lunar eclipse. It’s the phenomenon resulting when the moon passes through some portion of the Earth's shadow. In other words, the Earth blocked the Sun's rays so that the moon couldn't radiate with its usual brilliance. The last eclipse of this kind occurred seven years ago.

Even more spectacular is the eclipse that never takes place. Because God is forever the same, nothing gets in the way of the brilliance of who He is or what He is doing. The great hymn states, "Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father; There is no shadow of turning with Thee;Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not; As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be."

The Apostle James gives me a biblical point of view: "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17). I can fully trust that God is the same today that He was at the beginning of creation, in the Psalms, and in the ministry of Jesus. It's what we call the immutability of God. He never changes. He never shifts. Always the same. Always faithful. Soli Deo Gloria!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

don't leave home without it

This morning, I preached from Proverbs 4:5-9 on the value of wisdom--one of the most important survival skills for the spiritual life. At the end of our worship services, we prayed for our students, teachers and administrators. It was a very moving experience.

Our time together left me wondering how biblical wisdom would manifest itself in the lives of my three children, Grant, Pearson and Jenna. I recalled a list that I offered my congregation in a July 2006 message on parenting. As I release them to their respective 3rd, 7th and 9th grade experiences tomorrow morning, I pray that they will, with godly wisdom, continue to remember...

1. …that the world revolves around God
[Genesis 1:1, Acts 17:24-28]
2. …that God has created them for a divine purpose
[Ephesians 2:10, Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 139:16]
3. …that God offers salvation through His Son Jesus
[1 John 5:11-12, Romans 10:9-10, John 1:12-13]
4. …who they are in Christ
[1 John 3:1, 2 Corinthians 5:17]
5. …that God is discovered in His Word and through prayer
[Jeremiah 15:16, Proverbs 15:29]
6. …that worship is a lifestyle
[1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 10:31]
7. …that God dwells in His church in a mysterious way
[Ephesians 2:22, 3:10]
8. …how to live extravagantly for the King and His Kingdom
[1 Corinthians 4:2; Acts 20:24]
9. …that all people matter to God
[Psalm 8:4-5, James 3:9-12]
10. …that this world is not our home
[Philippians 3:20-21, 2 Peter 3:11-14]

From “Letting the Vine Grow Wild” (Proverbs 22:6) ● July 30, 2006

Friday, August 24, 2007

i love these people!

Last evening, we hosted the Pantego Bible Church staff and families at our home for an end-of-summer party. There's probably a universal pool occupancy code that we violated. What fun we had being with one another! I love these people!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

making God famous

I have been on a winding journey for much of my spiritual life, searching out the "main thing"--that one thing for which I live and, quite possibly, would die. That "thing" has changed throughout the years.

I was set on the path of life purpose when I met Jesus Christ in 1983. From there, I began to think that my life purpose was spiritual maturity. Grow up in Jesus. Then I discovered that the outcome of spiritual maturity was spiritual reproduction. My mission in life was to help others grow in Christ. Then I morphed to mission. The goal of the Christian life was to grow in Christ, to help others grow in Christ so that, together, we could take Christ to others who might one day grow in Christ as well. My vision was becoming increasingly global and focal along the way.

Each refinement was an attempt to answer the question "Why?" Several years ago, I asked the question again, "Why do I grow in help others grow in that, together, we reach the world for Christ?" Why? Why? Why? The answer was: To glorify God. And, I haven't found a better purpose yet.

The word "glory" in the Bible [doxa in Greek...hence doxo-logos means "words of glory"] means "to be weighty or significant." To "glorify God" means that whatever I do or say reflects the all-surpassing excellency of who He is. Glorification is about reflection. It is to mirror the magnificence of someone or something. Since God is worthy of worship, it makes sense that everything I do be purposed toward declaring how wonderful He really is. In other words, my mission is to make disciples who are changed by God to change their world. But, in the end, what I ultimately want, is God to be made famous.

God declares this mission to be absolute in Malachi 1:11,
"My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations," says the LORD Almighty.

The Apostle Paul summarizes this life mission in the theologically rich declaration of Ephesians 1:11-12,
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
And, in 1 Corinthians 10:31, the mission is unmistakable,
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Wow. To think that God didn't save me for me. He saved me for Himself. And, all of life is given to me in order that I might show how weighty God really is. Making Him famous. That's my doxology.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

speaking of platforms...

If you ever wonder what I think about as I am taking the stairs up to the platform on Sunday morning...Watch the whole thing.

changing platforms

We got a new computer last night. Let the headaches begin.

I spent hours reloading old software, trying to remember passwords that long ago left my mind, and getting used to a new system: Windows Vista. It's a challenge changing platforms--moving from one look, feel and way finding, to another one. Perhaps, in time, we'll get used to it.

Years ago, a Christian magazine spoke with me about writing an article on the topic of switching churches. They wanted a pastor's perspective on when it's right and not right to "switch platforms." Other responsibilities crowded out that article, but I have since thought about the topic. In every church I've served at, people have left. Sometimes, they left for good reason [like needing to replace your computer]. Other times, they changed churches for poor reasons [like the person who invests in a new computer because the beige electrical cords under the desk better coordinate with his off-white carpet].

As I think about the rationale for changing churches, two caveats shape my thinking. First, I endeavor to be theological. I try to base my decisions on what God says because my heart isn't always the best indicator of what is true and best. Second, I believe that the Body of Christ, locally and universally, is precious. Our unity trumps all personal preferences. Unity means that we work hard at reconciliation [see Matthew 5:23-24 and Matthew 28:15-17 ]. Unity means that see ourselves as thermostats changing the temperature around us, rather than thermometers, who report what's heating up, but do nothing to bring about solutions.

Some families have no choice but to change platforms. Perhaps a job exports them across the state and staying at a church isn't practical or possible. But, for the rest, booting up to a new system usually isn't the answer. God is more honored when we hold high the ever-changing, richly-diverse community called the church. It's hard work, I know. But it's essential for our own maturity, not to mention the mirror we become reflecting the grace of God to the world. So, as I struggle to configure my new computer tonight, pray for me. And I'll be praying for you. Soli Deo Gloria.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

close to home, closer to our hearts

One of the most impacting experiences of the last week at Pine Cove was the number of families attending camp from Fort Hood. Tiffany and I heard, firsthand, the price that soldiers and their families are willing to pay. This morning, in our second worship service, Pantego Bible Church prayed for Dr. Paul Phillips who is being deployed for Iraq on Saturday, August 25. The reality of war hits closer to home in our church community. When I got home, I received email notice than my nephew, Lance Corporal Adam Wroblski (pictured above), just left for a 4-6 week stint at Camp Penn. Then he leaves for 7-9 months in Iraq. Tiffany's stepbrother, Major Paul Hains, deploys in a couple of weeks. Much too close to home. Pray for our soldiers and their families. May God never let us lose sight of the price of freedom and the immense value of human life!

Friday, August 17, 2007

knocked out?

Tonight was the finale of Family Camp at Pine Cove. The staff and counselors did a grade-A job of taking care of families and showing us the heart of Jesus in action. What servants!

We ended our great week with a carnival of sorts. And, as I walked back to our cabin to turn in for the night, I reflected on the games we played. Counselors perched themselves above a dunk tank daring kids to throw their best shot. Tiffany and another wife "jousted" each other, trying to pummel each other off their respective pedestals. In 4-Square, players tried to catch one another off balance. And, in dodge ball, we ran to mid-court to pelt our opponents. Every game was about a "knock-out."

What was fun and games for campers is a spiritual reality for the Christian every day. We face unseen forces that attack our family, our ministry, our identity, our integrity, our purity, our destiny and our community. Satan is the enemy who lies in wait, looking to charge forward and throw the unsuspecting Believer off balance, off their foundation, out of their square and out of the game. How important for us to remember that we are at war. We must be vigilant....equipped by the Spirit, dependent in our position, protected by the Word (Ephesians 6:10-18).

A friend of mine used to sign his letters, "Stay in the Game." That's a good word. Watch what's getting thrown at you. Don't give up. Don't get knocked out.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

order in the courts?

Have you watched the news today? The University of Florida has restricted Beta Upsilon Chi fraternity from being a campus organization on it's college campus. The reason: Beta Upsilon Chi (Brothers Under Christ) is a Christian men's organization. The fraternity faced similar hurdles on two other college campuses. When they moved toward legal action, the universities dusted off their copy of the United States Constitution and recognized the fraternity's freedom of religion. Today, Fox News has been covering the latest developments and the impending suit.

This hits especially close to home for me. In the Spring of 1985, I and 20 other friends started Beta Upsilon Chi (nicknamed BUX) on the University of Texas campus. Since then, the fraternity has multiplied into 21 chapters and God is doing an incredible work--far beyond what we founding fathers ever imagined when we began meeting weekly in the basement of University Christian Church. On the one hand, I'm sad that Christians have to battle for community. On the other hand, how exciting that our fraternity has gained such momentum that it has threatened spiritual forces who would prefer that Christians never gather in the name of Jesus. In the meantime, I remember that "the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord" (Proverbs 21:1) and God will determine the outcome.

always "on" discipleship

Our family has spent the last two days in the incredible surroundings of Pine Cove, sometimes serving and mostly being served. I'm grateful for the prayers of friends who have been supporting my ministry to about 40 families this week. This evening, I will present an evangelistic message on forgiveness.

One of the things that I have noticed during my time here is how the counselors at Pine Cove are always "on"--always enthusiastic, consistently helpful, faithfully God-centered. And, it affects people continually. They remind me that discipleship is not an event. It's a lifestyle. What I mean is, it's not something a person turns on an off. Truth is, we're always discipling others in one direction or another. This is especially true of us parents. Our children are always writing notes from our lives (even when we don't think they are). Someone once said that we are the clock tower that they set their time by. They learn how to respect others by the way we treat our waitress. They learn how to honor commitments by the way we honor our word to them. They learn the value of service when they watch us give up our place for others. They develop healthy relational tools when they watch us run toward reconciliation with others rather than run from our problems. Our words end up becoming their words. Our lives are impressed upon their lives.

Wow. That's a sobering thought. They're always watching. We're always on.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

outta here

This afternoon, the Daniels family heads to Pine Cove Christian Camp near Tyler to attend Family Camp at the Woods. I will be speaking 6 times to the adults [exploring several life-change questions that Jesus asked His disciples] and all of us hope to enjoy playing, eating, reading, relaxing and building relationships during the week. Please pray that God's Word ministers to those who attend and that our family grows together in Christ-likeness!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

while you were baking...

As you step out into the 100 degree temperatures today, keep your cool with this in mind. This was our home in Bloomington, Minnesota (January 2004).

Friday, August 10, 2007

on being human (part II)

You might have noticed two significant digs happening simultaneously this week. First, archaeologists in Kenya discovered a Homo hablis jawbone and a Homo erectus skull in the same region. What's the significance? Traditional evolutionary theories of the genus Homo suggest a successive progression: Homo habilis gave rise to Homo erectus, which then begat modern humans, Homo sapiens. However, now it appears possible that the first two co-existed. One didn't evolve from the other. [see the full article here]

At the same time, a second dig continued in the mountains of Huntington, Utah. Workers are drilling frantically trying to reach six miners trapped by a cave-in on Monday morning. News reports this morning were bittersweet: Signs that the cavity where the miners could be located had fresh oxygen, but also no signs of carbon dioxide--a sign of human life.

Both digs converge in one important fact: If human beings were nothing more than glorified primates that evolved from single-cell organisms, hundreds of workers wouldn't be pressing on through night hours to rescue them hundreds of feet below. But they do. And, the watching world waits anxiously, hoping that they will be found alive. Because human beings are more than just physical stuff. Made in the image of God, we are precious. And, we are worth the dig.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

on being human

The 9 p.m. drive home from Austin to Arlington last Sunday evening yielded some interesting conversation with my two sons. Somehow, we ventured into the subject of what it means to be human. Before you think too much of us, I admit that we ended our trip sharing inane junior high jokes.

We discussed the fact that human beings, made in the imago Dei (Genesis 1:26) are unique from animals and the rest of creation because we possess not only physical body, but a soul/spirit. That immaterial essence is what makes us moral, intellectual, relational, volitional, emotional and eternal. It's also what makes us valuable.

Monday morning, I stopped by the Arlington Pregnancy Center and was treated to a tour by Becky Hyde. The center provides pregnancy services, care and counseling for expectant mothers. The highlight of my time there was a demonstration of their sonogram equipment which has the ability to show a "4-D" image to expectant mothers. I thank God for ministries like APC that graciously and gently seek to protect human life! Soli Deo Gloria.

filled cups

This week, Grant and Pearson have been staying with my parents at their home on Cedar Creek Lake. We settled on a four day visit and I secretly hoped they would at least make it two. You just never know how an iPod generation will fare lounging on the back porch watching the sun come up.

Pearson called me last night. "How ya' doin' bud?" I asked.

"Dad, can't even imagine how great it's been! We went to a movie with Meemaw and Peepaw and before that we went to the store and bought a shirt for school and last night we went fishing and caught four fish but three of them died so we're going to go fishing for more and we just got finished eating baked catfish and corn and baked beans and this morning Meemaw made her homemade cinnamon rolls and we had lasagna last night and macaroni and cheese for lunch and Peepaw taught us a new game called "Joker" and tomorrow we're going to do some more cool stuff..."

His emotional cup was to the brim. And, the funny thing is, we had bought him a shirt recently, went to the movies last weekend, and frequently eat macaroni and cheese. But, for the last two days, his eyes and heart were especially open.

God, open my eyes to see who You are and the great things You have done. Fill my heart to the brim with wonders of Your marvelous works so that, at the end of my day, I declare how great You are! "Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." (Psalm 34:8)

Monday, August 6, 2007

1000 memories

The family and I spent the last 36 hours in Austin, visiting with our friends at First Evangelical Free Church where I used to be on staff. I preached on Sunday and we all attended the wedding of very dear friends, Greg O'Brien and his class-act wife, Ginger. It was a not-surpising beautiful Laguna Gloria event officiated by the Nazarite-vowed-long-haired Derek Baker (gosh, I love this guy!) followed by a reception with faces and conversations that brought back thousands of memories for all of us Daniels. Our lives continue to move forward, changing, growing, shifting. But, when we get together, it's like nothing has changed. Thanks to everyone who reminded us again that we are deeply loved. We thank God for you!

Friday, August 3, 2007

the mourning after

How many times did I travel the I35 bridge over the Mississippi River between Minneapolis and St. Paul? The recent collapse and personal stories that rise from the wreckage made me think of two things as I read this morning's paper. First, families are experiencing the mourning of unexpected loss. None of us know when the bridge will break beneath us and life will come to a sudden end. Carpe diem.

Second, I imagine the mourning of unfulfilled mission. This is the unfortunate effect of the first cause for many people. Thinking that tomorrow will surely yield another opportunity, they put off doing the thing they were made to do today. Carpe manana.

Consider my friend that I recently heard from. He and I met over scrambled eggs and coffee more than a year ago. He's a top-notch businessman, strategic thinker and passionate follower of Jesus. But, he had not been able to unscramble his life mission. I just received word that he and his wife have taken a position as camp managers of a Young Life camp in New York state. Why? Because he knows that this is what he was made for. He is leaving cash, comfort and community behind to live life on purpose. Carpe diem.

I have one life to live. Only one. Bookended between arrival and departure, I have time on loan to do what I was created to do. It's not like a shovel that I have borrowed from a neighbor or a video that I have rented for the weekend and is due back in two days. Life is a finite amount of precious time that must be seized deliberately, passionately, fully.

In John 17:4, Jesus said, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do." And, on the cross, He said, "It is finished." That's different from the words many others might ask: "Is it finished?" I want to worship God by living on purpose. Carpe diem. Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

what is the church?

I was led to pull Robert Lewis' The Church of Irresistible Influence off my shelf and thumb through the pages again. Highlighted on page 41 are these words:

"I believe a fitting description for the church would be this: a community of people who stand firm in the truth over time against the raging currents of opposition and who present living proof of a loving God to a watching world."

The church is a community, not just a congregation. The church is bounded by truth, not a tradition. The church weathers the currents of culture, but doesn't escape culture. The church is living proof of God, not just the verbal proclamation of God. No wonder the church was designed to have irresistible influence!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

the contradiction of the cross

I recall an old folk song that declares that there is "power, power, wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb." I'm so familiar with it that it takes a moment for me to see the human absurdity in it. Power in the blood? Blood is violation. Blood is weakness. Blood is defeat. Blood is death. Where's the power in that?

This monring, Colossians 2:15 came to life for me. Paul assures Christians, "And, having disarmed the powers and authorities, [Jesus] made a spectacle of them triumphing over them by the cross." Wait a minute. Are we talking about the same Jesus who was accused, beaten, spat upon, humiliated, pierced, strung up and abandoned? That hardly sounds like someone on their way to winning State Title. But, it was only through the cross that the enemy was crushed. Jesus fulfilled the Law and conquered sin, humiliated Satan and defeated death. At His weakest, Jesus was mightier that the enemy at his fiercest. It's upside down, I confess. But then, there's no mistaking who gets the glory.