Tuesday, December 30, 2008

new year's resolution

I was walking with Tiffany last week and she mentioned her new year's resolution: Memorize Scripture. That's a great spiritual discipline [see 1 Timothy 4:7-8]. We began to talk about which verses would be the best to commit to memory. I suggest that she and her friends memorize 1 verse from each book of the Bible. Fifty-two weeks...66 books...merge a few prophets...skip a couple of books....you could end up with quite a catalogue of spiritual truth at the end of the year.

It wasn't long before I began to reflect on the verses that I would propose:

Genesis 50:20
Exodus 34:6-7a
Numbers 23:19
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (add vv. 6-9 if you can!)
Joshua 1:8
Judges 21:25 (theme of the book of Judges)

OK. If you dare, that gets you started. I'll continue to work on the rest of the list.

Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,

which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
[Psalm 1:1-3]

Friday, December 26, 2008

the challenge of Christmas

Christmas morning was incredible in the Daniels' living room. Not surprisingly, the kids required no second call to get out of bed. I flipped gingerbread pancakes [from one of my favorite restaurants in Austin, Kerby Lane Cafe] and we gathered around our Duraflame log to read the Christmas story. To keep our conversation lively, I posed several questions from Luke 1-2:

1. How many angelic appearances are listed?
2. How many "songs" are sung?
3. What was the significance of Zechariah's occupation?
4. What was Zechariah made mute?

Then, we proceeded to open our gifts to one another. Tiffany and I both came from backgrounds (me especially) where Christmas was the "grand haul." Kids could expect 10-15 presents on Christmas morning. Parents could make up for any failure of the year at Christmastime. All was forgiven with stacks of presents that took multiple trips to carry to our bedroom. So, for years, we showered our kids with similar extravagance.

Then, not long ago, we made a family decision. We explained that we would purchase 3 gifts: a "large," meaningful, very personal gift; a medium gift; and a small gift. We've made it three years, but it hasn't been easy, I promise you. While, I know that volumes of gifts don't make Christmas any more "christmassy" and I'm sure that my kids don't estimate our love for them by whether they have 3 gifts vs. 12 gifts under the tree, it's still strangely difficult. There's a cultural battle that Tiffany and I fight each Christmas. It's a war against expectations [truly loving parents don't put a price tag on gift giving, do they?] and against comparisons [the kid across the street also got an XBox, but it was gold-plated...and plugged into the rear seat headrest of his new BMW]. More than that, it's really a war against security: Do we really trust that our kids [and other kids] know how much we treasure them apart from any gift we give?

As I wrestle with this, I conclude that greater confidence will come from the way we lead our children and love them throughout the year. And then, whatever gifts we give them along the way won't become substitutes, but symbols of our affection for our kids.

OK...if this doesn't make sense to you, it may be because it is still trying to make sense to me. Post your comment and let's encourage one another.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

old thoughts for the new year

I just finished Ron Sider's The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience and was quite stirred by his insight of the dilemma facing American Christianity. His subtitle poses the indicting question: "Why are Christians living just like the rest of the world?"

For such a brief read, Sider does a great job of highlighting the moral apathy of Christians [especially in the areas of divorce, compassion, fidelity, racism and physical abuse] and puts forth a call to counter-cultural living that rejects individualism and isolation and embraces community and accountability in order to model Jesus' intention for the church. Though published in 2005, Sider's reflections resonate with the church today.

You can read Sider's book in a day or two. But, his challenge will stick with you for a long time. I'd highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

i'm still here

OK....I haven't posted for 2 weeks. Most of you probably have given up on me. But, I've been busy. To give you a peek into my top 12 activities during the 12 Days of Christmas:

1. Raked leaves.

2. Wrote and delivered 4 sermons.

3. Hosted Christmas parties for friends and teenagers (not the same group....).

4. Started reading Religiously Transmitted Diseases. Lost interest. Started and almost finished The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience by Ron Sider. About to start reading Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by the same author.

5. Met with Faith Nibbs to talk about social justice and gather my Christmas reading list for research and study.

6. Worked on a new set of ministry brochures for Pantego Bible Church.

7. Walked with my wife.

8. Went bowling with my boys.

9. Watched Elf and The Grinch with my girls. Snuggled with my daughter for a late-night movie: Prince Caspian. Great film!

10. Enjoyed great evenings at the Mission Arlington Christmas Store and Oakcrest Church. Marveled at the generosity of folks at our church!

11. Wrangled with car repairs. Thanked God for my friend, Carl Deaton, who has come to my auto rescue on more than one occasion.

12. Put my Home Group community in danger with a Christmas gift exchange battle. Hysterical!

Monday, December 8, 2008

props to our photo phriend

Terry Ip, a friend and professional photographer, just delivered our family portraits. To be honest, this was an investment that I've been hesitant to make for many years--one of those expenses that makes you think, "I'm in the wrong business." But, the final product was worth it. Terry was patient, creative, professional and we're thrilled to have a great picture of our family, captured in time. Check out Terry's work on his website.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

quest for compassion

This year, my dear friend, Don Wisthuff, gave me a copy of Same Kind of Different as Me. I read the touching journey of two unlikely friends on our flight to Spain and I highly recommend it! It's the story of a high society art dealer in Fort Worth and his unsuspecting connection with a sub-poverty plantation worker from Louisiana. By the end of the book, both lives have been dramatically changed and compassion is awakened.

2009, is "The Year of Community Impact" at Pantego Bible Church. As I prepare for a series of messages on social justice, poverty, prejudice and other topics, I am scheduled for several ridealongs with Arlington and Fort Worth police; interviewing directors of our church-supported compassion agencies; and inviting Ron Hall and Denver Moore, authors of this life-changing book, to join us at Pantego Bible Church for this series. Our desire is for PBC to become the kind of church--the kind of people--that compassionately changes our world as God changes each one of us!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

an ongoing conversation

Alejandro, Nikolas, Herman, Hector, Fernando, Cesar, Mattias... We have connected with some incredible students at the Sefovan Seminary in Madrid. I have completed my conference, we have served our American Thanksgiving meal and my family has visited the beautiful cities of Toledo and Segovia. We have enjoyed a fantastic introduction to the ministry of our friends. I am looking forward to the continuing conversation for many years to come. Thanks for praying for us!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sunday, November 23, 2008

not lost in translation

We arrived in Madrid on Saturday--15 hours in flight and layovers and very little sleep. I preached this morning from Luke 18 and Manny did a great job translating my sermon on prayer. Of course, that's only from my perspective. I'd have no way of know for certain. We're the minorities, subject to our hosts and the rules of a different culture.

Tonight, we toured downtown, sipped an over-priced Starbucks, watched two street performers play dueling Hammer Dolcimers, stopped by the oldest restaurant on the planet [1725], stood in the plaza where Christians were burned at the stake during the Inquisition, gawked at architecture fit for kings...literally. Madrid is a beautifully bustling city that begins its nightlife after 9 p.m., right when we were getting in our minivan to return home. 

The most exciting part of our trip is the opportunity to connect with a handful of present and future church planters in a conference setting starting Tuesday. Less than 10% of the Spanish population is Christian with less than 1/2 of 1% proclaiming evangelical Christianity. The harvest field is very white, but reaping is difficult business. To make an impact, our missionaries and all who partner with them will need to stay committed to the task. Please continue to pray for the work ahead. 

give thanks always

A mystery-lover take his place in the theater for opening night, but his seat is way back in the theater, far from the stage. The man calls an usher over and whispers, "I just love a good mystery, and I have been anxiously anticipating the opening of this play. However, in order to carefully follow the clues and fully enjoy the play, I have to watch a mystery close up. Look how far away I am! If you can get me a better seat, I'll give you a handsome tip."

The usher nods and says he will be back shortly. Looking forward to a large tip, the usher speaks with his co-workers in the box office, hoping to find some closer tickets. With just three minutes left until curtain, he finds an unused ticket at the Will Call window and snatches it up. Returning to the man in the back of the theater, he whispers, "Follow me." The usher leads the man down to the second row, and proudly points out the empty seat right in the middle.

"Thanks so much," says the theatergoer, "This seat is perfect." He then hands the usher a quarter.

The usher looks down at the quarter, leans over and whispers, "The butler did it in the parlor with the candlestick."

Give thanks always for everything [1 Corinthians 1:4].

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

no bull

Before you can say Ole!, the family and I will set sail (actually fly) to the other side of the world to spend Thanksgiving in Spain. I have been invited by our good friends and missionaries, Manny and Jamie Fernandez to teach a conference at the Sefovan Seminary in Madrid. I'm honored to teach church planters my "3B" spiritual lifeway and give them some tools to disciple those in their churches. God willing, I will also have opportunity to preach at two churches represented by leaders who have previously studied at the school.

During the week, Tiffany and the kids will be helping to shop, prepare and serve a special Thanksgiving meal at the school for students, faculty and their families. In addition, we'll have the privilege of joining students in open street evangelism. We're also looking forward to learning more about the rich history of the country.

Remarkably, Spain is an extremely unreached place. The opportunities for church planting and other ministry abound and we are exploring future possibilities of sending others from Pantego Bible Church to join the movement there. Please check out the Fernandez' web site and consider supporting the Kingdom commitment they have made. Like the apostle Paul in Acts 20:24 (my favorite Bible verse), they consider their calling "no bull."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

24,000 pieces

The front page of the Fort Worth Star Telegram noted the story of a young girl who just completed the largest jigsaw puzzle in the world--24,000 pieces! It took her more than 4 months and, I'm guessing, a lot of patience. The creator of the 14 foot by 5 foot puzzle titled it "Life"--a panorama of our planet fitting together.

The news article reminded me that the church of Jesus Christ is the largest, interlocking wonder of the world. The church isn't simply a local congregation, but the universal collection of all Believers everywhere. No two "pieces" are the same; Each member is unique [1 Corinthians 12:12]. Each piece has something to contribute to others around it and, likewise, each piece has a "gap" to receive the blessing of others. Each piece is indispensable, necessary for the whole composition [1 Corinthians 12:21-26]. And, when all the pieces come together, each in its proper place, a picture of the "life" of Christ is revealed to the world around us.

My in-laws typically have a jigsaw puzzle in process at their home during the Christmas season. A card table is set up in the living room, two chairs, and a floor lamp moved closer to the workspace. The table is an open invitation for anyone to contribute to the final piece. Sometimes, we work for 15 minutes. I can remember years where I sat for several hours until the puzzle was finished.

The church is an open invitation to anyone to come, sit for a while, search and connect. As we linger with the pieces, we begin to see where we fit into God's greater picture. And, we discover the incredible blessing called "Life."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

now the work begins

Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons;
he sets up kings and deposes them.
[Daniel 2:20-21]

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. [1 Timothy 2:1-2]

Sunday, November 2, 2008

indelible

In less than 48 hours, the next President of the United States will be elected by the people. Whichever candidate claims the victory, enormous change is in store for our country. The truth is, the whole world is changing around us, whether we notice it or not. In just 20 short years, music transitioned from clumsy 8-track tapes to cassette to compact discs to MP3s. Today, my son’s matchbox-size audio player holds 1500 songs. I expect and embrace the changes in my world that benefit me.

However, I despise the changes that are difficult and unexpected. Several weeks ago, the Stock Market plummeted more than 800 points, Hurricane Ike landed on the Gulf shore of Texas sending thousands of evacuees fleeing from their homes and the fuel pump went out on my SUV. These unexpected events are like a discordant note struck in the melody of life. It’s the change nobody likes.

How do we stay focused and balanced in the midst of so much change? What can we cling to when our world seems to be turning upside down and inside out? When life is topsy-turvy, we need an anchor. We must hold tight to what never changes in an ever-changing world.

The subtitle description of Psalm 102 is “The prayer of an afflicted man.” While it’s impossible to determine the writer or the circumstances behind the verses, it’s clear that he was in the crisis of change. He was anxious, frustrated, weak and beat up. He suffered sleepless nights and wasted days. Depending on the day of the week, I can probably identify with one or more of the emotions expressed in verses 1-11.

However, the author comes to a conclusion that climaxes in verses 23-28:

In the course of my life [God] broke my strength; he cut short my days.
So I said:
“Do not take me away, O my God, in the midst of my days;
your years go on through all generations.
In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.
The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.”


I notice a repeating confidence in these lines. In the midst of my fleeting days, God’s years go on (v. 24). God was in the beginning before time even began (v. 25) and, when everything is done, God will remain (v. 26). People and life change like old t-shirts that tatter and are thrown away, but God is unchanging.

He’s indelible.

I watch my daughter write on the sidewalk with oversized chalk sticks. She’ll spend half an hour creating a giant masterpiece in front of the house and, in a moment, her creation can be washed or swept away. But God is immutable and immovable. God is like a Sharpie marker: waterproof and permanent. He’s the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). God is the only thing that never changes in an ever-changing world. When life gets unpredictable, I cling to three aspects of our indelible God: His perfections, His precepts and His purposes.

If you're wrestling with the imminent change in our world, check out my sermon "Indelible" [Psalm 102] from January 13, 2008. You can find it here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

the believer, the Bible and the ballot box

OK, I don't usually self-promote. But, the response to God's Word and biblical principles relating to our involvement in the political process may be helpful for others outside of PBC who are looking for direction regarding the upcoming election. You may access today's sermon online at Sermon Resources or download a free audio file from the PBC archives on iTunes.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

on the front lines

Several days ago, on my way home from the office, I noticed three military helicopters flying in formation overhead. They continued to circle southwest Arlington in an ominous flight path. As I watched them, I wondered what it must be like to live in a country where the presence of war is so normal. What is it like to not simply read about cafe bombings, but to be near enough to hear them? What is it like to like to see soldiers walking your neighborhood instead of retired couples with their poodle on a leash? What is it like to drive past barbed wire and road blocks instead of garage sale signs and lemonade stands?

Truth is, we all live on the front lines, whether we know it or not. Spiritual people face a spiritual battle every day. In Ephesians 6:10ff, Paul warns Christians to "be strong" and "take on armor" because of the intense warfare that is waged, not in the physical sphere, but in the invisible dimensions where the enemies of God are hiding.

I was aware of the spiritual attack this morning. Relationships are harmonious, calendars are clear, the body is healthy, great things are happening...then, WHAM!....spiritual ambush. You know the experience. Out of nowhere, your heart is thrown into battle.

In times like this, I read a lot into Luke 4:13: "When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time." The temptation of Jesus is recorded in 2 Gospels [Matthew and Luke]. And, when the dust had settled, Luke mentions that the devil departed until another "opportune time." The word "time" doesn't mean hours and minutes. It means "season" or "occasion." In other words, the enemy doesn't attack me every day at 3:20 p.m. He looks for the opportune seasons in my life to launch his spiritual assault.

When I study Jesus' temptation, I discern 4 characteristics of that season of His life that may have made him susceptible to attack. These seasons are dangerous for me too:

1. When I am alone. Jesus was alone in the desert. And, when we're alone, we leave ourselves vulnerable to enemy forces. See Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

2. On the heels of success. Jesus had recently returned from the Jordan where he was baptized. His Father's voice boomed from heaven, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" [Matthew 3:17]. When I feel affirmed, strong and supported, the Devil will try to kick my legs out from under me. See 1 Corinthians 10:12.

3. At the start of a great thing. Jesus' 40 day stint was in preparation for His earthly ministry. He was about to revealed as the long-awaited Messiah. The enemy works to undo the momentum we have moving forward in the joys of life. I think this is why couples have their worst arguments while packing the car for a family vacation. See Ephesians 5:15-16.

4. When I am tired, hungry and spent. Jesus had been fasting for 6 weeks. He lived out in the open (perhaps in caves) and endured the elements. Satan knows that when we are physically weary, we are spiritually vulnerable. See Psalm 63.

During Pearson's baseball games, his coach will sometimes yell to the players, "Heads up!" The phrase means "be alert!" Peter warns Christians, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" [1 Peter 5:8]. This means war. This means that I am on the front lines. And, when all is going well for me in every possible way, I can expect that a battle is brewing beneath the surface. Fortunately, by the power of Christ, the war is already won!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

red floor chronicles | Christ

If you do not attend Pantego Bible Church, or missed the service this last Sunday, you must review the "Cardboard Testimonies" at the end of today's sermon [here]. This idea didn't originate at PBC. Many other churches have used this effective presentation of changed lives. But, to see it in the context of people you know...wow.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

red floor chronicles | death

Today in Staff Chapel, we talked about this second movement of the Gospel: the penalty of death. Romans 6:23 warns us that "the wages of sin is death." Literally, the just compensation for our sin is separation from God. All of us start life as "dead men walking."

Today, the Stock Market dropped 679 points. That's 1700 points in the last 5 days...the lowest market close in 5 years. Ironically, it comes on the anniversary of the highest close of 14,164 one year ago. In just a few months, investors have lost 20% of their portfolio.

One day, all of us will retire from this life and too many will not have the investments to sustain them in the presence of God. The spiritual bankruptcy will be the ultimate Great Depression. What if people saw their impending eternal loss with the same concern?

My financial advisor encourages me to do nothing in these sparse economic times. But, as spiritual advisers, we must urge our neighbors and friends to radically change their investment strategy. As those who have been made rich through Christ [2 Corinthians 8:9], we must show the Way to those living in spiritual poverty. It doesn't matter whether it's a Bull or Bear Market. The most important thing is that the world knows the Lion--Jesus Christ as Lord.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

sin: part 3

Bill Maher has taken his crusade against religion to the big screen. Maher, who has been picking on organized religion for years on his TV shows "Politically Incorrect" and "Real Time," zealously traveled the world for "Religulous," his documentary challenging the validity and value of Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths.

Raised in a Roman Catholic household by a Catholic father and Jewish mother, Maher decided at an early age that the trappings and mythology of the world's religions were preposterous, outdated and even dangerous. "Religulous," directed by fellow doubter Larry Charles ("Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"), is intended to inspire similar skepticism in others — and perhaps get nonbelievers to talk more openly about their lack of faith.

Maher, 52, who started mocking religion back in his early standup comedy days, has no misconceptions that "Religulous" will shake people's lifelong convictions to the core. He's mainly looking for laughs such as those the film elicited from the enthusiastic crowd at its Toronto premiere.

"When you're talking about a man living to 900 years old, and drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old god, and that Creation Museum where they put a saddle on the dinosaur because people rode dinosaurs. It's just a pile of comedy that was waiting for someone to exploit."

Charles shot 400 to 500 hours of material around the world as Maher visited a Christian chapel for truckers in North Carolina, a gay Muslim bar in the Netherlands, the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, and Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy places in Israel. Maher meets with priests at the Vatican, chats with rabbis and Muslim scholars in Jerusalem, encounters street preachers in London, and hangs out with the performer who plays Christ in a crucifixion enactment at the Holy Land Experience theme park in Florida. They left Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism alone largely for budgetary reasons, saying the extra travel and expanded scope would have made the film too unwieldy. They also figured that Christianity, Islam and Judaism were the trinity of faiths at the heart of Western conflict.

Never one to soft-pedal his own opinions, Maher openly scorns remarks made by Christians, Jews and Muslims he interviews. He hopes audiences will laugh with him, and that "Religulous" will stand as a testament for people who share his scorn. "It is a sobering thought to think that the U.S. Congress has 535 members and there's not one who represents this point of view, and yet there are tens of millions of Americans who feel this way," Maher said. "Comedians have always made jokes about religion. It's a rich topic. I did when I was a young comedian, but they weren't jokes that got right to the essence of it, which is, this is dangerous and this is silly."

[article condensed from "Maher vs. God: `Religulous' flays organized faith" by David Germain, AP Movie Writer]

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

sin: part 2

The psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote the best seller The Road Less Travelled. As a psychiatrist it's his job to try and understand what makes people tick. Here's what he says in another book, What Return Can I Make:

"Sin has not been a very fashionable word these past few years...It would seem the doctrine of the day is that all that is needed in this world is a little more affirmation. I'm OK, You're OK is the title of one of the leading pop psychology best-sellers. But what happens if I'm not OK?... The reality is that this world is not all OK. Evil is not the figment of some medieval theologian's imagination. Auschwitz and My Lai and Jonestown are actual places and actually happened. Human evil is real.The reality is that we do betray God and ourselves and each other. We do it routinely. The worst of us do it blatantly, even compulsively. The noblest of us do it subtly and self-centeredly, even when we think we are not trying to do it. Whether it is done consciously or unconsciously is of no matter; the betrayal occurs."

Monday, September 29, 2008

red floor chronicles | sin

I began a new series yesterday: RED FLOOR CHRONICLES. The title is in reference to the epic drama of the cross that came to light for me standing on the painted red floor of Pier 1 Imports in 1983. I'll never forget hearing the Gospel for the first time, how God changed my heart and the resulting overflow for the next 25 years.

In this series, I'm exploring the theological and practical aspects of the Gospel. I believe that the Gospel can be told in four "movements." The first is SIN. The good news is good because the bad news is so terribly bad. Sin is a universal, ungodly, ugly obstacle to God's Divine design for our lives. It all started with Adam [I read today that Adam went "off sides" and the whole team was penalized]. Sin has been imputed [passed on] to every person. Our lives are a mess and, left alone to ourselves, we are desperately lost and without hope.

Check out the sermon page on our church website to see hear the larger message: http://www.pantego.org/. Better yet, feel the desperate darkness that describes our condition in Romans 1-3 and Isaiah 53:6.

Monday, September 15, 2008

follow my blog

If you follow my blog, please be sure to click "follow this blog" on the bottom of the right column. I'd like to know who's reading. Thanks!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

i'm filthy rich

Many years ago, I took part in a Poverty Simulation with Mission Waco. In one of the sessions, my friend Jimmy Dorrell explained the incredible gap between American affluence and the rest of the world. If my memory serves me correctly [and my recent data gets me in the ballpark], the United States comprises 5% of the world's population but consumes almost a quarter of the world's resources. We are users, hoarders, getters.

In my research for the My Simple Life series, I stumbled across a sobering website that puts my personal income in context with the rest of the world [see Global Rich List here]. I won't spoil the surprise for you. But, when you're finished inserting your annual salary and review the results, you might start tithing to your church, giving to a local compassion agency or checking out Kiva to see how you might put some of your dollars to work as a blessing to those much further down the wealth continuum.

On a related note: The compelling reason why my financial riches should pour over into the world is because of the spiritual riches that I enjoy in Christ. Paul writes, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich" [2 Corinthians 8:9]. I don't just make a decent annual income, I enjoy a marvelous eternal income. God has "met all of my needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus" [Philippians 4:19]. I'm filthy rich. So much so...I can afford to give so much away.

guess it #2

Here's another Grant Daniels pic. Guess it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

blast from the past




OK. So, I was noticing the tags on my blogs and realized that it's been a while since I've posted anything under the category "humor." So, when my son told me about a new creative website [yearbookyourself.com] where I could import my current pic to recreate a yearbook photo, I couldn't resist. I've posted Grant's too, I'm so proud of him. Create your own and let me know when I can see your nostalgic self. I'm thinking of posting Tiffany's picture next. Then we'll get counseling.

guess it #1

Grant has been taking some extraordinary photos. I love his artful eye and the ability to abstract the simple. I'm going to post a few of my favorites. Can you guess what it is? You can see more of my son's pics at Grant Daniels Photography.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

simplify

I turned off the television a little more than a week ago. I have filled my time with several good books. If you are like me --trying to get a handle on your time and stuff and simplifying your life so that you can find the margin to do what really matters -- I'd like to recommend a couple of good reads. Two books are helpful resources for our simple life: Simplify by Paul Borthwick (105 ways to simplify your life) and Simplify Your Spiritual Life by Donald S. Whitney (practicing the spiritual disciplines in a way that brings simple pleasure to your spiritual pursuit of God). They can be purchased online or in the Pantego Bible Church Connection Bookstore.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

entropy

Our Home Group just retired for the evening and I thought would reflect on our great conversation together. We enjoyed a delicious Mexican food dinner chased by homemade spice cake. Brandon Swinney gave us a mini-concert showing us all how much he has progressed on guitar (Grant is his teacher). Then, we talked about the new sermon series I started this morning: My Simple Life. Each of us shared our perspective on one or more of the four points that I presented from Ecclesiastes 3:1-15. To live the simple life, we must:

1. Know who controls time
2. Say "no" until the right time
3. Go to our gladness
4. Zero in on the glory

One of the points of discussion was the law of entropy. In science class, I learned (and this is a non-scientific, simple explanation) that items will move from a condition of order to disorder, if left alone. This is a law of living too. If left alone, my schedule will naturally move from order to disorder. I will suddenly find myself overwhelmed and overloaded. In other words, I must wisely and intentionally set about to guard my schedule and watch my decisions every day. Otherwise, I may wake up to discover that my simple life has become chaotic. That's entropy.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

a different take on "I do"

My friend and PBC attendee, Lena Lewis, gave me a copy of Gary Thomas' Sacred Marriage several months ago and I put it in my reading queue [which is a dozen books long]. I'm sorry I waited so long. Expect me to come back to reviewing it several more time. But, Thomas' main thesis is that God designed marriage, not for my happiness, but for my holiness. The reason I commit to love, sacrifice, be selfless or remain pure, (i.e.) is because it reflects my ongoing transformation by God and a commitment to Him. I have been greatly challenged and blessed by the point of view of this book and highly recommend it to anyone wanting to add value to their marriage relationship.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

what moves me

Several weeks ago, we introduced a new song in our worship service and since then, I cannot get it out of my head. I thank God for leaders who write such God-centered anthems to His glory. I found Angels Cry available for you to listen to at GateWay Worship. Find Angels Cry by Jonathan Stockstill and click "listen." The words are beautiful:

I saw the Lord
High and lifted up
And His glory filled the earth
His face shone like the sun

He was light to everyone
And the glory that fell on me
Was the glory that set me free

Angels cry "Holy is the Lord"
Seated on the praises of His people

Nations cry "Glory to the Lamb"
The Savior of the world
He is exalted!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

living by dying

Yesterday, I received the tragic news of a brother's death. Though I never met him personally, Justin Mager was one of the founding fathers of the Oklahoma State University Kappa Chapter of Beta Upsilon Chi. Justin graduated in 2008 and immediately embarked on a trip to India with Student Mobilization. Sunday evening, Justin was returning from leading a discipleship class, investing in the lives of others, when his motorcycle was hit head on by a car that crossed the center of the street. Justin was killed instantly and his friend, John Miller, was critically injured. Our fraternity has been praying fervently for John and the families of these young men.

When I read this story, I wondered how I, as a parent, would feel receiving the news that my child has been killed 8000 miles away. It's a grief I pray I never have to bear. On the other hand, it's a suffering that I long for in my walk with Christ. Justin died doing something eternal--a better decision than living doing something that doesn't matter. He "filled up in his flesh" what was "still lacking in regards to Christ's affliction" [Colossians 1:24]. That is, he bore the bloodshed of Jesus so that his suffering might complete and compliment the suffering testimony of Jesus. In giving his life so that others might live, Justin proved that Christ is better than life and worth death.

Perhaps this is why the martyrs throughout history have considered it a privilege to die for their faith. Because, their wounds are simply mouthpieces of the all-surpassing worth of God for whom they gladly pour out all of their life.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

a franciscan prayer

At the Willow Creek Leadership Summit last week, pastor Craig Groeschel mentioned a Franciscan benediction that I found quite compelling:

May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

Amen.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

good pride




















I sat mesmerized watching the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympics last night. What a spectacular display of artistry, technology and beauty. Every element of the program, from the giant floor level LED screen to the synchronized drummers to the elegant dancers to the parade of ethnic children to the giant globe rising from the middle to the runner skipping along the scrim to light the torch. Amazing.

What we witnessed was Chinese pride, rightly on display. The Chinese people finally had opportunity to showcase their people and their country's rich heritage. And, in working hard on the production, they served us well. I think that's the measure of appropriate pride. Pride is a deadly sin when it is self-serving. But, when pride pushes a person (or a nation) to a level of excellence that results in a blessing to everyone, it no longer is a vice, but a virtue.

When I am rightly proud of my church, I serve within it and advance it's mission. I invite my neighbors to be a part of it. My pride benefits others.

When I'm proud of my job, I demonstrate it by working hard, guarding against the kind of unethical dangers that could compromise my company. I arrive on time and stay until the job is done. My pride pours over into my performance on behalf of others.

When I'm proud of my country, I protect its resources, don't throw trash from my car window, vote in elections and pray for my leaders. Again, my pride selflessly serves others.

There is a pride that goes before destruction [Proverbs 16:18]. But, the Chinese pride that opened the Olympic games is worth modeling in our own personal lives.

To see more incredible Opening Ceremony pictures, click here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

word power

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. --1 Thessalonians 2:13

Texas summer heat takes its toll on automobile batteries. Last week, Tiffany turned the key in our SUV and got nothing. No power, no movement. More important is the source that charges our spiritual life: The Word of God. Over and again, the writers of Scripture affirm that God's revelation is more than information; It's momentum and motivation. In Hebrews 4:12, the writer describes God's Word as "living and active," sharp, piercing and surgical. It works its way in and through us. Philippians 2:16 calls it "the word of life." Without it, we die.

Given the power of the Word of God to fuel life, there are several disciplines to help us "accurately handle the word of truth"

1. Understand how the Scriptures were inspired [2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21]
2. Articulate a coherent view of inerrancy
3. Know how to study the Bible with a view to application [Acts 17:11 and 2 Timothy 2:15]
4. Memorize the Word to be prepared for ministry [Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:1-3]
5. Intentionally and strategically teach the Word to others [2 Timothy 2:2]
6. Prioritize reading the Bible over any other religious literature

Friday, August 1, 2008

coalescence of worship

I was captivated by the following words from Ravi Zacharias. To access this original article, go to his ministry website here.

One of the great longings of the human heart is to worship; yet, within that very disposition there are tugs in many directions that contradict the essence of worship. This fragmentation is felt in every life. But there is a further complication. The idea of worship itself is not monolithic or uniform when you get a glimpse of the different kinds of worship in which people engage.

The thirst for worship or for the sacred across cultures and across time is ineradicable among the educated and the uneducated, the young and the old. During my days as a student at college in New Delhi, I well remember students seated around me with colored ash smeared on their foreheads, having visited the temple on their way to school. All over the world, churches, temples, mosques, and tabernacles abound. Sacred books still line the shelves of seekers after truth—the Gita, the Koran, the Bible. Religious ceremonies are performed and prayers are invoked in life’s most significant moments. Even a casual look at the record of human history reveals a fervent pursuit of spiritual things.

Jesus was very much aware of this bent within the human spirit. That is why He said worship should be done in truth, as well as in spirit. Without truth there is no limit to the superstition, deception, and sadly, even violence that can come in the name of religion. You see, worship alone cannot justify itself; it needs the constraints of truth, and that truth is the person and character of God. As an individual makes a commitment to God, not only is his or her life unified for God’s glory, but the impetus of truth is given for all other pursuits and relationships.

In other words, worship must not only be formal, it must also be substantive. You see, we humans are not a collection of isolated and unrelated senses just seeking expression. We are fashioned to bind these expressions by the character and reverence of God.

So much goes on in the name of religion today that must make us question whose character is being revealed in the process.

Worship that is true and spiritual binds all the diverse aspirations and propensities creating a tapestry of beauty and a life that is in harmony with the goodness and the holiness of God. So next time you pause to worship or even to observe it, ask the question: Is this what Jesus Christ meant when He said we are to worship God in spirit and in Truth?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

right God | right worship [part 2]

Garbage in, garbage out. Not surprisingly, we learn about God from what we read. Therefore, it is important to fill our minds with the kind of instruction that doesn't domesticate God [making Him in our image], but presents God is the fullness of His transcendent majesty. I suggest the following books:

The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer
Knowing God by J.I. Packer
Desiring God by John Piper
The Joy of Fearing God by Jerry Bridges
One Holy Passion by R.C. Sproul

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

right God | right worship

Last Sunday, I preached from 2 Samuel 6--a humbling passage regarding worship and our heart toward God. What I learned is that David, a "man after God's own heart," was worshipping the right God, the wrong way. That's a curious statement. It's like saying "That's a wrong way to be generous to the needy." But, truth is, God demands to be worshipped in a certain way and worship must be on His terms, not mine.

I mentioned to our congregation that right worship requires a right heart [motives] and right expressions [singing, giving, confessing and reconciling]. The most significant thing for me in studying this passage is that right worship also requires a right mind. What I think about God drives my worship. Theology motivates doxology.

With that in mind, I urge you to watch the linked video on the prosperity gospel--false teaching that is being promoted today. The clip is an edited message from Pastor John Piper and his passion is sobering. I never want to think the wrong things about God again.

Monday, July 14, 2008

out of office

This week, I'm at Pine Cove Camp near Tyler leading 38 families into the Word of God. I love the opportunity to extend ministry beyond my church and into the lives of others. Please pray for me that I will speak clearly and that God's Spirit will guide compellingly.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

nashville star

Perhaps you have noticed NBCs "Nashville Star" on Monday evenings. It's the country music version of "American Idol." PBC's own Melissa Lawson has made it through the rounds and has proven herself to be a front runner in the competition [see YouTube video here]. Be sure to watch the show next week and vote for Melissa. Text and phone calls on ATT are free [see the rules online], so vote often!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

sign of the times

8 years. That's how long it took Pantego Bible Church to get a sign up to let people know where we're located. Don't ask me about the obstacles. But, for 8 years, we've been "the best kept secret in Fort Worth." Now, we enjoy a beautiful new monument sign on I30 to point the way.

I recently had a conversation with a fellow who asked why God doesn't reveal Himself. God would attract more customers if He erected a monument marque with flashing lights and five foot letters that alerted the world driving by Him everyday. Perhaps God needs a marketing department to make Himself known.

Truth is, signs of God are all around us. The Bible points out several proofs of His presence and His person. First, the created order signifies the reality of an intelligent Creator [see "must see movie" post below]. God's Divine fingerprints are all over the beauty and majesty of the sun setting over the Rocky Mountains as well as the intricate mechanics of the human body [Darwin admitted that the sophistication of the eye was one of the obstacles to his own evolutionary hypothesis. See "Problems With My Theory" chapter in Origin of Species]. Psalm 91 affirms, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." In Romans 1:20, Paul writes that we know God by observing what God has made. Creation is a signpost to God.

Second, human morality points to God's existence. In Romans 2:14-15, the Apostle Paul notes that when non-religious folks do "good things" that they "ought" to do, they prove that there is a law scribed on their heart--a law not taught to them through Sunday school classes or Bible teaching, but an internal, universal law common to all people. Some will argue that this sense of "oughtness" is culture-bound, the product of each unique civilization. However, there exists a fundamental moral code which transcends all cultures at all times. Such laws include not stealing, not murdering, not being selfish and so on. Such morality cannot be the product of mere biology. It reflects a greater code, beyond our cultures and beyond individual selves. It must come from a God who reflects perfect morality, truth and life.

Third, basic science proves the reality of God. The problem with the Big Bang theory is that, while it attempts to answer problems relating to the generation of single-cell life and beyond, it doesn't deal with the first strike of the match. In other words, many scientists are content to assume that the "stuff" necessary to make a bang simply existed. No idea where that stuff came from. It just was. This proposition, of course, violates an important principle of science which states that every effect must have an equal and sufficient cause. In other words, everything that happens must have something that made it happen. So, a Big Bang must have a Big Bang maker. Without addressing the first cause, science is left hanging. The Bible begins with the words "In the beginning, God..." [Genesis 1:1]. This introduction takes us before the beginning. It points us to a "first cause." What you believe happened after God isn't nearly as important as your realization that nothing "banged" without a big God who "made the world and everything in it" [Acts 17:24]. The world itself is sign of the existence of God who has the power to call everything into being.

A fourth sign of God is God's people. You can learn alot about my family by watching my kids. Similarly, the world watches God's children and gets a glimpse of who God must be. My neighbors see my grace, forgiveness, joy, peace, hope, generosity and compassion and wonder about what's inside me. That's how I came to meet God personally--I noticed spiritual qualities in a friend which highlighted the undeniable reality of God. Our lives are proofs that God is and who God is.

Pantego Bible Church is no longer a secret, tucked back in the woods of east Fort Worth. The whole world can drive by a see where we are. And, if the world doesn't suppress God's signposts [cf. Romans 1:18-19], made plain since the beginning of time, they will see Him too.

Friday, July 4, 2008

photo pro


OK...gotta brag on my kid. Grant has really been excelling in his photography. Check out his site and see what you think: Grant Daniels Photography

I'm very proud!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

snack "Shack"

My kids head to camp in a couple of weeks. While there, they'll have opportunity to purchase goodies at the Snack Shack each day. I've learned that "snack" is the Greek word for "junk food." The candy bars and sodas they purchase are delicious, but hardly nutritious.

I'm afraid that's my critique of The Shack, a very popular book on the Amazon bestsellers list. The book, by William Young, enjoys a list of endorsements from people like musician Michael W. Smith and author Eugene Peterson [The Message] who touts it as another Pilgrim's Progress. Let me tell you why I disagree.

The book is an allegory and, while allegories are afforded creative license, I believe they must correspond to what is true. This is especially important when it comes to biblical truth. In other words, a Christian author cannot set some truths aside in order to communicate other truths. A partially true work is false.

The Shack contains several points that I believe are dangerous, if not heretical. First, I am concerned about the author's view on the authority of the Bible. On pages 65-66, the main character contemplates a "note" he has received from God. Young writes,

“In seminary [Mack] had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice has been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while the educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just a book.”

This viewpoint sets the stage for the rest of the book. Young dismisses propositional truth-- revealed by God and recorded in Scripture--and exchanges it for an experiential encounter with God. This popular position is held by many in a postmodern culture who criticize those who start with the Bible as their guide for life. Such absolutism, they claim, puts God "in a box."

The logical outcome for Young is that God can be whatever he [or anyone else] wants Him to be. While I appreciate the author's contention that God is not "white grandfather figure with flowing beard, like Gandalf," I do believe that God has revealed Himself in time in particular ways. When we take liberty with God's revelation, we run dangerously into the woods of heresy. With that in mind, I would argue:

1. The mysterious doctrine of the Trinity holds one God in three persons...not three Gods. Young sounds very tri-theistic throughout his work.

2. God the Father cannot be reduced to human form--not as an African American woman named "Papa" or anything else. The 2nd commandment very strictly forbids creating [or allegorizing] the Almighty with human characteristics. The principle is important: You cannot use the stuff below [on earth] to fashion the God above. I think it was Voltaire who said, "God created man in His image and man has since more than reciprocated." We often create God in our image rather than the other way around.

3. God has communicated Himself using masculine pronouns. I know this isn't popular and there are many who have theological arguments for neutering the godhead. My position has less to do with gender and all to do with a respect for Divine revelation.

The outcome of this reduction of God is that God isn't honored as He ought to be. A perfect example is when Mack comes into the presence of God. His response looks nothing like the awestruck, humble, repentant position of people in the Bible. Rather, when Mack first meets "Papa," he's angry [his face flushed red and his hands knotted into fists; p. 92] at God for the tragedy God allowed years earlier [I'll let you read about it]. Strangely, Papa's response is, "Mack, I am so sorry..."

Wait a minute! The Creator of the universe apologizing to Mack or me for what He has sovereignly orchestrated?! If God is always in control and is forever accomplishing His divine purposes, He need not apologize for anything! And, He certainly doesn't apologize to us! If there's any doubt, reread the story of Job and notice God's response to a man who lost even more than Mack.

A similar reductionism is expressed regarding salvation. An important dialogue takes place between Mack and Jesus:

“Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans… Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.”

“Does that mean,” asked Mack, “that all roads will lead to you?”

“Not at all,” smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you”

Where do I start? What does the author mean when Jesus says "I have no desire to make them [other faiths] Christian"? Does he suggest that Christianity is too exclusive and our "only way" of salvation is an "imposition" on other faiths? Young seems to lean in this direction by having Jesus add that He wants to "join in their transformation" as if people of other faiths can be transformed in and through their faiths. Whatever happened to John 14:6?

Young attempts to take himself off the hook when he has Jesus answer Mack that "all roads don't lead to Him," but it is in what he does not say that is troublesome. He never clarifies. And so, he leaves the issue of universalism up for grabs. The good news for him [and his publisher] is that the topic is left so obscure that an uncritical reader on either side will be left happy.

To be fair, there are redemptive messages in The Shack. The reader does get a beautiful picture of God's grace. He or she is challenged to understand forgiveness. And, Young does a great job tapping into the love of God, helping the Christian to understand and embrace their identity in Christ. However, the worst of all liars in history have uttered lines of truth. Their truth, however, didn't change the reality of their errors.

I would not necessarily encourage people not to read The Shack but would strongly urge caution. I suggest that the book is a snack--a taste, but not terribly nutritious. The danger is that, like children, we may prefer the sweetness on our tongue and not realize the sugary decay that comes from careless eating.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

growing up

During my 10 years with college students, I enjoyed the incomparable privilege of mentoring groups of young men. Typically, I identified five to seven sophomore leaders and expected to disciple them for the next three years until they graduated. At the beginning of our second year together, I developed a tradition where we opened our Bibles to 1 Corinthians 13:11 and read, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” After the sobering words had a moment to sink in, I would ask the living room circle of students, “Are you children or are you men?” When they were children, their parents dressed them, found friends for them, fed them, taught them and gave them money for an allowance. But, as children grow up, they begin to make their own choices, cultivate their own friendships, feed and teach themselves, and earn money to meet their own needs. In becoming an adult, they assume responsibility. This is what it means to “grow up.”

Over and again, the Bible emphasizes the importance of us taking intiative in regards to our spiritual development. In Romans 12:2 Paul urges readers to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Likewise, in 1 Peter 1:14-16, the writer encourages Christians, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” And, again, Peter writes, “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love… be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.” (2 Peter 1:5-7). God produces life change, but He invites us to participate with Him.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

don't sit down

Today, I celebrated Father's Day with an incredible time at Pantego Bible Church where we enjoyed 50 classic and hot rod cars and motorcycles, free lunch and rich fellowship. I preached from 1 Samuel 16 and challenged Dads to search for what God already sees in their children, to rise and bless their kids and to not sit down until their sons and daughters have arrived. God has made fathers in His fatherly image. And, just as God didn't sit down until he had completed His mission, so we dads must not sit down until our mission is complete with our kids.


I provided two resources that I think are worth sharing. First, I mentioned the Johari Window, a psychological tool developed in 1955 to better understand people. I have used this matrix during the last 15 years to disciple my children and mentor others. The window includes 4 quadrants:


a. What I see and others see [my public arena]
b. What I see and others don't see [my private life or facade]
c. What I don't see but others do see [my blind spots]
d. What I don't see and others don't see [my unknown potential]


Understanding my children requires me to explore the private parts of their life, coach and counsel them regarding their blind spots and search out their Holy Spirit potential. God already know how He intends to anoint them with a Divine calling and cultivate His Divine character. And, God has appointed me as a prophet to my children to help bring these precious treasures to light.


We concluded our service with a prayer for Fathers. I include the prayer here to be an encouragement to Dads everywhere.

God, today, I stand for my children. As my Heavenly Father, You stood for me and didn’t sit down until You had finished Your mission to secure a calling and character in me through Your own Son, Jesus Christ. Now, You have appointed me, as Dad, to be a Divine Ambassador to my child. Help me to see what You already see right now. Enable me to see the calling You have for my child­— how they might embrace Your purposes and join You in Your mission of changing their world and making You famous. Help me to cultivate godly character in them­— to see beyond their outward appearances, get to what’s inside and to grow kids who are more than just shepherds in the field. I want to watch them become someone who has the “King” scribed on their heart. God, by Your power, I will continue to stand. I choose to be used by You to help my precious children become all that You want them to be. And, Lord, would You grant me the grace to see them come in from the fields and rise to a place that You have appointed for them in their lives. I won’t sit down until they have arrived. Amen.
In Your name I pray. Amen.

Friday, May 30, 2008

never-changing commands

The Old Testament is rich with story and spiritual insight. We must resist discounting what we read as mere historical record, especially in light of what I came across recently.

A curious message is tucked into the account of an unnamed prophet in 1 Kings 13. He's simply called "the man of God," so I guessed that he was on target, so to speak, when it came to obedience, wisdom, righteousness and the like. The fellow travels to the northern Kingdom [Israel] in the early days of the divided monarchy and speaks a curse to the wicked king Jeroboam. Wanting to gain God's favor, the condemned king asks the man of God to stay for dinner. But, the prophet refuses because God has given him specific instruction not to "eat any food or drink any water" in the town where the king rules.

The man of God begins his journey home when he is intercepted by another "old prophet" [v. 11]. For reasons unknown, the older sage invites the younger prophet to come back to the city and have dinner. Once again, the first explains that God has given him a command restricting dinner plans in Bethel. The older prophet interrupts, "I am a prophet, too, just as you are. And an angel gave me this message from the Lord: 'Bring him home with you, and give him food to eat and water to drink'" [v. 18].

So, the first prophet has a dinner party with the second.

During dessert, the Lord speaks through the host to the first prophet and condemns his actions. Because he disobeyed the word of God, he wouldn't even make it home alive. Along the path, he was killed by a lion.

The dilemma of the story is that God seems to speak in contradiction. He restricts the prophet and then He gives him freedom. First He says "No" and then He says "Yes." But, as I considered the passage more carefully, three very important principles came to light:

First, God's commands are eternal. What He decrees, is true for today, tomorrow and a thousand years from now. This means that the 2nd Commandment that forbids the making of any image of God applies to golden calves as well as modern movie comedies. With this in mind, I want to know my Old Testament even more! God doesn't change His mind or His commands.

Second, God never contradicts what He has once spoken. Years ago, I realized an important implication of this principle: God will never set aside one of His commands in order to fulfill another of His commands. I heard a man once say that he wanted to follow God's command to "have joy" ["Rejoice always!"]. But, his marriage made him miserable. Only by divorcing his wife could he truly obey God's joy command. Poor thinking. God would contradict His own truth if the only way the man could have joy was to violate his marriage covenant through divorce. There had to be another way. God doesn't say "eat" and "don't eat" in the same breath.

Third, make sure God is speaking. I think the key to this passage is fact that "an angel" instructed the older prophet to invite the man of God to dinner. This isn't an "angel of the Lord" [a.k.a. The Lord]. It's just an angel. Perhaps a fallen angel. Perhaps a well-intentioned angel. However, no matter how angelic, the messenger got it wrong. Which makes me all the more careful to receive a word from God alone. Satan "masquerades as an angel of light" [2 Corinthians 11:14] and will work to convince us "thus sayeth the Lord" when the Lord never "thus sayethed."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

finding freedom in failure

Rarely do I get excited about what I can't do. Most often, I'm in pursuit of success, not failure. But, I'm learning to let go of who I'm not in order to be who I am.

Take, for example, a recent email I received from my friend Kevin. He attends Pantego Bible Church and is a great graphic designer [we have several in our church]. It so happens that I'm a graphic designer too...20 years ago. It's what I studied in college, much before computers were invented and magazines were still made ready for press on drafting boards with T-squares. I still dabble in design and, a week ago, I created a new bulletin design for an upcoming summer sermon series on the life of King David. Then, I zipped the file off to Kevin and invited him to take a stab at the same subject. What he sent back was over-the-top superior. Not only that, he sent four separate designs. And, what took me hours probably took him minutes.

He has it and I don't.

I remember that I first felt this loss several years after I picked up guitar. Like most leaders in student ministry, I felt the lure of learning five basic chords which would qualify me to play every song in the Young Life song book. I purchased my own guitar, led worship [I use that term very loosely] and even wrote a song...which no one will ever hear. One Spring Break, while on a mission trip to Ciudad Victoria, Mexico, I met a pastor who was very gifted on the guitar. The problem is that the neck of his overly-strummed instrument was cracked and the fellow had the thing held together with duct tape. Near the end of our trip, I was hammering out my five chords when God said, "Give it up." I joke to myself that the Almighty feared I might bring my worship leading into heaven one day, throwing the whole angelic host into utter chaos. But, God was more specific. I gave my guitar to the pastor before we left and gave it up for good. That day, I died to the possibility that I might play well. And, to be honest, I fought that failure.

I still do sometimes. But, God is teaching me that letting go is an important step to moving on. It's a little like lightening your load for the journey. To be best at what God has called us to, we must jettison the myriad of other things which can be distracting, time-killers, or obstacles in the way [see previous post]. I'm not talking about giving up things where we are mediocre [few of us would own golf clubs] or never having a new interest which we can develop. I'm talking about shutting the door to old dreams that get in the way of new vision. It's understanding what I'm made for, how I am designed, what are my gifts, what I do well. It's also about affirming the uniqueness of each part of the Body of Christ--allowing better designers and more gifted worship leaders to step forward and do what they're fitted to do. I'm discovering that, when I finally embrace my failure, I can truly move on in freedom. The letting go really does release me to move forward.

Monday, May 26, 2008

return[ed] on investment

The paper today predicted that the economy might begin to turn around by mid-year. More jobs, better home sales and a stable stock market will be the leading indicators.

I can hardly wait.

Because my financial portfolio has been sitting on idle for the last 6 months. No matter how many IRA contributions I make, the needle never heads north to the land of profit. My advisor tells me that everyone's in the same boat . . . except hedge fund managers.

This weekend, I experienced a parallel loss--the currency of time. I made five trips to three different home improvement stores. By Sunday afternoon, I had taken virtually everything I purchased back for a refund. I spent hours planning, searching aisles, choosing products, talking to sales people, standing in lines and driving across town only to end up right back where I started. In short, my return on investment was poor. Wasted time. No profit to show for my venture.

Ephesians 5:15-16 states "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." The writer understood the the currents of the time currency. If we're not careful, we're liable to lose our investment, whittling our days away with errands, busyness and inane activities that make for a shallow life-portfolio in the end. What if we were to only do the kinds of things that had eternal value: serving others, meeting the needs of the impoverished, reconciling relationships, practicing generosity, caring for widows and orphans, speaking the truth. To stand before God and know that my time yielded a profit that fulfilled God's purpose for my life and made Him famous along the way. No useless investments. No refunds. Time well-spent

Thursday, May 22, 2008

the Job prospect

This morning, I received the tragic news of the untimely death of Steven Curtis Chapman's 5-year old daughter, Maria [news here]. The sweet little princess was the Chapman's youngest of three adopted Chinese daughters. Even more gut-wrenching is the fact that she was struck, in her driveway, by a car driven by one of the Chapman sons. Sadly, the family was hours away from their son's high school graduation party and their older daughter had recenlty announced her engagement.

Can you feel the trauma?

So many questions, the greatest of which is "why?" Suddenly, my disappointment over the hit and run driver who backed into my wife's SUV this week dissipated. My difficulties pale in comparison. It's all a matter of perspective, isn't it?

As I grieve with the Chapman family [Steven is one of the top Christian musicians in the world and has become a leading advocate for Chinese adoptions], I can't help but glance in the direction of Job. The story of Job is one of the most ancient episodes in the Bible, placed in the middle of the Old Testament, but likely occurring sometime after Cain murdered Abel and before Noah's ark. The book opens with the declaration that Job was "blameless and upright," fearing God and shunning evil. Because of his notable righteousness, the devil decided to "test" him [vv. 6-19]. In the time it took to pull out of the family driveway, the man's livestock were stolen, his servants kidnapped and his children killed in a freak accident. If that weren't enough, Job was afflicted with boils that covered his body from head to toe. And, everyone wanted to know one thing.

Why?

For 37 chapters, God remained silent for Job [unfortunately, the wretched man was surrounded by a trio of op-ed writers who were sure they knew the answer]. But, when the Almighty finally broke the silence, everyone stopped hypothesizing. God is sovereign. God is at work. God has the first and the final words. No matter what happens, at the end of the day, God is still God. And, Job found his contentment in this sure-anchored fact.

Some think that the story of Job searches out the question: Where is God when life hurts? But, really, it explored the question: Where are we when life hurts? The answer depends on what we have believed about God before tragedy strikes. No one forms a brand new theology in the midst of crisis. What we hold to be true either forms a firm foundation that supports us when tests come or creates a false security that crumbles leaving us with nothing but hopeless questions.

I hope you understand my intentions when I say that the death of little Maria couldn't have happened to better people. The Steven Curtis Chapman family has walked with God for a lifetime. Their whole world has been built on the truth of a God who is sovereign and secure. They trust God to be good. In faith, they rest in His grace. They possess a confident hope that they will see their baby again. They are exactly the kind of people who have a foundation of faith that attracts the attack of the enemy yet endures the pain with God-centered confidence.

I want to live in such a way that the quality of my faith is validated by the tests that come my way. And, I want to suffer those tests in a way that vindicates what I hold to be true about God now.

Please be in prayer for the Chapmans that they remain steadfast and firm.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

wise guise

I'm presently trekking through the book of 1 Kings in the Bible. Today, I read chapter 3--a perfect passage for my present position. God has a way of doing that.

The chapter is about Solomon, the son-heir to the throne of King David. In his rise to power, Solomon has a dream where, in it, God invites him to "ask anything" (v. 5). The tone of the verse suggests that God would have made good on whatever Solomon requested. The opportunities are endless! Anything is an almost paralyzing prospect. What would I desire if, upon asking, my wish would be granted?

Solomon asks for wisdom. Which was a smart thing to do.

Because, God not only gives him wisdom, but promised to heap on the king health and wealth because he made such a good choice. Then (v. 15), Solomon woke up, returned to Jerusalem and began to sacrifice burnt offerings. His response shouldn't be overlooked. Because the chapter opens with the observation that "Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places" (v. 3). This was the practice of the pagan Canaanites who believed that the higher the hill where they offered their sacrifices, the closer they were to their gods. But, in Leviticus 17:3-4, God specifically limited offerings to Himself to the tabernacle (and later, the Temple). So, the Israelites, though well-intentioned, were living in disobedience. So was Solomon.

But, after wisdom was granted, Solomon went to Jerusalem and honored the Lord before the ark of the covenant. In wisdom, he was rightly aligned in worship. I learned long ago that the "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). But, this passage reminds me that the fear of the Lord is also the "end" of wisdom. The evidence of true wisdom is God-centered living. Truly wise people are endued with the mind of God and, therefore, manifest the priorities and purposes of God.

So, today, I've asked God to give me whatever I want. And, I want wisdom.

Monday, May 12, 2008

nothing to write

It's been two weeks. Nothing scribed on the wall for the world to see. It makes me feel like nothing has happened when, in fact, so much has:

1. I was interviewed by KCBI to give some sound bites about prayer last week.
2. I met with 20~ Senior Pastors from area churches for our monthly prayer time.
3. I had lunch with old friends, Stanley and Jenny Wang to talk church planting strategies in Dallas.
4. I met my brother Ron for lunch and talked about his new house.
5. I spent time with 4 pastors from Peru [and their families] who are receiving their doctorates from DTS this month.
6. I met with my financial advisor and learned that the economy is in the ditch for everyone...not just my family.
7. I celebrated my daughter's volleyball team win in the YMCA championship game. Go Ditto Diggers!
8. I enjoyed spiritual challenge with my friend in Christ, Scott Burks.
9. I cherished a time of reflection and spiritual care with my Thursday morning discipleship group as we prayed for one of our members at length.
10. I have been playing lots of cards with my boys....and losing most of the time
11. I watched God move in a spectacular way during our church Mother's Day celebration.
12. I finished reading Patrick Lencioni's book Silos, Politics and Turf Wars.
13. I fell asleep in a deck chair by the pool yesterday.
14. I got an unexpected email and an out-of-the-blue letter from two former disciples.
15. I started studying for an exciting new sermon series on the life of David coming up in June.
16. I shared a delicious meal out with my family.
17. I prayed about a great opportunity to travel to Spain and teach a one-week course at a seminary in Madrid this Fall.
18. I saw a 3 foot snake.
19. I wrestled with Pearson and laughed so hard that I cried.
20. I've been overhwlemingly affirmed in my calling as a pastor.

wow. wow. wow.

Friday, April 25, 2008

must see movie!

I rarely suggest movies. The last time I did, our dear friends George and Laurel Lynch sat down with their young children for family time and found themselves explaining the finer facts of life earlier than they had planned. However, I must highly recommend a film I just finished viewing with my family. Ben Stein's "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" is a top-notch expose on the scientific community regarding its suppression of academic freedom among scientists who affirm the idea of Intelligent Design [for more information, see Philip Johnson and his landmark book, Darwin on Trial]. Stein thoroughly investigates the claims of those who promote Darwinism and the theory of evolution and explores why the compelling evidence of Intelligent Design is rejected and proponents blacklisted among their colleagues. Let me strongly encourage you to see it, take your teenage children, discuss it afterwards....and see it again.

Monday, April 21, 2008

I should have never quit

I took piano for one year...5th grade. May God bless poor Mrs. Meggison who endured my feeble fingering. Unfortunately, I didn't persevere. I recently met a young man who did. You must check Kyle Orth out at http://www.kyleorth.com/. His CD is a collection of his own compilations. I've been listening to his music all day and highly recommend it to you!

evangelism through envy

In a few weeks, I will be preaching on Proverbs 14:30 regarding the danger of jealousy. Usually, envy destroys our life; It "rots our bones."

Lately, I have been thinking about an envy that is life-giving instead. In Romans 11:11, Paul writes that salvation escaped the Jews and was offered to the Gentiles "to make Israel envious." the King James version translates the phrase more forcefully: "provoke them to jealousy." God shifted salvation to non-Jews with the intent of stirring the souls of His chosen people to reconsider the way of salvation offered by Christ.

Last week, I asked Messianic Jew [see previous post], what this envy means. How does a Gentile's salvation make Israel envious? His answer was beautiful: When Christians live out of an overflow of the Spirit at work in them, the Jew remembers the privilege of God's presence among His people generations ago and longs for that presence to descend into their life today. Simply put, the Spirit of God manifested in the people of God makes others want what we have. In 1 Peter 3:15, the Apostle writes, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." Peter's statement assumes that Believers are living in such a hope-abundant way that other people would have reason to stop them and ask the question, "Why?"

My friend's answer is good for me to remember, not only among my Jewish friends, but among all people. The most compelling evangelism is the envy the results from God-centered and God-contented living.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

paradise

"In my Father's house are many rooms" [John 14:2].