Wednesday, December 23, 2009

year in review

Since I started Tweeting, I've written less on my blog...and feel quite guilty about it every time I think about it. Before I end the year, I'd like to reflect on a few great lessons God has been teaching me in the last 12 months.

1. Dying is gain. Paul said it first [Philippians 1:21]. Never more has this spiritual principle found such personal confirmation as in the last year. Through our family relationships with several homeless friends and our timely connection with our African brothers and sisters, I have learned the joy of giving myself and my stuff away. I'm reminded that my money isn't mine. Neither is my house, my clothes, my kids or my time. I'm just a steward of God's resources. And, as often as I sacrifice, lose, give and die, I discover the blessing of true life.

2. The power of words. There's a difference between saying something and having something to say. Through my cautious adoption of Twitter and Facebook, I have been challenged to use social networking as an extension of my ministry. This means that I guard what I write and endeavor to write what matters. Proverbs 18:21 is a powerful reminder of the potential good and evil of subjects and verbs.

3. Holy Spirit proof. I have been fortunate enough to be the bystander of several lives that have been radically changed this year. I study and preach about the Holy Spirit and the inward transformation He accomplishes. But, it's only a theological proposition until you see people start giving their money, their time and their life away to be the biggest blessing to others.

4. I'm never off. As a pastor and a parent, I'm always "on." This is true of every Christian. None of us take a vacation from our life with Christ. We are always influencing our neighbors, employees, community and children...for better or for worse. The question is not whether I'm discipling people but which direction I'm discipling them in.

5. Books, books, books! The written word still has more nutritional value over television any day. Be a voracious reader.

6. One Kingdom. I am terribly tempted to build any number of Kingdoms: my kingdom, my family's kingdom, the kingdom of our church. But, only the Kingdom of God matters. If what I'm doing makes God look so great that I'm forgotten amidst the deafening applause of others for His glory, I'm doing the right thing. Make God famous in all I do.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

chirp chirp


My daughter was born to chirp. Her name, Jenna, means "little bird" and she hasn't stopped tweeting since she took her first breath. I've never met another human being who sings so often...all the time....everywhere. But, that's how her Creator made her and she is most content when she lives out her God-given design.

We could see it on her face during last night's Christmas Concert. Jenna sings with the Arlington All-City Boys and Girls Choir and they were invited to share the stage with the Master Chorale for a special Christmas program. My little girl, front row and center, wouldn't have chosen to be anywhere else. A song in German, one in Spanish and a finale with show choir hand motions---our little bird chirped, smiling ear to ear.

Jenna proved an important reality: We are most glad when we do what we were designed to do. God made each one of us as unique creations, specially fashioned to do "good works which God prepared in advance for us to do" [Ephesians 2:10]. There are many things we can do. But, when we discover what which we were Divinely designed to do, our heart is glad. For me, it's preaching. For another, it might be composing and presenting music. A friend of mine is most glad when she's giving. Another feels at home when he's listening to others.

Don't settle for what you can do. Find out what you were made to do. And do it. And, as you do, God will put a song in your heart. Chirp, chirp.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

its all mental

I went running with Tiffany last week--my first time in 25 years. My legs were burning before I made it to the end of the driveway. As we scaled the hills near our neighborhood, Tiffany continued to remind me, "It's all mental." This was a hard sell to my feet, ankles, shins, knees, calves, thighs, lungs, sinuses and backside. For three miles, my body sent urgent messages to my brain begging me to stop. Then I realized: It is all mental. The physical challenge I faced ultimately ended in my head where I wrestled with whether to continue on or not.

In Romans 12:2, Paul urges Believers to be transformed by the "renewing of our mind." I will not overcome the hills ahead of me in life through physical training, but through spiritual renewal of my mind--what I trust to be true about God and His purposes.

I renew my mind by thinking, meditating on and engaging what is true and good. Philippians 4:8 states, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Paul's charge suggests that we don't form opinions, values and ideas simply as passive participants in culture. Rather, we can choose to invest ourselves in the kinds of literature, dialogues and influences which will cultivate godly thinking, wondering and creativity.

A few points of action:

1. Immerse yourselves in God's Word. The way of God is revealed in the Word of God.

2. Select your books with care. I fear that there are more mediocre books about the spiritual life published each year than truly valuable ones. Remember that "best sellers" are not always best.

3. Variety makes for a good diet. Explore theology, Christian fiction, devotionals, contemporary and ancient writers. Branch out.

4. Clear your coffee table. I have subscriptions to 4 magazines that taunt me every month. I don't have time for that many. Some people do. Manage the number of data channels [subscriptions, social networks, books, television, etc.] you take in. Remember, garbage in, garbage out.

Monday, November 9, 2009

you can do it!

I jokingly told Tiffany that the real work in her marathon wasn't her running, but my mapping, driving, parking, unloading and waiting at about a dozen checkpoints along the course! Saturday evening, I loaded my iPhone with coordinates that directed me to the next location where the kids and I were ready to applaud Tiffany and her running mate, Kelly McCullough. In the end, she reflected on how important it was for both of them to know that there was a small cheering section, just around the bend, challenging them to stay the course to the end.

The book of Hebrews states, "Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching" [Hebrews 10:24-25]. The writer must have understood the lonely difficulty of running the spiritual race with no one on the sidelines urging him on. Without the encouraging support of community, most Christians are destined to fall out of the race.

This "spurring one another" comes in different forms. Sometimes, it's just personal presence. On race day, the kids and I were joined by our friends, the Lynches, the Carsons and the Porters. Just seeing these supporters lifted Tiffany's heart and urged her to go one mile further. Similarly, there is a value in community--not only in what we do together, but just the warmth and encouragement that we bring by just sharing life together.

Second, we may spur one another through our words. Proverbs 18:21 reminds me that words have the power of life and death. What we say may hurt or heal. Dozens of people called, texted and tweeted me and Tiffany before and after her run. Each connection strengthened her with courage and support. In the same way, my comments, brief note or loving email to a friend can give them a little push today.

Finally, we spur one another by running with them. From the beginning, Tiffany has trained with her friend Kelly and their partnership brought them to and through their marathon. Then, as Tiffany began to feel the burn just before mile 12, our friend, sweet Laurel Lynch, jumped into street and began to run alongside Tiffany as well. It was an incredible picture of love. This was Tiffany's race. But, Laurel wasn't going to let her fail. I wonder who needs me to come alongside them today. To look them in the eye and tell them, "I know your legs are weak...Life's been tough. But you can count on me. I might have enough strength for both of us for a while."

milestone metaphors

You'll have to forgive me, but I have marathon on my mind. Yesterday, Tiffany ran her first 26.2 mile race and this personal milestone for her has generated so many metaphors for life. Runners say a marathon is more mental, rather than physical [I wouldn't know personally....]. Watching from streetside, I couldn't help but notice an abundance of spiritual connections. Perhaps this is why the Bible describes the Christian life as a race [Acts 20:24, 1 Corinthians 9:24, 2 Timothy 4:7, Hebrews 12:1] So, my next few posts will reflect a few race principles to encourage you to cross the finish line.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

the blessing

Many people have asked me to reprint the "Blessing" that I use each Sunday at the close of our worship services at Pantego Bible Church. For 4 years, this pastoral charge has been my heart's desire for the people God has called me to lead. It is a combination of Scripture and personal mission:

"And now brothers and sisters, go and grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Consider your very lives worth nothing if only you may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to you--the task of testifying to the Gospel of God's grace. And, as you go, become disciples so changed by God that God may use you to change your world. And, all of this that God--the living God--will make Himself famous through you."

Here's the source of each phrase:
And now brothers and sisters, go and grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [2 Peter 3:18]. Consider your very lives worth nothing if only you may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to you--the task of testifying to the Gospel of God's grace [Acts 20:24]. And, as you go, become disciples so changed by God that God may use you to change your world. [my personal Mission Statement]. And, all of this that God--the living God--will make Himself famous through you [the chief end of man: the Westminster Catechism].

Friday, October 30, 2009

no rinse required

This morning, as I emptied the dishwasher and reloaded it [don't be impressed, I'm too often not that helpful], I was disappointed by two realities. First, I loathe stacking "clean" dishes in the cabinets only to find that they're not really clean. The wash and rinse cycle cleared most of the food, but the dry cycle only served to baked remaining particles to the ceramic. I go out to the garage and get a chisel from my workbench.

Because of the first irritation, I have a second one: I must rinse each piece of dinnerware [even water glasses, just to be safe] to guarantee that everything will be clean. In the end, I have become the dish washer and the appliance under my counter simply stores plates, bowls and silverware until someone gets around to putting them away.

One of the biggest reasons why we "work" for our salvation is that we don't believe that the cross of Jesus is sufficient to wash away the stain of our sin. Grace sounds too weak. And so we believe that we must pre-rinse our lives in order to present ourselves on the rack to Jesus so that He might finish the cycle of making us clean. My good deeds underestimate the deep power-scrubbing of the cross and overestimate the added benefit that any of us could bring to our own life change.

Truth is, we are saved by grace alone so that "no one can boast" [Ephesians 2:8-9]. In other words, grace makes human effort unnecessary so that saved people end up proudly pointing to the cross instead of their own contribution. We make the mess. But only God can sanitize our souls. We bring nothing. But the cross is powerful enough to make me clean. The old hymn asks and answers the question: "What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

shock value

Six weeks ago, my outdoor spotlights stopped working. So, I removed the switchplate in my foyer and stared at the twist of wires linking four toggles together. I had flipped the circuit breaker in the garage but the thought of navigating bare wires gave me pause. I hate electricity. Actually, I love electricity [I wouldn't be typing this blog without it], but I can think of 120 shocking reasons why I'd prefer to keep my distance.

So, I called my friend, Kevin Hill. He's a professional. Kevin is well-grounded in all things electric [pun intended]. He immediately went to work snipping, stripping and switching wires...while they remained hot. That means that a current was still flowing to the switches Kevin was fixing. But, time and familiarity have enabled him to handle the power without fear.

Ravi Zacharias, noted contemporary speaker, once commented, "Do not let your familiarity with God rob you of the wonder of God." His warning was to every God-lover who could grow so used to God, that they cease bowing in holy fear at His holiness, cease standing awestruck at His beauty, cease being humbled by His majesty. In short, they "handle" God without any trepidation of His Divine voltage.

Notice the warning in Exodus 19:10-12:

And the LORD said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, 'Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.

God's people were cautioned to consecrate themselves before God. That is, they were to prepare themselves before meeting God. The next day, when God descended, they were to restrain themselves--not rush the mountain--lest God's power knock them off their feet forever. If God never changes, He possesses the same "electricity" He's always had. I must be on guard not to let my own familiarity with Him rob me of the everlasting wonder of who God still is.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I've been 'called'

You've heard someone say this before: "God called me." Sometimes, this little phrase is used like a 357 Magnum--to neutralize objection. If God called me to protest that cause, leave this church, kiss that girl or change academic majors, who's to argue? I wonder how many selfish (and sinful) pursuits have been undertaken under the guise of God's calling.

Still, there are times when right-minded people are impressed with Divine leading. I have a friend in Austin who was called by God to launch a new church. It wasn't a kind of self-centered neo-church venture to make a name for himself. Instead, God was moving him to launch a church to reach a marginalized group of people his present church wasn't designed to reach.

Good call. And, God-called.

But, how do we distinguish between the genuine call of God and the temptation to do our own thing and simply affix God's name to it in the end? I think we must look at the subjective and objective elements of Divine "calling."

SUBJECTIVE NATURE OF CALLING
On the one hand, God's "call" is subjective. Many biblical people had the benefit of hearing God's voice, having angels appear at their bedside or stumbling across blazing bushes with unmistakable directions on what to do next. However, God more often moved "in the hearts of His people." Men and women experienced God's movement internally. It's that moment when we are suddenly excited or alerted to a need; where our spirit resonates with an opportunity; where our heart is weighted with a burden. At this point, a person cannot study or test these subjective feelings. All they know is that the Spirit of God is moving them in a particular direction [John 14:26].

OBJECTIVE NATURE OF CALLING
The problem with the subjective nature of calling is that it's...well...subjective. I know that my heart is deceitful above all things [Jeremiah 17:9] and, what I "feel" may not be what is true. So, if I'm not careful, I may conclude God is calling when, in fact, I'm just pushing my own agenda. What I need are "objective" confirmations of God's subjective calling on my life. I have relied on several objective benchmarks to help me discern when God is leading:

1. The truth of Scripture. What I feel in my heart must correspond to what is written in God's Word. If God has spoken one way long ago, He will not lead me in another today.

2. The affirmation of community. If I am being led by God's Holy Spirit, and the same Spirit in me resides in other godly people, then the Spirit in them will resonate with the Spirit in me. This is one of the grand benefits of community. Together, the whole Body works toward common purposes and the protection of its members.

3. Correspondence with my resources. God gives each person spiritual gift[s] for the work of ministry [1 Corinthians 12]. Most often--though not always--God's mission for me will align with the resources God has already given to me for the work of mission. In other words, God will not usually call people to something that does not align with spiritual gifts, natural abilities, personality or passions. [To be fair, I must admit that Moses didn't feel completely qualified to stand before Pharaoh. But, his prior leadership position in Pharaoh's palace was a resource that gave him standing at a later time].

4. Curious change in circumstances. When I graduated from seminary, I felt that God was calling me back to our church in Austin. The greatest obstacle to our departure from Denver was the sale of our home. Immediately after the church asked me to come, I received a phone call from a friend who said, "I've heard that you might be leaving. I'd like to buy your house." No kidding. That call was God's confirmation of His calling. When the circumstances of life curiously line up to support what God is saying, that can be a great confirmation of where God is leading.

Many times, God provides one or more of these benchmarks to clarify His calling. But, in the end, to follow God's calling is an act of faith [Hebrews 11:6]. And, while we might search for the signs, we ultimately say "yes" to Him because we trust Him in wherever He leads.

Monday, October 12, 2009

overcoming spiritual deafness

We have been studying the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3 for the last couple of weeks. IN these two chapters, Jesus speaks to a select group of churches in Asia Minor and issues a unique message to each--sometimes commendation, sometimes condemnation and sometimes, a little of each. But, the common element of each letter is in the last lines: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says."

At one level, the command is silly because we all have ears. I've never met an ear-less person. But the command is also serious because the presence of ears on either side of our head is no guarantee that anything is getting inside. We must choose to listen to what the Spirit is saying to us. In the case of Jesus' letters through the Apostle John to each of the churches, the Spirit's message was quite clear. At other times, the Holy Spirit isn't so obviously clear. So, how do we "hear" what the Spirit is saying?

The Holy Spirit speaks in a variety of ways. First, the Spirit speaks through conviction [John 16:8]. Because the Spirit resides in the Christian [John 14:17, Romans 8:11], He "speaks" to us in the way He moves our heart. When we feel uneasy about something we're doing, we are likely sensing the directing hand of the Spirit.

Second, the Spirit speaks through God's Word. In John 14:26, Jesus said, "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." When we read and study the Bible, God's Spirit resonates within us as we decipher and digest truth. It is His Spirit which is communicating His heart to us [see also 1 Corinthians 2:6-16].

Third, the Holy Spirit also leads us through other Believers. Because every Christian is indwelled with the same Spirit [1 Corinthians 12:13] and grafted into one Body, we can count on the Spirit in one person to "coordinate" with the same Spirit in another. This is another reason why biblical community is so important. As we spend time together, the Holy Spirit leads us in our life with one another.

The anticipated danger of Jesus' message to each of the churches is that, though having ears, they might choose not to listen. And, for each of us, it's possible that we might suppress the Spirit's conviction, ignore the Spirit's truth and isolate ourselves from the Spirit living in community. If we do, we'll become spiritually "deaf." On the other hand, if we listen to what God is telling us through His Spirit, then we become spiritually in tune to the living God.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

lessons in purity

For the last several weeks, I have been preaching a new series: "SEVEN: Pursuit of the Perfect Church." Through this survey of the 7 churches of Revelation, we are learning how to become a less-than-imperfect church. Through the church of Ephesus, we learned a lesson about love. At Smyrna, we learned about persecution and suffering. In Pergamum, we learned about the importance of truth. This week, we travel to Thyatira and are reminded about moral purity.

To help us hold a high standard, my family uses an Internet filter. I know there are a hundred different software programs available. But, I personally endorse SafeEyes. I have been incredibly impressed with how the software blocks or allows sites and allows me to manage the amount of time that my children spend on the Internet. If you don't have a program, let me encourage you to check it out. It's a very low price to pay for high living.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

from busy to burnout

I think God might be trying to tell me something. the cover story on seveeral Christian magazines have been about "Running on Empty" and avoiding ministry fatigue. The topic at a recent Senior Pastors' gathering was dealing with burnout. And, a friend recently confessed that he was in a fog with so much ministry.

So, last Sunday evening, I talked briefly with our ministry leaders about burnout. When we "burn the candle at both ends," we're liable to find the flame of ministry eventually snuffed out completely. Through my conversation with other ministry leaders and some research on the topic, I presented the following 10 Symptoms of Ministry Burnout:

1. Longing for “greener grass”-- Desire for a new ministry, new community, or a new church.
2. Dream of escape --Desperately needing to get away. You spend more and more time scanning the Travel section of your newspaper.
3. Anger and cynicism --Conversely, a lack of humor.
4. Increased addictions -- To fill the voids in life, you busy yourself with other distractions. television and Internet are often the worst culprits.
5. Lack of joy in your calling -- You no longer delight in or get excited about successes.
6. Task-orientation -- With an increasing feeling of hopelessness and failure, you begin attending to tasks to “get something done."
7. Loss of creativity and newness -- Your mind shuts down to new ideas and creation.
8. Isolation -- The fear of being exposed causes you to retreat from community.
9. Neglected responsibilities -- What you used to do naturally, you now forget.
10. Unhappy spouse -- Your unhappiness and discontent are mirrored in your mate.

Truth is, we all can experience some of these challenges during the best of times in life. But, when several of these show up in my soul, I need to take inventory to see if I'm about to go down in flames.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

fellowship of the unashamed

I recently heard the testimony of a very brave teenage girl who stood resolutely for Christ. On her Facebook page, she posted the following quote originally written by Dr. Bob Moorehead:

I am a part of the fellowship of the Unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit Power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won't look back, let up, slowdown, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure.

I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals. I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by presence, learn by faith, love by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power.

My pace is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my Guide is reliable, my mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, diluted,or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won't give up, back up, let up, or shut up until I've preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I must go until He returns, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes. And when He comes to get His own, He will have no problem recognizing me. My colors will be clear for "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." (Romans 1:16)

Friday, September 4, 2009

application

[NOTE: This is the final post in a series of entries intending to help readers learn how to study their Bible.]

For those following this series of posts, I have very briefly touched on 3 steps of effective Bible study: Preparation, Observation and Interpretation. Preparation puts me in line with God's Holy Spirit so that I can discern spiritual things. Observation is the discipline to "search out" the details in a text. Interpretation is the business of making sense of what I see. But, my study is complete only when I apply what I have learned.

Two key texts come to mind when I think about this principle of Application. In Luke 6:46, Jesus asks, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" His point, of course, is that submitting to Jesus as "Master" requires not just understanding what He teaches, but doing it. Similarly, James highlights the foolishness of observation and interpretation without application:

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does." [James 1:22-25]

The key word in this text is "do"--intentional application of what we learn. In fact, James explains, to read and study the Bible without applying truth is like looking at ourselves in the mirror and walking away without correcting our problem. Just as mirrors and designed for self-improvement, so the Bible is designed to change our lives.

Howard Hendricks, distinguished professor at Dallas Theological Seminary writes, "Interpretation without application is abortion of God's Word." He goes on to highlight 4 "substitutions" that we may be tempted to make:

1. We substitute interpretation for application.
Disciples feel that if they understand a passage, they have mastered its content.

2. We substitute superficial obedience for substantive life-change.
Disciples come to believe that if they begin to apply the scripture or demonstrate a life which may only hint at intended change, they have accomplished the intent of a text.

3. We substitute rationalization for repentance.
Namely, we explain away our sin, our complacency, our refusal to be more than mere hearers of the Word. We give excuses as to why a text doesn't exactly apply to us.

4. We substitute emotional experience for a volitional decision.
Our excitement about a text or our passion about its implication becomes the end result of our study. While we might be emotionally captivated by spiritual truth, we are nonetheless unchanged.

True application is a change in our lives: a change in what we believe, in what we feel or in how we live. The Bible is designed to transform our mind, our heart and our behavior. So, once we discover what a text means to the original audience, we must decide what implication it has for us personally. The following is a list of questions to ask as we work to apply God's Word:

1. Is there an example for me to follow?
2. Is there a sin to avoid?
3. Is there a promise to claim?
4. Is there a prayer to repeat?
5. Is there a condition to meet?
6. Is there a verse to memorize?
7. Is there an error to note?
8. Is there a challenge to face?

Today, you might print this list and tuck it inside your Bible as a reminder to not only be hearers of the Word, but doers as well. I pray that your study of the Scriptures yields great fruit for life transformation.

Monday, August 31, 2009

let the nations be glad!

For all the planning that goes into a worship service at Pantego Bible Church, no one can orchestrate the work and ways of God. Sunday was one of an increasing number of God-moments.
Six weeks ago, three men visited our church and introduced themselves at our Guest Reception afterwards. They represented a growing community of refugees from Burundi, Rwanda and Congo. Many had been settled in the United States within the last three years through a special refugee plan in 2007. Though there may be more than 2000 of these foreigners in the DFW area, these men are connected with a known community of 100+ in south Fort Worth. After gracious introductions, they made one request: Would our church grant them a place to worship in their own tongue?

Burundi is one of the most Christianized nations in central Africa and the spiritual roots of these beautiful people run deep. As Pastor January, Method [the most English-speaking interpreter] and elders of their newly-forming church met with a group from PBC, they humbly requested a room..or a tent...or even a patch of grass to meet as a Body and worship each week.

It took little convincing of our Elder Board to give this church a place to begin worship services on the PBC campus. yesterday, many from their African community joined their pastor on our stage for us to welcome them and forge a partnership that unites 2 nations under one Lord. As we received our morning offering, the Burundi community sang songs to God and, while none of us understood a word, we translated their hearts with no problem.

I am looking forward to the days ahead as we learn more about our friends and determine how we, the church, might be able to meet their needs. Already, we have been richly blessed by their arrival. We pray that God will be made famous in this work.

To learn more about the history of the Burundi refugees, see a very informative article HERE.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

discipline

Oh the beauty of discipline:



You can also view it HERE.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

interpretation | #3

[NOTE: This is the 7th post in a series of entries intending to help readers learn how to study their Bible.]

As we consider the importance of responsible interpretation of the Bible [remember 2 Timothy 2:15?], I think we should pause and consider the topic of translations. The difference between "interpretation" and "translation" is like the difference between a chef and a dietitian. A chef takes raw ingredients and "translates" them into a delicious meal. He could fry, bake, grill or sear fish...depending on his customer. In the end, fish is fish, but the chef has the job of presentation. The dietitian, however, isn't given such luxury of personal preference. He or she must analyze the meal and draw conclusions about the amount of sodium, calories, protein, etc. These conclusions are based on the substance, not presentation. Still, the dietitian will be limited by the meal that the chef prepares.

We have a variety of translations of the Bible. However these translations differ in presentation. They are the result of different scholars who are writing the language of the Bible for particular audiences to digest. I think about the multitude of translations in three basic categories:

LITERAL TRANSLATIONS: These translations are true to the original, Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible. However, because they are word-for-word designed, some find them to be too "wooden," or stiff. In other words, they don't sound like we speak. They are the most accurate for personal study. Example of literal translations include the New King James Version, the English Standard Version and the New American Standard Bible.

FREE TRANSLATIONS: Opposite of literal translation are those translations which are freer in their syntax, grammar and word content. The translators have taken liberty to rearrange the parts to smooth out the readability of the text. While these translations often "flow" and have an easier readability, they are not as dependable for deeper study. They are paraphrases, relying on the translator's style and perspective. Free translations include The Message, the Living Bible and J.B. Phillip's The New Testament in Modern English.

DYNAMIC EQUIVALENT: A moderating option between literal and free translations is the dynamic equivalent translation. These phrase-by-phrase versions maintain the historical distance between the original language and the current language, but updates style and grammar. Examples of these translations include New International Version and the New English Bible.

Here is a list of Bibles from most literal to most free:

King James (KJV)
New King James (NKJV)
English Standard (ESV)
New American Standard NASB)
Revised Standard (RSV)
New Revised Standard (NRSV)
Updated NASB
Amplified Bible
New American Bible
New International (NIV)
New English Bible
Good News Bible
Phillips Modern English
Living Bible (LB)
New Living Bible (NLT)
Jerusalem Bible
Contemporary English (CEV, "The Promise")
Today's English Version
The Message

Which version should you choose? I encourage Bible students to use whichever version is most readable to them for their personal, devotional time. However, when it comes to serious study, the student should use a Bible that is closer to a literal translation. I enjoy reading The Message, but it does not provide the necessary accuracy of the ESV or NASB when it comes to thorough study. Good interpretation starts with the right translation.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

interpretation | #2

[NOTE: This is the 6th post in a series of entries intending to help readers learn how to study their Bible.]

In the last several posts, I have lightly surveyed the basic steps to good Bible Study. We start with the Spirit, then learn to see, then make sense of what we see. This is the discipline of interpretation. Once I have answered my interpretive questions, I attempt to summarize the passage several ways. This task of summarizing is a very helpful exercise.

One way to summarize a passage is to determine a "topic" for the passage. Try and reduce the passage to one word [two, if you must]. This one word must take the entire passage into account. It's a challenge, but forces the Bible student to look at the big picture. For example, after studying the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes [John 6], a person might conclude that the topic is "provision."After studying the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego [Daniel 3], they might choose the topic "conviction" or "perseverance."

Another way to interpretively summarize a passage is by drafting a "Big Idea." Every passage in the Bible answers an implied question. In John 3, the question is obvious: "How can a man be born when he is old?" [Nicodemus asked, v. 4]. So, this passage more generally answers the question, "How can people be 'born again'?" The challenge is to discern the question being asked and answered in each passage.

Here's an easy example. James 1:2-18 deals with trials. The question implied may be, "How should a Christian deal with trials in their life?" The answer [summary of the passage] might be: "...by choosing joy, seeking wisdom in faith, looking to the greater reward in the end, and resisting the inherent temptation that is sure to come." Put the question and answer together and the Big Idea is: "The Christian endures trials in life by choosing joy, seeking wisdom in faith, looking to a greater reward and resisting inherent temptation that is sure to come." Reduce the phrase a bit more and one might write: "We overcome trials with joy, wisdom, hope and fortitude."

Let's try another: Matthew 5:13-16. After a quick study, I might summarize:

QUESTION: Why must the Christian be salt and light in their world?
ANSWER: Because it reflects who they truly are and illumines the glory of God to others around them.
COMBINE: The Christian should be salt and light to reflect who they truly are and illumine the glory of God in the world.
REDUCE: We shine to reflect the glory of God in a dark world.

If I wanted, I could spend time writing and rewriting each question/answer to refine what I really believe the passage is about. This exercise is a great interpretive process.

Now it's your turn.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

interpretation

[NOTE: This is the 5th post in a series of entries intending to help readers learn how to study their Bible.]

Preparation. Observation. The first two steps of good study. In the former, we invite the Holy Spirit's leading. In the latter, we stop to see. This process is known as the "inductive Bible Study" method [from "induce" = "to produce" or "flow out"]. Instead of bringing our preformed opinions to a text, we work hard to let the meaning of the text flow out to us.

The next step is "interpretation." Interpretation seeks to answer the question "What does it mean?" All of us are natural interpreters. We are ever analyzing and making sense of colors, shapes, textures, messages and events around us. In fact, we're forced to rapidly "draw conclusions" every moment. But, interpretation, as a Bible Study discipline, requires taking ourselves out of the mix and using good tools to better understand the meaning of a text.

Once I have made my observation "list," I began to move back through the list and find definitions, answer questions or understand connections. There are a variety of resources that a Bible student can use to help:

* Lexicon: Defines Greek and Hebrew words. You may think this is too "heady," but wouldn't you like to know that "joy" [James 1:2] means more than just a feeling of happiness? Joy is an inner confident contentment. I can't get that meaning simply by reading the word.

* Bible Dictionary: A lexicon provides the meaning of words while a dictionary provides the meaning of words, phrases, people and events. My lexicon helps me to understand that the word "train" in 1 Timothy 4:7 is the Greek word gymnaze which means "to exercise naked." When I look up "training" in my dictionary, I may get the broader understanding of how people trained, the influence of the Greek games on Paul's thinking and other words associated with the word I'm studying. In my dictionary, I can also look up places, people and events.

* Atlas: Once you begin studying your Bible, you'll appreciate the color maps in the back. A larger, more complete Bible atlas will become beneficial. For example, when Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the trip covered approximately 100 miles--not a short jaunt for an expectant mother!

* Other translations: Reading the text in another translation can often shed light on the meaning of a text. Remember that our present translations are not translations-of-translations. That is, the editors didn't simply translate from the most recent edition. All reputable translations have been crafted from a study of original texts.

* Commentary: It is tempting to read commentaries first. But, scouring a text, learning definitions and putting pieces together first allows the Holy Spirit to work in us before we hear from human authors. There is a time, however, when it is good to read the research of studied writers.

As I interpret a text, there is a mental list that I follow to help me discover the meaning. I seek the answers to these questions:

1. What is/are the key word(s) and what do they mean? [Usually, this is a word that repeats or a major theological word that is set apart]
2. What are the connections? [cause and effect; if/then conditions; statement and reason; chronological comments]
3. What is the context? [I pay particular attention to the preceding and following verses to get the larger meaning]
4. What is the tone? [forceful, warning, persuasive, defensive, compassionate, etc.?]
5. What are the commands or questions?
6. What cross-references support this passage? [use the center column cross-reference tools to help you]

Once you have done the heavy lifting of this study, there is one more interpretive discipline you can exercise to help arrive at the meaning of the text. I'll write about this in my next post.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

observation | #2

I started this series of blog postings on how to study the Bible and then found out that I wouldn't have efficient Internet access for 2 weeks. So, I've been slow in updating. Now home, I am able to resume this important topic.

In my last 2 posts, I have highlighted the first two steps of good Bible study: Preparation [prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit to teach us] and Observation [the discipline to "What do I see?"]. Interpretation without observation ends in presumption.

Before moving on to the next step, I think it might be helpful to model the process of Observation. Consider Galatians 3:26-29:

26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Here are my initial "observations" on these four verses:

1. The author is Paul, the Apostle
2. "You" are the Christians in Galatia, a church established by Paul
3. They become sons of God "through" faith in Christ Jesus. Does this mean that all people are not automatically "children of God"?
4. "all" is repeated 3x
5. "for" indicates reason or cause: The reason we are sons of Christ is because we have been baptized and clothed in Christ.
6. What does it mean to be "baptized into Christ"? Is this water baptism?
7. What does it mean to be "clothed with Christ"?
8. The "clothing" is something we do [i.e., "clothe yourselves"].
9. Why does Paul raise the issue in v. 28?
10. What does it mean that we are all "one in Christ Jesus"?
11. Is there any reason why Paul uses "Christ Jesus" instead of the more common "Jesus Christ"?
12. Conditional statement in v. 29: "If you..."
13. Does "belonging" parallel "sons" and "clothed with Christ"?
14. What is the significance of "Abraham's seed"? Does the concept appear in other places?
15. "seed" is singular--We might expect "seeds"
16. An "heir" to what [v. 29]?
17. What "promise" is Paul talking about?
18. What problem does Paul seem to be addressing?

Just by recording these observations, I guess that this passage is about clarifying who is included in God's promise to Abraham and, therefore, true children of God. Of course, I won't jump to this conclusion without a more thorough investigation. But, the work of observation [notice that I haven't even done the work of answering my questions] already begins to shed light on the meaning of the text.

Now it's your turn. Find James 1:22-25 in your Bible and make 10-20 observations about the passage. Good practice.

Monday, August 3, 2009

observation

In my last post, I mentioned that studying the Bible is like appreciating and discovering the meaning behind a beautiful piece of art. We begin our journey by connecting with the artist/writer: God Himself. Prayer prepares us with the mind of Christ.

The second step to good Bible study is "observation." This is the discipline of seeing, and it's not easy. Truth is, most of us are not very observant of life around us. We can't describe the order of instruments on our car dashboard though we sit behind the wheel every day. Moreover, we approach the Bible with presuppositions, bias, background, ideas--a whole host of baggage that has potential to lead us to wrong interpretations. So, we must stop, resist jumping to conclusions [literally] and ask, "What do I see?"

This exercise begins with larger questions about the text: Who wrote it? To whom? Why? Knowing that a letter was written to combat a known heresy rather than to provide encouragement through persecution might cause us to read the phrase "be strong" as "don't give in to the lies" rather than "don't be afraid."

Next, begin to observe the pieces:

* Which words are repeated in the text?
* Are there conditional [if/then] clauses?
* Are there cause/effect statements [since, because]?
* What verb tense is used?
* How does this passage fit with the surrounding context?
* What is the "flow" of this passage?
* What is the tone of this passage [stern, hopeful, etc.]?
* What words are unclear [need to be defined]?
* List commands, promises, warnings.

Yes, I know it sounds like alot of work. But, as with any discipline, the more you do it, the more intuitive it becomes. Fortunately, as we slow down and begin to observe, we will see things we have never before noticed in God's Word.

To learn more about this method of Bible Study, go to one of my favorite sites for serious Bible Students: Precept Austin.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

preparation

Many people "study" their Bible like they tour an art museum. Perhaps you've stood in front of an Expressionist masterpiece--paint splatters and unrecognizable forms--scratched your head and left without any idea what the painting means. You know there's a truth hidden beneath the color, shapes and textures, but you have neither the tools or the patience to discover it. The same applies to our approach to God's Word. God is the Master Artist who has left us with a marvelous work/Word filled with life-changing truth. What we need are the tools to make sense of the meaning.

The first step to appreciating God's Word is "Preparation." It's the work before the work. We prepare to study our Bible by inviting the Holy Spirit to lead us. In 1 Corinthians 2:10-16, we learn that the Spirit of God reveals the heart and mind of God. And, Jesus said that He would send His Holy Spirit as a counselor (aka "advisor" or "teacher") to lead us into truth. So, apart from the Spirit's influence, I cannot make sense of the meaning of the Scriptures. On the other hand, because of the indwelling Spirit, I may discern God's leading.

It makes sense, therefore, that I prepare my heart before I dive into my study. I want to read with the "mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16). So, I start my study praying: "Holy Spirit, open my eyes that I may see; open my mind that I may understand; open my heart that I may receive what You want to show me; and open my hands to do what I learn."

The first step to Bible Study is to get in step with the Spirit.

Friday, July 24, 2009

right tool, right way

I remember a fellow once using the phrase "Right tool, wrong way." This was probably his response to me using a hammer to break rocks or a screwdriver to scrape dried paint off a table. For a tool to be useful, it should be used as it was designed.

This week, our Bible Study looked at 2 Timothy 2:15: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." These words were penned by the Apostle Paul who was warning his young disciple to use the tool of God's Word in a way it was intended. Included in this verse are several coordinate truths.

First, there is an incorrect way to handle God's Word. It is possible for me to read, study and use my Bible the wrong way. While it might sound strange [don't we all get credit for simply opening our Bibles up this morning?!], I must remember that the worst of heresies were forged by people with the best of intentions. They just didn't handle the Word correctly.

Second, to be cavalier in the way I handle God's Word may lead to my shame. The word literally means "accusation." Flippant interpretation and application of spiritual truth makes me guilty. When life doesn't "work," I've got no one to blame but myself.

Third, I am accountable before God in the way I wield His weapon [the Bible is called a "sword in Ephesians 6:17]. Because the Bible is God's Word[s], I want to make sure I represent God accurately. A seminary professor once told our class, "You better not say 'Thus sayeth the Lord unless the Lord thus sayeth'!"

In the coming posts, I will spend a little time writing about how to study the Bible well. A few great resources for those who want to go deeper include Dr. Howard Hendrick's Living By The Book and Fee and Stuart's How To Read The Bible For All It's Worth. I hope you'll follow the next few posts to learn how to use the right tool the right way.

Friday, July 17, 2009

from kislev to nisan

Four months to respond. If it took my kids that long to obey, they'd be grounded for a very long time. Yet, that's the distance from Nehemiah 1:1 to 2:1. In that time, God's servant sensed a calling to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls. But, it took a while for him to actually pack his bags and head west. Four months.

I sat outside this morning, studying my Bible and noticed this interesting delay. Then, Jenna joined me and we had a brief conversation about "impulse purchases"--the temptation to buy last-minute mints, batteries and tabloids at the checkout counter. I counseled her about the value of waiting. Wisdom is born out of the time spent to make good decisions.

Perhaps this explains Nehemiah's delay. He could have immediately saddled up the royal camels and followed his heart to his homeland. Instead, he waited--perhaps to confirm God's direction, perhaps to complete his commitments, perhaps to gather his resources or perhaps to simply let any residue of self-serving impulsivity evaporate. Whatever the reason, his waiting seemed to be the right thing to do.

When God calls, I don't want to delay in doing what I know I should do. Still, I don't want to foolishly move forward without taking time to pray, seek godly counsel, gather my resources, and exercise wisdom. In the end, the time between Kislev and Nisan may just be what enables me to not only do God's will, but do it well.

Monday, July 13, 2009

peacefully over-par

I picked Pearson up from his golf tournament today and listened as he described every stroke for his short, nine holes of play. He found himself trapped in several bunkers and even got caught in the weeds once or twice. Yet, surprisingly, his spirit was positive, optimistic and looking forward to a second round of play tomorrow.

In their book, The Mulligan: A Parable of Second Chances, Wally Armstrong and Ken Blanchard highlight the "NATO" principle. It affirms that, no matter what, I am "not attached to the outcomes." In other words, I am not my score. No matter how many shots I strike poorly or where I land, who I am isn't ultimately determined by how well I perform [which is really great news if you've ever seen me on the golf course]. With God, there is no scorecard.

This fits my focus on position and condition in yesterday's sermon [Colossians 3:1-4]. Some days, I'm on my game. Every mechanic of my spiritual life comes together and I play like a pro. I'm loving God, serving my family and making great choices with my time, money and resources. On other days, I feel like a Christian amateur, failing at all the fundamentals. My life is in the weeds or out of bounds. However, because of my position Christ, I am not my score. My condition may change, but my position is always par for the course. That truth keeps me coming back to the tee box, hoping to play a better hole each day.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

deep[er] thoughts

Since I began "tweeting" a few days ago, I have found myself thinking more deeply. I know the networking function is intended to be more casual, but I have chosen to use it primarily to "spur others on to love and good deeds" [Hebrews 10:24]. While I do occasionally post random notes about my sometimes random life, I am finding that many tweets are causing me to stop and ask "What's important?" or "What do I see?" or "What does it mean?" This is a great way to invest my mind.

For a pastor's view on the value of Tweeting and a huge motivation for my new practice, see this article.

I hope you'll follow me.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

tweet tweet

We had an amazing meeting at PBC today with Matt Powell who led our staff through some of the basics and benefits of social networking. So, I jumped aboard Twitter and will probably find myself in the deep end soon. Follow me at: @Pastor_Daniels or click on "Follow Me" on the Twitter list in the margin below. Hopefully, I'll figure out how to start tweeting before any of you wake up from your nests in the morning.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

2 kinds of suffering

As I continue to converse with others regarding Sunday's message ["The Satisfaction of Suffering"], I find the most common comment has been a clarification between suffering for being a Christian and suffering for simply being human. Peter writes, "If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name" [1 Peter 4:16]. This means there is a suffering that is distinctly "Christian" and is different from other sorts of suffering experienced by people everywhere.

So, in Colossians 1:24, when Paul writes, "Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church," he isn't rejoicing in his cancer diagnosis, his job loss or the untimely extra expense of replacing his air conditioner. He is talking about the unique suffering he experienced because a) he was a Christian and, b) was making Christ known with his life.

In a conversation with one of our elders, I described it this way: We should suffer to communicate the Gospel and we can communicate the Gospel in our suffering. In the first case, we accept difficulty, inconvenience and loss along the way as we choose to make Christ known. In the second case, we have opportunity to make Christ known through the unexpected and usual suffering we face in our life. In both cases, Christ may be exalted. But there is a distinctive difference in the suffering.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

when dying is gain

This week, I preached Colossians 1:24-2:5...one of the most challenging passages of Scripture to me. Several years ago, I was riveted by a sermon by John Piper first preached to students at Wheaton College in 1996. The title of the message--"Doing Missions When Dying is Gain"--is convicting enough to make most folks not listen to the message at all. However, I promise that you will never think the same about suffering and the Kingdom when you're done. You may download an audio copy or manuscript HERE.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

turncoats and tradition

On Thursday and Friday, we took Grant to Texas A&M in College Station to explore the campus. he is two years away from high school graduation, but is getting a head start to begin making decisions about his future. While the tour was wonderful, I felt like I was selling my soul--betraying my Longhorn history.

One of the things I appreciated about the A&M environment was its strong commitment to tradition--from the 12th Man story, to the game time yells to the beautiful "century tree." There is a statue on the main mall of A&M founder with a stack of pennies at his feet. Lore has it that if a student "pays" homage to the man, they will do better on their exams. As our tour guide explained the pastime, I could see Grant doing the math, wondering how much money he would be leaving if he got his degree there.

There is a difference between tradition and traditionalism. The former is a perpetuated pattern of behavior or belief that maintains a respect for the past. Tradition roots us in memories and meaning. Tradition is what families and communities carry forward in a new generation. In contrast, traditionalism doesn't encourage the present with the past; It traps it. Traditionalism forces itself on the present and refuses to budge.

In Matthew 15:2, the Pharisees wondered why Jesus' disciples broke with "the tradition of the elders." In Colossians 2:8, Paul warned about the "traditions of men." In these cases, the problem wasn't tradition per se, but traditionalism. The religious elite couldn't break with the basic principles of the past in order to embrace what God was doing in the present. They were driving forward looking in their rear view mirror.

As a pastor and father, I want my church and immediate family to cherish tradition. I long for a continuity between what God is doing today and what we will remember tomorrow. But, I am on guard against traditionalism. In this case, I'd rather be an Aggie than a Pharisee.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

take me out to the ballgame

I took Pearson to the ballpark to catch the final game between the Rangers and Blue Jays. A storm blew in from the west--the likes of what I've never seen before. The stands emptied and everyone escaped to the concourse, packed like sardines. As the lightning flashed, the winds picked up and the torrent increased, I silently studied the exits and safe places. My senses were on alert.

Several biblical thoughts ran through my mind to pass the time:

1. What must Noah have thought?

2. 1 Corinthians 10:13 -When tempted, God always provides a way of escape.

3. 1 Peter 5:8 - Be on guard, against the Devil's attack.

4. Matthew 5:45 - God causes his rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous.

5. Luke 17:24 - The Son of man will come with flashes of lightning and thunder.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

my new hobby

Thanks to Craig Porter for the lessons in lake surfing. Not too graceful, but a whole lot of fun!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

truly rich

I have been meeting with a small group of men in my community for the last 8-9 weeks to encourage one another in our spiritual lives. We have been studying the 30 Core Competencies of our church: 10 Beliefs, 10 Virtues and 10 Practices. For a while, I've decided to add some thoughts about each Competency to my blog so that readers can follow our discussions.

This week, we looked at the Core Belief of "Stewardship" which simply affirms: "I believe that everything I am or own belongs to God." We studied 1 Timothy 6:17-19 where the unmistakable theme of Paul's charge was "riches." First, he cautions Timothy not to put his hope in material riches but to put his hope in spiritual riches found in God. If Timothy pursues rich deeds instead of dollars, he will eventually discover a treasure in heaven. This passage echoes Jesus' words in Matthew 6:19-21:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

The main point of both texts is that the truly rich life is determined, not by what we gain, but by what we give. In this way, it really is "more blessed to give than to receive" [Acts 20:35]. God supplies us with material riches to bless others in need. Through acts of generosity and grace, we enjoy spiritual richness which lay an eternal foundation and leads to true life.

In his excellent book, What's So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey reflects on "the atrocious mathematics of the Gospel." Jesus suggested that the first should come last, the least would become greatest, and leaders are servants. Paul noted that "dying is gain." The constant theme is that God's people are to become the "biggest losers." Addition by subtraction. Which means that stewardship is not about me simply managing my stuff. Rather, stewardship is me recognizing that my stuff is God's stuff, given on loan, to give away to others. As I spend myself to meet the needs in my community, I live. And then I realize how very rich I truly am.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

maintaining unity

This morning, during our staff chapel, I used Pastor John Piper's excellent reflections on preserving unity amid diversity. As a leadership team, we must strive to "preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" [Ephesians 4:3]. Piper's six principles are worth reading for anyone. See his Taste&See post here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

humility wins out

Kris Allen wins. He's the newest American Idol--a dark horse leading from the back of the pack. He is the exact opposite of his contender, Adam Lambert. He's understated, unspectacular and unpretentious. And, for this reason, he was the underdog...not expected to win according to Idol blog posts. But, character upstaged talent. In a surprising move, America voted for humility.

No doubt, Kris will need some coaching to help him stand in the spotlight. But, I'd like to think that his meekness, not his music, won the day. It makes me wonder if this is what attracted so many people to Jesus. The Lord would never have gone platinum with back-up singers, yet He was humble--completely unexpected for a Messiah.

As I watched Kris' genuinely-surprised win, I longed to be more unvarnished and less perfected. More heart, less haughtiness. A little more like Kris, and much more like Christ.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

mom to me

Almost 20 years ago, I "left and cleft" [my made-up past tense of "cleave"]. Snipping the apron strings of my natural mom, I married my college sweetheart who became mother to our three fantastic kids. During our marriage, she's also been quite a "mom" to me. Tiffany is tireless in the way she takes care of our family needs, invests in our children and serves me as a perfect helpmate. She inspires my walk with Jesus Christ and makes me want to be more of a husband to her. So, this Mother's Day, I thank God for my mom, Fran Daniels. But, I also thank God for a mother who takes first place, at least in my heart. Tiffany, I thank God for you!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

for you and 10 friends

This week, I received three seemingly unrelated emails that converged into one very disturbing reality. The first email offered me free money (amazing!). That's right. Apparently, the federal government has stacks of cash laying around in the basement of some building just waiting to be claimed. If I would respond quickly, I might qualify! First come, first served. Honest.

The second email urgently pleaded with me to sign a petition to fight a piece of legislation. The tone of the letter was reminiscent of Edmund Burke's warning: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." If I "click here" I really could make difference.

Like you, I get dozens of these emails a day. Fortunately, most of them get rerouted to my junk mail folder and I never have to deal with them. It's the third email that troubles me. It's a reflection on "the joy that comes from appreciating the little things in life," or something nostalgic like that. I get one of these messages, usually with an attached Powerpoint presentation, embedded hymn audio, Thomas Kinkade painting or tear-jerking story scribed in 8 different exotic fonts.

This week's email of the "little things" included puppies, the breath of a sleeping baby, fresh laundry on the backyard line and the tinkle of wind chimes in the spring breeze. Then [and this is my frustration], I read the line: "Send this to at least 10 friends right now and see what God does! Don't break the chain. If you REPLY and add nine friends to this list, you will be amazed at the incredible 'little things' that will begin to happen in your own life."

Oh brother. In the words of John Stossel, "Give me a break!"

Do we really believe that there's a blessing to be gained because we spammed 9 friends (now former friends) with an email framed with 1980's clip art pictures? Does anyone really think they can twist God's arm into giving them the goods because they passed on the poem? If you do, I know a rich woman in Uganda who would like to send you $100,000.

I can guess three reasons why we continue to get these emails...even from well-intentioned Christians. First, many people are desperate for a touch from God. Their time with God has grown so cold that they're genuinely hoping that something--anything--will ignite the fire of revival. Second, some have lost a view of sovereignty. Many people in the Bible viewed God's blessings as something to be earned. No doubt, God rewards faith [Hebrews 11:6]. But, God does many good things apart from human action. He isn't a divine marionette waiting for us to pull His strings. He does act in mysterious ways. Finally, some are unsure of their identity. To confess, I have been tempted to forward some of these emails because I haven't wanted to be the one that copped out, broke the chain or caused the universe to spin off its axis. That's fear. And, it's a misunderstanding of who I really am in Christ.

So, please don't be offended if I don't pass the emails along. I'll connect with God and enjoy His goodness the old fashioned way: by grace. I hope you will too.

[Please send this posting to 10 of your friends in the next 10 minutes so they will be encouraged too :-)]

looking up

A temporary Sunday School teacher was struggling to open a combination lock on the supply cabinet. She had been told the combination, but couldn't quite remember. Finally, she went to the pastor's study and asked for help. The pastor came into the room and began to turn the dial. After the first two numbers he paused and stared blankly for a moment, and then he looked serenely heavenward while his lips moved silently. Suddenly he looked back at the lock and quickly turned to the final number, opening the lock. The teacher was amazed. "I'm in awe at your faith, pastor," she said. "It's really nothing," the pastor answered. "The number is on a piece of tape on the ceiling."

Tomorrow morning, I'm scheduled to attend a gathering at a downtown church to support my friend, Jerry McCullough, Arlington School Superintendent, who will be speaking at a breakfast for the National Day of Prayer. Though our President has chosen not to recognize the day like previous Presidents [see today's news report], thousands of other Americans from all walks of life will pause to remember the importance of prayer.

I preached on prayer this last week as a conclusion to our short, Spiritual Warfare series. But, let me be honest: Prayer is hard for me. It always has been. I actually enjoy the dialogue of prayer. It's just the discipline of getting to the conversation that is a daily challenge for me.

Still, I am convinced that prayer is where spiritual battles are fought. Prayer is how we lay claim to the power of God to "stand firm" with spiritual victory. Prayer is how we wear the armor of God [Ephesians 6:10-20]. Prayer is turning to God, talking to God and trusting in God. Apart from the practice of prayer, none of us can unlock the supply cabinet of heaven--God's resources for abundant living. So I write to remind you--and me--to keep looking up in prayer.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

this means war


















For the last few weeks, I have been preaching on spiritual warfare. And, waking the dragon sure makes things heat up. I know that I'm not the only one facing the assault of the devil, the flesh and the world. How important it is to "stand firm" and be courageous.

One question I raised on Sunday is "What is spiritual warfare?" We blame difficulties in life on spiritual warfare but sometimes have no idea what it actually "is." I suggested the following definition: Spiritual Warfare is any conflict or challenge that threatens my confidence in who God is and what God is doing and tempts me to think, feel or act in an ungodly way. When I encounter something in life that causes me to forget the truth of what I know about God and leads me into temptation, instead of holiness, I am being spiritually attacked.

My friend, Scott Raines, woke up Monday morning to find that someone had stolen all four tires and rims off his truck. Finding my car on blocks isn't the way I want to start my week. I imagine my irritation, my anger, my overwhelming temptation to take revenge [if I could only find the culprit]. These feelings could cause me to be short with my wife, cynical about our police force and increasingly prejudicial toward certain groups of people. Having forgotten the sovereignty of God and His guarantee of final justice, I miss who He is and what He is doing and go right to ungodly thoughts, feelings and actions. That's spiritual warfare.

Fortunately, Scott handled things much better than I might have. He wrote me: "They are just wheels & tires. The funny part is I needed tires. During my prayer time on Monday after this, I thanked God for this knowing something good will come from it. Genesis 50:20 'You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.'"

My buddy took up the full armor of God [Ephesians 6:14-18] and survived the spiritual attack...only to be ready for the next one that is sure to come his way.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

reading and writing

This morning, God brought an image to mind. It was the thought of famed author, J.K. Rowling, writing another one of her "Harry Potter" tomes. I don't know why...I've never read one of the over-sized stories. But, I imagine that, as soon as one of sequels is released, she begins working on the next volume. But, her fans consume her material faster than she can produce it. They read faster than she can write.

Not so with God.

God is ever creating, ever planning, ever arranging, ever scripting. He is always adding to the story of what He's doing. And, He's doing it faster than we can live it. In other words, I will never get close to the end of what God is doing. I will never have to wait for Him to catch up with me. He will never run out of plot for my life and His purposes. I cannot out-read what God is writing.

Praise be to the Author of Life!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

if you have no job

And, a guy got arrested for it. Slow day on the town square.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

words at war

In June 1940, German troops pressed across Europe heading toward Great Britain. Winston Churchill spoke his famous "Words at War" speech to rally English forces to war. His conclusion is powerful:

The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'

Churchill is a great commander communicating a great charge. Similarly, in Ephesians 6:10-13, the Apostle Paul is a military general rallying spiritual soldiers to war:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

In this passage, Paul warns about the reality of our spiritual adversary. This enemy is:

1. ...spiritual, not physical. Our struggle isn't "against flesh and blood" but against forces in heavenly places.

2. ...multiple, not one. Our enemy is the Devil and his legion [see Mark 5:9] of demons. Our enemy is also our flesh and the world. These three converge in Ephesians 2:1-3.

3. ...purposeful, not passive. The devil's "scheme" is to turn to chaos what God has created. He undoes what God does. That's why, when God's people decide to pursue spiritual things, they can expect greater spiritual attack.

Knowing that our enemy is real and the danger is real, Paul's charge is for Christians to stand up and stand strong. Be alert and steadfast resting in and relying upon the power of the Lord. Greater is He who is in us than He who is in the world!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

convergence

The last several months have been interesting for me. God has used a variety of seemingly unrelated experiences and events to sharpen my spiritual focus on the need for personal and corporate renewal and a return to the fundamentals of the faith. Here are a few key influences for me:

1. I finished Why We're Not Emergent [DeYoung and Kluck]--a very thoroughly researched and thoughtfully presented exploration of a movement sweeping throughout the United States that is supplanting historical Christianity with a pseudo-experiential knock off. I am reminded that, "in the last days," people will become peddlers of "new truth."

2. Tarrant Net's Pastor's Renewal Conference with Jim Cymbala, Tony Evans and Alec Rowlands was better than I ever anticipated. Rather than give a formula for revival, the speakers continued to call for a return to God's Word and His Spirit. These two [see Ezekiel 37] are non-negotiables for renewal.

3. I have started reading two books of revival: Revival Praying [by Leonard Ravenhill-a recent influencer of contemporary revival] and Rut, Rot or Revival [by A.W. Tozer]. I am not expecting new information, but additional layers of encouragement to pursue God's Word and His Spirit.

4. I am starting a sermon series on spiritual warfare this week. My understanding of this topic has been greatly enlarged by Ray Stedman's Spiritual Warfare and Clinton Arnold's 3 Crucial Questions About Spiritual Warfare. I am reminded that, while the devil, the flesh and the world continues to exert influence on me, they are, in no way, irresistible. God's power in me has set me free and God's power through me enables me to "stand firm" [see Ephesians 6:10-13].

5. I am challenged by events that are happening at Pantego Bible Church. We just experienced what one longtime minister said was "perhaps the greatest Easter weekend at our church in over 10 years." Indeed, there was a marvelous spirit of unity, joy, expectation and power. It seems like God has been readying us for certain challenges that every God-centered church will face. I am pleased that the response of our Elders is to pray.

6. I have enjoyed discipling 4 men on Wednesday mornings, walking through each of the Core Competencies of our church one-by-one. How refreshing it has been to see spiritual lights turn on and truth hit its mark in the hearts of eager learners. I remember how exciting it was, as a college pastor, to invest my life in the lives of others.

As all of these things are converging into something yet unknown. I'm not sure I can connect all the dots. I feel a little like a guy who has been given a string, a stick and a streamer only to learn later that he's supposed to build a kite. But, based on where I've been, I'm excited to see where all of this is going!

Monday, April 6, 2009

preaching to myself

Yesterday, I preached about humility and service, looking at the ultimate example of Jesus in John 13. As we reflected on the Last Supper scene and Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, I posed three principles to my congregation. To follow Jesus' example in serving [v. 15], we must:

1. Choose our bowl: Pilate dipped his hands in the bowl later and washed his hands of all responsibility [Matthew 27:24]. Jesus, on the other hand, dipped His hands into the servant's basin and blessed His disciples. It's a matter of basin theology. We were made for a mission; saved to serve. So, we must choose our bowl.

2. Follow our nose: The moment we decide to serve, serving opportunities will abound. All we have to do is open our eyes, follow our nose.

3. Reap the reward: There is a blessedness when we serve others [v. 17; also see Acts 20:35]. We enjoy uplifting grace [1 Peter 5:6] and God gets the glory [Philippians 2:11].

So, I decided to grab a burger for lunch today and decided to put my own principles to the test. I left the church parking lot deciding that I would serve. I prayed very specifically and asked God for a rendezvous with my friend Charlie. I drove to the typical spots where I sometimes see him on the street, but he was nowhere around. I pulled in to the MacDonald's parking lot [no comments necessary regarding my dietary choices] only to find the drive-thru backed up. So, I chose to run in and grab lunch to go. I ordered, paid and had my hand on the door to exit when a voice from the rear of the restaurant called out, "David!"

I turned to see Charlie smiling ear to ear. "Where have you been?" he asked.

"Me?" I shot back, "Where have you been?" He laughed and gave me a great hug. The fact that he gladly moved toward me, remembered my name and welcomed a lunch partner made my day.

Tonight, Charlie rests warmly in Pearson's bed. We enjoyed listening to his military stories at the dinner table over homemade soup. He shared stories about playing bass in a rock band and reminisced about his sweet aunt, the English teacher. We watched "24" together and talked about all the incredible people at Pantego Bible Church who have shared with him during the last few months.

I love my friend. I love giving to him and receiving from him. I also love seeing the truth of Scripture come to life. God is faithful to give us opportunities to be faithful to Him. So, I'll keep sniffing, seeking, and serving. And, I'll boast only in the cross of Jesus where I see true service most humbly displayed.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

who was Jesus?

I'm watching a Discovery Channel "documentary" on the person and ministry of Jesus. Usually, around this time of year, major magazines and television stations springboard off Easter to delve into Christianity and the person of Christ. Tonight's episode is titled "Who Was Jesus?"

In Mark 8:27, Jesus asked His own followers, "Who do men say that I am?" Jesus wanted to know how the headlines read regarding his controversial, yet growing ministry. His disciples answered that word on the street is that Jesus was John the Baptist back from the dead [John had been executed by Herod; see Mark 6:14-21] or Elijah or one of the prophets. But, the disciples affirmed that Jesus was "the Christ."

The question of Jesus' identity is still vigorously debated today. Some, in religious circles, claim that it doesn't matter. Yet, the unique divinity of Jesus is essential to His mission and credibility. The evidences help me to trust that Jesus was God:

First, Jesus claimed to be God. Some people doubt this assertion stating that Jesus never actually claimed equality with the Father. Yet, Jesus said, "I am the Father are one" [John 10:30]. Similarly, in John 14:7-9, Jesus spoke to Philip, "If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him . . . Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father."

In Mark 14:61, before the Jewish high priest, Jesus was challenged, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Living God?” He replied, “I am and you shall see the son of man sitting on the right hand of God with power." Most significant in this response was that the people accused him of blasphemy--equating Himself with God. So, the evidence is clear that Jesus claimed equality with God.

Second, Jesus believed that He was equal with God. In other words, He lived consistent with what He claimed. For example, in Mark 2, Jesus forgave sins, an authority only given to God. In Matthew 9:18, a ruler comes and kneels before Jesus [the Greek word used suggest paying homage] accepting worship--a privilege reserved for God. Jesus acted with anger in the temple, His "father's house" [Matthew 21], said that all judgement was in His hands [John 5:27] and claimed eternality with God [John 8:58]. Jesus lived what He believed.

Third, Jesus proved His divinity. Specifically, He healed the sick [Matthew 14:36, Mark 6:53-56], raised the dead [John 11] and taught with authority [Matthew 7:28-29]. Moreover, He lived a sinless life [Matthew 4, John 8:46, 2 Cor. 5:21, Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:22]. But, the most convincing proof of Jesus' divinity was His resurrection. Every other major religious leader in history died and remained in the grave. But, Jesus is set apart as God's Son through His defeat over the grave and His rising, never to die again.

Who was Jesus? Just who he said He was. Just who He believed He was. Just who he proved He was. And, those who believe in Jesus have life with Him forever.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

renewal summit 09












Today, I am looking forward to the Renewal Summit 09 being hosted at Pantego Bible Church. This ministry conference, hosted by Tarrant Net, is sure to be a refreshment to local ministry leaders through the teaching of Dr. Tony Evans, Pastor Jim Cymbala and Dr. Alec Rowland. The focus will be on prayer as a means of renewal in our churches, cities and world. The sessions are open to the public from 7-9:00 p.m. Thursday and Friday evenings [$10 suggested donation].