Monday, May 21, 2012

What will they find?

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (I Peter 5:8) For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:9) Sure, the devil and the Lord are both searching out hearts, but that's where the similarity ends. The devil is not present everywhere (though his demons are spread out all over), whereas God searches hearts constantly through his ever-present nature. Also, the intentions of each are completely opposite - one seeks to devour and destroy while the other seeks to strengthen and support. It's a little discouraging to know that they find as we look over the condition of our world today. Yet, the main thing that we ought to be concerned about is where OUR hearts are. PRAYER: "Lord, I now know why you are after my heart. You know that where my heart is, that is where I will go - either in the path of the devil, who looks for the faithless, proud, and ignorant, or in Your path, as you look for humility, alertness, and commitment to You. May You find in me a heart that is devoted to You and that, more and more each day, obeys Your wishes and loves your Word. Turn my heart, Lord, away from those things that make me wander. Keep me, Lord, from the pride that keeps me focused on my own needs. Give to me, Lord, the joy that can only come from serving You wholeheartedly and loving others unconditionally. Find in me a willing heart, ready to be molded by You and You alone. In Jesus name I pray these things, Amen."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

There's no such thing as an easy play

What a great day that will be when all the questions, problems, and issues can be answered simply and thoroughly. What a great day that will be when everyone's goal is the same. What a great day that will be when there's no jealousy, envy, or strife. What day am I talking about? THE day that makes all other days make sense. I don't know about you, but I find myself, often, faced with the all-to-common feeling of, "Why can't I ever seem to get a handle on things?" As I'm coaching 7th grade baseball, a theme has come back around often: There's no easy play. As I've reminded them about this fact, I've seen some improvement at not taking any play for granted, at being ready for whatever may come our way and, most importantly, at keeping our heads in the game. After every out, everyone needs to be telling everyone else how many outs. Whenever the situation changes everyone needs to know how that changes what they do as a batter, runner, pitcher, or fielder. Only in baseball can you go at such a pace that you're able to take inventory and consider your options. With all the issues, questions, strife, and change, we need a down time in which we take inventory and consider our options. That down time should not only be a purposeful slowing down, but it should also be a reminder of what the situation is and how we ought to respond. Among other things, we need to remind ourselves of basic truths about THE day: God is in control of it, I am not. God wins and I want to be on the winning side. Today will matter only if it's been lived under His mighty hand. In this life (before THE day), there is no such thing as an easy day, an easy answer, or an easy way out. Yet, as we submit to the One in control, may this life be full of joy because you're on the right team.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Eye on the Prize

Lebron James just won his third MVP award. In his interview he was genuinely focused on the task at hand - winning a championship for the organization, his team, and himself. He not only said all the right words, but his actions prove his words to be true. One could say that he has given himself fully to this one goal, though he's come short each of his nine (9) NBA seasons. Many star athletes have given themselves to the goal of winning a team championship and a high percentage of them come up short year after year after year. What if he does reach his goal this year? Then what? His next goal, I suppose, would be to win championship number two, right? Then what? What, then, is the goal? If the goal keeps moving and changing, then how satisfying could the reaching of that goal actually be. Truth is, there's not very many goals that are TRULY satisfying and lasting. The trick is to find a goal that keeps you focused yet doesn't leave you wanting after reaching it. There's only one goal that will satisfy both of those components, and that's a goal that is not dependent on ANY of the following three things: 1. Gaining a certain amount of power or earning a certain position. (I'll be satisfied when I've reached . . .) 2. Reaching a certain material goal of any kind. (I'll be set when I've earned or bought . . .) 3. Feeling a certain way about what you've done or where you've been. (I'll be happy when . . .) Rather, our goal needs to fixed on a prize that never fades and our eyes need to fixed on a person that will never steer us wrong and will always be with us. The prize is the call of God to be with Him (read more here). The person is Jesus, who laid down His life for each of us, kicked death (and Satan) in the face, and literally designed our path for us. Finally, Jesus created the plan to make it happen. Why not pursue a goal that won't leave you empty in the end? Why not pursue a goal that's worth pursuing, every single day of your life? Why not give your whole life to Jesus, because it'll make all of your earthly, temporary goals even that much more satisfying.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Foundation of Marriage

Anytime a foundation gives out, the whole structure is, pretty much, worthless. Why do companies and churches and governments spend so much time talking through, ironing out, and solidifying the why, how, when, and where of what they do? Because when things go wrong, or when people lose their way, or when others from the outside try to change things, there must be a place to return to in order to say, "NO! This is who we are! This is what we do! This is where we're going!" How often do we go through the same foundation-building process when we enter marriage? It seems that we go through it less and less. Not only do couples not take it very seriously, but our culture has indicated it's apathy about upholding it as a valuable piece of our society at all. In preaching on marriage tomorrow, I sense that I'm opening up a can of worms. It would be much easier to not teach on it and simply assume that all in our church uphold the biblical model. Rather, I am declaring, with no apology whatsoever, that God designed marriage, that the husband and wife have different, yet equally important roles, and that these roles are crucial to a successful marriage, successful life, and a successful local church ministry. Without the faithful adherence to the roles laid out in Ephesians 5:21-33, it is very difficult to accurately communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ to a world where a distant God is good enough. As we allow the foundation of marriage to be redefined away from it's original, God-given definition, we allow our very society to crumble. We allow US to become the center and we send GOD to the sidelines, allowing Him to "play" only when we're REALLY in trouble. Although God is a fantastic "fix-it man" we need to have Him be our "architect" first.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Solid Standard

What is a standard? Should there be standards? How are standards determined? The NFL is in the process of changing their standards regarding how hard to hit and where to hit an opposing player. It's already created lots of conversation because of the many fines dished out over the past few years. The topic is even hotter now because of the "Bountygate" in New Orleans and the lawsuit by former players who feel that their quality of life is negatively effected because of their involvement with football. Ultimately, the standard has been determined and will continue to be determined by the bottom line, the almighty dollar. This, I'm afraid, is the bottom line which many businesses, families, government, and even some schools use to make major decisions. What a LOUSY standard to major on! Yes, money is needed for something to stay active and for a civil or non-profit to at least keep going. Yet, by concentrating on money like so many do, we lose the human element of whatever it is that we do. This is why many successful businesses don't even invite their financial people into planning sessions or creative brainstorms or goal setting. People must be the motivation of what we do. Even better, why not go a step further and start valuing the One who created these people to begin with. Since our standard relates to what's best for the people, we need to go to the source of people - God Himself. Why don't we want to do this? Because God doesn't play by our rules (imagine that, the creator of everything has His own set of rules). He has the right to determine proper STANDARDS by which we should live. The major relationships in our society (husband/wife, parent/child, employer/employee) are addressed in the Bible from Ephesians 5:22 through Ephesians 6:9. The verse before this passage (Ephesians 5:21) sets up all these relationships - "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." It's only out of an awe and respect for Jesus Christ that we are able to listen to and submit to each other and put into practice these vital principles found in the following 21 verses. Then, in Ephesians 6:10 and following we hear the great challenge to "Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might" by putting on the full armor of God. He has it all figured out. He's prepared us with all that we need. He'll gladly take over our situations when we're ready to let Him. He loves you. What will you do with Him today? tomorrow?

The Ultimate Artist

What are the qualities of the ultimate artist? Whether it's the world of paintings, music, dance, or even certain sports, an artist is the ultimate expressionist. He or she is expressing something that can't be seen into something that can be seen. The artists that seem to draw the most attention (whether it's negative or positive) express things that others can relate to or have a disdain for. I want to argue here that God is The Ultimate Artist. Not only is He called our Creator, but He's also the Grand Designer who is constantly at work painting a picture in each of our lives as well as a bigger picture that includes each of our lives. His work is precise, His technique is diverse, His patience is perfect, and His creativity is limitless. As with any artist, though, He will have His detractors - those who hate what they see and clearly make their thoughts known. Does this mean that His work isn't perfect? Rather, it means that He's doing exactly what He needs to be doing - staying active in the midst of a world that is ruled by the prince of the power of the air, who is roaming around, waiting for someone to devour (I Peter 5:8). His work strikes a chord. The question for us remains - will we trust and follow The Ultimate Artist no matter what His work is looking like? Or, will we follow Him as long as the painting is pleasing to our eyes and communicates what we want to hear? He's not an artist that can be ignored or who doesn't care to be noticed - what are we doing with Him and His work?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Prayer of an imperfect person

Dear Lord, Why am I even able to address you? You are perfect and I am far from it. Thank you for making this possible through the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life and died in my place, so that I wouldn't have to die for my own sins. Thank you for accepting me as your child when I accepted this sacrifice, personally, as my own. THIS is how I can talk to you, and I am forever grateful. Yet, I am still imperfect and struggle with many selfish thoughts day in and day out. I know that you understand this and I know that you're right there with me when I confess my shortcomings and seek to grow. I know that you are most concerned with the condition of my heart. So, as I confess to you today that my heart longs for doing the right thing and that I am in great need of your help, I welcome your peace. Your peace that passes all understanding must overwhelm me much more quickly than my circumstances or sinful defaults do. Overwhelm me, Lord. Change me, Lord. Use me, Lord. I love you, Lord. Amen.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Serving is emptying and freeing

Jesus says in Mark 10, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Then, later, the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus that someone who is a bondservant of Jesus does not serve as "eye-pleasing" acts of kindness for people to see, but rather as a servant of the most-high God "from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man." Jesus, our creator, savior, and friend, was the ultimate servant. His servanthood was characterized as GIVING of his life for the many. After spending the day in the Twin Cities with four youth from our church, I have a new outlook on serving as an act of giving. It was one of the most freeing things in the world to be able to go into a service project having nobody to please but God. After giving of my energy, my time, and money, I am completely drained and lacking physical energy. On the other hand, I cannot hardly wait to speak the Word of God to people tomorrow at our worship time. When you give willingly and generously, you will be filled again so that you can continue to give. I have such a long way to go as a true servant of Jesus Christ. My prayer, as I continue to go down this road of "leaving it all on the field", is that my service in His name will be characterized by a constant cycle of freely being emptied so that He alone can fill me with the capacity to freely be emptied once again for His sake, in His way, and in His timing. Imagine that! A life that is best spent is the life that is most freely given away for Jesus' sake. Who else can be trusted to fill you back up with what you need?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What have you done for me lately?

So the National Football League® is going through a bit of an identity crisis right now. It is a violent sport that, naturally, has violent consequences, yet it almost needs the violence to keep it popular. According to a 1994 study, which was referred to in this 2006 St. Petersburg Times article, NFL players are expected to live some 20 years less than the average American male. Now, I learned that life expectancy is different than life span (life span is actual years and life expectancy is based on health professionals and other expert opinions), so the results vary with different studies. Either way, it would be very hard to argue against the fact that NFL players tend to not live as long. I mean, my wife points out that their lifestyle would even lend to hearts working harder, muscles and bones getting more stress, and minds going through intense ups and downs from game to game and year to year. What drives them to do so? Allow me to use the NFL as an acronym for what I'm getting at - it is the trading the Now For Later business. Each year for at least 10 years a team has gone from worst in their division to first in their division, some even making it to the Super Bowl. More than any other sport, any team could catch fire any particular year. As a result, teams are very willing to trade the Now For Later, like trading three future high draft picks, just to move up in the draft 3 or 4 spots, or signing a proven veteran quarterback who only has 2-4 good years left with a 5-year contract. If you aren't willing, as an athlete, to do all you can to be good NOW in exchange for whatever you have planned LATER, than you may as well leave the Now For Later League. It isn't just a sports thing, I believe it's a life thing as well. We live in a NOW culture where food, entertainment, education, and even marriage demand immediate GOOD results, or we are GONE! The thing is, the best things in life take time, effort, and sacrifice. Children are a total blessing, and if you invest in them like the treasure they are, you will be rewarded greatly. On the other hand, when children are seen as a bother and a "cramping of my lifestyle" they turn into us and demand things of us. As I, and others with us, continue to water and nurture this new little church in central Minnesota, we know that it is a long haul. we also know that it's worth it, because we are promised that we work for God, and not ourselves or even the people here now. If God chooses to bless us now, great, but if He doesn't we can still come out of this looking good in His eyes because we were (are) faithful. Who do you trust in life? The things and organizations that demand immediate results or the God that sees the big picture and promises, "Seek first my Kingdom and I will take care of all your basic needs" (see Matthew 6:33)?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Stepping up to the plate

As I continue down this road of "leaving it all on the field" at the end of my life, I must be open to allowing anything to happen to me, around me, or through me. As I coach 7th grade baseball, one key thing that we're instilling is for boys not to be afraid of the ball. They must face the pitcher as if he's going to hit it no matter what. It's our job as coaches to equip each boy with the skills and confidence to hit the ball. They do it, though, because others have gone before them. This is where the "greatest commandment" comes in play from Matthew 22:37-39 - "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets". A reason why we don't follow this great summary of the law from Jesus (see Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 for background) is that it just looks so foreign to practice this in our everyday world. No one else, so we think, loves God that much or shows love to people around them. I can't just start being nice and loving to people just because God thinks it's a good idea. Well, why not? If God is who we think and say He is, what's the logical response to that? People NEED this kind of love. They are aching for this kind of love. They are starved for it. Yet, like a peasant at a king's table that doesn't eat anything because it all looks so foreign, they need someone to model and tell and live out what this love really means. When we don't express this love in clear, tangible, faith-filled ways we are communicating how little we think God's love really is.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

You just never know.

I know that no one ever knows exactly how a certain day will go. Yet, there are some days that are mapped out in such a way that we pretty much know what to expect. Today was a definite reminder of how we have absolutely no control over our days, no matter how well planned they are. I had a call to see someone in the hospital I had never met, we cut baseball practice short due to a downpour and a bit of thunder, we had a tornado warning, and I had a chance to help a couple through some difficulty. All of this was AFTER 1:30pm. According to James 4:13,14 we don't even know what will happen tomorrow. In fact, we are described as only a mist, here one moment and gone the next. Why would we even start to think that we have a say in our eternal destiny if we don't have a clue about tomorrow? It ought to bring us even closer to the cross of Christ and bring us to our knees saying, "Lord, without Jesus I would be lost. I would have no chance beyond this life because I am a sinner and I don't deserve You. Draw me to yourself for I accept your sacrifice on the cross as my own. I love you. Thank you for loving me first." Then, when we do finally trust Him with our eternal life, why don't we put our very days in His hands as well. He is in charge, only He can give Satan any kind of permission to touch His people, and His love, power, and justice would beautifully together in the midst of this unfair, unforgiving, and belittling world. Trust in Him, for you truly never know what's coming up next.