Wednesday, August 19, 2015

God's Blessings

The rain started here about 45 minutes ago. From my chair I can hear it. I glance out the window and see it. I try to avoid it these days but there was a time I would run outside; then I could feel it.

I suspect now I'll have to mow sooner than I thought I would yesterday. But nature needed a drink. A month or so without rain isn't good in our part of the world.

The last time I paid attention to the TV weather, they said we were ahead of average rainfall to date by 9" because of the heavy rains this spring. But we are under a burn ban. "What have you done for me lately?" applies to moisture in the soil and plants as well as it does to a sports team.

Although it isn't appropriate to ask God what he has done for you lately, it is appropriate to ask yourself how long it's been since you have felt the overwhelming joy of God's blessings. Here are some reasons it may have a while.

God may be blessing you but you don't realize it. Sometimes people will not expect God to bless them so they simply miss it. Today's rain is a blessing. Your health is a blessing.

Then there are those blessings we miss because we expect the blessing to come in a different package. You may have prayed for a specific job but God did not give you that one because he had a better opportunity coming. Maybe you felt like God had let you down when your child did not get accepted into your alma mater but he knew all along of troubles and problems down that path. Don't miss the blessing because you think you know better than God does.

Sometimes the lack of blessings is not just a feeling - it's real. God may be testing your character or faith in preparation for a great task in his mission. Maybe the disappointment you now feel equips you to help others. Then you both receive and are a blessing.

There's another reason. You may be defying God's will. Your disobedience can shut off the blessings. Sure, you'll enjoy sunshine and rain and oxygen and gravity because those are benefits for the just and the unjust. The blessings you miss are his guidance, his comfort, his peace, his joy. And you can fix that. Just turn to Jesus and follow him. God's blessings flow freely into the lives of those following Jesus.

The rain started less than an hour ago. It won't be much longer before the burn ban is lifted and I can burn my brush pile. After it dries out, of course.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Ding

Drawing attention to myself is a great source of embarrassment. I'd much rather be part of the scene than to be the star of the show. I keep the alerts on my phone on silent for that reason. I get texts from several sources; a few are immediately urgent, most can wait a few minutes, some are only information and require no response other than "OK" or "Got it."

So to avoid the embarrassing "dings" going off almost constantly (and at inappropriate moments), I turn off the alerts.

Except for my family. And by "my family" I mean my wife, my sons, my duaghter-in-law-in-law, and my parents. I will most certainly get a "ding" from them. They have permission to interrupt anything I'm doing. I've even pledged to take a call from them during a sermon but I've never had that happen.

Everyone else has to wait. Not for very long because I'm "one of those" who checks his phone often. Let me define that word: every few minutes. So anyone trying to contact me can do so fairly quickly; my response time may or may not be to their liking but those are choices I make. I do see their messages within a few minutes of receiving them.

When my phone "dings" I know it's a text from someone I'd love to hear from because I love them so much.

God sends me messages more frequently than even my wife does! He does to you, too. Are the alerts silenced? Do you notice immediately when God speaks? Do you realize he is near even before you start looking for him? Have you ever missed a message because you weren't expecting him?

Here are some Bible verses that can help you get those messages as he sends them.

"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

"Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength." Isaiah 40:31

"Very early in the morning...he went off to a solitary place, where he prayed." Mark 1:35

"Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." Jeremiah 33:3

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you and watch over you." Psalm 32:8

"He hears the prayer of the righteous." Proverbs 15:29

"I have heard your prayer and seen your tears." Isaiah 38:5

"On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord." Acts 13:44

"He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." John 8:47

Cry out to God and he will hear you. Listen and you will hear God. I eagerly await a message from God because I love him so much.


photo credit: Logos Bible Software

Monday, August 10, 2015

Can It Be Any More Clear?

On July 28 the Saline County Road Department began replacing/improving drainage under the road two hundred yards north of our house. They placed a road block and detour signs at the intersection just south of the house. The closure and detour are clearly marked.

Deana and I are surprised by the number of people who drive through the road block, past the house, and stop at the construction. They have to stop because the road is out. Just like the sign says. But they have to see for themselves. "Surely the road is not closed for me." "Surely I can get through even though nobody else can."

I cannot say that I've never done the same thing. In 1980 my Dad took my sister and me to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. We set out from Dardanelle, Arkansas on a Sunday afternoon. The plan was to drive straight through the night and arrive in Yellowstone Monday morning.

The sunrise over the Rocky Mountains was awesome. I'd never seen anything like it. It was the last week of May but we saw snow-capped peaks and even piles of snow along the road.

Then we came to one of the passes - I can't remember which one - and we had planned to use it as a shortcut to our destination. The pass went through some of the highest elevation in the mountains. At the intersection of our road and the road leading through the pass was a sign that said the road was closed because of snow. No through traffic.

The road had been clear so far. It looked clear as far as we could see. Cars were coming from and going onto the road. Being from Arkansas, we figured the road crews had just neglected to remove the sign from earlier in the year.

So off we go through the pass. Sure enough, the road was closed several miles into the pass. We drove through snow and ice thinking it couldn't get worse. It did. We had to turn around.

Just like the people who drive past our house, back up to our driveway, and turn around. And we watch them all and shake our heads. "Can't they read the signs? Do they think the signs don't apply to them?"

Somewhere in Colorado in May 1980 people were thinking the same thing about us.

This reminds me of a song Greater Vision sings called "It Means Just What It Says." You can watch it here.


God gives us clear direction in the Bible yet many people don't bother to read it. Those who do still fail to apply it consistently. It's as if we don't believe God.

I guess that's true. I want to be a follower of Christ who consistently puts God's word into practice. In the book of James you'll find these words: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says (James 1:22).

We should do what it says because it means what is says. Can it be any more clear?

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Supervised Visitation

For the first time I saw what must have been supervised visitation.

While Riley was at football practice I went to Chick-fil-A to drink coffee and get a little work done. About halfway through the cup of coffee a couple came in. They looked like they had "cleaned up" to the point of looking a little out of place.

He ordered a small soft drink after verifying that he could get unlimited refills. My mind went to a place I ashamed to admit.

They sat at a table near the door. She pulled out a small princess lunchbox from her bag and put it on the table. Without knowing any of their story I formed an opinion.

Within ten minutes the couple jumped up and ran outside. I looked over the top of my glasses thinking, "What in the world?"

They came back in with another woman who had an infant boy and a little girl. The mother (it turns out) loved on her daughter. The father (it turns out) couldn't get to his son fast enough.

The woman who had just came in with the children turned so I could see she was wearing a DHS name badge.

The children are in foster care. The parents get to see them very little and only under supervision.

There are a few aspects of the story that are just sad. The parents have done something that the state deemed worthy of taking custody of the children. While this happens too frequently, I suppose the state most often is doing the right thing for the children. I know that might not be the case in your situation and I wish the state always  did the right thing. But if parents conduct themselves in ways that put the children in danger then I think the state is right to step in. Childbearing and rearing should be left to adults and adults must take responsibility for their actions and face the consequences.

But the children live in an unnatural situation. The people I know who foster and/or adopt are some of the best people I know. They are giving these children an improved environment for nurture. I especially like it when foster/adoptive parents are Christians who can impact these children for eternity.

Still, a child being raised by the biological parents in a stable home is a great advantage. So it is sad when the parents take that away from the children.

But the scene at Chick-fil-A had glimmer of hope. The parents are working on the issues that led to the children being in foster care. I hope that in time as they do the right things the family can be reunited.

The couple swapped kids and continued to love on them. The dad must have been tight on money so he bought a small drink with unlimited refills so he could buy his daughter something to eat a little later. The lunchbox was a gift for a girl who could very easily never know what it feels like to be loved by her parents. They "cleaned up" because they had a most special appointment.

They are trying. As quickly as I formed first opinions about the couple I changed my mind. I think they are trying to get past their problems. I hope they make it. They won't by the time their daughter turns 4 in a couple of weeks but maybe they will by the time their son turns 1 next Spring.

I was unable to speak with them and will likely never see them again (although I am willing to sit at Chick-fil-A drinking coffee almost every day!). But I pray that they get all the help they need and that it will include spiritual help pointing them to Jesus Christ.

Through Jesus they can know forgiveness and release from the guilt of the sins that threatened to tear apart this family.

Through Jesus they can learn the pathway to follow to rebuild trust that's been lost.

Through Jesus they can win the battles of temptation that have so far overwhelmed them.

I know because that's what he's done for me.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Detour

Just 200 yards north of our driveway is a creek passing under the road. Recently, the property across the road sold and the new owner is building a horse farm. It's quite impressive. One of the problems on his property is the backup of the creek when we get a heavy rain. The culvert is too small so the creek gets out of its banks on his property.

Last Tuesday the county road department began replacing the metal pipes with a concrete box culvert. That was fun to watch. Cranes and bulldozers and backhoes. Big trucks carrying the pieces had to back into the job-site for about 300 yards. Most licensed drivers in America wouldn't stand a chance doing it but these guys did great.

The road crew dug out and replaced the culvert last week but the new surface is not being poured until this week. So the road block that stopped all but construction traffic remained in place over the weekend. Coming from the south, our house is the only one inside the road block. We felt special getting to drive around the road block. And a little guilty, too, since everyone else had to take a detour.

Since the road crews pulled out the heavy equipment Thursday, we have lived on the quietest road in America. Our own private drive. Nobody but us.

And a couple of cheaters! "No Through Traffic" means no through traffic! Rules are rules! But I saw two pickups head down to the culvert - no way to drive across because the road had been cut back several feet from the concrete boxes - then swerve to the left and make a way across the dry creek bed then back to the road on the other side. Cheaters!

I'm a by-the-book guy. If there is a rule for it I will most likely follow it. If there is a rule against it I will most likely obey it. Rules are in place to protect and guide people as they do things...like drive down the road.


But some people disregard the rules thinking they know better. Like the sight-seer that drove his car around the barricade. I guess he didn't believe the signs. He got down to the site, got out of his car, looked around, got back in his car, and went back the other way.

And some folks have the "you can't tell me what to do or not to do" and they just drive around the construction. I'd be surprised if the detour route takes more than two or three minutes extra, but I guess that's not the point for this crowd.

So anyway the road department is back at it this morning doing dirt work around the new culvert. An asphalt crew will probably show up today or tomorrow and in a few days the road will be open. The quietest road in America will return to being a drag strip.

Life is full of detours. Some are for our good and some are of our own making. Either way, God has a plan to help you through it. You can choose to go your own way or you can follow him. The journey and the destination will be dramatically impacted by your choice.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Leadership Tidbits

I've been listening to leadership lessons this morning. I had read in one of Ronnie Floyd's books that the most common reason pastors are fired (or leave before being fired) is not because of theological issues but because of leadership issues. I don't feel pressured by my church to leave but I don't want to "lead" them to the point of wanting me gone, so I thought a few hours would be a wise investment. My real motivation is to improve my ability to lead the church to accomplish God's mission.

Here are some key things from the various speakers I engaged.

Andy Stanley says vision must be so simply stated that everyone can get it. Better to have a vision statement that is not fully fleshed out but well understood than to have an elaborate all-bases-touched vision statement nobody can remember. I'm praying about some statements to bring to our key leaders for feedback and improvement.

A panel of youth leaders discussed issues regarding cultural trends. I gleaned from that to be connected to the people I serve (any age) because that's how I can know what is important to them. The idea is not to get out in front of their preferences and lead them where they want to go, but to learn what consumes and directs their lives so I can show how the Bible answers their questions, brings clarity to their confusion, or guides them in uncertainty. The worst thing a sermon can be is disconnected from the people the preacher intends to impact with it. The same can be said about the life of the pastor not just the sermons he preaches.

Christine Caine says, "Your thoughts are like a train, they will take you somewhere." She was teaching from the Great Commandment to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. It's so easy to let our minds become corrupt with worldly thinking. Leaders are not immune to this; maybe they are more prone to it. We can think about the metrics of membership and budgets. We can think about growing an online audience. We can measure success as a secular corporation would. Before you know it our thought-train is far down the wrong tracks.

Ed Stetzer points out that all believers are to show and share the gospel, to demonstrate it and declare it. Our lives and our message must be centered on the gospel. Leaders must teach our churches to do this and must lead the way doing it.

Johnny Hunt talked about loving the people. I've heard him share that his mentor Adrian Rodgers would enter the sanctuary early, walk through it slowly, engage many of the people, and be the last the leave after the service. A hand shake, eye contact, and a few moments to listen will go a long way in gaining trust for leadership.

Todd Wagner's video series on being a godly man included this quip: Silence in the midst of sin is a sin. Leaders have to speak up. And we must do so in love. Isn't it easy to just remain quiet when controversy comes up? It is for me. People look to leaders to speak up. Maybe they need clarity. Maybe they need to know they aren't the only ones who recognize a problem.

I will plan to spend more mornings listening to what godly men and women can teach me about leadership. And I'll ask the Holy Spirit to help me put it into practice.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Put It Into Practice

If you want to be the best you have to practice. Other than Allen Iverson, I can't think of a professional athlete who has said publicly that practice is overrated. Steph Curry recently said he wanted the coaches to point out what he was doing wrong so he could correct it and be better.

Riley didn't want to go to summer football workouts this morning. I can see why. He had a friend over and they would have preferred to sleep in. It's summer, isn't it? These are optional workouts and many of his teammates are skipping some, most, or all of them.

For a group of boys who haven't won a football game in two years I cannot understand why they wouldn't want to get in all the practice they can, even if it is optional. To me, optional workouts are opportunities to get even better.

It all comes down to an attitude of desiring to be the best you can be. That's also true for parts of our lives other than sports.

Daily I am confronted with the responsibility to live my life to glorify God and make his name known to all people. And daily I realize my faults and failures that led to a distorted witness. Every day I have the option to put into practice what I claim to believe.


Sometimes I don't want to do what it says. I made Riley go to practice but God doesn't make me obey. Often I wish he did.

Do you recognize yourself in my confession? What are we to do when we don't do what we ought to do?

Confess the sin of disobedience. Tied to disobedience may be apathy, selfishness, uncontrolled passions, or a number of other sins. No matter the sin, we can confess them and be assured God will forgive us.

Yield to the Holy Spirit moment by moment. The popular Christian song forty years ago said, "One day at a time, sweet Jesus..." For me, a day is often to bite too big to take. But this moment is manageable. "Jesus, help me honor you right now in this moment facing this situation." If you can pray that prayer in each moment of opportunity or temptation you can win the battles.

Celebrate the victories. I'm one who is prone to focusing on the losses and minimizing the wins. In baseball, a batter is great if he wins the battle with the pitcher one time out of ten chances. Not many players in the Hall of Fame can boast of a .333 lifetime batting average. So focus on the times (or time) you put God's word into practice and faithfully obeyed. I've learned how adjusting my perspective helps me stay the course...or makes me yearn to return to the course after veering off.

Live out your faith in community. Faithful living is much easier, much more rewarding, and much more purposeful together with others taking the same journey. You need to be part of a local body of believers: a church. And get involved with a small group that studies the Bible, shares life and ministry, encourages you, and holds you accountable.

I want to do my best as a follower of Jesus and I believe many believers feel the same way. Everyday we have to get up, get in the game, and get it done. And we are not alone. We have each other and we have the Bible and we have God's Spirit. We can do this! "Hear God's word and put it into practice" (Luke 8:21).