Category Archives: prayer

FINDING HOPE IN THE MIDST OF DESPAIR

This has been a really difficult week.  A CHS student made the decision to end his life.  Knowing a young man chose to end his life is excruciating.  Even worse, is that I knew him.  So it has been a very difficult week.  Talking with students who have so many questions and ministry opportunities that have opened.  Tonight was one of those.  In fact it was a first in my ten years of ministry.

hope

I have never had a group of students, with no connection to our church and not invited by a friend, who just showed up.  Four guys, just randomly picked our church, walked up and said, “is it okay if we start going to church here?”  They had no background in any church.  As I got to talk to the guys one of them was good friends with the student who ended his life.  He was searching for something.  For me that is cool but not the amazing part.

All week I have been debating over whether or not to scrap everything for tonight, message and all and focus on suicide.  Monday, I was going to focus on it.  On Tuesday, I decided to go ahead with the original plan and work suicide into the discussion.  Wednesday, I was thinking the same thing.  One of our parents asked how I was going to handle it tonight?  I told her the plan, but as the day went on I felt I really needed to address it.  So I texted her back and she agreed.  I did not know why, I just felt God wanted me to talked about it.  So at 3:00 I decided to make the change.  I had nothing planned, nothing ready but really felt this is what I needed to do.

When the four guys showed up, I was overwhelmed.  I got to spend some time with the guys but at the end of the night one came up to me and said he was so glad he was here.  He felt like God was speaking to him tonight.  He had to have been, because I could not tell you what I said.

It amazes me how God shows up and works through our life when we simply allow him to be present in our life.  It amazes me how he can take something so unspeakable and use it focus peoples attention on him.

God is at work in our life and the lives of people we come in contact with everyday.  The true question, are we going to have our eyes opened to see him at work?

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IRONMAN 70.3 FOCUSING ALONG THE JOURNEY

Do you ever have a tendency to lose focus?  I do.  It started to become more and more evident during my Ironman training.  One afternoon, I was running by myself, a seven my mile run, very hilly loop in the country.  The first two and half miles include about 350 vertical feet of climbing.  I started out great around an 8:30 pace.  For me it is great and I managed to keep it sub 9-minute miles through the first half of the run.

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The run flattens out nicely for the middle part and finishes off with more climbing.  What was fascinating, was as I was running on the flatter portion of the run, I looked down at my watch and found my pace had gone to around 10:30 a mile for the middle part of the run.  I was not breathing hard.  My heart rate was in the mid 130’s.  I was fine and so I picked my pace back to finish out my run.

So why does it matter?  Do it too often and you aren’t getting better, your just going through the motions to do them.

Is it possible this happens to us from time to time in our walk with Jesus?  We simply lose focus.  Things get easier; we “get the hang of it.”  We start doing things not push our self and grow but simply to do them because we are “suppose to.”

We have to learn to become nearsighted and farsighted at the same time.  I know that makes no sense, but it is important whether you are an athlete, a leader or a follower of Jesus.  I was far sighted.  My mind was set on April 7th.  All I knew was I would step up, well actually swim up, to the starting line of a 70-mile race and if I were not prepared, I would not make it.  A date had become my focus.  The problem was I began just doing all the things needed to get ready for the date, rather than focusing on all of the steps in the journey and getting better along the way.

Toward the end of my training, about 3 weeks away from the race, another swimmer at the pool I train at name Chris put it in perspective for me.  Chris is a great athlete; he is in his mid 50’s probably and has done some amazing endurance events including super marathons and full Ironman’s.  I asked Chris one day what his next big event was going to be.  He looked at me and said, “well I am going to swim the best I can to the other end of the pool and then I am going to swim back.”  I was expecting to hear, I am doing a marathon or an Ironman but his entire focus was on swimming the next 50 yards in the pool.

It occurred to me maybe I had missed the point of my training.  It was not to just do it; it was to get better.  Maybe we do the same in our walk with Jesus.  Focusing so much on the big picture and how the journey ends that we miss out on growing through all the little steps along the way.  The reason we read scripture is not to know the Bible better but to know Christ better.  To understand his will.  To spend time with him simply because you are hungering and thirsting for Him.

God feared this would happen to the Israelites, he feared they would lose focus.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

It is amazing how easily we can lose focus as the terrain becomes easier.  It is in the difficult times we cling to the Father, we focus on Him and thirst for Him.   But when things are easier we tend to lose the nearsightedness required to walk with Christ.  It is in the difficult times we focus more on one step at a time.

In the last few weeks we have seen the Boston Marathon bombings, a Fretilizer Plant explosion in West, TX, have good friends who lost a child and others trying to understand the magnitude of a young father suffering with cancer.  It hurts me to see so many others in pain and I rush to say, “God where are you.”  Maybe his response would be the same as it was for Israel.  I am their leading you through this vast dessert.  Notice, God did not take Israel out of the dessert He led them through it.  And there is a huge difference.  He provided for them in the midst of their struggles, but he did not take their struggles away.

This song from Laura Story is such a great reminder of a God who walks with us through the trials…

Blessings

Maybe it is not until God has led us through the pain and heartache of the dessert that we are able to look back and see his finger prints all over canvas of our life.


THE HOPE EASTER BRINGS

Easter, it comes around every year, where believers around the world celebrate an empty tomb.  But his year I needed Easter.  There are times in ministry where it seems like everything is flowing smoothly and ministry is going great.  There are other times that tend to be more difficult.  Times there are more questions than answers.  Times of uncertainty.

emptytomb

For me, the last several months fall into the more difficult category.  Not that ministry has been bad, it is just changing.  New students stepping up and needing to step up into new leadership roles.  More families struggling and going through difficult times.  More kids struggling.

In these seasons it is easy to lose focus.  It is easy to get discouraged.  Questions begin to arise in your mind…  Is my ministry making an impact?  Am I making an impact in peoples lives?  Are student’s lives really being transformed?

Can you think about what it would have been like for these early disciples.  They had literally given up everything to follow Jesus and now He is gone.  Worse of all, he did not even put up a fight.  The one disciple who really tried to fight for him in the garden, Peter, is reprimanded for doing so.  He invited them to join him on this mission to reclaim a lost humanity.  Now the leader is gone and they are left wondering what to do next.  I am sure questions flooded their minds.  What now?  Was He really who He claimed to be?  Were the last three years a waste?  All hope seems to be lost.

But can you imagine the hope that might have begun to slowly seep into their minds as they heard news of an empty tomb?  I am sure the over whelming thoughts were, no way.  It’s a hoax.  But I have to imagine, in the back of their minds were the questions, “what if.”  But then, to see him, to touch him, to hear him.  Hope was not lost because He lives!

While the resurrection is something we remember throughout the year, this year I needed the reminder more than in the pass.  I needed the reminder because in the midst of families falling apart, students struggling with decisions, in spite of what seems like hopelessness there is hope because the tomb is empty.  Because He lives!

I love the words to this hymn,

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know, I know He holds tomorrow.
And life is worth the living, just because He lives.

Such powerful and true words.  Words of hope in the midst of despair.  We find hope in an empty tomb and a risen savior.

He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:
Luke 24:6


LANCE, TE’O & THE REST OF US – REFLECTIONS FROM THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Over the past couple of weeks we have seen some truly, I would say… “interesting?” news.  Last week cycling “great” Lance Armstrong confessed he did in fact use performance enhancing drugs and blood doping in his cancer come back to win an unprecedented 7 Tour De France titles.

The confession came after years of adamantly denying the allegations from many former competitors and teammates.  Even going so far as to take his accusers to court and question their integrity.

Lance_manti

Then we saw a most bizarre story surface.  Manti Te’o, the stand out linebacker and Heisman Trophy finalist from Notre Dame came clean on the story of the death of his girlfriend.  If you are somehow unaware of the story, Te’o a senior and team captain allegedly lost both his grandmother and girlfriend during the early part of this season.

The result, a possessed Te’o played the remainder of the season in honor of his grandmother and girlfriend.  It turns out Te’o had never actually met his girlfriend because it was an online relationship.  The problem, he could never meet her because evidently she did not exist, ever.  Te’o apparently was on the losing end of a cruel hoax.

Fair enough, but he sure did not talk about her on national TV as if they had never had met.  The perception I got was one of a long time girlfriend.

In both cases these men, Armstrong more than Te’o misrepresented themselves.  They tried to portray themselves as something they were not.

Funny, we sit back in amazement wondering how they could live such a lie.  Honestly, it is the world we live in.  All of us in some way or another misrepresent ourselves from time to time.  Maybe not to this extent or in the public spotlight, but we do.

It is the reason people live in houses they can’t afford, drive cars they can’t afford and wear clothes they can’t afford.  It is the reason people act differently in different circles.  We want people to look at us favorably.  It is all about perception.  We create the perception we want people to have of us because we want to be seen (it might be helpful to read my first blog on this, Motives Matter).

Jesus warns these disciples gathered around him on a mountainside, BE CAREFUL.  Be careful not to do things to be seen by others.  Specifically, in chapter 6:1-18 be careful not to give, pray and fast to be seen.  When you do, you are portraying a relationship with God which does not exist.  Why does it not exist?  Because, you are more concerned about what others think of you than what God thinks.  Be careful!

So why the warning?  Maybe it is simple, if you misrepresent who you are, it will eventually catch up with you.  Eventually, it will all come out, ask Manti, ask Lance.  When you misrepresent yourself, you deceive people.  However the bigger problem, when you misrepresent yourself spiritually, you ultimately deceive yourself.  You fool yourself into thinking you have a right relationship with God and eventually it will catch up to you.  Jesus, goes on in Matthew 7 to remind us of this several times.

In chapter 6 Jesus tells us the “hypocrites” love to do these righteous acts in the synagogue and on the street corners to be seen by people.  Is it possible Social Media is the street corner we all stand on today?  With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other outlets we have complete control of how we want people to see us.  It is easy to misrepresent our self and deceive others into thinking we are something we are not.  Be careful Jesus would say, because you may just deceive yourself.

Think how much time and energy and money in our society is put into worrying about what others think.  Jesus was confronting a Pharisaical system which was overly concerned with other perception.  Maybe not much has changed.  Maybe it is why we struggle so greatly with confession.  We don’t want people to know who we really are because we are terrified of what they might think.  What if they found out about our struggles with anger?  With alcohol?  With pornography?  With cheating?  With lying?

The righteousness Jesus describes in chapter 5 is not rooted in “look how good I am,” but in a humbled spirit “I know who I am,” and it is far from righteous.  Maybe deep down, to hunger and thirsting for righteousness is a passionate plea to seek Him rather than others opinions.  Simply put, love God, love others because you can control that,  Don’t spend countless hours worried about what others think because you can’t control that, so stop trying to control it by convincing everyone you are something you are not.


MOTIVES MATTER – REFLECTIONS FROM THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Growing up baseball was a huge part of my life.  I began playing at the age of 4.  I played in High School and even had the opportunity to play in college.  In High School and College the biggest desire, other than winning, is to be seen.  In high school you want to be seen by a college or pro scout.  Once in college you want to be seen by a pro scout.  Deep inside of most athletes is the desire to be able to perform at the next level.  So when someone notices your ability it is amazing.  Personally, for me, one of the most exciting days was when Coach Fullerton passed along a letter to me from a Chicago White Sox scout.

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It was the first one I received and there was an incredible moment when I realized, someone was watching me.  I began to carry myself differently.  My mindset changed instantly.  I had so much more confidence.

We all have within us a desire to be noticed, to stand out, to be seen.  It is why we spend so much time changing clothes, asking how we look, trying to cover up our imperfections.  We want to be noticed for our looks, our clothes, our athletic ability, our intelligence, our music ability, our leadership, our planning ability, our preaching.  We all want to be noticed.  Even those who are behind the scenes, who would never want to be out front, I believe, want people to take notice of how well they do what they do.  And now with the reach of the internet, through blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instangram, ect. our world revolves around the ability to let people see what we want them to see about us.  Have you seen the new State Farm Commercial?

We have the ability to control other people’s perception of us.  And honestly we love it that way.  Jesus talks about a new righteousness in chapter 5 of Matthew and leads into chapter 6 with a warning.  Be careful not to do acts of righteousness for the purpose of standing out, of being seen, because if you do the only reward you will get will be from the people who praise you for your piety.

Jesus knows us so well.  He understands our nature will be to seek praise for what we do.  If we give, there will be a tendency for us to want people to see how generous we are, or at least how generous we want them to think we are.  If we pray, we will want people to be impressed by the depth of our relationship with Christ.  If we fast, for all to know we are fasting, so they can be impressed by our devotion.  So Jesus says, BE CAREFUL!  This is a dangerous trap.

Jesus tells the first followers, be careful because Your MOTIVES MATTER!  You can say it like this…

WHY you do, WHAT you do, is just as important as what you are doing.  

But why?

The focus of these and other disciplines is to grow closer to Christ.  Period!  If you are doing it to be seen you are merely pretending.  Interestingly enough the word Jesus uses throughout this section, “hypocrite” was not a word that was made up just for the Bible; as in someone who says one thing but really does another.  Hypocrite was actually a secular Greek word that was used in the theater.  In theater a hypocrite was an actor who wears a mask.  So anyone on stage wearing a mask was a hypocrite.  So Jesus uses this word to describe a person who gives, prays or fasts for the purpose of being seen.  He says, if you are just giving so others see how spiritual you are, you are an actor, wearing a mask pretending to be someone else.  There is a danger in fooling others but there is an immense danger that you would fool yourself, that you would deceive yourself and think you are something you are not.

This deception causes two problems.  Some might see you and feel they could never be as close to God as you are, when in fact you’re not that close.  Secondly, it creates a false sense of security.  It becomes easy to look at others and say things like…

Luke 18:11-12 NIV
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

Jesus is merely reminding his followers, you are not saved because of what you gave, how you prayed or how often you fasted.  You are saved by grace.  Stop deceiving others and yourself, making them think you are saved by your own works.  Life in Christ is not about being perfect, it is about realizing you are not perfect and are desperately in need of a savior!


IMMANUEL – “GOD WITH US” – EVEN IN THE MIDST OF TRAGEDY

Following tragic events, like the senseless assault on a Connecticut Elementary School last Friday, the question which always seems to arise is where was God in the midst of this tragedy?  How could God allow this to happen?

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When I heard the first news of the shooting on Friday, I was on a field trip with my daughter’s school.  I was part of a group of approximately 60 kindergartners watching the Polar Express at the Omni.  As the movie concluded, I glanced down at my phone and noticed news alerts beginning to pop up on my phone.

Sitting there in the midst of what seemed to me like chaos, I watched these innocent children interacting with each other.  Laughing, talking, and sharing without a care in the world.  Wow!  Purely innocent children.  My daughter and I went to Chick-Fil-A for lunch on the way home.  As she played on the playground I searched for details.  As the story unfolded, it was amazing just how meaningful my day with my daughter had become.

Over the past several days, I have spent time reflecting and asking the question of why.  Then, while driving home one evening, my attention was drawn to a manger.  My attention was drawn to the birth of Christ.  In that moment, Hebrews 4:15 began to take on a new meaning for me…

Hebrews 4:15 NIV
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.

We have a God who did not spare Jesus the heartache and chaos which we experience.  He did not send Him into a comfortable palace to sit on a throne.  He sent Him into a world ruled by a tyrant sitting on a throne, into a world of a King fighting for more power and control.  Following Herod’s failed attempt to have the Magi deliver the baby who would threaten his kingdom, Herod took matters into his own hands.

Matthew 2:16 NIV
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

The question arises, how could God stand by and do nothing.  But, here is the thing, he did do something, He sent his son into the midst of our chaos and suffering.  He sent Jesus into a world where power was so important to a man, he would have thousands upon thousands of babies killed, to preserve his desires.  Where was God, He was in the midst of our pain, our suffering and our grief.  God never promises to pull us out of the suffering but he does promise to walk through it with us.  He asks his followers to be his light in this darkness.

This Christmas, as you see the scene of the manger unfolded, in yards throughout our communities, may we not forget, God is truly with us.  He is here in the midst of our despair.  The manger was an announcement of hope, to a world and a people void of hope.  The manger was an announcement to the world,

Matthew 1:23 NIV
“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.”

So how is God with us today?  Through the lives of people all around us, who are bringing light into the midst of darkness; who are bringing hope in the midst of despair.   So where have I seen God in the midst of this tragedy?  With teachers, who’s love for their students was greater than the love they had for themselves.  Through Robbie Parker, who lost his precious daughter, and yet someone showed graced to the family of the killer.  Through Monsignor Weiss, sitting with and comforting a grieving community.  Through the people of Newtown who are walking along each other through unspeakable circumstances.

Immanuel – God with Us


CRAVINGS – PART 3

Have you ever heard, the phrase “our entire life is worship,” or something to that effect?  My guess is, if you have been a follower of Jesus for a while, you have at least heard something similar.  It is taken from Romans 12:1

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.

Of course I believe it, but it is entirely different to live.  To have every aspect of your life and mind focused on Christ.  To make decisions, not based on what “feels right,” but on what Christ said.  I know every Christian over the age of 25 probably still has a WWJD bracelet tucked away in a drawer.  Who stops to think, before every little decision, what would Jesus do?  For that matter, how many of us stop to think before the big decisions?  Many times we make decisions based on what our mind believes to be the best option, based on our or others personal experiences.  So many times, I hear Romans 12:1 read or quoted, and the person will stop at verse 1 or simply glaze over verse 2, with little attention.

However, there is a phrase in verse 2, which is coming to mean more and more to me over the last couple weeks.

2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but BE TRANSFORMED BY THE RENEWING OF YOUR MIND. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Over the past several weeks I have begun memorizing larger sections of scripture.  Right now I am working on memorizing the beatitudes as I teach through them.  We are going section by section through Matthew 5 through 7, so I am memorizing one section each week.  As you memorize something, it is amazing how much it is on your mind.  As I am driving down the road or cleaning the house, these passages will come to mind, I will begin to recite them.  They are constantly on my mind.

These passages are so familiar to me, but as I have been quoting them more and more, I have begun to see more and more in them; things which somehow I have always missed.  I am seeing how passages connect to other parts of scripture and bring new light to my understanding on God’s word.  What is amazing to me is how my mind is being renewed.  My mind is being changed and my life is beginning to see transformations.  Small transformations, but my life is being changed.

Our minds are powerful and we make a choice as to what we will fill them with; Facts, movie quotes, song lyrics, conversations, sports statistics.  And not that these are bad things remember.  Is it transforming your life?  Of course it is, in some way.  But, does it draw you closer to Christ?  I can’t answer that for you.  What I do know, is that God’s Word has begun to consume my thinking and His word has the power to change who I am!