Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Big God's Big Love

Yesterday in church we sang, "How Great Thou Art."  As I was singing I happened to look at two of my friends who had just gotten married.  See, these newly weds had visited the Grand Canyon on their honeymoon and I thought "How Great Thou Art" would mean so much more to them now.  Then I thought of my honeymoon.  Christine and I went to the mountains of Colorado.  I thought of the massive Rockies and the brook that ran through a beautiful meadow we hiked through.  I remembered the waterfall we stood by and the number of times were were blown away by God's glorious creation.

The congregation continued to sing these words of "How Great Thou Art"

"And when I think that God His Son not sparing/ Sent Him to die I scarce can take it in/ That on the cross my burden gladly bearing/ He bled and died to take away my sin."

As those lines were sung my heart was filled with a joyous thankfulness.  I imagined taking my family back to Rocky Mountain National Park and explaining to my child how the same God that made those mountains loves them.  I was blown away in that moment of imagination and worship.

But later another more convicting thought entered my mind.  See, there are some people I can't stand.  Some people annoy me.  Some people in my world and on the news seem like pure evil and I wish they would die.

Here's the convicting thought that I had:

The same God who made the mountains loves the people I don't love.

What right do I have to hate them?  What right do I have to be impatient with them?  What right do I have to not even tolerate them?  If I want to be like the God I claim to serve I need to love them, too.

I have a big God's love and I have no right to hoard my big God's big love.  Join me in worship today of our unimaginably big God and join me in trying to love like our big God loves today.

Imagine the most beautiful part of creation you've seen as you listen to this song today.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Practical Advice for Graduates

Graduation is here for many high school and college students.  Several students I've had to privilege to know and love are leaving for college in the Fall.  So, here's some practical advice for high school graduates.  This list isn't exhaustive, but in my experience it is very helpful.

1) Don't go home every weekend and especially not the first weekend.

Your parents might not like this advice, but it is good advice.  So much of what you learn at college will not be learned in a classroom.  You will learn from the experience of being around new people.  Weekends are so important for meeting people, especially the first weekend.  Some of those people you meet your first weekend will possibly be life-long friends.

2) Leave your door open.

When you're in your room just hanging out leave your door open.  This will give you an opportunity to bond with those students living on your floor.  Most, if not all, of those students are also scared freshmen and that common experience is a great catalyst for friendship.  People who close their doors all the time often miss this companionship in a shared living space.

3) Don't overlook the weird kids, they're often the nicest.

High school may have been about cliques but college doesn't have to be like that.  Those "weird kids" are often the most friendly people on campus.  If you want college to be cliquey like high school it will be; but if you befriend people of all walks of life you'll learn so much more and have deeper friendships that aren't based solely on your social strata.

4) Don't believe everything your professors say, but think about everything they say.

Newsflash: many professors have an agenda.  A great number of these men and women want to teach you the subject matter and share their opinions with you as if they were facts.  These professors range from the atheist to the extreme liberal to the libertarian to the feminist that will make you sorry if you were born male.  Not everything presented in your class will be strictly factual.  However, don't use that as an excuse to stop thinking.  Some of my best professors were the curmudgeon former Christians and passionate near communists because they forced me to think sharply enough to defend my own opinion.

5) Plug into a church.

This is my most useful and impactful piece of advice for a few reasons.  In college you will be surrounded by 18-22 year-olds who think they know it all; your church will give you a chance to learn from your elders and give you an opportunity to mentor those younger than you.  Your church will keep you rooted in your faith.  For so long you've probably gone to church because your parents did, college will be a chance for you to go to church because you want to.  Don't underestimate the power of this.

9 years ago I plugged myself into a church in my college town, Waverly.  I was a nervous freshman at Wartburg College and I can't say enough how awesome the decision to go to Grace Baptist was for me.  Grace gave me a chance to be my own adult in the congregation.  No longer was I Jack and Kathie's son, I was just Matt.  My faith became even more my own and being plugged into Grace helped that immensely.  I'm still a member of Grace and I can only begin to say what a difference my church has made in my life.

Seniors, congratulations on your graduation.  I'd advice you to consider all the advice I gave above but I implore you to plug into a local church above all the rest of the advice that was given.  You'll be glad you did.  Again, congratulations and consider this advice today.

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Mother's Prayer

I don't know if anyone in my life has prayed for me more than my mother.  I'm guessing those of you from a Christian family can say the same thing.

Mothers pray with an intensity and persistence that likely can't be matched by the most devoted monks. Remember the mother of Samuel the prophet?  His mother prayed so intensely that Eli thought she was drunk.  Mothers pray for children when their children are nothing more than a dream and they continue to pray until, well, they actually ever stop.

There are times when my mother annoys me.  At times it feels that she nags me to do things, "Did you call about that?" "Did you get that turned in?" "You'll be sorry if you don't do that."

Moms can ride a subject longer than the world's best rodeo cowboy could stay on a paralyzed horse.  And yes, sometimes I get sick of that, but then I get to thinking...

I get to thinking about how persistent my mom can be and remember how good that is.  Not that I want more reminders from her, but her persistence is a good thing.  Moms are persistent in prayer for their children and unlike me, God can't get away from her.

"Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  He said, 'In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men.  And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'

For some time he refused.  But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'

And the Lord said, 'Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night?  Will He keep putting them off?  I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly."
Luke 18-1-8a

My mom has been persistent in prayer for me in many things and I thank her for that.  My siblings and I have been blessed in so many ways and I'm sure the prayers of my mom have made a difference.

The first prayer I can remember with my mom was when we pulled over on the side of the road as the sun rose and she prayed with me as I asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior.  If my mom only had one prayer with me she would have changed my life for eternity, but she didn't stop praying that morning.

Thank you Mom for your prayers though the years.  I love you.

Thank your mother for her many, persistent prayers today.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Tough Love

Please take time to read 1 Corinthians chapter 7.

The Apostle Paul wrote four letters to the church at Corinth.  Two of those letters were lost and the second and fourth are in our Bibles as 1st and 2nd Corinthians.  In Paul's third letter (which was lost to us) he apparently said some hard things to the church at Corinth, but those hard things led to positive change.

"Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it.  Though I did regret it... I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while... yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led to repentance.  For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." 2 Corinthians 7:8-10

Have you ever had a situation where you felt called to have a tough conversation with someone?  Maybe it was a friend that was making a poor life choice, or a person in a toxic relationship or a brother in an unrepentant sin.  In these situations we know what we should do.  We think, "Someone should talk to him."  Maybe that someone is you.

If you are in a real, deep, loving relationship with someone you will have a time when you need to exercise tough love with them.  So, how do we do it?  I don't have all the answers but here is how the Apostle Paul did it.

Paul exercised tough love rooted in real love.  Paul wrote to the Corinthian church and was tough with them because he deeply loved them.  It hurt him to see them going on the way they were.  Paul wasn't trying to feel superior to them, he was trying to love them.  As you can see in the passage above Paul didn't regret giving them tough love but he did kind of regret it because it hurt them.  It seems the last thing Paul wanted to do was exercise tough love, but he loved them too much not to.

Paul gave a Godly rebuke that dealt with the root of the problem.  Paul was after Godly sorrow in the Corinthians.  He said "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow leads to death."  Paul realized that Godly sorrow is being sorry for one's sin; worldly sorrow is being sorrow you got caught or hurt.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians to bring about Godly sorrow that leads to true repentance.

Paul's tough love led to life change and encouragement.  Paul loved the church at Corinth enough to rebuke them, but then he also loved them enough to encourage them when they receive his criticism well.  Paul understood that receiving criticism is hard to do.  When Titus told Paul all the good things the Corinthians were doing Paul was encouraged and wrote to the Corinthians to encourage them, too.  Paul didn't leave them hanging in the sorrow he helped produce.

We see how Paul exercised tough love.  Now, are you being called to do this, too?  Is there someone you love too much to watch them hurt themselves or run from God?  If so, love them enough to try to set them back on the narrow path of salvation.

"Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses."
Proverbs 27:6

Real friendship, real church requires tough love.  Do you love enough to help bring your brothers and sisters to repentance?  Are you mature enough to receive constructive criticism?

Love courageously and don't fear to exercise tough love that is true love today.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Playing with Toys

I believe the year was 1994.  It was Christmas Eve and the family was opening gifts and I had a massive box in front of me.

I was center stage because my family always opens up gifts one at a time.  I tore into the wrapping and opened the plain cardboard box.  The box was nearly empty, save for a small bag.  The bag was full of BBs!  I grabbed the bag and was confused until I noticed a note in the box.  The note said, "Look under our bed."

I dashed into my parents' room, plunged my head under their bed and discover a long, skinny, rectangular box.  My parents had gotten me a Red Rider BB Gun!  I was pumped to say the least.  The gift was awesome, but I couldn't shoot it yet because it was the middle of the night and there were more gifts to open.

Later I got a chance to shoot the gun and I loved it.  I shot that BB gun a lot.  I put tin cans on the burn barrel and picked them off with my 2nd grade level marksmanship.  The entire time I lived in Missouri I played with that Red Rider BB Gun.

What did my parents get out of this story?  My parents, I'm sure, got joy out of seeing me enjoy the gift they spent their hard earned money to buy me.  I'm sure there were times when they looked out the window and smiled as I continued to play with the gift they gave me.  I'm sure they smiled when they saw that I enjoyed their gift for more than a moment.

How do kids honor their parents who give them gifts?  With a hug?  Yes.  But mostly by enjoying the gifts.

"For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." Colossians 1:16-17

Jesus is the source of all things in the universe.  Everything is from Him and for Him.  This includes all that we have from the tangible to the intangible.  We aren't the origin of a single thing; everything we have is a gift from God.

How then do we honor God as good stewards of what He's given us?  There are many ways, but I believe the best way is to play with our toys.  The greatest way to glorify God with the gifts He's given to us is to remember that He is the source of the gifts and to enjoy them to the max.  Don't wish for a different gift.  Enjoy the one you have.

John Piper says it this way, "God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him."

The Westminster Shorter  Catechism asks, "What is the chief end of man?" and answers "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."

Everything is from God and for God.  Live like that is true, because it is.  Play with your toys.  Let your Heavenly Father smile at you while you enjoy His gifts to you today.