Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Faith of Our Fathers - Joseph: Carried by God

Reflections from Genesis 39

From Matt Dumas, Minister of Equipping, and while Neil is out.

Joseph was a man of integrity. The story of Joseph reminds us that life is not always easy or fair for those who are God-followers. Time after time in the biblical narrative Joseph faces difficult, even harrowing circumstances: thrown into a pit and threatened with murder at the hands of his older brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, forgotten by the man whose dream he favorably interpreted. Yet the biblical author highlights Joseph’s integrity through it all. His obedience and his unwillingness to take matters into his own hands even when he has the opportunity to do so make him a prime candidate for God’s blessing. Instead of focusing on past wounds or future possibilities he was obedient to God and fruitful at the present time.

What about you? Are you living in the past or focused on the future? Or have you discovered the delight of experiencing God’s blessing in the here and now? I struggle with this most days. I long to get to the point of living solely in the present. For Joseph, the choices he made to be a man of integrity, even when the world would have considered it foolish, and even in the midst of devastating circumstances, were worth it. God saw him through. What choice will you make today to be a man or woman of integrity? Maybe it’s foregoing the gossip at the water cooler. Maybe it’s choosing not to retaliate when “that idiot” cuts you off in traffic. Or maybe it’s choosing to forego the promotion if it means bad-mouthing another employee. Whatever it is, let’s make that choice today, you and me.

Father, give me one pure and holy passion…to pursue You with reckless abandon, nothing left on the table, all in. May I be one who walks in integrity no matter the circumstance, knowing that you are the One who will one day right every wrong. May I trust You for that and not feel the need to take matters in my own hands. May we be a people marked by integrity, living our lives in such a way that we become the aroma of Christ to a watching world. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Unplugging for two weeks…

I really like my computer. I take it everywhere—on mission trips, vacations, trips to the lake, etc. I check the weather and news. I keep up with the Tour De France. All my bible study materials are on my computer. I now keep up with email, facebook, and twitter on my computer. When I didn’t have cell phone service in Colorado a few weeks ago, I skyped. These are great tools for connecting with people. I look forward to how we will use them more at Northwest Bible this fall to enhance communication. However, we all know there are downsides. For me, it can’t and won’t replace face-to-face communication. Also, this stay-connected-anywhere computer can be a distraction to finding silence and rest. It can also keep us from focusing on the relationships at hand. As I get ready to spend the next two weeks with Natalie and Stephanie at a father/daughter camp, I am leaving my computer behind and unplugging. Scary. I really like my computer. What does this mean? I will not be checking email or facebook. I will not be blogging or twittering. Matt Dumas will continue to blog on Mondays and someone will be checking my facebook and email for me. See you on the other side.


I am really looking forward to be back at Northwest in two weeks.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Why I bought a yellow watch…

Yesterday, I bought a new Timex Ironman watch. I am not starting a new triathlon training program. I just lost my old one. I lose my watch about every three years. I still expect to pay 19 dollars not 35 dollars. I have bought a few black ones and a red one, and a blue one and now a yellow one. I noticed that I buy the non-black ones when I am relaxed and/or on vacation. I am a little freed up from the constant pressure of sermon preparation, trying to be the perfect pastor, etc. I hate to admit it but I need the time away to be more me, more the Neil God created. It is easy for me to feel guilty when I am not working. I am thankful to be at a church where many people have not only said they were excited that I was taking a week with each of the four women in my life but also helping me make that happen. I am thankful to be at a church where people understand that Jesus calls people to rest.

P.S. I had a great week with Sheree and a great week with Vela. I am heading to a Father/Daughter camp with Stephanie this week and then will repeat the same with Natalie next week.

Here is one of my regular prayers that I need to help me stop and take time with the LORD.
Your toughest management challenge is always yourself. The best gift you can give to people you lead is a holy, healthy, energized, fully surrendered, focused self. And no one else can do that for you but Jesus. To do this I must be a resting worshipper 24/7. Help me Holy Spirit. I want Your will to be my heart’s desire. I want to want what Jesus wants for me, others, the church, and the world today.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Let's Seek the Lord Together in Hiring

Acts 13:2 While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

Today, Brandt (our executive pastor) and I will be interviewing two people for our Children’s Minister position. This person will be responsible for giving direction for our ministry to children from birth to 5th grade. When I was a production manager for an electronics company, hiring seemed much less complex. In the church, we are concerned about the spiritual life, theology, ministry passions and emotional health of every candidate, as well as their competency, skills and cultural fit. Before hiring, we have multiple interviews, involve leaders of our ministries, utilize gift assessment tests, check references, and seek outside council. We do all the stuff the “experts” say to do. We also pray. However, when I read the account in Acts of Barnabas and Saul sent out, I wonder if we are spending enough time seeking the Lord in these things. Therefore, I am asking you to pray for us today as we take the next step in the process with two people.

Jesus, we want to want what You want for the church. We need Your spiritual wisdom and understanding in the task of hiring staff. We believe that You still direct and guide us through the Holy Spirit. If there is any sin in our lives today that is hindering us from hearing You clearly please shine Your light. Lead us this day.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Faith of Our Fathers - Jacob:Clinging to God

Reflections from Genesis 25–32

The story of Jacob (“heel grabber”) contained in these eight chapters of Genesis illustrates the reality that people will do anything to find happiness. From the time we are first introduced to Jacob in the womb in Genesis 25 up to the closing verses of Genesis 32, Jacob is presented as one who is constantly chasing, chasing after that which he thinks will provide him with blessing and happiness. And he is willing to go to great lengths to get what he wants, even to deceiving his own father. Jacob quickly learns that chasing leads to crashing when his deception necessitates a hasty escape from his enraged brother, Esau, and when he is deceived by his crooked uncle, Laban. It’s not until Jacob meets God on his way back to reconcile with Esau that he learns to cling to God and his name is changed to Israel (“God fights”), and he learns that God is the One who will fight on his behalf, and not only his behalf, but also on behalf of the people who will be called by His name.

What are you chasing? What heel are you grabbing? What are you fighting for? What is the thing that you are willing to do whatever it takes to secure? Is it money? Is it power? Is it prestige? Is it pleasure? Is it love? Whatever it is, the sad truth is that chasing anything outside our relationship to Jesus will lead to crashing. It’s the best way to ruin our relationships, to have the abundant life sucked out of us, to achieve unhappiness. Examples of this in my life (and I’m guessing yours, too) are many. When will I stop chasing the things of this world, things that ultimately do not satisfy, and start clinging to God? In C.S. Lewis’ sermon, “The Weight of Glory”, Lewis says, “…if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Father, show me where I am guilty in this area of chasing Sometimes I rationalize it as pursuing good things: accolades on my ability to preach or teach, the favor of other folks, a comfortable lifestyle. But anything, anything that I am chasing outside of You is sin. Help me to cling to You – to be desperately dependent on You and devoted to You, and You alone. May we be a people marked not by chasing but by clinging. In the powerful name of Him who clung to a cross that we might have the right as those who believe in Him to cling to You and be called Your sons and daughters, in the name of Jesus Christ to whom belongs all praise and glory we pray. Amen.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Nasty Little Snake

Matthew 6:13
But deliver us from the evil one.

I found this small snake yesterday. It was about 15 inches long and very aggressive. He obviously did not want his picture taken. Someone informed me that this is a poisonous snake. I haven’t researched to verify the facts but let's just go with it. It made me think of Satan who seeks to kill, steal, and destroy. We know that Jesus defeated Satan at the cross and through the resurrection. We know that compared to the infinite, eternal Jesus; Satan is a small created being. We also know that Satan is still an aggressive and dangerous foe. He seeks to wreak havoc in our world, our personal lives, and in our church. Often in our Bible Church tradition, we don’t talk much about the spiritual battle or Satan. I think in part this stems from a reaction to those who see Satan behind every bush. I also think it stems from the pride of being modern, educated people who are “past” such things. Yet, when Jesus teaches His followers to pray, He gives instruction on prayer concerning Satan and evil. When was the last time you prayed in reference to the spiritual battle the Bible speaks about?

Jesus, forgive me for directly disobeying Your instructions on prayer. Jesus, forgive me for my foolish pride that blinds me to real, unseen forces that are working against us. Jesus forgive me for thinking I can dabble with sin and get close to evil without being severely injured. Jesus, I confess that Satan is a real being who seeks to steal, kill and destroy. Jesus, thank You that I can live confidently knowing Your Word says, “greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world.” Knowing these things I ask that in (pick a specific situation where Satan maybe on the attack i.e. a difficult or painful situation, temptation to sin, an area of pride, a relational struggle, etc.) You woud deliver me from the evil one. I am desperately, dependent on You this day.

Pray this for yourself and five other people today.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

“When the Israelites would have a golden calf for a representation of God, they would dedicate their jewels, and strip their wives and children of their richest ornaments, to show their devotion. Shall men serve their dumb idols with the best of their substance, and the strength of their souls; and shall the living God have a duller service from us, than idols had from them.”
The Existence and Attributes of God, Stephen Charnock

Proverbs 3:9
Honor the Lord from your wealth
And from the first of all your produce…

In Israel honoring the LORD from the first and best of crops and animals was a way to worship and express gratitude for all God’s provisions. On a regular basis God condemned the Isrealites through the prophets for their half-hearted worship. It is clear that God’s people cannot give to our great King anything too good. Charnock challenges me that it is unbecoming to the majesty of God to give myself fully to other things and not give my very best in worship to Him. An eternal, infinite God deserves affections as near to unbounded as we can muster. I don’t even feel close to this.

Great King of Heaven, again I ask You to wake my heart to have a deeper, greater vision of You. It seems that I ask for this a lot. Give me the intense desire for You that I have for the things of the world. Holy Spirit help me to worship the LORD God and serve Him only. I confess that I regularly give the best of myself to all sorts of other interests, people and pleasures. Help me to do this as I go about the everyday activities of my life. Give me understanding to what this means in my everyday activities. Great King of Heaven, You are worthy!

Pray this for yourself and five others.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Faith of Our Fathers - Isaac: Confident in God

Reflections from Genesis 26

This story in Genesis 26 gives both a positive and a negative example from the life of Isaac of how we are to deal with the dragons in our lives. In the first episode, Isaac lies to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, claiming that his wife, Rebekah, is really his sister because he is afraid the Philistines will kill him on account of her. Is his fear legitimate? Considering that God had pronounced His blessing on Isaac and on his descendants – in fact He repeats the word “descendants” four times in the span of two verses – his fear reveals his mistrust of God. Yet God is faithful to Isaac and blesses him.

In the second episode, Isaac suffers unjustly at the hands of the Philistines as they claim well after well that Isaac’s servants have dug for themselves. But instead of retaliating, which he had the resources and manpower to do, he chooses to trust God and reconciles with Abimelech, showing him grace.

It’s easy to see how Isaac could respond like he did in the first episode, but how could he let the Philistines take advantage of him and not retaliate? Who does that? If I don’t look out for my own interests, who will? I think quite possibly the hardest thing for me to do in the Christian life is to give up my so-called rights. So many times I struggle deep down with trusting God to look out for me. This is especially true when it comes to interactions with those I think have wronged me. Instead of turning the other cheek or not taking into account a wrong suffered, I immediately come to my own defense and let them know that I was right, they were wrong, and I was offended. More often than not, I find that they were more right, I was more wrong, and the relationship is damaged because of my bruised ego. Yet in those moments when I have dared to trust God to look out for me and chosen not to retaliate, He has always proved faithful…and the relationship benefits because of it.

Father, so many times I’m like the man who cried out, “I believe, help my unbelief!” Grant me the courage to trust You…to taste and see that You are good, that truly blessed is the man who trusts in You! May we as a people be willing to refrain from retaliation and reconcile with grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Summer Camp Thoughts on Psalm 23

He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Psalm 23:3

Jesus is not like a cowboy who drives cows. He is like a shepherd who leads. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.” The Shepherd is behind the sheep gently and patiently directing them to green pastures. The condition of the sheep is a reflection of the skill, ability and care of the Shepherd. Last night in our small groups, people expressed different fears about being led. What causes you to be afraid of being led? Two things to remember: Jesus always leads for His glory and Jesus always leads for our best. What characterizes your life when you don’t believe Jesus leads for your best?

Jesus, I confess that I often do my own thing, make my own plan, go my own way rather than seek Your guidance and submit to Your leadership. I want to have great passion for You to be glorified. I also need help in believing You are interested in my best especially when things are difficult. I want to know the rest of being like a sheep whose “job” is to follow the Shepherd.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

PSALM 23 Summer Camp

Psalm 23:1 The LORD is my Shepherd.

Here I am at Northwest Bible Summer camp in North Arkansas at a place called Shepherd of the Ozarks. It is beautiful here. The weather is a little cooler than in Dallas. This week we are studying Psalm 23. Our goal is to study the images in Psalm 23 so that our praying of Psalm 23 would become a more meaningful part of our lives. This prayer reflects the things we talked about last night in light of verse 1.

Jesus, You are a personal God who speaks to me through Your Word, who gives me life, and who is able to do whatever I need. I confess that before You I am like a sheep, desperately dependent on You in every way possible. I think and act as though I can protect myself. My life is in Your hands. I think and act as though I can provide for myself. I have nothing that has not first come through Your hand. I think and act as though I can figure out all the right moves to make for my family, my relationships, my job and more. Apart from Your guiding wisdom through the Holy Spirit, I am lost. I think and act as though it is my job to solve and fix every problem in my life and in the lives of those around me. You alone can and will make all things
right some day.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Faith of Our Fathers - Abraham: Committed to God

Reflections from Genesis 21, 22

Abraham was about to face the most difficult and important test of his life when God said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering… Isaac, the son that God had promised Abraham, the son through whom God was to fulfill all the promises He made to Abraham, had finally come and now God was asking Abraham to give him back…to give up his hope for a future. Throughout the Genesis narrative, Abraham had done a less than stellar job of following God. He flees the land that God promised him when there’s a famine. He passes his wife off as his sister on two different occasions. He has an affair with his wife’s handmaid in hopes of having a son…all the while God has been faithful. And now God wants to know if Abraham will be faithful…is he committed to God above all else?

Many of us are like Abraham in our faith journey…willing to trust God when things are going well, but running at the first sign of trouble. The implied question in Abraham’s test is the same one that we all must face in our spiritual walk, “Am I committed to God?” “How important is He to me?” Ultimately God wasn’t calling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but himself. God wanted Abraham to hold nothing back from Him, and He wants the same from us. Remember the faithfulness of God in your past and use it as a springboard to believing His faithfulness in the future.

Father, forgive me when I follow you with faltering steps that are quick to retreat in times of trouble. Thank you for Your faithfulness to me over and over again…for good gifts which You have blessed me with, and may the reminder of Your faithfulness in the past spur me on to trust You more day by day. Jesus, may my desire for You eclipse everything else, and may I be able to say with whole-hearted, reckless abandon, “I want what You want!” Amen!

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Designer Deserves Praise

Psalm 104:10-14

10 He sends forth springs in the valleys; they flow between the mountains;
11 they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they lift up their voices among the branches.
13 He waters the mountains from His upper chambers; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of His works.
14 He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth.

This water garden reminded us of this psalm. The Psalms make it clear that God deserves and desires our praise. It is the regular practice of His people. In this psalm, the psalmist observes how all the parts of creation work together. He acknowledges this is by God’s design and therefore gives praise to God.

PRAYER—using other verses from Psalm 104.
My God, You are very great. How many are Your works! I confess that the quantity and quality of my praise does not match what You deserve. Thank You for this time in Colorado to take in Your creation and awaken my heart. In wisdom You have made all of it. The earth is full of Your possessions. You made it all without painful labor, just a spoken Word. Every person and every creature waits for You to give food in due season. Everything we have is from You. I will sing praise to You while I have my being. Let my meditation be pleasing to You. As for me, I shall be glad in the Lord.

Is it easy or hard for you to praise God? What helps you praise God? Why is important to you? Take a moment to praise God right now.