Life’s Secret Revealed

John 11:25 Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,”

It is early in the morning on Easter Sunday 2018.  Several scriptures from my studies have been bouncing around in my head over the past weeks.  They have come together in a powerful way in preparation and reflection on the great gift we have been given.  I put these thoughts to writing for you and hope that you will be inspired and challenged to take courage, act boldly, and live life fully in the knowledge of this truth.

First, the author of Hebrews has again reminded me of who Jesus really is and the perfect fulfillment of the scripture and plan of God.

Hebrews 1:1-4 “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the work of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.”

Note the very first word from whom the message originates, “God”.  This introduction of Jesus begins with the authority of God almighty.  God has appointed Jesus as heir of all things.  It references Jesus as the co-creator of the world. (reference John 1:1 -2).  He is the “radiance” of God’s glory and the “exact representation of His nature”.  He holds all things together through His power.  He has purified our sins and sits at the right hand of God.  Jesus is above the angels.  Hebrews continues to establish that Jesus is fully God, but can also uniquely relate to us.  Because of this he is our perfect high priest.  Hebrews 4:14-16 “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.”

Second, I see Jesus in the context of God’s plan to permanently redeem man from his sin.  In the last chapter of Romans the apostle Paul is completing his letter to the Roman church and recognizing all those who had helped him and concludes with Romans 16:25 “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.” 

It might be easy to cruise through this last chapter of recognitions and miss the powerful “punchline” delivered in the concluding verse of the last chapter to the Romans.  Paul states that their faith has been established on the good news he has taught and according to the preaching of Jesus Christ.  Paul refers to the great mystery that has been kept secret for long ages past.  Since the creation of man God has had a plan for man.  Through the writings of the prophets and according to Gods command He has NOW made this eternal mystery known to all nations.  What is this eternal mystery?  Through the sacrifice of God’s own Son and His defeat of death, God has delivered His redemption plan for man.  Paul has unpacked through his writings to the Romans and recorded for all men in such a powerful way.  Romans 8:1 “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  If you want to taste the power of Paul’s gospel listen to John Piper recite this one great chapter.  I promise you will not be disappointed.   John Piper Romans 8

We know the answer to life’s mystery.  The revelation of God’s redemption plan for all mankind is such good news that it cannot be overstated!  The thought is so awesome.  I am overwhelmed to really comprehend and consume this truth.  So what do we do?  How does it change the decisions I make, the things I say, the plans I make?  I like one of the statements from Focus on the Family’s Truth Project, “If we really believe that what we believe is really real it should have a profound impact on everything we think, say and do.  My friend, Brett Moody, shared a thought of being in heaven and telling ghost stories with those who lived before Jesus.  “Holy ghost stories” of what it was like to live with the Holy spirit in our life.  We know the secret to this mystery of ages and have the spirit of the living of God residing in us.  This truth provides liberty to many of life’s fears that capture us. So I leave you with the question that has been confronting me all week.

So how do we then live our life?

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Summer’s South Texas Deer Hunt With The Girls

I have always enjoyed the outdoors and was an avid hunter in high school and college, but as the career and then family came along hunting was one of the hobbies that became a casualty.  The experience of waking early in the morning and hearing the earth and it’s inhabitants wake for the day or sitting in a blind as the sun sets and hearing the night come to life are experiences that I have enjoyed sharing with my children.  Mostly we have become avid fishers, but we have had an occasional duck hunt, dove hunt, hog or deer hunt.  The boys never really took to the early morning cold, but Summer was always up for the adventure.  One afternoon my friend Kenny and I were dove hunting along a fence line and Summer was about 6 years old.  She would spot the dove coming in and when we would shoot them Summer would go out and retrieve the dove from the field.  I can still picture her holding up a dove in each hand above her head in the field with a big smile, “I got two!”.

Summer (7yrs.) spotting a hog

I also recall sitting in a blind at dusk with Summer when I had lost the ability to see and suggested we go in.  Summer wanted to wait a little longer and her young eyes could see the back of a hog in the distance above the top of the grass.  There was no way I could have seen that hog, but it did move a few deer our way and about 15 minutes later a doe walked under the blind. I drew my arrow on her and followed her all to and from the blind, but did not shoot.  Summer was bumping my side whispering “shoot, shoot”.  I did not shoot that time.  We only had a few occasions to hunt together, but I always enjoy our time together.

I did not get to join Summer on this fine hunt.  She was invited to go with a friend to celebrate her birthday and a couple other girl friends.

Summer’s Hunting Buddies

They went to their south Texas ranch and after proving Summer’s marksmanship from the truck and on the range she got to hunt Saturday morning and evening.  In the morning she was so excited to send us a photo of her first doe.  That evening she got a hog and her first buck.  What a life experience.

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2018 and Lifetime Resolution

Friday Morning Mens Bible Study

The 2018 new year celebrations have come and gone without giving much thought to a new years resolution until this week while preparing to lead my Friday morning mens Bible study on Romans 8.  As I prepared, I could not escape the challenge to set a personal new years resolution based on the inspiration of the text.  The more I have reflected on this challenge the more I see this as a resolution for my life, a challenge to the men who joined me in this study, and all who read this to consider for their new year resolution.  Romans 8 is arguably the greatest chapter in all the Bible.

Following the dismal reality in chapter 7, Paul tells us that the law has jurisdiction over us (v1), our sinful passions are aroused by the law(v5), sin becomes alive and we are dead(v10), we wrestle with the conflict of two natures (v15), wretched men are we(v24) and ending with the question “who will set me free from this body of death?(v24).  Romans 8:1 answers this dismal reality for those who believe in Jesus with the ASTOUNDING proclamation and greatest news that all of humanity could ever receive in Romans 8:1!

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

There is a law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus that trumps and sets us free from the law of sin resulting in death.  Galatians 3:13 explains “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us.”  Jesus became a mediator, a substitute, a redeemer, the Son of God came into the world to bear our sin and become our condemnation – something the law and the sheep and goats and bulls and washings could never do.  There is now no condemnation for those who are in this great condemnation-bearer, Jesus Christ.  For those who believe in Jesus what a great perspective to begin the new year and great perspective to frame the remainder of LIFE that is in front of us.

Paul tells us in verse 6 “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.  Paul goes on to illustrate the permanence of this transformation proclaiming in verses 9 – 17 that if the Spirit lives in you, the power of Him who raised Jesus from the dead to conquer sin dwells in you and that you have been adopted as a child of the almighty God.  Verse 16 “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”  We live in a world that is governed by the flesh and as such we will be persecuted and will suffer as we live out our life according to the Spirit and Truth that conflict with the evolving cultural definition of relative truths that follow the desires of the flesh.

So what does the mind set on the Spirit look like?  “Life and Peace.”  Paul explains later in Romans 13:8 “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”  We are to recognize the incredible love that God has for us and to realize and become saturated with that love in our life so that we can reflect God’s love back to Him and our neighbor. (family, friends, co-workers, communities and people where we work and live)  How do we set our mind on the Spirit?  Paul instructs us in Romans 12:2 “And do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Even though we live in the midst of a world infected by sin we are to be different  and shine as a light of hope to the world because we have set our minds on things of the Spirit.

My new resolution for this year and for my life:  Set my mind on the Spirit.

Galatians 5:16  Walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 

Colossians 3:2  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.

I will work to train my mind to remember that I am not of the flesh.  I will work to exchange selfish desires and a mind set on uncertainties and troubles for the promise of life and peace.  I admit this will be difficult and that I will fail often. I will have to remind myself that the Spirit Himself testifies that I am a child of the Almighty God and be confident of God’s great love for me that when I follow the truth of Jesus I will experience Life and Peace.  I will seek daily to choose joy, be bold in my convictions and live fully so that people will see a difference in me and know that it is the Spirit that lives in me.   I live in a fallen world and will experience persecution and sufferings, but know that there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus and nothing will separate me from the love of Christ.  (Romans 8:35-39)

This is my challenge to myself, to the men in my Friday morning study and to all those who read this post.

p.s.  I also resolve to lose a few pounds.

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Summer in El Salvador

Summer catches a Big Daddy wave

The American Christian culture has failed to give fathers a structure, ceremony or rite of passage to recognize when their boys become men and when their girls become a woman.  The Latin culture marks the transition from childhood to young womanhood with the Quinceanera at age 15. The Jewish culture marks the age when boys become accountable for their actions at age 13 with a Bar Mitzvah celebration. In my family I have taken the opportunity to recognize my children’s established practice of making good choices and firm ability to be independent and responsible for themselves at age 15 to 16 by taking them on a trip to a destination of their choosing with me.  For Drew, we went skiing in Aspen Colorado and I introduced him to some of my closest friends.  For Ben, we joined a close college friend and his son in the Bob Marshall Wilderness near Glacier National Park Montana to backpack and fish for a week. This week, I just returned from my trip with Summer to San Salvador.

Summer wanted to find a place that she could concentrate on learning to become more proficient at surfing.  I wanted to celebrate her good choices and enjoy an adventure together.  What I did not expect was the blessing I would receive.  We spent 5 days together in a foreign country with no technology, no other family or friends, just the two of us.  We set our alarm to get up at 5:30 a.m. and surfed from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m.. We then waited for high tide in the afternoon and surfed from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.  The rest of the day we shared our meals together, watched the surf together, read, stretched, walked the beach, visited and rested for the next morning of surfing.  We were warmly welcomed by the other few guests, received much needed encouragement and shared our brief adventure with an eclectic group of people from all over the world.

The old guy even caught a few

We looked forward to learning to surf, but found the entire experience so much more.  The friends we made and the conversations we shared were encouraging.  Summer and I shared extended time at meals and between meals with very little distraction.  How different this is from our frantic schedules, hectic and busy lives in Houston.  I dare to say that it is not uncommon that a father could live their entire life without spending an extended time alone with their children.  If your children have yet to reach 16 or if they are already grown and have families, I would encourage you to plan an extended time one on one to give them your blessing.  I set out to give my blessing to Summer, but I was the one who was so richly blessed.  That she would spend time with me and that we could share this adventure together.  Thank you Summer for blessing me.

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Reflecting on a Life of Psalms

The Psalms are a collection of hymns and prayers that have been collected and passed down by God’s people from generation to generation.  They span one thousand years from time of Babylonian captivity in 1490 BC to Days of Ezra in 444 BC.  Many were written by David, but there were several authors including Moses, Solomon and Ezra.  The Psalms have served to lead worship, express lament to God for difficult circumstances, to express thanksgiving to God for His provision and His character, to celebrate victory, to lift up God’s laws and celebrate His wisdom.  These have encouraged and inspired God’s people for over 3500 years.  As I was preparing to teach on Psalm 146 I reviewed many of the verses in Psalms that I had underlined over the last 20 years in one of my Bibles.  As I read and reflected on each Psalm, many brought me back to the circumstances that the specific verse of a psalm ministered, encourage or inspired me at just the right time.  As I am sure they have done for generations of people and are why they are so treasured, If I were to knit the verses that I underlined in my Bible for the past 20 years they would create a storyline of life experiences that make up who I am today. 

Today, take a few moments to go through your Bible, review and reflect on your underlines and notes in the margin.  Be reminded of the richness, wisdom, encouragement, love and perfect timing that God’s word has provided for you and your family. 

I typed a few of the verses underlined in my Bibles and know they will provide encouragement to you today and will continue to be an encouragement to others for generations to come. 

Praise the Lord! 

Some of my favorite Psalms:

Psalm 1:  2-3  But his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law he meditates day and night and he will be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yield its fruit in season and its leaf does not wither, and in whatever he does he prospers

Psalm 8:3 – 9 When I consider Your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; what is man that you take thought of him, and the son of man that you care for him?  Yet you have made him a little lower than God, and you crown him with glory and majesty!  You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the fires of the heavens and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas.  O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalm 19:1  the heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands

Psalm 19: 8-11 The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.  The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgements of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.  They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. 

Psalms 19:14  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my Hear be acceptable in thy sight O Lord

Psalm 23:1-3 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He “makes me lie down” in green pastures: He leads me beside quite waters.  He restores my soul. 

Psalm 25:2 O my God, in You I trust.

Psalm 25:4  Make me know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation, For You I wait all the day.

Psalm 27:1  The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the defense of my life, whom shall I dread?

Psalm 27: 7-8 The Lord is my strength and my shield, my heart trusts in Him and He helps me.  My heart leaps for Joy, and with my song I will praise him. 

Psalm 27:14 Wait for the Lord.  Be strong and let your heart take courage, yes wait for the Lord

Psalm 28:7  The lord is my strength and my shield My heart trusts in Him and I am helped   Therefore my heart exults

Psalm 31:4  But as for me, I trust in you O Lord

Psalm 32:8  I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go

Psalm 33:12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance

Psalm 34:8 – O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.   Verse 18:  The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit

Psalm 46:1  God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear, thought the earth should change and thought the mountains slip into the heart of the sea

Psalm 50:15 And call upon me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue your and you will honor me.

Psalm 55:22 Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.

Psalm 56:3-4  When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.  In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.

Psalm 57:2  I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me aHe will send from heaven and save me.

Psalm 62:2 He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be greatly be shaken

Psalm 63:1-4  O God, Your are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;  My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water, Thus I have seen you in the sanctuary, to see your power and your glory.  Because your lovingkindness is better than life My lips will praise You.  So I will bless You as long as I live I will lift up my hands in your name.

Psalm 78:4  But tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord and His strength and His wonderous works that He has done.

Psalm 78:6-7  That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children.  That they should put their confidence in God and not forget the works of God But keep His commandments.

Psalm 84:11 – 12 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord gives grace and glory; not good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.  O lord of hosts, How blessed is the man who trusts in You.

Psalm 90:12 So teach us to number our days, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 91:2  I will say to the Lord, My refuge and my fortress, My God in whom I trust

Psalms 119:9 – 11.  How can a young man keep his way pure?  Thy word I have treasured in my heart that I may not sin against thee.

Psalm 94:19  When my anxious thoughts multiply within me your consolations delight delight my soul

Psalm 119:71  It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn your statutes.

Psalm 119:90  Your faithfulness continues throughout all generations

Psalm 119:105  Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path

Psalm 119:114  You are my hiding place and my shield; I wait for your word.

Psalm 119:33 Establish my footsteps in Your work, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me.

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The Power of Eye Contact

Matthew 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body.”

 

My wife Julie and most of my friends have been required to use reading glasses for more than 10 years and at 51, somehow, I have escaped.  However, recently when I look at the type in my bible it is fuzzy and requires adjustments in my focus to read the text.  My favorite Christmas gift has been bright LED flashlights so I can see the small things I am working on.  I thought I was cheating time, but it has caught me.  To my dismay, I visited the eye doctor and she confirmed my condition and changed my prescription so that one contact helps for reading and the other for distance.  I am adjusting to switching from eye to eye depending on what I am looking at, but expect it will become automatic.

Following the exam she asked me if I had any questions and she probably did not expect what I have been chewing on the last couple weeks.  She was using sophisticated instruments to look into my eye, but following the exam I looked her in the eye and asked her the question I had been thinking about that had little to do with my eyes.  Have you ever noticed that you can’t make eye contact with someone unless you person to person.  I had been watching speakers on video and noticed that no matter how directly they looked in the lens of the camera I could not make the connection that you get in person.  You cannot make eye contact with a photograph.  I enjoy using Facetime to communicate with our son, Drew, at Auburn University, but the eye to eye contact is not the same as in person.  There is a deep personal connection that happens when you make human to human live eye contact.  Eye contact can communicate respect, interest, sincerity, appreciation, understanding, warning, empathy or any one of thousands of human emotions with a brief glance.

For all my career I have been in a sales or relationship building capacity.  I have flown across the country and across the world to share a meal and have a personal face to face meeting.  I make this effort to convince my customer or vendor that I am worthy of their trust to fulfill an important responsibility that they must accomplish.  Whether you as selling a one-time consumer purchase on Amazon or selling a custom-built piece of machinery, trust has been established.  There is a person behind every transaction and people buy from people they trust.  We have a customer that recently awarded us business based on the trust of a personal referral.  We have accepted a significant responsibility to co-develop a new technology that involves technical risk, close collaboration and a financial risk of such a large endeavor.  I am driving three hours to have a meeting with their owner so I can look him in the eye.  I want to know if I can trust him and I want him to know he can trust me.  Somehow, I will look him in the eye and I will know.  It will only take a moment and we will shake hands and may share lunch, but it is the eye to eye contact that will reach beyond the physical and give us a sense of trust and confidence necessary to go through the challenges we will encounter on this journey.

What is it that is so powerful with human to human eye contact where in a brief moment you can instantly sear a connection between the souls of two individuals?  It does not happen over the phone, internet, photograph or Facetime.  It is more than identifying life.  I can look into the eye of any animal and instantly know if there is life inside.  If you look into the eye of a fish, snake, squirrel, horse, chicken there is no connection other than a recognition of predator or not a predator and an appropriate reaction.  I have read that the only other animal that can read human emotion is the domesticated dog and there is no doubt that I can communicate with my dog, Cooper, by just eye contact.  Evidently clinicians have been able to measure an increase in the amount of oxytocin upon recognition.  This is the same hormone that bonds a mother and infant.  Maybe this is why dogs can be so effective and therapeutic to humans.

As I surfed the internet reading about the power of eye contact I came across an experiment that demonstrates the power of human to human eye contact.  We don’t need to know each other or even speak the same language.  Take a moment and experience the power and emotional connection that comes from eye contact.

So what does the bible tell us about eye contact?  The most famous story is told by Luke about Peter denying that he was one of the followers of Jesus.  Luke 22:60-61 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.”  Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed.  The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.”  Can you imagine the guilt and shame that pierced the soul of Peter at that moment?  In a brief glance, the eyes communicate painful betrayal and loss.  Do you think that experience changed Peter?  Do you think the guilt that Peter felt may have been a motivating factor to become the bold and fearless disciple and church leader that ended with him defending his faith to his death?

In Mark 5 we are told the story of the bleeding woman who was healed by touching His garments.  Mark 5:30 Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?”  And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’  And He looked around to see the woman who had done this.  But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell-down before Him and told Him the whole truth.  And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”  It does not specifically say that there was eye contact, but I can see Jesus scanning the crowd until he locked in on the woman eye to eye.  What did the woman feel when Jesus turned to the crowd to see her?  Clearly she knew she had an encounter with the Lord and fell on her face to worship Him and tell Him the “whole truth.”  What do you think she told him?  Do you think she wanted to know Him better and for Him to know her?  After she was healed and Jesus looked into her eyes she opened up to Jesus and confessed the “whole truth”.  Do you think she felt His mercy, grace and love for her in His eyes?

The bible tells the stories of many personal encounters with Jesus.  In John 4 we hear the story of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at a well.  He asks the woman for a drink and tells her that those that drink of this water will thirst again; but the water that Jesus gives provides eternal life.  At some-point I can see her look into the eyes of Jesus.  What did she experience as she connected eyes with Jesus?  Luke 19:5 tells us that Jesus was passing through Jericho and spotted Zacchaeus in a tree.  He made eye contact with Zacchaeus and then called him by name.  What will it feel like when Jesus makes eye contact with you and calls you by name?  Mark 5 tells us of Jesus’ encounter with a demon possessed man.  In verse 6 “When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him.He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”  When the demon saw Jesus he recognized him from far away and feared Him.  Think about all the encounters that Jesus had with others Mary, His disciples, John the Baptist, the leper, the lame man, Pilot, the thief on the cross and many more.

So what can we learn from the power of eye contact?  We know that when we connect with people through our eyes we communicate at a deeper level.  For children who probably interact more with an LCD than face to face we teach them to have a firm handshake and look others in the eye.  Engage others in a personal way and look them in the eye.  It will serve you well.  When people connected with the eyes of Jesus it changed their world. Personally we can reflect on what it will be like for us to look in the eyes of Jesus.  For those of us that believe Jesus as our Savior we have the Holy Spirit living in us.  When we connect with other people who do they see?  What do we communicate?

May your life be enriched and may you bless others by recognizing the deep communication power that you have to connect through your eyes.

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Happiness

BE HAPPY!

I am just starting Randy Alcorn’s book Happiness with my Friday morning men’s group and thought I would organize and preserve some of my thoughts that were useful to me and hope can be useful for you.  The timing for this study is good because our family has been enduring a struggle that is beyond our ability to control.  We are weary in our fight and sadness tends to creep in at times to overtake us.  As I prepared for this study I asked myself the question, what is Happiness?  Happiness is being content in your circumstances.

First be reminded God commands us to be happy.  Paul encourages us in Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!  Naturally we find some happiness in the things that God has created for us to enjoy.  These include social relationships, hobbies, leisure activities, “stuff”, food, wine or the many things that we pursue to be content and experience happiness.  In Deuteronomy 27:47-48 Moses tells us “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger, in thirst in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.”  That is a pretty strong admonition. They had an abundance of all things, yet they were not glad in heart because they did not find their happiness in God Himself.  When we pursue the created things we are never completely satisfied, but always end with wanting more.  I am reminded of John D Rockefeller’s quote when asked how much is enough?  and his reply, just a little more.  Satan uses the good things God has created for our enjoyment to divert our satisfaction from God and deceive us in putting our trust in the created things for ultimate happiness.  The end of this pursuit is at best discontent and often lead to tragedy and destruction.  We misdirect our attention to the things God has provided for us to enjoy, but miss the ultimate source that supplies happiness.  John Piper in his many books encourage us to find our ultimate happiness in God Himself.  He famously quotes “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him”.  When we pursue God Himself for our satisfaction, enjoy a trusted relationship with Him, take pleasure in His creation with the knowledge that He created this all for our enjoyment, and trust that the trials we endure are for our benefit and His glory we find ultimate contentment or happiness.

Can we be happy in difficult circumstances? Paul goes on in chapter 4 of Philippians to give us the answer.  Philippians 4:11-13 “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and and going hungry, both having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.  This was something Paul “learned”.  Paul learned and practiced through a lifetime of experiences to recognize God in every circumstance and to realize and to trust Him in and through every circumstance.  For those that love God and trust in Him he uses the good, the difficult, and even tragic circumstances for good and His glory.   For those that love God and trust in Him find the strength to do all things.

Ecclesiastes 7:14:  When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.

During the past 5 years I have often questioned why God was allowing me to experience some of life’s challenges.  As I trusted in Him, put my faith in Him and determined to be content I also have learned and can strongly testify that God is good and uses times of abundance and experiences of suffering need for His glory and I am content in Him.  I currently reside in the midst of a very difficult and challenging circumstance that I do not understand, but through my life I have learned and do choose happiness and contentment in trusting Him.

I believe Joy is this deep seated contentment internalized to the point that we are saturated through and through.  Joy overcomes sorrow that we will all endure.  Joy is the result of traveling through and experiencing Gods great blessings, challenges and even tragic circumstances that result in learning and practicing to trust in Him and finding our satisfaction in Him alone.  It is joy that overflows and is attractive to others.  It is joy that testifies to our happiness in the midst of our circumstances and gives us the privilege to share with others the love for God and the satisfaction that He along can provide.

It is my prayer for you that you will also lean into God during the times of abundance and suffering need.  It is my prayer that you will recognize His love for you in all of life’s circumstances of blessing and trials.  It is my prayer that you will realize this truth in your life and let it saturate you through and through so that you can reflect His love back to Him and to reflect His love to others that have been entrusted to us.  It is my prayer that you will choose and experience happiness and joy in all of life’s circumstances.

Psalm 68:3 – “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.”

2 Corinthians 7:13 – By all this we are encouraged. In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you.

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Merry Christmas!

Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord"

Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”

My Christmas came early on Saturday night December 3.  Second Baptist invited the singing group Veritas to give a concert for worship.  Their music along with the orchestra and choir was moving, powerful, amazing and stirred the soul.  As I serve in the new member ministry I have the great privilege to be a small part of confirming people’s faith in Jesus.  There is no doubt the highlight of my celebration of the Christmas season came this evening.  There can be no better reminder of the incredible gift of grace and mercy we all have been given through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  What an amazing gift and reason to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

I often arrive at Christmas hurried and miss the opportunity to truly contemplate the enormity of God’s gift of redemption.  Tonight I was stopped in my tracks by the powerful music that resonated in my soul.  Following that time of worship I received another special gift and high privilege of being a very small part of confirming Wilson’s acceptance of Jesus as his Savior.  Christmas came early this year.  Celebrating the “Good News of Great Joy for All the People”.  Merry Christmas!

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Can God use Donald Trump for His glory?

2 Chronicles 7:14 and My people [d]who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Daniel 2:20-21 Daniel said, Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.

The Republican primary started with 16 candidates.  The least likely and most unqualified was Donald Trump.  It was a presumed publicity stunt for the Trump brand, but his unpolished, in-your-face, anti-establishment rants won him a fan base.  There was no way Donald Trump would survive against these other polished, qualified, well spoken candidates.  One by one dropped and Donald Trump won the nomination.  Polls said 60% of the Republicans could not stand to think they would vote for Donald Trump.  He could not seem to control himself and responded unprofessionally and improperly to criticism.  His opponents and the sitting president claimed he was unfit for the Presidency, he was a loose cannon and unpredictable.  His repeated gaffs, crazy antics and seeming inability to control his emotions made for great Saturday Night Live skits.  He offended nearly every minority group and was an embarrassment to himself and our political process.  NBC released recordings from Access Hollywood of his sexist, arrogant, ego maniac comments made about women.  Donald Trump is a deeply flawed person and candidate that is unfit to be President of the United States.  His opponent, Hillary Clinton, is also a deeply flawed candidate but immensely qualified, has the backing of the sitting President, media-elite, educators, rising minority population.  Hillary is well spoken, stays on message and seemed unstoppable. 

The stakes for the election are very high.  The next President will have the opportunity to appoint several judges to the Supreme Court which will shape the laws of our country for the next generation.  Our nation has lost it’s moral compass and secular humanism is driving social change where we have seen the “progressives” push for legalized marijuana, legalize same sex marriage, blurring gender identity, open borders and expanded abortion rights just to name a few. Our churches for the most part have remained silent, failed to effectively share the good news of great joy for all the nations, failed to live out the truth of Jesus to attract this generation to know the love, grace and mercy that God has for his people.  We are past the tipping point and on the fast downward slide of self glorification and idol worship of our culture.

But there is a remnant, a minority in our nation that still knows the God of the ages.  Behind the scenes millions of Christian Americans got on their knees and prayed for God’s mercy.  Considering the terribly flawed options presented by both parties, Christians prayed for God’s mercy on our nation.  Evangelical Christian leaders came together to pray for America and support and pray for the candidate that ran on the Republican platform.  According to the Washington Post 80% of evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump.  Against all odds and all predictions Donald Trump won the Presidency. 

The peaceful transition of government that is the beauty of American democracy has been initiated.  Donald Trump has appointed Governor Mike Pence, who is well-known for socially conservative policies, to lead the transition team.  It is notable and hopeful for our nation and evangelical Christians to see that Donald Trump is nominating men and women that are outspoken committed Christian leaders to the highest positions of leadership in our government.  Some of the names emerging for Trump’s transition team include former Governor Mike Huckabee and Governor Sam Brownback, a socially conservative Catholic, are being considered for agency posts according to Buzzfeed. Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow at Perkins’ Family Research Council, is overseeing domestic policy for the transition team, according to Politico. Others that have stood for Christian values include Senator Jeff Sessions, Reagan aide and former Attorney General Ed Meese, and immigration conservative Kris Kobach. Other names that will likely serve in top leadership spots include Dr. Ben Carson, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and Michelle Bachman. 

I do not identify as a Republican or Democrat, but an independent Christian that votes for those who stand for conservative Christian values.  I am hopeful that God will use Donald Trump and other flawed people to bring revival to the United States of America.  I am hopeful that God will act in a super natural way to change the hearts of men to know His love and follow Him.  I am hopeful that our country will have Justices in our Supreme Court that will uphold biblical truths that protect the sanctity of life and religious freedom for all people and religions.  I am hopeful that our country will again be a beacon to the values of liberty and freedom that give hope for all men to pursue life, liberty and happiness.  I am hopeful that the United States will support Israel and will resume as the world leader of hope.

Is it possible that God can use Donald Trump for His purpose and His glory?  As I struggle with the person of Donald Trump leading our country I reflected on the people God has picked to use for His glory. 

Abraham -Was old.

Elijah – Was suicidal.

Joseph – Was abused.

Job – Went bankrupt.

Moses – Had a speech problem.

Gideon – Was afraid.

Samson – Was a womanizer.

Rahab – Was a prostitute.

Samaritan Woman – Divorced.

Noah – Was a Drunk.

Jeremiah – Was young.

Jacob – Was a cheater.

David – Was a murderer.

Jonah – Ran from God.

Naomi – Was a widow.

Peter – Denied Christ three times

Martha – Worried about everything.

Zacchaeus – Was small and money hungry.

The Disciples – Fishermen who could not stay awake while praying.

Paul – A Pharisee who persecuted Christians before becoming one.

God did not choose people who were the “most likely to succeed” or the most popular and influential candidates, but worked supernaturally through the broken, the weak, the left behind, the sinners, the unreligious and the outcasts.  Those least likely to bring honor and glory to God He chose to represent Him and do great works that changed the world for His purpose and His glory.  Can God use an immensely flawed Donald Trump?  Can God use me or you?  Yes He can!  My hope is not in Donald Trump or in the people he puts in place of leadership, but in Jesus Christ.  My hope is that God has mercy on us and bestows His undeserving grace on our nation so that we may respond to His call to know His love, worship Him and love our neighbors.  God is still in control.  May God bless America!

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Chase the Lion by Mark Batterson

One of the men that I study the bible with on Friday mornings sent this book to me with a note of encouragement for the “Lions” I have chased and the friendship we share.  Chase the Lion is a book written by Mark Batterson and based on the inspiration of one of David’s warriors named Beniah.  chase-the-lionAs recorded in 2 Samuel 23:20 Beniah chased a lion into a pit on a snowy day and killed it.  David surrounded himself with a band of courageous and loyal warriors that would endure any hardship, fight any battle and take on the strongest of enemies.  Mark Batterson builds off the resume of Beniah who went on to become commander-in-chief of Israel’s army under king Solomon to write a book that will inspire young men that have yet to take on the challenges of conquering a 500 pound lion and encourages those of us who have lived to face a few lions in our life.  As is my habit while reading books I underline sections that I agree with, challenge me, encourage or give me inspiration.  The following are some of the highlights that encouraged me and inspire me to continue to pursue dreams that God brings to my heart.

P 2. – If your dream doesn’t scare you, it’s too small

P 3. – In every dream journey there comes a moment when you have to quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death.  You have to go after every dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention.  You have to go big or go home.  You have to take the road less traveled or settle for status quo.  You have to bit the bullet or turn your back on your dreams.  I have a theory:  your favorite scripture will become the script of your life.  (By the way I wrote in the margin 2 of my favorites Proverbs 3:5 and Ephesians 3:20)

P 4. – At the end of our lives, our greatest regrets will be the God-ordained opportunities we left on the table, the God-given passions we didn’t pursue and the God-sized dreams we didn’t go after because we let fear dictate our decisions.   Most people believe God is real, but few people actually live like it.

P 5. – God honors big dreams because big dreams honor God.

P 8. – What impossibility do you need to repent of?  It’s not just our sin that we need to repent of.  It’s our small dreams.  The size of your dream may be the most accurate measure of the size of your God.

P 13. – Your greatest legacy isn’t your dream.  Your greatest legacy is the next generation of dreamers that your dream inspires – the dreams within a dream.

P 21. – If you want to live an epic life, you have to overcome some epic challenges.  You have to take some epic risks, make some epic sacrifices.

P 22. – You can’t steal second base if you keep your foot on first.

P 26. – One of the best ways to discover your destiny is to study your history.  The seeds of your dreams are often buried in your memory, three levels down. Take inventory. …p 27.  It’s not until we inventory our inciting incidents that we begin to see why we do what we do.

P 29. – I want to die doing what I love to do, doing what God has called me to do.  I want to pursue God-sized dreams until the day I die.  And if it kills me, so be it.

P 30. – Sadly, many people die long before their heart stops beating.  We start dying the day we stop dreaming.  And ironically, we start living the day we discover a dream worth dying for.

P 30. – I need a life goal to keep me going.  I need a noble cause to keep me committed.  I need a God-sized dream to keep me from getting demotivated.

P 33. – But once the door to the future opens, the door to the past slams shut.  There is no turning back.

P 36 – What was the genesis of your dream?

P 40. – Focus on becoming the right person.  If you keep doing the right things day in and day out, God will hold up His end of the bargain!

P 55. – When we fail to take action, we forfeit the future.  And just as inaction is an action, indecision is a decision.  As Edmund Burke famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

P 57. – Don’t let what you cannot do keep you from doing what you can.

P 59. – You need to identify the battlefield you’re willing to die on.  Then you need to fight the good fight until your hand freezes to the sword.

P 63. – A dream without a to-do list is called a wish list.

P 78. – change of pace + change of place = change of perspective

P 81. – I’ve since discovered that God-ordained dreams often go through a death and resurrection.  Only when the dream is dead and buried can it be resurrected for God’s glory………Don’t put a period where God puts a comma.

P 82. – When we operate in faith, we aren’t risking our reputation.  We’re risking God’s reputation!

P 83. – Don’t settle for your plan A.  Go after God’s plan B.

P 84. – Many people hit a dead end in their dream journey because they’re waiting for God to go first.  In my experience signs follow.  If you wait for God to part the Jordan River, you’re going to be waiting the rest of your life. You have to sep into the river and get your feet wet before God will part the river.  Faith is taking the first step before God reveals the second step.

P 85. – Faith is climbing our on a limb, cutting it off, and watching the tree fall down.

P 87. – If you want to experience the supernatural, you have to attempt something that is beyond your natural ability.  If you want to experience God’s miraculous provision, you have to attempt something that is beyond your resources.

P 100. – Success isn’t winning or losing; it’s obeying.

P 121. – Don’t accumulate possessions; accumulate experiences.  (I would add:  accumulate relationships)

P 135. – You are never going to be more than about 80 percent certain….Don’t let 80 percent certainty hold you back.  …A goal is a dream with a deadline.

P 144. – In the plot line of our lives, dram markers are defining decisions.  …How much is your dream worth?

P 145. – If you want God to bless you beyond your ability, try giving beyond your means.

P 159. – Even when you feel as if you aren’t making a difference, God might be using you in ways you aren’t aware of.  And it’s not the immediate impact that matters most; it’s the exponential impact, to the third and fourth generations.  …Legacy is the influence your dream has on others even after you die.

P 160. – Until you can selflessly invest yourself in someone else’s dream, your not ready for your own.

P 162. – You may not influence a million people, but who knows?  You may influence one person who influences a billion people.

P 163. – They are not dead who live in lives they leave behind.  In those whom they have blessed they live a life again.

P 168. – Your potential will be determined by the people you surround yourself with.  So hiring decisions become the most important decisions you make because they have an exponential effect.

P 170. – I need to be around people who make me feel small because their dreams are so big.  I need to be around people who make me feel far from God because they’re so close to Jesus.  I need to be around people who make me feel as if I’m doing next to nothing because they’re making such a big difference.

P 171. – The true test of greatness is measured by the accomplishments of those you surround yourself with, those who come after you.

P 175. – Leadership is first and foremost servanthood.  Is your dream about you?  Or is it about others?  If your dream is about you, no one will rally around it.  If your dream is about others, you won’t be able to keep people away.

P 183. – The best way to learn leadership is to serve under a gifted leader.

P 191. – What are you doing today that will make a difference one hundred years from now?

So I have been inspired by men like Jim Elliott, who died as a missionary to the Auca Indians.  Jim’s wife Elizabeth tells of a time when Jim went to a football game and dreamed about stadiums of people cheering for Jesus.  Bill McCartney, former football coach of the Colorado Buffalos and founder of Promise Keepers dreamed of stadiums filled with men desiring to pursue Christ.  Bill McCartney, “Big dreams create the magic that stir men’s souls to greatness.”  I am a product of the influence of my grandparents, parents, pastors, camp directors, friends, bosses, the bible, books I read, life experiences and my own children.  These have all greatly influenced me and I hope that I can influence my children and others I know and share my work with to influence millions for many generations to come.  Thank you Mark Batterson for being a leader who chases big dreams and for the encouragement and inspiration you have provided to me.

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