Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pennies from heaven

I went to the grocery store yesterday to pick up some items on a list. We're trying to pay cash for everything, so I headed to the ATM first to get some money. As you know, ATMs only give you $20 bills, which was fine with me.

When I parked my car at the store and got out, I decided to bring in some coins because I generally like to get as close as possible to giving exact change. Scrounging around the car, I found a few coins. I was just about to head in the store, when I looked down and saw a penny on the ground. I picked it up and then happened to notice two more rather scuffed up pennies under the car. Thinking to myself that I might need these, I shoved them into my pocket and entered the store. My youngest son was with me riding in the cart.

Now, you have to understand that I often have trouble making decisions.  That day was no exception.  Fruit was on my list, but I didn't have any idea what type of fruit or how much to get.  Granny Smith and Red Delicious apples, pears and kiwis passed the test and made it into the basket. I got some sweet potatoes for pies, but first had to make sure I had just the right weight. I picked up and put back a few of them until I was satisfied with my choices. A number of items made it into the shopping cart that weren't on my list, but I felt like I should get anyway. For example, normally, I don't buy things on a whim, but when my son asked for shells and cheese I got it for some reason. A little later he saw an apple slicer and reminded me that we needed one so I got it.

I know this may seem like a lot of boring detail--(I mean, how exciting can grocery shopping be?)--but that's part of what makes the outcome so significant to me.

When I was finally ready to check out, I went through the self-checkout line, scanned and bagged all my stuff, and got the total: $60.73. At that point I remembered the change in my pocket and wondered how close I would be to having exact change. I reached into my pocket and found that I had exactly 73 cents, the three pennies I found on the ground having made all difference. Not only that, but since I had gotten all $20s from the ATM I had exactly what I needed down to the dollar and cent.

Another thing you have to understand is that I'm a math teacher and God often speaks to me through situations involving numbers. (BTW, the odds of the above happening are about 1/2000.) What I sensed God reminding me of through this whole thing is that He is in total control of my life. He is sovereign over all the choices I make. He is interested in even the most minute, unimportant details of my life, like buying kiwis and apple slicers.

Some people don't like the idea of God being in control of everything, but this is a very comforting truth for someone like me who too often agonizes over "did I make the right decision?" He is with me; I don't need to fear. Whether big things or mundane things, my Heavenly Father concerns Himself with the things that concern me. If you are His child, He has the same concern for and interest in you. You are not left alone in the tough decisions you face. He is with you and will in everything work it out for your good. He reminded me of that when He gave me His three cents.

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

What's in a preposition? The work of the Holy Spirit

Note: This post grew out of a discussion that we had in my home fellowship group.

Our pastor recently preached on three distinct workings of the Holy Spirit. To distinguish among these three workings, he spoke of three different prepositions that are used to describe the Spirit's interaction with people. Those prepositions are "With," "in," and "upon."  That is, the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit being with a person, in a person and upon a person.

What's the point?

Well, the point is that these three prepositions are convenient ways of describing three different activities of the Holy Spirit in a person's life. (This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the various roles of the Spirit in a person's life.  Whole books have been written on the Person and work of the Holy Spirit.  A good one I would recommend is The Person & Work of the Holy Spirit, by R. A. Torrey.)

"OK, but does a preposition make that much difference?"  Yes, it does, actually.  Consider the use of those three prepositions with respect to water.  I can have water "with" me, "in" me or "upon" me--with three very different results or workings.  If I have water with me, I can cook or wash with it, but it's not quenching my thirst.  If I have water in me, it quenches my thirst, but it's not going to get me clean.  If I have water upon me, I will get clean but I couldn't use it for cooking.  Prepositions are powerful little words!

Prepositions and the Holy Spirit

In John 14:15–17 Jesus said:

"If you love me, you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you."
Here we see two of the three prepositions: with and in.  Jesus clearly distinguishes two different states of the Holy Spirit with respect to a person.  At the time He spoke these words, the Holy Spirit was with the disciples, but Jesus promised that one day He (the Spirit) would be in them.  While the Spirit was with the disciples, He guided them and convicted them of wrongdoing.  When the Spirit would come in them, He would give them new life.  They would experience the new birth.

The Indwelling Spirit
Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."  And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."—John 20:21–22
After His resurrection but before His ascension into heaven, Jesus gives His disciples a commission.  He tells them that just as He was sent into the world by the Father to proclaim the Good News, they were to do the same.  He then gives them the Holy Spirit.  But this is not all that they would experience with regard to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Although they received the Spirit, more was to come.  They could not fulfill their mission until something else happened.  In Luke 24:45–49, Jesus tells them that they will preach the good news, but they are not to start right away.  He tells them to wait until they have been clothed with power from on high (v. 49).

Why do they need to wait when they have received the indwelling Spirit?  What more could they get?  Jesus said they would need need power to do their ministry—power that they didn't have, even though they knew the gospel and the Spirit now lived in them.

The Empowering of the Spirit

Once again, Jesus tells the disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but wait for the "gift" the Father will give them.  They would be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days (Acts 1:4–5).  In verse 8 of chapter 1, Jesus tells them, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  Here we have the third preposition, on, to describe the empowering work of the Spirit.  On the day of Pentecost it says that "all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them" (Acts 2:4).

We can see that there are a few terms that seem to be interchangeable in Scripture:  "being baptized with the Holy Spirit", having the Holy Spirit "come on (or upon)" you, and being "filled with the Holy Spirit."  These terms are used to describe the same phenomenon:  the ministry of the Holy Spirit to empower someone to be a witness for Christ.

Being filled with the Spirit is a repeatable experience.  (See e.g. Acts 4:8, 31; 13:52.) It's not like regeneration (being born again) which happens only once.  In fact, believers are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).  Without the infilling of the Spirit, we will be ineffective in being witnesses for Christ.  With the infilling of the Spirit, we will be bold and effective in our proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

LAUNCH!

My church is planning on starting a missions training school which will begin Fall 2010. For the initial year, we plan on starting with a small group of people from our church and seeing what the Lord does with it.  The school will be called Launch, and I will be the director.  Launch is being developed around three core aspects: Pray...Train...Send...


Pray
At the foundation of any move of God is extravagant prayer. No ministry with eternal impact can take place apart from the working of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is how we align ourselves with God's will and access His power. We hope to instill in our students a dependence on God and His resources. We want them to see the absolute necessity of prayer for their personal lives and ministries. Our desire is that prayer will permeate all that we do in Launch.

Train
We're in the process of recruiting folks from within our local body to serve as teachers and mentors for the students. We are blessed to have in our church a number of people who have served in international missions and/or local teaching ministries. Training will be holistic, covering character, knowledge and practical skills (heart, head and hand.)

Send
Students will participate in practicums such as evangelism, healing prayer, serving the poor, and discipling. We plan on at least one local cross-cultural ministry trip and an overseas ministry trip in the summer.

We believe that through it all, God will call some students to church planting or other long-term overseas work. We trust that all will be better equipped to serve the Lord and advance His Kingdom.

For Such a Time as This

I'm really excited to be a part of what the Lord is doing in equipping and sending people to go "to the ends of the earth" with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The recent major earthquakes around the world have reminded me of Jesus' words to His disciples when they asked Him about the end times:
"There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains."—Matthew 24:7–8
I have no idea how close we may be to the time of the return of the Lord, but I do believe we are seeing the beginning of birth pains. Jesus gave another promise that fires me up:
"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." —Matthew 24:14
I long to be a part of fulfilling these words. And I pray that through Launch, God would raise up many who would be lit on fire to bring the gospel to the nations.


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Friday, January 1, 2010

My focus points for 2010

My wife asked me today what my goals were for the year. To be honest, I hadn't even thought of it. I typically do not make New Year's resolutions because they always seem so short-lived.


There are a few things, however, that the Lord has brought to my attention over the past year that I want to emphasize for the coming year.

• Spend at least one hour a day with God. I've noticed that I typically spend more than an hour on the computer each day on stuff that has a low "rate of return." It's not evil, it's just idle. My days go so much better when I have quality time with the Lord. Also, I could come up with goals for the New Year that sound great, but aren't what I'm supposed to be focusing on. I need the time with God to know where I should be spending my time.

God has put things on my heart to do, but I want to operate in His timing and not jump ahead. When Jesus heard that His friend Lazarus was sick, He didn't go immediately to heal him, He stayed where He was for two days (John 11:3-6). Why didn't He go right away? The Scripture doesn't say that He was involved in some important task that He had to complete. It gives no reason at all. Jesus spent regular time with His heavenly Father. My guess is that Jesus was simply in tune with the Father, and the Father told Him to stay two more days before heading out. I want to be like Christ and be in tune with God's timing.

• Be content with knowing and doing the "What" of God's will even when I don't know the "Why" or the "How." This follows from the point above. When I've spent the time with God and have discerned His will, I want to be quick to respond to what He says. I often fall into the "paralysis of analysis" because I overthink God's will rather than just obey because He says so.

• Be an encourager. First in my family and then to others God has put in my path. The Bible says to "encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today" (Hebrews 3:13). I received a hand-written note of encouragement in the mail from someone recently and it made my day. (Who hand-writes and uses USPS anymore?) I need to be on the giving end of encouragement more.

• Be a listener. I could avoid a number of problems if I were always "quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19).

• Prioritize relationships over rules. I know I'm a "rules guy" and I play that card too much. I need to get that in order.

• Live within my budget. My wife and I were blessed to have gotten out of debt a few years ago (with the exception of our home mortgage.) Lately, however, we have become somewhat sloppy with our finances because things aren't as tight as they used to be. We have been hugely helped by following the financial advice of Dave Ramsey and using principles found in his book The Total Money Makeover. We've committed to getting back on track by being more hard-nosed about our spending, and looking for ways to increase our income.

Of course God's grace is needed for all of these areas. I am comforted knowing that He will be with me as I go through this year and beyond.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cowboys and Rangers

I went to two Texas Rangers games last weekend. On Saturday, the Rangers honored all the district Teachers of the Year. I was the secondary T.O.Y. for my school district. I had the honor of meeting Nolan Ryan. That was pretty cool.

On Sunday, I went to a game with my oldest son, a friend from church, and his son. It was my son's first professional baseball game of his life. I, myself, hadn't been to a baseball game in almost 20 years. We had a great time together.

I never realized how close Cowboy Stadium and Ranger Stadium were to each other ever since the Cowboys moved to Arlington. But that stuck in my head: Cowboys and Rangers.

*********
Fast forward to this morning when I went to the men's breakfast at my church. It was a great time of fellowship.

After breakfast, pastor Gary spoke to a couple hundred or so of us about the masculine journey. He drew upon the insights found in John Eldredge's latest book The Way of the Wild Heart. In the book, Eldredge identifies six stages of manhood that men go through—from Boyhood to Sage. At each stage there is something that a man ideally should "get" if he wants to successfully move to the next stage. Gary commented that if something happens to derail a man at one of the earlier stages, it will cause him problems in the later stages.

In the second stage (approx. 13-20 years of age), the overarching question of a man is "do I have what it takes?" Eldredge calls this the "Cowboy/Ranger" stage. At this stage, a man learns to have confidence in his abilities. When Gary spoke about this stage and when the title to the powerpoint came on the large screen, I sensed God speaking to me. I had missed some key elements at this stage. For years, I've struggled with an underlying sense of doubting if I have what it takes. That sense negatively affected me in my years as a pastor. And in many ways, it hinders me from stepping out into the fullness of what God has for me now. Having just been to where the Cowboys and Rangers play, God was showing me that part of the reason for Him bringing me to Dallas was to give me what I had been missing from the Cowboy/Ranger stage of manhood.

It's a sad feeling knowing that you missed out on something earlier on in life, but I'm glad my heavenly Father is with me and I know He will do a good work in me for His glory.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Update on Christ School Bundibugyo

I had reported earlier that 70 students at Christ School Bundibugyo, became followers of Jesus while I was on my short-term ministry trip in Uganda. I just heard from my friends that another 30 students accepted Christ yesterday! (There are fewer than 300 students total at the school.) You can read about it here.

Definitely encourages me to pray even more for the students at my school.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Fellowship of Christian Students

The week before school started, a student mentioned to my principal that she and some of her friends wanted to start a Christian club on campus: Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS). I was excited to hear of their desire, and volunteered to be their faculty sponsor.

About twenty students met for the first time last Friday in my classroom before school. We sang a couple of worship songs, and then broke up into two groups—girls and guys—to discuss godly vs. worldly characteristics. The topic was chosen and the discussion facilitated by one of the students who started the FCS group. This student reported having been saved and baptized over the summer.

It's so great to see these students take initiative, and be bold in their witness for Christ. May the Spirit of God do a powerful work in and through them.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ugandan pastors and witch doctors

One morning David and I were praying together, and we were moved to pray for all the witch doctors in the area that God would bless them. We really wanted to see God transform the lives of these individuals who are being held captive by the devil. During prayer, I had a sense that we were supposed to go to the home of a witch doctor, introduce ourselves, and tell him that we had come to bless him and his family. Before I could mention that, David said that he felt that the Lord was leading us to go to the home of a witch doctor who lives near the school and pray for him and his household. I told him what the Lord had put on my heart. We knew that was God's confirmation. However, we needed to find someone to translate, and we needed to find out where he lived. We prayed that God would give us what we needed.

The next morning, I took a walk in the village just to see the sights. On the road, I met Daniel, the pastor at whose church I preached the previous Sunday. After talking for a while, I told him that we needed to find out where a particular witch doctor lived. "I can take you to meet someone with that information," he told me. He brought me to the home of an older pastor, 'Kal,' who leads a group of churches in the district. Daniel translated for us. Kal told us that the man we were looking for was not a “normal” witch doctor, but was supposed to be a “night dancer.” They are more feared than regular witch doctors, and are supposed to have more power. Kal told us the man's name and where he lived.

As we were talking about the pervasiveness of witchcraft in the area, I asked him, "Have all the pastors in the district ever joined together to pray against the power of witchcraft?"

"No, we have never done that," he said. "But," he continued, "after you return to America, would you consider returning to Bundibugyo with another pastor to do a seminar for the pastors in the area?" I told him I would pray about that possibility.

The next day, Dave, two other men, and I visited the home of ‘King,’ the man who was known as a night dancer. He was not at all as I expected (although I'm not exactly sure what I expected.) He was quite old for a Ugandan—probably in his seventies. We all sat down in his "watube," a round structure with short mud walls, and wooden poles which support a thatched roof made of grass. He was very receptive to our visit, and actually told us that he wished we had come when more of his extended family was around. Several grandchildren gathered to see all the visitors. He even had a grandson named Brian. (We got along well!)

We talked for a while (through a translator), shared the gospel with him and prayed for him and his grandchildren. He had heard the gospel before on a number of occasions, but hadn’t yet decided to follow Christ. He invited us to come back for another visit in a few days. I left Uganda before having another chance to visit him, but I'm praying that others will make the time to do so.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Second week in Bundibugyo

Sunday morning July 19, I preached at a local church. The church meets in a very modest tin-roof structure made of cement and having a dirt floor. There were about 80 people in attendance, and I would estimate that about 70 of those were children 16 and under. There were a number of visitors that day. They were very encouraged when I gave them greetings from the church in the US. The pastor of the church translated into Lubwesi. I encouraged them that God wanted to use them to bring the good news of Jesus to Bundibugyo, to other parts of Uganda and beyond.

That night, I began three nights of training Ugandan student leaders and school staff in healing prayer and deliverance. I normally do this training over a number of weeks, but with time constraints I had to squeeze a lot into a few sessions. My prayer is that they would have taken away a few key concepts and will begin to pray in faith for one another and for others. Besides training, I also had prayer ministry appointments for those who were interested. It was wonderful to see God bring healing and freedom from demonic oppression.

Students also continued to seek prayer for difficulty in school caused by distraction, falling asleep, lack of concentration, poor understanding, sudden headaches or eye problems, and sudden desires to flee the classroom. It was very sad to hear how many were so harassed by the devil.

At the same time,
these students have such a sweet spirit about them, and a desire to be used by God. The final message I gave to the students as a group was based on John 14:12, that anyone who has faith in Christ will do the things that He did. I wanted them to understand that they could do the things Jesus and His followers did: preach the gospel, heal the sick, cast out demons, etc. I emphasized that these things were to be done for God's glory, not our own. I invited those who wanted to be used by God in this way to come to the front of the chapel area. Many students responded to the invitation. Two staff members, two students and I then laid hands on and prayed for the students who came forward.

School leaders and I saw definite signs of revival beginning among the students. We're praying for the sparks to be fanned into flame.


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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Soccer field meeting in Bundibugyo

On Saturday, July 18, we had a worship gathering out on the "pitch," which is the large football (American soccer) field on the school grounds. During the planning stages of the meeting, a few people expressed some concerns. They had never had a large gathering on the pitch before. They usually have worship gatherings in the chapel area. It was going to be at night, which meant poor lighting (only a few lanterns and small battery-powered lights). Some were concerned that there was going to be chaos, and that the boys would be interacting with the girls in inappropriate ways. Despite the concerns expressed—maybe even because of them—we had faith that God was going to work. During the retreat, I had a sense that we were supposed to bring pen and paper to this Saturday night gathering so that we could follow up on the people who decide to follow Jesus.

The field was set up with chairs and benches. As is typical of most of the gatherings of this nature, boys mostly sat on one side and girls on the other. We started with several student-led worship songs in English and Lubwesi. Everyone was singing, clapping and dancing; there was such a sense of joy and celebration. There weren't any reported incidents of bad behavior. None of the fears materialized.

After the worship time, I shared a message from Luke 11:11-13. There was no sound amplification, but it did not seem to be a hindrance. Although it's a Christian school, students from all different spiritual backgrounds attend. We gave an invitation for students to become followers of Jesus. When students began to respond, one of the leaders emphasized that only those who were making a serious first-time decision to follow Jesus should come forward. He told them that the leadership intended to follow up with them to help them grow in their new faith. Some students who initially responded and realized they were not serious went back to their seats. When all was said and done, about 70 students made decisions for Christ that night!

We then had a prayer time for students who wanted boldness for sharing Christ with others, freedom from nightmares, and freedom from fears about the future. I prayed general prayers over the different groups. We also had students pair up with one another (boys with boys and girls with girls), lay hands on each other and pray for each other for their specific needs. We wanted to begin teaching them that it's not just the leaders who pray, but that they can all pray for one another.

We closed the evening with a few songs of worship. The students returned the chairs and benches and we called it a night. Jesus said, "'In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents'" (Luke 15:10). There was much rejoicing in Bundibugyo and in heaven that night.

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