Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I can not believe that it is time for another Thanksgiving.  I enjoy getting together with my family on this day and having fellowship and good food.  I am different in the fact that I do not like turkey, but I eat a little anyway.  Probably my favorite food item is the cranberry sauce, which I eat as a dessert instead of with turkey.  I prefer the kind out of the can over the real kind.  Anyway I wanted to share a few things that I am thankful for:

-My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  I am so thankful that He gave His life for me, taking on my sins, and then raising to life on the third day.  I am thankful that He saved me and now I have a personal relationship with Him.

-I am thankful for my wonderful wife Belinda.  I am in awe that God blessed me with such a wonderful, caring, and loving wife.  I am blown away by the fact that she loves me the way that she does, and I am thankful that I get to spend my life with her.

-My family.  I have a wonderful family that I am glad that I am close with.  I have wonderful parents, and a sister who is married with three children.  I love them all dearly and am thankful for them.

-I am thankful for God's calling on my life.  Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to do something else, but I am thankful that God called me to serve Him in ministry.  It's tough, many days are hard, but when I see someone take a step closer to God it is all worth it.

-I am thankful for my friends who care for me and support me in all that I do.  It is humbling to know that I have people who pray for me and that I can depend on.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Escape From Reality

A couple of months ago I attended a Sunday School training and was in the group designated to learn about teaching teenagers.  At one point a question was raised by a participant that really surprised me.  He said "I don't understand why teenagers have their earphones in so much of the time listening to their iPod's.  Why do they do that?"  At this point the teacher of this training said "I don't know either"  What?  Are you kidding me?  We're in a group of people who work with teenagers either for a living or on a voluntary basis and nobody knew the answer.  I know that I should have answered but I didn't because I was kind of blown away at that moment.  The first thing I said to Belinda when we left was "the reason teenagers keep their earphones in so much is because it is an escape from reality".  I can personally relate that when I've had a hard day or been enduring a stressful season, I put my earphones in to escape from reality as well.

So then a month later Belinda and I were finally took our vacation.  It had seemed like an eternity since we had time off from work and were able to get away for just us.  We went to Disney World, which is always a blast, but we went this time because it was an escape from reality.  As I have mentioned before this has been one of the toughest years of our lives and this offered us a temporary escape from the realities of the pains and stresses that we deal with day in and day out.  We knew coming back that we would once again have to face the reality of these things in our lives, confront them, and move forward with God's guidance.  But what I have come to observe is that there are many people today who make major efforts to live in a permanent escape from reality.  I like to call that "living for ourself instead of living for God".  Jesus was very clear in Luke 9:23 when He said that we would have to deny ourselves in order to follow Him.  When we have self-righteous, self-centered desires in life then we are living for ourselves instead of living for God.

I'm not saying it's bad to have an escape from reality as long as it meets the following standards/requirements:  1) It does not violate Biblical standards; 2) It is not permanent causing us to be more self focused and less God focused; 3) Through the escape we are seeking God to restore us.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Prayer Stations

I have been wanting to take a Wednesday night for quiet a while to do prayer stations and finally felt that this was the opportune time to do it.  We began the night looking at Luke 5:16, which is just one of the many times that we read that Jesus would often get alone to pray.  This is the practice of the spiritual discipline of solitude.  I explained that it is not simply getting alone, but being alone with God, and that they have the opportunity this night to have solitude with God through the prayer stations.

The first part was to focus on their distractions.  I asked them to pray about any distractions that would keep them from having a conversation with God.  After a few minutes of examination I had them write down these distractions.  Then when they were ready they could come forward and put their paper in a box as a symbol of letting go of the distraction.

Next I asked them to spend some time asking God to reveal any sin in their life.  After a few minutes in prayer they were to write their sins down, but knowing that they will be destroying them in a minute.  Then when they were ready they went to our storage room and read the following information:  "You are sitting in our storage room.  There are some useful items, some not so useful.  Some items we want to hold onto, while others can be thrown away.  If you are not careful, you will store sin in your life, when you need to get rid of it.  Pray asking God to forgive you of your sins and read these verses as a prayer to God:  Psalm 51:9-12  Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all of my iniquities.  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain  me with a willing spirit."  Then the students destroyed their paper by running it through a paper shredder as a symbol of their sin being forgiven.

The next station focused on burdens and they read the following:  "Burdens, we all have them.  We usually carry them with us instead of laying them down at the cross for Jesus to take over.  Pray asking God to reveal any burdens in your life.  Then write them on sticky notes.  Your burdens can be anything: stress, family, fears, etc.  Take your time with this. Use as many sticky notes as you need.  When done, place them on the cross, leaving the burdens for Jesus to carry.  1 Peter 5:17 casting all you anxiety on Him, because He cares for you."  On the floor was a cross made out of duct tape and they placed their sticky notes on them.  The picture above is of this.

The next station focused on the world and our command in Acts 1:8.  There were pictures on the walls of maps of the world, North America, Tennessee, and McMinn County.  They read the following:  "'but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.'  In this verse we are commanded to reach the areas of the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  There are millions of lost people in the world that need to be saved and accept Jesus.  As you look at the maps on the wall, pray for these areas.  Pray for Athens, McMinn County, Tennessee, North America, and the world in general.  Pray for missionaries, pastors, missions organizations, etc. that are serving  around the world."

The next station was called reflections and each had a mirror to look at themselves as they read the following:  "Romans 8:38-39 'For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'  Choose a mirror and gaze into it.  Examine the reflection that stares back at you.  Are you able to give God thanks for the amazing creation that is you?  As you consider your reflection, perhaps use this centering prayer, praying it over and over, meditation upon and sinking deeply into the meaning of the words: 'Thank you God, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.'  Take one more look at the mirror.  Know that if you have been saved that God has plans for you and be excited that God wants to use you.  If you have never been saved, then get with an adult and get that settled tonight.  Jeremiah 29:11 'For I know the plans I have for you...'"

The final station was set up as a dinner table with seats for the students to sit at, except for the head chair which symbolized the seat that Jesus is sitting in.  Each plate had a sheet for them to read the following:  "As you sit at this table, it appears that you are having a dinner.  Don't be disappointed because there is no food, but instead there is something greater.  The chair at the head of the table is empty.  But imagine that Jesus is sitting here.  He actually is since God is everywhere.  Now consider this, God can be anywhere and do anything He wants because He is God, but He wants to fellowship with you!  He wants to dine with you!  Take a few minutes thanking God that you can have fellowship with Him anytime.  If there is anything that you want to say to God, now is the time."

When they were finished they went back to their original seat and spent time praying for everyone else there tonight.  What was awesome was that the students were so respectful of each other this night, and it was obvious that God was at work.  Another thing that I was excited to see was that several of them after they completed the stations, sit and read their Bibles!  Seeing a student read their Bible without being prompted to is a beautiful thing!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Real Thanksgiving

Last week at Wednesday Night Worship we focused on Thanksgiving.  We began the night by have the students write on a piece of paper their Needs, Wants, and What They're Thankful For.  After spending a little bit of time making these lists out I asked them which list they spend the most time focusing on every day.

We then took a look at the true first Thanksgiving with Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:3-7.  Cain brought fruit to offer God while Abel brought the best of his animals to offer.  God had regard for Abel but not Cain, meaning he welcomed Abel's gift.  Cain had not only given his best product to God, but he his heart behind the gift was sincere.  As we look at this and how it took place in Genesis, we also looked at this in modern terms.

I believe if Cain and Abel were celebrating a modern day Thanksgiving that this is how it would play out:
Cain:  Wakes up, mainly looking forward to completely gorging himself on food.  He is thankful to be out of school because he can be lazy.  When it is time to eat he wants to be served first.  When it is time for the blessing over the meal, his mind wanders off to the football game about to begin on tv, and what his friends are going to be doing later.  Later his family gets together to sit down and discuss what they are thankful for, which annoys Cain because he cannot believe his family is so cheesy about things.  Before going to bed Cain decides to say a quick prayer of thanksgiving- for all the cool stuff he has.

Abel:  Wakes up, thankful for even the breath he breathes knowing that it is a gift from God.  Since he has time off from school, he decides to devote that time and energy to God.  He is glad to spend time with his family and thankful that he has them in his life.  After the meal he is quick to help cleanup.  Afterward he makes a list of all the things that he is thankful for and thanks God for each one of them.

I think then if we take it even a step further and think about how they might worship in a modern church service it would go like this:
Cain:  Only glad to come to church to socialize.  He has trouble staying awake and thinks its very boring.  He cannot wait for the preacher to get done.  He does thank God- for saving him from hell.

Abel:  Glad to come to church so that he can worship with other believers.  He enjoys fellowship with other church members, but his main focus is to fellowship with God.

In each of these examples:  Genesis, my modern Thanksgiving, and worship service is that in each Abel is experiencing true worship of God.  Abel can do this because he is practicing personal worship.  You cannot worship in a corporate setting if you are not having private worship of God.  One aspect of this means focusing on your "thankful" list more than your "needs" or "wants".  

So the question is, are you worshiping God?  Are you truly thankful for Him and what He has done for you, or are you more concerned with the things you need or want in life.  Are you giving God your best worship?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Waving A Glow Stick

A few weeks ago we were able to finally take a vacation and had the chance to go to Disney World.  There are a couple of posts I will write about experiences learned from the trip, but this one in particular is about a touching moment I saw from a child.  One night we were standing in the back of the show Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios as the show was about to start.  A mom and her young boy walked in front of us.  It was dark and they were looking for a seat.  The boy said to his mom "What about daddy?".  The mom replied that the dad would find them.  As they walked on, the boy who was holding his mom's hand turned around and waved his glow stick, as if leaving a trail for his dad to find them.  The boy did not want to be separated from his dad and wanted to make sure that he would be able to find them.  

Well I was immediately touched by this young boy's act, and how he did not want to be separated from his dad.  I thought about how this applies to our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  Do we go about our life making sure that we are staying close to Him?  Or do we go about life on our own, doing our own thing?  I know that we do not have to wave a glow stick for God to find us, because He is everywhere and as Psalm 139:17 says "where can I flee from Your presence?"  The truth is we can not hide from Him, we cannot get away from Him.  But do you live your life like you are trying to hide or get away from Him?  As I sit in the coffee shop, I know that God is here and imagine Him sitting in every seat as I look around.  The awesome thing though, is that I also know that He is sitting in the empty seat beside me because He wants to.  This kid that I observed wanted to be sure that he was able to sit beside his daddy.  Your daddy, Abba Father, is sitting beside you.  The question is, do you want to sit beside Him?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Still You Love Me

Music is such an important part of my life.  I tend to be picky at times on the music I like to listen to.  Many times what may be a popular song I do not care for, for whatever reason.  There have been a couple of new albums that have I have bought recently that have been incredible and I will hopefully review them soon.  There is one song that has just captivated me in the past week.  It is called "Still You Love Me" and it is on Chris Sligh's new album "The Anatomy of Broken".  I wanted to post these lyrics.  If you go to Chris website and scroll through the songs you can listen to it.  You won't be disappointed.

You found me in my weakness
You, the epitome of strength
You found me in the darkness
You, the protector of the weak
You’re standing right here with me
On the edge of letting go….
I’m emptied out, with nothing to offer
Still you love me
My hands held out, with nothing to offer
Still you love me
Oh, still you love me
You found me in my fear
You, the One who will not break
You found me in my doubting
Yeah, faithful You remain
You’re standing right here with me
On the edge of all You’ve dreamed for me…
I’m emptied out, with nothing to offer
Still you love me
My hands held out, with nothing to offer
Still you love me
Oh, still you love me
I can do nothing
I can do nothing
Without You

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Leaving a Legacy

I wrapped up the Courageous Leadership series out of the book of Joshua last night.  As we look at the different areas in life where we need to be strong in leaders, we must definitely consider the type of legacy that we are leaving for those who follow us.  We watched a clip from the classic movie Sandlot where Benny has a dream that Babe Ruth pays him a visit.  Babe tells him that everyone has one chance in life to something great, and that most people sit back and do nothing.  He goes on to tell him that heroes are remembered, but legends never die.  As the movie goes on, Benny seizes the moment and leaves a legacy that he would not let fear paralyze him, and he rescues the baseball that they had been trying to get back.  

When we look in Joshua we see that both Caleb and Joshua leave legacies that are pretty remarkable.  In Joshua 14:6-14 we read about Caleb asking for the land that he had been promised 45 years earlier.  He makes the statement in verse 11 that he is as strong as an 85 year old man that he was when he was 40.  How is this possible?  I believe that it is because he lived his life in complete surrender to God, giving Him everything he had.  Through this I believe that God gave Caleb a strength that could only come from God.  Caleb sets the example and leaves us with a legacy that challenges us to live our lives the same exact way.  We should live our lives fully for God that He will empower us even when we are older.

As we take a look at the end of Joshua's life in Joshua 24:29-31 we see the legacy that he left.  Israel followed God because of the life that Joshua lived, even beyond Joshua's life on earth.  Joshua lived the life of a godly leader, leading others to live their life for God.

So the question to ask yourself is this: "What kind of legacy are you leaving?"  Thinking back to Joshua 1 where Joshua had to realize that he was a leader before he could actually thrive as one.  We too must realize that we are a leader.  In addition we must realize that we are leaving a legacy.  The question is what kind.  It should be the desire of every Christian to live a life that makes God known for generations just as it says in Psalm 45:17.  Examine your heart today and discover what type of legacy you are leaving.