A Perfect Act of Love

If I ever do a perfect act of love, I’ll probably be proud of it, and then it won’t be a perfect act anymore. Maybe if I die in the midst of performing this act, I could do it.” – man on radio (wish I knew who he was)

When I heard it, this idea struck me. Even my best efforts are littered with selfishness and pride. My “wants” show up in the most unlikely of places – even when I “serve,” I want to be recognized – or I want someone else to take notice and look at me with more admiration, etc. My service serves myself. I’m sinful. Very sinful.

Scripture addresses this too.

Isaiah 64:6 – “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.

Romans 7:21-25 – “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

So here’s the question: How can I get rid of this? How can I serve selflessly? Of course the only REAL answer is Jesus. He alone has done a “perfect act of love” – the cross. He alone is perfect, and so all of His acts were perfect. Ours are NOT. Nor will they ever be. Our acts of service and sacrifice are always going to be tainted with at least a little bit of selfishness. We are sinners, but because of His “perfect act of love” (the cross), we can receive forgiveness and will be made holy. Our selfishness is forgiven and covered by His blood.

A perfect act of love? This is not a goal for us to attain, but a grace that Jesus has offered to us.

Confess with Your Life

life speak“Confess with your mouth that Jesus is LORD and you will be saved……” Romans 10:9

Christians have used this verse over the years to get people “saved.” Unfortunately, I feel like some have missed the point. It’s not just the confession with the mouth that saves. Words are not enough. There’s more to it than that. It is the faith which accompanies these words that brings salvation. In it’s context, Paul wrote this verse to Romans, who could be killed for saying these kinds of things. They were coming up against the political systems in their culture and this statement would have been considered treason. They were risking their lives to make this confession. The verbal confession was not just a statement. It would have been attached to the rest of their lives. Anyone who made such a claim carried a faith which was expressing itself, not just with words but with a willingness to risk their very lives for this belief. Jesus is LORD.

We must confess with our LIVES that Jesus is LORD. Yes, confessing with our mouths is a huge part of it, but confessing with your life involves more – everyday decisions and sacrifices as well as boldness and taking risks in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is worthy of so much more than just a few words. He humbled Himself, and died on a cross for my sins. The only proper response to that kind of love is to give Him my all, my life. And even that’s still lacking if you think of it as repayment. It doesn’t matter what we give. We still come up short. It’s only by His grace through faith that we are saved.

CONFESS WITH YOUR LIFE! (and your words)

Effort > Success

swim1He slapped at the water and flailed his way across the length of the pool. Kasen tried out for the Lake Jackson Swim Team back in May and didn’t make it. He just couldn’t breathe properly and struggled with swimming the required 25yd distance without a few dog paddles. It was the first time he didn’t immediately excel in a sport. He cried and didn’t understand why he didn’t make the team. He talked about quitting and giving up.

Miranda and I didn’t really mind the fact that he didn’t make it and I sort of thought, “Well, our summer won’t be consumed by swim meets.” However, when Kasen responded this way something inside me felt differently. I don’t want my kids to think it’s OK to just give up or quit when something is difficult. As a matter of fact, I really believe just the opposite. When something is hard and they have to work at it, I will be even more proud of them. Sometimes effort is more impressive than success. Success may be a result of effort, but the effort/struggle is what grows us and strengthens our character. I don’t want kids who are just successful. I want kids who know how to work and earn their success. Kids who understand that pushing themselves makes them stronger – makes them grow.

For the next 2 weeks, I drove Kasen to the pool every day after school. We hired another swim coach to work with him. (Thanks Andy!) We set goals and worked toward them. Some days went well. Others didn’t.

swim2After two weeks, he tried out again. He made the team. At the first meet in his very first race, he placed 1st in backstroke and got 1st place on his freestyle that day too! For the rest of the regular season, he was never beaten in backstroke. He didn’t have his best race, but still got 6th in the final State meet! For a kid who couldn’t swim the length of the pool only a few weeks earlier, I was really proud. Proud of his effort, not his success. Happy for success, but proud of effort.

Romans 5:3-4 – We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient.  And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady.” – The Message

PRAYER:
LORD, May this lesson follow Kasen throughout his life. Help him to remember to persevere. Help me to be an example to him of a hard worker, and as a man who doesn’t give up on things that are important, even when they are hard. Give us strength (physical, mental, and spiritual) to endure. Help us to recognize your presence with us and teach us to trust in your strength when we don’t feel like we can go on.

PS – This is why everyone loves the movie, “Rudy.” He was admired by his teammates for his effort – not his success. They were willing to sit out and make sacrifices for him because he was such a hard worker.

Believe Now

Colorado“Believe now.” ~ Bryan McKenzie

My pastor said this in a sermon a while back. He was referring to coming to Christ for the first time, but I heard it differently. It stuck. It’s been rolling around in my head for months now. If I could “believe now,” then I could make a Godly choice in every moment. You see, my failures and bad decisions are usually based upon some sort of unbelief.

  • I don’t believe He will provide for us, so I choose to worry about our financial situation.
  • I don’t believe that my body is a “temple for the Holy Spirit” (I Cor 6:19-20) or that God really cares about my health. I tell myself, “It’s not that big of a deal”, so I eat more than I should.
  • I don’t really believe sin kills, so I speak rudely to my family and my wife.

I could go on and on. . . . but you get the point. If I could “Believe Now!” I’d probably make better choices. I’d probably represent Jesus better and become more like Him. If I could “believe now,” I’d probably say “Yes” to different things and I’d be involved in new things. I’d probably say “No” to some other things as well.

Prayer: LORD, help me to “Believe now.” Keep this phrase in my mind. Train me to remember it in the moments that I struggle. Guide my heart to believe constantly, moment by moment. LORD I believe, but I want to believe more often, more consistently. “LORD I believe. Help my unbelief!” – Mk 9:24
AMEN.

Food

Food. Sometimes, it’s just that. Food. Nothing special. Just our regular old lunch. On the other hand, food can be so much more. There are some meals we return to every time there’s something to celebrate. These dishes hold hands with memories. The people with whom we share our meals, also share our lives.

73-03 Cake BatterIt’s not just a burger. It’s a reminder of a backyard cookout and the laughter of children playing on the lawn. It’s not just a cookie. It’s one of the ways my aunt expressed her Christmas love for us. The smell of a Chai Tea Latte makes me think of our friend Shana who introduced my bride to what she called “Christmas in a Cup.” If I make a cake today, the taste of batter on my fingers transports me to a 1973 counter top in Del City, Oklahoma where my brother and I licked mixer blades. Food is not just food. It is so much more.

An old man once said, “I don’t remember every meal my wife made for me, but each one of them kept me alive and provided the fuel I needed to live.” Our time with God is the same. We may not have a memorable experience with Him every day, but His Word keeps us alive and fuels our days.

Prayer:
LORD, as we enjoy our meals, sustain and fuel us for life. When we eat, remind us that You (Jesus) are our true provider and that your Word fuels us spiritually. Every once in a while allow us to experience a meal that is more than food – one that reminds us of your incredible love – the love that would send Jesus to die in our place in order to rescue us from ourselves. Give us opportunities to return to this meal every time we need to be reminded of your sacrifice and grant us favor that it will sustain not only our bodies, but our heart and soul as well. AMEN.

Mt 4:4 – “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

PS – This post was adapted from an article I wrote for a cookbook that our community group gave away in February 2013.

Community is Messy

communityismessy

In spite of her gifts as a communicator and writer, Heather Zempel is truly humble. She admits her mistakes and paints a picture of stumbling through the maze of small group ministry and leadership, but her passion and heart are also very clear. She loves people and isn’t afraid of a little mess – and in some cases a lot of mess. She doesn’t try to prescribe any particular model for building community but rather draws on her experiences (sometimes very funny) to give the reader some helpful tools for gaining a better perspective on your particular situation.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“I decided a couple years ago to stop trying to strike a balance [in my life] and to pursue life in rhythm instead.”

“People can find legitimate community and be discipled outside our structures.”

“Most people come into groups looking for social space; we encourage leaders to aim for taking their groups [beyond that] to personal space; and we hope individuals will look for intimate space opportunities with a select few inside the group.”

“We need to ensure that our routines don’t become routine.”

This is the best book I’ve ever read on small group ministry! If you’re a part of a small group or want to be, you should read this book!

Heather is actually a family friend, (As a child, Miranda played football with her every Thanksgiving. Mike was the all-time quarterback.) but. . . . well, nevermind – I can’t deny that I’m biased to this book, but it’s still the best I’ve ever read on community groups.

Pick up a copy here: Amazon Link

Not Surprised

I am always surprised by the things God does. How He provides. How He speaks. How He. . . .

However, when I look back over my life, I see His consistency in all things. He is always faithful to provide. He is always speaking. He is always working, loving, guiding, intervening. . . He is always. . . He is God.

If I reflect on His character and our relationship, it’s not surprising at all that He would do these things. Why am I surprised?

Maybe my surprise reveals my lack of faith? Or maybe it reveals the greatness of God? He is beyond my imagination and comprehension.

I suspect it’s actually both.

Chores…..Because or So?

“It’s the difference between saying ‘I’m doing this because…’ or ‘I’m doing this so…'”

I heard the words coming out of my mouth but hadn’t really even processed them yet. Miranda and I were driving during the Christmas holidays and talking about chores for our kids. Let me explain:

“I’m doing this because I love my family.”
Internal Motivation – I want my kids to be motivated to express their love of our family by doing some chores.

“I’m doing this so I can get paid.”
External Reward – The other option is to give an external motivation like paying them.

So where are we? I know what I’d like for my children, but what works? I’m sure that the external reward would work if my only goal was to get the job done. But I want my kids to learn some responsibilities and know what it means to be a part of a family – to learn how to contribute to the family – to learn how to serve others and be motivated by their love rather than just some selfish motivation like a reward.

How do we make that work? I know that my example is the best way to teach a lesson, but where and how do I set expectations for them that will really convey this message and teach them what I really want them to know?

Ideas? Please post ’em in the comments section. I need all the help I can get.

Christmas Hangover

I’m praying for a really long “hangover” this Christmas. Let me explain:

The Collins English Dictionary defines a hangover as “the delayed aftereffects of drinking too much alcohol…” A “Christmas Hangover” is what I’m calling that time after the annual family gathering/gift exchange when you experience the “aftereffects” of Christmas. Some of the typical symptoms of the Christmas Hangover include sleeping children (worn out from playing with new toys), a crash-&-burn-feeling when the post-meal sugar high subsides, and the soothing sound of an empty house after everyone leaves.

All of this got me thinking though. Are these the kinds of “Hangovers” we should experience after Christmas? If our celebration is truly centered on the birth of Jesus, then our “aftereffects” might be a little different. I want to experience a much longer hangover – one which is motivated by the proper response to the incarnation – one that reflects the fact that Emmanuel “God with Us” is here! The incarnation should be incarnated in my life as well. I want to be changed by my Christmas interactions with Jesus. And I want those changes to last throughout the year – forever. I want a long “Christmas Hangover.”

Prayer:
Lord, let me be “hungover” with an overflow of the love you gave to us at Christmas. Let me be “intoxicated” by peace and “under the influence” of Your Spirit. May the “aftereffects” of your incarnation be incarnated in my life as well. AMEN.


PS – I don’t drink and never want to experience a “hangover” as it is normally defined.

Facebook as a Monument

It’s HUGE! Almost everyone I know is on it! (Except my mom.)


I once wrote a post about how organizations go through a series of changes. These are not my original ideas. They come from a guy named Floyd McClung. Anyway, Here are the steps:

1. It begins with a Man on a Mission.

2. It gains a following and excitement creates a Movement with momentum.

3. As the kinks are worked out, rules begin to govern the infrastructure and it becomes an efficient Machine.

4. In time, it becomes a Monument. People have particular expectations and the organization can’t deviate from it very far before they begin to lose patrons. The Monument becomes trapped between patron expectations and innovation. They usually begin protecting themselves from extinction by leaning in the direction of their patrons and will ultimately die. Their patrons will either move to another organization or die themselves.

Facebook seems to be making more Monument-type decisions. It’s my very uninformed opinion, (I certainly could be wrong.) but they seem to be out of the “innovation business” and instead are stealing Google+ innovations. (Circles, Hangouts, etc.) I also recently got a message saying they would no longer allow my blog to be converted into a Facebook note. These kinds of decisions look a lot like “Monument” decisions. It’s all about protecting their market share and hindering collaborative work because they want all the market. Like I said, I could be wrong, but it just looks and feels that way to me.

Interestingly, if enough others “feel” this way (whether it’s true or not), it could cause them to lose their market. I’m not planning on leaving facebook, but it’ not ’cause I like what they do – it’s cause they already have my network of people. It’s also interesting to note that once an organization is a Monument, it’s really only a matter of time before they die as well. I wonder what will capture the new market? Will Google+ step in or will there something even better around the corner?