Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Only Blessing You Need From God

The most popular preachers in the United States today all have one thing in common, which is a focus on receiving things from God, instead of a focus on God Himself. It is a sad reality, but many people today do not want to hear about loving God and sacrificing greatly for the One who gave Himself for them, rather, many just want blessings from Him.

Millions of books are sold every year from popular communicators telling people how to be happy, how to make every day a Friday, how to have enough faith to get stuff from God, etc. People listen to these supposed “men of God,” and think if they just had more faith, they would not get sick, be broke, or have problems. That could not be farther from the truth.

If there was anyone who should have been blessed with a problem-free life, it was Jesus. He was perfect in every possible way, but suffered most severely. In fact, any person we read about in the Scripture or in church history that was ever used mightily of God, was tested in the most severe of all ways. Nearly every one of Jesus’ disciples were martyred and tortured for their faith. They probably had more faith in their little finger than I have in my whole body.

If Jesus suffered, and His closest followers suffered, why would anyone think that they would be exempt from suffering and hard things? Why would anyone think that everyday should be a Friday? The answer? Because people want blessings from God without really wanting God Himself. It is sad, but true.

When my seven-year-old son, Trey, passed away with cancer, I was confronted with the harsh reality of whether or not I believed everything I had ever preached or taught everyone else. Would I continue to love and trust God in the midst of such severe pain? This is the journey I have been on the last three years. I can honestly say that my faith in God and love for God is deeper than it has ever been. I think the reason for this, is that I have learned the greatest thing I need from God is God Himself. A friend of mine recently said it best, “The highest reward of the Gospel is not that we get forgiveness, but that we get God!” I love this truth. Yes, as followers of Jesus we get forgiveness of sin, peace in our heart, and ultimately eternal life, but beyond all that, we get God Himself.

A virtual certainty of life in a sinful, fallen world is that hard things will happen. Disease, destruction, and death are all part of this world, but there is hope. In our deepest pain and suffering, God comes to us and gives us Himself. I love what Joni Eareckson Tada, a paraplegic for over forty years, recently said, “No other religion promises new bodies, hearts, and minds. Only in the Gospel of Christ do hurting people find such incredible hope. It’s tempting to try to discern the reason for suffering. God doesn’t always give explanations, He gives Himself.” That is a beautiful reality. Christianity does not offer you a problem-free life. It offers you the presence of God in life’s hardships.

The truth is, God will one day wipe away every tear from our eyes because He understands suffering. He sent His Son, Jesus, into the world to live a perfect and sinless life, but the world hated, rejected, and then crucified Him. God’s Son suffered the worst death imaginable so that you and I could have a real relationship with God. It is through the suffering of Jesus that we are healed. What a powerful reality! The God who is well acquainted with grief, comes to us in our grief, and gives us Himself. Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you WILL have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” The only blessing we need from God is God Himself. Do not ever forget that.

Grief and Joy: Can they coexist?

A large part of the following entry comes from a devotion I read by Randy Alcorn. I have added a few personal thoughts throughout though. Please take a moment read this, including the scripture. I pray it blesses you as it has blessedme.

“When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion, We were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter And our tongue with joyful shouting; Then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; We are glad. Restore our captivity, O LORD, As the streams in the South. Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Psalms‬ ‭126:1-6‬

In this Psalm, the Psalmist rejoices in God’s deliverance from captivity with a greater joy than he could ever have experienced had there been no captivity. THIS IS THE NATURE OF JOY – IT IS ALWAYS GREATER AND DEEPER FOR THOSE WHO HAVE KNOWN REAL SORROW. Did you see the contrast? “Those who SOW in tears will REAP with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping…will return with songs of joy.”

This has been such a difficult truth for me to learn and accept. For the last three years, I have struggled with joy. I am doing much better now than I did after we initially lost Trey, but it has and continues to be a journey. I am learning what I just wrote above…joy is deeper and greater for those who have and continue to trust God in and through their suffering. I feel like for the first time in my life, I’m learning what it means to have real and true joy. True joy is based on the presence of God in all circumstances of life…nothing else. But, that doesn’t mean we will not still grieve. Believe it or not, deep grief and deep joy can coexist. Coming to this realization has been very freeing for me.

This is why we should not be surprised when God allows us to undergo sorrows that will forever deepen and broaden our worship of Him and our experience of eternal joy. Trusting in Christ, does not mean we suffer less. Rather, trusting in Christ allows us to be able to face and endure with God’s strength what He allows into our lives.

A lady named Nancy Guthrie had a disabled daughter named Hope that died after living through 199 days of seizures and other complications. Nancy wrote this: “The day after we buried Hope, my husband said to me, ‘You know, I think we expected our faith to make this hurt less, but it doesn’t.’ Our faith gave us an incredible amount of strength and encouragement while we had our daughter, Hope, and we are comforted by the knowledge that she is in heaven. Our faith KEEPS US FROM BEING SWALLOWED BY DESPAIR. But I don’t think it makes our loss hurt any less.”

Nancy and her husband’s pain didn’t decease because they believed; rather, their faith kept their pain from incapacitating them. For Nancy and her husband, God stood with them in their pain, but He did not remove it.

After Trey died, I felt a part of me died. Never in my life had I experienced such sadness and despair. I think some Christians, who have obviously never grieved deeply, just expected me to bounce back as though nothing had ever happened to me. I had one person say to me, “When Trey was alive, you exhibited a lot of faith, but after he died, I didn’t feel you had the same faith.” As hard as that was to hear, what I tried to explain to this person was that my faith in God was the only thing keeping from “jumping off the cliff.” As Nancy said, faith keeps us from being completely swallowed by despair. My faith was being tested and continues to be tested, but it has never been more real…why? Because I have and continue to learn what it means to truly trust God. It is okay to grieve, and faith doesn’t eliminate grief, but faith does give you the ability to trust God in and through all things. This kind of real faith in the midst of real grief, brings a real joy!

Think of Jesus. He wept over the death of Lazarus and for Lazarus’ bereaved sisters, Mary and Martha, not because he lost perspective but because He HAD perspective. Death is an enemy, as is suffering and disability that precedes death. God hates it. So should we. We are to REJOICE for the coming day when God promises no more death and suffering. Such rejoicing can fully coexist with mourning great loss.

We dare not wait for a time of crisis to learn how to worship God. The Guthries worshipped God IN crisis because they worshipped God BEFORE the crisis. Trusting in God’s sovereignty and goodness now will sustain us when suffering comes later. Worshipping God now is the only way to ensure you will worship Him when trials come your way. Our God is worthy of all worship…worship Him today!

How to Keep Living When you Feel Like Dying

On September 1, 2013, my precious seven year old son, Trey, went to be with the Lord. This was the worst day of my life, but the best day of his life. If I was honest, on that day, there was a large part of me that wanted to die. I could not believe what was happening to my son, and the reality that I would never see him again on this earth, shook me to the core. Every day since then, I have had to learn how to live with the deep emotional pain.

In many ways, it is hard to believe that it has been two years since Trey died. Some days, time seems to fly by, and other days, time seems to stand still. Every day is just so different. There are mornings when I wake up and am so overwhelmed by grief, it is hard to do anything, but there are also mornings when I wake up and have an unexplainable joy and energy. I have simply had to learn how not to be led my feelings or circumstances.

As I reflect on what the last two years have been like, here are some things that have helped me keep living in the midst of such deep despair. I pray they encourage any other fellow grievers as well.

First, I have to remind myself daily of what God has done for Trey. God not only saved Trey’s soul on January 8, 2013, but He then delivered him for the pains of this world by taking him directly into His presence on September 1, 2013. One of the most important ways to cope with grief is by focusing on where our Christian loved ones are. God’s Word tells us that for those who are in Christ, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” When I think about where Trey is, I cannot help but rejoice!

Second, I have to remind myself daily that God has me here for a purpose. If God was finished with me, he would take me home, too. As long as I have breath in my lungs, I have to believe and understand that God has something for me to do. It is sinful for me to reject God’s purpose for my life. I must daily connect with God’s will and seek to live out His plan in the strength that He provides. I simply need to be the man, husband, father, and pastor God wants me to be. As we often sing, from the song, In Christ Alone, “Till He returns, or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I stand.”

Third, I have to remind myself of the promises in God’s Word. When I saturate my mind with God’s truth, I am filled with hope, peace, and joy. It is when I get out of God’s Word that I find myself discouraged and defeated. God’s Word is filled with promises and when I am reminded of them and embrace them by faith, it is amazing the amount of focus I have. Every believer in Jesus must keep God’s Word at the center of their heart and mind.

Fourth, I have to remind myself that God uses, and continues to use, Trey’s story for His glory. This life is but a breath compared to eternity, and the way God has used Trey is hard to put into words. There will be countless people in heaven because they have embraced Christ through Trey’s testimony. Trey accomplished more in seven years than some people will accomplish in one hundred years. When I think about how God has used the life of my son, it encourages me to keep telling his story and seeing lives changed for all of eternity.

Finally, I have to remind myself that so much of life in a fallen world comes down to sheer endurance and perseverance. Life is hard and until God removes all sin from this world, Christians have to learn how to trust God in the storm, not in spite of the storm. I heard someone say that “God never uses anyone mightily that He doesn’t test thoroughly.” Trial, hardship, and suffering are ways God keeps us dependent on Him, but also detached from this world. I have to wake up every day and remind myself of those things.

There are many other things I have learned, but those are just a few of the main things I remind myself of daily. If you, like me, are living through some sort of trial, just remember that it is all for a purpose. You and I simply must trust Him and walk with Him through the storms of life. I can make you a promise, too. God will never leave you and He will always provide what you need to endure what you face. Hang in there and keep trusting Him!

Don’t Forget the God Who Remembered You

For the last year and a half, I have been walking my church through the book of Exodus on Sunday mornings. As you might know, Exodus is the story of God’s miraculous deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. It is a powerful story of redemption and rescue. 

Throughout Exodus, it is amazing to see all the incredible things God did on behalf of the people of Israel. God did miracle after miracle, proving time and time again that He loved Israel and would always be with them in a special way. In fact, God has such a special love for the people of Israel they were called “The Children of God” and “God’s Chosen People.”

You would think with all the marvelous things God did for His children that they would never forget the goodness and grace He showed them. Sadly, this is not the case. The Israelites became known as a people who were quick to forget God. Psalm 106:21 says, “They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt.” 

When I read that verse, among many others, I find myself asking, “How is it possible that they could forget God?” As I ask that though, I am quickly reminded that the Israelites often mirror many Christians today. As a pastor, I talk to and see many people, myself included at times, who often forget all that God has done for them. As Christians, God has saved us, forgiven our sin, promised to be with us and never leave us, and has guaranteed us an eternal home in heaven. How could we ever forget God? Sadly, we do.

Today, remember and think about God and all He has done for you. Do not forget Him! If you are hurting and discouraged, remember that God loves you. If you are anxious and stressed, remember that God is your peace. If you are sad and lonely, remember that God is with you and brings you joy. If you have made many mistakes and poor decisions, remember that God is mighty to save and offers real hope and forgiveness.

God is good and never changes. He loves you with an everlasting love. He is all you need in this life. As the Psalmist said in Psalm 16:8, “I have set the Lord before me, because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Put the Lord at the forefront of your mind today. Set Him before you in all you do, and do not forget Him! Make it a priority to not forget the God who has remembered and thought of you.

Sports, Fans, and the Glory of God

I love sports. I always have. I love watching and I love playing them. Sports have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a child, I always had some sort of sports ball in my hand and was involved in some kind of sporting activity. In high school, I would just move from one sport to the next, and I loved every minute of it. There is something about working hard, playing with a team, fighting through adversity, and achieving success in sports that is very rewarding.

Playing sports and cheering for a sports team, are very different though. Since I have become an adult, my sports life has changed. I play several things recreationally, and I am involved in my children’s sports activities, but I do not really participate competitively anymore. I am a huge sports fan, though. I love cheering for the Oklahoma Sooners, Dallas Cowboys, and my hometown team, the San Antonio Spurs. I watch and follow my favorite teams any chance I get.

As an avid fan of sports, I have learned much about fans over the years. Sports fans are some of the most interesting people in the world. If you want to be exposed to the true sinfulness of humanity, just attend a six-year-old recreational soccer game and watch some of the parents. Truthfully, fans are bad at every level, from children’s sports, all the way to professional sports. If we are honest though, we have all probably let our emotions gets the best of us in watching sports and are all guilty of taking trivial things a little too serious. If we are to do everything for the glory of God, how can we enjoy sports and be a good fan for His glory?  Here are a few things I have learned and observed.

First, tell yourself over and over, “IT IS JUST A GAME.” Truly, at the end of the day, the sporting event you are watching has zero eternal significance. Remember that!

Second, do not let the game affect your attitude, or how you treat other people. Do not get sucked into the mentality that the sky is falling just because your team is performing poorly. If the outcome of any game has a dramatic positive or negative effect on your attitude, you are taking it too seriously. Enjoy the game, cheer hard, but when it is over, it is over. Do not let the results of the game carry into your daily life.

Third, be a good fan during the game. Be pleasant to those around you. Do not criticize individuals, or players and fans on either team. Cheer positively and stay off the officials. I have said this over and over, and I firmly believe it: “The outcome of a game is RARELY due to poor officiating.” If a team is really good, they will find a way to succeed, even if the officiating is unsatisfactory. There is nothing worse than a fan that blames everyone and everything for their team’s loss. Do not be that kind of fan. Be a fan that brings glory to God by how you talk, how you treat those around you, and how you respond to those actually involved in the game.

Finally, remember that God does not care who wins or loses the game, but He does care about everyone involved in the game. From the fans, to the players, to the coaches, etc., God cares about people. His ultimate desire is for people to know Him and have a relationship with Him, but He also desires for all people to glorify Him. Sports are fun. It is exciting to watch good competition and cheer for your favorite teams, but everything must be kept in perspective. This is especially true for Christians. Christians need to set the example of how to be a good fan that brings glory to God. As you cheer this week, cheer with an eternal perspective.

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