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Monday, July 11, 2016

Song Thoughts: "Great Are You Lord"



It's Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise, pour out our praise... - "Great Are You Lord"
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. - Colossians 1:17 ESV

Every time we sing this song and I get to the chorus, and take a deep breath to belt it out, I think, "Jesus, You're putting this air into my lungs. And you're putting this worship in my heart."

You do realize that every time your heart beats, it's because Jesus made it beat, right? Every time you wake up, it's because He gave you another day to wake up in. Every time your muscles make your body move, every time your eyes blink, every time your body turns food into fuel to keep you alive - it's because Jesus did it.

But more than that: the worship He put into your heart actually belongs to Him in the first place. When we say "You are worthy of praise" it doesn't mean the same thing as it does when we, say, make flattering statements about a successful athlete or celebrity or even our family member or child.

The worship actually belongs to Him, and always has.

As worshipers, we are a vessel to deliver back to God something He entrusted us with, something that belongs to Him. Because nobody but Him deserves it. He put the breath in your lungs, He put the worship in your heart, and when you use one to give another back to Him, it's simply completing the circle, bringing you closer to Him.


You give life. You are love. You bring light to the darkness.
You give hope. You restore ev'ry heart that is broken, and great are You Lord!

It's Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise, we pour out our praise!
It's Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You only!

And all the earth will shout Your praise. Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing, "Great are You Lord!"

Friday, July 8, 2016

Knowing

(This is not me, by the way.)
I have a daughter who is eight years old, and sometimes she's a real pest.

I'll be in the spare room, working on something on the computer, and she'll come in and want to talk about a new Barbie doll she heard about. Or I'll be up early, just trying to eat a bowl of cereal and get the groggies out of my brain to start the day, and she'll want to make a silly joke (OVER and OVER and OVER...) Or maybe I'm actually trying to do something with her, read a book or watch TV or play a game, and first it's of critical importance that she gets a drink of water, or a blanket, or a trip to the restroom.

Frankly, sometimes I get a bit grumpy. I may growl out some crabby passive-aggressive sort-of-ironic thing, like "You know, I told you thirty minutes ago that we were going to do this now. Maybe you could have gone potty then?" I can be a big old grouch sometimes. (I know, on the Internet I'm a super nice guy every day... aren't we all, on the Internet?)

In real life I'm a serious introvert, and I'm pretty sure if I went to a doctor who knows about it, I would be diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. What that adds up to is that if I'm not thinking about it, my face often has an expression on it that does not show much emotion. Even when I feel perfectly fine and happy, sometimes you wouldn't know it from looking at me. I'm not an easy guy to read.

But you know what? It's crazy, but for some reason that never seems to bother my 8-year-old at all. No matter what crabby thing I just said, no matter whether I'm smiling or even frowning, she has no trouble diving right in for a hug. Even if something she did is the reason I'm being all gruff in the first place! It doesn't bother her a bit, because she knows that no matter what, I love her, and she belongs to me. And she loves me too, so why not give me a hug?

So, what I'm wondering is this: why don't we believers in Jesus, members of God's family, feel that way about God? We really have even less of a reason to be intimidated by God than my little girl has to be intimidated by me! After all, if she does something wrong, it's my job to administer punishment... but Jesus has taken the full punishment from God for any sin we ever have committed or will commit. We are more blameless and perfect before God than a little kid could ever be before her earthly father.

Hey, why don't you go in for a hug right now? God loves you; he wants to commune with you. He won't ever be grumpy or passive-aggressive or even regular aggressive to you. He calls you His child. Every child has time for some cuddles! So grab your blanket and a quick drink of water if necessary, and then close your eyes and say from your heart, "I love you, God!"

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Song Thoughts: "How He Loves"



He is jealous for me...

STOP RIGHT THERE!

Stop singing for a second. Yeah, I do notice that we only finished the first line. That’s because that first line totally wrecks.

Do you remember your first crush? Maybe you were in junior high school, or elementary school, or wherever. I’m talking about the first person your age who totally made your heart go pitter-patter.

Remember how you felt the first time you ever saw that person talking to someone else? Maybe they were even laughing? And it looked to you like your chance with that person was completely gone?

Remember how that felt?

THAT IS HOW GOD.

FEELS.

ABOUT.

YOU.

Close your eyes for a minute and take a deep breath and think about it for a second. I’’ll wait right here until you get back.







OK, done?

Now, go ahead and sing the rest. If you can!

He is jealous for me.
Love’s like a hurricane, and I am a tree bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy…
When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory, and I realize just how beautiful you are and how great your affections are for me!

And oh,
How He loves us, oh…
Oh how He loves us!
how He loves us, oh!
We are His portion and He is our prize, drawn to redemption by the grace in his eyes.
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking!
So heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss, and my heart turns violently inside of my chest…
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way He loves us!

Oh how He loves us!
Oh how He loves us!
Oh how He loves!


I've blogged about this song before! Click here to see.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Song thoughts: "Friend of God"



I am a friend of God!
I am a friend of God!
I am a friend of God! He calls me "friend"!
-lyrics to Friend of God by Michael Gungor & Israel Houghton
When this song was new to most people, a worship leader friend of mine told me something that surprised me. It seemed that she was getting pushback from members of the congregation who didn't like the almost chummy way the phrase "friend of God" feels. Presumably they felt that God was their Lord, their King, their Father... but never just their plain old "friend."

The problem is that the Bible itself says otherwise. The inspiration for the song was James 2:23, which says "...and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God."

"But that's Abraham," you might say. "He's a special case. He's like THE father of faith!" Well, I would disagree with you that Abraham is a special case, but let's talk about a group of people who essentially started the body we now call the Church. Jesus' twelve disciples are the "us" in the Gospels. They were just people who loved Jesus, like us, and Jesus said to them, "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15)

Guess what? In those very same Gospels, Jesus revealed to us that same information that qualified His first 12 disciples as "friends." God called Abraham his "friend" and He called His disciples "friends"... and He calls you His "friend" too!

Who am I that You are mindful of me, that You hear me when I call?
Is it true that You are thinking of me, how You love me? It's amazing!

I am a friend of God!
I am a friend of God!
I am a friend of God! He calls me "friend"!

God Almighty, Lord of Glory, You have called me friend!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

I Can Do It!

Despite clear evidence in the Word of God to the contrary, we Christians seem to think that we need to do a bunch of good stuff to be right with God. How much clearer can it be than Romans 5:1: "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"? It's almost a no-brainer! And there's no Christian that will try to tell a nonbeliever that they have to "clean up their act" to become a Christian.

And yet somehow there is this idea in the back of our minds that we are not doing what we are supposed to be doing so that we and God will be on good terms. I'm not just talking about sin, either. Am I supposed to be on the mission field but I'm not? GUILT. Was the Holy Spirit telling me to give that panhandler five dollars bu I didn't? GUILT. Did I stay home from Sunday School last weekend? GUILT GUILT GUILT!

Those are not things that come between you and God... not unless you let them. If you do something that you know or think wasn't right, and then you hide from God like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, well then yes, your actions have come between you and God. But it's not really your actions that are the problem; it's your refusal to be with God because you think they did! You might not have even done anything wrong - maybe the Holy Spirit wasn't instructing you to do this or that thing. In that case, all that is coming between you and God is your own ignorance.

But let's talk about sin for a second. As a Christian, does sin come between you and God? Well, that's up for debate on one level - I am of the school of thought that says that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all of our sin, past and future, once and for all when we make Jesus our Lord. Others feel otherwise. But if we are eternally secure in Him, then that means that not even blatant sin is a barrier between us and God. (Lack of repentance is, though, so repent for crying out loud!)

Now, the flip side of this whole discussion is that you cannot do anything that will get you closer to God in any way that is meaningful to Him. You can do actions that help you to focus better on Him, so you might feel closer, but it's not because you are more righteous in any way. Again, the blood of Jesus instantly provided you and me with all of the righteousness that will ever be available to or needed by any of us. Your good works are not currency with God.

I have a family member who used to own a restaurant. The first time I went there to eat, I placed my order with him and then pulled out my wallet. "Your money's no good here," he told me. It's not that I didn't have any money, and it's not that the money itself had no value - it's just that the meal was not for sale. It was a free gift.

So, why do we get the idea that anything we do has any relevance to the way God sees us? I have some thoughts about that, but they'll have to wait for next time. Stay tuned!



Monday, June 20, 2016

Song thoughts: "Fierce"



Like a tidal wave crashing over me, rushing in to meet me here,
Your love is fierce!
Like a hurricane that I can't escape, tearing through the atmosphere,
Your love is fierce!
- Jesus Culture
"This phrase, 'Yet once more,' indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire."
- Hebrews 12:27–29 ESV
The first time I heard the song Fierce, I instantly thought of friends back home. I'm from Louisiana, where hurricanes and tidal waves aren't things that happen to people "somewhere else." I was living in Tulsa when Katrina hit, but I have family and friends who have been personally effected by Katrina and by other hurricanes over the years. My first thought when I first heard the chorus of this song was not, "That's a beautiful expression of how strong God's love is for us!" My first thought was, "This is a song that will really upset people who have been through an actual hurricane!"

It seems strange to describe the love of God as a destructive force - we usually think of love as something that does good things, not destructive things. But according to the Word, God's very presence does indeed contain destructive power. Which frankly seems a little scary!

The key fact here is this: the thing that is destroyed by God's presence is impurity. Sin. Fortunately for us, because Jesus decoupled us from our sinfulness on the Cross, our sinful actions do not cause us to be destroyed. Any sin in the area when God arrives is destroyed, but His people are not.

If we cannot be destroyed by the nature of God's love, but our sin can be destroyed by it, then that means that anything that tries to stand between us and God cannot stand! There is nothing that can withstand the force of a tsunami or a hurricane, and there is nothing that can withstand the force of God's love. It breaks down every barrier! God's love is on the way in a hurry, and there is no escape! (But why would we want to?)

Before I call, before I ever cry, You answer me from where the thunder hides.
I can't outrun this heart I'm tethered to, when every step, I collide with You!

Like a tidal wave crashing over me, rushing in to meet me here,
Your love is fierce!
Like a hurricane that I can't escape, tearing through the atmosphere,
Your love is fierce!

You cannot fail! The only thing I've found is, through it all, You never let me down.
You don't hold back, relentless in pursuit. At every turn I come face to face with You!

You chase me down!
You seek me out!
How could I be lost when You have called me found?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Attitude

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Philippians 3:8–14

Lately I've been thinking about my life. I have a 16-year-old son, and I work in a university environment around college students. Those people essentially have their whole lives ahead of them, nothing but open doors. But now that I'm well into my 40s, there are certain doors that are forever closed for me. I will never, for example, be an NFL linebacker. Not that there was ever any chance of that happening, of course! But at this point my age alone means I am forever excluded from that club. Additionally, I'm not going to ever be a member of anybody's boy's choir. By law I cannot enlist in the military. And I will not be winning any gold medals in the Olympics.

Okay, so maybe most of that is pretty silly stuff, and those aren't really things I aspired to anyway. But looking back, there are things I wish I had accomplished at certain times of my life that I just never got around to. Some of them, maybe I'll never get the chance to again. Some of them are things I thought I was called by God to do. What do you do when you feel you had a call on your life, you had the opportunity to fill it, and you failed to complete something that may have been God's plan for you? (You don't have to be in your 40s to feel that way, by the way.)

Once upon a time, Paul (then called Saul) was pretty confident that he was smack in the middle of God's will for him. In some ways, maybe he was; although later he was persecuting Christians, before that he had completed a thorough religious education, and was an expert at all things Jewish. Even later as a Christian, he seems to have been quite proud of those accomplishments. Paul didn't have my problem: he had completed the things he wanted to do with his life.

But in the passage above, Paul tells us that as far as he is concerned, all of that is worthless garbage. He threw it all away and set a new goal for himself: to get to truly know Jesus; to know Him so well that he could experience what Jesus experienced through His death and resurrection. He had obtained his goals, but now he had a different goal: to fully experience the life provided by Jesus! So Paul decided to completely turn his back on his past, treat it like it had never existed, and run as hard as he could toward something much more important.

Now. If Paul can treat his successes like that, doesn't it stand to reason that I can treat my failures like that? If Paul can say "All of that stuff in the past is in the past. What is in the present is Jesus!" then can't I say the same thing? It doesn't matter whether you or I were valedictorian or grade-school drop-out... millionaire or on welfare... lifelong Christian or got saved five minutes ago. Our successes are in the past, and our failures are in the past. What matters now is that there is a greater prize to reach for! There is a more important race to run. Let's head that way starting right now, shall we?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Song thoughts: "Joy of the Lord"



When I cannot see You with my eyes, let faith arise to You.
When I cannot feel Your hand in mine, let faith arise to You.
God of mercy and love, I will praise You, Lord!
-Rend Collective
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." - Hebrews 11:10 ESV
I think the word "faith" tends to be misunderstood more often than it is understood. That's probably because in the English language, we use it to mean a bunch of different things. There is your "Faith" which basically means your set of religious beliefs. The phrase "keep the faith" is often used to mean "keep doing what you're doing because it's the right thing to do." And of course, in some circles "faith" is seen as a tool to get things to happen - almost like a currency that is spent to purchase something.

I think Bible faith is something else entirely. Bible "faith" is simply you and me trusting that God is Who He says He is, and that because He has said so in the Word, He will act on our behalf. Faith is not a means to an end, like repeating something over and over in order to memorize it. Faith is a lifestyle of trust toward God - whether God ever does what you think He should do or not. Sometimes God's best looks like a Bad Idea to the person it is happening to... just ask Job, or Abraham, or Moses, or any other Bible character who jumped the gun on God's plan. Faith is trusting God anyway.

So as the song says, sometimes we don't understand what's going on. We think we know a good plan, but for some reason God doesn't seem to be doing things that way. In fact, things may seem bleak to us. There may be tears, there may be anxiety. But faith says, "I don't know what's going on, but I do know that God loves me, and I'm going to praise Him!" It's a choice that we have to make - it doesn't usually just wash over you. But when you make it, it's the right choice! It's the path to joy!
Though tears may fall, my song will rise, my song will rise to You.
Though my heart may fail, my song will rise, my song will rise to You.
While there’s breath in my lungs, I will praise You, Lord!
In the dead of night I’ll lift my eyes, I’ll lift my eyes to You.
When the waters rise, I’ll lift my eyes, I’ll lift my eyes to You.
While there’s hope in this heart, I will praise You, Lord!

The joy of the Lord is my strength!
The joy of the Lord is my strength!
In the darkness I’ll dance, in the shadows I’ll sing!
The joy of the Lord is my strength!

When I cannot see You with my eyes, let faith arise to You.
When I cannot feel Your hand in mine, let faith arise to You.
God of mercy and love, I will praise You, Lord! 
Oh, You shine with glory, Lord of light! I feel alive with You!
In Your presence now I come alive! I am alive with You!
There is strength when I say, "I will praise You, Lord!"

When sorrow comes my way, You are the shield around me;
Always You remain, like courage in the fight.
I hear You call my name!
Jesus, I am coming, walking on the waves, reaching for Your light!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Song thoughts: "Your Love Awakens Me"

I'm writing up a series of short devotionals for the worship team at my church, based on the songs we do during the service, and I thought it would be cool to share them here too. Here's the first one!



“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:4-5 ESV
I love how this song uses the images of death/darkness interchangeably, and life/light interchangeably. In our culture when we think of light, we tend to think of knowledge – which is a totally valid way of looking at it, and when Jesus brings “light” to our lives by saving us, spiritual understanding is certainly a part of it. But to ancient peoples, light was synonymous with life itself. With no sunshine, your crops will die, and eventually so will you. The light that Jesus brings is more than a source of knowing stuff about God… it is a source of life itself!

I also love the way the first verse uses words that relate to being imprisoned, but then in the pre-chorus we realize that the prison we were released from was actually death! How vivid is that idea of being in a cold, dark, deathly prison – but then suddenly God bursts in, kicking down walls and tearing off chains, and leading us into bright sunshine and light!

Did you notice that the first verse and pre-chorus are in past tense – things Jesus has done – and the chorus and second verse are in present tense? God did something for humanity on the Cross, and the effects continue to be felt and to cause things to happen. None of us is perfect – there are things in each of our lives that still haven’t found their way into the light of God’s life. Jesus continues to draw us out, wake us up, bring those parts of us back to life! Everything in creation sings “We’re alive ‘cause You’re alive!”, and we shout it out too!
There were walls between us,
By the cross you came and broke them down – You broke them down!
There were chains around us,
By Your grace we are no longer bound, no longer bound!
You called me out from the grave, You called me into the light!
You called my name and then my heart came alive!
Your love is greater!
Your love is stronger!
Your love awakens, awakens, awakens me!
Feel the darkness shaking!
All the dead are coming back to life, oh, back to life!
Hear the song awaken, 
All creation singing “We’re alive ‘cause You’re alive!”
You called me out from the grave, You called me into the light!
You called my name and then my heart came alive!
Your love is greater!
Your love is stronger!
Your love awakens, awakens, awakens me!
What a love we found!
Death can’t hold us down!
We shout it out, “We’re alive ‘cause You’re alive!”
Your love is greater!
Your love is stronger!
Your love awakens, awakens, awakens me!


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Reasons

Bless the Lord, oh my soul - oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before, oh my soul
I'll worship Your Holy name
Two years ago today, my phone rang. It was my mom, and she said to me, "Your daddy died."

Instinctively I clicked into "do what needs to be done" mode, and I said into the phone, "I'll be right over." But then it sank in what she had said, and in a voice that even as it came out of my mouth sounded to me like the voice of a little kid, I squeaked, "He died?"

Yes he had. He and my mom had had a nice evening together, talked and enjoyed each other's company, and then they went to sleep. My dad woke up with Jesus.

At his memorial service, my wife and I sang "10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)" for the crowd. I had sung it at a men's breakfast a month or two earlier and Dad had been present, and I wanted to share with the crowd the last song he had heard me sing. Apparently our performance was memorable, at least for our family; several of them have told me since that they can't hear the song without thinking of that day. It bothers me that I've turned this beautiful, meaningful song into something painful for all of us — something that reminds us of the pain of Dad's death instead of what I intended. I wanted to take this opportunity to explain why I thought the song was an appropriate memorial, and hopefully in the process, re-frame it a bit for the family. Maybe even bring a bit of healing.
The sun comes up; it's a new day dawning.
It's time to sing Your song again.
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me,
Let me be singing when the evening comes.
I had heard it before, but I first fell in love with this song when I heard a delicate, intimate acoustic version recorded by Rend Collective. At the time my son was in junior high school, and I was driving him to school every day. The school is on the east side of town, so often we were driving straight into a beautiful sunrise. One morning he and I listened to this song on the way; it's quite a great way to focus on Jesus first thing.

I think it's important to understand that worship is not a melody and lyrics. Worship is something that is inside your heart. It's your attitude of adoration and thankfulness to God that is the real worship. Sure, making music is a great way to express your worship, but you can also express your worship through prayer, or showing love to someone who needs it, or just through choosing to live your life in the way you know in your heart pleases God. You can't literally sing all day, any more than you can literally "pray without ceasing". "Singing" in the context of this song is on one level referring to making actual music, but on another level it is a metaphor for living your life for Christ.
You're rich in love, and You're slow to anger;
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind.
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing —
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find.
My dad was a good man. But he wasn't a perfect man. In the two years since he passed I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about him and his life; in sorting out some of his stuff my brother and I learned details about him that we never knew. I think there were things on his heart to do with his life that he simply never got around to doing. But the one thing that he did do, all the time and every day, was believe that God is good, and had good things in mind for him and for his family. He had frustrations and things that upset him and setbacks and I know he had plenty of times when he felt pretty unhappy, but through my whole childhood he never gave up on God. He took us to church, we had Bibles and books about God around the house, we listened to Christian music. Despite what sometimes looked like evidence to the contrary, Dad never gave up believing that God loved him... loved us... and that it was worth it, living for Jesus. My dad could sing a bit, but he didn't much; his worship was lived out every day.
And on that day when my strength is failing,
The end draws near and my time has come,
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending...
Ten thousand years and then forevermore.
Forevermore!
My dad was still worshiping with his life up until the night he moved away from Earth in favor of a much better location. The night before he went to be with Jesus was spent loving his wife, whom he had stuck with through thick and thin in 45 years of marriage. He was still going to church, taking classes about the Bible, and seeking God's will for his life. What I love about this song is that it starts at sunrise and goes to sunset — from beginning of life to end of life — and communicates a very simple message: God is wonderful, and it's worth it to spend your whole life, "everything you have" so to speak, in order to gain His kingdom.

One day, unless Jesus comes back first, it will be my turn to leave this world and enter Heaven. When that happens, I hope that I've followed my dad's example of seeking after Jesus every day of my life on Earth. It's a goal worth following. I hope my family members, when they read this, will be able to see this song in a new light. The song is about you and me and our response to God. I don't want this song to be about our sorrow that Dad was gone. But I think it's okay if we think of him when we hear this song, because I think his life illustrates what this song is reminding us to do. He made mistakes, but he "sang" with his actions a song of worship to God from sunrise to his final sunset. I hope that from now on, hearing this song will inspire us to try as hard as my dad did to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord.
Bless the Lord, oh my soul - oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before, oh my soul
I'll worship Your Holy name!
I'll worship Your Holy name!
I'll worship Your Holy name!



Thursday, May 26, 2016

New ORU Web Site!

How could I have forgotten to mention this? A couple of months ago I started a new job at my alma mater, Oral Roberts University. A big part of this first couple of months for me has been helping prepare the university Web site for a re-launch; the screen shot you see on the right is the main page of the terrific new version of our site! There are a number of things that are cool about this.

The first thing you'll see if  you visit from a computer is that the background is moving video! The next thing you'll notice is that there are huge links to most any major area you might want to visit on the site.

If you visit the site from a mobile device, it still looks great - not like a site designed for a desktop browser that you have to pinch-zoom to view from your phone! The big links are still there, and every page looks great on your tablet or cell phone.
We've created terrific new versions of several parts of the site. Some examples we are particularly proud of: Please visit the site and take a look around! ORU is a terrific place (I wouldn't have come back here as an employee if it wasn't), and we wanted the Web site to match.

Full disclosure: I was not asked to write this, or paid to do so. This is my personal blog, and if I wasn't excited about the school and the Web site, I wouldn't have done it. One more time, the Web site is at:

http://www.oru.edu/

Monday, May 23, 2016

Houseiversary

Four years.

It had been four long years since we moved to Bixby, Oklahoma. Don't get me wrong - we love Bixby. It's just that when we moved out of our house in east Tulsa and into an apartment in Bixby, we expected to live there for four months while we sold our old house and built the new one we would live in. But then our house in East Tulsa didn't sell, and to support that mortgage while it was on the market we wound up retracting our deposit on the new house build, and then we wound up having to turn our old house into a rental property. So we were stuck in an apartment which was very nice, but also very cramped for our family of four. With no money left to build our new house.

For four years.

Our lease was coming up for renewal, and we really felt like it might be time to make a move. It was either get out of the apartment, sign another year lease, or pay a huge premium to go month to month. One day my wife and I had dropped our little girl off at a friend's house for a birthday party, and with nothing else to do for an hour or so until picking her back up, my wife said "Drive down there." Apparently she had seen a sign for a little neighborhood that was going up... so we drove down to take a look.

There were only a handful of houses there, but right near the front of the new neighborhood there were three model houses available to look at. We peeked into each one in turn, and had a bit of a Three Bears experience... the first one wasn't quite what we wanted, and neither was the second one, but the third one was Just Right. The realtor told us that since it was close to the end of the month, it might be to our advantage to wait to shop for financing until after the first of the next month, so we told her we would get back with her then.

But we couldn't get away from being interested in that house! After the first of the month we went back over, and talked to the realtor - who was actually a different woman this time. She told us that the house was still available, but there was another potential interested party - if we had our minds made up, it would be to our advantage to put down our earnest money and lock it down for ourselves. We needed to run back to our apartment to get the checkbook, but she said she would be there when we got back.

Now, it so happens that that day was my wife's birthday, and to celebrate we had bought tickets to hear Jonny Lang play in concert that evening. Jonny is an amazingly talented blues guitarist who is also a man of faith, and his faith in God sometimes turns up in his music. To get pumped for the concert that evening, we had been listening to his Live at the Ryman album all morning - it was playing on the way back to our apartment.

When we got to the parking lot at the complex, something occurred to me. "We haven't actually prayed about this yet," I said to my wife. "Would you like to pray?" She said yes, and right there in the car she began to pray for guidance and wisdom.

I was listening and agreeing with her in prayer, but as it turned out I didn't hear much of what she said... because the Holy Spirit was speaking to me right through my stereo speakers! Right when my wife started praying, Jonny Lang got to a part of his song "Red Light" where he was half-speaking, half-singing to his audience about trusting God. "It's gonna be all right," he sang. "It's gonna be all right. Everything's gonna be all right."

Over and over Jonny sang "Everything's gonna be all right," and my heart said to me that it wasn't an accident that that part of the song happened to play right when we were seeking God's wisdom on this decision. I'm not someone who sees "sign from God" in every coincidence, but I'm also not too dense to recognize the Holy Spirit using something to encourage me.

There were a lot of things that day that came together for us. We happened to have enough spare money available to us right then to put down the earnest money - an unusual situation for us. We got there that day before this hypothetical other buyer - I realize that he may or may not have truly existed (I know how high-pressure sales work), but a man did turn up as we were working on the paperwork and he did want to look at houses. The perfect house for our family was already built and waiting for us just when we needed to move out of the apartment; no waiting for a 4-month build.

And my wife got the most lavish birthday present of her life so far: a new house!

We've never regretted what happened then. Today is the one year anniversary of the day we moved in, and we couldn't be happier! (Even our dog is more relaxed than he was in the apartment!) The neighborhood is nestled between some areas of farmland - the photo at the top of this blog post is a snapshot I took one morning within walking distance from where we live.

Four years.

Sometimes God's blessings take a bit of time to arrive (review this if you need additional information). But when they do arrive, they are amazing!


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

His Plans


I was thinking about the Scripture verse on a sign I received recently as a gift:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” - Jeremiah 29:11
Sometimes I wonder what God's plan is. Sometimes it seems like maybe his plan is not as good from my perspective as it is from His. Like maybe something that is a good thing in the grand scheme of His plan might just feel exactly like a disaster to me. Sometimes I think that maybe His plans are working out a bit more slowly than I want them to, you know? Ever feel that way?

So I looked up the chapter in my Logos software to remind myself of the circumstances surrounding this prophecy. I've read through Jeremiah before, but it's been a while, so I wanted to get a refresher. What I found surprised me a lot!

I had forgotten that Jeremiah was a prophet during the time that God's people were in exile from their homeland - they had been invaded, captured, and been deported to a foreign land. It was the ultimate disaster for them! Yet Jeremiah had a message of hope for them: God's plans for you are for good, not disaster.

Of course, Jeremiah had an additional message for them: settle in, boys, because you're going to be here for a while.

WHAT?

Jeremiah's message of hope was that God was going to redeem his people... later?

It certainly was. Let's read more of that chapter:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare....For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. - Jeremiah 29:4–7, 10-11 (ESV)
God's plan was for them to be in a seventy-year time out, and then He would miraculously rescue them. And we find out in the book of Daniel that that's exactly what happened! God rescued them exactly when He promised!

Do you think the people wanted to live in exile for seventy years? Of course they didn't. But God's wisdom, His plan, was that things would happen at a certain time, and that was the right time.

Years ago I asked a man I knew had a lot of wisdom about the Word about a Scripture from Galatians:
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.- Galatians 6:9 (ESV)
There was something I was waiting on, and I wanted to know what "in due season" meant. He told me it was like the "due date" for a baby. You can know roughly what the right date is, and you can hope for a certain date, but in the end, the baby is going to be born at a time over which you have limited control. The baby is "due" at the right time. You may want him or her to be born three months after conception, so you can see his or her sweet little face, but that's not the right time. The right time is the "due" time.

Sometimes your and my idea of the right time for God to answer our prayers doesn't match up with His idea of the right time. In general, you shouldn't try to modify the due time for a baby, and in general, it's probably not a good idea to try to influence God's "due season" for your answer to prayer. It might take longer than you want it to, but when the right time comes, God's going to make sure it happens!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Never Fall

This past weekend my pastor delivered a message about living a life where you never "stumble". I wanted to compile a list of Scriptures he used all in one place, and thought I would share! Here they are (emphasis is mine):

Joel 2:26-27:
“You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
     And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Romans 9:33:
...as it is written, 
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; 
      and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.

Romans 10:11:

For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.

2 Peter 1:10:

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 

1 John 2:1:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 

John 17:23:

I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Philippians 1:20:

...as it is my eager expectation and hope that I [Paul] will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

Psalm 33:22:
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, 

     even as we hope in you.



This is by no means the complete list of Scripture references from the message - just ones on the specific part of the message I wanted to think about a little more. Here's the full message (it's worth listening to). The part containing the Scriptures above starts at about 18:55 (I've quoted the ESV above, but I think he's using the NLT in the video):



If you enjoyed this message, you can check out the full series here.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Epiphany 2016


You know, year after year God has used Epiphany to effect our family in any number of ways. This year, as you will see, the Holy Spirit is clearly trying to tell my wife and me something! Read on for the details.

First off: if you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, you might want to review some of my past Epiphany posts. The short version of the story is that for the past five years, every year in my family we have a special tradition on January 6th where my wife and I, as the leadership in our home, give one gift to each family member which we hope will lead each of us to a closer walk with the Lord in the coming year.

In addition to that, every year I try to come up with something interesting to share with my family about the Wise Men, or the history of the church holiday, or whatever. Something relevant and edifying. Well, this year I realized that in my Logos Bible software installation I have access to lectionaries from several denominations, and those lectionaries contain Bible readings specifically chosen for use on any day of the year, especially holidays like Epiphany. I went through all of them to see what they have, and as it turns out, most of them had selected more or less the same Scriptures. And they were awesome.

For those from church traditions (like the one I come from) that don't use this kind of prescribed Scripture readings, generally there will be an "Old Testament" reading, a "Psalms" reading, a "Gospels" reading, and an "Epistles" reading for each date. The ones almost unanimously chosen for this date are:

Old Testament: Isaiah 60:1-6  which is a remarkably vivid prophetic description of a bright light rising and appearing over Israel and people (including kings) bringing caravans of camels laden with gold and frankincense.

Psalms: Psalm 72 in which David (who calls himself "the king" in his psalms) prophetically describes visitors from distant lands bringing gifts to one of his descendants (remember, Jesus was known as the "son of David").

Gospels: Matthew 2:1-12 which is of course the Gospel account of the coming of the Wise Men to see Jesus.

Epistles: Ephesians 3:1-12 The significance of the arrival of the Wise Men is that they were the first who recognized that Jesus was given not just to the Jews, but to the Gentiles also (they were not Jewish). In this passage Paul explains that God has called him to share the message of Christ's salvation with the Gentiles as well.

I actually copied all of these passages into a Word document to print out and read to the family - if you'd like to see it or use it, I've shared it here. As in the links above, I used the New Living Translation, specifically because my daughter is still young and I didn't want to confuse or bore her with long Bible passages she couldn't understand.

So after we read through those passages and talked briefly about their significance, we moved on to the presents!

At my daughter's school, they make a point to have all the kids bring water bottles, on the theory that well-hydrated kids make better learners. This year my wife and I spotted a cute sports bottle covered with flowers that has printed on it "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me. Philippians 4:13". I explained to my daughter that sometimes there are hard things that people ask you to do - like a tough assignment in math class. God can strengthen you to complete that task. Then sometimes there are things that the Holy Spirit speaks into your heart - like showing love to someone who hasn't been nice to you. God can strengthen you to do those hard things too. She took it to school with her the next day - she really loved the multicolored pinwheel of a flower right in the middle!

My son was up next. This past year he expressed some interest in Sherlock Holmes, so when I saw a book called A Sherlock Holmes Devotional I was immediately interested! Basically, the book contains a synopsis of a Sherlock Holmes story, and then a kind of "personal application" kind of thing that goes along with it. When I handed it to him I explained that we chose it for two reasons: first, we thought he would enjoy using it. But second, we wanted him to remember that sometimes you have to search out the things of God, look for clues to find them. When he opened it he immediately started leafing through it with a smile on his face - I hope it makes a big difference for him!

My wife was next in line. We just moved into a new house this past year, and frankly we haven't had the chance yet to decorate it like she would like for it to be. I took a little bit of a chance (sometimes a woman's sense of taste is really specific) and got her a small piece of framed art with a quotation from C. S. Lewis, "You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream," and a partial quote from Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you to give you a future and a hope." She has often told me about certain choices she made as a girl that she has since regretted, and I felt it in my heart to let her know that it's never too late to pursue the dreams God has placed on your heart. She loved it! She found a perfect place for it as soon as we were done, and we hung it then and there. You can see a picture of it proudly displayed on our wall below:

The "Dream" framed art, proudly displayed in our new house!
Last of all it was my turn. This year my wife collaborated with my son, and they found a triangular office desk decoration that they liked for me. And it also has Jeremiah 29:11 quoted on it! Seems like maybe the Lord is saying to my family that He's got a plan for us this year, and it's going to be a good thing!

It's really cool to see that God has laid similar things on my heart and on my wife's heart for the upcoming year. If you read my blog post last year, my gift to my wife displayed a verse that says that God would back up her plans (conceived of course from a Godly heart), and this year her gift reassures her that God has His own plans for her. The gift I received last year said that I would be blessed if I put my trust in the Lord, and this year's gift lets me know that God's plans are for good things and not for disaster. How great is that?

Epiphany was on Wednesday this year, and my daughter wanted to bring the Wise Men with her to church. I let her bring the ones from our Little People Nativity set, along with the baby Jesus, but she also brought something else: a chest from her My Little Pony toy castle, containing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. You can see it in the picture at the top of this post!

I write about our Epiphany every year, not to make us seem so cool and spiritual, but because it is a special time for us. I hope you make your own "plans" next year to follow our example with your own family. It's one of my favorite traditions from the holiday season!

"His Plans" on my desk at work

By the way... if you are interested in purchasing a base package of the Logos software I mentioned above - which is REALLY incredible, by the way - get in touch with me so I can give you my email address. If you call them and tell them I referred you, with my email address so they can locate my account, not only will you get 15% off your purchase and some other valuable books for free, but I'll get a credit on my Logos account so I can add some stuff to my library too. Win-win!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

One More Gift!

It's the most wonderful time of the year again! No, I don't mean Christmas, although that's the other most wonderful time of the year. I'm talking about a church holiday called Epiphany, which falls on this Wednesday. Epiphany (or "Three Kings Day", or "Dreik√∂nigsfest" if you want to go all crazy about it) is the traditional holiday when Christians celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men in Bethlehem. It is a celebration of the revelation of Jesus to the Gentiles, which is what the "epiphany" (lower-case) is - when we understood that Jesus was a gift for all of us, not just the Jews. For some more about the Wise Men and their significance, check out the first part of my post about Epiphany from last year.

Several years ago I started a tradition in our home that I hope others will adopt. You can read about the basic idea in the post I wrote the first year we did it, but essentially we (the parents, the leadership of our home) choose one single gift for each member of our family that is chosen specifically to inspire them to draw closer to Jesus in the coming year. We give a gift because the Wise Men brought gifts! The holiday is close enough to Christmas that it still feels like a gift-giving time, but far enough removed that it's easier to remember that this is all about Jesus, not reindeer or fat men in red suits or elves on shelves any of that other fun stuff.

I encourage you to think about what you can give someone on Wednesday that might help them think about Jesus during the next twelve months. We always keep our gifts ver modest - $20 is more or less the limit on cost per gift for us. If you need some ideas, feel free to read back through my posts form past years about what we gave on Epiphanies past. Or just choose one person and give them something small, even handmade - as long as they know that this is about seeking more of Jesus this year. The Wise Men traveled hundreds of dangerous miles through desert wilderness to find Jesus and bring gifts. Maybe our gifts can inspire us to take a journey deeper into our relationship with Him!