Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Keys To The Abundant Life

I recently had the opportunity to teach a large singles class at Hill Country Bible Church for three weeks and the topic was the abundant life.  I explained how Jesus told us in John 10:10 that he had come to give us the abundant life, life to the fullest.  So we talked about what this life was here on earth and and what it wasn’t. We discussed whether or not we personally had experienced the abundant life and whether you could say that God had done more in your life than you could have asked or imagined (Eph. 3:20). Or, had you felt that life had never met your expectations.

I asked the singles to help me come up with a list of the characteristics of the abundant life we experience while we are living.  And through our discussions, these are the characteristics mentioned:
  • Purpose and meaning
  • Gifts of the spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control
  • Receiving and giving Forgiveness
  • A new perspective of living for God and not self
  • Contentment
  • Power to overcome sin
  • Hope
  • Healthy Relationships with others
  • Grace-filled life
  • Healing
  • Generosity
  • Security and freedom (Bible is our road map and the Holy Spirit our guide)
And a few things that the abundant life is not:
  • Material things, prosperity
  • Status and power
  • The American dream
  • Life free of trouble
  • A perfect spouse. 
We also talked about obstacles that prevent us from experiencing the abundant life and decided the four most important were:
  • Disconnection from the vine John 15
  • Faulty Expectations
  • Living outside the boundaries God established (Seven deadly sins)
  • Living from fear instead of faith 
We discussed how sad it is that some Christians never realize the life God would have them live.  And yet many have experienced this life, whether for a moment in time or for long extended periods. And those times when we experience the full life are when we choose to die to self and walk through the doors of faith.  God gives us opportunities and choice. But to experience the abundant life we have to say yes to God often.  This usually takes risk and lots of faith and trust in Him. Those choices are not always the most logical ones and most of the time they require us to move from the security and safety of our comfort zone and to make changes in our lives.  When we live from the purpose he called us to live, with passion from the unique talents He has given us, to love and impact others, we can and will experience this abundant life!

Keys to experiencing more of the abundant life:
  • Stay connected to the vine. Prayer and reading the Bible
  • Stay within God’s boundaries 
  • Dream God-size dreams that require risk and stepping out of your comfort and security zone
  • Say yes to God often when He presents you with opportunities
  • Choose people to join you on the journey who will encourage, direct and help you. You can’t do anything great by yourself! 

Monday, August 7, 2017

How to choose the right path

“This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. ‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭6:16‬ 

Life pretty much consists of thousands of decisions, from the routine such as when to get up in the morning to the paramount like choosing your friends or picking a career. We often stand at the crossroads and must discern between right and wrong, good and evil, the godly way or the unrighteousness path. The choice we make can determine the course of our life.

Sometimes the choices are clear but more often than not, we can't see where the paths lead. Most of the time there are multiple paths, so many that we get overwhelmed and confused. And just like in a good detective movie or Sherlock Holmes story, there are obstacles and unseen impediments that muddy the waters and make the best choice unclear. So we must use our analytical skills to determine what is the best path to travel.

This verse in Jeremiah tells us to choose the ancient paths, the roads marked by the timeless truths given to us by God from the beginning of time. But the culture we live in is constantly challenging that ancient path, enticing us to take the newer, shinier, fancier road. It promises that this path is designed just for you, the one that will lead to happiness and success. But the end is always destruction. As Jesus says the thief comes to kill, still and destroy, but I have come to give you life, abundant life. John 10:10.

The ancient path is the road that leads to a full life.  Yet, how does a person know which path to take when there is no sign declaring "God's path"?  How do you choose the rocky, steep “old" trail when there is an alternate newer, smooth road beside it with a neon sign proclaiming "the road to happiness"?

Every believer struggles with discernment and the prince of this world's goal is to deceive us and keep us from taking the right path. But God has not left us defenseless to make the correct choice.  He has provided every believer with a road map and the power to make right decisions. 1 Corinthians 16:13 tells us to "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love."

So when making a crucial decision, you can be confident of making a wise choice if you:
* Be on your guard. Be aware of the deception of this world.  Don’t be tempted to take the “in” path.
* Stand firm in your faith.  Choose the ancient path, the one that most aligns with your Christian values and principles.  
* Get on your knees. Communicate with God asking him to give you wisdom to make the right choice. He has given you the Holy Spirit which helps you make the wise decision.
* Read the Word. The Bible is how God communicates with us. His Word is the road map to making the right choices that lead to an eternally abundant life. Become familiar and follow the road map!
* Go to the wise. Discernment is better caught than taught. Seek counsel from experienced men and women of faith and follow their advice.
* Be courageous and strong. Taking the ancient path instead of the socially popular choice takes courage.  

What if I make a wrong choice?  We all make bad decisions from time to time and oftentimes we will suffer the consequences.  However, for the child of God there is no decision that will prevent you from being in God’s will.  We think that if we venture off God’s path by making the wrong choice we are doomed to forever trying to find our way back to God’s will for our lives.  But because of the cross and Jesus’ sacrifice, we don’t have to go searching for his will.  Jesus plants the ancient path right in front of us, every time that we have strayed far from that path.  He moves it so that our next step, our next decision, can be made to follow Him and that is God’s will.

So when making a choice, choose the ancient path and don’t look back.  Know that God will be with you even if you should choose unwisely.  And when you do make choices, do everything in love.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Who are you in 25 words or less?

Ask that question to someone today and see if they can answer.  I’d bet most people couldn’t do it in 25 words.  Can you? If you are a follower of Christ, you should be able to answer that question and the answer should include your purpose for living.

Baylor’s new head football coach, Matt Rhule was asked at a conference recently, “If you could have every one of your players wake up in the morning and think of one thing, what would it be?”  He answered. "I think the biggest thing that I want to talk to our players about all the time, if I can get them to think about, is ‘Who am I? And what’s my purpose?”

Knowing your purpose and living from it is a crucial element to experiencing the abundant life that Jesus said he came to give us.  But we often confuse our purpose with our passion. Coach Rhule explained it this way. “My purpose in life is not to be a football coach. That’s my passion. I love it. I would do this, but I would do this for free. My purpose in life is to minister to kids, that’s what God put me on this Earth to do, is to work with young people. My passion is to do it through football. And our kids sometimes think that their purpose is to play football. No – it’s their passion. What their purpose is, is to be wonderful fathers, and sons, and people to grow in their walk with the Lord.” 

Most people when asked “who are you?” answer by describing their job, what they do for a living and perhaps their marital status and family.  It’s interesting what defines us.  But the greatest thing that should truly define a person is the answer to the question, why am I here on this earth?  What is my purpose for being?

If you are on Facebook or LinkedIn, you have an area where you can describe yourself in your profile.  On Facebook you are allowed only to use 100 characters in the initial intro to describe yourself.  Here is a great place to state your purpose but it is difficult to get into 100 characters.
The point though is to describe yourself with a purpose statement and make it short enough where you can remember it, share it and live from it.

As a follower of Christ, my purpose comes from my relationship with Jesus.  My passion is how I live out that purpose.  When you get to serve in an area of passion, and fulfill your purpose through your passion, you will experience the abundant life Jesus said he came to give us.  Know your purpose and live it out through your passion!

Here are links to other blogs I posted about purpose and calling.
The Power of Purpose talks about how purpose determines our path in life
Find Your One Thing talks about God's purpose for the Jews during Moses' time
The Most Important Thing talks about what is really important in our lives

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Abundant Life or Redundant Life, your choice

Joey on the left, Brandon in the middle and team Heart of Texas
Jesus said as recorded in John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

This verse came to my mind while reading the testimony of Joey Kelly.  Joey is my wife’s stepbrother’s son.  He posted his incredible story on Facebook recently to expound on a story alluded to on the NBC show Spartan: The Ultimate Team Challenge. Joey is competing with his adopted brother/cousin, Brandon, in the competition which is aired on Monday nights.  Joey’s sister Ally won the American Gladiator competition several years ago, and turned that into a successful business, Camp Gladiator. So this is a very athletic, physically fit family, made for a team competition like the Spartan team challenge.      

During their team’s introduction, the show makes a brief statement that Brandon lost his mother and brother in a fire when he was a teenager.  Well that wasn’t totally true and it's hardly the whole story. His mother and brother were killed by his father, John Brickley with a butcher knife and his father set the house on fire to cover up the crime, setting himself on fire in the process.  Joey, age12, at the time was there at the house, spending the night with his cousin Mikey when the attack occurred.  

It is a miraculous story of how Joey avoided death but also overcame years of pain, heartache, and psychological affliction dealing with the nightmarish experience in which he witnessed his cousin stabbed to death and survived an attack. It beautifully illustrates Jesus' statement in John 10:10.

Joey decided to tell the whole story and he has written beautifully on Facebook about what actually happened and how his faith in Christ saved his life.  He writes in detail how his cousin Mikey died and how close he was to dying also.  Joey said he watched as the father stabbed Mikey and he couldn’t move.  He wanted to save Mikey but perhaps something held him back because he would have probably been killed also if he had tried to rescue Mikey.   

Joey wrote, I couldn’t and didn’t move even as John, the father, got up and slowly walked over to me. He slammed me against the wall and I vividly remember thinking “I’m about to die...this is how I’m gonna die.”

I closed my eyes and had my arms up in front of my chest like I was trying to curl up into a ball. This was ridiculously divine as John attempted to stab me in the chest, but accidentally stabbed me through my arm and the knife just barely scratched my chest right over my heart.

Not only was I thinking about how I was about to die, I remember a feeling of complete acceptance of that notion and I gave up even attempting to survive. A grown man had me pinned against the wall and had a knife in me. I just wanted to die quickly. He took the knife out and tried to stab me again. God intervened on my behalf. This is really hard for me to explain, but it’s true. I blinked...and I was gone. I was about 10 feet away from John. I remember opening my eyes and thinking “how did I get over here?”

I know it sounds crazy, but God pushed me out of the way or something...whatever it was, I know with everything in me that it was a miracle. There is absolutely no way I should be alive today.

He chased me downstairs and we went around the bottom floor for a while. It’s hard to judge time in that situation. I don’t know if that went on for 5 minutes or 30 minutes, but I do remember thinking I might bleed to death. I did a lot of begging for my life and he never said anything. He was determined to kill me.

However, I heard him go back upstairs and felt it was my chance to make a break for it. I escaped to the neighbors, told them what happened, and they called the police.
A few minutes later, the house went up in flames. John accidentally lit himself on fire too and was rolling around in the front yard.

In no time police and fire trucks were there, followed by my parents. That is the true, full story. Phyllis and Mikey were stabbed to death, and then burned. I’m also a victim of domestic violence and by God’s grace had my life saved.

Joey goes on to tell how he grew up in a Christian home and gave his life to Christ at the age of 7 but the tragedy pushed him away from God, not understanding why God would allow this to happen.
He writes in his story, In high school, I was also holding on to that bitterness towards God. Considering what I had been through, I felt that I had the right to act go “crazy” I did just that.  My senior year especially, I chased anything and everything but God. Partying, girls, popularity, etc. I was living life for me and lost sight of my identity in Christ.
Those were the problems on the surface. Along the way I battled a slew of issues...depression, post-traumatic stress, survivor’s guilt, guilt that I didn’t try to save Mikey, and unforgiveness towards my uncle.  I chased all of those shallow things to distract me from dealing with all of those issues and to fill the void of not living for God.

At that point, the thief was winning the battle. Satan had stolen whatever abundant life Joey had, but the story didn’t end there. Satan would not be victorious over Joey or Brandon.  Joey's turning point was early on in his freshman year in college. 

I was attending Grace Bible Church and I can’t even remember the message, but it hit me like a ton of bricks that God had saved my life for a reason and that for the most part, I had been wasting my second chance by living for myself. God wanted me to live for him.

Joey sought Christian counseling, getting the help he needed to deal with all of the trauma, pain and guilt and turn his life around. He started putting his life and faith in Christ, trusting Him, walking with Him on a daily basis, and began to heal. He is now experiencing the true abundant life, fully alive, living for God and sharing his story so that others might choose the abundant life over the redundant life.  He explains it this way in his post. 

Chasing things outside of what God had for me was pretty much always fun in the moment, but always left me feeling empty and unsatisfied. In a weird way, I’m glad I experienced a lot of earthly pleasures, because now I know for sure that nothing compares to living for the Lord. Ever since turning my life around, I’ve never experienced so much joy and satisfaction.  Life is meant to be about loving and serving God and people. I have never looked back.

The apostle Paul wrote similar words in Philippians 3:8 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.

Paul too contrasted life before Christ with that after his encounter with Christ, and like Joey, expresses that there is no comparison.  His other life, of self-righteousness, power and prestige was “dung” when compared to what he is now experiencing.  And Paul is writing from a prison cell!  

Many Christians today either take for granted the “riches in Christ” they have or just never access them.  As Paul says, they are unfathomable, deeper and far greater than we can imagine. Many of those riches can be quantified, and they include purpose, direction, identity, freedom, hope, wise counsel, love, forgiveness, security, comfort, spiritual gifts and the ability to love and forgive.  Joey received every one of these as he began to wade into that relationship with Jesus.  And the deeper he waded in, the more of the blessings he received.  

Joey's cousin and adopted brother Brandon’s story is just as compelling.  Brandon was asleep at his dad’s apartment when all this occurred.  He was awakened early in the morning by the police and his uncle Neal to be told that his mother and brother had been killed and his father seriously burned in a fire.  Brandon seemed to make the transition to his new family (he was adopted after the tragedy by Joey's family), without the rebellion and depression. His faith and walk with Jesus was strong and helped him overcome the grief and pain.  Brandon served several years on the mission field and has shared his heart-rending story of overcoming tragedy and evil to many around the world to bring them to Christ.   

All of the blessings of an abundant life and more are available to all Christians. But the interesting thing is we cannot realize the abundant life by pursuing the blessings.  The only way we can realize this amazing life is if we pursue the Blessed One, Jesus.  

Actually, the relationship with Jesus is the greatest blessing.  As Max Lucado so eloquently wrote, the cache of faith is Christ! Fellowship with him…walking with him…pondering him. The heart-stopping realization that in Christ you are part of something endless, unstoppable, unfathomable! And that he, who can dig the Grand Canyon with his pinkie, thinks you’re worth his death on Roman cross!  Jesus Christ is the reward of Christianity!

It’s your choice, though.  Abundant life or a redundant life.  

Joey and Brandon’s team, Heart of Texas, won their first challenge and will compete again Monday, July 10 at 9:00 pm on NBC.

Monday, June 12, 2017

A new low on violating religious freedom in the USA

I read in dismay this past week about a powerful senator indicating he would vote no for Russell Vought, President Donald Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, because of his Christian Faith. Bernie Sanders challenged Vought's belief that those who reject Jesus Christ are "condemned" as being racist and Islamaphobic.  Sanders indicated that Vought was not qualified for this government post because of his belief that those who did not believe in Jesus were "condemned".

As I read more about the questioning, the more upset I got. This senator had taken political correctness to a new low, way past the realm of politics.  He has insulted all authentic followers of Jesus, claiming that their faith is dangerous to the country. Sanders said Vought's belief is "indefensible, hateful, Islamophobic, and an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world."

The idea that our faith is racist is indefensible. All of Christianity rests on Jesus' statement, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father but through me," The crux of Christian doctrine is that everyone falls short of God's standard for salvation. (Romans 3:23).  The Gospel is that God's son, Jesus, came to this earth to pay the price for our sin so that we would have a way to be reconciled and receive salvation through Jesus Christ.  Our faith is built on this truth and millions of Christians live their lives so that others will come to the life giving relationship with Jesus Christ. Our motivation is out of love for our neighbors and respect for every human being created in the image of God.

It is hard to believe that a former candidate for president would take this kind of position.  To say that this Christian belief is somehow racist, hateful and dangerous is in itself extremely dangerous. You can certainly have your own views on theology but when you as a government office holder representing the people including millions of Christians, decide which theology is correct and make it some kind of litmus test for public office, you have crossed the line.  This is indeed a violation of Vought's first amendment right of freedom of religion and threatens all Christians and people of all faith's religious rights.

Perhaps this is just another sign of the end times.  But I promise it will not deter my faith and my desire to share the Good News of the Gospel to those who do not have a relationship with Jesus.

One of the few things you can do to voice your disapproval of Sanders' action is to sign The Family Research Council's petition drive stating “Our Constitution guarantees there will be no religious litmus test. Americans should never be forced to choose between their faith and public service.”

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

This is what's missing for many Americans today!

A recent study showed that more Americans than ever before are suffering from depression, stress, and anxiety. It doesn't go into the reasons but I can surmise that it has a lot to do with hope...the absence of hope. It only goes to reason in today's crazy politicized, immoral, violent, and super charged society, where every ounce of bad news is made known almost instantaneously, that there is a very real sense of gloom and despair. Often when the future looks hopeless and you find yourself in a no way out situation, you can experience anxiety, stress and even depression.

My wife and I experienced that on a small scale during our recent vacation to Yellowstone.  We had flown to Denver, rented a car and drove to Yellowstone, spending time in Grand Teton National Park on the way up. It was a fantastic trip, but while we were in Yellowstone an unexpected storm dumped a large amount of snow throughout Wyoming and Colorado.  On our way back to Denver, we stayed overnight in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

We got up early the next day to drive the remaining 300 miles to Denver only to find that Interstate 80 was closed because of the huge amount of snowfall.  So we programmed our GPS to give us another route and we headed out on a state road south of Rock Springs that was the fastest course to Denver.

I had a half a tank of gas and had planned to get gas in Colorado, figuring it would be cheaper. But as we traveled away from Rock Springs and began to examine our route we realized that we were out in the middle of nowhere. There were no towns, not even farm or ranch houses, and there were few cars on the road, which was fairly clear except for some spotty ice.  We only had a map of Wyoming and a slim part of northern Colorado.  When we lost connection for our GPS, I really began to become anxious. The further we got from Rock Springs the more worried I became. I didn't want to turn back and waste all that time but the path ahead was very uncertain and I didn't know if we had enough gas to get to the next town and we couldn't even see another town.

When we hit the Colorado border the highway turned into a dirt road!  I'm thinking, they closed an interstate highway and I'm on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere and there are storm clouds ahead! Now I had gone from anxious to near panic mode. I had lost most all hope because I didn't have any confidence in where I as going, no road map or clear path.

So even though we had driven for a full hour, we turned around and went back to Rock Springs to try another route. As we headed out of Rock Springs a sign declared, "road closed ahead, take alternative route," so we turned back again and sought some advice at the visitor center.  We were told there was a third route which required us to backtrack even further but it seemed to be open and the road was a state highway.

Off we went after filling the gas tank, and headed to Denver a third time. It took us a lot longer but the route was clear and the scenery was spectacular.  Having a full tank of gas and a confident path, knowing my destination made all the difference in the world. All the stress and anxiety was lifted and I could enjoy the trip and the incredible mountains and canyons of Utah and Colorado.

I was reminded of the verse in 1 Peter 3:15 which says "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 

Having hope, knowing the destination, and that no matter what we are going through, Jesus is with us and we will be victorious in the end makes all the difference in how we live our lives today. Without hope, it is difficult to have joy and peace.  With hope we can enjoy life even when we go through the storms of life.  It is this hope that is missing in so many of our citizens today.  Everyone needs the hope of Jesus Christ and the assurance that even death is not our final destination.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Learning from the Spurs way: TRUST AND OBEY

The San Antonio Spurs did it again, shocking the basketball world and doing what few thought possible, winning a playoff series against Houston without their two best players.  Not just winning, but blowing away the Rockets on the Rockets home court by a record amount. No one saw this coming.
I love the Spurs not just because they win a lot, but how they win and how they so often provide such great life lessons in the process. 

As I often do, I try to analyze what the Spurs do and find the parallel principles that I can apply to life.  The lesson from the win last night was pretty profound, simply trust and obey. It's like that old gospel hymn, trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. 

I can imagine coach Pop telling his players before the game that if you trust our system and your teammates and do what we've told you to do, follow the game plan, we can win even without Kawhi and Tony.  You all have certain abilities, great skills or you wouldn’t be playing for the Spurs.  And the coaches have put you in position to win. If you play hard and smart and follow the game plan, you will win! Just trust, obey and play! And what a great motto for life in Christ also!

Jesus said I've come to give you, not just an ordinary life but extraordinary, abundant life.  This is a life of joy, fullfillment, significance and contentment.  I've given you all you need to succeed.  You are a masterpiece, created to do good works that I've already prepared for you to do and given you the skill and ability to do them (Ephesians 2:10).   Now if you would just trust me, follow me, obey the instructions I give you, you will experience that victorious, abundant life.  Proverbs 16:20 – Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.

I know that the playoffs are not over.  Am I saying that the Spurs are guaranteed a championship? There is no guarantee. They certainly won’t be the favorites against the Golden State Warriors. And chances are they won’t win. Even when we trust and obey, victory over every battle is no certainty. The Spurs won’t win every championship and just like in life, this fallen world has a way of knocking us down at times. However, if we trust and obey, especially in the difficult times when we've been knocked down, received a set back like losing our best player, we can turn a sure loss into an incredible victory.  Trust, obey and go play! 

Keys To The Abundant Life

I recently had the opportunity to teach a large singles class at Hill Country Bible Church for three weeks and the topic was the abundant l...