Planning for Paradise

Planning for Paradise
We are moving.  Yep. I finally said it “out loud” on social media.  After almost 20 years away, we are moving back to South Florida.  Ahhhhhh… headed back to paradise!
I have been hired by Okeechobee Church of the Nazarene as Worship Pastor, and also by Okeechobee Christian Academy as a Middle/High School teacher.  I am looking forward to the transition and change in career, but it’s been hard to wrap up two jobs, pack a house of six people, and find the financial resources to make a unbudgeted move.  It has been just a tad bit stressful, but we are trusting that God knows what He is doing!
Yesterday, Tara and I felt the need to have special prayer together, so we did. I couldn’t sleep much today and awoke with the urge to pray and get into God’s Word again, to rest in Him because He truly does fight our battles when we put Him first.
As I read Psalm 43:3-4, it spoke to me today.  Later in the chapter, the writer talks about anxiety and even mentions the word depressed.  I wouldn’t classify myself as the latter, but I love his solution to the craziness and hardship that life brings:
Send your light and your truth;  let them lead me.  Let them bring me to Your holy mountain, to Your dwelling place.  Then I will come to the altar of God, to God, my greatest joy.  I will praise You …
This psalm gives three things we can do to defeat anxiety:
1. Place ourselves in close proximity to God and His Word.
2. Allow His light and truth to lead us to an altar of prayer and worship.
3. Praise Him until deliverance comes.
This encouraged me today, and I choose to praise God as He continues to work His will in the stressful shadows of my life.  Paradise is our destination, but we should be prepared to navigate some rough weather on the way.
The Christian’s journey is not much different from my family’s upcoming move.  Just like the GPS we will use to travel South,  the Christian is able to use God’s Word as a guide for following Jesus.  The Bible describes our destination and gives us ways we can handle the potholes and detours that will come.  That’s logical, right?
But sometimes I think we just wing it.  Sometimes we just find a road and drive, not really knowing if it will take us to where we want to go.  No road map.  No guidance system.
It’s like driving I-75 South to get to Canada.  You’re getting somewhere, but you’re closer to Paradise Lost than where you need to be!
The older I am, I see that the good life God offers us takes laser-like intentionality on our part to seek out the will of God and the guidance He gives.  It is taking huge amounts of energy and productivity for my family and I to prepare for this move to Florida.  We are spending every day talking, thinking, and working through each step we need to take to achieve the maximum efficiency and strength.  It’s an intelligent effort.  It has to be.
Serving Christ and following Jesus is an intelligent effort. It is not one where we wake up every morning and wonder through life.  Jesus calls us to stop and count the costs and rewards for the life of being His disciple.  Martin Luther once said, “Pray as if everything depends on God, then work as if everything depends on you.”
We must prepare for the journey.  Psalm 43 is a good start.
Stay close to God and His Word. Follow the light of Truth to an altar of prayer and worship. Praise Him at all times.
I’m planning for Paradise!

Choose Your Words Carefully

Choose Your Words Carefully

James 1:27 – 21 So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.

In 1992, author Gary Chapman wrote a little book called The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate.  I’ve read through the material, and it is really powerful stuff!  On his website, it says the Premise of Gary’s books is that everybody generally has their own primary love languages for receiving love and giving love. It may be the same for giving/receiving, and it may be different. If a husband does not meet the primary love language of his wife, she might not sense his true feelings and start to be unsatisfied with their relationship, and vice versa.

Understanding your spouse’s love language and acting accordingly will fill their “Love Tank”. The “Love Tank” analogy is a great metaphor for describing how loved someone feels. Like a gas tank in a car, our lives run best when our Love Tank is filled and constantly being topped off. The alternative is running on fumes and burning out.

Gary’s book talks about Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Quality Time, and Receiving Gifts.

To find out more about the 5 Love Languages click HERE

 

CALLED TO LIVE IN THE LIGHT

I believe that our Christian relationships encompass all of these love languages on a spiritual level:  Affirmation to praise God and encourage each other, Service to God and our community, Intimacy in relationship with Him and in unity with our congregation, Time together, and the Gifts of the Spirit … all things we are called to use for each other and to honor God with.  These languages of the Spirit enable us to live and walk in the light of Truth.

SPIRITUAL LOVE LANGUAGES

In this spiritual realm, I can see that there are different love languages spoken to us and through us.  As we consider our daily lives, it is a good practice to look and understand what is being spoken to us and how we are speaking love to God and to our communities.

Our Enemy has a Love Language

First we must recognize that Satan (“Adversary” or “Accuser”) is supremely in love with himself, so the only way he can communicate is from a place of hatred for anything good or holy. His main objective is to get us to love SELF more than God, because that is what He does.

And right from the start he has what seems like an advantage!  We are all born with a fallen nature that is bent towards sin from the moment we are able to choose right and wrong!  He does everything in his power to appeal to our natural bodies and desires.  He wants us to love ourselves more than God, to put aside what God wants for what WE want.  Satan’s language is false and deceives people into believing no one understands but him, while all the time he is setting them up for destruction.

Everything he does is a perversion.  He cannot create anything good so he is stuck with turning good to evil; turning order to chaos.  Here are a few of the ways he speaks his love language to us:

THE DARK SIDE

Praise – building up our ego.  Telling us that we don’t need a God other than ourselves. (Genesis 3:1-5)

Service – He will gladly serve our self-interests for a season, to gain our worship and obedience. (Matthew 4:8)

Intimacy – He does this by promising illicit physical pleasure (Proverbs 7)

Time – stealing our time management by distracting us to death (Ephesians 5:16)

Generosity – Satan promises to be generous to us, and pushes the self-worship button again towards a greedy and unfulfilled life.   Just try it, you’ll like it.  I’ll give your more! He is totally ok with blessing us with enough material wealth to numb us to any good thing.

Our Love Language to Satan

Isaiah 14 tells us what he wants from us, “I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. 14 I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.”.  Simply put, Satan wants your worship.  He will do anything he can to pull our worship away from the One True God.

When you look at your life, and you are obviously not in a right relationship with God, then understand that you are speaking a love language to the enemy of our souls!  You are giving Satan exactly what he wants.  You are making him feel loved, in the most perverse way: idolatry.

God’s Love Language TO US

God is constantly communicating to the world that He loves us. The ultimate form of this love towards us is Grace and Truth found in the person of Jesus Christ.  He is God’s WORD to us.

Jesus is God’s communication of Love to humanity.  And his message is all about Grace and Truth:

Grace – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” John 14:14

Grace is love in action.  Grace is undeserved favor.  Grace doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, it covers a multitude of sins, and it encapsulates the favor of God towards every single person ever conceived in history.  Grace offers forgiveness, mercy, and empowerment through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Truth is the standard of Love that never changes.  God loves you so much that he is absolutely unwilling to hide from your sin OR to leave you in your sin, because sin is death and Jesus is Truth.  Jesus is the Way to God, The One we must be accountable to, and the LIFE He raises us to become.

Jesus (full of Grace and Truth) is God’s love language to us!  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is what speaks to us more than any other love language on earth.

Our Love Language to God

What speaks to God?  How does God know that we love Him?

James 1 says, “22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

If Jesus is God’s love language to us, then obedience is our love language to God.  And Faith is the messenger.

James 2 continues, “20 The fact is, faith has to show itself through works performed in faith. If you don’t recognize that, then you’re an empty soul. 21 Wasn’t our father Abraham made right with God by laying his son Isaac on the altar? 22 The faith in his heart was made known in his behavior. In fact, his commitment was perfected by his obedience. 23 That’s what Scripture means when it says, “Abraham entrusted himself to God, and God credited him with righteousness.”  And living a faithful life earned Abraham the title of “God’s friend.” 24 Just like our father in the faith, we are made right with God through good works, not simply by what we believe or think. 25 Even Rahab the prostitute was made right with God by hiding the spies and aiding in their escape.[f] 26 Removing action from faith is like removing breath from a body. All you have left is a corpse.

Faith sends the message of love to God when we act righteously, obeying God with our choices.  Faith is the conduit – our spiritual nervous system – that sends obedience signals from our spiritual body to our spiritual Head, which is Jesus Christ.

We also speak a spiritual Love Language

When we speak God’s language, He empowers us to become a witness to both believers and unbelievers.  We end up SPEAKING THE LOVE LANGUAGE OF GOD TO OTHERS.

LOVE LANGUAGES ARE RELATIONAL

Life is essentially our relationships.  As we face each day with all of its circumstances and responsibilities, let’s choose carefully what we are speaking to our families, our spouses, our children, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to our world.  It is important that we say and DO what is right in the sight of God.

Today you will either pay attention to what our Adversary speaks to us in our social media, conversations, thoughts, and actions or you will bring your mind and thoughts under the subjection of Christ.  Which voice you listen to will determine the language you speak:  one of self-worship and service to Satan for the temporary pleasures he offers, or one of obedience to God for the blessing, protection, and spiritual abundance He gives.

Choose your words carefully!

Let them eat cake.

Let them eat cake.

My daughter, Sophie, made a cake yesterday.  Our three older children enjoy the baking process, and there are frequent offerings of fluffy goodness from the Hickman kitchen.

While eating Sophie’s latest creation, I thought of the phrase “Let them eat cake”, a saying associated with the French Revolution and the attitude the French Nobility had towards the “common” poor people. Continue reading “Let them eat cake.”

Grace for the needy

Grace for the needy

Yesterday was Father’s Day Sunday, 2017.  My wife had put us on the schedule to sing as a family, and we sang one of my favorite songs, called “Grace Alone”.  I would like to share the lyrics with you…

Every promise we can make
Every prayer and step of faith
Every difference we can make
Is only by His grace.

Every mountain we will climb
Every ray of hope we shine
Every blessing left behind
Is only by His grace

Grace alone Which God supplies
Strength unknown He will provide
Christ in us, our cornerstone
We will go forth in grace alone.

Every soul we long to reach
Every heart we hope to teach
Everywhere we share His peace
Is only by His grace.

Every loving word we say
Every tear we wipe away
Every sorrow turned to praise
Is only by His grace.

Grace alone Which God supplies
Strength unknown He will provide
Christ in us, our cornerstone
We will go forth in grace alone.

Titus 2:11-14 says “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

The more I learn of grace, the more I am aware of how desperately I need it!  I am frequently surprised at how much it blankets every area of my life.  This morning I picked up a book I’ve been reading, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ by Dallas Willard.  Here is a fantastic excerpt from today’s chapter:

“Now the simplicity of spiritual formation lies in its intention.  Its aim is to bring every element in our being, working from inside out, into harmony with the will of God and the kingdom of God … of course, we cannot realize that goal on our own.  But there is no need for that.  God has made provision for achieving this aim.  To “grow in grace” means to utilize more and more grace to live by, until everything we do is assisted by grace.  Then, whatever we do in word or deed will all be done in the name of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17).  The greatest saints are not those who need less grace, but those who consume the most grace, who indeed are most in need of grace – those who are saturated by grace in every dimension of their being.  Grace to them is like breath.”

This is such an encouragement to me!  Instead of being ashamed about my needs, I have the opportunity to “glory” in the cross of my weakness.  That’s where He makes His grace perfect.  That’s where my strength is found.  That’s where I find the next wave I need to move forward.  Thank you God for your amazing grace!

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. – John 1:16

The Gospel in a Greasy Spoon

The Gospel in a Greasy Spoon

Over the years, I have trained myself to look for inspiration.  And I find it in the most amazing spaces and people.

This morning I stopped at my favorite breakfast spot – 96 Truck Stop.  Yep, it’s a “greasy spoon” kind of place, but the food is incredible.  Home fries (fried potatoes) with cheese, bacon, two eggs (over-medium), and wheat toast.  All of it cooked on a big griddle by Mary, a tough, no-nonsense woman who hides her generous heart well behind a grumpy facade, then ruins it all by doling out giant portions of food to hungry truckers, night-shift workers, and an occasional incognito pastor 🙂

I finished my feast, and sidled up to the counter to pay.  The TV was on, and something about the program that was playing caught my ear.  I turned and watched a short testimonial about addiction and alcoholism, and how a current country star is now on the mend and in recovery, after losing his marriage and family; finally admitting he was an alcoholic.  He said, “I can’t ever have another drink, for as long as I live.  That tells you how bad my addiction is”.

The guy behind me, waiting to pay his bill, spoke up suddenly … “Man, that stuff will get you”.  I said, “Yeah, man, it sure will”.  Then he smiled and said, “I’m sure glad I got free from it when I did!”  Then he paid the cashier and walked out to his truck.

And I came home, unable to get away from the look of happiness on his face.  I have several friends who have battled alcoholism, and it’s been so great to see them find freedom in Christ and from this addiction, and to see the positive impact it’s had on their marriage and families has been powerful!  When you decide to seek freedom, it affects generations of people, and could literally change the world.

Once I mentioned to one of them that sometimes I see the Church like I see an AA meeting.  We are all born addicted to Self, and sin preys on this in so many forms and vices.  “Hello, my name is ___________, and I’m a sin-a-holic.”  Maybe we should start Sunday morning service this way? It would definitely help rid us of our pious pretense!

We live in a world where the status quo is BONDAGE.  From the beginning, sin puts its heel on our necks.  That’s its design, to bind us in a vicious cycle of defeat, shame, and hopelessness.  I think of a verse of a song from the rock star Slash, talking about sin:

It’s like a new religion
Speak in tongues, come see the light
Do not trip on inhibitions that will only waste my time
Let me tempt you with the evils of the flesh and so much more
Like a Babylon redeemer
Like a pusher, like a whore
Just try it
You’ll like it
I’ll give you more…

That’s the message, in its most basic form.  Our enemy speaks one language, over and over to you and me.  Just try it.  You’ll like it.  I’ll give you more…

This is why freedom is such a big deal.  That’s why a 10-second conversation can be so inspiring.  It reminds you that freedom is the design.  God never designs us to fail!  Think this today:  God has designed you to win the battle you are facing right now.  Today, in Christ, you are more than a conqueror.  Take a moment to read another verse, from Romans 8:

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 …. 37 No, despite all these things, we are more than conquerors through Christ, who loved us.

I like this verse better than the song Slash plays!  What this is saying is that when Christ is in you, you are in Christ.  No longer do you fight your battles from your own reservoir of strength, but from THE RESOURCES OF HEAVEN.  The God of Heaven’s Armies is in your corner.  This means that you aren’t just designed to not fail.  God has designed you to be free.  To be more than a conqueror.

Chew on that today.  Be inspired, like I am.  Dare to believe it.  Dare to ask for help.  Dare to become accountable to people who want what’s best for you.  Dare to be who you are in Jesus.  Dare to be free from the label your enemy try to stick on your life.

Sometimes the Gospel shows up in a Greasy Spoon!