Sunday, September 30, 2012

Loving My Kids

I spent Saturday morning at a prayer breakfast for the Hope Women's Resource Center.  This ministry serves hundreds of women each year in Pine Bluff and the surrounding area by providing free counseling, support, and practical help to those who are pregnant.  They have seen many women saved and also many who decided to keep their babies instead of following through with an abortion.  After the breakfast, we all went to an abortion clinic in Little Rock and prayed that women would have second thoughts and either choose adoption or to keep their child.  There is a Christian pregnancy clinic across the street from the abortion clinic that offers free counseling, ultra sounds, support, and practical things like diapers and children's clothing.  I prayed the abortion clinic would close its doors.  I prayed more women would enter the clinic across the street and choose adoption.  One of the ladies present with us shared her testimony of going through an abortion.  She said she wished someone had been there to help her.  She said if one person had talked to her about keeping her child she would have done it.  She was so desperate and thought that at the time there was no other option.  She has regretted her decision every day since but has felt the love and forgiveness of God in her life.  His grace and comfort has encouraged and strengthened her. 

I felt somewhat helpless as I prayed at the clinic.  While I was only there about 15 minutes, several women drove up, most alone.  I did not have a judgmental spirit whatsoever and neither did anyone else there.  Our hearts ached for those ladies.  Most were dealing with shame, confusion, guilt, and hopelessness.  My prayers go out to them.  Someone posed the question, "would we be willing to adopt the kids we were praying for?"  My answer - absolutely and without a second thought.  Christians can't hold anti-abortion signs and condemn abortions if they are not willing to take those children into their homes and love them like the Lord.  I hold nothing against the ladies there.  Some can't afford a child.  Some are not ready for a child.  Some are under great pressure from their partner and others are shocked, confused, and scared.  Most feel inconvenienced and incapable of raising a child.  But there are many who struggle with infertility and deep longing for children.  They would love to adopt or foster those children.  If you are struggling with this decision I pray you choose life.  God has chosen you to perform the miracle of creating a human being.  What an honor!  I prayed that day that the women would experience the great love of the Lord and an overwhelming sense of grace and peace.  Some people against abortion can be mean and insensitive.  They care more about being right and picketing than the real people involved.  Believers shouldn't be activists.  They should be compassionate and Christ-like.  Loving children and being pro-life is not a cause to conquer.  Its a characteristic of Christ to humbly live out. 

I can't imagine life without my kids.  What a blessing from the Lord!  I love seeing how God is growing them into women who love Him.  I pray each day they would give their lives to Christ (which I believe both have), they would be called into full-time ministry, and they would marry men who love the Lord.  Children are a joy from the Lord.  We should thankful, humbled, and honored He has graced us with their presence in our lives.  God has entrusted us with them and we are stewards over them.  I desire to be a dad to my kids that looks like God the Father.  I truly love them with all my heart and selflessly want to serve them.  I remember the joyful excitement both times I found out we were pregnant.  I am in utter amazement when it comes to the miracle of a child being created - and to know they are mine!  Lord, please enlarge my heart towards my kids.  I pray we raise them in such a way that they follow you all their lives.  Abby means "her father's joy".  What joy it is to be the father of Abby!  Kylee means "boomerang"...what joy it is when she comes around time and time again! 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Valleys and Mountains

Life is full of obstacles. Some you see coming from a distance. Others hit you out of no where like a Mack truck. Usually we talk about difficulties as if they are “valleys”. In other words, a valley is a low point in your life. Perhaps a “low” point in your life is when your spouse left you. Maybe you lost your job or have been deeply disappointed in life. It could be that you are just stuck in rut, deep in a pit, or possibly even digging your own grave. Whatever your valley moment is, you just feel absolutely far from God and unable to climb out on your own. Some valley moments in life don’t even seem to have a way out. While you know Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), you’re not so concerned with yesterday and tomorrow – you need Him today!

The opposite of a valley experience is a mountain experience. We have all faced the mountaintop experiences in life and love them far greater than the valley times. At the end of every valley is the beginning of a mountain you have to climb. Climbing a mountain can be challenging and isn’t any easier than climbing out of a valley. If you ever stop climbing, you start plateauing and entering valley life again. No one reaches the top without effort. You will not get out of your valley without climbing and you cannot scale on the mountain without climbing.

When you are at the bottom all you can think about is surviving. When you are approaching the top all you can think about is thriving. But here is the irony – both surviving and thriving, valley and mountain experiences, are extremely hard. What’s encouraging about that pastor? While hard, they are not impossible and everyone is capable of greater. At no point in life will it get easier. We have this fantasy of the American Dream that is always out of reach. It is in the middle of the climb we find fulfillment and peace in life. You see when you begin to climb out of the valley you are also beginning to climb to the mountaintop. God didn’t call us to this life to breathe easier. He called us to follow Him through valleys and mountains which will leave us breathless.

So what is the mountaintop we must have in view? Nothing but Jesus. We must keep our eyes focused on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). Isaiah 40:4 gives us hope. “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” When we focus on Jesus instead of our situation He makes the valley experience easier and the mountain experience less strenuous. We only gain hope in our trials through faith in Jesus. His grace will fill up your valley and bring low your mountain – but you still have to climb.

Don’t lie down in your valley and die. Don’t stop climbing your mountain. The moment your valley turns into a mountain is when you take the first step toward Jesus. Psalm 40:1-2 say, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Be Transparent To Be Transformed

The word "transparent" means to allow light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen. Some things like windshields and water bottles need to be transparent. If not, chances are someone is going to get hurt, sick, or even die! Our lives are healthier when we are transparent. Jesus was transparent enough to acknowledge when He was in need. In John 19:28, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” Jesus, while being fully God, was also fully human, experiencing hunger, thirst, pain, and even death. Transparency means I reveal my hurt and need to others who can stand alongside me and offer support, help, and prayer. We must be willing to admit we are not Superman. Even he had weaknesses.

God desires to shine through your life but several things conceal the image of God from being displayed through you. One thing that does this is hidden weaknesses. 2 Corinthians 4:2 says, “We refuse to wear masks and play games…Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see.” Transparency means taking off the mask and stopping the game playing. To gain order and peace in your life you must be willing to reveal areas of your life where weakness is winning. Regardless if it is sin or a past hurt, when you walk in God’s light, He will shine in truth that makes you emotionally and spiritually stronger. Everyone is weak in some area. 1 John 1:7-8 tells us to walk in His light to gain His truth and true fellowship because we deceive ourselves if we think we do not struggle with sin.

Another trap that keeps us from being transparent is the constant desire for approval. We fear what others think about us so we conceal and sometimes even invent identity. Proverbs 29:25 tells us the, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.” There is no need to reveal to God who you really are. Why? Because He reveals to you who you really are. When you are transparent enough for God to shape your identity you will become more confident in who you really are because you are becoming more like Him! Past hurts can also keep us from being transparent. James 5:16 tells me to confess my sins to others and pray for others so that I can be healed. When you reveal your wounds, treatment can be applied and healing can begin. The hurt will not go away by itself. You need others who have been there. Keeping hurt to yourself will only bring more hurt to you and to everyone else in your life.

The best way to be transparent is through the local church. Church is God’s people. Transparency is sharing life together with God’s people. Through transparency, you gain support (Ephesians 2:21), growth (Ephesians 4:16), protection (1 Peter 5:2), and love (Ephesians 2:19). Stop doing life alone and get involved in your church. Get real with a small group of people who will help you grow in Christ. Find one friend in Christ with whom you can let down your guard and watch how transparency will bring transformation to your life.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Marriage: Covenant or Contract?

Some things are not meant to be broken. Marriage is one of them. Marriage cannot be defined in earthly terms because it was heavenly created. It is a sacred union created by God Himself for a lifetime commitment between one man and one woman. Some people view marriage as a contract with an “opt-out” plan if things do not go right. I heard that some countries, Mexico in particular, have even discussed a two-year marriage contract. If the marriage doesn’t work out after two years, you can walk away free and clear. Nothing says “I love you” to your spouse more than choosing the “opt-out plan” for marriage.

Marriage is a covenant relationship. It says I’m willing to surrender my rights and pick up my responsibilities. Covenant means I will stick with you no matter what. Remember these traditional vows: “for better or worse, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, till death do us part”? They have almost been replaced by “till something better comes along, only if I get something out of this, till the money runs out, and till I’m not happy anymore.”

Our spouses should be the top relationship in our lives. The home should not be child-centered. When you put marriage ahead of the kids it communicates to them the beautiful sacredness of the covenant relationship. A covenant marriage holds their spouse more than they do a golf club or hunting rifle. Your spouse should be your top priority. We learn priority from God, who we should seek first (Matthew 6:33). Another sign of covenant is giving yourself fully to your mate. 1 Corinthians 7:4 tells us about this mutuality. A covenant relationship also relinquishes its rights to privacy. Jesus said He did not hide His business from us because of covenant friendship (John 15:15).

Covenant people love unconditionally. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). If He can do that, surely you can love your mate through their mistakes (I’m sure you’ve had your share of them as well). Covenant people honor each other respectfully. 1 Peter 3:5-7 tells wives and husbands to show respect to one another. Covenant people submit mutually to one another. How can you misinterpret Ephesians 5:21, “submit to one another out of the reverence for Christ”? You submit to one another because you love the Lord, not because your spouse is perfect – they are not, but Jesus is!

Covenant people desire to settle conflict and not just to be right. Covenant people do not fight in their marriage – they fight for it! Covenant people do not flirt with other people in person or online because that is reserved only for their spouse and they know the damage it brings to marriage (Proverbs 6:27). Covenant people refuse to let pride get in the way and ask for help in their marriage when it gets tough (James 5:16). Covenant people engage one another and do not just come home from work, sit on the couch, watch TV for hours, disregard one another and the kids and then wonder why they are not growing closer. Satan doesn’t want us to hate our spouses – he just wants us to take them for granted. Yesterday’s romance must be stirred up for TODAY’S romance. Covenant people do not blame each other. “If they would/would not do this, then I would/would not do this.” Covenant people do not pray “God fix my spouse” more than they pray “God fix me.”

Covenant marriage is what Christ desires for your life. Great marriages do not just happen by accident. They take both people passionately and consistently pursuing Jesus to be successful.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Lifestyle of Prayer

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (John 11:1).

Do you know how to pray? All of us have attempted it at some time. Prayer can seem awkward when you first start but can end up rich and rewarding. Jesus can help you learn to pray. He can make sense of your confused prayer. Jesus told His disciples they should pray and never give up (Luke 18:1). Even Paul encourages us to never stop praying (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Jesus wants us to develop a lifestyle of prayer.

There are several aspects of an effective lifestyle of prayer. While you can pray at anytime, anywhere, about anything, you should have a dedicated time set aside each day for prayer. John Bunyan said, “He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.” Developing a daily habit or prayer can lead to a great relationship with the Lord. My family has a certain time each night we eat together. We all set aside certain timeframes each day for certain things that are important to us. Why not set aside time to pray? Daniel did. He went upstairs to his room three times a day (Daniel 6:10). A good time for me is my drive to work. Another time is after my kids have gone to bed. A quiet, distraction free time in prayer each day will jumpstart your faith.

Having a certain place to pray is also beneficial. Jesus got up early in the morning and went to a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:35). Matthew 6:6 tells us to go in to our secret place and shut the door. A place that is comfortable and familiar will remind you to pray each day you pass it by. The best place for me to pray is at home. You will never have a successful prayer life unless you block out life’s distractions in a place designated for prayer.

You also need a plan to have a great prayer life. Jesus gave us a model (Luke 11:2-4; Matthew 6:9-13). My plan usually begins in Scripture. After reading the Bible, I begin to pray those Scriptures for my life. I usually have my Bible (or iPhone Bible app) open during prayer time and when a Scripture comes to mind, I look it up and pray it. I pray daily for our nation (1 Timothy 2:1-2), my family (Nehemiah 4:14), those who need to be saved or are in sin (Matthew 9:37-38), and my needs (Philippians 4:6-7).
Prayer should be the first thing we do every day but what about praying first before everything we do? Not just meals, bedtime, and crisis. Prayer is simply talking to God about our life and His plans for it. This is lifestyle prayer. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is true. If God’s people, who are called by Him, will humble themselves and pray and seek His face and turn from their wicked ways, THEN He will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.