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Carry the Code.

January 30, 2017

I love the military. I love its discipline; its ability to train men to overcome complex tasks with simplicity and efficiency. I especially love their codes of conduct (see here and here to learn about some of their codes), which essentially become their battle cries. What I love most, however, is to see military people outside of their ranks and uniforms, still living by a military-type code that brings structure and purpose to their lives. You can see it in their dress. You can hear it in their talk. You know them. And you respect them. Or at least you should.

maxresdefault         The American military is not the first to understand the value of a code or war cry. They date way back. The Maori people of New Zealand perform war cries called “hakas,” that are especially stirring. The All Blacks rugby team performs a haka before each match. Hakas are performed at funerals and also at weddings. Check out this haka of young men honoring their guidance counselor. I love watching these!

Christian men, we need to rediscover and carry the code given to us by our creator. We need to carry this code with full-throated allegiance. We need to refer to it every day, so that we are reminded of our purpose as men. We need to carry it for the world to see and observe, especially for our young boys who tag along behind us. After all, it is the most important code you will ever be given.

What is that code? The bible sets it out for us in its first book and it looks something like this:

 

A KING TO FOLLOW

From the very beginning, it is clear that there is one creator, one king, and that one creator is not me (or you). Yet, he did give us, his vice-regents, a command to follow. We represent our king in the earth by exercising godly and loving authority in our world, and broadening the renown of our great King. We follow our king by knowing and joyfully obeying his commands. He is our King. He speaks. We listen with a will to obey.

 

A WORK TO ACCOMPLISH

God also instructed the first man to work and maintain the garden in which he was placed. Dig, grow, build, reap, repeat. Make it grow.

Work is a good thing, a godly thing. Men, you were created to work, to sweat, to accomplish something for the greater good. You were created to make a significant contribution to the world around you. A man without a work to accomplish does not benefit his society, but rather is a drain. Paul reminds some men in the church at Ephesus that a man who doesn’t work and provide for his family is an ungodly rebel (1 Timothy 5:8).

 

A FAMILY TO GUIDE

God, and Adam, saw that it was not good for him to be alone, so God gave Adam a family to guide, starting with his wife Eve. He was to be the leader of the family, passing down to Eve the previous commands and words that God had given to him, helping her to see the goodness in the King’s word. She was to help him measure up to all that God had called him to be.

Men, if you are not married, then live your life and prepare yourself to be worthy to guide and lead another person. Be the type of man that a woman would gladly follow, instead of reluctantly follow knowing she will have to clean up behind you in every way.

 

AN ENEMY TO FIGHT

The enemy is fighting against us, fighting to keep us enslaved in our selfishness and fear. We must fight back. But how do we do that?

This is where we run into a HUGE problem as men.

We can’t successfully fight our enemy. In fact, that whole manhood code I have just listed is impossible for us. We do not naturally follow our king, accomplish our work successfully, or guide our family correctly. We are ruined. When Adam messed up in the garden by going against his true king, his failure became our failure.

But here is the great thing about the Creator, and what truly makes Him a king worth following. He, in his great desire to display His justice, greatness, and love for His creation, stepped into our world by sending His son to do all the work to satisfy God’s wrath against our sin. Jesus lived by the code perfectly, which we could not do. He bore the punishment that we deserved. That was His work to accomplish. Jesus took the greatest blow that Satan could deliver Him, death, and then Jesus came back to life. He wins.

Now Jesus lives in every man, woman, boy, and girl, that confesses their rebellion against God, and puts their faith in Jesus as conqueror of their sin and king of their life, will be brought back into a right relationship with their creator. And by the Spirit of Jesus living in them, every man can pursue the code.

You have a King to follow, a work to accomplish, a family to guide, and an enemy to fight.

1 Corinthians 16:13 “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

Where Brokenness Lives…

January 27, 2017
  • 27% of Hempstead County residents live below the poverty line
  • 47% of children in Hempstead County live below the poverty line
  • 53% of children in Hempstead County live in a single parent home
  • 21% of the population in Hempstead did not have access to a reliable source of food in the past year
  • Per capita, Hempstead County has sent more juveniles to DYS than any other county in 2016.
  • 12% of teen mothers (ages 15-19) in Arkansas receive late or no prenatal care at all
  • 34% of pregnant women in Arkansas ages 20-24 have induced abortions.
  • 46% of teens will engage in sexual intercourse
  • Dads abandon their role as head of home so that the mom has to lead
  • According to statistics, in 2000, over 9,600 residents of Hempstead County identified as Evangelical Protestant. In 2010, that number dropped to 7,340
  • According to a survey done in 2010, 49% of the residents in Hempstead County claim no religious affiliation at all.
  • Marriages exist but don’t thrive
  • Men trade in the reality of marriage for a virtual fiction
  • Women self medicate on shopping, prescription drugs, or escapism
  • We display a constant need for excess and more and better; we are materially discontented, thinking that if I buy this, then my brokenness will go away.
  • Children disrespect every type of authority with outright rebellion or the more passive but just as subversive eye-roll
  • What was once risqué for an adult woman to wear is now worn by our young daughters as high fashion, to the great excitement, encouragement, and joy of every young teenage boy.

People do not have to look very far into their own culture to find brokenness. It lives all around us. And yet, brokenness has become so normal and acceptable, that sometimes we find it difficult to identify brokenness.

But I am a very hopeful person today, even though I live in the midst of brokenness, and contribute my fair share of brokenness. I am hopeful because Jesus did not move away from brokenness. Rather, he ran towards it. He was the friend of sinners. He ate and drank with the outcasts of society. Those who knew they were broken begged Jesus to hang out with them.

Jesus entered into the brokenness of our world, and yet remained unbroken himself. He walked with broken people everyday, pointing them towards…himself. He said he was the door, the bread of life, the great shepherd, the true vine, the way, the truth, the life.

I am hopeful today because Jesus healed my brokenness. He made me see my sin and desperate need for Him.

I am hopeful today because I have the privilege of pastoring a church that runs towards the brokenness of our city with the arms of grace and truth spread wide open.

So come on to the table. There is enough room for you…and your brokenness. But when you dine with Jesus, be ready to abandon your brokenness and embrace his death and resurrection. That is where healing lives and new life begins.

 

http://www.point2homes.com/US/Neighborhood/AR/Hempstead-County-Demographics.html

http://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/Pages/default.aspx

http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/united-states/quick-facts/arkansas/percent-of-people-of-all-ages-in-poverty#table

Do You Need Surgery?

January 13, 2017

I had some outpatient surgery done on my shoulder a couple of weeks ago. While I was waiting in the pre-op bed in my lovely gown, I thought about how I ended up in this position to where I needed surgery and realized that my shoulder was not the only thing that needed surgery. My life and my ministry were candidates for surgery as well. Maybe you need surgery in your life, in your marriage, in your leadership role. Here are some thoughts to help you consider if you need to go under the knife.

fullsizerenderI like to exercise and I like to help others get fit as well (for those in the Hope, AR., area, this is the place). However, shoulder pain had been preventing me fro
m getting some of the workouts accomplished. My performance, speed, and form were suffering because of the pain. So I had three options before me. The first option was to do my best to ignore the pain. The second option was to work in a limited capacity. The third option was to get the problem fixed.

The problem with option one is that it was just silly. Pain exists for a reason. You can’t ignore it day after day. Ignoring pain puts you at greater risk for more injury, and the consequences will affect other people. If I choose to ignore my shoulder pain for a period of time, and damage it more, then I may not be able play catch with my kids anymore, or do a host of chores around the house. You get the idea. So I had to confess that enduring the pain or trying to ignore the pain day after day was not healthy.

Same thing goes for my spiritual life, my marriage, my church, my ___________________ (insert whatever you wish). If I refuse to acknowledge that something may need to be fixed, I am not only putting myself at risk, but others as well. If I choose to ignore a problem in my marriage, I put my marriage at risk, which affects my children, my church family, and much more. Once again, you get the picture. Just like God designed physical pain as a warning system, so too did He design spiritual pain (conviction is the church word) as a warning system that something needs to be addressed and confessed to God.

Instead of ignoring the pain, I could have just dialed back the intensity of my workouts and settled for something less than what I know I could achieve at full health. But I don’t want to live like that, and I am guessing you don’t either.

Who wants a mediocre marriage? Who wants to lead a ho-hum ministry? Who wants to be known as a leader who settles for 50% when so much more is possible? Who wants to be a part of a church that has an “okay commission” instead of a “Great Commission”? You can settle if you want to. But I don’t think you want to dial down the intensity by which you live life.

The third option was to get my shoulder assessed by someone other than myself and come up with a fix-it plan. The fix-it plan was progressive. First I had a to get a scan so the doc could see what was actually going on in my shoulder. Next up was a round of shots to see if the problem could be fixed this way. It worked for a little while, but the pain came back. Next up—surgery (credit Michael Hussey, orthopedic surgeon in Little Rock!)

If there is a pain or a problem that surfaces in your life (or marriage or ministry or church), perhaps you need to see someone who can help you fix it. If you are a follower of Christ, then your first visit is to Christ. He knows your pain. He can sympathize with you. Not only does He know your pain, He also experienced it, and He handled that pain perfectly in His own life, which makes Him the best one to follow when it comes to knowing how to deal with it. Start with Jesus. He may lead you to your pastor, or to a small group of trusted friends and counselors who can help with your fix-it plan. I’m pretty sure that fix-it plan is going to include confession, repentance, forgiveness, and then freedom to live in fullness!

5 Thoughts to Help You Conquer Your Bible Reading Plan

January 9, 2017

Recently I challenged our church to be more focused on helping all of Hope find all their joy in Jesus. If we are going to accomplish this task, then we must be people who are finding our joy in Jesus. In order for that to happen, then we have to be people of the book. This is why I challenged our church to be in God’s word more in 2017. Since that challenge was issued, over 80 accepted the challenge to read through the Bible this year.

In order to help accomplish this task, I think it is important to keep the following 5 things in mind.

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  1. Between now and December 31, you are probably going to miss some days. Keep reading! You have all year to make it up! The people who finish Bible reading plans are those who keep reading, even when they miss days. The goal is not read every day so that you get a perfect reader award. The goal is to read the book and become familiar with the unfolding story of God!
  1. You need some accountability. You need a team to help you read through the Bible. This is why at our church we are hosting reading groups on Wednesday nights at 6pm. This is not your typical class set-up. We have asked the leaders of these classes to consider themselves as personal reading trainers. They are there to help folks think through and overcome scheduling obstacles, clarify your understanding of what they are reading, and to cheer the readers on through consistent contact (text, emails, etc). If you do not have someone reading with you, it may be a good idea to invite someone to join you on your venture!
  1. Right now, nail down a time and place of when you will read. Consistent time and consistent place are the keys. The chances of you finishing the Bible without these two pieces in place are slim. Do it. Right now.
  1. Bible reading and Bible study are two different things. When you read through the Bible, you are not necessarily diving deep into His word, you are flying at surface level. Deep Bible study is not the focus. The point is to grow more familiar with the story of God. So don’t get frustrated if you think you are not “getting a lot” out of your reading. You are actually gaining more knowledge and insight and familiarity than you might imagine.
  1. Remember the reward. The reward is the opportunity to meet with God and hear Him speak each time you open His word.

Psalm 119:18 “Open up my eyes that I may see wondrous things out of your law.”

Happy Reading Everyone!

Why You Should Care about Mary’s Virginity

December 16, 2016

Surely you have heard this by now. A virgin gave birth to a son, or so the story goes. Is this just a piece of fancy narrative, or is it a necessary part of the Christmas story (key word “necessary”).

In situations like these we look to…scripture.

 

Matthew’s re-telling of the life of Jesus unfolds the birth of Christ by zeroing in on how Joseph got on board with the whole virgin birth thing. It seems that Matthew is accomplishing at least two things in the opening chapters of his gospel. First, he is establishing the royal lineage of Jesus. He traces the lineage through Joseph, who is husband of Mary, all the way back through David, and then to Abraham. So Jesus is of the right lineage to fulfill the promise of an eternal king and kingdom.

The second thing Matthew is accomplishing, in a little more subtle fashion, is to hold up Jesus as a new representative, a replacement representative, for mankind. We are all, by birth, sons of Adam. He was our representative in the garden. No matter how hard we try, we cannot repeal what he did on our behalf. We cannot improve ourselves into a better standing with God. We cannot apologize ourselves into a better standing with God.

We need a new representative.

 

When Matthew begins telling us about the birth of Jesus, the genesis of Jesus, he tells us that Mary was with child from the Holy Spirit. Luke tells us in his gospel that the Holy Spirit overshadowed her. The idea is similar to when the Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the waters in Genesis 1. Just like the Holy Spirit created something beautiful out of chaos in the beginning, so too does He create something extraordinary out of something sinful in the Christmas story. Later, in Genesis 3, this new creature is tempted in the garden and gives in to temptation. In Matthew 4, we find Jesus in a desert (a garden wasteland) being tempted by the same tempter that beguiled Adam and Eve. But rather than giving in to the temptation, Jesus resisted. I believe that Matthew is showing us that Jesus is a better representative, a new representative. The rest of Jesus’ life bears out the truth that Jesus is a perfectly righteous representative. Where Adam gave in to temptation, Jesus resisted. Where Adam exalted Himself, Jesus exalted God. Where Adam rebelled, Jesus obeyed. Where Adam needed a sacrifice to cover his sin, Jesus becomes our sacrifice to cover our sin. Faith in Adam, or in ourselves, earns us death. But faith in the new representative, Jesus, earns us eternal life.

So let’s go back to the virgin birth. Is it necessary? Matthew seems to think so because it is part of the new creation process. Without a new creation, a new representative, we can’t be new creations. It’s not just a romantic, intriguing part of the Christmas story. The virgin birth is part of the divinely planned re-creation.

Jesus is Enough, I Promise

December 12, 2016

Warning: For some, this may seem like I am turning into a grumpy, old man. You may be right. But then again, it may be me who is right. Enjoy.

Last Monday my oldest son and I scurried down the road to Dallas, Texas to watch our first ever NBA game—the Mavericks versus the Charlotte Hornets. The game was a birthday present to my son who loves all things sports.

We checked into our hotel, just a mile from American Airlines Arena, dropped our bags in our room and headed out the door to the game. After paying $25 to park in a garage, we jogged across the street with about 50 other excited and anxious basketball fans who arrived as early as possible. Entering the arena and receiving our free bobble head doll, we were told that our seats are on the complete opposite side of the arena. So we took off, making our way around the long hallway that circles the arena. I was surprised as we walked past luxurious lounges and dining services. This was a step up from the Barton Coliseum in Little Rock I grew up with. We finally made it to our cushioned seats, and were greeted by an usher/waitress. She was there to take our order and bring our nachos, chicken fingers, hamburgers, and drinks directly to us, all for a bargain deal (and by bargain I mean a day’s wage).

My attention was engaged the moment we sat down with all of the video screens and moving lights before the game got started. My son just sat there trying to take mental snapshots of all that was before him.

Finally it was tip-off. Time to focus on the game. But a strange thing took place. Or continued rather. The lights never stopped flashing and moving. The PA announcer kept talking, even while the game was going on. The videos kept rolling. If there was a time-out, we were sure to be entertained, or offended, by the dancers who pranced out to the floor, or by the mascots shooting the t-shirt cannon.

I have been to plenty of MLB games. And yes, the organ player plays catchy little riffs to get the fans into the game. And at minor league games, there are games and slingshots to keep the fans engaged. However, while the game was actually in action, the organ player had his fingers in his popcorn, not on the keys, nor was there any incitement by the big man with the microphone.

And then it dawned on me. The basketball game isn’t enough for the modern day fan. They no longer enjoy the poetry in motion on the hardwood (and I admit that part of the problem is that the poetry has died a little). They cannot stay engaged on their own with what is actually taking place on the court. The lights, the videos, the constant “Let’s Go Mavs!” chant by the announcer is now part of the game itself because the game itself is not enough for today’s basketball fans. A well-designed pick and roll, extra pass, or backdoor cut is not enough.

This mentality can seep into our churches, crowding out the beauty and sufficiency of Jesus.

The mentality says that we need to give people more than scripture, more than biblical community, more than worship, more than Jesus. Jesus isn’t enough to captivate them or keep them engaged, so we need to add something extra to the mix.

Don’t confuse the parallel. I am not saying that lights and videos are bad. They are neutral. A church that does not utilize them at all can get caught up in distraction just as much as the church with spotlights and pyro. At the same time, a church can utilize technology to zero in focus on Jesus, just like a church without the technology can do the same.

You see, it is not about the technology at all. The issue is what question do you want people asking as they leave your campus: “How awesome was that show?” OR “How incredible is Jesus?”

As we left the Mav’s game last Monday night, my son wanted to come again the following night to see another show…er, I mean game. Not me. I had a headache from all the flashing, disco ball lights.

How to Keep Falling Rock Out of Your Bible Study

December 9, 2016

falling-rockWhen my wife was a young girl, her family would travel from their house in O’Fallon, Missouri to Dixon, Missouri, to visit grandparents. Along the journey they passed a yellow road sign that read, “Watch for Falling Rock.” Kristi’s dad always told his three daughters that Falling Rock was an outlaw Indian whom the authorities could never catch—thus the reason for the sign. People needed to be on the lookout for the dangerous Indian, Falling Rock, much like Gus was on the lookout for Blue Duck in Lonesome Dove.

I am not sure how long Kristi and her sisters believed her dad, but I am certain that the highway department never intended that yellow sign to be read in that way. The sign is usually found at the bottom of a steep, rocky incline, warning motorists to be on the lookout for rocks falling down the side, not an outlaw Indian.

This past semester I have been teaching a class at our church on biblical interpretation and application. One of the main things we have talked about during this class is the importance of authorial intent. In other words, the author’s meaning is the only meaning. The reader/interpreter does not have the right to interpret the text in any other way than how the author intended his words to be interpreted.

So remember when you are reading and studying your bible that the question is not, “What does this text mean to me?” The questions are, “What was the author’s intended meaning, and how does that meaning apply to me?”