This is Ministry

11902314_10153660271772268_4461891590249871027_nIt’s the mud in the eye that stings and blinds.  It’s the never ending barrage that leaves you saying, “I’m too old for this.”  Wave after wave they come determined, unrelenting, unmerciful.  They all want a piece of this old man.

The confrontation hurts, but not as much as the missed opportunities; those that pass by unnoticed, unchallenged, unchanged.

This one’s back again.  For the 15th time he’s taking his run at me.  How does he get up so quick when it takes me so long to recover?  Will this time be his victory?

From my knees I bring him down and from my knees I help him back up.  Not this time son.  Try again.  I want him to try again.  I want him to succeed, but I won’t lay down.  I won’t simply give it to him.

With every encounter he’s learning; learning to adjust, learning to persevere, learning to respect.  With each run he’s growing he’s maturing He’s getting stronger.  It comes at my expense but it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

This is impartation.
This is mentoring.
This is iron sharpening iron.
This is ministry

Sin: Chosen or Inherent?

Narrate-1-2Group texts…You either love them or hate them. “Is man born sinful or do we become sinful through our choices?” That was the question which a friend group texted me this past Thursday. Sadly only one other person responded to his inquiry. I’ll be honest; the lack of response bothered me. I get it. It’s a tough question; especially to answer via text and to be truthful no one wants to appear ignorant. That said the proverbial silence was deafening.

Why is it that we are afraid to try to answer the tough questions? The world is asking tough questions. Are we silent toward them as well? Proverbs 27:17 testifies, “As iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another.” I love hearing and discussing other people’s perspectives. I don’t have all the answers but there is something in the discussion, in the relating, that sharpens me. It helps bring the truth to the surface and into focus. With that in mind I thought I’d share with you my response to this question. This is my perspective.   I’d love to hear yours!

Were we born sinful or do we choose and become sinful?

Were Adam and Eve born/created sinful or did they become sinful through choice? From where I stand I think it starts with God’s original intent. Did God make creation and Adam/Eve perfect? I don’t think so. I don’t believe creation nor were Adam and Eve perfect. The scripture doesn’t say they were made perfect. It says they were made “very good” (Genesis 1:31), Adam and Eve even being in the image of God. The word image in Genesis 1:27 is the Hebrew word “tslem” literally meaning “an illusion, a phantom representation.” The connotation indicates a hollow shell which is a starting point not a complete product. I don’t see Adam/Eve as perfect or complete like God. If they were they would not have been lacking in the knowledge of good and evil nor would she have been able to be deceived.

While they lived for a time without sinning it does not mean that the propensity for sin was not in their bodies. I’m of the persuasion it was in direct correlation with God’s command (Romans 7:8-12) to eat of one tree (spirit) and not eat of the other (flesh). God created them with not only the opportunity for sin but the propensity to sin within themselves, self-will and a carnal/natural mind. Romans 8:7 explains, “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” If God had not issued the command “do not eat this” there would have been no opportunity in that regard for them to sin. Yes, sin is a choice but it always stems from rebellion & self-will in the heart of man, hence within the man.

Not only did God create them with the ability/propensity to sin by giving them a will; God deliberately gave them the opportunity. He created the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, placed it in the garden, cast the serpent into the garden, then places them in the Garden and says, “Oh yah, you can eat of every tree except this one.” If God’s original intent was that mankind NOT sin He had to be a complete idiot! If He didn’t create and set it all in motion this way knowing mankind would sin He is no longer omniscient nor is He omnipotent .

The fact of the matter is God knew what he was doing. He designed it this way because His original intent was that His creation understand love and choose to enter into a willing union of love. We gain no truer understanding and appreciation of love than through redemption. In our sin and His work of redemption we see, experience and come to understand God’s perfect, unfailing love and freely choose to love Him in return. God’s original intent was always redemption. Sending His Son was not an afterthought that arose as a solution to a problem that He didn’t see coming!

In Revelation 13:8 John testifies that Christ is the, “Lamb slain from the foundation of the World.” Peter echoes that truth declaring, “…you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundations of the world, but was manifested in these times for you.” (1 Peter 1:20) Paul also reiterates this forethought and our part in it by stating God, “…chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:4-5)

When Adam & Eve sinned the propensity within became reality without. Creation became subject to futility (Romans 8:18-22). The “…whole word lies under the sway of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) This sway is an outside influence which tempts the inside rebellion. Paul speaks of this external/internal battle at length in Romans 6-8. He plainly states that we are not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies (Romans 6:12) and testifies to the sin within himself stating, “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present within me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will I will not to do that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” Paul repeatedly declares that sin is within his flesh.

Ultimately I see three truths in the Scripture. 1. Sin is in the world. 2. Sin is in me. 3. In Christ I have been freed from power of sin and death but I must choose to abide in and walk in the Spirit.

I know people are arguing, “I was made this way” and maybe they were. But the question remains, “…Oh man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘why have you made me like this?’ (Romans 9:20)

The fact is we all have sin in our members in some capacity or another stemming from our desire to be self-governing rather than submitted. Maybe people are born with predispositions to sin in certain ways. I don’t know. But in Christ we are all given the power over sin & death. In Christ we are given the power to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:1-2). In Christ we are all called and equipped to walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lusts of our flesh (Galatians 5:16-25), regardless of our chosen preferences or predispositions.

Paul goes on to explain the reason why we are to walk in the spirit and not the flesh declaring, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 1-7

Regardless of our sin, chosen or predisposed, God’s design and original intent still stands; redemption leading to a union of eternal love in which He will forever reveal the exceeding riches of his grace and kindness toward us in Christ.

So All May Hear

image“Are you excited?”

That is the question everyone keeps asking me.

“Not really.  I just want it over with.” I truthfully reply.

No, I’m not getting married.  That took place almost sixteen years ago and no we’re not having another kid.  Been there, done that…four times.  We’re all good on that front.  So what is the subject behind this burning curiosity as to the state of my excitement? Sunday May 25th I will run my first marathon, and “no” I’m honestly not excited about it.

I’m tired.  I feel like crap.  I’ve lost most of the past month to injury and illness. I’ve logged hundreds of miles running over the past four months in training for this.  Every Saturday has been devoted to my weekly “long run.”    I want my Saturdays back.  I want to revel in the act of doing of absolutely nothing! I just want it done.

You may be asking, “If that’s how you feel why bother to run?”

The answer is simple, “So all may hear.”

I’ve been a preacher for over 15 years.  Over those years I’ve been blessed to be able to preach the gospel to thousands of people throughout the world.  One thing I’ve learned; I can’t reach them all.  I can’t do it alone.

There is a kid named Alex.  He’s 19 and preparing to give up a year of his life to go around the world and preach to Muslims.  He’s laying down his life so others can hear.

There is another kid named Isaiah; also 19.  Rather than seek greener pastures of bigger and better he is answering the call of God by serving in his home church. He’s laying down his life so that others may hear.

I call them kids because I’m old enough to be their dad.  Truth is they are men; godly men and I love them both.  They decided to run this marathon as a platform to preach the gospel and as a tool to raise money for Alex’s trip.  I decided to run with them because their heart for Christ and passion for the lost is infectious.  They inspire me and we can accomplish more together than we can alone.

Both of these men carry a burden.  It’s the burden of lost souls.  It’s not convenient.  It’s not comfortable.  Their heart groans for the lost and they are doing what they can to make sure none are lost due to the lack of hearing.  Whether it is half way around the world or in our own back yard, people need to hear.  They need to be introduced to Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul recognized this need and declared,

“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written; How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things.” Romans 10:14-15

This marathon isn’t about me.  I’m doing it for them.  I’m doing it for the people who will hear the gospel through them.  Am I excited about running 26.2 miles?  No.  But, I am excited that people will hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And so I run…so all may hear.

May Grace Ever Be The Tide

imageI turned forty recently.  I don’t feel any different and apart from the increase of a few white hairs making their way into my stubble I’m told I don’t look the part either.  Yet it seems the responsibility of the masses to remind me that my life is now half over.  Thus was the position I found myself in as I sat across from a friend over coffee on this most recent birthday morning.

“What do you want to do that you haven’t done with the first half of your life?” he asked.

I was at a loss.  In my youth I was all about what I could do for God.  It was a drive born of zeal and facilitated in judgment.  I had accomplished many things.  Yet for all I had accomplished I had left a trail of wounded and broken souls in my wake.  Some I had  broken.  Others I had found in such a state and simply passed them by leaving them to sink.  Worse still, others I had drowned with the waves and weight of my self-righteous judgments.  Regardless, over the past three years I had become haunted by the shipwrecks.

As I reflected upon the inquiry I vocalized a truth that I had long been harboring.  I wasn’t really interested in “doing” anything.  I wanted to “be” something.

“I want to be a man of grace” I replied.

Two days later I was walking the streets of Little Italy in San Diego.  As I traversed the crowd the Holy Spirit began testifying of the truth that every person was a vessel meant to carry the Spirit of God.  Sadly most of these vessels were adrift, lost at sea.  Some were sinking beneath the waves.  Yet for all, this truth remained; only the grace of God can save.

As this somber reality invaded my conscience I passed by a lonely store front.  In another life it had been a showroom for seafaring vessels.  Atop its faded brick exterior was affixed a testament of hope.

“A rising tide lifts all boats”

If a rising tide lifts all boats, may grace ever be the tide.

Reminders and Reflections

imageThere are some people you just want to do life with.  Some who simply make life better and somehow make you better.

Sara Groves sings,

“Every burden I have carried,

Every joy – it’s understood.

Life with you is half as hard,

And twice as good.”

That’s Heidi.

Every day there are reminders of God’s presence, reflections of his goodness.  These are the things in life we don’t deserve.  She’s mine and I love her!

Whims

image

My shins hurt.  Ache to be precise.  With every step I take they tell me how much they despise me and my tendency to act upon a whim.

It started last July.  I was 39, weighed 205 pounds and felt like crap.  As I sat on my porch swing like a bloated slug I said, “I gotta do something.”  Then on a whim I just got up and decided I was going to run a mile.  I can’t tell you for certain how long it took me to run that mile because I’m pretty sure the space time continuum came to a screeching halt out of pure shock!  All I know for certain is that when everything stopped jiggling and oxygen again returned to my brain restoring conscious thought, I was alive.  No thanks to my whim!

The truth is, what I thought was just a whim last July was actually a catalyst to a transformation.   After recovering from my 1 mile near death experience a few days later I said, “I wonder if I could do two miles?”  I found out I could.  I went on to run my first 5K, then another, then a 6 mile obstacle race through the woods all while carrying an 8 pound sledge hammer!  Ya, that’s me and my hammer on the right…mud soaked and wearing man tights!  By the beginning of October I lost over 20 pounds in under 10 weeks.  Today my shins hurt because I’m training for a marathon.  A race I agreed to run with a friend…on a whim.

Here is the thing.  Whims have the power to kill you; like bringing home a new Ford F150 King Ranch truck without discussing it with your spouse!  A cautionary tale for another day.  But, whims also have the uncanny ability to spur us on to accomplish great things!  Those moments that spring forth from a random “what if” or an “I wonder” like Jonathan to his armor barer in 1 Samuel 14:1-15.  A seemingly random whim of “Hey, what if we went over to the garrison of those uncircumcised dudes?” ended in a slaughter of their national enemies!

Truth be told, some “whims” are actually the Holy Spirit prompting us to step out in faith and make a change.  What about you?  What whim is the Holy Spirit actually spurring you to act on and allow Him to work through?  Trust me…it’s not the King Ranch!!!!