Tuesday, January 31, 2012
6 "Watch out!" Jesus warned them. "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." ... 12 Then at last they understood that he wasn't speaking about the yeast in bread, but about the deceptive teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
I am amazed at how easy it is to operate in empty religion instead of abundant life. Religion can be so comfortable and reassuring at first, but then it is constricting like a giant snake cutting off life. We grow up naturally thinking that the experiences we have had (especially those religious experiences) are normal. And we naturally think that we should keep doing things the way we have always done them. And we think that everyone else should do everything the way we are accustom to doing things. And we end up missing the whole point of loving God, loving people, "following Jesus into strange places."
Heavenly Father, please let me see how religious I am. Please help me recover from religion and live the abundant life of following Jesus that He promised. Lord, please deliver me from the stress and anxiety of work. Please help me see you and your Kingdom. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ.
Monday, January 30, 2012
Yesterday was a special day. My parents were able to join us for a baby dedication service at Paseo where we committed to raise Jude to love God and walk with Him. Greg gave a challenge from Deuteronomy 6:
4 "Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5 And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.Last night, we watched the movie "Courageous" (http://www.courageousthemovie.com/), which follows the lives of several police officers and their challenges to be good husbands and fathers. It was very encouraging and challenging for me to be more intentional as a father. I don't want to just get by as an average dad; I want to follow the Biblical expectations of fatherhood and communicate the character of God the Father to my family. Of course, I can't actually do that; I need God's grace to give me courage and faith to obey His calling.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your grace and mercy. Lord, you know that I have not been the best father that I could be; please forgive me and help me do better. I love you, Lord. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ.
Friday, January 27, 2012
On Tuesday evening, I had to pack my bag for my trip to a research conference in Las Vegas. I told Beau, "Well, I guess I need to go upstairs and pack my bag." Beau started climbing the stairs saying, "Pack my bag? Pack my bag?" I felt like I was the worst dad in the world.
Yesterday morning, as I was getting ready to attend the conference, I was so nervous and anxious. I was presenting in a session with three well-known, well-established researchers in my field. I was nervous about how my presentation would compare to theirs. I sang the praise song, "You are my all in all" as I got ready. The line, "You are my strength when I am weak," was very encouraging to me. I confessed how weak I am, and I prayed that the Lord would give me peace.
This morning, as I was getting dressed, I was not anxious or worried at all, and I was excited about a potential research collaboration that was discussed at over dinner last night. I realized how weak I am that my feelings are so fickle. The line, "You are my strength when I am weak," takes on a slightly deeper meaning.
Heavenly Father, I am so weak. Please help me be a good husband, father, and professional. Please help me base my security on your love, which is eternal and constant. I love you, Lord. I am nothing without you. Please help me stay connected to the vine. I ask in the name of Jesus Christ.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Yesterday morning, one of the leaders of one of the Christian student organizations that I advise stopped by my office to talk about school and ministry. He has had some challenges with a few of the engineering courses, and he wanted to get some advice. I encouraged him to persevere and study diligently this semester, and I encouraged him to pray and seek God about the future direction of his life. I am excited about how God might use his engineering skills to advance the Kingdom.
3-8"What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn't put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.
Yesterday afternoon, one of the new professors in engineering was walking by my office, and we struck up a conversation. He gave me a quick tour of his research lab, and I showed him my lab, and we brainstormed some potential ideas for research collaboration. When we got back to my office, he noticed the Chinese print of Hebrews 11:1 hanging on my wall. He told me that the first character means, "believe". As I was flipping to Hebrews 11:1 in my Bible, he told me that he didn't practice religion. I read the verse and explained how this verse is important for me because sometimes you can't see, but you have to believe. You have to trust God. This is faith.
Heavenly Father, thank you for these opportunities to minister on campus. Please help me be open and aware of how I can be available to share your light, love, and life in a non-religious way. I love you, Lord. Please flow through me. I ask in the name of Jesus Christ.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
15 But Jesus knew what they were planning. So he left that area, and many people followed him. He healed all the sick among them, 16 but he warned them not to reveal who he was. 17 This fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah concerning him: 18 "Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen.
He is my Beloved, who pleases me.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not fight or shout
or raise his voice in public.
20 He will not crush the weakest reed
or put out a flickering candle.
Finally he will cause justice to be victorious.
21 And his name will be the hope
of all the world."
I feel so religious recently. I want to love God with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength. I want to love my neighbor as myself. I want to love in response to His love. But I feel like I'm just going through the motions a lot. I'm tired. I need rest. But I don't know how to rest. Brandi needs rest, too. But she's a 24-7 mom, and the boys use up most of that 24. I realize that the magnitude of my problems is pretty small compared to most people in the world, but it says here that he won't crush the weakest reed. But what about healing the reed? What about restoring the reed? His name is the hope of all the world. I know that this is eternally true, but I want to feel it. I want to have joy and peace when I think about His name being the hope of all the world. I want to experience it for myself, day after day after day. I want to experience His hope.
Heavenly Father, I love you. Please help me. Help me keep running the race with perseverance. Please help me be an encouragement and help to my wife. Please help me be a good leader for my sons. I love you, Lord, and I pray in the name of Jesus Christ.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Yes. Yes. Yes. How? OK, How?
28-30"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
I'm still not sure how.
Heavenly Father, please help me learn how to rest. I feel like resting is wasting time. Think about all of the good things that I could get accomplished instead of resting. I feel guilty and lazy when I am not working. I know resting is important, but how do I do it? Lord, please help me. I love you, and I ask in the name of Jesus Christ.
I signed the paperwork on Thursday for accepting a research grant to help people get clean water around El Paso. I am very thankful for this opportunity, and I pray that God will help us do good work. I am also thankful for family and friends who supported me financially to go on the two trips to Ecuador, which served as an inspiration for this research project.
Mitch and Natalie helped support my most recent trip to Ecuador. They have been so influential in our lives. They were leaders in our first Sunday School class in Austin. Then they were leaders in our "Bible Life Group". And out of that group, they were leaders of a home group bible study for years. We learned so much about hospitality and home group ministry from them. I called Mitch the other day and tried to tell him how thankful I am for the way God has used him to grow me, both spiritually and professionally.
Of course, I am also grateful for the support of my wife. She encourages me in my work to do what God has called me to do, and she also helps me keep things in perspective and balance so that I don't get whopperjawed. She is such a devoted wife and mother, and I am very thankful for her.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your kindness and grace to me. Thank you for salvation in Jesus Christ, and thank you for your presence. Please help me keep you always the focus of my life and be listening to your voice and walking with you to see how you will continue to unfold your plans for me to participate with you in advancing your kingdom in all aspects of my life. Please help me take care of my wife and encourage her, and please help me train my children to love you and seek you. Please help me be salt and light at school to my coworkers and students. I love you, Lord. Please help me practice a lifestyle of thankfulness and gratitude. I ask in the name of Jesus Christ.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
At the end of Chapter 9, Matthew records Jesus's command for us to pray that God will send out more harvesters into the fields. Matthew 10 is a practical extension of what that looks like with Jesus's disciples. I like the way the MSG translates these verses:
5-8Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge: "Don't begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don't try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously. 9-10"Don't think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don't need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.
It seems pretty simple when I think about it this way.
Heavenly Father, please help me see your vision for what you want the Church to look like in following Christ and continuing His ministry. Lord, please help us see what real ministry is, and please deliver all the churches from this notion that they have to have a nice building. The real ministry seems to be in the community where people are, in their homes. Lord, please help us engage people here in El Paso to show them your love and help them experience your healing. I love you, Lord. Please help me be a good harvest worker. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
35-38Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. "What a huge harvest!" he said to his disciples. "How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!"
It is so easy to focus on the responsibilities of work and family and miss the big picture. I need to have the focus and compassion that Jesus had - to notice people and how I can help them. I need to pray for harvesters.
Heavenly Father, please help me focus on you and your kingdom and how you might use me to help other people. Lord, please fill me with your love, peace, and joy so that I may be a blessing to others. Please use me to help other people see how they can connect with you and be used by you to help others do the same. I love you, Lord, and I pray in the name of Jesus.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
I have to confess. For some reason, I feel pretty scandalous reading the Message translation. I feel like I'm not a "real" Christian unless I read the NASB or ESV. I guess I even feel a little inferior reading the NLT. I just love how religion does that to you (sarcastically).
10-11Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew's house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus' followers. "What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?"
12-13Jesus, overhearing, shot back, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders."Inviting outsiders versus coddling insiders. When I first read this, I thought it seems like a tough balance to know how much time and resources to invest in inviting outsiders versus training insiders. I thought the emphasis was on training versus coddling. But I just realized, there is no such thing as "insiders" with God. We are all outsiders.
I realize that by faith in Jesus Christ, God has changed us from enemies to friends, from sons of the devil to sons of God. But if we realize that we are no better than anyone else, that we are all saved by grace, then we might realize that we are all outsiders. In a way, training and discipling people to follow Jesus is simply inviting them to take another step forward, deeper into their experience of God's love.
Heavenly Father, please never let me think I am an "insider" like the Pharisees did. They felt entitled. I hope I always feel grateful and thankful for your mercy and grace. And I hope I communicate that humble gratitude in a way that leads others to consider following and walking with Jesus. God, please help me identify with people who don't yet know you so that I will be considerate of how you might use me to share how much you love us all. I love you, and I want to walk with you. Please help me loose my religion. I pray in the name of Jesus.
Monday, January 16, 2012
Jesus was in the boat sleeping, and a bad storm blew in, and the disciples thought they were all going to die. They woke up Jesus, and he calmed the storm.
I think most of my storms are brought on by me. Sometimes I think about the millions of children around the world with no clean water, no food, no family, no medicine, no school, no political stability... now that's a storm! I am thankful that God has allowed me all of these things, but I know that I will be held responsible for what I have been given. Unfortunately, in the absence of a "real" storm, I guess human nature is to make self-imposed storms.
My work is so crazy these days. Too many deadlines and obligations. But I either agreed to or signed myself up for almost all of it. I know in my head that Jesus does care, but sometimes I feel like He doesn't.
What would have happened if the disciples had let Jesus stay asleep? Would they have been rowing/sailing furiously for hours with little to no forward progress? Maybe I need to wake up Jesus and get Him to calm down my life. Then again, I overbooked myself, so maybe Jesus wants me to learn my lesson so that I don't do it again. I don't want to use Jesus as a "get me out of this jam I'm in" card, but maybe He would settle down my life if I would let Him.
I realize that comfort is not the main objective of Jesus or me; sometimes He lets us go through storms so that we learn to trust Him, and He grows our character. He is not necessarily going to calm every storm. But He does want us to turn over everything to Him so that we can trust that He is in control and that He is with us. It is the awareness of His presence that gives us boldness and power to conquer fear.
I guess that is the real issue - fear. The issue is not whether we are in a storm or not, uncomfortable or comfortable. The issue is whether or not we trust in God's promise to love us, be with us, and grow us to be like Jesus. If I fear anything (other than God), then my faith needs some growth.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your consistent love and patience with me. It seems like it takes me so long to learn spiritual lessons. Please help me grow, and help me to not be a whiner. Lord, thank you for clean water, plenty of safe food, a loving family, plenty of school, and a relatively stable government. Please use me to bless others and show others how wonderful you are, because you are fundamentally good in your character (not because you have allowed me to experience the comforts of all of these things). Lord, please bring peace and rest to my life; I have brought a lot of anxiousness and unrest. I am not necessarily asking you to take me out of the storms that I've gotten myself into, but I want to focus on you and know that you are with me. I want to walk with you. I love you, Lord. Thank you for your promises. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ.
Friday, January 13, 2012
7 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
13 "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Heavenly Father, your Word says that if I ask then it will be given, so I want to ask you to make my heart want to seek you so that I will find you. And show me how to knock on the door to the narrow path so that it will be opened. And please help me stay on the narrow way. It is hard sometimes. Please don't let me get distracted; show me the way. Please give me endurance and perseverance so that I will keep on walking with you. I love you, and I pray in the name of Jesus Christ.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Seems like a high mark, to me. Of course, there is no way that I can be perfect. I get angry; I struggle with lust and pride; and I don't want to love my enemies. I need the character of Christ in me. But how do I get it?
Heavenly Father, how do I get close to you? How do I experience your love and allow it to flow through me into the lives of others? How can I be perfect? I don't want to work for your approval in a religious way, but I do want to prove by the way that I live that I am your son. But I think that can only happen if I allow Christ to direct me by the power of the Holy Spirit. Lord, I want to be a spiritual man. Please help me live in the Spirit. I love you, and I pray in the name of Jesus Christ.
Monday, January 9, 2012
6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.I want to hunger and thirst for righteousness. But I feel like I'm not very hungry or thirsty. I know in my head that Jesus is the only real satisfaction, but I allow myself to think that other stuff can satisfy, even though I know in my head that it doesn't. I am so tired of running and working so hard at work thinking that if I finish this project or if I land that next big project, somehow that will make me feel better. Maybe I am seeking the approval of men instead of God. Anyway, I am tired of it, because it doesn't satisfy. At least with God, you get satisfaction and rest. With the world, you just end up empty handed and empty inside. And tired.
Heavenly Father, I am sorry that I don't hunger and thirst for righteousness. I want to. Please help me, Lord. Please turn my heart to you instead of whatever it is focused on now. Lord, please let me taste and see that you are good. I know you are because I have in the past. How is it that my heart can drift away so quickly? I love you, and I need you. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ.
Thursday, January 5, 2012
I need to live a life of repentance. Repentance is not just something you do once and then you're done. It is a daily, hourly, continuous process of turning from my own way to God's way.
8 Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.
Sadly, I confess that I have overextended myself in work. I have let the pressures and responsibilities of work consume my mind these past several months. And I need to change. I spent a considerable amount of time over the Christmas break working on a report for work, and I regret it. I have to learn how to leave work at work. I want to do a good job, but I can't let it consume my life.
Heavenly Father, please help me repent of being a workaholic. Lord, I love you, and I need your life breathed in to me. I feel pretty dry these days, probably because I haven't maintained a balance in my life that honors you. Lord, please show me your grace and mercy and lead me to a lifestyle that pleases Christ. I want to work for you, Lord Jesus, not the world. Please give me eyes to see and a heart to believe. I ask in the name of Christ Jesus.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
A few observations during our Christmas vacation:
- Time marches on, quickly. Vacations fly by. Time with family and friends is brief, so make it count. And children grow up fast, so don't miss it.
- My Dad reminded me that "We are spiritual beings in physical bodies." But it is easy to be distracted from the spiritual reality by what seems urgent in this world.
- Forbearance means "putting up with people". A lot of times, you just need to let stuff go for the sake of preserving harmony.
- Investment in other people's pursuit of Christ is worth it.
- Fellowship with Brothers and Sisters in Christ will be so sweet in Eternity.
A few New Year resolutions:
- Read through the New Testament and pray through each day's Scriptures reading to focus on developing my friendship with Christ.
- Meet weekly with several Brothers for discipleship.
- Continue learning Spanish.
- Have a "date night" at least once per month where we hire a babysitter so that Brandi and I can actually have a real, uninterrupted conversation.
- Be proactive and intentional with my family and not work when I get home in the evenings.
- Be consistent in daily physical exercise.
Heavenly Father, I want to seek first your Kingdom and your righteousness and trust you to take care of everything else. I want to focus on you - knowing you and walking with you. Lord, please deliver me from selfishness and religion, and help me have a fresh, genuine relationship with you. Lord, please help me show your kindness and love to my family and the people that I work with. I love you, and I need you.