Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ain't Over Til It's Over

Good thing we don’t have the responsibility of determining when our lives are over. Can you imagine calling it quits and the very next day God has a boat-load of blessings set to be delivered to your address? Or shutting everything down, then somebody comes by that wants exactly what you’ve been selling all these years. I can’t imagine living forever with this what if stuck in my mind—what if I had waited? What if I hadn’t been so anxious to turn out the lights?

And then, a church calls and says, “We need an interim.” That sounds doable. I believe God would have be do that. So I started the interim. But God had other plans.

People started coming. Excitement began to permeate the place. We opened the spill-over room on one side in the back. Later, we opened the other side. We get done and they won’t go home. They stand around and visit and enjoy the fellowship. The atmosphere is good.

Then God said, “Let’s make this permanent.” And the people voted and unanimously agreed God had spoken. We celebrated and sensed something special was going on.

I even agreed with Obama, “You didn’t build this.” There is no way a person or persons could do what God is doing here. He is setting His seal on North Shore Church and declaring it a place where 
His reputation (glory) rests.

Where He’s taking us is still a mystery, but it is clear He has something in mind.

Now, I just need to keep from messing this up.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

When Faith Becomes Tedious

Probably the most tedious part of the Bible is Leviticus and Numbers. I just finished reading through them. The names, numbers and details of procedures can be overwhelming. I often wondered why on earth would God have recorded all of this and preserved it to become a foundational part of our Bible. Then it hit me.

The manuscript of the Bible

God was taking a group of people who grew up in a foreign culture, shaped by a foreign society and influenced by a foreign religion and transforming them into the collection known as the People of God.
There were no instructions telling them how to transform or guidelines describing what the final product would look like. They were on the path to being in practice what they were by calling yet had no idea where the path would lead. Without direction, they would be left, each man, to his own opinion of how life should be lived.

God gave the tedious laws to provide boundaries to keep them bundled together while they learned how to live as People of God. The do’s and do not’s taught them there was a standard of right and wrong applicable to everyone. Society cannot survive unless the laws apply to everyone.
He also gave procedures for how to present themselves and their offerings. These were quite specific. He described the kind of offerings they were to bring so that people wouldn’t just give Him something of no value. He was establishing His preeminence. You don’t give left-overs to a King.

But the process of how the priests would do the sacrifice was very precise. I wondered why? Just kill the animal, drain its blood and burn it. Sounds simple, routine. Yet, God wanted an exact process followed because the process protected them from changing why they did what they did. The goal was to please God, not just simply sacrifice an animal.
Faith requires us to act according to a pattern. We believe in God. We encounter a trial. We declare God’s faithfulness. We trust in God. We act according to our confidence in God’s direction. We thank God for the outcome. Whatever we add to that pattern that doesn’t reflect upon God’s goodness is unnecessary and unwanted.

James says if we are acknowledging God for our needs and mix in doubt we have become double-minded. We have included something into the pattern that doesn’t belong. Adding something that doesn’t belong taints our faith—whether it’s our motive or our help.
That’s why God wanted the priests to carry out their procedures precisely, so that they wouldn’t include something that didn’t belong, changing an offering to God into a method to gain their own way. Trust means relying on God to accomplish His purposes His way.

As tedious as trusting God the way God wants to be trusted may seem, faith works best when it is unaffected by circumstances, the situation, the timing. God made it specific: cast your cares upon Me, for I care for you…and don’t let anything interfere with the simplicity of that process.
And all the names, tribes, chiefs…what’s that all about? It just shows that God not only knows what He wants to accomplish, but who He wants to accomplish it through. He knows His people and knows their circumstances. Knowing all those names means He knows our names, individually, and has intentions specific to us.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

May I Never Lose the Awe

For those of us along the Gulf, whose climate is driven more by tropical breezes than by arctic blasts, snow is a glorious and mysterious sight. We become overwhelmed by flurries we can see dancing in our backyards.  We anticipate the white blanket blurring the harsh deadness of winter grass and barren trees. We envision sledding and slushing and watching the Iditarod pass by in front of our houses. We shut down schools and businesses. We crash into parked cars because we don’t know how to drive on snow.  And, yet, we are amazed.

First Snowfall - Tampier

People who actually live where it snows much of the winter laugh at our excitement. To them, snow is just a seasonal obligation. They shovel it out of the way and keep on going. They put on chains—kept in readiness in their trunk—and drive wherever the snowplows have cleared the path. They deal with it, not as a blessed sight, but as an ordinary, normal occurrence.
Normal occurrences often fall into the category of non-spectacular, regular, where the awe gets quickly replaced with life. What we see as incredible and stop our lives to relish, they see as an obstacle to be pushed aside in order to keep life going.

Occasional sights are far more inspiring to those who rarely get such glimpses than they are to those who deal with them regularly. Whether it’s snow, mountains, oceans, skyscrapers, airplanes, horses, music, the difficulty lies in keeping the experience from becoming ordinary.
One of the hazards of knowing God for a long time is losing the impact of who He is. Listen to new believers whose excitement in discovering God’s love is overwhelming. They burst with delight from each moment they spend with Him. Their prayers are fresh and personal, honest and hopeful. Their worship is free and unencumbered. The Bible is alive and inspiring. Us older believers are much more reserved. We carry out the duties of our service with the dull obligation of shoveling snow. We miss the beauty by the routine. This is the hundredth time we’ve been at this very same place, doing the very same task. All we want to do is get done.

I want to be excited to see snow. I want to dance with the flurries. I want to anticipate the beauty to come. And yes, I even want to build a snowman! But I also want to live with such freshness with my God that He still thrills me by just being there.

Lord, I’ve known you all my life. I do not want that fact to condition me to ever lose sight of how great You are!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Waiting for Dawn

There’s that moment, just before sunrise, when you can tell something’s about to happen. The darkness is giving way to the light. It’s like finishing the chapter of a book and turning the page to start a whole new chapter. It’s a reminder there’s more to come.

Posted by Mark Cote - Lyricist at 10:07 PM

I can remember as a kid sitting in deer stands during cold, damp and dark pre-dawn hours, waiting for the light. Every snap, rustle or drip of dew hitting the ground sent shivers up my already frigid spine.  I kept straining to see what I couldn’t see.

But then after a while the woods began to wake up. The night sounds were taken over by the birds greeting the day and squirrels running across limbs. Gradually, my vision moved past a few feet to several feet and soon to the whole field came into sight. What was there all along was now visible. It had never left, only my view was limited because I can’t see in the dark.
There are times in our lives when we’re caught in that pre-dawn moment, just before God turns the lights on and we see He’s been there all along. He’s been keeping us in the dark while He was getting ready to reveal the fuller picture of what He was doing.

I have to admit sitting in the dark on a tree stand was my most unfavorable part of hunting. But I loved when the darkness gave way to morning.
The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. Lam 3:22f

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Stepping Out in Faith

A favorite scene in one of my favorite movies is when Indiana Jones must step out in faith to cross to the other side of a deep chasm. He repeats the mantra of what is expected then places his boot out into the vast unknown. Landing on a rock bridge he had not seen, he was able to go into the cave on the other side.

Leap of faith
Yesterday was one of those days. Sometimes you find yourself making a choice beyond your ability to see the next step. I’m not sure why that should have surprised me. Believe it or not, choices like that are the rule of life for a believer, not the exception. We are required, as a product of faith, to live by faith. Faith is the action of trusting God.
Earlier that morning, during my quiet time, I read of Abraham taking Isaac up on Mt. Moriah to sacrifice him to the Lord. Abraham didn’t know what would be there for him to step onto when he placed his sandal into the vast unknown, but he was determined to trust God was committed to His faithfulness. He knew God would provide even though he didn’t know what that provision would be.

Faith acts upon God’s faithfulness not ours. Having to see the rocks in the water before we step out of the boat, having to know what’s on the other side of the mountain before we climb, having to have our ducks in a row before we start the parade…lack the main ingredient of faith—trusting God for what we cannot see and places too much emphasis upon our wisdom over against God’s.

Faith often includes a struggle. Like the man who brought his son to Jesus for healing and said, “Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief.” Don’t think for a minute that Abraham whistled Oh Happy Day all the way up the mountain and was still whistling at the moment the angel stopped his hand. This was the biggest challenge of his life. Every fiber of what made him who he was was charged with the question: Could he trust God beyond his ability to see what God was going to do?
Abraham told Isaac God would provide. He didn’t know how, when or to what degree, only that God would provide. That was his hope.

Can you live with that hope? Regardless of how yesterday went? Can you trust God to make a way where there is no way, to make an invisible path visible as soon as your boot hits it, to produce a ram in the thicket at the perfect time?
As people of faith, we live by faith, not by sight. Probably one of the hardest things God ever asked us to do.

Monday, January 26, 2015


I heard a message last night by Roger Yancy, the DOM of Tryon-Evergreen Baptist Association. It’s possible none of that meant anything to you, but what he said probably would have. He spoke on servant-leadership.

It seems God intends us to live our lives leading others into fruitfulness by serving them. The task is daunting. The servant is not just the waiter, he is the example of how a waiter waits. A servant-leader must be what he wants others to become. That’s the part that changed a good presentation into a message from the Lord. That’s where God stopped time and aimed my thoughts toward the video He was playing in my mind of my own life in comparison to what Dr. Yancy was saying. Quite painful.

I grew up during the era where dads’ said, “Do what I say, not what I do.” It was as if we were wired to responded to command over against example. At the heart was an admission, “I don’t want you to be like I am. I want more for you.” But what does that “more” look like? How is it implemented in a life? How close is it to where I am living now? Is it reachable or merely an empty promise?

It’s like the theorists who believe the world would be better if their ideals were practiced but are content to live in the meantime contrary to those ideals. Like people who adamantly accuse combustive engines for polluting the world, yet drive or fly to the venue where they reverberate the air with the damage they themselves have helped create.

Where’s integrity? The servant-leader may still have further to go and lives anticipating more to follow, but he lives in the meantime demonstrating the expectations he places on others. Pressing them toward godliness, he lives a godly life. Urging them toward purity, he lives a pure life. Suggesting change that helps them better reflect the image of Jesus in their lives, he holds himself up as an example of what that change can look like.

Whether in the home, organization or church, the servant-leader remains the best visual to help others find their way. And since we never reach perfection, even our stumbling becomes a lesson on humility. We cannot lead others where we have not been. We can point them beyond where we are but we can only lead them down familiar paths.

An old Indian guide was leading a tourist through the forest. The tourist asked the guide, where is the path? The guide said, “I am your path. Follow me.”

Jesus said the same to His men. Whenever they asked where they were going, He would remind them, “Just follow Me, I am your way.” And in that He set the example of how we were to lead others.

Friday, January 23, 2015

When Life Becomes a Tunnel

I haven’t had much to say in the past several months. Still don’t for that matter.  But, like most folks, that doesn’t stop me from saying something anyway.

It is interesting how circumstances tend to squeeze life from us. We’re bopping along with little care then the door slams behind us and we are in a room we are totally unfamiliar with. The physics remains the same but the movement is strange.

We think we are making progress, only to find our feet have been moving but we’re not going anyplace. Time is passing but we look at the clock and the hands seem frozen. Stuff is going past us but if we stop and look at it, it hardly seems to be moving at all.

Don’t know what you might be going through but whatever it is, it can change you—either for a moment or a while.

I’ve been sick a lot this past year. Nine documented cases of flu, bronchitis, pneumonia. That has consumed a lot of energy and passion. When the greatest desire you have is just getting well, life becomes a very small journey. The scope becomes limited to a day—a day when this will be all over. That doesn’t leave much room for imaginative living.

But it doesn’t have to be limited to illness. All you have to do is fill in the blank. I’m dealing with _____________________. And whatever you placed in the blank becomes the matter that has holds your life hostage. Death, job, marriage, kids, parents, aging—all energy, desire, passion is consumed by getting past that one thing.

So you ask me how I’ve gotten over it? I haven’t, yet. I am in the process of renewing my mind to greater things than my own frustration. There is nowhere in Scripture where anyone says, “It’s okay to live by your feelings and let your circumstances determine your outlook.” Instead the constant message is “Live by faith in the One who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

We cannot put God on hold while we deal with our circumstances. We invite Him into them. We trust Him through them. We anticipate a timely outcome only He can provide. We expect to grow as a result.

Circumstances are incidents of life, neutral in effect, but embedded with the potential of upsetting the spiritual balance of our lives. Like a temptation, they’re merely a suggestion from which we determine our response. They are an attractive lure we don’t have to bite. Their power lies in their ability to tug at what urges us to focus on ourselves, doubt God and gum up the progress He intends.

My plan? Tell myself no. If you hear me saying no, I am probably in the middle of the fight to deny myself the response to refuse to trust God. Right now, I'm still a work in progress. The tunnel may remain for a while, but my confidence in getting through rests on Him who loved me and gave Himself up for me."