Thursday, September 13, 2018

5 Spiritual Disciplines to Overcome the Drought of Worry

All of us have experienced a drought sometime in our lives.  There are those times when everything dries up.  The heat is relentless and life-giving rain is nowhere in sight.  First the grass turns yellow then the trees.  It seems that our entire world is headed toward destruction. Worry is much like a drought. It sucks the life out of everything that lives. It also leads to other ailments and problems.  These can be physical, emotional or even spiritual.  
Winston Churchill said, “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he has had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which  never happened.” His words ring true today. One pastor wrote, “Most of our problems are huge, and they don’t exist.”

I wish I could say that I have learned to overcome worry. I have not. I have, however, found some spiritual disciplines to assist me when I worry. Let me share them with you.

Grace. Both God’s grace and my grace. I have found that when I worry I have a need for God’s grace. That comes from a life lived in brokenness. Restoration comes to the worried heart when God’s grace comes in with its warming love and reconciliation. I also need to express grace to myself. Most of my worries are about my pride. It’s amazing how I can make a situation that is totally not about me into something that totally is. It’s almost as if I gather worry toward myself and hold on to it. How sick is that? That’s when I need to give myself the grace to realize it’s not about me.

Rest. I worry most when I’m tired. Worry becomes emotional for me and therefore it exhausts me. That emotional tiredness wreaks havoc on my wellbeing. Instead of waiting until you fall in the ditch, schedule times of rest. What do you do to recharge your batteries? Do it regularly.

          Praise. Not necessarily singing. Praising the Lord and recounting how He has provided for you will conquer worry. Instead of focusing on the problem, focus on the provision. I am astonished how people have overcome the most devastating losses with the attitude of what’s been given instead of what’s been taken away.

          Stillness. Somewhere we have learned that if we go harder and faster we won’t have time to worry. We want to run from the draught in our lives instead of allowing the Lord to bring His life-giving rain in the stillness of our hearts. So we fill our lives with activities. We get up in the morning and we run until we fall exhausted in our beds at night. It may be raining, but we’re going so fast we don’t really notice or, even worse, we think it’s a nuisance. Two words—Slow Down!
          Silence. Not quietness, silence. Say nothing. Turn off everything and listen. In the silence you will hear Him and your worries will melt, as he says, “I am.”

These 5 disciplines have assisted me in enduring and overcoming in the midst of the drought of worry.  Hopefully you have some things that assist you to be as vibrant as you can possibly be.  If not, start with these and see if your worries will give way to life giving rain.

1 Peter 5:7

Keep Lookin UP!!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Grass Fires and Wet Toe-Sacks

One of the most dangerous and most helpful things in this part of Oklahoma is a grass fire. I say it’s most dangerous because of the winds that blow constantly.  A small spark can get out of control and before you know it a raging destructive fire can char hundreds of acres.  It’s helpful because although it’s destructive it also burns off old grasses and weeds and a new landscape is born from the ashes.  Ranchers will set them on purpose (it’s called a controlled burn), to get the new grass to grow.  This year I noticed that it only took a couple of weeks for the charred hills to turn a beautiful green. 

In the past, many of the grass fires were fought with wet toe-sacks.  Every small home or farm had a few of them lying around.  They were used for a variety of things.  When a fast-moving grass fire broke out they were submerged in the horse trough and used to beat the fire out.  A line of residents from around the area would be called on to step up to the fire line and beat out the oncoming wall of flames.  With bandanas around their nose and mouth men, women and children would line up and beat the fire until it was no more.

Every church has one or more of these wet toe-sack brigades.  The spark of a fire breaks out in a church or in the life of someone and they gather their compatriots and head to the water trough, toe-sack in hand.  They usually don’t wait too long, because they know if they let such a thing spread the wind of the Holy Spirit will blow and the fire will quickly be out of their control.  To these rugged defenders of all things status quo, a charred landscape would be devastating.  Things would not be the same.  “Sure, there is some deadness around, but we’re used to it”, they reason.  So, they beat out the flames with their criticism, apathy, and down right meanness.  Before too long the fire is over and their right back where they were, solidly in control.

This phenomenon is nothing new.  Jesus dealt with a wet toe-sack brigade back when he was on earth.  They were called Pharisees.  When he healed a blind man on the Sabbath they tried their best to put of the fire.  Jesus knew what they were doing and basically called them false shepherds and thieves.  In John 10:10 he said, “…I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”  Sure, he healed the blind man on the Sabbath.  The fire blew threw his life and burned out the old so that the new would spring forth.  Instead of rejoicing the toe-sack brigade was more concerned about when he did it. They totally missed the point.  It was about Jesus giving life to the full.  

It becomes increasing difficult for leaders in the Kingdom to put down their toe-sacks.  Things are just not the way they used to be, and we are unsure of ourselves these days.  It’s time to let Jesus bring life.  Let the wind blow.  Sure, it will be hard to see the old burn off, but new life will come as a result.  Put down your toe-sack.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

I Dare You!

As a kid someone probably dared you to jump over something or stick your tongue on a flag pole on a sub-freezing day.  Maybe they dared you to talk to that special person that you really admired or a host of other things.  No matter, it was always something that was out of your comfort zone.

We all value comfort.  When I was growing up we moved to a house that had central heat and air conditioning.  Back then that was a big deal.  Of course the system included a thermostat.  The unique thing about the one in our house was it had a comfort zone printed on it. Right above 68 and 72 degree range were the words; "Comfort Zone".  The heat and air company that produced the thermostat was educating their customers on how their machines could keep the home owner comfortable.  It didn't take long before most people knew what their comfort zone was.  It also didn't take long after that for each individual to establish their own comfort zone.  I know people who are comfortable with a constant temperature of 58 degrees, still others are only comfortable at 78 degrees.  I still like the old 68-72 comfort zone from my childhood.  The point is we value comfort.  

I'm constantly surprised by the growing number of Christ followers that have decided that their comfort is more important than anything else.  When it comes to following Jesus, they will not get out of their comfort zone.  This "deny yourself and take up your cross daily" thing is not part of their life.(Luke 9:23)  It's all about their family, their job, their church, their town, their money, their food, their plan, etc, etc, etc.  That may sound preachy or a little harsh, but the Kingdom of God is not intended to be safe or comfortable.  If you read the Scriptures carefully you will find our calling is always toward those places out of our comfort zone and many times down right unsafe.  Now before you think I'm advocating for a life without boundaries or guidelines, remember that Jesus also said  " one builds a tower without first making plans."(Luke 14:28)  No I don't believe we should be like rudderless ships going wherever the wind blows, but I do believe that our Lord calls us to places that are outside of our "68-72" degrees of comfort.  

The Gospel dares us to break out of our comfortable lifestyles and risk everything for Him.  It dares us to walk across the street to speak to that neighbor that you haven't met and begin a spiritual conversation that might lead him or her to Christ. For some people that is  way outside of their comfort zone.  In other cases it dares us to get in an airplane and fly to the other side of the world to plant seeds in the hearts of those who have never heard the life-giving truth.  In every case, it dares us to move to the outer edges of our comfort in order to follow him.  Jesus never said, "Just sit there and whine and complain that the temperature in the church is too hot or too cold".  He never said, "Behold you shall look at your watch when your pastor goes over your time limit while preaching his sermon." No he said, "Come follow me." (Luke 18:22)  His call to us is a compelling, personal call that dares us to place His will and His ways above our desires.  

The forth aspect of our association's vision is DARE. As we PREPARE, SHARE and CARE, we must DARE to go to the highways and hedges and compel others to come in.  That means we will have to get out of our box of conventional thinking and comfort and follow Jesus into a Kingdom that is full of risk and uncomfortable situations. So...I dare you! 

Keep Lookin' UP!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Do...You...really care?  The young man from the children's home belted out the old tune, his high-pitched voice ringing through the sanctuary of my childhood church.  It's unusual that a memory like that sticks in my mind some 50 or so years later.  Maybe it was the words, maybe it was the melody or maybe it was God speaking to my heart, but I remember the feeling that stayed with me for several days later.  I had just been confronted with what it means to be a follower of Christ.  It's been said, " don't have do anything, but you do have to care."  Jesus taught us to care for the poor, the sick, the imprisoned and those who had basic needs.  He also commanded us to nurture or care for our fellow Christian brothers and sisters.

The 3rd aspect of our associational vision is "CARE".  We must "PREPARE" the soil to take the seed of the Gospel.  We then must "SHARE" the seed itself. Once it takes root and begins to grow it is our task to "CARE" or nurture the plant to full maturity.  If you planted a seed then went off and ignored it, chances are it wouldn't make it.  Unfortunately, that's what happens in a lot of churches these days. We witness to people they take the seed of the Gospel then we tend to go off and leave them to fend for themselves.  It's a tragedy that repeats itself many time in the life of the church.

In Matthew 28 the Lord is about to ascend into heaven when he tells his closest followers to "Go and make disciples of all nations."  The actual translation from the Greek is "As you go, therefore, disciple all nations."  He was telling them to make a lifestyle of discipling others.  Of course, the first part is conversion.  But the greater more time-consuming part is caring for or nurturing the new follower.  John MacArthur said, "Our emphasis must not be on the moment of salvation, but on the lifetime of sanctification that follows."  Caring for the newly emerging seed is paramount to bringing a believer to full maturity and fruit bearing.  Without daily caring the plant will soon wither and die.  So, Jesus command means that we must pay attention to the new convert.  We must bring water when needed; fertilize, pull weeds and prune the plant so that harvest will be bountiful.

Additionally, we must “tend to” that which God has born in us. Self-care is essential to our continued growth.  Mentors, teachers, pastors and trusted friends are also important in this discipling journey. Here are a few things that will help.  They are disciplines that every disciple needs in their life. This is a start, not an exhaustive list.

Immerse Yourself in the Word.  There is no substitute for reading and studying the Bible

Prayer.  If we would pray half as much as we worry we would not worry at all.
Silence/Solitude.  Try this in your car.  Turn off the noise and be silent.  
Surrender.  We want to commit, but we don't want to surrender.
Adoration.  Adore the Lord. Worship Him.  Privately and Corporately.  You choose the style.
Endurance.  Just keep on keeping on.  One foot in front of the other.

These and several more can help you and others become a maturing disciple, bearing fruit for the Kingdom.  Now go out and CARE.  

Keep Lookin' UP

Thursday, February 15, 2018

It's time to PLANT

Spring is one of my favorite times of the year.  I really like warmer weather, blooming trees and flowers and birds singing.  I also really like planting.  In the many places Cindy and I have lived over the years we have made it a point to plant at least one tree. For the most part, we didn't benefit from the shade or beauty that those trees provide at maturity, but others have.

In ancient times a sower would go to a prepared field and scatter seed.  Most of you have read the parable of the sower or the parable of the soils in the Gospels and know the point that our Lord was making about sowing the seed.  Some fell on rocky soil, others fell on hard pan, and so on.  The point is that we are called to plant the seed, and leave the results to God.

Most of us love those times when we see the fruit of the planting.  It is a thrill when someone comes to Christ.  It's wonderful to be part of a great harvest of souls.  It could happen in series of meetings, at a camp or retreat or just through an extended period of time.  We love counting and reporting the number of souls coming to Christ in our church. However, we are not seeing much of that in our churches these days.  Could it be that we aren't seeing a harvest because we haven't planted any seeds?  

Let me illustrate.  Recently my brother in law told me about a time he went to talk to his neighbor about his relationship to Jesus.  His neighbor was a war hero.  He had earned many medals serving our country in World War II and Korea. His wife was a believer but he had never really opened his life to Christ.  He had become ill and was in the local veteran's home.  So Phil, (my brother in law), went over and had a spiritual conversation with his neighbor which included a simple presentation of the Gospel.  The man's response was, "...I'll think about it."  You'd think that Phil failed in his attempt to lead the man to Christ, but the seed was planted.  Over several weeks, God brought others into the man's life and eventually old vet gave his life to Jesus.  It started with a trustworthy neighbor going and speaking sharing the Good News of Jesus.  

A few years ago most churches had a tote board that recorded how many people showed up and how much money was brought in.  It also recorded how many people showed up last year on the same date.  It was our scoreboard.  I remember as a young pastor that some of my self worth was tied up in how many people showed up on a given Sunday.  Well, it's time to change the scoreboard.  Instead of counting how many people come to church, or how many baptisms we have had during the year, we must start counting how many seeds we have planted.  Why?  Because the world has changed since the days of the tote board.  These days we must earn the right to speak into people's lives.  We must be authentic followers of Christ.  They must see in you something different; something real.  If you live just like they live, then why would they ever want what you supposedly have.  Your attitude about life, your openness to others, and the way you live must be based on trust and on the love of God.  Then you can have those spiritual conversations, that lead toward planting the seed of the Gospel.

Planting takes patience and faith.  You must be willing to plant some seeds that you may never benefit from.  You may not sit in the shade of the tree, but someone will.  It's time to PLANT!

Keep Lookin UP!!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Hard Work of Preparing

My father in law's garden is famous in our family.  It is a special place that yields a tremendous harvest every year.  He and my mother in law have labored for decades on their mini farm.  Our family, friends, neighbors and others have benefited from the fresh vegetables and fruit that grows there each year.  Everything from tomatoes as big as a cat's head to fresh black berries, squash, potatoes, greens of every type and other wonderful fresh goodness comes from that plot of land. The garden has always been a place of tranquility for me since I met Cindy back in the early 70's.  She tells of how it all started when they moved there some 55 years ago.  You see, the garden was not like that back then. It was just a red clay field where cattle and horses used to roam.  It took years of hard work to prepare the soil.  That work included plowing to break up the hard clay and tilling to bust up the clods.  Then all sorts of "additives" were placed in the soil in order to get it ready to receive the seeds and plants.  Many days of digging and weeding and irrigating went in to making the garden what it is today.  That work didn't start in the spring and end in the fall.  It continued year round in the 100 degree heat of the summer and the sub freezing cold of the winter, and it continues to this day.

You might be thinking, "Why would they work so hard?"  The answer is very simple; THE HARVEST.   While some year's harvest is more bountiful than others, the reason for all the hard work is to experience the harvest that only God can bring.  I've noticed from watching this cycle year after year that if you want a harvest you have to do your part of preparing the soil. When you do, God will do what only He can do; produce a harvest.  The gardener doesn't really grow anything, he just prepares the environment so that it can grow.

In Joshua 3:5, Joshua goes about the camp of the 2nd generation of wilderness wanderers and tells them to "consecrate themselves" to get prepared for what God will do in their lives and in the lives of all Israel the next day as they cross the flooded Jordan river.  So, they entered into a time of coming before the Lord to get themselves ready for His miraculous work.

Could it be that we're not seeing a harvest in our lives or our churches because we have not prepared the soil?  Now and again we experience a harvest of souls through some meeting or camp or gathering, but we haven't really seen a bountiful crop in North America for decades.  Many go on mission trips and experience the tremendous harvest that is going on in other countries, only to return to a place of rock hard complacency. We complain that our country is not open to the Gospel; that the seed we're trying to plant never takes root or is rejected all together, (see Matthew 13:1-23).  But the fact is in some cases we have decided to build more barns to hold the harvest, yet we haven't done our part of preparing the soil so that God can produce a harvest.

Our association of churches must be committed to the hard work of preparing the soil.  Here are three areas that we need to focus this preparation upon.

     1. Personally:  Plow the soil of your heart.  Are there areas of you life that need to be broken up?

         2. Corporately: Your church has some areas that need some tilling to break up the clods, those places where God has yet to take control of your church.   It will probably take more than one pass to get them worked into the soil.

    3. Community:  How can you and your church make your community better?  Instead of being a silo or a fort, waiting for "them" to come to your church, get involved in your community and start meeting some needs. Doing this breaks down the unproductive soil.  Because of mistrust and cynicism toward believers that has invaded our culture we now have to earn the right to speak into people's lives, it's just part of the territory.

I'll be sharing more over the next few months about this and other aspects of our associational vision.  Please know I'm praying for you as you go back to the field and work the soil.

Keep Lookin' UP!!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The time of Giving

This time of year is stressful for most people.  There are a lot of factors that contribute to the anxiety.  Family problems; financial distresses; sad memories or the loss of a loved one during the year all factor in as we approach Christmas day.  Then there's the gift giving anxiety.  In some cases of dysfunction in a family the giving becomes a competition.  How can I out give my ex spouse?  How can one side of the family out give the in laws?  It goes on and on until one or more in one of the families makes the decision that they've had enough and forfeits the game of giving.  Then there are those who try to make up for all the things they haven't said or done during the year by purchasing gifts that are way too expensive or extravagant.  Sometimes the receiver of such gifts comes to expect it and even require this yearly purging of guilt on the part of their spouse, parent or other relationship.  You probably know someone that would fit into either of these categories.  Over the years I have heard of such goings on.  It almost makes me cringe to think that these days of giving have turned into such an emotional circus. 

I like giving gifts and I like receiving them too.  But I've found that the best gifts are those that have meaning and  purpose.  Cindy has taught me a valuable lesson when it comes to gift giving.  The best gifts are those that are given from a thoughtful heart.  Those gifts are not necessarily monetarily expensive.  They require a listening that goes beyond the emotions or the need to soothe a person's guilt.  In order purchase them you must listen to the person's need and their heart.  You have to go beyond what they want and really hear what they need in order to be fulfilled.  When you are able to give a person a gift like that it makes them better and it makes your relationship with them better.  It helps you continue your journey with them at your side walking the path of life.  You both become stronger because of the gift you have given.  It is an indication that you have listened to the point of understanding. 

It could be that you don't think you have never been given such a gift.  However, you have!  The big celebration of this time of year is about your Heavenly Father giving you a gift from his loving, thoughtful heart.  It is the gift of Himself.  He has freely given his Son Jesus Christ for you.  He is the gift that you really need.  He has listened to your heart.  He knows you and He knows that by giving you this gift you will have all that you need or desire.  This child that we celebrate became a man, lived a sinless life and gave himself as a sacrifice so that you could have everything you need. 

As you give this year, remember what has been given to you. 

Keep Lookin' UP!!