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Quit Saying My Name!

January 18, 2014 — Leave a comment

annoyed personWhere I work, they have many things that they ask of us. Just like any job, some of those things are annoying. The most annoying, I think, is that they want us to say people’s names when we are talking to them. Not just once or twice, but a very specific number of times. And this number is per sentence. “Hello Mrs. Jones, I’m calling to speak with you about something very important, Mrs. Jones. Now, Mrs. Jones, when is a good time for us to to meet, Mrs Jones?

One person I worked with took it too far, and started talking to people in the office the same way. “Hey, Rich I’m about to go to lunch Rich do you want to go with me Rich? Rich I was thinking about going to Whataburger Rich what do you think Rich?”

I sometimes would rather run my truck off a bridge than hear my own name.

I get the same treatment from businesses that call me. Recently I was in a car wreck, and the shop that was working on my car called every other day to give an update. Which is too much calling, really, but during those calls I would hear my name just about every twelve seconds.

It’s just too much. I know who I am. I know that you know who I am, too. Mostly because you keep saying it.

There are some exceptions to this, though.

When my kids are running toward me, smiling, screaming “Daddy!” I could do that all day.

When my wife calls me out of the blue and asks if I have time for lunch. I wish the answer would always be “yes”, but just to hear her voice, and hear her say my name – it always makes my day.

And to hear my Savior, calling me by name in His still, small voice – nothing in the universe compares.

You see, sometimes I get busy, and I forget about things, and I forget about people. I forget that people need to be valued, that they need to be called by name. They need to know that they are not forgotten. My kids, my family, even my customers – they all need to know that I am there for them. They need to hear me say their name!

God knows that we need this, so he has engraved our names on the palm of His hand. He will never forget who you are! Nothing is powerful enough to make Him forget any of us – not even our own sinfulness! When you need to hear your name the most, God will be there for you!

Debt

November 25, 2012 — 1 Comment

debt

I am no stranger to debt. It started, like it does for many these days, in college. I remember the first “student loan meeting” I had to go to. They showed a film on what life would be like if you defaulted on your loan. It showed a guy (college graduate?) slaving away as a short order cook, and explained that regardless of how little you made, if you defaulted, they would still probably garnish your wages.

This really didn’t bother me. I got through college mostly on grants. Considering where I went to school, it could have been much worse.

After this, though I went to the student center where they basically had a huge stack of credit cards they were giving away to incoming freshmen. I signed a form and 10 days later I had my first credit card and it was all down hill from there.

I worked full time my first semester at OBU and my grades reflected it. I decided I needed to focus, live on campus, take 16 hours, and study.

Well, I did some of that, and still made it through. My first two years I funded my night life with that stupid credit card. Remember, I had no real income – I did take some side jobs, cash only, weekend work, and I worked every summer. But once that card was maxed out, it was not as much fun as it had been in the beginning.

Eventually I graduated, got married, and decided to move to Texas to go to seminary. My wife and I refinanced all our student loans so we’d be making one payment, and then deferred while I was in school. We were so poor back then that we could not afford the interest payments. By the time I graduated from seminary, we owed twice what the loan amount was to begin with. Our payment, to this day, is almost as much as our mortgage payment, and most of that is still interest.

I’m not whining. I was told up front how it would be. I made informed choices. I thought I’d go to school, get a great church job, Cheryl would be writing and selling music by now, and we’d live in the big house and have no worries.

What killed that? Two high risk pregnancies, bad choices on my part of what churches I would agree to work for, more credit cards – full of mostly medical debt and car repairs, although I do remember buying a plane ticket to Boston that one time. It was a great trip by the way.

I’m glad to say, all those credit cards are paid off, both our cars are paid off, and the accounts closed now. We do have a card, and it has about $300 on it. It seems that to be able to do things in the world, like buy a house or a car, you have to have a credit rating, and to do that you have to borrow money and repay it. With interest.

I’m not complaining about that either. It just is. What I’m saying is, our choices messed up the first 10 years of our lives together. We were in debt to our debt. It crushed us in every way you can imagine. That is mostly over now – although we do still owe the student loan. I don’t see a good way out of that one. It’s at the tail end of a long list of debt that we couldn’t pay.

So how did we get the other credit issues resolved? One word – bankruptcy. That’s right, we paid a fee in cash to a lawyer, he wrote up some papers, we went to a judge, and he dismissed our debt. He saw what we were up against, and he forgave that debt.

I know a lot of people do this, and I tend to disagree with it for a variety of reasons. People go out and buy cars and houses and run up credit cards to furnish those houses and they have all the toys. When we filed, we didn’t have any of that. What we both did have was great jobs that pay well, and a mountain falling on us. We needed help, and we did not go into it lightly.

We had been paying for years, and we were not making a dent. We tried consolidation, snowball, Dave Ramsey, Crown Financial and about 12 other things and we were still not going to be able to pay off what we owed. So we filed bankruptcy. And it went away.

So, who pays for all that? And believe me when I say, it wasn’t all that much money. But who pays for it? Well, the company writes it off, they increase their costs, which you, the consumer, end up paying. So – you pay for it. And so do I.

Now that this little episode is several years behind us, I’m beginning to rethink all of it. Did we do the right thing? I don’t know…one thing I do know is that we were extremely uncomfortable, and being out of debt helped. We can actually function now, and we have no interest in being in debt anymore. As soon as the student loans are gone, that’ll be it. No more debt.

What brings all this on is something I heard in church this morning – We define comfort as having what we want, but God defines comfort as giving us what we need.

I think for us what it came down to was, we didn’t trust God. That is why this failure stings so much every time I think about it. We trusted ourselves, our jobs, our talents, and when those failed us we trusted the system. Did we ever once pray about it? Not that I remember. I do remember wallowing in self pity and whining a lot. But I didn’t share any of this with God, and as a result, we’re still kind of in the same place, even though the debt is gone.

Today, the pastor talked about how on the city walls, people would nail up for all to see the names of those people who could not or would not pay their debts. From time to time, someone else would take pity and pay the debt off. In that case, the paper was removed, folded over, the name of the person who paid the debt was written on the paper.

Regardless of my mistakes, regardless of how much I screw up my life, regardless of what I owe to whom, the name Jesus is written across my heart. God doesn’t see a failure. He sees a son. Beloved and worthy. Now my task it to learn to trust him, so that what he sees in his heart and mind can become real.

See how bad I messed everything up? And still God loves me. No matter what you’ve done, or not done, God still loves you all the same. He can’t love you any less, because he is love! If he did love you less, he would not be God! Learn to trust him, as I am learning. Your life will change.

Tonight, I’m going to write on paper how much we owe on our student loan, and I’m going to nail it to the wall. I’m going to pray every night that God would provide a way to get that stupid thing paid. And when he does, I’m going to fold that paper over and write his name on it in red ink. I may have it laminated at that point so that I never forget – where I’ve been, and just how much God has provided for me.

Expectations

October 22, 2012 — Leave a comment

expectations

No matter what age we are, we tend to rely on our expectations. For instance, this morning, our older daughter told the younger that it was crazy hat day at school, and gave her a crazy hat to wear. The only reason the older one did this is because she had a better hat in mind for herself.

The problem occurred when the older kid couldn’t find the hat she had in mind and took the first hat back that she had given our younger daughter. The younger one screamed and cried and threw a fit. Her expectation was that her Sissy would keep her word and let her use the hat. The circumstances changed and expectations met selfish reality and although I wasn’t there, it was a tough situation for my wife.

It happens, right? We expect certain things in life. Expect that it will turn out the way we planned. Sometimes we expect we will graduate high school and go to college, but sometimes people don’t get accepted, don’t have money, don’t have the grades. Sometimes we graduate college and expect we can get a great job and end up working part time at a local taco shack. Sometimes we get a specialized graduate degree and really have high expectations and end up doing something not at all related. Sometimes it’s confusing and heartbreaking when things don’t happen like we expect.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that, though. Really and truly. It’s ok! I’m just sorry it took me so long to figure that out.

The thing about expectations is, they can really hold you back. Sometimes we are stubborn about it, too. “No – I went to school for this, I’ve wanted this my whole life, and I am going to do this!” What if God has a different plan for you? That’s ok with you, isn’t it?

You know this verse, I know you do. Jeremiah 29:11. Here’s a different translation you may not have heard – “I have not lost sight of my plan for you, the Lord says, and it is your welfare I have in mind, not your undoing; for you, too, I have a destiny and a hope.”

Think on those words. Meditate on them. Realize how significant it is that God would say something like that to people like you and me.

Do you think your situation, regardless of what it is, caught God by surprise? He was just bebopping around in heaven, looked down and saw you hanging by a fingernail off the side of a cliff and said, “Wow that’s surprising to me. I didn’t see that coming at all.”

NO! He has not lost sight of any of us! He has a plan for us, and it’s a good plan – way better than anything we could ever come up with on our own.

My plans led to the confusion and heartbreak I’ve experienced, but God’s plan is always about destiny and hope – we all have a destiny that God has planned and that should give more hope than anything! More hope than the best job, more hope than a winning lottery ticket. More hope than you could ever imagine!

You, like me, might be thinking though that you are so far from where you thought you’d be that it’s hopeless. You might even be feeling worthless, like a failure, like you’ve messed it all up. I’ve been there, in fact I deal with that almost every day. Sometimes I feel like I wasted my whole life. I feel like I tried to do what God wanted me to do and failed and now I’ll never know what he really had in mind.

The good news is, this feeling is pretty common, and even better news is that with God, nothing is wasted. Not your most mind bending failure, not your lowest point, not anything. No single thing is wasted. God can and will redeem it all! That’s how big he is, and that’s how much he loves you!

Another verse – And some context first. Joseph was a man of dreams, and his brothers were so jealous that they threw him in a ditch and told his dad he was dead. Then they sold him into slavery. Then he was put in prison for something he didn’t do. These events make up the bulk of his life. For the majority of his life, if you look at it from the outside, you would think, “Wow it really sucks to be you. No, really.”

During all those years it would have been so easy for him to think, “you know what? This stinks, it’s not going to get better, my expectation was, based on my dreams that God gave me, that I’d be living in a big house and have a book deal with a movie option. And here I am rotting in jail. My life has been a waste! Why God?”

But in Genesis 50:20, we see that he didn’t just get out of jail, but that he’s the #2 guy in all of Egypt. He’s pharoah’s right hand. There is only one person with more power than him in the entire earth. And he gives God the glory for it! He says, “You meant to do me harm, but God meant it for good — so that it would come about as it is today, with many people’s lives being saved.”

What others meant for evil, God can turn to good. When your expectations fail you, God’s dreams for you will restore your hope. Don’t waste another minute on your plans! Go to God, discover his dreams for you, learn to follow him, and his dreams will become your dreams!

What do you think God is saying to you right now? What do you think his plans are for you? Ask him, and he’ll show it to you, and give you everything you need to fulfill your destiny!

Spiritual Gifts

October 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

gifts

I can’t tell you how many spiritual gifts tests I’ve taken in my life. About 97000. They all say the same thing – exactly what I want them to say. This is not to say that they are worthless. They aren’t worthless. I think it’s a good starting point for someone who wants to find out what their strengths are. There are better tests for this though, such as StrengthsFinder, which is a wonderful resource.

The thing about these tests is, you answer about 100 questions based on current performance or activities, and it generates a report that has a description of a spiritual gift, followed by a number. The higher the number, the more gifted you are in a certain area.

Just for reference, here is a list of spiritual gifts: exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, prophecy, service, teaching, administration, apostleship, discernment, faith, healing, helping, knowledge, miracles, tongues, interpretation, wisdom, evangelism, pastor, hospitality, martyrdom, missions, voluntary poverty. These are listed in the bible in various places – Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 for starters.

Again, I don’t think these tests are the best indicator of what a person’s gifting is. Why? Well – every time I take one, I score very high in teaching, knowledge and discernment, very low in mercy, giving and helping. And believe me, I can teach. I can preach a sermon like crazy. Sometimes I just know stuff. And it’s weird the stuff I can know. Often I can tell what’s going on in your mind just by looking into your eyes, or by putting my hand on your shoulder, or by shaking your hand. I often have insight that is not explainable.

Thing is, I’m not teaching or preaching anywhere. I haven’t met anyone new recently that I can use my Jedi mind tricks on. Sometimes I get a feeling when I’m at work about something or someone but so far it hasn’t led to anything earth shattering.

I’m not complaining – I’m making a point. Where I am in life right now, those things that the tests say I’m best at don’t matter. The things I scored very low on – like a 1 or a 3 – helping and mercy specifically – these are the things I use every day. And I have to say, for someone who scored so low in those things on some random test, I seem to be pretty good at them.

I wonder if these lists of spiritual gifts that we see in the bible are exhaustive? Is that all of them? Or are there as many gifts as there are needs in the Body of Christ?

If you read 1 Corinthians 12, there’s a lot of good info there on gifts and how they are distributed. Verse 11 in particular seems to indicate that God will give whatever gift he wants to whoever he wants to give it to. I wonder if the giving of the gifts might be situational?

When I was a youth minister and pastor, my main function was teaching, plus some administration which I tended to delegate, because ugh. Administration. I also had a lot of insight into people, and I still do. But I didn’t have much mercy, and as far as actual pastoral abilities, well, I kinda stunk at that – counseling, hand holding, being there when there was trouble. Just point me to the pulpit and let me loose.

I spent my energy developing my teaching/preaching gifts and didn’t even care if there were any others. Now my role is almost the opposite. Nobody cares what I have to say – they care what I am going to do for them, to help them, to get them through whatever it is they are going through. And as I said before, I’m actually very good at it. God gave me something new so I could build the Kingdom where I’m at!

That’s my whole point in all this – build the Kingdom! That’s what the gifts are for, that’s why God gives them. If an opportunity presents itself where you need to step up and do something, don’t think, “That’s not my gift. I’m more of a ____________.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard those words, and I’ve even said them myself a few times.

It’s fear, and sometimes laziness. You  might not be a gifted evangelist, but we are all commanded to evangelize!

What it really comes down to is what Paul calls the greatest gift of all – love. Read 1 Corinthians 13. Without love, the use of any and all gifts is self serving. Withouth love, you will bring attention to yourself and not God. Withough love you build yourself and your organization up, but not the Kingdom. Without love, you’re just a bag of wind, and eventually people will see right through you.

Love is what makes the difference. Love is what makes people see God in you and not just you! And who wants to see me, right? If I’m not pointing you back to God in everything I do, I’ve failed in everything I do!

The point of it all is love – God is love, and he should flow through us, through the proper use of the gifts he gives us, to point straight back to him. That’s when things really get good! That’s when people’s lives are changed! That’s when the world around us begins to change!

What do you think God is saying to you right now? About yourself, your gifting, your calling? What is he asking you to do? Who and how is he asking you to love?

It Ain’t Me

October 15, 2012 — Leave a comment

That song really speaks to me sometimes. CCR has always been a favorite band. Love their sound, and their lyrics still hit home all these years later. Seems like we’re still fighting some of the same battles we have always fought. They just seem different because there’s different people involved, but really if you think about it, it may be a different generation, but the song is still the same.

I’m thinking about my own life while listening to this song, and some of the battles I’ve fought. Some I’ve won, some I’ve lost, and some I didn’t even need to fight.

Because of some of the things I’ve been through in life, I’ve always had some identity problems. I don’t know if all adopted children go through that, but I did, and do to this day. Who am I? Whose am I? Did I do something wrong all those years ago? Did I do something to make my birth parents do what they did?

I know the answer in my heart – NO! They were already adults, and they were who they were, and I didn’t do anything wrong. In my head, when it comes up, I still struggle with it. Most days I win, too. I know WHOSE I am! And on the days that my thinking gets the best of me, I resolve to give it to God and do better next time, through him.

Like I said, I don’t know if most/all adopted kids go through this, but I do know a lot of people in general deal with it. I talk to people at work almost every day who feel trapped, who think that life is passing them by, who don’t know who they are or what they were made for – what their purpose is. Most of them say the same thing that I feel and that is in this song – “It ain’t me!”

Thinking back to the cross…Jesus knew exactly who he was, and what he was here to do, and when the time came he did not hesitate to fulfill his mission. And because he did all those things – living, dying, living again, and all that that entails – because of that, we all have identity through him!

Romans 8:17 says that we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. Think about how huge this is! I think of the prodigal son, whose brother did not accept his return very gladly. The son had already taken his inheritance and squandered it, then came home with his proverbial prodigal tail between his legs. And the father accepted him gladly, running to him, throwing a huge party in his honor. The other son grumbled and complained and said, “you never let me have a party and I was here the whole time!”

That is not Christ’s attitude at all! He has everything, he is at the right hand of the Father, and he wants to share it all with us!  He wants to give it to all of us who have gone astray! Who are we? We are sons and daughters of the King, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and we have the Holy Spirit as the down payment of everything that is to come. We will inherit, and in fact have already inherited the Kingdom!

Crazy, right?

Who am I? I spend a lot of time saying, screaming, whimpering, whispering, thinking “It ain’t me.” God who am I? What do you want from me? What do I do with this life you have given me?

His reply is a still small voice – “Be my child. Just be. And as my Son said what he heard me saying, and did what he saw me doing, so you should say and do as well.”

I am a son, I am a prince, I am a saint, and I am a priest! As my savior was before me, so I now am. My life is a message – everything about me is a song to the King. He loves me, he accepts me, he approves of me and he even likes me! I do not disappoint my Father, and nothing I do or say or think could ever change his love for me! Why? Because when he looks at me he sees Jesus!

And still in this life I will struggle. My spirit is connected to God. My physical body will die. My soul – my mind, will and emotions – I will need to submit to him every minute, every second of every day. When I do he renews my strength. When I don’t I worry, I wonder, I wither.

What do I do with this life he has given me? What do I do when I’m at work thinking, “This ain’t me. I was made for more than this. What about these dreams I have? What about these gifts you have given me? I feel like it’s all been wasted!” I give it to him, and I be his son, and I serve those around me. And I forget what I was whining about to begin with.

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you right now? About who you are? About why you are alive? I bet he’s telling you the same things he just told me. You’re special! You’re loved! And God has a plan for you – to just be his!