On Teaching Them To Soar

It’s Friday morning, my day off, and I’m sitting outside at Rembrandt’s, one of my favorite spots in Chattanooga.  The temperature has finally dropped below 90, the birds are singing and a breeze is gently blowing.  The coffee is hot and it’s a great time to reflect on things flowing through my mind.

You can see the dad just above my screen.
You can see the dad just above my screen.

As I sit here, there is conversation going on all around me.  Most of it I don’t hear, or at least don’t comprehend, but there is one family sitting at one of the tables closest to me that I can’t help but notice.  It’s a middle-aged couple sitting with a young man having coffee together.

After a couple of minutes, it becomes clear the young man is preparing to begin college and the parents are preparing to say goodbye.  I don’t know where they are from, but it’s clear they don’t live here.  There is a sense of excitement in the conversation, especially as the young man is talking about this new chapter in life, but overshadowing that are clearly mixed emotions lingering softly over the table.  It’s something that I’m beginning to instinctively pick up on.  Perhaps that’s why I can’t pull my attention away from them.

As the mother gets up to go inside, it’s time for Dad to encourage his son to “call your mother at least every Sunday. She needs to know that you’re thinking about her.”  I find it interesting that he only said call your mother because a few minutes later when the boy also went inside for one reason or another, I could have sworn I saw the glimmer of a tear in his eyes.  Unmistakably, there was pain on his face.

It’s hard to deal with…children growing up and moving through stage after stage of life.  It seems as though we don’t have time to adjust to one that they’re already moving into the next, one series of painful joys after another.

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Look snazzy for picture day.

Maybe I’m thinking so much about this because I’m moving through yet another with Jacob.  For the last two days, I’ve ridden to his new school with him…in his own car…driving.  Wow, how could this little boy already be at this stage of life!  Somewhere along the line I blinked and found he is not so little anymore.  As he, himself, pointed out yesterday morning with a smile as he tied his shoes on the steps getting ready to leave for the first time in his own car: “Wow, Dad.  It doesn’t seem that long ago that you were teaching me how to tie my shoes.”  Now, I’m teaching him how to drive on his own.

I can’t even write this without feeling the lump in my throat.  With every passing day, I’m experiencing the series of heart-aches I know my own parents went through, usually without my ever being in tune with enough to make it easier for them.  Heart-ache that never really goes away.  How could it?  Your kids are always your kids.

So, it’s the mist of mixed emotions gently floating above that table that I identify with.  It’s painful to think of your kids growing up so fast, but it’s so amazingly gratifying to observe…and maybe even play a small part in…the development of their wings.  I’m so grateful to God for giving me two wonderful, talented and loving boys and the privilege to pour my life into and do all I can, through His power, to instruct them and nurture them, to correct them and train them in learning how to fly.

Thirsty

drylakebed

One of the problems I have had throughout my life is that I often don’t realize I’m thirsty until I’m bordering on dehydration.  I seem to get parched quickly and, before I know it, a headache sets in. By that time, it’s too late to avoid the pain, though it is essential that I begin the re-hydration process so I don’t perpetuate it!

I have realized another thing: I have the exact same problem with my spiritual life!  I often get so busy or so distracted that I develop tunnel vision.  I fail to drink regularly from my source of strength (the Word of God) and to be poured into from men of God who preach the Word faithfully (through podcasts, books, etc.) and before I know it, I’m bordering on spiritual dehydration.

When that happens, everything suffers: my family, my interaction with God (prayer becomes minimal), my preaching and my other relationships.  Everything suffers!

Turns out, that’s where I’ve been lately…spiritually dehydrated.  My message yesterday was a confession of this and a challenge to all of us to pause and take a spiritual inventory of whether or not we’re drinking in things that are less than satisfactory at the expense of drinking in that which fully satisfies.

In John 7, Jesus stood up at the end of the Feast and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

In one sense, this is speaking to those who have never received Christ and have been made aware of their condition without Him.  What about for those of us: those who have trusted in Christ, but go through times of drought?  

Come and drink!

The problem for someone like me is that we don’t always realize we’re thirsty!  How can we deal with a problem we don’t realize we have?  The solution is quite easy.  Actually, it’s the same solution that we would use for physical conditioning:  Stay hydrated!

Really, that’s it.  The way to know that I’m always physically hydrated is to develop a lifestyle of drinking water throughout the day…every day.  So, for a man, that’s about 3 liters a day.  For me, that’s a lot of water, but if I want to stay healthy, I need to do it or deal with the consequences.

Practically, for my spiritual health, I have to do the same thing.  I have to be in the Word every single morning, develop a lifestyle of regular prayer and ask people close to me to keep me in check.  In other words, “the basics”.  The problem for people who have been disciples for long periods of time is that we sometimes feel as though we’re OK if we miss a day or two.  The result is that even though it might not have a huge effect immediately, it begins an erosion process.  We quickly lose focus and direction.  Excuses come easy and often and the damage slowly begins to show.  We can’t let it happen and the only way to prevent that is consistency!

So, are you thirsty?  

Maybe like me, you need to stop running long enough to find out.  How are your relationships going?  How long has it been since you spent time reading Scripture (that wasn’t to prepare a sermon or to teach a Bible class)?  How’s your prayer life?  These are all indicators of your level of hydration.  Check it out before you start really hurting.  For me, it’s manifested itself in feeling burned out.  For someone who wants to spend the rest of their life pouring into others for the sake of the Kingdom of God, that’s the worst feeling I can have.  

We’re in the race together.

That being the case, let’s decide to protect each other from this unhealthy state and take seriously the instruction of Hebrews 10:19-25:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Make sure you stay hydrated so that your healthy enough to finish the race as strongly as you’ve begun!

Soli Deo Gloria!

5 Reasons You Should Keep A Journal

moleskineFor more than twenty years, I have kept a journal…on and off. Yeah, probably more off than on, but I have journaled and think you should, too. As a matter of fact, I have just recently purchased a new journal (my favorite is a Moleskine sketchbook, but use whatever works for you) and have enjoyed getting started on it more than at any other time in my life that I have engaged in the practice. I’ll tell you why in a minute. First I want to give you some reasons why you should do it:

    • Rarely do we stop long enough to think. If you doubt that, think of how many time people (including yourself!) have done things without thinking. That’s just in the small stuff. If we’re not careful, we can do our whole lives without thinking! Journaling gives you the opportunity and the means through which to stop and reflect on what is going on around you. Jot a thought. Write down an idea or a truth discovered. Any and all of these things prompt THINKING and that is a good thing.
    • Along with failing to take the time to think, in general, we too often fail to think about ourselves…I mean in a reflective sort of way that doesn’t involve the bathroom mirror. Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” There is a lot of truth to that. Through the practice of journaling, I can examine my thoughts and actions and, over time, I can look back through my journals and find patterns of thought, attitudes and practices that I’m unhappy with (and even more than that, things in my life that don’t line up with the Scripture I claim to live according to!) Once I’ve identified those things and prayed through them, I can journal as I work through the change. It’s an incredibly cool process.
    • Journaling helps me live on purpose. I am more aware of my surroundings. I think about what I’m doing and why, especially since I will want something to write about later. When I’m actively journaling, I notice little things more. I listen more intently to conversations I’m apart of and I examine what I’m doing more carefully. In some ways, journaling is personal accountability. If I’m doing something or thinking something I wouldn’t want to see down on paper, I’m more likely to refrain.
    • I journal in order to see what God is doing in my life. Whenever I counsel someone, journaling is usually a part of the process. If someone asks for wisdom about direction for their lives, along with any hints I may provide, I encourage them to begin a journal, working out their thoughts on paper, writing out fears or hopes or dreams. If it’s marriage counseling, I will often encourage both spouse’s to journal in order to help identify the underlying issues. After a season of journaling, it often takes very little detective work to see areas of conviction, short-comings and attitudes. In my own life, I do this in order to see the results of God’s work in me as I change over time, often as a result of identifying those areas of conviction and molding.
    • Journaling is great for meditating. It’s a great time to grab a cup of coffee (though any time is a great time to grab a cup of coffee) sit for a while and be still. For the follower of Christ, it’s a great time to open the Word, read expectantly, being still and knowing He is God (Psalm 46:10) and then writing down what you hear. Jot down your prayers, your confessions (if you’re so bold), your heartache and needs. Sometimes, the journaling process helps you clarify what really is a need. There are times I look back at my requests and ask, “Would I answer that?” The answer is often a humbling “NO.”

There are probably many other reasons to journal including the simple act of chronicling a life (hopefully, well lived!). If you have some that I’ve left out, tell me. I’d love to hear them. The most important thing is to do it. It’s an incredible discipline and practice that, with a little bit of consistency, you can turn it into a lifestyle.

journalOK, I promised to tell you why I’m having so much fun with my most recent journal.  I love to travel.  Always have.  While traveling, I love to journal.  Travel journals are the most fun because you collect stuff along the way, tell about what you saw and reflect on what it meant to you.  There are pictures and ticket stubs and sketches and all sorts of little memories.  So I thought, you know, there is no greater journey than life itself.  Why not, then, take the same approach in my everyday journal that I do when I hit the road?  Now, that may not seem so radical of an approach, but it made the difference to me.

Now, every day is an adventure!

I look at it the same way I do when I’m traveling so that I have the same kind of fun which is the key.  Make it fun!  My journaling in the past has often been tedious and boring.  It doesn’t have to be.  It shouldn’t be. Make it what you want it to be, but give it a shot.  I think you’ll find yourself growing in ways you never thought imaginable.

If you decide to dive in, let me know.  I’d love to hear of your progress.

Walking Through the Wilderness (and living to tell about it!)

Yesterday at The Gathering, I read part of an old post I wrote for my former blog, Espresso Roast, in which I was struggling through a wilderness experience.  Through it, I learned to trust God where I was, embrace the wilderness, and grow through it.  I hope it encourages you, as well. ~ dp

Originally posted July 26, 2006

A Walk Through the Wilderness

Years ago, my wife and I took our dog, Sydney, on a short hike up one of the nearby mountains in Massachusetts. There was a trail that led straight to the top after a short, twenty minute hike, giving a grand view of the breath-taking Fall colors.

As we finished our time on the mountaintop and turned to head down, Sydney decided she wanted to play “King of the Mountain” with another dog coming up the trail and took off chasing it down a different path. After finally catching up to her, we decided to continue down the trail we were on as opposed to climbing back to the top in order to go down the way we came. After all, they both went “down” and looked as though they headed in the same, general direction. 

Three hours later, after a grueling hike up and down hill after hill, our hearts sank when we came to a sign on one trail that said “Connecticut State Land.” We were supposed to be in Massachusetts! We were clearly on the wrong side of the mountain! Lost, as it were, in the wilderness. We eventually found a street only to see Connecticut license plates. After four hours of hiking, we made it back to Massachusetts and our car vowing never to venture off the known trail again (at least not without a compass!)

It is no fun being lost in the wilderness. It is frightening, lonely and leaves one with a feeling of hopelessness as though he will never be seen again! 

Though I found myself lost in a real wilderness, there are any number of times through our lives that we experience some form of “wilderness” or another. Just recently, I discovered that I have actually been in one for over a year.

As some of you may know, I graduated last May from seminary with a ThM in Apologetics and Worldviews. Since that time, I have been looking for a job…fruitlessly. I have wondered over and over why this was so hard and why God would not lead me to something.

Two weeks ago, it all came to a head. I very angrily told God that if He didn’t want me in ministry, then I didn’t want to be in ministry. I’ve tried and I’ve tried to follow Him and be obedient while He remained painfully silent. I held nothing back. I confess of this raw display of emotion because when I came to God honestly (He already knew how I felt inside anyway), He began to really deal with me. It led me to a place in which I could hear Him…really hear Him.

Though my feelings of anger lasted throughout an entire weekend (the weekend of my camping trip), a weekend in which I had nothing to say to God, my faith in Him did not deteriorate. I knew that He existed. I knew that He was real and that He was God, therefore being worthy of praise in spite of my anger. I knew that He could do something. I also knew that He was choosing not to. I was hurt because I felt He had abandoned me and that, perhaps, I had done something to cause that. 

Eventually I began to work through my issues, but it was not until the following Sunday that it all came together. We were sitting in our Bible Study Class at church talking about the Children of Israel’s deliverance from the Egyptians, led by Moses through the wilderness (do you see a theme developing here?). As we were discussing the topic, my eyes came across Exodus 13: 17-18:

  Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “The people might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.”

At that moment it hit me…hard. God led them in the wilderness so that they did not become afraid and turn back. How many times does God lead His people into a wilderness experience either for their protection or their preparation? The wilderness was God’s doing, but it was not for their punishment but rather so that He could fulfill in them what He had purposed. He did so to protect them from themselves; from their fear in that even though God could have defeated the Philistines, they may have been too afraid at that point to go forward. They simply were not ready. They needed more preparation.

Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea; and the sons of Israel went up in martial array from the land of Egypt.

God confirmed to me that I am, indeed, in a wilderness. The next day, I was mowing my yard listening to a sermon by Ed Young of Fellowship Church on the iPod in which he dealt with learning through, yep, the wilderness. Two days later, I had randomly downloaded a sermon fromSermonAudio.com which dealt with…you know already, don’t you?…lessons to be learned in the wilderness. OK, I got the message.

I am personally in a wilderness, wandering about while God does in me whatever it is that He needs to do. You know what? That’s OK. I may not be able to see the terrain for all the trees, but He does and He’ll lead me through mountains and valleys, through dried up ocean floors if necessary. But one thing is for sure: there is a “promised land.”

Through it all, just as God delivered men through history like Moses and Joshua, Joseph and Job, Daniel and the boys, King David and Paul, I know He’ll deliver me, too. See, the other thing I realized through the lives of these men is that God is a God of the wilderness. He has often used that as a tool; a training ground to prepare his chosen for the works He has appointed them to. So don’t be discouraged if you, too, find yourself in a wilderness. It just might be that the promised land is just around the bend.

Motivation

Ok, I’m trying to get motivated.  I’m trying to get motivated to……..I’m trying to get motivated to………………….get in shape.  There…said it.

As hard as it is for me to say it, it’s that much harder for me to do it.

I’m really starting to move into that area where I’m thinking more seriously that I should consider beginning to get in shape by exercising more.

Hmph.  This is a little tougher than I thought.

I have actually tried during this past week to move towards a pattern of exercise—a five-mile run on Tuesday and a ten-mile bike ride yesterday—I think I’m doing pretty well…for now, at least.  Getting motivated and staying motivated are usually two different things for me.  In exercise and in life.

Next week, we’re going away for several days and I’m going to try to really begin developing some good habits…exercise and eating.  It all starts with the habits.

I think we’d all love to live the romantic notion that what drives us is simply heart, emotion and passion.  I guess that can get us started, but doing the hard work of just developing habits is usually the key.  For me, at least.

I’ve found that to be the case in just about everything…even things of faith.  My relationship with Christ is stronger when I have developed a lifestyle (which comes through developing regular habits) that encourage that relationship.  It’s tough, though.

So, I’ve put it out there and expecting a little accountability to come my way.  That’s a good thing.  Feel free.  Maybe that will just push my earthly, carnal pride into getting me into shape.  Ha.  What I hope to do is keep the overall benefits in front of me so that I can begin living up to my (often neglected) God-given potential.  I’ll plan on posting some of my accomplishments and observations through the process here.

That’s all for now.

…gotta run.

The Gathering…in a year.

I had someone ask me this week where I hope The Gathering will be in a year.  It didn’t take me long to come up with a few things I hope to see this church being in the coming year:

sappling1. Strong disciples. That is something every church intends to accomplish, but few actually do. This involves God’s people getting very serious about their relationship with Christ and investing the time and energy into developing a spiritual digestive system that can handle the meat of the Word.  Churches are most often filled with little, baby Christians who have to be bottle fed the very basics of the Word.  I want to see our people growing to a point of desiring to dig deeper and experience Jesus every day so that they can live lives that indicate a deep relationship with Him.

2.  Community integration.  I want us to become so involved in our community in so many different ways that if we were to disappear tomorrow, the community would miss us and be worse off with our absence.  We need to focus on our Jerusalem so that the people immediately surrounding us are strengthened and encouraged because they were not only told the Gospel, they were shown it.  That is going to take creativity and desire on our part.

3.  Growth.  I want to see us growing, not from transfer growth (people shifting from church to church), but because our church is so plugged into our community, people are encountering Christ and being transformed from death to life.

4.  Missional Focus.  I want to see our people so tuned into the mission that we are constantly looking for opps to go and serve.  I want to see us hungry to change the world; to impact it with the Gospel for the glory of Christ.

Every single one of these are do-able in 2010.  I believe God is calling us to great things for His glory.  It begins with personal revival, a hunger for His Word, and a desire to draw closer to Him every day.  If you are currently a part of The Gathering, are you ready?  We’re on the starting line.  Now, it’s time to run the race!

Something’s Stirring at The Gathering

I’m not exactly sure what it is yet, but I get a strong sense that God is beginning to move within The Gathering, which could result in a revival, an awakening, and a growth spirt like we’ve never experienced before.  Why do I say that?  The telltale signs are all there:

1. Increased spiritual activity and attack. Personally, I have experienced a truly incredible level of spiritual attack recently which seems toworship be intensifying regularly.  The first part of John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…”  That is his sole objective: abject destruction and death and he will stop at nothing to see his plan through.  That means that any time the Lord God begins to move, Satan also moves with increasing intensity.  I know I’m not alone in my feelings of spiritual attack.  Though it is never desired or enjoyed, it should be embraced with joy, knowing that He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world.  Satan’s attacks will always fall empty when the Spirit of the living God is on the move!

2.  Sin is taken seriously among a people. As we have been talking weekly about the message of 1 John, the fact that it really does matter how you live your life continues to surface.  God will not move among an unholy people (not talking of a perfect people, but a people who do not desire and strive for personal holiness).  A lifestyle that does not take sin seriously is a mockery of the sacrifice of Christ.  When a people of God understand this and begin to address sin within that body, God blesses them with His presence and the work of His Spirit.  We are beginning to do that in love and compassion, calling on each other to holy living for the glory of God and the good of the individual. Again, Satan wants to destroy and we cannot sit back and let him pick us off one by one.  We must love enough to confront and rescue one another from the destruction of sin.

3.  God raises people up in brokeness and a hunger to see Him move. I have had several people come to me in the last week alone all saying the same thing: “God is getting ready to move among us and we’re not spiritually ready…we need to pray!”  I couldn’t agree more and am worshipcolorthankful for God calling these individuals out and pray He will call us all to a place of brokeness and hunger.

I am calling on the people of The Gathering to that place of prayer.  I am calling us to cry out to God in desperation knowing that if He doesn’t move, we’re done for.  We will never grow, never minister at the level we’re called to and never experience all that He has for us.  I am calling on us to take a hard look in the mirror of our soul and honestly evaluate the condition of our hearts, praying the prayer of Psalm 139.  Make sure that you are not the stumbling block that causes Satan to have a victory he does not deserve.

I want to encourage you to come on Sunday ready to cry out to God together; As God leads, get together in small groups and pray.  Whatever God calls you to do, do it with courage and anticipation!  I cannot wait to see what God does within the people of The Gathering.

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14

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