Restart… What? I thought life was neater than this.

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The Dangerously Straight Interstate

When the US defeated Hitler in the 1940′s they imported a great concept. Germany had built a highway system known as the autobahn.  Eisenhower, the general and later president decided to import that concept to the United states. So in the following decades the US interstate system was born. People loved the big highways with high to no speed limits.

Soon, however, accident rates started going through the roof. The problem was the design of the interstates. The german engineers built the autobahn as a winding showcase of the hilly German countryside. The american engineers plowed the interstates in the straightest routes possible across the American plains. These roads were effectively putting people to sleep while they drove.

Interstate builders had to rethink how they built their roads. They had to put in turns and find ways to keep the road interesting.

Stranger Than Fiction

Perhaps God is less interested in my life going smoothly then he is passionate about me knowing Him better. When life is “perfect” I can get pretty sleepy spiritually. When I experience sickness, disappointment, excitement and other emotions I find myself looking to God more.

In the movie, “Stranger Than Fiction” Will Farrell’s character is really boring until it is totally destroyed by the writing of someone else narrating his life. The result of this change is Farrell’s life is much better then he could have imagined.

Restart

I stopped writing for a while because I’ve been busy. Of course some of that busy-ness has included lots of movies and books and other forms of not doing much :). I suppose I have not blogged because I wished my life and everything in it was neatly in control and I could tell you all about that. The truth is (as you can probably imagine) my life looks a lot like that second picture. I’m going to try start writing again and keep learning with you.

Question

Please read “Isaiah 55:8-9″ and share any insights you have on this topic.

Strength In Weakness?

This week I think I get a verse that has puzzled me for years. Paul writes of a persistent problem in his life in 2 Corinthians 12. First I’ll explain what Paul is saying and then I will give you my take.
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Paul’s Problem
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“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with The Lord to take it away from me.”

I don’t know what this thorn was. Some suggest a physical aliment such as nearsightedness. Others suggest a sin struggle in his life. Whatever this was, Paul agonized over it and prayed for freedom.

“Three times I pleaded with The Lord to take it away from me”

God’s Response
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Instead of granting Paul relief God says this,

“…My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

In other words, God allows Paul’s thorn to stay. What’s more, God declares that His power is perfected in the weakness of Paul.

Paul shares his response in these words.

“…I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

At least on paper Paul has moved from pleading for relief to accepting his thorn. In one verse he is limping on his thorn, now He is holding it like a prize.

I think it get Paul’s progression here theologically but what in the world does it look like in practice? This week I think I have an idea.

Here’s what it looks like:

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I am quite often reminded of my spiritual weakness. Whether I am impatient with my wife, selfish with others or tempted to check out a woman I am reminded of the sinfulness of my nature. What I have done this week is to start responding to sinful thoughts or temptations with a three step process. This is a process of  intercepting thoughts and offensively praying.

First, I repent and rebuke. I apologize to God for any action I have taken on the temptation and I  rebuke the thought.

Second, I pray that God would change my heart and save me from temptation.

Third, I  pray for others. I immediately try to come up with someone around me and pray for their relationship with God.

This three step process has turned the jabs of temptation into spiritual opportunity. When the devil or my own  evil desires tempt me, I turn to God. I turn my weakness into an opportunity for others to receive more of God’s power. My weakness strengthens others and myself. As I live like this the devil’s reminders of my failures only spur me on to success in God’s strength.

What do you think?

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How do you see I Corinthians 12:9 in your life?

Waiting on the Holy Spirit?

Josiah Bryan Photography

Preparing for yesterday’s sermon showed how much I really didn’t know about the Holy Spirit. I know a lot of information and facts but I really don’t know a lot about Him. In fact one area really made me question and think. The question is, “When does the Holy Spirit come into the believer’s life?”

Why I need to answer this question
This question is particularly important  because of the roles the Holy Spirit plays in our lives. The Bible describes the Holy Spirit as a Helper among many things. And God really does know how much I need a helper! I want clear confidence for myself and others that the Helper is already in my life. If I need to seek His arrival then I need to get on with the pursuit  today.

My experience gap
My introduction is not to say I don’t have convictions on the subject. I believe that we receive the Holy Spirit at conversion. My experience, however, seems to say otherwise.

Talking to my wife on the subject we had a shared experience. Both Ashley and I became Christians at a young age (5 & 7) but did not experience the Holy Spirit until later. By experience I mean a sense of His presence at some point or clearly sensing His guidance.

In my head I know I received the Holy Spirit when I was 7. My experience asks me to believe He didn’t show up until I was 14. In this post I will attempt to clarify my understanding of the truth according to the Bible.

Two schools of thought on the Holy Spirit’s Arrival
There are basically two schools of thought on this topic. Some believe that the arrival (baptism) of the Holy Spirit is something that happens after you are saved. You seek Him out and pray for his presence and He will come. The other school of thought is that God fills the believer with the Holy Spirit at the point he or she accepts Christ as their Savior. I subscribe to the second school of thought.

Explaining my stand
Since I have good friends who disagree with me on this I want to walk through several passages of out of the Bible explaining where I stand on this issue. I owe a debt of understanding to an excellent treatment of this topic on an article at www.chfweb.com. This blog will be a little academic because I want to establish a firm footing for my stand.

John 7:37-39

“…Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”

I love this passage! Jesus stands up in a festival at the end of a dry season and throws out a powerful metaphor. If His followers believe in Him they will receive streams of spiritual water. Their thirst will be quenched. I want to feel this sense of spiritual refreshment every day!

The focus of this passage is on spiritual nourishment but it also comments on the Holy Spirit. Jesus says “streams of living water” and the passage explains for us that he means “the Spirit.” People did not have the Spirit yet because Jesus hadn’t been glorified. When Jesus would be glorified, they would receive the Holy Spirit.

John 14:16-17

“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept Him because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you will know Him for He lives with you and will be in you.

Jesus describes what seems to be a pretty basic experience for all believers. He draws a contrast between “the world” and “you” (His followers). The world didn’t have the Holy Spirit but his followers would and the Holy Spirit would be with them. Jesus’ followers wouldn’t always have Him physically present but they would have the Holy Spirit forever.

John 20:21-23

“Jesus therefore said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, I also send you” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; but if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”

This passage is a little confusing in light of the two passages I have just looked at. There are a lot of passages that still put the arrival of the Holy Spirit later then this point so what is Jesus talking about here? Also, what is going on with the comments that Jesus is making about forgiving and retaining sins?

It seems as if this passage is talking about the role of the church in proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is giving a sort of blessing to His disciples talking of the reality they would receive. They would receive the Holy Spirit and they would proclaim the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is placing His stamp of authority on the apostles and on the church.

Acts 2:33

“Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.” 

Here Peter is preaching on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has come on the church  in an incredible way. People in the crowd have both seen and heard what happened that day. They saw the appearance of the Holy Spirit. What Jesus and His followers have looked forward to has now happened.

Acts 2:38-39

“And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of you sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and all who are far off, as many as The Lord our God shall call to Himself.” 

To summarize  Peter, “Repent, follow Christ and you will receive the Holy Spirit.”

First, Peter is calling people to repent. This is the fundamental move of salvation for the Christian. It is a turning from sin, to God. It is asking God for forgiveness of sin.

Second, Peter is calling the people to make an outward demonstration of an inward reality. Peter is not saying that people needed to be baptized to be saved. Similar to  what Billy Graham would do in his crusades baptizing people on the spot. He was giving them a public way to  demonstrate their new faith.

Third, Peter declares the coming of the Holy Spirit as a gift for the Christian. Peter describes this as a promise to those who repent and follow Christ. Everyone whom God calls to Himself will receive this gift.

Conclusion
As I understand these five passages all point to the Holy Spirit’s arrival at salvation. His arrival was anticipated during Christ’s ministry. Peter declared his arrival on Pentecost. Now the Holy Spirit arrives in each new believer at conversion.

This post is the first of at least two. I tried tackling this topic in one post but there are too many verses that deserve attention. Wednesday I will discuss a few troublesome passages (at least from my perspective). I hope my discussion of this topic will help you.

What do you think?
Did any scripture verses come  to mind when you read this?
Have you sensed the  Holy Spirit in your life? If so was it when you became a Christian or later?

The Intrepid Turtle

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I am regularly surprised by the power of the turtle. Remember the story of the turtle and the hare (rabbit)? No matter how many times I read the book, the turtle always wins in the end.   As I look around, I see this play out in my life too.
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My turtle stories
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I have a masters degree not because I’m smart, but because I didn’t quit. I have a pension from UPS not because I was good, but because I didn’t quit for a long time. I have finished four marathons not because I am fast but because I keep trying.

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I feel like quitting
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The above being said, I still feel like quitting on a regular basis. I get tired of not seeing the results I want to see in my personal life. I get tired of how much time it is taking for us to complete paying off student loans. I want to be a great leader at home and church but I find myself looking enviously at other people and feel like I’m not doing so well.
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It is so easy to compare
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It is so easy to look at other people who are ahead of you and think that you can’t win. The reality is, the turtle is the one who wins. The Olympic athlete is the boy or girl who hasn’t lost their dream over a decade of work. The successful pastor is the one who hasn’t allowed discouragement to dislodge him from the ministry. The successful parent is the one who stubbornly hasn’t given up the work of rightly raising their child.
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All hail the turtles!
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I’ve noticed a growing number of older men and women that I respect greatly. I know that I should respect those older then me, but these people are making it easy for me. These men and women I respect are simply turtles. They are not giants in their fields, they are turtles. They are passing fifty and sixty year anniversaries. They are shepherding multiple generations of children and grandchildren. They are people who have not quit much in life.
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The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.
-Proverbs 21:5
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I need to imitate the turtle more in my life.
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What do you think?
Do you see the turtle winning races in your life?

The Surprising Truth About Humility

Josiah Bryan Photography
I never feel weaker then when I have to practice humility. Humility, forced or voluntary takes a variety of forms in my life. Many times I have to admit I am wrong and Ashley is right. I both hate and love needing to reach out  to friends for help with a project or problem. I like the proceess of prayer but I struggle with the idea of my weakness and God-neediness. When I live humbly I feel personally impotent.
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Contrary to my feellings the practice of humility produces real change. Reflecting on John Dickson’s book Humilitas I have come to realize  five reasons to live with humility. Even more pointedly I am learning that humility is really quite powerful.
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5 Reasons Humility is Powerful
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Humility Just Makes Sense
There is a world of informaiton that I do not know. I am kind of an expert on the church because I am a pastor. Beyond that I am only a novice at everything from running to car repairs. In every area of life there are people who know more about a topic then I do. My willingness to ask for help only makes sense. Besides it’s a lot easier to figure a problem out when I reach out to someone who knows more then I do.
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Humility is Beautiful
Think of the many pictures you have seen of Mother Theresa. She was not a physically attractive person but we were drawn to the beauty of her humility. I don’t care whether you live in a hovel or own a mansion humility will make you beautiful.
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 When I moved to Terre Haute a year ago, the pastor of the largest church in town took me out for lunch. His only agenda was to welcome me. He didn’t need to reach out to a 27-year old newby but he did. I respect the socks off the guy now. I hope to practice this beautiful leadership in my life.
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Humility is Generative
Thomas Edison famously made thousands of mistakes before finally coming on the right filament to build a lightbulb. He knew what he wanted to create and he conducted  years of experiments until he succceeded. The essential incredient to his success and that of all scientists is knowing that you don’t know.
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Legions of scientists and millions of dollars are mobilized to fight cancer. They are churning out a wealth of disscoveries while pursuing their final goal. These scientists know they can’t yet  cure cancer and that drives them to generate, to experiment and learn.
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When I am willing to admit what I don’t know, I learn a lot. In fact the better I get at asking questions, the more I grow. Who knows what I will discover in my life as learn to dwell in my lack of knowledge.
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Who is wise and understanding amount you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. -James 3:13
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Humility is Persuasive
I love following authentic leaders. If you know the limits of yourself and are willing to admit them, you have my attention. Facebook  and Twitter are filled with the noise of people pretending and promoting. When I read a post that someone has thought about, wrestled with and shared I slow down and listen. So humility in action looks like authenticity. Authenticity is pretty darn persuasive. May I wisely celebrate my weaknesses.
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…Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’ power may rest on me. -2 Corinthians 12:9
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 Humility is Inspiring
Today, we respect leaders who are humble. This was not the case for most of human history. Leaders were people who claimed all their strengths and then some. In fact if you admitted weakness, if you looked humble, it was a bad thing.
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Humility became vogue in the 30′s (That is the AD 30′s). Secular and Christian historians agree that the virtue of humility became popular because of Jesus Christ. The idea that a leader would willingly sacrifice Himself for His followers was counter-cultural. It turns out, it was inspiring too.
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The spread of Christianity happened in a climate of nearly 300 years of persecution. Thousands followed Jesus in sacrificing themselves for their faith in Jesus. Culture was changed by humility and humility changed culture.
If I want to inspire others I have only to imitate Christ and practice humility.
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In your relationship with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who being in the very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage….
…He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–Even death on a cross
-Philippians 2:5-6; 8
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What about you?
Do you have a story about humility that has changed you?
Do you have something to share about humility?