Saturday, August 20, 2016

Experience Matters (First John 1:1-3)

Until a few months ago, the closest I had ever come to Hawaii was seeing scenes from TV. Three television shows shaped my vision of the great state. First, there was The Brady Bunch. Who doesn't remember the evil idol that wreaked havoc upon the Brady clan, most memorably as we were left in suspense after Greg washed out on his surf board and dear ol' Mike Brady ran into the ocean to rescue his son? The music was ominous as the three most hated words in television appeared on the screen - To Be Continued. We saw the family learn the hula, and we learned that family trips should always include an Alice. Show number two? Charlie's Angels. The 1980 season was based largely in Hawaii, and the landscape was beautiful. Of course, as a twelve year old boy the only thing that caught my attention was the landscape ..... Then, the third show is the new version of Hawaii Five-O. McGarrett and Dan-O are on the target providing top action scenes and meaningful dialogue that reminds us that men can still be friends. That's it. That was my experience with Hawaii. Until this past March.

With Daniel graduating from high school, we wanted to do something special for spring break and for his senior trip. I had enough airline miles and hotel points to pull the trip off with only having to pay for food and activities. We decided this was the year to experience Hawaii. None of us really love the sandy beaches so we found a resort that overlooked some amazing volcanic rock. The resort had a sweet pool with a young man named Mark who was there to assist us with various needs that might arise during the day. Can I just tell you that the experience was remarkable? We took a bus tour and ate at some very nice places. We didn't see the Brady's, the Angels, or Dan-O, but we did see them setting up a scene for the season finale of Hawaii Five O. Pretty cool to watch the episode and know the spot where it was filmed.

Why does all of this matter for a look at 1 John 1:1-3? Simply because until we went to Hawaii, I only knew what I had seen on TV. Once I experienced Hawaii first hand, I was a changed man. I could pick up right now, move to a remote house in the middle of the island and be perfectly content. Experience matters, and that is what John is trying to tell us in 1 John 1:1-3. The reason so many people have trouble knowing Christ is because they are trying to know him with rules and regulations while keeping Him at arm's length. The reason so many have trouble telling others about Him is that they have never experienced Him themselves. Jesus was both God and man, and He wants us to know Him, not just know about Him. The best way to know Him is to start with His book - His own words. Read the journal of those who knew Him best. Those who ate with Him, travelled with Him, lived with Him. These men know Him from experience, and God has preserved their letters and their journals for us to know Him too. We don't have to settle for a TV version of Jesus. We can know Him and know Him completely.

Oh God, show me your heart so that I may be changed and that I may be content to dwell with you forever!!!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

No Dual Citizenship for Christ Followers

Many years ago in the beginning of our time in ministry, we made a move. Early in our marriage - and actually even 23 years into marriage - I had so much to learn about the balance between life and ministry. I convinced myself, and I suppose I convinced my bride, that the Lord was moving us to a new place of service. I was wrong, and the error was immediately evident. Karen stayed in Panama City to finish out the school year, and I moved to what I thought would be a new and exciting challenge. My own foolishness got the best of me, and I ached to go back home. For the last four years, Panama City had become the place we both would forever feel a closeness to, and the people in that place had become family. I couldn't let it go, and as a result, I fell further and further into discouragement and depression. I was trying to function in two worlds that would never and could never meet. The Lord used our time in this new location in many ways to teach me about my own insufficiencies and about the danger of trusting in our own understanding. Daniel was born during that time, so obviously the Lord was at work. The burden was heavy because I was trying to do what no one can do. I was trying to survive with mixed allegiances. Living in two worlds and torn between sticking with the decision I had made and knowing that I had made the wrong one.

The struggle of living in two worlds is a theme of 1 John. John writes to help us understand that Jesus calls us to live with Him and to totally lay aside anything that takes our attention away from intimacy with Christ. He knows Jesus, and he wants us to know him, as well.

Two worlds. Darkness consumes one world. Light consumes the other world. The pathway between the two worlds keeps us from crossing between the two. Thick walls that cannot be seen separate the darkness from the light. Those in the darkness know that the world of light exists, and those who are in the light have come out of the darkness, not of their own doing but by the grace and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

People who walk in darkness often have moments that resemble the light, confusing them at times into thinking that they have found a secret doorway into the light other than through Jesus. Moments of kindness and compassion, acts of generosity and goodwill, loyalty to friendships. All of these good deeds can fool those in the darkness into thinking that the message from John's letter has grown old. The enemy will use human efforts to strengthen his hold on those who are in the darkness by making them believe that the darkness does not condemn us. 1 John 1:6 tells us that no matter what we may say about having fellowship with God, if we are still in the world of darkness we are simply living in a make believe world.

In the same way, those of us who are in the light often fall prey to moments of darkness that resurface from our old lives. In moments of weakness, the enemy will work to make us believe that the light is an insecure place and that we are always in danger of crossing back over into darkness. In essence, the enemy wants us to believe that darkness holds the primary position of power in creation when in reality the Kingdom of Christ stands now and forever as the dominant Kingdom in the spiritual world. First John 1:8-10 addresses the need to identify and confess the weakness that would deceive us into believing we are living in the dominion of darkness and light at the same time. Colossians 1:13 and 14 tell us that "He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whose we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." The spiritual world has no dual citizenship.

John's letter addresses the rationalization among many that Jesus' teachings provide moral lessons but that Jesus does not provide the only way from darkness into light. Many in John's day convinced themselves, like many in our day, that Jesus could not have been 100% God and 100% man. They could not comprehend this truth, so they denied its reality. John wanted his readers, and the Spirit through John's letter wants us as well, to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is who He claimed to be and that we can have a full relationship with Him. Having a full relationship with Him means that we have fellowship with Him and with other Christ followers that transcends any fellowship those who still live in darkness may ever have with each other.

The reality John wants us to deal with demands that we declare citizenship in one of the two worlds. Do we reside in darkness with moments that mimic the light or do we reside in the Kingdom of Christ (light) with moments that mimic the world from which we have been delivered? If we know that we have been transferred from the "domain of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved Son" we can begin the transformation process that brings full fellowship with the Father by faith.

It took a year for me to realize, with the help of others, that our move from Panama City was simply not going to work. We tried to move back, but the Lord had other things to teach us. Sometimes He makes us live with the consequences of our poor choices until they are fully cemented in our minds. Spiritually, I recommit myself to one citizenship in heaven with Christ forever. No room for the darkness and no trips back to the dark side. I pray for the Lord to help me know how to live fully in the light and to love completely as He has loved. Perhaps you'll join me over the next few weeks for a closer look at John's letter and for a closer walk with our Savior.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Glorious Joy In Christ

John had a unique relationship with Jesus. Scholars tell us that John was the youngest of the disciples and that he and Jesus bonded in ways that were more like brothers than any of the other disciples. John wrote some letters that reveal this same love, and as we read his recollection of the time he spent with Jesus, we can't help but be moved by the truth that a walk with Christ is the most intimate walk we can ever have. Scripture tells us that as John stood at the foot of the cross looking up at the dying Savior, Jesus called upon him to look after Mary. In his own grief, he now had a job to do. A monumental undertaking. Jesus moved him from "little brother" to "provider" with just a few words. John never left Jesus during the entire ordeal. He stayed with him and watched as Jesus was ridiculed, beaten, and left to die. Later he returned to the tomb in anticipation and learned with what must have been intense enthusiasm that Jesus was indeed alive. John devoted the rest of his life to helping others see that we all can have close fellowship with Jesus. He doesn't have to stay at arms length. By no coincidence, John is the one the Christ revealed Himself to on the island of Patmos to give the people of his day and all of us today one word of encouragement: Jesus never fails. No matter what the world throws our way, Jesus never fails. No matter how our hearts may break, Jesus never fails. No matter what the doctors tell us, Jesus never fails. The Lord of all creation allowed John to see that the end is really the beginning, and the new heaven and new earth are glorious! That's right. Glorious! Full of the glory of God, and in His presence there is fullness of joy. Glorious Joy.

What was it about John that made him the one Jesus chose to look after Mary and to compel us to pursue intimacy with Christ with reckless abandon? Was he more special than others? Was he more gifted? Was he better looking, stronger, smarter, richer, or any of the traits we highlight as clear markers for success? Ironically, but not accidentally, scripture doesn't tell us about these traits in John. Instead, scripture simply tells us that Jesus gave him a role, a purpose, a reason to exist. Jesus gave him all of the qualifications that he needed.

We are more like John than we might realize. At least, that's what Paul tells us in Colossians 1. In Colossians we learn that we are qualified by Christ to be Kingdom people. We are not more special, more gifted, better looking, stronger, smarter, richer, or any of those other traits. We are simply qualified.

In May Daniel graduated from high school and now has started college. Caroline graduated from Middle School and will soon begin high school. David finished second grade and will soon begin his first experience with being schooled at home. Each of these transitions carry new responsibilities and roles. What does it take to be successful in college, in high school, or in home based education? Are they ready? Ready or not, the time is upon us. What about us as parents? Are we really qualified to be parents of a college freshman, a ninth grade daughter, and a third grade home schooled son? John wrote me a letter, and in that letter he told me that Jesus came so that we - all of us - could have fellowship with Him. The way I see it is that if the chief goal in life is intimacy with Christ and if He is the One who will be ruling and reigning throughout eternity bringing glorious joy to His new creation, life really isn't up to me. It's up to Him. I just have to lay down my self and surrender completely to Him. He fills eternity with His presence so I intend to remain in Christ. Paul's letter to Colossae tells me that Christ has qualified Daniel, Caroline, David; us as parents; all of us who are in Christ.

John's relationship was unique, but it doesn't have to be. We can all have intimacy with Christ. Thanks for the reminder from an old letter that is still as living and active today as it ever was. Bring on the glorious joy.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Hard Stop

Eighteen years ago we began a journey. The journey has been filled with great moments of joy and deep moments of sadness. Like any journey times surfaced when we realized how unprepared we were for what we were facing. Other experiences reminded us that we had no clue what in the world we were doing or how we were going to get through the storm in one piece. The journey never ends, but oh how it changes. This past Saturday we learned that there are some "hard stops" on the journey. Until that day we had always been able to hold onto the truth that we had a little more time to make things right. If we took a wrong turn, the turn could be corrected. If we made a winning play, we could celebrate the victory. None of those stops were "hard stops" though. Until Saturday.

Saturday we took Daniel to college to move him in as a freshman. I suppose that this day is one of the ones we have been preparing for over the last eighteen years. We knew it was coming. We just didn't know how soon it would arrive. We have done what we learned from the Lord about training Daniel to be a Godly young man. I can't say we have always done the right things, said the right words, disciplined the right way, or chosen the right paths. I can say that we have prayed and asked the Lord to protect him. The Lord reminded me Saturday evening that He loves Daniel even more than I do.

After we left campus, we got a text from Daniel that he had found a guy we met in line waiting to get him checked in and invited him to join him for church the next morning. Daniel asked me to send him the college minister's number at one of the local churches. He texted him to let him know they would be there. Sunday morning we learned that he had gotten up early, gone to Sunday School and worship, and in his own words ..... He loved it. Blog posts have been spotty at best, but if you've read any of the history of our journey, you will know that these last three years have been the toughest of all as far as church life goes. How refreshing to experience the reality of ...

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases' his mercies never come to an end' they are new every morning' great is your faithfulness." Lamentations 3:22-23

"... And on this rock I will build my I church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Matthew 16:18

A few years ago we were introduced to a philosophy called "The Orange Strategy." The premise was that with the church and the family working together we could grow kids who stick with their faith long after they leave home. Some argue that Orange is another program. I contend that Orange is a process grounded in God's word. Many more days lie before us and there are "many miles to go before [we] sleep." The next leg of the journey has taken off, though, and the Lord - once again - has demonstrated His great faithfulness. Chip Ingram once said that the goal of parenting is to raise kids who will transfer their dependence from us over to God. Scripture teaches this truth boldly. We will continue to "trust in the Lord with all of our hearts and lean not on our own understanding." That's the best way because our own understanding would have us keeping Daniel at home for the rest of life. God's plan is much better.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


Lately the Lord has provided opportunity for me to reconnect with several students from our youth ministry days. In each experience, the primary thought that has come to mind is thankfulness for the opportunity to know such unique and special students who have grown into mature, God honoring adults. During those days in ministry, the Lord forged relationships that became family, to be quite honest. As much as I learned from parents over the years, nothing prepared me for the chain of events that began shortly after 7:30 am in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on February 11, 1998. This morning in particular my world changed forever as I began the monumental journey of fatherhood.

Actually, the journey began about nine months prior to this day and when we went for our final doctor's appointment, he told us to go from his office to the hospital without passing go or collecting $200. (We didn't even stop at the business office to pay $200. :) That would all come later. As we waited through the night and then went into surgery for a last minute procedure, the reality had yet to set in. Very soon though, I was holding the most precious gift I had ever held in my life. Could it true that this baby boy with long black hair was actually God's gift to me and to Karen? Turns out he was, and now the reality began to sink in. Fatherhood. Over the years, God has blessed us with two more equally precious gifts, and each time I have been in awe of God's amazing grace towards me. 

Daniel grew up in transition. The Lord moved us from full time ministry to Ocala, Florida, where we lived for ten years before the Lord moved us to Wauchula, Florida, back into full time ministry. The last transition was to a small town in West Tennessee where we still live today. I have learned a lot as I have participated with the Lord in Daniel's upbringing. I wish I could say I always got it right, but the truth is that most often I got it wrong. Praise God for His compassion toward His children. He was and is the Constant Guiding Force in what otherwise would have surely turned out to be a disaster. 

Being part of Daniel's growth has taught me a great deal. Daniel has traditionally been one to embrace new opportunities, something that is very difficult for me to do. Whether going alone into his kindergarten classroom (which I was not particularly fond of, especially considering that his teacher was a young blonde who immediately caught his attention and turned him into a Gator fan long before he saw the error of following the lead of young women), running confidently onto the soccer field, deciding to pick up baseball and football as a seventh grader among boys who had been playing all of their lives, having the strength to change sports in his high school years to something that he would actually enjoy, moving against the crowd and joining the youth choir at church (something that he navigated around at every other step of his young life), or choosing a college, Daniel embraces life and lives that moment to the fullest. Daniel is a great student and athlete (especially in the classes and sports he enjoys), but most importantly Daniel is a young man who loves the Lord and seeks to know Him more. We have had our share of struggles, and through it all the Holy Spirit has used His word as a sword to fight for Daniel's heart. There have been those Satan used to pull him away from the Truth, and there have been others the Holy Spirit has used to pull him back to the Truth. Too many times, I have been guilty of violating Ephesians 6:4, which commands us as fathers not to exasperate our children but to grow them in the admonition of the Lord. Funny thing about God, though. He actually loves Daniel more than I do and because Daniel is a follower of Christ, the Lord has not allowed attack from the enemy or mistakes from friendly camps to bring destruction to the journey. Instead, the resurrection power of our Lord Jesus Christ has used every circumstance to discipline and grow Daniel into the young man he is becoming. God really does cause all things to work together for good to those who love him and are called according to His purpose.

I love Daniel for many reasons, but ultimately I love him because he is my son. He is God's gift and treasure, and the Lord has entrusted him to me and to Karen for the last 18 years. I know that we are anticipating seeing how he transfers his dependence from us to God, and no matter how difficult that will be, God has designed it to be that way. I can only pray that I have been faithful to God's teaching about raising Daniel and that the times (way too many) when I have approached things from my own understanding will be couched in the protective hands of a Heavenly Father who always knows and does what is best. 

Eighteen years have passed since that morning dawned, and each day has been a blessing. I can't honestly say that I appreciated each day in the moment as a blessing. Sometimes I wondered if we had somehow lost the manual that most certainly should have come immediately following the final exit of the child from the birth canal. For the record, no manual poured forth from said experience. A manual does exist, though. We read many books and listened to many tapes. The manual that has meant the most, however, is the one written by the Creator. Interestingly, the manuals that make the most sense and hold the best instructions are the ones written by the Creator of whatever you might need a manual for understanding. God, in His infinite wisdom, prepared instructions for us thousands of years before Daniel was born. When I read the commands and instructions from God, gratitude and humility overwhelm me as I consider how specific God was about raising my son - a stewardship from Him - before Daniel (or any of the recent ancestors) was even born.

Today is a special day when the Lord reminds me how blessed we are. I pray that today and every day Daniel will know that I love him more than life. I pray, as well, that Daniel will stay close to The Father who demonstrated His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Happy birthday my son, my friend, and my brother in Christ. I look forward to many more years on the journey.