Running to Win

I mentioned in my previous blog about our trip to Fort Worth, and that I wanted to tell you about an event we watched transpire in front of my daughter’s home. The Cowtown Marathon course runs right through her neighborhood. The residents were up early, preparing water, bananas, band aids, and even beer (for carbs) for the runners.  It is quite a festive time for the spectators, who use it as a time to “party” while cheering on the runners.

What caught my attention was the transformation of marathoners from the first runner to the last ones who passed this 17 mile mark of this 26.2 mile run.  The first runner passed by us with just over a five minute per mile pace. The last ones came strolling by four hours later (a 19 minute per mile pace) with an obvious “eat, drink and be merry” attitude, apparently imbibing in every treat that was offered along the route.  Appearing out of shape, improperly dressed and walking, these last ones were a stark contrast from the disciplined, serious leaders.

It reminded me of the spiritual pace of which Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians 9:24-26: Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim.

While only one may win an earthly race, every Christian can win the eternal race for we don’t compete against each other. The man of faith fights against the devil, the flesh and the world. He wins as they lose—A.W. Tozer. Our heavenly reward will be awaiting us if we run with a commitment to overcome these tempting foes!

Warren Wiersbe said: Of course, it is much easier to be a spectator than a participant—except when the event is over and they give out the prizes. Then we will wish we had gotten out of the stands and joined the team. It isn’t too late to start running.

How are you running the spiritual race? Is it with an aim for the finish line or a leisurely stroll, imbibing in all the world has to offer? Let’s make sure we are not just spectators, but participants in the most important marathon of our lives!  Let’s cheer one another on is this race!

New Year’s Resolutions

scrabble-resolutions.jpgWell, we are more than a week into the New Year. Many have made some type of resolution, most likely regarding self-improvement. According to a 2015 Nielsen poll, health and wellness are the typical top priorities for U.S. consumers.  “Staying fit and healthy” came in at 37%, with “lose weight” coming in a close second at 32%. Enjoying life, getting fiscally fit and spending more time with family and friends rounded out the top five. While some report that only about 41% of people even make resolutions, nearly 80% of them will fail in maintaining their resolutions by the second week of February.

Interestingly among the top ten resolutions, there is nothing overtly spiritual about them. As the Apostle Paul addressed his son in the faith, Timothy, he encouraged, “On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8, LB). If you are one who makes resolutions, do you focus only on the present life value of a resolution or do you think of the eternal life consequences, too. If you’re goal is to live a healthy and long life, what will be the eternal payoff for living longer here? Will you be spending that life building heavenly treasure or earthly treasure that will burn up? If your focus is on financial goals, are they focused on your own security or to benefit others and investing in ministries that will help people grow in their pursuit of God, as well?

It is easy to be temporal in our goals and resolutions. However, I was reminded of the long view as I reread a devotional passage last week. Over the years, I have used W Glyn Evans’ book, Daily with the King, as a daily prompt to prayer with my wife. The January 5th devotion was especially appropriate as one sets the course for his year, his life, and his eternal life, for that matter. Here are the points of his writings for that day (with the exception of the last two, scriptures are my addition).

I will, by God’s grace and power, keep the center of my life adjusted strictly to God’s will, and let God keep the periphery any way He desires. (Matthew 6:33)

I will seek holiness (which results in wholeness), without which no man can seek the Lord, at all times. Wholeness is God-centeredness, the “one thing needful,” the “one thing I desire and seek after,” the “one thing I do.” (1 Peter 1:14-16)

I will not pray for peace, power, success, or fruit, for they are by-products of a relationship, not its conditions. They are God’s responsibility, not mine. (John 15:5)

Neither will I seek promotion, honors, recognition, or acclaim, for they also are by-products and therefore outside my sphere. Nor will I resent others to whom God gives these tokens, but I will praise God that His will has been done in them. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)

I will no longer strive ambitiously for ends, for God’s purpose is process, not destiny. I never hope to arrive but rather to continue with God in an eternal adventure, the result of which is a continual knowing of Him who is the”end” God seeks for me. (Matthew 25:23, Galatians 4:9, Philippians 3:4-11)

I will accept the fact that the self-life is not only displeasing to God; it is His enemy. When self reigns, I am at war with God, and that leads to frustration, anxiety, and misery. I will therefore crucify the self-life and be at peace with God. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

I will realize that when all is said and done, I owe my daily overcoming to this one, solid fact: “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Therefore, I can say honestly, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57)

May God prosper you in your commitments this year, giving you perseverance to follow-through with the physical, intellectual, emotional, relational, financial and, most importantly, spiritual disciplines that will payoff in eternally rewarding ways.

Points to Ponder:

  • What steps do you need to take to center your life on God’s will?
  • Do you agree that peace, power, success and fruit are by-products of a relationship with God and not things for which to pray?
  • Are you seeking for “ends” or satisfied with being in the “process” of continually knowing God?
  • Where is self reigning in your life rather that God ruling?

Facebook Fast

A week Facebook_iconago, I announced to my Facebook friends that I was taking a fast from that social media platform. This was partly the result of a discussion, which a group of men I meet with had the preceding evening as we discussed Chip Ingram’s book, Good to Great in the Eyes of God. As we talked about the implications of the final chapter on “Great Habits,” it was suggested that we take a media fast for one day. This  might be a spiritually healthy way to focus on God and others in a personal way rather than the impersonal manner associated with sitting at keyboard  and typing away. There was another reason that precipitated an abrupt break from Facebook that following morning, but that will  be discussed at the end of this post.
Well, today I broke the fast intentionally, having had a few accidental logins. However, I do have a few observations:
1. I didn’t miss it…much. Sorry if I failed to give you a celebratory greeting if you had a birthday over the past week. That is one of the reminders I do like on FB.
2. I had to log on a few times just to get event information (graduation open houses, wedding invites) that wasn’t transferred to my calendar. Due to one of those quick inquiries, one astute friend observed that FB was showing that I had been active and questioned if I really was fasting. Another time I opened up Safari on my phone and it opened up to the last site which was FB. So, if you choose to fast and don’t want to be accused of cheating update calendars and log out from all devices before taking a break.
3. I have found my best method of limiting time of FB is to take the app off my phone. That will remain off.
4. Most of the pictures of my grandchildren (the reason I joined FB) are showing up on Instagram now. I don’t need to be distracted by what’s trending (ex. hashtag* NationalSendANudeDay) *spelled out to avoid hyperlink!
5. And the preceding trending promo highlights the unwholesomeness of social media. Too many temptations are just a click away. The day I took a break, I received a “friend request” from an individual that had no mutual friend connections. I am careful about accepting friend requests but investigated to see if there might have been some connection through my blogging that has a wide audience. When I clicked on the request, I beheld a pornographic sex scene. I quickly retreated and deleted the friend request. But I was shaken by how quickly my life was invaded by an unwelcome visual that is still etched in my mind even after a momentary view.

“I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.” Job 31:1 (NIV)

6. While I glean a lot of ministry related information from social media (church members/families: please call me when you’re in the hospital before it’s posted as a prayer request on FB), I will start limiting my access to a couple of times a day rather than have it up as an active tab.

We all deal with time wasters in our lives. You may not have a problem with social media, but almost all of us could eliminate something from our lives that would help facilitate better relationships with God and others. What is it for you?

I could go on, but don’t want to take you away from some important personal encounter you should be having right now. Plus, I need to spend some personal time with my wife, who I’ve not seen all day!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Good Morning!

My wife and I have a regular morning practice of rising early to have a spiritual devotional time together. The tools we use are the Bible, a devotional guide or book (my favorite is Daily with the King – W. Glyn Evans) and a cup of coffee. After reading, we spend some time in prayer for our church, family and ourselves. Because we believe Christianity is relational, this is always a special time with the Lord, Jesus Christ and each other as we seek to hear from God and spend time talking to Him through prayer. It is our way of having a “Good Morning!”

Good morning, Son!

Good morning, Son!

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.                                Mark 1:35 (NIV)

Just for fun, here is another “Good Morning” picture to amend a comment I made about Vladimir Brezina’s post Travel Theme: Relaxing. His first photo showed Johna having a cup of coffee on a sandbar. Occasionally, a few brave souls join us for sunrise on the beach during our vacation time. Since the end of October is a little chilly even on the Gulf Coast, daughter #2 has her feet raised off the cold sand. Daughter #1, holding sleeping baby, gives me the “don’t you dare take this picture” glare! Oh, well…there it is.

Good morning, Sun!

For more examples of “Good Morning!”, go to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge.

Finding Refreshment

Our Iowa heat wave has me reminiscing about the heat and humidity of my Tennessee, childhood summers. We had a two-story (split into four-levels) home with only two, window unit air conditioners —one in the dining room (2nd level) and the other in my parents’ top level bedroom.  I guess my father felt the units were strategically placed since cold air falls, but they really couldn’t keep up with the demands of Memphis summers. After some hard, outdoor play, I can remember heading in for a drink of water or Kool Aid and then lingering in front of the window unit. The cold air from condensation-laden vents came as a welcome relief from an afternoon of play outside.  Refreshed, I would head back out for some more games of baseball, kickball or army with my friends, Steve and Kendall.

What are you doing to find refreshment for your body, soul and spirit? I have received some unsolicited (but caring) advice about my need to make sure I have some times of refreshment built into my schedule. The fact of the matter is, we all need to make sure we have that refreshment…not as an excuse for laziness but as a way of re-energizing for service to the Lord. In Exodus 31, Moses concludes his time with God on Mt. Sinai and the Lord said this:

16 The Israelites must observe the Sabbath… 17 It is a sign forever between Me and the Israelites, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, but on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.

If God “rested and was refreshed,” might we not also need to experience the same?

The most essential and primary way to experience refreshment comes from repentance. Peter said in Acts 3:19:

Therefore repent and turn back, that your sins may be wiped out so that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.

Repentance from sins is a necessity for ongoing, unrepentant sin causes our fellowship with the Lord to be interrupted. Intimacy with God is compromised just as it is in a marriage when a spouse will not admit and make steps of restitution following an indiscretion. Thus, repentance may be your first step back to needed times of refreshment.

More on “refreshment” next time.

Points to Ponder

  • Are there any actions or attitudes in your life from which you need to turn in order that a floodgate of needed refreshment might open onto your life, enabling you to experience the presence of the Lord, again?
  • Think of a time of personal, spiritual refreshment. Did repentance precipitate the refreshment?

Gotta Serve Somebody

Bob Dylan got it right in more ways than one when he sang “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Professionally, it garnered him the Best Rock Vocal Performance (Male) in 1980, the second of 11 career Grammy awards. But more importantly this song, on his first album (Slow Train Coming) after his conversion to Christianity, confronted the reality that everyone serves one of two masters:  Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord; But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

While the song reached the 24th spot in Billboard’s Top 40, not all appreciated Dylan’s new found faith. Because of his refusal to sing his old, secular songs in concert, he was heckled by disappointed fans.  John Lennon, who had recanted his own conversion experience, responded to “Gotta Serve Somebody” with a profane song, “Serve Yourself,” arguing against the claims of salvation through Christ alone. “He was kind of upset [about Dylan’s song] and it was a dialogue,” said Yoko in 1998. “He showed his anger but also … his sense of humour [sic].” [1]  Ironically, it was one of the last four demos he recorded at his home on November 14, before Lennon was shot to death outside that apartment on December 8, 1980.

Last Sunday, we saw in Romans 6:14-18 that the Apostle Paul (like Dylan) puts every man in one of two camps: we are either slaves to sin or slaves to obedience that leads to righteousness. Likewise, Jesus spoke of this kind of bondage. While the religious leaders of Jesus’ day touted their own righteousness, Jesus regularly pointed out their hypocrisy. The religious leaders challenged him one day when he implied that they were enslaved to sin. Believing they were free because of their physical heritage, Jesus made it clear that they were instead “slaves to sin” and that their father was the devil (John 8:31-47)

Obedience is the hallmark of slavery. So, slavery to sin means that there is an ever increasing obedience to it. C.S. Lewis well captures the progressive nature of sin in The Screwtape Letters, in which he depicts a senior demon offering this advice to his nephew: “An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.” [2] The next high is never like the first and yet there is a craving to experience it again. There is truth to the oft repeated quote by an anonymous source:

“Sin will take you further than you ever intended to stray.

Sin will keep you longer than you ever intended to stay.

Sin will cost you more than you ever intended to pay.”

Just as the combative Jews in John 8 claimed their freedom, the most enslaved argue that they are the most free. John Calvin said, “The greater the mass of vices anyone is buried under, the more fiercely and bombastically does he extol his free will.” [3]  This has been exemplified in the “free love” movement of the 60’s that rejected traditional marriage, citing it as a form of social bondage. Where has that “freedom” taken us?  Abortion on demand, legalized same-sex marriage, and AIDS to mention just a few. And, yet, we see those, who advocate for these positions and causes, fighting vehemently even though these causes promote a sin that leads to death.

Conversely, Paul said that there is another slavery of obedience that leads to righteousness. This is slavery to Christ. This transference of ownership results in a freedom from sin and its tyrannical and devastating reign. And while we are yet slaves, this slavery to Christ brings eternal life and freedom to live in the righteous way to which God intended.

35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:35-36, NIV).

So, you “gotta serve somebody!” There is no middle ground. Who will it be… sin, leading to death… or obedience to Christ, leading to eternal righteousness?

Your Response:

  • Just as religious leaders were deceived by slavery to sin…how has the Church of this generation been molded by the world/culture around it?
  • Closer to home, in what areas of your life are there evidences of slavery to sin? In what areas of your life is culture pressing you into its mold (entertainment, recreation, fashion, sports, speech, lusts [not just sexual], etc)?
  • What are you doing daily to ensure obedience to Christ? The Psalmist said “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you (Psalm 119:11, NIV). John Bunyan, author of the classic Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote in the cover of his Bible, “Either this book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.” In the battle against sin, the Word of God is the weapon you simply cannot neglect.

For Fun:

  • John Piper wrote some updated lyrics to the tune of “Gotta Serve Somebody.” [4]

[1] This article, John Lennon’s Born-Again Phase, from Christianity Today is an excerpt from The Gospel According to the Beatles by Steve Turner:

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, 2002, Harper Collins, New York, NY., 210.

[3] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, The New International Commentary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 406.



Do You Really Want to Change?

Last week, we talked about several commitments we can make in the New Year that can significantly change the way in which we show love to God and others. I’d like to continue that theme, expanding one of the five points.

On Sunday, we explored how to spend more time with God. Some may ask, “What am I supposed to do in that extended time with God?” Prayer should be one component. It is our means of communicating with God. But too often, prayer is a one-way communication…I praise and thank God…I confess my faults… and I ask Him for help and direction for others and me. So, how do I hear back from God? It’s been my experience that God speaks and responds to my requests through His Word, the Bible. Unless I spend time accessing (hearing/reading), assimilating (studying, meditating, memorize) and applying scripture, I am cutting off God’s best method of speaking to me. If I really want to experience transformation, becoming more Christ-like, time in the Word is essential.

Our denomination’s publishing arm, Lifeway, conducted research that indicates about 84 percent of church members don’t read the Bible daily. About 68 percent of them don’t read it once a week. Is it any surprise that only 37 percent say the Bible has made a significant difference in the way they live their lives? An additional 2009 study by the Center for Bible Engagement, an arm of Back to the Bible, agreed that Christians simply do not read the Bible enough. But for those who read the Scripture at least four times a week, they not only have lower rates of immoral behavior, but also spend less time dwelling on temptation. [1] So, if you really want to change, regular Bible reading is key!

What should be involved in reading? First, ask God’s Spirit to help you in your reading to have spiritual understanding of the Word. Jesus promised But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth (John 16:13, NIV). Next, get into the Word, making sure to cover these three areas:

Access the Word. …humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you (James 1:21, NIV). We have never had such ease in reading the Bible. If you are reading this blog, you can link to a number of reading plans online, add an app to your phone and even have one of those electronic means of accessing the Word read it to you.[2]  Of course, you can even fall back to the “old-fashion” means of having a Bible in your lap. Find a reading plan and translation and get started!

Assimilate the Word.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does (James 1:23-25, NIV).

It’s not enough to hear or read the Word. Investigate what it means. Rick Warren has a great acrostic to help you analyze what God is saying through His Word by asking, “Is there a:

  • Sin to confess? Do I need to ask forgiveness of anyone or make any restitution?
  • Promise to claim? Is it a universal promise? Have I met the condition(s)?
  • Attitude to change? Am I willing to work on a negative attitude and begin building toward a positive one?
  • Command to obey? Am I willing to do it no matter how I feel?
  • Example to follow? Is it a positive example for me to copy or a negative one to avoid?
  • Prayer to pray? Is there anything I need to pray back to God?
  • Error to avoid? Is there any problem that I should be alert to, or beware of?
  • Truth to believe? What new things can I learn about God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, or the other biblical teachings?
  • Something to praise God for? Is there something here I can be thankful for?”

There may be some times that you need to dig a little deeper into the Word by looking up cross-references, commentaries, and Bible dictionaries. When a verse really speaks to you, commit it to memory.

Apply the Word.   Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says (James 1:22, NIV).  In the words of the old Nike® campaign, “Just do it!” When God reveals something for you to confess, claim, change, etc., don’t delay in seeking to put it into practice. Quite frankly, the better you know the Bible, the more the Spirit is going to bring scripture to your remembrance and help you put into practice.This is when you begin to see real change in your life. The psalmist said, I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11, NIV). Dwight L. Moody, the great evangelist from the 19th century, echoed the psalmist by saying, “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”

Like all resolutions, daily time with God will take serious discipline. But in the end, it will reap more rewards than any other discipline you could pursue. As Paul said,  “train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7b-8, NIV).

[1]  For a complete report of the Center for Bible Engagement’s 2009 report on Understanding the Bible Engagement Challenge: Scientific Evidence for the Power of 4, go to:

[2] Here are some online reading plans. The “Read the Bible for Life” site has some great podcasts by Dr. George Guthrie that are excellent in helping to understand different literary forms and contexts, translations and more. You can subscribe through iTunes®.  Check all the reading plans out and find the right one for yourself. Invite someone to join you and hold one another accountable (Proverbs 27:17)