December 20, 2012 § 2 Comments
How has life moved forward so easily for us?
As I sit here at the mall in town, my thoughts keep going back to these six and seven year old boys and girls that lost their lives just less than a week ago.
What did they say to their parents throughout the last day of their short lived lives? What did they think about? Dream about? Write about? Draw about? Speak about? Where did their curious little minds take them and where would they have gone with all that potential?
Here I am – grateful for, but feeling guilty because of the opportunity I have to kiss, hug, wrestle, and tickle my kids while parents are living a nightmare just several states away. But even then, how much longer do I have to do this? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was jumping into my dad’s lap while he was unassumingly reading his daily newspaper?
And then I think, “What should my response be when others have questions about what happened?
They ask, “Where was God when this happened? How could God let this happen? Why do bad things happen to good people?” Prematurely, Christians typically shoot from the hip where they keep their sword of the Spirit ready to provide a quick response but rarely offering an apt word in settings of silver (Proverbs 25:11). In a world where we have a verse for everything, we find many scriptures poorly applied and taken out of context.
So what do we say to the curious minds who are truly searching for God or to those who would use this as an excuse to not believe in Him? Are you prepared to answer their valid questions? Will you raise the risk in preparation to give an account for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15)?
Post your answers here or visit our Facebook page and begin the discussion. Be sure to check back in the comings days to see what God has revealed.
January 16, 2012 § Leave a comment
December 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
When properly displayed on a house or a tree or a garden, it depicts something beautiful… something to be observed… something to be admired. But most of us don’t have the time or patience to work through the process to get those lights to their awe-inspiring state. One individual who has entertained millions of us during this time of year is Clark Griswold, who is famously known for his attempt at the perfect family Christmas in the movie Christmas Vacation.
In one of the shorter scenes in the movie, Clark is just outside the garage with his young son, Russ. With a stack of boxes all around them, the overly optimistic father begins to lecture his son about hard work, dedication, and stick-to-it-iveness that will pay off big in the end. He then pulls out a tangled strand of lights about the size of a giant beach ball and leaves it to his son to figure out.
This got me thinking about life.
Sometimes in life we can create such a mess in our relationships, finances, career, etc. that we don’t know how to untangle what we have created. Untangling one end of the strand only seems to create another three tangles elsewhere. This can lead to frustration and anger, which can quickly lead to surrender. Often times, this surrender isn’t to the Savior whose birth we celebrate this Christmas season – instead, we surrender to the tangled mess and say, “What’s the use? It’s not worth trying.”
We also try to figure out our most complicated tangles on our own. The Bible gives us a different remedy. Study the book of Proverbs and see what the Bible says about having good counsel around you. In your attempt to untangle your mess (whether you created it or not), here are a couple of practical tips to turn that tangle into a display that others can admire:
- Go to friends who will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
- Go to friends you know you can trust; avoid leaky faucets. A slow leak can cause a flood of rumors that entangles you further.
- Go to friends/pastors/mentors/family who love Jesus and display a vibrant relationship with Christ.
In the end, it is apparent that there are few who are willing to take, as Robert Frost simply put, “the road less traveled.” This is what raising the risk is all about – taking what seems to be the more difficult path and untangling that mess for the glory of God and finding that it leads to a more simple way of living.
It truly is a life or death decision.
Raise the Risk Challenge:
- Read these verses from the book of Proverbs (1:3, 4:1, 8:14, 8:33, 12:15, 15:32, 19:20). What do these verses mean? How can you apply them?
- What mess do you need to untangle in 2012? Who can you confide in? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you don’t know where to start.
December 19, 2011 § 2 Comments
I can still hear her voice quiver as each year she gathered her houseful of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren around the table. Just before the blessing, she would recount her love for her family and her thankfulness to God for being alive to share in the celebration of Christmas with those she loved most.
My great-grandmother was a mother to five, three girls and two rambunctious boys, but known as “Mama” to most. I called her Grandmother Cost. She lived through the depression, along with her husband and children, and her life-long work ethic was a testimony to this.
Each Sunday she would prepare a home-cooked (usually home-grown) meal complete with a made-from-scratch, scrape the plate clean, chocolate cake. For any and all family that would gather to eat after church, Mama’s was the place to congregate.
Her home would not grace the spreads of any fashionable magazines, but rather was a place of memories made. I can picture in my mind the brown and gold shag carpet and worn linoleum floors. Feel the coolness of rooms long ago filled with laughter and quarreling, that in the later decades remained shut to sustain heat in the main living areas.
It always felt to my childhood mind that the presence of those past memories and people, namely at that time my great-grandfather I never knew, roamed about in those rooms, but that is probably attributed to the overactive imagination of a child.
Mama worked her own garden and mowed her own lawn until her death in her mid nineties. If the Braves or Crimson Tide were playing, you could find her in her matriarchal recliner occasionally arguing with calls made.
Sunday’s you would find her at church.
My Grandmother Cost knew that her days were numbered, but she did not know the number of her days. That is why with tears and a quivering voice each Christmas before grace was said and thanks was given, she would let her offspring know of her love and appreciation for us all.
When we were ready to eat, we knew that Mama would be making her yearly speech and the room would grow uncomfortable with the thought of not having her presence at the table in subsequent years. They were the words of a woman who loved and was loved and needed to tell you one more time.
As we are entering Christmas week, my thoughts turn to broken hearts that have lost loved ones this year. How they must weep with their loss. I can recount the lives that I know have passed this year. A father, husband, and cop. A daughter, mother, and sister. A friend, co-worker, Papa and dad. These are only three lives who have in someway intersected with mine, but who bring hot tears when I think of their loved ones who miss them so much.
What about us? Who is it that we need to express our love, extend our gratitude, or grace with verbalized (perhaps unsought) forgiveness this Christmas?
This may be the last Christmas… or the beginning of more meaningful friend and family-filled Christmas’ to come.
I would much rather be remembered for a quiver in my sentimental voice than have regrets that I did not say, “I love you, He loves you, and the only real decision that will matter in light of eternity is:
What did we do with Jesus?”
When the coffin is closed, when death has stung, when our time has come, what did we do with the baby born in Bethlehem? The Christ-child turned crucified Savior and finally the risen King of Redeeming Kings?
We may have some regrets as we contemplate the thought of one last Christmas or that last Christmas with the one we loved. Our Father knows that we are but dust-formed lives. He sees, He knows, and He forgives those who ask. I pray for healing in hurting hearts that may read this post. After being a wreck earlier this year, I know even more fully that it is God who numbers our days.
As we joyfully celebrate this blessed season, may we seek restoration in Him and seek to restore others who are hurting and broken over Christmas without them.
If you are reading via e-mail subscription, get out your tissues and click here to watch the accompanying music video by Matthew West.
Raise the Risk Challenge:
- Say, “I love you, I forgive you, or thank you,” to those whom God speaks on your heart.
- Write a card or word of encouragement to someone who is spending their Christmas without a dear family member or friend.
- Help a family in need in spiritual and physical ways this Christmas.
- Watch this message by my pastor, Dr. Willy Rice.
December 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
From one of the greatest risk-takers I know personally and am privileged to call a friend, Doug Garner of Going the Distance Adventure Ministries.
Rappelling over the edge of a 100′ cliff is exciting to say the least. It’s one of those few surreal moments in life that cause you to feel fully alive. For many people, the fear of heights makes rappelling a very difficult activity – that same fear also happens to be what makes rappelling very exhilarating.
Usually an argument breaks out in your mind as you weigh the idea of an amazing experience versus the perceived risk of falling to your death. Internally you experience a storm of opposing emotions that grip your heart with both anticipation and hesitation. I’ve seen many strong men become paralyzed with fear and consider walking back down the mountain trail instead of rappelling down the cliff face. The astounding thing is that most people beat down their fears in order to risk everything so they can experience this amazing adventure.
In order to do this they have to connect onto an 11mm rope tied to an anchor, walk to the edge of a cliff, lean back and push-off… gravity and rope pretty much do the rest. The hardest part is leaning back over the edge.
It feels very unnatural because at this point, you are taking the greatest risk.
It’s also when you are taking the biggest step of faith as you put your trust in your anchor, your rope, your harness, your hardware, and even in your own abilities (not to mention your faith in God!). It’s common for the fearful rappeller to get to the bottom of the rock face after conquering their fear and let out a shout of celebration looking up and yelling, “That was awesome! Can I do it again?”
A great one-word definition for faith is risk.
As Christians, we all want to be people of great faith, but do you realize that in order to be a person of great faith you must be a person of great risk? Obedience to God is always an act of faith and it always requires an element of risk. It may not be a life or death level of risk each time, but you will be risking something – rejection, loss, hurt feelings, being misunderstood, judged, falsely accused – in order to obey.
It’s this risk, this life of faith, that makes following God the most adventurous lifestyle known to mankind. There’s nothing more exciting in life than to follow God’s call because in doing so you are setting off on a lifelong faith journey in which God will bring you face-to-face with every fear and inhibition that robs you of living out your God-breathed potential. Taking steps of faith isn’t quite as exciting as rappelling… it’s much better. There are times when God will prompt you to “lean back over the edge” and share the Gospel with a total stranger – or even more difficult, a close family member – or stand up for someone being ridiculed or ask someone out on a date or pursue a dream He has planted in your heart. In each situation you will have to connect to your spiritual rope, walk to the edge, lean back, and push-off in faith as you risk everything in order to live life to the fullest (John 10:10). As you obey each time you will look up towards God and shout in celebration, “That was awesome! Can I do it again?”
There is no greater adventure than following Jesus. Don’t retreat back down the mountain trail! Instead, raise the risk by leaning back over the edge and watch God exhilarate your soul.
December 10, 2011 § 1 Comment
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 1:2
Paul’s letters begin with these words: grace and peace. Each time they are accompanied by, ” from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” In his letters to Timothy, Paul also adds mercy.
Jesus mercifully came to pour out His grace so that the Holy Spirit might forever reign in believers hearts giving them peace.
That I would carry a greeting of grace and peace to my brothers and sisters in word, heart, and spirit.
How often is my soul in a state of unrest? Worry, sin, and striving can lead to this state, but abiding in Christ Jesus and growing in love and knowledge of Him ushers forth His grace and peace in my spirit and yours.
When the angels told of the birth of Christ, they ushered in their tidings with,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased. ” Luke 2:14 (emphasis mine)
In the form of a warm and fleshy baby boy, peace and joy were birthed to earth so that striving and death could be ceased.
I long to behold the baby boy of Bethlehem whose birth we celebrate over two thousand years later. To be one of the lowly shepherds to coddle, kiss, and worship his tiny fingers and toes. To bask in the earthen glow of a heavenly Savior is to know Love.
That I would carry grace and peace in my inner being alone is enough to change the countenance of my face.
My face tells the signs of my time spent with Jesus. When worry grips me and piles of laundry, clutter, my own self-inflicted to do list, or even worse, my sin, start to wear at my soul it is then I must recognize my thirst for my Savior and His Word beckoning to me, “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The shepherds momentarily laid down their duties to partake of His grace and joy. I should do the same.
How did the lowly shepherds spend the rest of their earthly days?
What joy did they take forth into their mundane tasks?
Was that moment in a stable enough to sustain them till heaven or did they ask God for more? How many of them lived the thirty-three years more to receive the eternal anointing of the Holy Spirit?
This Christmas season, might we remember to receive His grace and peace in all things as we worship the new-born King of Kings turn Risen Savior? Might we pause from tasks, turn from distractions, and then bow our heads in meditation and wonder at the gift of Christ our Savior?
Grace and peace to you in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ this Christmas season and every one thereafter.
Raise the Risk Challenge:
- Do not take my word for it. Look at the Pauline epistles (Romans, 1/2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1/2 Thessalonians, 1/2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon) and see for yourself his holy greetings of grace and peace.
- How might you extend grace and peace to your family and/or circle of friends this Christmas? To other Christians around the world? To your neighbors?
- In what areas of your life is there unrest? Ask Christ Jesus to rain down His peace. Seek His leading to discern areas of necessary change.
December 6, 2011 § Leave a comment
Poverty. Starvation. Emptiness. Distant. Filth.
These are the images I witnessed this past week as our church emphasized missions, and I researched the extreme poverty that exists in our world to find stories and videos that I could share with our students to raise awareness of the needs of the world we live in. It is reported that over half of the world’s population live on less than $2 a day and before we try to explain that statistic away let’s be careful to consider first how richly God has blessed us.
I have also learned that a child under the age of five dies every four seconds due to extreme poverty. Consider this: in the time that it takes you to read this post, 45 children will have died from circumstances outside his/her control. Many of these children exist without adult supervision because their parents are deceased or are trying to survive themselves. Many are being raised by older siblings who are just children themselves. Many are being expolited sexually or through child labor or a combination of the two.
Images of tiny skeletons thinly wrapped in skin expose more than the structure of their bodies’ 208 bones - it exposes the reality of the world we live in… inequities that can be easily observed… scales that have been tipped in the favor of a few… believers desperately in need of compassion and children desperately in need of food.
While the images may cause us to be nauseous, ignorance is not an option.
And the question begs, now what?
What do I do with this information? What is my responsibility as a Christian whose God says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
I am going to take a risk here and admit, “I’m not entirely sure.”
But here is what I do know: the devil would like nothing more than to distract me from the spiritual needs of this world by causing me to focus and be broken for physical needs only. Even a starving child who receives nourishment, shelter, medicine, and an education will do so for just one lifetime. As bad as the physical needs of others are in this world – and we have a clear command from God to care for the widowed and orphaned – each one of us is in desperate need of rescue because of the sinful state we are born into.
There is not one physical need in this world that is greater than our spiritual need.
As you consider what your role will be in answering the call of (1) the Gospel and (2) James 1:27, do some research looking for churches/organizations/ministries that put the spiritual need ahead of the physical need. Post your findings to our Facebook page or comment here.
Raise the Risk Challenge:
- Meditate on extreme global poverty this week. Use your lunch break to fill your mind/heart instead of filling your stomach. Watch videos, view images, read scripture/blogs, pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit.
- The purpose of the church can be best summed up in Matthew 28:19-20 and Matthew 22:37-40. Set up a meeting with one of your pastors exploring how you can live out the Great Commission (missions) and how you can love your neighbor biblically.
- Take a chance and do something. For inspiration, see what 9-year old Austin Gutwein did with a basketball for orphans in Zambia. www.hoopsofhope.org