Thursday, March 20, 2014

God's Wonderful Provision!

I’m a few weeks out from celebrating my anniversary of coming to Valley Baptist Church.  May 20, 2014 marks the completion of 7 years of serving Christ at this wonderful church.  I’m simply in awe of what God has done during my time here.  This isn’t a blog to talk about church numbers to build up my resume or self-esteem.  The reality is, I know how little I’ve done and how God has been the master orchestrator behind the restart of this wonderful church.

God’s provision over the years is highlighted through my present circumstances.  In a recent blog,  Thankfulness Revived”, I shared about almost losing my wife and child during the delivery.  I mentioned that there were a number of things I was processing concerning God’s faithfulness to me.  I’d like to share about His provision to us through this trial.

As my wife came out of recovery from surgery, we slowly learned how close to dying she and the baby came.  From the very beginning the doctors were very firm about how long the recovery would take.  Six weeks was an optimistic timeline, but they were very clear that I needed to be there for her and the family for the duration or complications from the surgery and blood loss would develop.  Without hesitation, I assured her that I would take a break from everything to focus on her and the family.  No preaching, no counseling, nothing but focusing on my family during this time.  Okay, clearly I’m not six weeks out yet, but I’m at home with my two-year old son nipping at my heels as I type this so hopefully you get the heart of what I’m saying.  Oh, and I may have slipped out under the cloak of darkness to spend some time with the K-9 Unit of EPD a few weeks ago while my mother-in-law was over...I guess this is my confession.

I haven’t preached since February 16 and I won’t return to the pulpit of Valley Baptist until the first Sunday in April.  Yes, not preaching is killing me, but I’ve always said my family is my priority and I mean it.  What I’m trying to say is that the reason I can do this is through God’s provision and timing.  For the last 7 years I’ve worked hard.  I’m not complaining at all, I love my calling, but it’s very normal for me to put in 60+ hours a week in ministry.  My family loves serving the Lord and we’ve learn to balance family and ministry in a way that works for us.  Between my working from home (in large part) and home schooling the kids we’ve learned to balance time with each other and the heavy workload of my calling, but this isn’t really relevant to this post.

Getting back to the point.  Back in the hospital room, when I told my wife, “Everything is going to be fine.  I’ll take the next six weeks off to minister to you” tears filled my eyes.  Yes, I was worried about my wife, but even more so, I was thankful to God for His provision that made my ability to say this to my wife truthfully.  I truly could take this time off for God had provided the help I needed in order to care for my family.

Throughout the restarting process, God has faithfully sent the right people at the right time.  Too many to list so I won’t even try.  A few years ago, I started to feel like I was stretching way too thin.  Things were slipping through the cracks.  As a pastor, “things slipping through the cracks” means people had shepherding needs, but I was failing to care for them as I feel they should be.  No one was criticizing me, complaining to me, or anything like that, but my heart for the sheep was deeply burdened.  I didn’t know how to solve this problem because I couldn’t give any more.   I decided to press on and pray, as I had no remedy in sight.  

Well, a little over a year ago God set the ball in motion to bring me help through the coming of Chaplain Ben, a Navy Chaplain who started attending Valley Baptist Church.  It wasn’t long before we hit it off.  We share a likeminded passion for the ministry and share the same philosophy for the church and how to care for people.  This doesn’t mean we see eye-to-eye on every theological point, but we are in total agreement for how to handle and apply our differences of theological positions.  It was a wonderful friendship that I would enjoy for as long as he was with us.  As a former Navy man, the one thing I’ve learned about Navy buddies is they move on.  This would be the case with Ben as well—or so I thought!

Word came that Ben would be getting out of the military and everything changed.  Long story short, we both came to the conclusion that God was calling him to serve at Valley Baptist Church as an associate pastor!  You know, if you asked me to describe the perfect associate pastor to serve with, I would have described Pastor Ben to you.  I don’t say this lightly.  We agree about how ministry should be done and we have complimentary gifting.  He was a chaplain in the Navy and in many respects, Valley Baptist Church needed a chaplain-like pastor to help stop people’s needs from slipping through the cracks.

Now, fast forward to February 2014.  Pastor Ben was essentially out of the Navy and we began planning what this partnership would look like.  We spent hour’s together working through our roles and responsibilities.  I believe we both felt comfortable with the new dynamic and we planned to introduce him formally on March 2 and he would preach for the next three weeks so I could focus on my family with the coming of the baby on March 7, you know, the due date.  Have you heard that saying from Proverbs 16:9, “The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps”?  That was sure applicable here because my plan wasn’t inline with God’s plan at all!

Please don’t miss my sarcasm, but wouldn’t you guess that God’s plan is way better than my plan?  What better way for Pastor Ben to figure out the ropes at Valley Baptist Church than to totally take me out of the equation?  This was a win-win situation for church.  Pastor Ben’s coming on staff completely freed me to care for my family.  He is so competent and capable to serve the body, which ultimately put me at ease to shut off my phone and email (for the most part) without worrying about the church.  Not having me around forced him to figure out every little detail concerning the church.

As I begin to come out of hibernation, I can’t help but to thank God for His ways.  They are so much better than my own.  I’m excited for the future of Valley Baptist Church and truly believe our pastor team is stronger than ever because of this personal crisis of my own.  I’m more excited than ever to see how God is going to move amongst us in the years to come!

Let me close by saying “Thank you.”  I’m thankful to God for His provision.  I’m thankful for the people of Valley Baptist Church who recognize and support my priority of caring for my family.  It means so much to me.  In being free to minister to my family during their time of need, I will be able to minister at Valley Baptist Church for the long haul.  Your love and support mean more than I can adequately express.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Thankfulness Revived

I haven’t blogged in a while.  Life’s been a little crazy to say the least.  God’s been working on me, but I’m not sure how to articulate things at this point.  I’m sure thoughts will mature over the course of my life.  First, and foremost, I thank the Lord for His continual blessings upon me.  I don’t deserve them.  None of us do. 

Almost a month ago, my wife and I welcomed our fourth child into our family.  We are thankful.  However, nothing was normal concerning the arrival of this sweet boy.  The above picture is of my wife and son in recovery following emergency caesarean section delivery (for the record, the term “emergency C-section” is used far too often, but in this case it truly was).  I have had a number of doctors look at me after his birth and ask me, “Do you know how lucky you are that they are both alive?”  I was told that I came 1-4 minutes from losing them both.  This is sobering.

I’ll be processing this last month for a while, but one thing that I’ve been pondering is worship.  Everything went well with our near miss.  Seriously, a number of things had to go the way they did for us to have this happy ending.  The word “miracle” has been used often surrounding the birth of my son.  I’ve been praising God for His provision in sparing my wife and son.  I mean this sincerely, as you can imagine.

Yes, I continue to praise the Lord through the positive circumstances of these scary events, but what if things went differently?  I know I can’t really answer that question from a speculative position, however, this question percolates in my thoughts repeatedly.  Had my wife and son both died, would I worship God just the same?  Obviously, I hope that I would.  Well, I doubt the same, but I hope I’d be worshiping Him respectively if that makes sense.  I should love God because He loved me and saved me through Christ, not conditionally based on “good things” that happen to me in this life.  My life, death, and eternity are His.  He is worthy of my worship because He is my Creator.  Job’s words seem particularly relevant to me now, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).  I am thankful they were spared, but that doesn’t imply my worship of Him is contingent on things going well.

Another thought that has been circulating my thoughts is the question, “How often does God spare me each day and I don’t even notice?”  God’s protection with the birth of my son was pretty spectacular.  It’s easy to give Him thanks for His protection in this very clear sparing of life that was almost lost.  But what about the accidents I don’t get in while driving down the freeway, or not hitting that car while backing out of my spot at Costco, or whatever that accident was that I didn’t have and didn’t even notice?  I’m pretty sure that I should be thankful for all the non-eventful things I have each day. 

We each have so much to be thankful for, but shamefully our focus is grumbling about petty rather insignificant things in the grand scheme of life.  I’m a master at this.  I might not verbalize my complaints, but they’re there loud and clear in the recesses of my heart.  I’d like to say, “Not anymore!” But, I know me all too well.  I will say that my desire and ambition is to work on being more thankful and appreciative for the little things in my life from deep within my heart on a daily basis.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Santa Claus and Christians

How should Christians handle Santa Claus?  Answering this question could start a fight…which I have no intention of doing.  I’m certain that your personal background shapes how you answer this question. 

Personally, I really enjoy Christmas.  There are a lot of things I like about Christmas that really have little to do with Christmas Day.  I love Christmas Carols.  I’m not too embarrassed to admit that I look forward to rocking out to Elvis’ Blue Christmas for most of the year.  I love seeing colorful Christmas lights everywhere—the more the merrier!  I love decorating the Christmas tree.  I love seeing the lights on the tree.  Who doesn’t love seeing gifts under the tree?  I love my family’s tradition of Christmas Eve dinner, the opening of one Christmas gift, going to our church’s Christmas Eve Service, and ending the night by watching Elf (yes, you read that right).  I love the laughter and joy this season brings.

I share the previous paragraph with you so you know that I really do like this holiday.  I’m not opposed to having fun through imagination.  I’m not bunkered down teaching my kids that “Santa is just Satan spelled differently.”  However, I am very careful with how we’ve handled the issue of Santa Clause with our children and with my teaching at the church.

I love the imagination and creativity that God has given us.  I’m not looking for a history lesson on the origin of Santa Claus—I’ve already checked out his Wikipedia entry.  I’m fine with telling stories and having fun with creativity.  However, I don’t understand when parents push the line from fantasy or imagination to reality and outright deceit to their children.  I know, I know, that sounds really harsh.  I need to lighten up, right?

Have fun with your imagination.  I’m all for imagination.  I’m not suggesting that Santa can’t be a part of the Christian’s holiday plans.  God gave us creativity and imagination.  Use it, have fun with it.  Children have a special connection to the make believe that I wish I were better at reconnecting with as an adult.  I love that my kids help me tap into my inner child—my wife may not be as thrilled with this as I am.  Just leave Santa here.

Protect your children’s trust.  I have never lied to my kids about Santa.  They have always known that he is make believe, just like the tooth fairy, and any other make believe people.  I will not intentionally deceive my children for a number of reasons, but I want them to know that they can trust me no matter what.  There is nothing greater than anyone’s trust, especially your children’s.  Why would we jeopardize this trust by pitching something as truth when we ourselves know it’s just in fun?

Why this matters to me?  I’m a Christian.  Meaning, I have a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe through Jesus Christ my Lord.  I didn’t come to know Christ until I was an adult and when I did, I came to understand the overwhelming historical evidence concerning His prophetic coming, His life, death, and resurrection.   In hindsight, I see that during my youth, I’d begun to lump Jesus with Santa Claus, the Boogey Man, and Tooth Fairy.  Jesus has nothing to do with fairy tales and I want no part in deceiving my children or confusing them about who Jesus is.  This is ultimately why I take the matter of Santa so seriously in my home.  We can get our pictures taken with Santa, threaten coal for gifts if they’re naughty, but let your kids know that it is all make believe.

For the skeptics out there, I encourage you to really investigate the gospel.  My prayer is that this would be the greatest Christmas of your life.  Jesus came and died for you so that you might find life in Him.  This grace of God is indescribable and is truly the greatest gift one can receive.  Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Thankful Heart Leads to Kindness

So it’s Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.  I am hanging out down by the beach with my family.  It’s raining this morning and we decided that we would make a journey down the street to the Longboarder Café.  It’s a newer place with surf videos on the T.V.’s and great food.   I really like the atmosphere. 

We were half drenched with smiles on our faces, laughing, and just enjoying one another as we sloshed our way into the cafe.  We splurged and let the kids get hot chocolates and French toast.  The coffee was nice and hot and the picture of my family before me warmed my soul.  I was feeling particularly blessed and overflowing with thankfulness to God for my family.

Just about this time, three young Marines walked in the door.  I must be getting old because these Marines looked like little kids to me.  They weren’t in uniform, but Marines are easy to spot.  These three seemed a more polite and a dressed a little more respectfully than your typical 18-22 year old male.  As I was observing them, I suddenly had a flood of memories of being a young kid in the military being away from my home where friends and family are.  These times of loneliness are hard to explain, but those who have been there, know exactly what I'm saying.  I know these three guys are buddies and will be for life, but there is something about these holiday weekends that makes you yearn for home.

This morning I was reminded of the sacrifice many young men and women are making today around the world as they celebrate Thanksgiving alone.  I don’t have access to all of them, but I had these three right in front of me.   As they sat down, I looked towards my wife and said, “I think we should pay for their breakfast.”  She agreed.  As the waiter came and took our order, I told him that I would like to pay the bill for the three men across the way.  He looked a little surprised and said, “Really?”  I nodded and he walked away thinking that was really cool.

When we finished eating the waiter came with our tab and double-checked that we still wanted to pay their bill.  He then asked if I wanted to send them a message.  I said, “Just tell them we are thankful for their service.”  I was trying to figure the tip when all three of the Marines walked up to our table, looked me in the eye, shook my hand, and said, “Thank you.  That’s really cool.  It means a lot.”  I just thanked them and held back all my Navy banter.

Walking home my oldest daughter asked me why the guys came up to us.  I shared with her how the Bible says it’s better to give than to receive.  We talked about how these young guys were away from the family for Thanksgiving because they are protecting us.  I shared with her that God had blessed us and we were thankful for their service so we bought their breakfast to express our gratitude.  She thought that was really cool.

I encourage you to look for opportunities that you can express a random act of kindness.  You think you are blessing the other person, but I guarantee you will walk away super blessed!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thankfulness Doesn't Come Easy

To be quite honest, I’ve always been a “the glass is half empty” kind of guy.  I don’t like this bent of mine, but because of this hard wiring I notice those thankful types of people.  I’ll never forget one man I met while going through Navy SEAL training.  We were a few days into the miserable rigors of Hellweek (a grueling test over 5 ½ days where only 4 cumulative hours of sleep are given) and he always had a smile on his face and was thankful every minute during this miserable week.  I never asked him why he was so thankful, but his joyful attitude was noticed by all and very contagious.

The older I grow, the more I appreciate Thanksgiving.  As a Christian, I believe this holiday celebrates a virtue followers of Christ are to embody—thankfulness! In First Thessalonians 5:16-18, the Apostle Paul instructs Christians to, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  How do these verses become reality in a person’s life?  I think perspective is everything as it relates to thankfulness.

God desires you to be joyful and to give thanks!  In thinking about this it seems that thankfulness is the antidote to discouragement and ultimately produces joy in a person’s life.  There’s an old hymn titled Count Your Blessings.  The refrain instructs the hearer to, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your blessings, see what God hath done!”  There is great power in simply naming things one is thankful for because it forces the individual to back up and take the larger picture into perspective. 

Whenever a wave of discouragement comes in my family, we play the “Thankful Game” with each other.  What is this game?  I’m glad you asked.  We simply work our way through the alphabet giving thanks for something that starts with each letter. For example, I would say, “A – I am thankful for my wife Anna.  B – I am thankful for the Bible.  C – I am thankful for chocolate covered doughnuts at Petersons, etc, etc.”  I know it sounds silly, but it never ceases to amaze me how much better we feel after intentionally giving thanks for the many ways in which God has blessed us.  

God has blessed us each tremendously whether we acknowledge it or not.  My prayer is that we each would cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in our hearts.  I’m convinced that as we express our thankfulness our joy will increase.  Ultimately God is pleased with our spirit of thankfulness and others are blessed.  Albert Barnes, a theologian from the 1800’s, once said, “We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.”  Regardless of your present situation, what are your thankful for today?

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Christian and Halloween

This post certainly isn’t a slam on Christians who do the Halloween thing—I’m all for you dressing up, eating candy and having fun!  Personally, I’m just not really into holidays.  They sort of come and go around here—with exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I hold more of the “to each their own” when it comes to celebrating holidays. 

Halloween was nothing more than dressing up for some candy when I was growing up.  Not much has changed since then—other than the fact that I am a Christian now.  I’ve heard a lot of people claim that the celebration of Halloween has become far darker than it was 10+ years ago.  I’m not sure if that is true, or if I’m simply running with Christians these days that are more sensitive than my old SEAL buddies.  Maybe a little of both?

I’m preaching on Romans 14:1-12 this Sunday.  This passage deals with how Christians should relate with one another concerning issues of opinion and conviction that the Bible doesn’t explicating touch on.  I find that Halloween is one of these issues of opinion and conviction.  I can’t tell you the origin of Halloween, nor I am interested in you telling me either.  It is what you make of it.

That being said, I’ll never forget a Halloween when I was in Bible College.  I had class that day and the church where the seminary is located was having a Harvest Festival—you know the Christian alternative to Halloween.  I wasn’t upset that I was missing the holiday for class, but I was pretty annoyed that all the parking was taken up walking to class.  When I arrived in the classroom, I was met with an uncomfortable situation.  There was a middle-aged lady in the room weeping.  Man, I wanted to leave the room as quick as I could, but she saw me—I was stuck.

I asked what was wrong to discover she was heartbroken that the church was doing a Harvest Festival for Halloween.  Inside I thought she was making a big deal over nothing and should just grow up.  Of course I didn’t say that, but I was thinking it.  As the conversation unfolded, it turns out that this lady was raised a Pagan (literally) and Halloween was a day where they did a bunch of evil stuff.  I was shocked to hear her tell her story.  I learned the holiday was far more than pillaging candy to her as it surfaced very dark memories and the present reality for many in her family.  This conversation changed my feelings on Halloween dramatically.

Fast-forward about 11 years to today.  I still don’t make a big deal about this day.  I’m not vocal about it…just sort of slips by without commentary on my part.  I have an almost 8-year-old daughter who just hates this holiday.  Where does it come from?  I don’t know other than I believe she has a deeply sensitive conscience to spiritual things.  Yesterday she came home from an event where the teacher said the kids could wear their costumes to class next week—which falls on Halloween. 

I was sitting in my office when she approached me in anguish.  She explained that she had a real problem and wasn’t sure how to handle it.  The issue was that she didn’t want to get dressed up, she didn’t want to lie about why she won’t dress up, and she doesn’t want to condemn her friends.  What should she do?  I must pause to say that as a dad I am so proud of this little girl and her genuine walk with God.  Seriously, these moments are super special for me to help her navigate life in this world.  Nothing greater than being pastor-dad!

After she explained the problem, I shared with her the passage I was studying—Romans 14:1-12.  I found it very relevant to the problem at hand as it gives some insight to how we as Christians should handle things like Halloween.  Here are some points that I told her and I believe these apply to all Christians, regardless of your stance on Halloween.

Pray.  First and foremost, I explained that she should pray and ask God for wisdom on how to handle this.

Heed your conscience.  One’s conscience is a super special gift that God has given us.  It’s not always right, but we shouldn’t make a habit of violating it because we can damage it.  We laid out a bunch of options from going dressed up, not dressed up, not going at all, or making other plans.  My main concern is that I want my daughter to recognize her conscience and to develop a plan on how to listen to it.

You answer ultimately to God.  We so desperately want to fit in and be accepted by friends, but ultimately we must recognize that we cannot make others happy.  So the best option is live your life in a way that you think pleases God the most.  As this relates to Halloween, I can see a case for both sides.  Whatever you do, it should be for God’s glory.

Be sensitive to others.  You want to get dressed up?  No problem, just be sensitive to others.  This holiday may not be to them what it is to you.  You want nothing to do with this holiday?  Fine, don’t get dressed up, but be careful not to condemn others as it probably isn’t to them what it is to you.

There is some debate whether or not Augustine actually said these words, but I think they are an appropriate way to end this post, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Misericordia Por Favor

Those illegal aliens are driving me…

How did you answer that question?  I have a rant that’s been brewing in me for a while.  I really don’t know where I’m going with this blog, but I have some things that I feel need to be said from a biblical perspective.  I also think this post may get me into some hot water, but that’s okay.  I am a patriot of this country, but my allegiance is to Christ first and foremost.

I feel that racism is growing in my part of the United States towards Hispanics.  From my perspective it seems that the majority of Hispanics are viewed as being illegal regardless of their actual status in the United States.  I’m not sure that the things I hear and the attitudes felt towards Hispanics is glorifying to Christ.

I understand that this is a complex situation.  Don’t let your mind run wild.  I am not speaking of those trying to enter our country to do us harm.  Citizen or not, we must defend and protect the innocent from evildoers.  Period.  The irony is the terrorists who have done us harm in recent years have all been here legally, but I digress.

Yes, I agree that laws should be obeyed and honored.  We see this throughout the Bible.  We have a difficult political and financial situation on our hands.  I have no intention on trying to resolve these problems in this blog.  I resist bringing up the history of how we obtained California or how we treated the Native Americans securing our land.  I don’t have the answers, but I do believe there are two issues here: 1) How should this situation be handled politically with laws?  2) How we as individuals should treat other human beings.  This, in large part, is the part that has been bugging me.

How should a Christian respond to this difficult situation?  I like what our Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  I believe this statement applies to all humans regardless of their citizenship.  Quite frankly, the illegal immigrants that I have met are extremely hard working and are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.  I don’t blame them and I would do the same thing if I were in their shoes.  It pains me to hear Christians speaking poorly towards these people just trying to survive.

One passage that has planted itself in my heart is Leviticus 19:33-34, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD you God.”  Interesting passage as it relates to this subject.

One complaint I hear often relates to immigrants and the medical system.  First, I would encourage you to go to a community health clinic.  View the conditions and care they are receiving.  Hardly world class treatment and certainly not better than any American citizen would receive.  I like traveling.  I like experiencing other cultures.  I’ve never been really hurt in another country, but I certainly hope that I would receive the care I needed because I am a human and not based on my citizenship.  I hope that we as a people would care for other people in need to the best of our ability, yet sadly, in our nation people seem to care more about animals than people.

My prayer is that we who follow Christ would be a merciful people.  For it was Jesus who said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7) and “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).  I don’t know about you, but I’ve received a ton of mercy from God.  May we come to see people as God sees them (2 Cor. 5:16-21).