Tag Archives: faith

Return to Fitness 2

It’s been a week since I made the commitment to lose 16lbs by the end of 2017, and I’m happy to report: I’m on target. In fact, I’m slightly ahead. I didn’t starve myself, and I didn’t cheat. I ate a low carb diet, watched the calories and exercised for at least 30 minutes five out of seven days. When I see that I’ ve made measurable progress I am motivated to push harder and go further. So, I’m going to press on beyond the 16lbs after the 1st of January.

My ultimate goal is to get back down to the 7% body fat range with a size 29 waist, which is where I was in 2012 and 2013. Whatever I weigh at that point will be fine. Intitially without much muscle mass increase that will be around 150lbs, which is a good fighting weight for me.

Additionally, I will not drink alcohol more than once per week, and even then it’ll be one craft beer (or similar). I also want to detox on caffeine. The latter is a more daunting challenge. It usually takes around two weeks, during which time I fight headaches. However, I’m convinced that addiction is a bad thing, even if it is to something as harmless as coffee.

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).

The first quote is by the Apostle Paul and is in context with sexual matters. The second is from Jesus and references money as it’s primary application: “You cannot serve both God and money.” However, the principle behind both is found in the first commandment, and the Greatest Commandment. The first commandment of the Ten Commandments is: “Do not have other gods besides me.” The second commandment in the Ten is applicable here as well: “Do not make any idols.” Addiciton is an idol. It is a habit or a thing that has taken hold of my will to which I am primarily loyal. When there is a challenge between my addiciton and any other person or thing, even God, I choose the addiction. I love it. The Great Commandment is: “Love the LORD your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind” (Matthew 22:37, where Jesus affirmed the Jewish Shema in Deuteronomy 6:5), and in Luke Jesus adds, “with all of your strength” (10:27). I cannot love God above all when I am loyal to my addiction, even if that’s just coffee.

In the end, I want my heart to be pure and my mind single in love and devotion to Jesus. That’s the goal above all the rest. I hope I can inspire some of the people in my community to pursue the same thing. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

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Growing Again

I got off track. Okay, that’s a colloquialism, but it’s true. I am a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus, but I got away from my calling to preach Good News. Why? Reasons that I can think of: 1) Disappointment 2) Rejection from people I cared about, 3) Desire for things outside the will of God, 4) Disbelief that God wants to bless me.

Let’s begin with the last first. I’ve tried many things to get God to bless me. Early in my Christian life I made promises that I couldn’t keep. I’ve fasted, both food and other things. I’ve prayed, complained, journaled, read more and more of the Bible, served, given money, offered personal sacrifices. Nothing changes me, and that’s the real issue. I must change, but “a leopard cannot change its spots” and I cannot change my nature.

I’ve come to the realization that what I do and who I am doesn’t matter. It’s who God is that can change, well, everything– even me. That’s the nature of the Gospel. God is good and God loves me (and you) and God has done everything that needs to be done for me (and you) to be blessed and changed. We cannot change our natures, but God will… once we trust his love and goodness enough to permit Him to begin (and continue) that process of transformation.

I was saved many years ago at the age of 16. I made a deal with God that involved nothing more than taking him at his word. I was a lustful, sin sick teenager who heard the message that God loves me and accepts me “just as I am.” I tried to clean up my act, but was not able to measure up. I couldn’t eradicate the lust of my heart. When I heard the Good News that Jesus died for me just as I am to make of me what he wills, then I accepted the offer of life in place of my living death. So, the deal went like this: Lord, I cannot do this on my own; I cannot stop this lust in my heart. If you accept me as I am and you will help me, then you can have my life.

It’s interesting that even many years later I still default to trying to please God by trying to stop lust and sin as a precondition of his blessing. That’s not the deal I made with God, though; or, I should say, that’s not the deal He made with me (and offers everyone in the Gospel). God is good, apart from Him, I am not.

Don’t try to compare yourself to me, though. You might be tempted to say: “Well, I’m better than you. I’m not doing anything that bad.” You might be surprised to find that that isn’t true. Even if it is, Jesus is the example of what a human being is supposed to be, and I assure you, you’re not that good and moral. Or, you might say: “I’m much worse than you. I’ve done horrible things.” You might be surprised to know that God judges the heart above the action, and even when I’ve done nothing externally wrong, my heart is wicked and yearns for things that, even if the world accepts, God hates. So, I may have imagined it but never done it, and you have done it. The difference is whom you’ve hurt in addition to God and yourself, but we’ve both sinned.

The point is: God is good no matter what we’ve done, and he offers to make us right. First, he sees us as good and right, even though we aren’t, because Jesus became our sin and died in our place, debt paid, penalty served. Theologians call this justification or imputed righteousness. What it means is, because of Jesus God sees us as righteous, even while we are still struggling with sin. There are many places where this is taught in the New Testament. For example:

since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:23–24, NRSV)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NRSV)

This is the basis of the Good News, the Gospel. Yet, although I’ve preached it every week, I still fell short of consistently living like I believed it. Why? Well, I said I had an issue believing that God wants to bless me. That resulted from a guilty conscience as I wrestled with lust and anger and other sin. Formulated into a statement, it would be: How can God love someone who desires this, or who has done that?

It goes deeper, though…

Are you ready for the real confession? I’ve always had a suspicion that God doesn’t really love me. Yes, “God so loved the world,” and I’m part of the world of people he loves. But that seems so general and impersonal. God loves everybody. I’m not disparaging that; I appreciate it. However, it didn’t translate into me feeling God cares about me personally. So, yes, I’ll get into heaven because of Jesus, for God loves the mass of humanity so much that he came and died. But what about “he died for me”? I believe God loves people; I just don’t think he really likes me all that much. Sometimes it feels like he doesn’t want to be around me. So, I feel neglected, sometimes abandoned, even though I’m saved.

I default to that because when we consider God in the natural, we are inclined to understand him to be like our human fathers. My biological father was absent; my step-father was distant. I wanted my step-dad to adopt me, but he wasn’t willing to ask me to take his name. I experienced rejection from both men. Additionally, I could never measure up to my step-father. He was a big man, bigger than life sometimes. I was a scared boy. He tried to help me. We studied karate’ together. He certainly didn’t need this; he did it for me. So, don’t think he was a bad guy; he wasn’t. I’m not disrespecting the man. However, I could never call him “Dad”. I always called him by his first name instead. I could call him my dad to other people, but never to his face. Why? He didn’t ever give me permission to.  Almost no one knows this, but when I was baptized as a teenager, I used my step-dad’s last name. I was looking for a Dad when I came to Jesus. And I found one in God the Father, but I have had a hard time sensing or receiving his love and acceptance.

In the natural I feel rejected, neglected, abandoned, unworthy of affection and incapable of measuring up, even at my age… That is how I’m inclined to feel about God the Father.  As a result, even though my thinking and theology teaches otherwise, I have a proclivity to act like I’m on my own living for God doing ministry for Him. Yes, I’m saved, and yes I’ve got some gifts the Lord has given, but I often feel I have to do it all myself.  This is the reason I’ve become so angry when things don’t work, or situations don’t work out, or when people have abandoned or opposed me.  I just feel like there is no one in my corner to to help me up or fight for me when I’m down. This has created a negative environment at times. And it does not indicate that I have the right quality of faith in the God of Jesus Christ.

However, that has not consistently been the case, and it has begun again to change. God is a good, loving and engaged Heavenly Father and the One whom Jesus gives me the right to call “Daddy.” I’ve begun to sense that once again as I’ve simply chosen to believe it in spite of my own sin.

Last year I began with a fast of several things; in fact, I encouraged our church to do the same. I continued saying “no” to one of these things for many weeks. This didn’t stop my lust, anger and other assorted attitudinal sins, though: only faith has helped.

These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.” (Colossians 2:23, NRSV)

The year was not one of growth, at least not on the surface. However, what I began to realize and internalize more deeply than ever is this: God loves me anyway. I’m not saying I believe he loves me and doesn’t care if I become angry or lustful. I’m saying, he loves me in spite of my sin and loves me enough to stay with me and work with me and help me overcome. That is a very big deal.

I’ve known and taught, nearly my whole ministry, that our lives must be God-centered rather than self-centered. Early on, I was profoundly affected by the book Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. I came to the conclusion that our greatest problem is self-centeredness, and that our greatest pursuit must be God himself, living a God-Centered life.

However, in reading this confession you can detect a lot of self orientation. That’s because knowing something, even teaching it, is not the same as realizing and living by it. That is what has begun to change over the last 6-12 months. Through the typical disappointments and failures, my faith has– are you ready for this?– grown stronger. This has not been the result of me overcoming my weaknesses, but of realizing God’s acceptance of me in the Beloved (in Jesus) IN SPITE OF MY FOOLISHNESS AND SIN.

The covenant I entered with God is the New Covenant, and it is not offered to those who are deserving, good and moral, but to those who recognize they are weak and in trouble. This Agreement with God was inked in blood, but not mine. Jesus signed it when he was crucified. I cannot fail because the New Covenant is in Jesus’ blood. He is the Guarantor. Not me. My part is to agree, to commit my weak self to Him, to open up and let His Spirit enter and do the lifelong work of transformation. I just need to trust Him, instead of myself. “Trust in the Lord wit all of your heart and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). I need to love Him, above myself. “He must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

I fail my Father daily in big and small ways, but Jesus never falls short. His covenant of grace will always remain in place. He will never deny or forsake me. That is the Gospel, and it is very Good News.

What will be the result of this renewed realization? I am okay. I am secure. I am not easily angered or shaken. I will persevere in believing that God will bless and anoint and cause me to succeed in His work. I will not fail. Discouragement, disappointment, anger and doubt are all dissipating, evaporating like the dew when the sun grows warm. Hallelujah!

I am positive of this. It is not self-assurance or delusion, but faith.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

I am convinced. Faith is inherently positive, so I am positive. This will be a challenge in a darkening world filled with bad news, increasingly opposed to Christian faith. However, I am not afraid. I will not shrink back to destruction, but I will persevere in faith to the preserving of my soul in paradise and life eternal (Hebrews 10:39).

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37–39, NRSV)

Amen.

Sick and Sad 13

Sick and sad,

already broken or

I’d be breaking bad.

But still, 

what if I

took a sabbatical

and tested myself?

Solomon is the example.

He knew that life under the sun

is all vanity, but indulged

only for a moment in pleasure and fun.

All the while he watched 

with his wisdom intact

to discover if

nothing is worth it, in fact.

I know the answer,

as did the wisest man.

But I need to feel

something.

I’ve got to find a way to become

someone.

This tame existence is killing me.

My dreams are dammed up,

my desires are pent up,

and lust must be damned out.

But I’ve got to break free

from this boring little life

before I waste away.

Everyone loves

the Prodigal.

His return was celebrated

his story told and retold,

while the responsible son

tended sheep out in the cold.

I wait and wait and wait and wait,

my heart is sick

from hope deferred

and unfulfilled longing.

When, O when

will I reach the heights

I thought God called me to

back then, at a time when

everything seemed possible.

When can I be fulfilled again?

Over half my life is gone

and still I wait.

I suppose I’ll be like 

Abraham

rather than Solomon.

Restore to me the joy

of my salvation.

Vindication Part 7 MONEY

This is the seventh chapter in a series about 21 years of overcoming conflict and opposition as I’ve tried to learn how to minister and speak the truth in Garland, Texas. You can read the first six parts at www.deorl.wordpress.com or in my notes on www.Facebook.com/deorl.

Money, money, money, if only I had enough money.

I started college in the Fall of 1980. I enrolled in a small Christian school called Grand Canyon College (now a university). It was inexpensive when compared to many other private schools, which is to say it is expensive when compared to most state sponsored schools. I took out student loans to pay for my education. I am still paying off those loans.

I transferred to Baylor University in 1982. It is a magnificent school. It is also quite a bargain when compared to comparable public universities. It remains quite expensive. I’m still paying off those loans as well.

Unless you’re a mega-church pastor with a book deal, you are not going to make a lot of money doing ministry (assuming you stay honest). Until recently I’ve been paying into a retirement account. I started investing small amounts in this annuity when I entered full-time ministry in 1992. I stopped paying into it because I cannot afford it at this time. No big deal, since I wouldn’t be able to retire for even a full year on what’s in the account. Many ministers in the denomination with which our church cooperates cannot retire comfortably.

When I entered seminary I started carrying medical insurance through the denomination. This year I had to stop paying for that too. It was a good policy, but it has become increasingly  cost-prohibitive as I’ve grow older.  To top it off, Blue Cross/Blue Shield will not pay for hearing aids. You can complain all you want about Obamacare, but it had nothing to do with this situation. Something needs to be done for people to be able to afford to go to the doctor.

I’d just enjoy having the funds to to pay the rent on our church building every month. It would be wonderful to be able to support more missions, and start some churches. Ministry requires money.

I refuse to manipulate or take advantage of people in order to collect more donations. I had a worldly-wise member who told me one time: “tend the sheep, milk the goats.” This means use the people who give larger amounts of money, even if they are cantankerous, but focus your energy on those whom you’ve been called to shepherd. The temptation to do this is not a problem for me. People who don’t like me, just leave without further ado, and I don’t go chasing them down.

I will not make visitors feel like they should give. I don’t keep tabs on which members are giving either. This may seem impractical, even foolish. However, many people are turned-off about church and Christianity because of preachers who constantly ask for money.

I do believe in tithing. I didn’t for a long time. I used to think it was legalism. Oh, I gave. I felt like quite the sacrificial youth minister when I would buy things our ministry needed. What I discovered is, that’s not the same thing. I read a book by Robert Morris called The Blessed Life wherein the mega-church pastor demonstrated that the tithe represents giving the first and best to God. Giving the tithe was practiced before the Law of Moses, most notably when Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe of the spoils he took in a battle (check Genesis 14:18-20). In other words, the tithe is an act of worship, not an attempt to please God by keeping the Law.

My tithing affects the entire church. They don’t realize it, but since the pastor got serious about tithing consistently about 10 years ago, our finances improved remarkably. I also started taking up an offering regularly during the worship service around this same time. Prior to that I’d been known to forget to ask for an offering at times.

We’ve gone through some difficult periods in my church, but God’s always pulled us through. I am grateful. I’d just like to stop having to worry about where the money will come from to pay all of the bills. In the last year and a half I’ve been depressed about this issue many times.

Honestly, I’ve been ready to leave the ministry and do something else. Really. Money problems will burn a minister out fast, and they can end a church. I told God that I’d quit if that’s what he wanted. I told him I’d teach school, or work for someone else, whether in our out of ministry. I just want to do God’s will. If I’m the problem, then remove the problem. No problem.

Every Sunday church attendance is a moratorium on my preaching. One week we have a full house. I preach to challenge or encourage or teach. It seems people are responsive. The next week we have half as many people in attendance. This is depressing, but it’s also a great burden because we have to pay the bills. I wonder, “where is the money going to come from?”

Don’t get me wrong, we have an amazing small core of individuals and families who do all they can to support our church. I have to worry when anyone leaves because it may mean we cannot pay our rent, support a mission, or give as much to the needy. I’d love to pay other ministers in our church who could use some help. This may not happen if people leave for the big church down the street.

So, why do I continue? I believe. I trust God. This will not continue. It cannot. It is a test. Will I, will we, stay faithful, or quit? Will I believe the promises in God’s Word? I am choosing to say yes, even though there are confounding variables and contradictory evidence at times.

Recently we’ve seen a number of people commit their lives to Christ. That is encouraging. Will they keep the commitment? In other words, do they really have faith? That’s not my call. However, it contributes to whether this church will continue to grow. I read a quote by Rick Warren today (I used to discount Rick Warren’s ministry as too unlike ours to be helpful. Actually, I’m just jealous). He spoke to pastors about their churches when he said, “You’re either a Risk taker, a Caretaker, or an Undertaker.” The last two are not good. A Caretaker is just keeping the status quo, keeping the members happy, not doing anything to elicit growth. An Undertaker is shepherding a dying church. Heaven forbid! So, I’ll pray about where and when and how to take risks to bring about growth.

I’ll end with some of those promises.

“Though the fig tree should not blossom

And there be no fruit on the vines,

Though the yield of the olive should fail

And the fields produce no food,

Though the flock should be cut off from the fold

And there be no cattle in the stalls,

Yet I will exult in the Lord,

I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

The Lord God is my strength,

And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,

And makes me walk on my high places.”

(Habakkuk 3:17-19, NASB)

“Honor the Lord from your wealth

And from the first of all your produce;

So your barns will be filled with plenty

And your vats will overflow with new wine.”

(Proverbs 3:9-10, NASB)

“Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”

(Luke 6:38, NASB)

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

(2 Corinthians 9:7-11, NIV)

I believe Lord, help my unbelief (and unfaithfulness).