The Longing of God

The Longing of God

Looking across the sky often causes my mind to wonder.  As the sun is setting and the brilliant display of so many colors cascade across the evening sky, I am amazed at the handiwork of God.  His power is unmatched and his ability is without measure.  He speaks and matter is created in perfect order.  And in the moments I slow down enough to notice and worship, He hears the words I pray.  It is truly the grand displays of God’s majesty that make his nearness even more surprising and magnificent.  The God who speaks, creates, and knows no limit bends to hear the voice of one of His creation.

Exodus 33 recounts a time when Moses needed the ear of God.  After spending forty days and nights with God on Mount Sinai, he discovered the unfaithfulness of the Israelite people.  God was establishing a law, a way for his people to relate to Him and one another.  The holy God was fulfilling what He promised, “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.  And they shall know that I am the Lord their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them.  I am the Lord their God” (Exodus 29:45-46).  Exodus 33:9 recounts times when Moses would enter the Tent of Meeting set on the outskirts of the Israelite camp.  As he walked in, the pillar of cloud – the presence of God – would descend to meet with him.  “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11).  Not only did God speak to Moses but promised His presence would go with him and the people…and He would give them rest (33:14).

The story of God is filled with such moments.  From the beginning, humanity has been given the choice to love God, follow Him, and experience His unending presence and rest.  He has always given clarity to the way in which a man should go to have abundant life.  Yet, we have always rebelled.   And despising the shame, God has always pursued his rebellious people.  Beginning in Eden, God restored Adam and Eve providing covering and forgiveness.  He made a covenant with Abraham establishing a great nation whose purpose was to draw the world to see the One True God!  He rescued from Egypt, gave them a good land to dwell within and influence the nations.  Throughout faithless generations, God remained faithful, long-suffering, patient, and ready to restore, forgive, and bless.

At the culmination of the story, God became flesh and literally dwelt among us (John 1:14).  Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the from of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).  Jesus entered into the world and was rightfully called, Immanuel -God with us!”  And the rest of the story is increasingly more amazing.  After Jesus was raised from the dead, He ascended to the Father and sent His Spirit.  “Or do you not know that your body is the a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own…” (1 Corinthians 6:19).  God, through the death of His Son, made a way for His presence to be with us forever, the indwelling of His Spirit.

The Almighty Creator of the Universe who paints galaxies and speaks matter into existence, the Eternal One who orders life, calms storms, and has no needs chose to pursue you, me and all of humanity.  He longs to be with you.  He doesn’t need you but wants you.  He is still holy, righteous, always good, and to be feared.  And somehow, He also allows His people to affectionally call Him Father, Daddy, and Friend.

Moses would have many good days and difficult days the remainder of his life.  Some of the challenges he faced resulted from his own wrong decisions.  After guiding God’s people through the desert for forty years anxiously anticipating a promised good land, Moses would not be able to enter.  But the land was only a blessing.  God longed for the hearts of the people, He longed for Moses.  He longs for you and me.  We too will have good and difficult days ahead.  And we too might fail to see a dream fulfilled.  But in abiding in Jesus, we discover we have all we truly need…and we remember that it has been His story all along.

Be encouraged today to find rest in the presence of God.  He longs to give abundant life through His abiding presence.  Abide in Him…He is longing to hear from you and He bends his hear to listen.  He is longing to speak…open His word and listen.

Advertisements

Fingerprints

handprint-glass1Winter in Houston is the best (and only) time of year to open the sunroof and enjoy a cool breeze.  The sunroof in our SUV tends to impress my children.  This magical window opens oddly and then part of the protective roof above them peels away to reveal clouds and an amazing winter sky.  And for whatever reason, it also tends to attract their fingerprints.  Honestly, every window in just about every car that carries children is frosted with smeared oily prints of little ones making their messy mark.  Typically, those prints drive me crazy and I crave that moment right after cleaning the car thoroughly that offers transparency rarely experienced in the Allen vehicles.  Call it OCD, but a clean car just makes the world seem a little more in order.

Climbing in last week and hurriedly pulling out of the driveway, I looked up and noticed the presence of those pesky invaders blocking the serene view I longed for.  I’m not talking about my children, but instead, their fingerprints.  And then, as if the Lord pressed hard on my chest, it hit me…one day I will have a printless car.  One day in the not-too-distant future, the windows will be spotless, the stains missing, the radio playing whatever I would like, and the background noise will simply be other cars passing by.  No longer will cheers and wondrous laughter erupt as I open that odd window above.  They will be gone.  My heart sank and I began to realize that these little prints are actually markers of three of the greatest blessings in my life.  As every day passes, I realize that I don’t get to keep them that long.  Eighteen years goes so quickly.

Later that evening, the thoughts of my heart came full circle as I realized the brevity of their fingerprints and connected it to the brevity of my own prints in their lives.  As each sun sets and my wife and I tuck our kids into bed, another opportunity to leave our prints passes.  When each one exits our home, they will leave intentionally and unintentionally imprinted by our lives, our words, our example, our love, and our faith.

In some homes, kids will leave expert hunters, or go on to play collegiate sports.  Others will leave with a strong work ethic and plow ahead in life.  Others will be imprinted with so much fun having traveled to many places and seen amazing things.  All of our kids will see our habits and priorities and begin to form their own for good and bad.  Hard questions began to fill my mind…

What will mine leave with?

What will they remember their dad was like?  How would they describe me?

How has my example tainted their view of their perfect heavenly Father?

Have I modeled the love of Jesus to their mom and have they truly felt it themselves?

Have I been quick to say I’m sorry and quick to forgive?

Have I equipped them to love God with all they are and abide in Jesus daily?

Have I taught them what really matters?

It is so easy to let another night or another week go without having conversations about Jesus.  But we only have their fingerprints for so long.  There are only so many days left to intentionally impress them with our prints of faith that will guide them the rest of their days.  Today truly matters.  What prints will you leave?

For encouragement, read Psalm 78.

Perspective Matters

Daniel was removed from everything he knew as a young man.  Carried off into slavery, his life would be spent in a foreign land serving kings who did not share his worldview or beliefs.  In this foreign land, he and three close friends would face their own mortality on numerous occasions as they sought to remain firm to the truth.

The first challenge was subtle but Daniel faithfully chose not to turn his foot to the left or right, but consider the path of his feet (Proverbs 4:26-27).  His faithful commitment to honoring God in something so simple as his diet paved the way for what lay ahead.  God granted Daniel favor with those in authority over him. Not many days ahead, he would have to trust the same God to provide for His very life.

Such a story begs the initial question, “Do I consider my path in the simple, seemingly small steps?”  I vividly remembering flailing face-first toward a sidewalk one early morning running.  One moment I was beginning to hit my stride and the next, I found myself painfully limping home.  A simple uneven step where the drain met the sidewalk propelled me to a few weeks on crutches and embarrassment. I have learned to appreciate the simple steps.  When we cease to consider that every step we take has direct consequences, we fail to see life as a story and live from event to event.  Every step matters.

The story of Daniel continues when the King makes an absurd request of those in his service.  Troubled by a significant dream, he asks his “wise men” to not only interpret but reveal the dream as well.  Failure to do so resulted in the immediate death of every man tasked with the impossible request.  Near to death, Daniel seeks out his companions to join him in prayer.  God reveals the dream and everything changes.  The rest of the story is found in the book of Daniel, chapter 2.  For Daniel, something drastic happens which was even greater than God sparing his life.  His perspective changed forever.  He recorded these words in a prayer of blessing to God:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.  He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings…”   Daniel 2:20-21.  In those moments, Daniel confessed truth; God is sovereign.  Those who appeared to possess so much power were unknowing steward of the One who can sift their hearts like streams of water.  This perspective guided Daniel for the rest of his life.

Perspective matters.  When we choose to trust God in the small simple steps, we learn we can trust Him in the life-altering ones.  What decisions are you making today?  Are you looking at them through an eternal perspective?  The right thing is always the smart thing…according to God’s wisdom.  When we choose to live in the shadow of the Sovereign God, our perspective leads to joy, peace, and freedom because of the One who is truly in control.

God’s Story, our next step…

Dear Kingsland Family,

Seven years ago, Jessie and I were sitting in our apartment in Atlanta, GA reading about a church that had called and set up an interview with us.  That church was Kingsland and as we read about it, we were so impressed.  I remember looking at Jessie and saying, “If this church really practices what they believe, this is a unique and amazing place.”  We would soon find that they did.  We knew God was taking us somewhere special but had no idea how much we would fall in love with this body of believers.

For the past seven years, we have had the incredible privilege to be a part of this amazing church.  The blessing you have been to our family has been profound and immeasurable.  You have poured your lives into Jessie, myself and our three kids.  When we moved here, we only had one little one.  And now our youngest of three kids is almost four.  Two have placed their faith in Christ and so many of you have made such an impact and difference in their lives.  Really, in all of our lives.  And so, it is with a very heavy heart that I am resigning from Kingsland.

The Lord has called us to another place of ministry.  And I want you to know that I don’t use that phrase lightly.  We have struggled and agonized over this decision.  We’ve sought godly counsel and gone back to the Lord time and again asking for clarity, peace and His clear will.  And he has given that clarity but in a different way than we thought.  So, we will choose to be obedient to His leading.  It has always been and will always be His story.

We have been called to Bay Area First Baptist Church in League City.  My role there will have three major functions, Executive, Spiritual Formation, and Teaching.  I will have the opportunity to invest in leadership, discipleship, connecting church and home and preach regularly.  We are excited for what the Lord has and yet our hearts are heavy.  We are very thankful for the opportunity to remember that this is God’s story and not ours.  He is always faithful and He has purpose in all that He does.

Though the timing is difficult and honestly, I don’t understand the details of God moving us now, I do know that He is leading.  I believe that Kingsland has amazing days ahead of her.  If I could in any way be encouraging, remember who you are as the bride of Christ.  Jesus gave His life for His Church and He is still preparing for the time He will come again to come for us, His bride.  His love is relentless and His passion for you, His people, is unfading.  He is the Good Shepherd.

Partnering in ministry these past seven years has been an amazing adventure.  Whether in our ABFs, whom I have known best, or in our preschool, children and student ministries, God has raised up amazing men and women to lead and make a difference for His Kingdom.  It has been a privilege to walk alongside men’s and women’s ministries in the past, our door greeters, welcome teams, ushers, and so many more.  God has blessed Kingsland through your faithful service and love for Him.  Lives have been changed because of God working through you and using you and He will continue to use you for His Kingdom.

Through this time of change at Kingsland, stand firm and remember Who you serve.  Continue to fight the good fight of our faith.  Be encouraged to lead with excellence, especially now.  Pray with fervency, love each other well and forgive one another quickly.  Kingsland’s past has moments of trial not unlike the one we find ourselves in now.  But, it is through the faithfulness of you, the men and women, students and children who choose to love God and love others that He will use to walk Kingsland through this valley to the great days He has planned ahead.  Stand firm.  Or as the Lord told Joshua, “Be strong and courageous!”

Parents and Grandparents, continue discipling the next generation.  Continue turning the tide of our culture one home at a time.  Fight for your kids the fight that matters and leave them with the one thing that changes everything – a thriving relationship with Jesus Christ.

I would love to conclude with a prayer.  This is our prayer for Kingsland:

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:9-14, ESV)

We are forever grateful for the blessing you have been to our family.  We love you deeply.

Josh & Jessie

 

Church Discipline: A Path to Restoration

img_portfolio1

Matthew 18:15-20 records a very important teachingof Jesus. It is likely one of the least observed in the church today because of its apparent counter-cultural implications. Other sayings of Jesus are much more frequently quoted and passed along. “Judge not, that you not be judged” (Matthew 7:1). “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also tothem, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). These statements and others like them are no doubt clear teachings of Jesus but taken out of context almost appear to be at odds with Matthew 18:15-20. Yet the same Jesus who preached and exemplified love and forgiveness challenges us to embrace a form of loving one another nearly forgotten in our day; loving one another through biblical discipline.

Mentioning the phrase biblical discipline or church discipline quickly conjures different thoughts and opinions, not to mention many questions. This blog entry will attempt to answer the following critical questions and hopefully paint a clearer picture of church discipline.

How should a church practice discipline today?
Why should we should we practice church discipline?
When should church discipline take place?
Who should be disciplined?
What is the purpose of discipline and does it really work?

The church in America today is in need of serious church discipline. Most Baptist churches, prior to the civil war, regularly practiced church discipline. Yet likely due to the increasing size of churches and a desire for increased growth, most churches transitioned away from the practice. The result is that most churches today don’t dealwith sin within the church and there is little difference between the world and the body of Christ.

How should a church practice discipline?
Learning the basics of biblical Church discipline will help begin to answer every subsequent question regarding its practice and importance. Jesus, through His very words, commands us to love one another in this way. Following Christ demands a genuine love for one another requiring biblical discipline for every believer.
Stage 1: Formative Discipline
All believers most often find themselves in Stage 1. Formative Discipline is simply discipleship. It is the process of sanctification where a believer is daily transformed to resemble and reflect Christ. Sin is brought to mind, confessed, and dealt with. Through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the flesh is put to death and a believer walks in a growing relationship with God. Formative Discipline takes place within normal church activities such as preaching, involvement in Adult Bible Fellowships, and discipleship classes such as Foundations. Formative discipline actively exists within accountability groups and godly friendships. One author, Jay Adams, labels this self-discipline. Through the power of the Spirit, the believer disciplines himself reducing the need for corrective discipline.
Stage 2: A Private Confrontation
Jesus begins with the second stage of discipline in Matthew 18:15. When a brother sins against you, approach him and communicate the grievance. Jesus also stresses that this confrontation should be private. The Words of Christ clearly communicate one of the least followed practices in many churches. When a believer hurts another through his sin, the one harmed has a responsibility and privilege to approach his brother humbly and correct his behavior. Scripture communicates the importance of this meeting being private. All too often, we recruit other believers to our viewpoint of a sin committed without ever approaching the one who committed it. We can easily divide the body of Christ. Jesus makes an important point concerning the goal of this encounter. It is designed to win your brother back. The goal is always restoration of the relationship and the sinning believer.
Stage 3: A Semi-Private Confrontation
Matthew 18:16 describes the next step in the process. The issue is still very private. The offended party has only involved one or two more who would substantiate his claim of harm. Wisdom would suggest using godly men and women in this situation to not only add credibility to their witness, but also help the offended party see any fault of his own. Any others involved at this point should also understand the critical value of keeping the sin private. Ideally, the offending brother would recognize his mistake, repent and ask forgiveness. The matter could then be resolved and both parties could move forward.
Stage 4: Church Involvement


This next step is what most churchgoers immediately associate with the term church discipline. The immediate involvement of the church does not necessarily mean the entire church. At first, church leaders may be involved in the discipline process attempting to keep the sin private. Godly church leaders hope to help the sinning brother recognize the sin and repent, always seeking restoration. Church involvement only takes place after the sinning brother refuses to deal with his sin after multiple attempts. The step of church involvement signals an escalation in the formality of the process. The sin has not been dealt with and it now requires a process involving the greater body of Christ. It is crucial for any church to have a process predetermined when a situation of discipline arises. A good process protects the church and the one sinning from any unintended bias. This process might resemble the following:

4-1. Inform appropriate church leadership of the sin. Appropriate leaders might include elders, pastors, or a specific team designed to evaluate these situations.

4-2. Church leaders approach the believer who is sinning and attempt to help with the reconciliation privately. If successful, the process ends. If unsuccessful, the process continues.

4-3. Church leaders inform the church in an appropriate manner, protecting his character where possible and encourage the body of believers to act according to Scripture. All of this is done with restoration as the goal.

Stage 5: Dis-fellowship
The final stage of church discipline is where the church begins to treat the offender as a non-believer. He cannot play a role in the community of faith until repentance and restoration take place. First Corinthians 5 gives a powerful example of such an occurrence. Paul encourages the church not to associate with one who is involved in unrepentant sin. The Scripture states, “not even to eat with such a one” (1 Corinthians 5:11). This dis-fellowship is in hopes that the sinning believer would repent and be restored. The entire church is responsible to treat this man in accordance with Scripture – always hoping for restoration. The sinning brother has chosen to live like an unbeliever and the sin should be dealt with biblically.

 

Why should we practice church discipline?
First and foremost, Scripture demands the practice of church discipline. This reason alone should be enough for our faithful participation. Other important reasons exist as well:

    • Discipline honors Christ by obedience to His Word (John 14:15)
    • Discipline purifies the Church (Ephesians 5:25-27)
    • Discipline lovingly restores believers in their relationship with Christ and one another (Galatians 6:1-2, Matthew 18:15)

 

When should church discipline take place?
Church Discipline should be used in any circumstance where an offense has been made that cannot otherwise be reconciled. Scripture encourages believers to “keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). When we can overlook sins committed against us without carrying any sort of grudge and truly forgive the transgression, no action of church discipline is necessary. We must also weigh the thought of our brother’s spiritual growth in that decision. There might be situations where the sin is easily forgiven but the context requires a love that corrects. A parent will quickly teach a child not to run out into the street. Though no harm is brought to the parent, he understands that great harm can come to the child if discipline is not enforced. The most obvious situations where discipline should take place are those where a sin cannot be easily over-looked or forgiven and reconciliation needs to take place.

If done well, most situations never escalate past Stage 2. A one-on-one confrontation will usually resolve a situation, particularly when the offended brother approaches with humility and grace, ready to forgive. Church involvement will hopefully only occur in the most extreme situations.

 

Who should be disciplined?
Every believer should actively be engaged in Stage 1 of church disciplineand every believer who harms another should be engaged in the church discipline process at Stage 2 and beyond. Paul writes in Galatians 2 of an encounter with Peter where he opposes Peter for a sin committed against Gentile believers. All believers should be equally treated, no matter their gifting or position within the church.

 

What is the purpose of discipline and does it really work?
Galatians 6:1-2 states, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” The purpose of church discipline is always restoration.
When practiced according to Scripture, church discipline works. Brothers and sisters in Christ are restored to Christ and one another. Marriages can be saved, friendships mended, and the body of Christ strengthened and unified through the proper Scriptural practice of loving one another through discipline.

To be a Jonathan

The Bible is filled with incredible narratives. There are stories of true heroes trusting in God to deliver them from giants to sickness to invading armies. Often the hero, once delivered, takes on a role of new prominence. Joseph finds himself in a pit, in prison, and unjustly treated. But a few years later he is ruling Egypt. Daniel was carried away to Babylon as boy yet quickly finds himself in the favor of kings. Certainly not all stories end with such drastic contrasts. Some record the person simply walking back to a normal life changed deeply by the mercy shown from God.

But there are other stories; those of heroes who sacrifice everything including their lives. There are heroes who follow their God-given convictions to their end in this life. Tertullian once stated, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” We encounter one such hero in an unlikely place. His name was Jonathan.

As the son of a King, Jonathan was in line for the throne. His father, Saul, was the first King of Israel. A head taller than his kinsmen, Saul seemed the perfect choice. His tribe, the Benjamites were accomplished warriors. Who better to lead this nation to victory against the Philistines and others hoping to provide the security and rest God promised. To shorten the story, it didn’t work out that way. Saul fell short in both character and faith. David was anointed and a new hero was in the making. But the son of the king, the heir apparent, was still in the picture. How would Jonathan handle this abrupt change of plan and the loss of his future kingship?

Throughout the latter half of 1 Samuel, we watch the friendship of Jonathan and David grow. On more than one occasion, Jonathan challenges his own father defending his friend who consequently would take his place as king. Jonathan submitted to God’s plan and remained faithful though it would cost him his life. Jonathan died in battle, as necessary, for David to become the king God intended him to be.

Jonathan lived with the bigger picture in mind. He lived with God’s story as the primary narrative of life. He played a critical role courageously and sacrificially. He willingly gave up the crown to be faithful. If honest, the thought of Joseph’s or Daniel’s outcome is much more appealing. A time of trials followed by a long life of leadership and blessing seems more appropriate. But am I willing to joyfully live the life of Jonathan? Are we content to play the role God has for us faithfully without any expectation of the mountain top? We could easily ask the question, why David? With such faith present in Jonathan, why not let him take the reigns from his own father? It would seem to make more sense. And frankly, Scripture doesn’t give us that answer. Instead, God chose to do something quite amazing. He took the seventh son of Jesse from the unimportant town of Bethlehem to begin a line of kings eventually leading to Messiah.

There are so many Jonathans we will never read of, hear of, or personally appreciate. But we can be thankful for the faith of the spiritual giants who’ve gone before us. We rest on their shoulders and the foundation of their faithfulness. And some of us may be called to lay our very lives down knowing the plan isn’t moving our direction. Come to think of it, we all are.

Spiritual Openness

Recently, several conversations have centered around unique and interesting occurrences.  I have had the opportunity to participate in some of these and others, simply listen (some might call it eavesdropping but I prefer passive listening).  Some of these conversations have revolved around a particular experience with Christ and the Holy Spirit while others are void of any Christian influence altogether.  I am probably late to the game in this conclusion but it is interesting to note the spiritual openness of the coming generation.

It should come as no surprise.  the Post-Modern world values experience and feeling above all else.  Modern thinking relied almost exclusively on reason.  The modern influence of the 20th century on the American church often unknowingly sought to rationalize every supernatural work of the Holy Spirit of God.  Often churches were left void of power and dependent upon their own ingenuity and creativity to fuel church growth.  These are certainly broad generalizations and exceptions are not rare.  However, a new day is coming…

The post-modern way of thinking (in regards to spiritual openness) is having a tremendous influence on the church, both in positive and negative ways.  Positively, the church at large seems to be more aware of the need of the work of the Holy Spirit.  Ephesians 6 clearly explains that the battle is not against flesh and blood, whether warring with the body or with the mind.  The battle is spiritual and in a realm that we cannot control nor explain.  We are dependent (as we have always been) on the work of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the work God has called the Church to take on.  Negatively, the next generation appears to welcome this experiential faith with less regard for doctrine and Truth.  Experience trumps reason.  It is the battle cry of the post-modern era.  But this opens a dangerous door to heresy in the Christian Church.  And it is a heresy that will deeply divide.

So what do we do?  We return to the Truth of the Gospel. We become Berean (Acts 17).  We embrace the next generation and encourage their faith through discipleship and mentoring.  Whenever God has moved powerfully throughout history, the enemy usually acted to confuse and distort the genuine work.  We can expect the same.  For those raised in the age of reason, may we wake up to the reality of the spiritual realm and be moved to pray asking God to work, dependent upon His Spirit.  For those embracing a post-modern world, may we remember the foundational truths of Scripture.  They must interpret our experience and not the other way around.  Experiences cannot create beliefs.  Otherwise, we will give in to the greatest post-modern heresy believing that everyone determines what is right in his or her own eyes.  Let us learn from one another in all humility, examining the Scriptures to see exactly what God has said on the issues.  Finally, may we pray that this time of spiritual openness would lead others to embrace the Truth of the Gospel.