Thursday, August 6, 2015

Baptism: Obedience Has its Rewards

February 2004: It was a Friday afternoon. I was just doing work in my office, when BAM! – the Lord threw something on me like a ton of bricks.  There was no escaping this time.

Let’s rewind the clock to 1993, when I began dating Amy – who is now my wife.  She attended a local Baptist church, and I started to go with her on Sundays when I was home from college.  I had only been in a Baptist church a few times before (I grew up going to United Methodist churches), and some of the ways they did things was foreign – and even a little bit uncomfortable – to me. One of those was baptism.

This church really made a big deal about baptisms.  The pastor would put on a white robe, and he would get inside this fancy glass baptistery, and he would dunk fully-clothed people in the water. I mean, I knew what baptism was.  It just wasn’t the way I was accustomed to seeing baptism performed.

I was sprinkled. My parents essentially dedicated me to the Lord when I was two or three years old, and in the United Methodist church, infants are sprinkled over the head with a cupped handful of water when they are baptized. That is the baptism I experienced.

So, when I saw fully clothed adults being dunked, and the crowds really cheering, it seemed rather unusual to me.  Not in a bad way…just in a different way.  It made me uncomfortable. In fact, I can remember shifting in my seat, then doing my best to avoid the topic.

When Amy and I were married, we began to look for a church home.  We had heard about this great church called “NorthStar” that had just started, and so in March of 1997 we began attending. As we attended more and more over the years, I began to notice that baptism was a pretty important part of this church’s culture as well.  I heard about baptism frequently – and the pastors – Dr. Ike Reighard and Mike Linch – were always mentioning it. Once again, I really didn’t want to think about it. “I’m good,” I kept telling myself.  “I have been baptized.”

And, I continued to tell myself those same things until that fateful day in 2004, when the Lord laid it on thick.  I remember looking out the window of my office, and I suddenly felt a burden.  It felt like a thousand pounds were on my back.  And, the Lord spoke to my heart: “You need to be baptized.”

The following Sunday night, I was baptized along with about 25-30 other people.  There were probably 50-60 people in attendance that night to support those of us who were being dunked.  I recall being lowered into the water as I heard the words, “Buried with Christ in his death…” And, when I came up out of the water, I heard the words, “Raised to walk in newness of life,” followed by the loudest, most raucous cheers I have ever heard. And guess what…that heavy burden I carried had vanished!

In the years since, the Lord has done quite a remarkable work – not just in me, but through me.  I have had the privilege of baptizing my two kids, my parents, friends, and my kids’ friends. By obediently following my heart and the Lord’s prompting, He freed me, in turn, to be a blessing to countless others.

Maybe you have struggled with the decision of baptism.  I’m here to tell you: don’t fight it – just follow your heart and let the Lord work in your life.  Baptism is an outward symbol of an inward decision to give your life to Christ.  It’s a pretty big deal, but it’s in your hands to follow through with it.  You’ll be shocked to see how much your story will impact others!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Addition by Subtraction

For years, I played the game.  A game where legends are born. Men’s Open League Softball.

I began my career playing for my then-girlfriend’s church team. I was the “young stud” at 19 years of age, and I played a pretty amazing shortstop if I must say so myself. That season in 1993 would be the first of many.  I ultimately would put my own team together, managing and playing for nearly a decade. I was even out on the field just a few days after my first child was born. I would play through root canals and kidney stones and gout (yes – I was in my 20’s!).

But, one day, my son turned five.  And, it was his turn to play, and I would hang up my cleats.  I can remember my wife and me talking about the fact that I was not playing softball.  She thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie with the other families who attended the games, as did I. This was something that had been a part of our lives for many years, and it was tough to put it aside.

I can recall discussions about figuring out schedules so I could still coach my son, while still managing the softball team and continuing to play through the spring and summer. But, the more I considered how that would impact our schedule, the less interested I became in trying to make it work.

It was certainly the right decision for our family.  With a five year old now playing baseball, and with me coaching, along with an almost two-year old son in the picture, we didn’t need to add anything to our plate. Not without subtracting something else.

All too often, I see families who compromise themselves by continuing to pile on the activities and the commitments, while never eliminating something else.  They just pull out the proverbial shoe horn and wedge it in. At the same time, they convince themselves that the sacrifice is worth it because “it’s for the kids.” And, while little Johnny may now be on the elite travel team, and sister Jenny is now a concert pianist at age 8, the family dynamic is disjointed and chaotic.

You see, sometimes good things (like softball) need to be removed so that better things (like my son playing baseball) don’t get slighted. Perhaps for you it’s a hobby that you truly love that is causing you to miss out on quality time with your spouse or kids.  Maybe you have allowed your kids’ activities to crowd out things like participating in a small group Bible study. Or, the occasional “girls night out” has evolved into a weekly gathering that pulls you away from those who love you the most.

But, there is some great news! You hold the key to changing things and aligning your heart’s priorities with your life’s activities. It will take some adjusting and maybe some difficult conversations. But, in the end, you’ll win – and so will your family.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Humility Doesn't Need to be Humiliating

It's a quality we all want to possess, but generally we don't want to live through the circumstances that aid us in acquiring it. Humility. defines humility as a "modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc." Its most direct opposite is pride.

It's a Catch 22 with humility.  If you believe you are humble, generally you are not.  If your life is truly marked by humility, you likely are not even thinking about yourself.  You are considering others first.

But, this doesn't just happen on its own.  Many times devastating, life-altering circumstances are what lead one to become humble in nature. Perhaps a health issue. A job loss. A broken relationship. 

Sometimes, even good things can stand in the way of God's best for us.  The great Charles Swindoll once referred to these good things in our lives as "crutches" that hold us up artificially.  And, like only God can, He can kick these crutches out from under us so that the only way we can keep from falling is to lean on Him, and Him only. This brings about the humility God wants so desperately for our lives to flourish.

The Bible talks an awful lot about humility, so it must be pretty important. Here's just a small sampling of these scriptures:

  • True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life. Proverbs 22:4 (NLT)
  • Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. Proverbs 11:2 (NLT)
  • Haughtiness goes before destruction; humility precedes honor. Proverbs 18:12 (NLT)
  • If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. James 3:13 (NLT)

Often, when bad things in life come our way, we tend to live in humiliation rather than in humility.  A close synonym for humiliation is shame.  We live in shame, punishing ourselves, rather than allowing ourselves to give it over to the Lord. This is not what God wants.  He desires humility, not humiliation. Meekness, not shame. Modesty, not degradation.

I cannot emphasize enough that humility is a process.  It will not happen in an instant...but, in an instant, our lives can certainly be transformed from a life marked by pride and selfishness to one that begins to gravitate toward living how Jesus lived.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:3-8 (NIV)

Don't set a goal of becoming more humble. It won't happen.  Instead, try to live your life in such a way that others can see God at work in and through you. 

Brokenness leads to humility, and humility leads to riches, honor, and life (Prov. 22:4). Who doesn't want that trade-off?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Get Out of Cruise Control, then Hand Over the Keys

When things are going well in our lives - when we are on cruise control be-bopping down the highway of life - we really become self-sufficient.  I mean, even if you are a Christian who follows the Lord, surely you struggle with really hungering and thirsting for God when all the stars are aligned in your world. I do.

I believe we have this tendency to use the same routine or formula that has been working for us, day in, day out. After is working. Why change things up?

So, we go about our lives, and because we love God, and we know He loves us, we sprinkle a little bit of Jesus here and there in the equation...just for good measure.  We think, "Things are peachy.  I love my life.  And, because I am a good Christian, I am going to give a shout-out to Jesus every now and then and make sure he's with me on this ride."

I don't honestly believe that we consciously THINK those things...but I do believe that is our approach most of the time.  When things are hunky-dory, our life looks like this: 

We Achieve Success >> We Experience Happiness >> We Have a Positive Outlook on Life >>We Thank God (sometimes).

But, when life sours a bit, and knocks us off the merry-go-round, the cycle looks a bit different.  Perhaps it looks like this:

We Experience Failure or Adversity >> We Experience Sadness or Anger >> We Have a Negative Outlook on Life >> We Desperately Seek God (perhaps after we have tried to figure it out ourselves).

It's in these arduous moments when we think and say things like, "I have never needed God more in my life than I do right now!"

And, while we certainly FEEL that way, it's not entirely accurate.  Even in the midst of our anxiety, sadness, dismay, and torment, we don't need Him more than we need Him when we're experiencing elation and accomplishment. 

We need exactly the same amount of Him all the time, regardless of what life throws our way.  Just because we FEEL like we need Him more doesn't mean we need Him more.  We just become aware that we need God when we cannot move forward on our own.

I challenge you today - whether you're at the pinnacle, or you're in the doldrums - to seek the Lord with all your heart, and ask him to be your Guide.  You'll find more peace when you hand over the keys and the Lord is in the driver's seat.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Through Life's Ups and Downs, Giving Your Very Best is Critical to Perseverance

We live in our own little cocoons, where we see what we see, hear what we hear, and feel what we feel.  We are consumed with ourselves. As Donald Miller, in his bestseller Blue Like Jazz, put it: it's as though we are the star in our own epic feature film, and everyone else comes in and out of the frame as a supporting cast. We are the hero or heroine of this movie - our own story.

Like any well-written novel, our personal story will involve peaks and valleys, comedy and tragedy. Good moments and bad. And, we really like the good moments: when we get the girl, land the job, win the prize.

But what about when things aren't great? What then?

I tend to be even-keeled.  I don't have "high" highs, and I don't have "low" lows. I stay in the middle for the most part.  But, like everyone else, I much prefer for things to be going well. To be "in the zone." To be well-liked. To be appreciated and valued. To be praised and acknowledged. I really like for good things to come my way. It's so much easier, right?

There's a serious problem with this, however.  All of this provides a false sense of security and self-worth.  In looking to others (and things) for affirmation and adulation, we miss the boat. 

We are built (by society) for accomplishment. We aim to please. We do things in the hopes that someone will notice and let us know how great we are. We are attention-seekers and like to be rewarded for a job well done.

But, what happens where there is no tangible reward? What do we do when we give and serve and love, and no acknowledgement is offered? What if there's no "atta boy" or high five?

The answer is not easy, but it is simple: we keep giving our best. And, when possible, we give even more.

Colossians 3:23-24 says this: Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.  Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. (NLT)

This is another element of faith - not seeing our reward, but being confident that the Lord sees our devotion to Him, and that He will reward us in His own way - which will be infinitely better than anything we could receive here.

If you find yourself in this place right now, I want to offer you some encouragement.  Your spouse may not see your efforts.  Your boss and co-workers may not appreciate what you are doing.  Your clients and customers may not understand the decisions you make, and are looking elsewhere for a place to give their business. But, if you are working with an attitude and heart that serves Christ, you will be at the head of the class.  He will notice, and He's got your back. 

Don't base your attitudes and work ethic on your feelings. Have confidence in the Lord and His abilities to provide exactly what you need, when you need it.