I Have Decided

Version 2

Moments like the one pictured above are too priceless for words…too hard to explain….to special to articulate meaningfully…but I’ll try.

That’s my pastor and me, preparing to baptize my oldest daughter at our church’s recent baptism service (we do it at the pool, y’all…it’s how we roll!).  I had the distinct privilege of getting to baptize her myself, just as I did her little sister a few years ago.

Ruthie came to me a few weeks ago and brought up the subject of getting baptized.  We chatted for a little bit over breakfast (cause a little bit is all you get with her 9-going-on-19 self), and I told her to pray about it and talk to me some more.  The weeks went by, and nothing else was said.  I assumed she changed her mind.

Then Friday night, as we were about to go see Rend Collective (amazing, btw) with our girls, my wife and I were talking over the logistics of the upcoming weekend and I mentioned the baptism.  My daughter perked up and said “that’s THIS weekend????”  She thought she had more time!  She told me she definitely wanted to get baptized.

So we talked about what baptism is and what it isn’t.  We talked about how it’s not some magical thing that happens when you go under the water and come up, but how it’s a picture of your old self dying to sin and then rising to new life in Christ.  We talked about how it’s an outward sign of what Jesus has already done in your heart when you asked Him to be your Lord and Savior.  She said she wanted to do it to start fresh, to be the person God is calling her to be.

I could go into a lot of backstory here, but I won’t.  Suffice it to say it’s pretty cool to get to share moments like this with your kids, I must say.  Pretty amazing indeed.  These conversations were definite answers to pray, I’ll say that.  So parents, keep on praying for you kids.

Fast forward to the moment pictured above…we’re in the water, and I get to pray over this little girl and her decision to make this public profession to follow Christ.  I thanked God for saving her, for calling her to Him.  I thanked Him for giving me the privilege of being there with her.  I prayed for Him to bless her life, to guide her steps, to fill her with His Spirit and to use her for His glory.

I prayed that she would be a life lived fully for the glory of the Lord.

Then I got to perform the age-old ordinance of baptism on my Ruthie…this picture Christ gave us of our dying to ourselves and rising to new life in Him.

And just like at her dedication as a little child, I once again, in my own heart, reaffirmed that his precious girl isn’t mine at all.  She’s His.  Fully and totally.  He made her, formed her, gave her to me and her mom, to raise to know Him and love Him.  To follow Him, all her days.

Just as I seek to follow Him all my days.

So we all continue down that path…following after the Master.  Me, her mom, her sister, and Ruthie.  I can’t help but think of the old hymn:

I have decided to follow Jesus…I have decided to follow Jesus…I have decided to follow Jesus…No turning back…No turning back…

 

The Blessing of Time Together

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Last night, my wife and kids met me after work and we went to get dinner together.  After navigating the insanely oxymoronic time of “rush hour” in Raleigh, we were finally seated around a table together, me and my tribe.

My head was spinning from the drive over, my son was talking non-stop about the latest craze in Legos, my middle one telling me about her first violin ( or fiddle, if you ask her) lesson, my eldest was being a pre-teen critic of most things, and my wife looked like she was glad just to have another adult set of hands, eyes, and ears there to help out after a busy day.

But before you think I’m complaining, let me tell you what hit me.  What we were doing was a beautiful thing that has sadly become rare in these days: the family dinner table.  The whole crew gathered in one place, talking to and listening to one another.  Laughing together, joking together…enteracting.

Far too often this gift of time together has been replaced with distraction (first the TV, now the cell phone), with distance, with busyness.  Oh, we’re guilty, too.  It’s easy to do.  It’s easy to get sucked into other things and miss, no, neglect the greater things, the simpler things.

I sat there last night listening to our kids’ talk about their day, their interests, their problems, and realized just how precious that time is.  My eldest is 9 going on 19, and our relationship is rapidly changing.  Just yesterday, she was daddy’s little girl.  Now she’s becoming more and more independent of ol’ dad.   I want to cherish the time I have with her, and also every moment I have with my other two.

Psalm 127:3 says

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.”

Unfortunately, many of us don’t treat them that way, nor cherish the time we have with them.  Some make the mistake of trading busyness, doing things with their kids, keeping their kids involved in everything under the sun, but spend no time actually getting to know their kids.

Time goes too quick to throw away the precious with the waste of technology, of Twitter, of Facebook and Instagram, of email and text.  Too precious to throw it away with pursuits that will never profit, with pastimes that have no lasting impact.

Those things can wait.  Time won’t.

So make the most of it.

Ask for the Old Paths

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Our society is an interesting one, a perplexing one, a…gasp…hypocritical one.  What do I mean?  Well, I’m glad you asked!

On the one hand, we love the old.  Just take a look at current fashion, home decor, music…vintage is all the rage.  I’m a guitar nerd, and a vintage (pre-1950 in my book) Martin Guitar would pretty much cause me to dance the happy dance for quite a few days.  Retro is in.  Thrift stores are booming, and not just because it’s cheap.  It’s cool to go old-school.

Mid-Century modern is making a comeback in furniture and design.  If you’re a Fixer Upper fan, you know “ship lap” is all the rage, whether it’s the real thing (preferable) or faux (from your favorite home center).

We left behind the big shoulder pads and double breasted suits of the 90s to return to the 1950s with the clean lines and close fit of the classic suit.  Fedoras and newsboy caps are back in style in headwear, for those lucky enough to have a head shape conducive to such things.

Americana music is huge right now, hearkening back to the pre-synth and drum machine sounds of a by-gone era.

So we love the retro in what we wear, how we decorate, and our music.  But when it comes to what we think, what we believe, we tend to eschew the old in favor of the new.  Like a pre-teen child, we seem to have a dogged sense that we know better than everyone who has gone before us.

And the saddest part of this mentality to me is not that society at large thinks this way (that’s to be expected), but rather that the church thinks this way.  In fact, much of the social “reforms” of modern Western society are making inroads in the church.

This is not good.

Now, I’m no Luddite.  I’m not talking about the use (or lack) of technology here.  I’m talking about core beliefs, core values, truth.  When we start looking like society in our beliefs and values, we have a major problem.  We are the ecclesia,  the “called out” ones.  We are to be holy, separate, different, in the world but not of it!  

God told Jeremiah the prophet:

“Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls…” (Jer. 6:16, NKJV)

Ask for the old paths.  The way the travelers of old moved along life’s highway.  The old paths were old because they were trusted, established, safe.  Go off into the wilderness, off the path, at your own peril.

But today, many of us are just like the people in Jeremiah’s day.  The verse above ends with: “But they said ‘we will not walk in it.’ ”  

What have you said?  Society is rapidly coming to odds with the truths of Scripture.  Why?  Because we think the “new” paths are better.  We know better.  We are a society of teenagers railing against our parents, thinking they’re old fashioned and we “gotta be free to be me.”  I used to think that way about my parents…until I grew up and realized just how smart they were.

How about you?  You gonna grow up and realize that God’s ways are better, that God’s ways are righteous, that  God’s ways are safe.  Are you going to seek out the old paths and follow them?

Or are you going to set out in the wilderness, like a bull-headed teenager, convinced that you know better?

The choices are before us daily.  Choose wisely.  Ask for the old paths.

 

Take a Minute

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…and think about what today represents.  It’s Holy Thursday (or Maundy Thursday for some).  Take a minute and think about that…what it means.

Tonight, in an upper room in Jerusalem,  Jesus shared one last meal with His disciples.  It was the last time they would celebrate the Passover together, the last time they would recline at table with Him.

Tonight, Jesus would take off His outer garment, put a towel around His waist, grab a basin of water…and wash the feet of His friends…even the feet of the one who would betray Him.

Tonight,  Jesus would  forever change the way we look at a piece of bread and cup of wine, telling us they are reminders of His body and blood, broken and poured out for our sins.  How would we ever look at these simple elements the same again?  He told them that whenever they ate the bread or drank the cup, they were to remember Him…to remember His sacrifice.

Take a moment and think about that…

Think about the garden…the quiet, the stillness, the prayers so earnest that drops of blood would begin to flow down the Savior’s face. Think about the meaning of the words “Not My will, but Thine be done.”  Think about what He was accepting from His Father’s hand in that moment.

Think about the torches, the guards, the kiss of betrayal…

The swords drawn, the blood from an ear removed…the astonishment of an ear restored…

And think about the feeling of abandonment that began with all forsaking Him, and would go right up to the moment on the cross when He would cry the words of Psalm 22 “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

Have you stopped long enough to truly consider what this week means?  Have you given it a second’s thought?  You see, there’s a danger of looking ahead to Easter Sunday, of looking beyond all the event’s that lead to that day.  There’s a danger of forgetting just what Jesus would suffer for us.

Certainly, it began before the world was even formed, as He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.  But it began in earnest on that Thursday before the Friday called good, before the silence of the tomb on Saturday, before that great gettin’ up morning known as Resurrection Sunday.

Don’t forget.

Take a moment.

Look to the Savior.

Remember.

And give thanks.

Yield Signs

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I love the book of Romans.  It’s my favorite book of the Bible (well, maybe it’s 2nd…the Gospel of John would probably take top honors).  Such an amazingly powerful and practical book, one that contains so many essential doctrines of the Christian faith.  Paul pulls no punches in this letter, and I’m thankful for that.  History tells us that it was time spent in this very letter to the Roman church that spurred Martin Luther on towards his 95 theses, and thus the Reformation…and thus my writing this blog!

I was reading through chapter 6 today, and a couple things occurred to me. Paul had been taking time to explain the difference between our lives before salvation and after; how we should be changed.  Before, we were dead; now, because of Jesus’ death in our place and resurrection, we are alive!  And not just alive, but given new life, life of a different kind!

We are not who we once were!  We have been changed!  In verse 7, Paul declares this truth:  “He who has died has been freed from sin!”  We have died to our old sinful nature through accepting Jesus, being united to Him, and now we are freed from sin!  FREE!  No longer in bondage to it!

Therefore, in verse 12, Paul tells us to “reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  He goes on to implore us not to let sin reign in our lives as it once did.  Remember:  you were dead!  Now you’re alive!

And then we come to verse 14:

“And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”   (Romans 6:14, NKJV)

Well, that’s great.  But what does that mean?  What does it mean for me to present myself to God, and not to sin?

I’m glad you asked.  It means to yield.

That stopped me when I read it.  I get that.  I know that when I’m driving and I come to a yield sign, I have to look and see if anyone’s coming.  If they are, I have to wait and to allow them right-of-way.

Wow…

What are you yielding the right-of-way to?  To what, or to whom, are you giving precedence in your life?  Sin?  Or Jesus?

There can only be one.  You can’t serve to masters.  If you’re struggling with sin today, and you’re a born-again Christian, realize that you are yielding the right-of-way to whatever it is.  As a Christian, your life is not your own!  You’ve given it to Christ!  Practically, daily, work that out by yielding to His will.

He died that we might live, free from the power of sin, victorious over it, not so we could live a sort of half-life, trying to follow Christ where He leads us with a chain still wrapped around our ankles.  We are in a race, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9…how you gonna run dragging your sin around with you?!

Yield to Christ…let Him take over.  Choose to yield.  Choose to follow.  Choose NOT to yield to sin.  Choose NOT to give it right-of-way in your life.

In Romans 12:1-2, Paul tells us HOW to yield to Christ and not to sin:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present (yield!) your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” 

Yield and renew.

Yield to the Holy Spirit as He guides you.  Turn your eyes away from looking at worthless things (Psalm 119:37), turn them towards the things of God.  Spend time in prayer.  Spend time in the Word. Turn off the phone, the iPad, the TV, the computer…open up the Scriptures and let the Word of God cleanse and renew your mind.

Think about it:  in the course of your day, how many times do you yield the right-of-way to something that is sinful, and if not outright sinful, completely worthless?  Why not spend that time with the Lord?

Why not yield that time to Him and be renewed?

 

 

A Man Like Joe

 

The Christmas story (the REAL one, not the movie about the Red Rider BB gun) is absolutely amazing.  As Andrew Peterson (one of my favorite artists, and one you should check out!) subtitled his Christmas Album:  it’s “The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ.”  The key word being “true”.  It’s fantastic, phenomenal, mind-blowing…but it’s true. 

One of the things we easily forget is that, being true, this story involves real men and women, in real placeswith real problems.  I was thinking about this today as I read the old, old story in the Gospel of Matthew.  As I read it, a few things stuck out to me.

First off, when Joseph found out that Mary was with child, he had in mind to “put her away privately.”  Joe was upset.  How would you feel?  You find out your bride-to-be is expecting, and you know you’re not the dad?  I know how I’d feel, and “quiet” is not a word I’d used to describe it.  Put in that situation,  Joe didn’t react rashly, or quickly.  Matthew tells us that “he thought about these things.”  He took time to pause, to consider, to wait.  

How often do we rush a decision, basing it totally on emotion and the moment, and end up with a hot mess on our hands?  Maybe it would be better to take time to pause, to wait on the Lord, to think about things. Be a man like Joe.

Secondly, notice that God sent Gabriel to tell Mary the plan prior to it coming to pass.  Joseph is told after the fact.  Why?  Well, no doubt to help Joe realize what we all need to grasp:  God’s ways are not our ways.  Here are two people smack in the middle of The Greatest Story Ever Told, and one is given a heads up, and the other is not.  Most times, life happens without our consent.  God’s plan is rolling out, and we may get a heads up, or we may just be riding the wave.  The question is not if we’ll be involved.  The question is how will we react when we find ourselves in the middle of it. Joe reacted justly, righteously, humbly, faith-fully.  I want to be a man like Joe.

Thirdly,  I realized something else:  God’s plan was not something that would be easy for Joe, or Mary, to be involved in.  It was going to be hard.  They were going to be the scandal of the town, the country.  They would be talked about, pointed at, scorned.  But through this trial, God would be glorified.  Through this trial, history would be changed…forever.  What about what you’re going through?  What about the trials you find yourself in?  Are we willing to say “not my will, but Thy will be done?”  Are you willing to trust God at His Word?  Joe did.

I want to be a man like Joe.

 

 

Great Expectations

 

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(The following was taken from part of a devotion I shared with the Men’s Ministry of our church last night.  I figured I’d share it here with you)

There are many things that have changed about Christmas in my lifetime.  Christmas music starts getting played before Thanksgiving, and they stop as soon as the calendar rolls the 26th of December.  Stores that used to be closed on Christmas day now open early for after Christmas sales (yet it’s not AFTER Christmas at all!).  Stores that once greeted you with a “Merry Christmas” have gone pc.

But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed regarding Christmas: expectations.  My kids certainly have expectations. They have a list of them. I have expectations! We all do.

In fact, all the way back at the beginning, there were expectations for how the coming of the Messiah would play out, how it would go.  But it didn’t quite go the way everyone thought it would.  It’s a story filled with the unexpected, to us anyway, because God’s ways are not our ways. 

The expectations began immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve.   God made a promise:  He would defeat the serpent, He would repair what had been broken.  He would restore what was lost.

I love how the NIV translates Genesis 3:15:

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel.”

The expectation of this prophecy, this “protoevangelium” or “first gospel”, first good news, rings down throughout all of Scripture.  God was weaving and winding the history of His people Israel to accomplish this promised defeat of the enemy.  From the slavery in Egypt, to the taking of the Promised land, to the disobedience and subsequent captivity in Babylon, to their return to the Land, God was working His plan.

And through it all, the prophets proclaimed promises of the Hope to come, the Messiah, who would save God’s people, who would, in fact, crush the head of Satan,  set His people free, and establish his kingdom forever.

Expectations were high.

Take Micah 5:2

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”

Or how about Isaiah 9: 6-7:

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty GodEverlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”

And lastly, Malachi chapter 3, says:

Behold I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me, and the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple.  Even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold HE is coming.”  

His coming is promised and then…..400 years of silence.  400 years of waiting.  400 years of wondering. I get uptight if God makes me wait for a few days for clarity…400 years????  That’s nearly twice as long as the United States has been a country!!!

Talk about expectations…. You’re a Jew in the first century.  Your people are under subjugation to the Roman Empire. God hasn’t spoken in 4 centuries.

If YOU’D grown up hearing the prophecies and hoping for God to send the Messiah, what would you be expecting?

I think you’d be looking for big things.

I think we’d all be looking for a conquering king.

Who expected God to come to earth to save mankind, as a BABY?  

Who expected  His coming to be announced, not in palaces and before kings, but to a a few shepherds on a Judean hillside?

Who thought that the God who flung the stars into place would come down to dwell among men, that He would in fact become a man?  Or that He would choose as His mother a lowly peasant girl, and not a queen in a palace?

I guarantee that no one was expecting a baby in a manger in Bethlehem.

And yet, to the lowliness of the manger comes the glory of God.  From the quiet of the Bethlehem night comes the preliminary shout of victory.  For the tiny baby is the Conqueror of death, the Promised One who will crush the head of the serpent.  From this humblest of beginnings comes the most awesome of victories.  

Not what anyone was expecting.

The trouble is, while we say God’s ways are not our ways, our expectations differ greatly.  And God rarely does things the way we would expect, or  the way we want. We often miss what God is doing, and where He is moving, because it’s not what we expect.

Remember: The religious leaders missed it.  The Pharisees and Sadducees, the most learned men of the day, missed it. They couldn’t wrap their minds around the plan God had.

Take the prophecy from Isaiah 7Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Immanuel (God with us).”  Now, to us, that is CLEARLY speaking of the prophecy fulfilled in Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, right?  But what did the leaders see?  A scandal…a young girl who’s finance wanted to “put her away quietly.”  

They expected the conquering King, not a baby boy Who would grow to be a suffering servant, die on a Roman cross for their sins, and rise again, forever defeating death, hell and the grave…fulfilling that earliest of prophecies from Genesis 3.

And we, just like the religious of old, often miss what God is doing today.

We expect God to provide a new job, when He intends to use you right where you are in your current job.

We expect God to get the glory through miraculous healing, but He’s choosing to do something even more miraculous through the fellowship of His sufferings.

We expect God to give us a prominent position, and then He asks to serve the least of these, or in a role we certainly would not have chosen.

Do not despise the small things.  Do not look down at where God has you, at what He’s doing, because He has a plan.  Do not allow your expectations to prevent you from missing God’s will.

This Christmas, take time to consider what He has done, and look forward to what He is doing.

Let God’s plan replace your expectations.