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Building for Keeps

IMG_6408“And in the eleventh year…the house was finished in all its details and according to all its plans.  So he was seven years building it.  But Solomon took thirteen years to build his own house…”  (I Kings 6:38, 7:1)

Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived.  He was ruler of the tribes of Israel after his father David, and the writer of over 3000 proverbs and 1005 songs (1 Kings 4:32).

He spent 7 years building the first temple, that magnificent house of worship for the Lord God.  But…

There’s always a but…

But he spent 13 years building his own house.

Man, that stopped me in my tracks when I read it today.  Think about it…he took nearly twice the time to work on his own digs as he did to work on the place  where worship would take place, where the glory of God would dwell, where the presence of God Most High would be. 

But before we cast stones at Solomon…how about you?

In 1 Corinthians, Paul asked the Corinthian saints this question:  “Do you not know that YOU are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)

Put those two things together…YOU, believer in Jesus, are the Temple of God.  The Holy Spirit, third person of the Trinity, dwells within YOU.  Just as the presence of God would abide in the temple of Solomon, He now abides in YOU.

Question for us:  how much time do we spend on God’s dwelling place?  How much more time do we spend on other things?  Be honest.  I read that about Solomon and thought “wow, look at his priorities!”  Then the mirror of the Word was held up to my face and I thought “Ok…how about your priorities?”

We all have things we must do.  We all have jobs.  Many of us have families.  We have responsibilities.  I’m not saying shirk those.  However, if our lives were spread out before us, what would they say about what matters most to us?  How much of our time is spent building with straw, hay, and stubble (things that do not matter and won’t endure) versus gold, silver and precious stones, or things that will endure?  (see 1 Cor. 3:12)

It makes me thing about building methods.  A friend recently visited the “Old World”, and saw some of the castles there.  These places have endured for centuries.  Then I think about my own home, just a few years old.  I doubt it’s still standing in 50 years, much less 500.  They just don’t build them like they used to.

But are we building track homes, spiritually speaking, rather than cathedrals and castles?

With each passing day, I am more and more convinced of the need to spend more time in God’s presence, to spend more time on the things that matter, to spend more time focusing on God’s Word and His kingdom, than on anything else.  I’m more and more convinced of the need to build for keeps, to last, to endure.

After all, Jesus said “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matt 6:33)

What are you seeking?  What are you spending time on? We’re all building.  We’ll all leave a legacy of something behind us.

Are you building for keeps?

IMG_0353“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”  James 5:16

My grandfather, on my dad’s side, loved the Lord.  (This statement is also true of my mom’s dad, but we’ll cover him another time!). When he gave his life to the Lord as a young man, he was radically changed and took off on a path that would see him pastor several churches in the foothills of Virginia, over the course of many years, as well as preach at many, many others.

He was a godly man, a man that sought to live his life in obedience to God’s Word and God’s call on his life, and as such, he was also a man of prayer.  I can’t remember any sermons that I heard my grandpa give, but I can most definitely remember his prayers.  And the prayers I remember most were not the ones he prayed from the pulpit (or while presiding over communion in all the weddings of me and my siblings).  No, the prayers I remember most were the humble, quiet ones he prayed prior to eating his breakfast every day.

My papa would sit down with his glass of grapefruit juice and his bowl of grape nuts (at least, that’s what I remember…I’m sure there were cow brains and eggs in there at some point, but I choose not to remember that part!), bow his head, and begin to thank God for all his blessings and for His goodness.

And then he would pray for his children, and his grandchildren, and his great grandchildren.

By name.

Each one.

Every day.

I come from a pretty good size family.  This was not a short list.  Yet, everyday, he prayed.  For us.  By name.

I must admit that, at the time, I didn’t get it.  I mean, I thought it was cool, but I didn’t get  it.

But I do now.

You see, I get it because I see the answers to those prayers every time I look at my family.

I see it in my own life, and how the long-haired, hippie kid who was just going through the motions, faking it until he made it, no real knowledge of the goodness and mercy of God, would one day humble himself and give his life to God because that very goodness and mercy led him to repentance.

I see it in the godly wife that I have been blessed with, the one who has stood by me through thick and thin, who has encouraged me, prayed for me, endured with me, loved me.  Who has truly been my helper, my gift, my living sacrament of grace.

I see it in my kids, who are now the 4th generation since my grandfather gave his life to Christ.  I see it in how his prayers are bearing fruit in our lives, and thus in my kids’ lives.

I see it in my parents, who have raised 5 kids of their own through many trials, blessings, ups and downs, and have remained steadfast in their faith, and in their love for one another.  I see God’s faithfulness to them, and I rise up and call them blessed as a result.

I see it in the lives of my brother and sisters, their marriages.  How faithful God has been.  How good he has been.

I now I see the answer to those prayers in my nieces and nephews, the great-grandchildren who were but babies when my grandpa lifted their names up to God.  Half of them are grown and beginning their own families, careers, lives.   I see God working in their lives.  I see hearts that are changed, given over to God.  I see another generation rising to praise God, to bless Him, to serve Him.

I see the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man availing much.  Not because my grandpa was holy in his own right.  No, he was flawed and broken, just like the rest of us.  But he knew the faithful God who sent His Holy, Righteous Son to take my grandpa’s sin, and my parent’s sin, and my sin, and my brother’s sin, and my sisters’ sin, and my nieces’ and nephews’ sin, and my kids sin…and your sin…so that we could be made forgiven, redeemed, purchased, set free…saved.

And because my grandpa knew Jesus, I write this today, just one more example of those prayers from long ago still bearing fruit in the hearts and lives of my family.

So parents, grandparents, great-grandparents…don’t give up.  Pray up.  Lift up your family to the Lord.  And trust Him with the family He’s given you.

What Remains?

IMG_6753“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;  old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I’m not who I was.

If you’re a Christian, neither should you be.

We are changed.  We are made new.  We are washed.  We are set free.  We are not the same.

How can we be?  How can one encounter the Living God, the Lord of all, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Beginning and the End, the Almighty, the Redeemer, the Savior, the Healer, the Comforter, the Provider…and not be changed?

And yet…so many of the dead who have been raised to life, so many former corpses who now are alive again, so many who were slaves and are now free continue to languish, continue to struggle with sin, continue to fail to walk in newness of life.  Why?

At the risk of being simplistic, I think the answer lies in our unwillingness to truly break from our former way of life, to truly, once and for all, be rid of it.

Like the Israelites upon entering the Promised Land.  Go read Joshua…right now…go do it…and not just the Jericho part, the whole book.  One of the overarching pictures there is that we have to completely eradicate the things of the flesh, the world, in other words, the old me and the old you.

Come on Newt, isn’t that harsh?  Well, yeah.  But what are the options?  Leave a little poison in the bottle?  Leave a little leaven in the lump?  Leave a few weeds in the yard?

No.  Get out the spiritual Round-Up, and go to town.

The risks are too great.  For us, for our families, our kids, our ministries (and Christian, you have a ministry…everyone of us…don’t think people aren’t watching you)…for our cities, towns.

Yeah, that may sound like hyperbole, but have you taken a look around you lately?  Have you seen the junk that people are in bondage to?  Have you noticed the addictions?  The pornography?  The horrible things out there?  And folks, that’s not just in the world…it’s in the church.

We need to be diligent to let the Word of God dwell in us, transform us, renew us, and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work of weeding out the things that remain from our old lives.  And yes, if you’re still breathing, something remains.  There’s some weeds to pull.  There’s some things to get right.

I’m not saying you’ll be perfect…you won’t be.  But church, let’s BE the church. Let’s be the city on a hill that can’t be hidden!  The city that is shining bright for all to see!  Let us walk in the light as He is in the light, letting His blood cleanse us from all unrighteousness!  Let us be a light shining in the darkness of this world.

Amen?

So if you agree, go find what remains in your heart…and get the Round Up ready.

 

Seeing the Light

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Last night, we got to do one of my little family’s Christmas traditions.  It’s a small thing, but one that we all really enjoy. My wife always gets our kids a new set of pajamas for Christmas, and we let them open them early.  They put ’em on, we load up in the car, and we go drive around to look at all the Christmas lights.

Last night was the first time that all 5 of us had been together in a few days.  My wife and eldest had been down for the count with the flu, and my youngest two had been at their grandparents for the weekend (with the two-fold purpose of letting my bride rest, and keeping the young ones from getting sick).  So it was great just to have them all together and get to spend some time with them.

As we drove around to see the lights, I found myself wowed by some of the modern displays…you know the ones that are set to timers and “dance” to the music.  Very cool, indeed.  The kids loved that.  Some houses were very “Griswold”-esque in their coverage of lights.  Other’s were more subtle…more simple…but all of them were great.

However, I realized after a while that the ones I liked the most were the ones that somehow, somewhere, incorporated a Nativity scene.  When you’ve seen house after house of Rudolph and Santa and candy-canes and dancing lights, the simplicity of the Nativity scene really stands out…

It was a reminder to me to not forget what it’s all about, you know?  Because it’s easy to do that.  It’s easy to get caught up in the lights, the gifts, the hectic pace of the season and find yourself surrounded by a mound of wrapping paper and boxes, thinking “something’s wrong with this.”

And I’m a Christian.

There’s a reason we decorate.  There’s a reason we give gifts.  There’s a reason we hang lights by the thousands.  Because just of 2000 years ago, “the true Light which gives light to every man” came into the world (John 1:9).  2000 years ago, “in the fullness of time”, God the Son stepped out of eternity and down into humanity, taking on flesh in the form of a baby, born of a virgin, and was laid in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Have we any room for Him as we celebrate this year?  Make room.  Make sure you see the Light.

Lunch with My Dad

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I had lunch with my dad today.

Well, that’s nice, you say.  And it is.  But it’s even nicer when you realize that last year at this time, my dad was in a coma in ICU after cardiac arrest.

So lunch with my dad on THIS day has pretty huge significance.  You’ll have to excuse me if I’m a little giddy about it.

You see, last year on December 7th, my dad suffered sudden cardiac arrest, and was without blood flow to his brain for at least 10 minutes.  I’ll spare you all the details (if you care to see my thoughts on this and what was going through my head at this point last year, you can read this and this).

Today, my mom rode with him on a trip to Raleigh for a doctor appointment, and we met them for lunch at “Chick-n-lay” as my son calls their favorite place to eat.  Sitting there with my bride, my three kids, and my mom AND dad was very…normal.  Yeah, normal.

And that’s awesome.  Because last year at this time, I didn’t know if I’d ever get to hear my dad’s voice again, much less get to sit down and just talk about life with him.  We didn’t dwell on what happened last year, though I know the significance of our lunch wasn’t lost on any of us.  We didn’t talk about great and weighty things…we just talked about life, the family, our respective churches.

When we piled in our cars to leave, I hugged my dad and kissed him on the head.  I didn’t say anything profound, beyond “I love you Pop”, but let me tell you, those hugs and kisses aren’t taken for granted.

I now realize a little better just how precious those times are.  Life is a gift, a precious gift, and most of us take it for granted every day.  I know I do.  But there are moments when I remember just how special it is, and how important time with the ones you love is.  I try not to take it for granted.  I hope you do too.

Psalm 90:12 says “So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Only God knows the number, but we need to count each day we have as a gift, a blessing, a precious slice of time that is irreplaceable.  I think many of us miss the blessing in the “normal” days because we’re too busy looking and planning for the “spectacular” ones…which may never come.

And what is far too often the case is this:  we don’t make time for the small things, for lunch with our family, or a cup of coffee with that loved one, or dinner with good friends, or a game of catch with our kids.  We spend far too much time dreaming about “big” things, and miss the enormity of the life that’s passing by.

So tonight, I hope you can sit and think of something from today that you’re thankful for, that was a blessing to you.  And I hope you’ll wake up tomorrow with a mindset to take the gift of a new day and spend it wisely…live it unto the glory of the God Who blessed you with it.

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My middle child, my baby girl, turned six today. It simply doesn’t seem possible. Time, it seems, does not heed my requests to slow down. Time, as they say, waits for no man.

This girl has been a tremendous blessing to our family. She is truly an “old soul” in her little six year old “earth suit.” She’s been through a lot already, for a little one, and I think that definitely had an impact in her “old soul-ness.” But it’s more than that…

My wife was going through her journal of her pregnancy with my daughter, and reading me some of the things she wrote during that time. One of her prayers was for our little girl to have a heart tender towards the things of God, that she would love the Lord and serve Him, that she would have a sweet spirit about her, and would live her life for Him.

And anyone that know’s our little girl knows those prayers were answered. In spades. This kid brings a smile to pretty much everyone she meets. She’s funny, sweet, caring…and then she’ll look at you and ask some of the deepest questions you can imagine. Some of our daddy-daughter rides home at night end up in some pretty deep discussions…and I couldn’t be happier.

I know we prayed the same for our other two kids, and I know God heard and answered those prayers as well. I know He has a plan for each of our kids, and a purpose in their personalities and inclinations.

But I also know that, for whatever reason, He planted these things in my little girl’s heart at an early age, and is already bringing fruit out of them. She asked Jesus to save her last year, and I had the absolute joy of baptizing her (and being baptized with her!) this year.  I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t see the fruit of the Holy Spirit in her life. Love, joy, peace…yeah, and then some!

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So happy birthday little girl! Your dad loves you, and is so proud of you! I can’t wait to see what God has in store for you!

How I Pray for My Kids

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I’ve been blessed with three amazing kids.  If you know our story, you know that there was a time when we didn’t expect to have one, much less three, beautiful, healthy, precious little ones.

As my kids have grown and changed, my prayers have changed, too.  Of course I say prayers of thanksgiving for the blessing of having them.  I pray for their needs and their concerns.  I pray for their health and safety.  All things that I think are good and necessary for parents to pray.

But lately, especially with my son, I’ve found myself praying this prayer:

“God, help him live his life completely sold out for You and for Your glory.  Help him not get distracted with the things of this work.  And God, please make him a better man than his dad could ever be.”  

I pray these things for my son, and similarly for my girls, because I see myself in them.  I see the good and the bad.  And I know that it doesn’t have to be that way.  I hope they will choose the better way, and choose it from an early age, not waiting and allowing the locusts to eat the years.

This morning I was reading Psalm 78, and I thought about these prayers.  This chapter in the middle of the book of Psalms is subtitled in my Bible “God’s kindness to rebellious Israel.”  When I read it, it struck me as the same heart that I have for my kids.

“For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children;  That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments; and may not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation…” (Psalm 78:5-8)

I hear this all the time from folks:  “Kids will be kids.  They’re just finding their way, sowing their oats.”  Huh?

It doesn’t have to be.  I want better than that for my kids.  I didn’t heed the guidance of my father for a LONG time, and I paid for it.  I paid dearly, and so did those that were near to me.  The decisions I made in being a stubborn and rebellious man affected not only me, but my wife, my family, my friends, and my kids.

I don’t want my kids to “find their way.” I want to show them THE way, Jesus, and point them in that direction.  I want to love them when they mess up, and encourage them that they don’t have to “touch the stove to see if it’s hot.” I want to help them not make the mistakes I made.

I want them to be better than me.  I want them to live their lives with a singular focus: the glory of God.

And you know what? I think that’s a prayer that God would love to answer.  So I’m gonna keep praying it.

 

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