In the Stillness

Day by Day
dc Talk “Day by Day”

For the past few days, I’ve been conducting sort of a personal experiment.  One that I never thought I would willingly do of my own decision.  I’ve been getting up at 5 A.M.  Why?  Well there are a few reasons.  One, I have been convicted that I need to set aside more time for personal Bible study and prayer.  I try to focus on my relationship with God, but I’ve discovered that if I don’t set aside time first thing in the morning, then I let the busyness of my life and schedule get in the way.  There aren’t a lot of things to distract me from my quiet time when I am doing it before 6 A.M. 

But that isn’t the only reason.  I was doing pretty well with my quiet time over the last few weeks anyway.  I was just making sure that I got up a little earlier than I needed to, so I could spend some time with God before I started the rest of my day.  And it was working pretty well.  Then, I read an article that has been circulating in the ministry/Christian living circles the last couple of weeks.  In it, the author stated that he regularly got up at 3 A.M, did his quiet time, and began his day.  I kind of laughed.  There is no way I could sustain that schedule.  I’m too much of a night owl (even getting up at 5 A.M. this week, I can’t seem to get to bed before 10:30). 

But there was something that caught my attention in his article.  Part of his morning routine was at least an hour on the treadmill.  In his effort to give his mornings completely to God (which is an admirable goal), he was giving at least an hour to taking care of his body physically.  A few months ago, my wife and I were taking that pretty seriously, and were going to the gym regularly.  Because of a few different issues, we let our gym membership go, however, so that focus hasn’t been there.  I realized I needed to start taking care of myself better.  I was doing well with my spiritual side, but I had been neglecting the physical side.

I live in the desert.  Carlsbad, NM regularly hits triple-digit temperatures during the summer, and we’re almost there (101 is the projected temp tomorrow), so doing anything physical outside after my workday is not necessarily the best option.  So, this past Sunday, knowing I needed to leave the house around 7:45 to 8:00 to get to the church to finalize everything for our services, I got up at 5.  I did my quiet time (drinking plenty of coffee to help this night owl stay awake and focused).  Around 6, just as the dawn was breaking, I left my house on a walk.  The path I walked was the same that I was regularly walking when I was going to the gym a few months ago as well. 

Screenshot 2017-05-24 12.15.31It’s a gorgeous walk, that ends up being around 2.67 miles, most of which wind along the Pecos River here in Carlsbad.  I repeated the wake up time on Monday, but because of a nasty mist/rain going on, I didn’t make the full walk.  I tried, but the closer I got to the river (we live a few blocks from it), the harder it was raining.  I had headphones and my cell phone with me, so I turned around and went back home because I didn’t want to take a chance on ruining my electronics. 

Tuesday, I woke up and did my quiet time, but was not feeling well, so I went back to sleep for a little while.  I got up and did some sermon prep, but didn’t want to neglect my walk two days in a row.  After finishing up the study I was doing for sermon prep, I went on my walk in the mid morning, before returning to my work.  And then I come to today, and the inspiration for this post.  I actually woke before my alarm even went off, got my coffee ready, sent off an e-mail prayer chain that I needed to make sure I remembered, and settled in for my quiet time.

God spoke to me so much in that time today.  I have actually already written another article based on something that He opened up to me this morning, but it’s going to be my next submission to the local newspaper.  I’ll post it here on Saturday morning, after it’s been published in the paper.  But it wasn’t just my Bible reading and quiet time that impacted me this morning.  When I left for my walk, it was a crisp 49 degrees.  Pretty chilly on a day that is supposed to hit the mid 90’s this afternoon.  But I went anyway.  I would actually rather walk in that cool of weather vs. close to triple digits in the evening. 

As I got down to the river area (lovingly referred to as “The Beach” around town), the Sun was just rising over the pine trees on the other side of the river.  The water was almost completely calm.  I love that area of town.  I know how pretty and peaceful it can be.  But something was different this morning.  I don’t know if it was because of how cool the temperature was, or that there was not another person to be seen at the moment, or what.  I was completely awestruck with the beauty that God had given me this morning. 

While I have been studying and having quiet time before going on these walks, I also try to use my time walking as prayer time as well.  I have Christian music going in my headphones, and I just try to pour my heart out to God.  But I was almost speechless this morning.  From the beauty of the river and the sunrise, to the fish that were breaking the surface of the water, feeding as I walked across the footbridge from one side of the river to the other, God was just surrounding me with His love, and the beauty of His creation.

Pecos RiverMy wife and I have a different view of things.  I like to experience the beauty of a moment and just take it it.  She wants to be able to look back on these moments, and experience them over and over again.  What do I mean?  She takes tons of pictures, I don’t.  I just want to soak in the moment (plus, i have my phone strapped to my arm and it’s not that easy to take pictures that way).  So the picture I have here is from her this morning.  She took a walk about an hour after I got back.  But the beauty is still there.

I don’t know why, but today just reminded me to try to see the beauty in everything.  We get distracted by the world around as, and just go through the motions.  At least I know that’s what happens to me.  Maybe it’s because I have been a little more focused on spending time with God in a tangible way in the last few weeks, but He showed up in a big way today, reminding me of His grace, His love, and His beauty.  He’s probably been trying to remind me of all of those things a lot recently.  I just finally allowed myself to slow down enough to see it.  And I’m glad I did. 

Slow down.  Spend time with God.  It doesn’t matter if you get up early, stay up late, block out a chunk of time in the middle of your afternoon, or whenever, just find a time that works for you.  Focus on your relationship with God.  You never know what you might be missing when you don’t. 

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Be Still

A few days ago, I wrote about the idea that we wear our busyness as a badge of honor (read it here).  We are so busy with everything under the sun we don’t have time to share Jesus with other people.  What prompted that article was another article by another minister that was suggesting that we spend too much time studying the Bible.  I wholeheartedly disagree with the notion that we spend too much time studying God’s word.  I do think however, we don’t spend enough time living out what we study in scripture. 

I suggested that we maybe find some other things that we are involved in and figure out a way to take a step back so that we can use that new found time to build relationships with others.  That’s is going to be the most effective way to share Jesus and what He has done for you.  But, I also think that we need to find ways to get away from everything every so often.  Completely unplug, and spend some time one-on-one with God. 

unpluggedBusyness is an epidemic.  We are constantly taking on more and more.  With the aid of technology, we have become great at multitasking, so much so that even when we are trying to unwind at the end of the day, watching tv, or whatever, we have our phones or tablets in our hands because we just can’t slow down.  I’m the worst at that.  Scrolling through Facebook or playing a game while trying to watch shows with my wife (she does it too). 

Busyness is an epidemic.

When people ask me how I’m doing, or how things are going, my go to response is something along the lines of “staying busy”.  Why?  Could it be that we are afraid if we aren’t so busy we seem to be running around “like a chicken with our head cut off” that others will think that we are slacking off?  Is it that we’re afraid that they will think that we aren’t putting enough effort into a task if we even appear to be able to relax?  It’s got to stop.  Especially in ministry.  Ministry is one of those vocations where there will always be more work to do.  That isn’t a ticket to slack off, but just a realization that we will never run out of things to do.

What ever happened to this simple notion; “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

There are times that we need to just stop, get still, and just know Him.  Rest in Him.  Relax in Him.  Spend time with Him.  I’m afraid we have forgotten that in our culture today.  I know that I have at times.  But it is something that we need to get back to on a regular basis.  It could be just for a few minutes each day, which is something that I would suggest.  But I think we could benefit from a greater chunk of time at times as well.

I want to point something out first.  This is something that we can see Jesus modeling for us during His three years of public ministry.  There are many occasions noted throughout the Gospels of Jesus going off on His own, usually up a mountain, and spending time with God.  If Jesus, the Son of God, needed to do this, then I think we have the same needs. 

While I strive to spend a few minutes alone with God daily, I want to take some extended periods of time as well.  I have something in mind too.  It involves going up a mountain, but it doesn’t have to for you.  gcc-picBecause of my relationship with Guadalupe Christian Camp (being on a couple of camp boards), I have the opportunity to spend time at the camp when/if I need to.  That’s my plan.  I don’t know how often yet, but occasionally I will pack a bag, get some easy to make food, and head up the mountain to spend some time being still and knowing that He is God.  I may write, I may read, I may do nothing but pray and meditate, but I will slow down and unplug from the world around. 

How are you going to “Be still, and know that He is God” in your own life?

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Unexpected Encouragement: God’s Perfect Timing

Isn’t God’s encouragement amazing?  His timing is perfect, but almost every time we are surprised when it happens.  Just yesterday, I wrote about some questions that were hanging heavy on my mind and my heart.  I wouldn’t say that I was depressed, but I was feeling a little down.  I was feeling inadequate, and had lost my focus on God’s amazing grace.  I had forgotten that my strength is found in Him and not on anything that I do on my own. 

God’s timing is perfect, but almost every time we are surprised when it happens.

Even after I had written those words yesterday morning as I was preparing to preach, God began to remind me of who He is, and whose I am.  Through the music i was listening to, He reminded me that His grace is enough.  You can read all about that here.  But it went further than that.  As we went into worship with our faith family yesterday, other things just kept happening to remind me of God’s all sufficient power in my life.

God began to remind me of who He is, and whose I am.

Then the kicker happened today.  I got an unexpected message on Twitter from a friend that I hadn’t talked to in a long time (I wrote about him here).  All he asked was for my phone number.  Thinking that he had probably just gotten a new phone or something and just wanted to make sure he had my number if he needed to reach me later, I sent him my number and didn’t think much else about it.  That was until about three hours later and my phone rang.  Byron’s name popped up on the caller id.

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(Left to right: Kelley, Me, Byron)

I wasn’t expecting to hear from him.  Like I said, I hadn’t talked to him in a long time.  But here he was calling.  I answered, and he went on to tell my about how much my writing here has been an encouragement to him lately.  How he is always excited when he sees a new article pop up on my Twitter account.  How my text to him a couple of months ago about Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God” had been an answer to his prayers, as he is considering going back to school to get some form of degree in Worship Ministry and potentially pursue vocational ministry.

I was blown away.  Here he was thanking me for being an encouragement to him, and how God had used something from me to help give him confirmation about his prayers.  But what I was able to tell him is that his phone call was an answer to prayer for me.  He was encouraging me through thanking me for my encouragement to him.  I love writing on here, but hearing from someone that is excited to read what I write gave me so much encouragement to keep doing what I am doing.  And it gave me some extra motivation to press on and actually write my book. 

So, I’ll say it again.  Isn’t God’s encouragement and timing amazing?!  He knows exactly what we need and when we need it.  Byron and I were best friends in middle school and high school.  Then I moved away for college to pursue ministry as my calling.  We still consider each other great friends, but distance and life happens.  I was a groomsman in his wedding, and he was the best man in my wedding, but we just don’t have the opportunity to talk that much anymore.  Yet today, when he called out of the blue, it was like no distance or time had ever passed.  We picked up where we had left off pretty much.  And that is because we have the bond of not only friendship, but also brotherhood through the blood of Jesus Christ. 

Isn’t God’s encouragement and timing amazing?!

If you are down or discouraged, take heart my friends.  God knows your pain and He knows your need.  You never know when and where His encouragement is going to come from.  Keep your head up and trust God! 

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What God Taught Me About Prayer

About three weeks ago, I challenged our church to partner with the leadership and me to pray for our church and the impact we can have on our community for a full 24 hour period.  We broke the 24 hours into 15-minute time slots and asked people to sign up for slots that they would commit to praying for the whole time they signed up for.  I committed to take any of the time slots that were still left, so that we were assured of covering the full 24 hours.

As I write this now, we completed our 24-Hours of Prayer about three and a half hours ago, and as I’ve reflected on the time spent in prayer, focused on our church, I realized that God has taught me a lot through this process.  I’m still processing everything (and exhausted because I was up most of the night), but I feel that there is value for you to hear what I learned as well.

Prayer is one of those disciplines that I always feel like I can and need to improve in, and having a commitment to praying for a specific amount of time caused me to set up a plan for how to follow through and keep my commitment.  My wife graciously helped me cover some of the open slots, but in the end I had three hours and forty-five minutes that I had committed to praying during.  A big chunk of that time (two hours and 15 minutes) was in one block, from 1:15-3:30 AM.  I’m not saying this because I’m trying to brag about praying this much.  In fact, I was really concerned at the beginning that I wouldn’t be able to concentrate and pray constantly through that entire time.

There were others that had committed to large chunks of time in one sitting like that as well, so to help them out, and myself, I put together a prayer packet, with a suggested order of prayer, Psalms that they could read and pray through, different prayers of Jesus they could read and pray as well, and also a selected reading from Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline about prayer.  It was through this process that I discovered something that helped me so much.  Prayer is more about setting aside time to communicate with God than it is about the words that we say.  It should be a conversation between you and God, instead of just a one-sided listing of things you want from Him.

So, what did I specifically learn?

1. Start your prayer time with Confession

Starting prayer with time of confession to lay all of your sins at God’s feet really sets the time apart.  The time I spent in confession last night means more than I ever thought it would.  A prayer partner of mine taught me to do this a few years ago, but I never really understood the benefit of it until last night.  I started my prayer time confessing those things that I just can seem to shake in my life, and it was the usual reaction on my part.  That is until I realized just how broken I really am.  That was a hard realization, and it led me to literally weeping for a few minutes in my brokeness.  And it caused me to cry out to God like I hadn’t done in a long time.

Crying out to God like that helped me connect with Him again.  It led to the rest of what I learned throughout the rest of the night.  I got into the flow of a conversation like I was literally speaking to a friend in the same room.  That was something that I hadn’t felt in a long time either.  My two hour and 15 minute time block of prayer seemed to fly by after I was able to settle in to that conversation like I had.  If you are having a hard time connecting with God, make a point of spending time in confession to Him on a regular basis.  It may just be that the sin in your life is keeping you from that connection, and that confession and crying out for His help is all you need to reconnect.

2. There is value in praying for individuals

My prayer time actually started with a simple 15 minute session at 7:30 PM.  Since I just had 15 minutes, and was just finishing up dinner as well, I decided that that 15 minutes would be best spent praying for each individual that had agreed to pray during our prayer event.

Later on in the evening, after my time of confession during my long block, I wrote out a list of all the people that attend our church (we’re a small congregation, so it wasn’t too hard to name each person), and then spent some time praying for each individual and family.  It made me appreciate each person, even if there are things that I don’t agree with them on.  How can you hold a grudge with someone if you are committed to praying for them on a consistent basis?

3. Find your own style

For me, I concentrate best with music on in the background.  Complete silence allows my mind to wander, or I just flat out fall asleep (especially at 1:30 in the morning).  So I put headphones on, turned on my Pandora shuffle, and listened to Christian music while I was spending time with God.  In fact, when certain songs came on that really connect with me and are like prayers from my heart, I treated them just like that.  I stopped talking, and just worshipped along with the song that was playing.  They became my own prayers, and I even literally hit my knees a couple of times during the songs, because I was drawn to throw myself down before God.

The point I’m trying to make here is simple.  Find your own way to remain focused, especially if you are undertaking a long prayer time.  If it wasn’t for music playing in my ears, no matter how committed I was to praying, I would have either fallen asleep or I would have been just daydreaming.  But knowing that about myself, I was able to correct it and spend that time focused on God.

4. There is value in praying others’ prayers

I knew there I was going to have a hard time praying my own words for that long, no matter how committed I was to it.  So I took my own advice, and spent time praying through prayers from Psalms and Jesus’ own prayers.  I did this during my 6:00-6:30 time slot.  After my 3:30 session ended, I caught a little bit of a nap, setting an alarm for 5:50, so I would be awake for this short 30 minute session.

I was out of it, but awake enough to be able to follow through with my commitment.  This seemed like a good time to pray some already written prayers, instead of having to come up with my own words.  But at the same time, I wanted these to become my own prayers as well.  So I read through them, concentrating on the words, and placing them in my own life.

5. Journaling is great

Writing is something that I find great joy in.  I process things through my writing, whether someone else will ever read those words or not.  Journaling during my prayer time, however, is not something that I have been very consistent with over the years.  One of the journals that I have is a combination of Bible study notes, thoughts, and even a few prayers, although not many.  I had that laid out, not really sure what I was going to do with it, but at one point, when I had run out of words, I flipped through that journal, reading every prayer that I had written there.  It was a great experience, but it was also a little terrifying, because I realized some of the things that I was struggling with now, and had confessed earlier, were the same things I was confessing throughout this prayer journal, dating back several years.

I also spent over an hour total writing down some of my prayers.  That was a great experience, because I was able to really concentrate on my words, and communicate exactly what I wanted to say to God at that moment.  It is also great because now I have a record of my prayer time.  I prayed some pretty big prayers, and now I have a record of that, so I can look back at later and see how God has chosen to answer those prayers.  One of the prayers is actually going to be worked into my sermon this week, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t have them recorded.

6. Silence is part of prayer

Prayer cannot just be one sided.  If you are doing all of the talking the whole time, there is really no value in it.  It’s almost as if you are just dictating to God.  There is value in “Being still, and knowing that He is God”.  Sitting in silence, and just listening for what God may be trying to tell you is one of the best parts of prayer.  This world is full of noise, yet when we can shut out the outside world (even if that means listening to music) and just patiently waiting for God really helps our connection with Him.

This 24-Hours of Prayer that we did with our church has been an eye-opening experience for my.  In a lot of ways, I was actually disappointed when my time was over.  That is until I realized that I can spend time with God in these same ways anytime I want.  I just have to be committed to setting aside the time to spend with Him, and I am going to try to make this a daily thing for me from here on out (maybe not almost four hours a day).

What do you need to do to improve your prayer life?  Is there anything I can do to help?  Trust me when I say that spending committed time with God in prayer can truly change things!

Guilty (October 2015 Newsletter Article)

I’ve never been a fan of shows like Judge Judy but a clip appeared online this week that caught my attention.  It’s only about 30 second long, however, it caused a great deal of laughter between Kelley and I.  In the clip, the plaintiff is explaining what was in her purse that was stolen, apparently by the defendant.  She is going through the list of what she had to replace, and said that she had an ear-piece in the handbag.  Then, out of nowhere, in a move of stupidity, the defendant speaks up and says, “There was no earpiece in there ma’am” to Judge Judy.  And Judge Judy starts laughing hysterically.  This guy, not even realizing it, admits to stealing the purse.  In under 30 seconds, the case is over, the defendant has incriminated himself, and Judge Judy has awarded the plaintiff an award of $500.  The guy was guilty, but what made the situation so funny is that he accidentally admitted to the crime.  Who knows how the case would have gone if he had just kept his mouth shut, but he didn’t.  The man got what he deserved. 

We’re guilty too.  Romans 3:22-23 states, “22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”.  For all have sinned.  We are all guilty.  And honestly, if we think about it, if we were to go before God trying to hide that sin, we would mess up just like the defendant in front of Judge Judy.  We can’t fool God, and He’s going to know exactly what we did.  But the beautiful thing for us, as Christians, is that we don’t have to appear before God on judgement day alone.  We will have someone to fight for us.  Paul hints at this in a way in I Timothy 1:15-17, which reads, “15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Paul is saying that he is that guy on Judge Judy.  The one that has sinned and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he is guilty.  But Jesus has offered him mercy to show us all that His mercy and grace are available to us.  That should be comforting.  We don’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing when we come before the judge.  We have someone that will confess us before Him.  Matthew 10:32-33 records Jesus as saying, “32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”  If we have confessed Jesus as our Lord and Savior before men, and not been ashamed of Him, He will confess us before the Father.  We have someone that will be our advocate.  In fact, to finish out what Romans 3:22-23 is saying, read Romans 3:24-26.  It says, “24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

I, for one, am glad that I have Jesus.  I will not be ashamed of the fact that He is my Lord and Savior.  I want to live that through my life.  And He will be my advocate in front of the Father.  I won’t have to try to keep myself from saying “there was no earpiece in there, ma’am”.  We all know I’m guilty, but Jesus’ blood has paid the price for my sin, and for your sin if you’ve confessed Him before others!  No more being ashamed of Him!

Just Stop It (July Newsletter) 

God has been teaching me a lot recently. There is a common theme, however, that just keeps coming up over and over again. It’s something that I have always known in my head, but it’s something that for whatever reason I’ve had a hard time truly implementing in my life. I don’t know, maybe I have just kind of gone through the motions of my walk with Christ for so long, that I just couldn’t get to the point that Jesus has been calling me to over and over the last few weeks. And finally it broke me while Kelley and I were attending Jr. High Camp a few weeks ago. It took getting away from the normal, day-to-day activities, and easy access to technology (although I did have cell and internet service at camp) for me to finally hear and understand Jesus in a real and impactful way. What was He saying? Well that’s what I want to say to you today, as you read this article as well.
It’s not enough to just go through the motions anymore. Just stop it. Let Jesus become real in your life, or quit pretending that He is. In other words, let’s realize that awe that we are supposed to have of a God that gave it all for us, even while we were still sinners. If we aren’t able to be in awe of God because of His love for us, do we really understand what He did for us by going to the cross and dying for our sins? Romans 5:6-8 puts it this way;
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 
If that doesn’t make you realize how awesome our God is then I don’t know what will. Again, it took getting away from the normal routine of life for it to become real to me this time. And I hope I remember to step away from the normal on a somewhat regular basis to reclaim that awe of God again and again. There is a lot of junk and muck that gets in the way through day-to-day living. We are all called to ministry in one way or another, and let me be the first to warn you; Ministry is messy. Being in ministry, whether paid ministry or volunteer ministry, can easily be described as being in the trenches. And being in the trenches is a very messy thing. Because in the trenches of ministry, we have to deal with our humanness and the humanness of those around us. It can bog us down, and we can become jaded. Through that jadedness, we can easily lose sight of the awesomeness of our God. But in that muck, in that messiness that we live in, God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  
So take a step back, stop going through the motions, and find that awe of God again. Do whatever it is that makes you realize His awesomeness over and over again. While you’re reading this, Kelley and I are on vacation, and part of that vacation for us is taking a step back and making sure we are still in awe of the One that gave it all on the cross for us. Psalm 46:10 tells us that God said this about Himself; “Be still, and know that I am God…” That’s a call to be in awe of Him, and He tells us how to do it. Be still. Take a step back. Be in awe of the One who created it all and the One who gave it all because He loves us. Our God is and AWESOME GOD! It’s time we start living like it. God Bless