Every Graduate’s Guide

 

File May 18, 4 43 59 PM

When I put the cap and gown on again last weekend I sparked something I had not experienced in quite a while.  From all directions I got the question, “So, what do you plan to do next?” My answer is pretty simple.  “I am going to continue doing what I was doing before I graduated.”  I hope my simple response becomes an encouragement to all my fellow graduates and to all the hopeful parents that are asking the what is next question.  Let me explain…

My answer is not a 40 something’s resistance to change or that I am perfectly settled in life; my answer is rooted in a conviction that there are a few simple maxims that bring clarity to almost any situation.  One simple truth helps determine what to do in life, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.”  Matthew 6:33   A second simple guide tells me how to do it.  “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23  When I became a Christ follower, I told God I was willing to go wherever He would take me; this launched me on an exciting journey.

As a young crazy 20 year old trying to make it through LSU I became enthusiastic about mirroring my character and actions after what I found in the Bible.  Honestly, through all of life that has changed, for the most part it stays the same.  Whether chemical engineer, dad, husband, friend or pastor I try to live with passion for a single purpose.  Through life I find myself at crossroads which force major decisions, but 99.9% of them are simple choices to do what I know to do “for the Lord and not for men.”

Take heart my fellow graduates and worrying parents alike.  If the pursuit of God’s purposes with an enthusiasm to do everything for Him was the plan; just keep doing what you have always done with confidence in the future.  If your purpose and passion was for anything else, it is still very simple — It’s time for a change.

Me? A Missionary…

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In this simple post, I want to encourage you to be confident in your ability to hear God’s voice and respond to His call to be a missionary. Before you stop reading because you could never be a missionary, let me remind you of Jesus words that still ring true for us today.

Matt 28 18-20
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In the simplest sense, anyone intentionally sharing the gospel in any context is a missionary. A call to missions is simply the expectation from the father to be about the business of bringing the good news of God to the world. If we consider the goal of missions like the game of football, eternity with Christ is the end zone and God’s word forms the sidelines of this life. As Christians, we have committed to the team, to run down the field in pursuit of the prize of the upward call of Christ. The missionary call is precisely a call to evangelism and discipleship. God invites all of his followers to the field. As you consider how you will participate, consider the pace you run down the field, the people you will encounter along the way, and the team-mates around you. As you reach places where you must decide to go right or left; whether to run or pass, do so with confidence.

God’s call is to advance down the field. He has set the side-lines and His leadership is consistent play calling for the people of the church. Trust Psalm 37:4 in that God gives the desires of the heart. In a very real sense, God both places within us the desires of the heart and then gives opportunity in life to experience them. In all, there is only one crucial question. How do we insure that God has access to our heart and respond when he provides an opportunity?  John 15:5-8 is the key t0 both efforts.

 

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Jesus warns that disconnection from the source will lead to a lack of progress and a withering of purpose. Simultaneously He says to stay connected to the source of all things life and Jesus himself will fill life to make you fruitful. We sense the leadership of God through connection to the vine; the reading of God’s word and meditating upon its meaning as well as prayer. We are only as available to God for short and long term missions as we are connected and obedient to Him on a daily basis. So, say yes you will go when God calls, and ready yourself with confidence by your connection to Jesus himself. “And behold, [He is] with you always, to the end of he age.”

#BeAbringer – bring Jesus to people.

Ready for Baptism?

picture1It is exciting every time baptism is a topic of conversation because I know that someone has either made a life changing decision to follow Christ or is seriously contemplating matters of faith.  The pleasure of working with children and families is to walk with them through an exciting time in life.  Conversations often begin with, “Pastor B, my son/daughter wants to be baptized and asks all sorts of questions about God…I’m not sure I have all the answers…What do we do next?  Will you talk with them?”
I take every opportunity I get to talk about baptism, but what is even more exciting to me is to help parents feel equipped to lead their children during a very exciting time in life.  Mom and Dad, it is you that Deuteronomy 6:1-9 directs to teach your children about Gods ways and wondrous acts.  Paul reiterates your the role of the parent in the spiritual upbringing of a child when he instructs, “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
Ask open ended questions that help you determine if they understand and have responded to the gospel.  Here are some questions that I think are most helpful.
 
Why do you want to get baptized? (It is important for children to understand baptism is the next step following salvation, not the first step toward salvation.) 
What we want to hear is that our child came to grips with their sinful behavior and recognized their need for forgiveness through Jesus.  It would be great to hear, “Dad, I want to be baptized because I believe Jesus died to save me from my sin and God raised Jesus from dead so that we might have eternal life.  And mom,  I just prayed in my room to ask God for forgiveness and to accept Jesus as Lord of my life forever…Just like Romans 10:9-10 says”  That would be amazing, don’t you think?!  The reality is that it took me 20 minutes to write the last four sentences.  So, we might expect their answer may not be so clear and may be a simple, “I don’t know.”  The great thing about this question is regardless of the response, it gives you a starting point for a great conversation.
 
What do you know about Jesus?  Can you tell me why He died on the cross and God brought Him back to life three days later? (When we understand that Jesus, God’s son, entered the world to live a perfect life and then died as a final sacrifice for our sin, we know the source of salvation.)   God’s love for us through his sacrifice and the reality of His power through the resurrection are an amazing story of hope in eternal life.  (Romans 5:8 & 6:23)
 
Do you know what to call doing something that God says we can’t do or not doing the things that God says we should do?  (We can not seek forgiveness for sin if we do not understand sin.)  One of the things the Holy Spirit does for us it to help us understand when we have done something wrong.   As parents we work hard to help them do right and avoid wrong.  It is important to help them understand that wrong = sin and sin is ultimately against the creator.  “We all sin and fall short of God’s glory.” (Romans 3:23)  Just as doing wrong toward a friend or family member breaks our earthly relationships, sin damages our relationship with God. Here is a word of caution.  Children can often give a definition of sin, but have not connected all of the dots that it is their own personal sin that has broken relationship with God.  Here are a few simple follow up questions that are helpful.  Do you ever sin?  Do you think I ever sin?  If you are afraid of the answer to that second question you have my permission to ask, Do you think Pastor B ever sins?
I will leave you with this.  Don’t rush your child to baptism, but try not to get in the way of what God is doing either.  I have talked to scores of adults that feel a need to take a second trip through the baptistery because early in life they were only trying to please their parents.  At the same time I know some adults who struggle because when God was doing something in their lives at a young age, they were told they were too young to understand… It’s not always clear if a child is ready for baptism, but they are always ready for the gospel.  They are always ready to hear the good news of God’s work to make us right with himself through Jesus Christ.  It is always a good time to help them understand that everyone of us sin and need to be saved from the effects of our sin through the forgiveness found in Jesus.
And yes!  I will absolutely talk to them…

Are You Ready?

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You made a long list and checked it twice; well maybe five or six times.  You have presents to wrap, cookies to make and a Christmas meal too; then their are the projects to finish, and the stuff to pack for the trips you will take…Oh, and don’t forget those end of year bills to pay. Is it even possible to be ready for Christmas?

When we read the book of Luke, we find out Mary and Joseph got ready for Christmas like so many will this week…road trip!  Then their were the shepherds.

“And in the same region [where Jesus was born] there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” Luke 2:8

The shepherds were pulling an all-nighter keeping sheep from being gobbled up by wolves when the angels appeared.  They were doing exactly what they were responsible for when they encountered God at Christmas. Every one of us has responsibilities in this life.  Take heart, in the midst of those responsibilities, Christmas is near.  

Our readiness for receiving Jesus this Christmas is defined by our readiness to respond.  So, let me encourage you to stop reading this and make a list of all the important things you have to do between now and Christmas. 

Here is the list I made for myself:
  Make some decisions about a 2017 family budget
  Read the Advent devotional as a family each night
Prepare a meal for friends to encourage them in a difficult time
Read scripture regularly to feed the holy spirit within
Write a blog about being ready to receive Christ
Make progress on finding a children’s ministry director
Finalize plans for Christmas Eve services
Encourage, instruct and correct my children CONTINUOUSLY
Finish dad’s Christmas present

Now, there may be some things we need to take off our lists that aren’t actually important, but that is not my point.  The Shepherds were out doing important things and we should be no different.  Not many today have sheep to watch, but we all have a “flock” of something that needs our care.  The key to being ready for receiving Christ this season is Colossians 3:23-24.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

Is it possible to be ready for Christmas?  Yes!  Whatever you do between now and Christmas, do it with an expectation that you will encounter God.  When we have an encounter with God there are two choices.  We can either continue on with what we were already doing or we can stop and respond.  I encourage you to take a page out of the shepherds manual and go…

“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us’…And when they saw it [Jesus], they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” Luke 2:15,17

When you go in faith, you will return having had a similar Christmas experience.

“And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”  Luke 2:20

As you consider readiness for Christmas, I pray you are able to do the simple and the profound with a focus on the God who rules them both.  Here are a few questions I think are helpful in any  situation, but especially when preparing to celebrate Christ this Christmas.

  1. How can I make the things that I am already doing more meaningful?
  2. Is their anything that would keep me from responding to an encounter with the creator?

 

Clinton, Sanders, Trump

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Which is the greatest candidate?  Here is one spiritual leader who is not afraid to tell you how to think in this political climate.

 

 

Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  [Matthew 22:36-40 ESV]

Ok, so he wasn’t asked which is the greatest candidate. Regardless if you are trying to determine how to vote (and I hope you will),  how to express your opinion on social media, or how you will invest your time and money; meditate on His words and allow them to become a powerful filter for your every thought, word and deed.

Ask
How will I love God completely in this moment? 
How will I love my neighbor with this decision?

*In case your wondering, I listed the current candidates who are mathematically able to receive a major party nomination in alphabetical order.  However, I hope you think of this blog as more about life choices than a few presidential candidates.

 

Racing from Mardi Gras to Good Friday

mambo medal

Mardi Gras is intended to mark the start of journey towards Easter.  How did a cheap medal cost me so much and how did a journey help me overcome some unhealthy comparisons in life?  I’d like to share a part of my race in hopes that it will encourage you to run yours.  Before you bow out because you don’t like running or you’re not in the mood for a physical accomplishment, just come along for the run to be amused a little at my expense.

I signed-up for Mardi Gras Mambo as motivation to get in shape.  In reality I knew if I spent some money to race I would not waste-it by backing out.  Insuring I didn’t back down worked, motivating myself to train for the race did not.  Prior to race day I had run a few miles, but nothing close to a 10K.  Mildly irritated at my failure to train I chose the console myself with a simple goal of completing the entire 6.4 miles without walking.  Apparently the way these races work is to line at the start in pace groups, groups of people that can run a particular speed for the entirety of the race.  I found my group and began to get a little excited; I felt good and the people around me were full of energy.  My goal for the day was simple; start at pace I could handle and finish at the same speed.  My mind was filled with, “I can do this!”  just about the time the race announcer started a countdown.  The pace group behind me got excited and began to cheer.  Their excitement drew me in so I turn around to enjoy the moment only to stare down their pace group sign.

starthere

I was proud every time I told people I was running in a 10K and I was proud 10 seconds earlier for pushing myself to do something bigger than I had ever done.  However, when I saw the sign “All Walkers Start Here”, nothing about my run seemed very spectacular.  It was sad to line up in the 12 min/mile group where I thought I could be successful and it no longer felt good enough.  But, I gave myself a pep talk and a quick reminder that the goal of the day was simple, finish at the pace I started.  I was ready to conquer the course again and it was time to move on.  It was a cool day and I moved along with my group well.  In fact I even passed a few people who had started in the groups ahead.  My world was once again right.

Let me break in here with a little history.  One of my lifelong disappointments has been not finishing well.  Whether it was starting a school project that I did not leave myself enough time to finish, tiring out in the fourth quarter of a football game, not following through with the details of a work project or not following through with disciplines that will help me grow spiritually; I struggle to finish well.  In some ways I was running the race to overcome my struggle.

Back to the race.  Around mile four I was very tired when God and I began a conversation, prayer, about wanting to finish well.  If you have ever had a good conversation with God you know it can be a quite an energizing experience.  Quickly my mind was filled with, “I can do this!” In fact I was running a few seconds faster than my target pace when out of nowhere this happened.

stroller

In fact it happened twice.  Two moms passed me pushing strollers and just chatting about how nice it was to be out on an easy jog.  Defeated; what I was aiming to accomplish felt insignificant and the pain in my legs no longer seemed worth the effort.  I did the only thing I knew.  I hung my head, stared at the ground and tried like never before to forget that anyone else was running this race but me.  In that moment I believe God helped me focus on my race and avoid comparing it to the one set out for anyone else.

Paul encouraged the Philippian church to run the race of life like this, “…But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way…” [Philippians 3:13-15]

I finished the Mardi Gras Mambo, and this Good Friday I am incredibly thankful that the God-man Jesus Christ ran the race marked out for Him.  It is Jesus’ willful obedience to pay the highest cost that gives us each and eternal goal to cling to this Friday.  That cheap medal hanging on my wall cost me my pride, but it is a marker on a day that I matured a little in my thinking.  I may not be able to run as fast or as far as others, but today I am a little better at keeping my head down and running my race; straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God.

iPromise Devotion 2.5.2016 Love and Marriage

ipromiseThis week’s iPromise Principle: Purpose is a promise you submit to not a proposal you submit.

Today’s iPromise Principle: God’s plan for marriage is beyond you. #followandfish

 

“…let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband”  Ephesians 5:33

Easier said than done, right!  Ephesians 5:33 is sound Biblical advice and its instruction is abundantly clear.  I am not sure it even needs a Biblical reference for it to be accepted as good advice.  So, today I suggest that everyone who is reading this practice “love” & “respect”…All day tomorrow, “love” & “respect”…Sunday when you wake up, guess what? Show “love” & “respect”.  What to do is clear, but how it’s done can seem complex.  In fact, the oneness of flesh in marriage is described in verse 32 as a “profound mystery.”

Our devotions this week have been rooted in the words of Jesus recorded in Mathew 4:19,  “Come, follow me…”  With a full desire to follow Jesus closely, read the Ephesians 5:33 passage in the context of the relationship that Paul was encouraging.

22 Wives,submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

For all of the things that go against our nature in this passage, be open to these truths:

1)  The marriage union should reflect the union of Christ and the church.
2)  Unconditional love and submissive respect are a gift given not a demand met.
3)  Unity with another requires you to live beyond yourself.

As you reflect on Ephesians 5:27-33, think about Paul’s instruction at the beginning of the Chapter 5 on how to #followandfish.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Ephesians 5:1