Monthly Archives: January 2011

Prayers for Egypt

From the vantage point of my computer screen and television I have been witnessing a nation in the midst of turbulent change. The nation of Egypt is marching toward a day of destiny. As rioters control the streets, and people arm themselves with any weapon available to protect their families and home, the world watches and prays.

For thirty years Hosni Mubarak has controlled the nation of Egypt as a somewhat benevolent dictator but the generation of young adults who grew up under his thumb have risen up to say “enough is enough.” As more and more of these young Egyptians connect with the outside world through the advances of education and the world wide web, it is vividly clear they are not willing to remain silent nor in bondage.

As a Bible student my mind races back to the dramatic events surrounding the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. For centuries Egypt has been from time the time the center of civil unrest and turmoil.

In the new “flat world” we live in–Egypt’s struggles will in time touch all of our lives. As Americans the option of hiding behind our “stained glass” seas is not an option. We cannot become like a dying church huddled together in a huge cathedral hiding from the world behind “stained glass” windows that tend to color our reality. No as world citizens we must embrace the realities of our day.

As a follower of Jesus, I seek to bring to this crisis a Kingdom of God perspective. I dare not believe God is somehow absence nor powerless in the face of these changes. Egypt has time and time again been a place where the hand of God was clearly at work from the time of Joseph ascent to power to Mose’s escape from the Nile to Jesus’ escape there for safety. In the midst of the apparent chaos, we would be wise to look for the finger prints of the God of history–writing His Story.

Many years ago Isaiah wrote these poignant words:

12 Woe to the many nations that rage—
they rage like the raging sea!
Woe to the peoples who roar—
they roar like the roaring of great waters!
13 Although the peoples roar like the roar of surging waters,
when he rebukes them they flee far away,
driven before the wind like chaff on the hills,
like tumbleweed before a gale.
14 In the evening, sudden terror!
Before the morning, they are gone!
This is the portion of those who loot us,
the lot of those who plunder us. (Isaiah 17:12-14 NIV)

As we watch the nations of the world rage may we never forget we worship and serve the God who makes and destroys nations according to His sovereign plan. Pray with Jesus–“thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

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A Picture Speaks A Thousand Words: The Child’s Blessing

Children are by far one of the great joys of being a local church pastor. I know exactly why Jesus loved to spend so much time with children–he was tired of messy around with the adults who pestered him time and time again for more and more.

Children come to their faith journey with a simple faith. Life is not complicated. Children see with eyes that see beyond the obvious–with eyes that can see God in the most unexpected places.

Last Sunday a beautiful little girl who has a hug for me every time I see her presented me with a gift. It was her “sermon notes.” It appeared that during the morning service with pencil in hand she sketched a picture of me preaching. With childlike accuracy she drew me with a Bible in my hand and a smile on my face.

Later that afternoon as I gazed at this child’s masterpiece, I realized a truth I must never forget. A lesson every leader needs to be reminded of. I was reminded that children don’t hear us as much as they experience us. They remember us for who we are not so much for what we say. It is not your words but your life’s witness that makes all the difference in their lives.

Never forget what Jesus had to say:

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:6 NIV

The eyes of tomorrow’s church are fixed on you. Greet them with a hug and a smile, and show the way by every word you say, but more importantly by everything you do. A child will probably forget most of what you say, but they will never forget you.

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Loyalty

This week I caught an early morning flight to Dallas Love Field for a meeting near downtown. So I decided to take a taxi to my meeting. In recent years I have had numerous taxi rides, but none quite like this one.

This ride was unique not because of a near accident nor the speed by which we sped along. On a side note you have never really lived until you have taken a taxi in China. A taxi ride in China is a blur of speed, pedestrians scrambling for their lives, bicycles weaving in and out, buses heading straight for your side of the car at full speed, and smiling motorcyclists flying by you on the road or sidewalk, and lots of lots of prayer.

This taxi ride was different because of my taxi driver. I struck up a conversation with a man I suspected to be an African American, but who actually turned out to be an African from Nigeria. He spoke exceptional English so I asked him how he ended up driving a taxi in Dallas. He shared that he was working his way through school. He was getting another masters degree, and in a few weeks would be moving to Europe to work for Shell Oil.

To my surprise he was a petroleum engineer who had previously worked for Exxon/Mobil in the Netherlands. He added Exxon/Mobil had moved him and his family to Houston two years ago only to lay them off when the economy went south.

At this point he said, “I will never work for another American company because they care more about the bottom line than for their people–there is no loyalty.” He pointed out that he chose Shell Oil because it was owned by a European company and they were much more loyal.

It is sad that in a chasing after the American dream that people have become disposable to us. As a follower of Jesus, and a citizen of the Kingdom of God, I pray that I will hold His values above all. We must never forget “people count to God.”

So how do we change our reputation in the world. The answers appear quite simple yet will demand the very best of us–love others like you love ourselves, keep your promises, sacrifice for others, love people more than you love money, the rich can do with less so the poor can have more, generosity, compassion, and exchanging the American Dream for the Golden Rule.

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Great Levi Price Quote

One of the joys of serving First Baptist Church of El Paso as pastor is hearing Levi Price stories. Even though I find it difficult at times to live up to the bench mark he set–I feel honored to build on the foundation of a pastor who loved and lead his people so well.

In 2003 upon a return visit to El Paso, it was reported to me that Levi said:

First Baptist Church of El Paso will grow only on the wings of service!

For a church rooted in the heart of a growing international city his insight and wisdom hit the mark. In urban ministry today humble sacrificial service with open hands and open hearts will open the doors of ministry and opportunity. Until we get our hands dirty and our hearts broken we are not serious about being the presence of Christ on the streets of downtown El Paso.

It is my prayer that under my watch our church will “soar on the wings of service.”

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Hope in God

Last night as I was teaching on 1 Peter 1 we came to this statement of Peter:

21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.  (1 Peter 1:21 NIV)

Peter points out that in our relationship with Jesus we come to “believe in God” so that we put our “faith” and “hope” in God–in God alone. During times of transition and change is so easy to anchor our faith in the wrong places.

Oswald Chambers captured this truth in with this observation:

The reason we are all being disciplined is that we will know God is real. As soon as God becomes real to us, people pale by comparison, becoming shadows of reality. Nothing that other saints do or say can ever upset the one who is built on God.

This is a lesson I am striving to learn through following Jesus. I sense Jesus is trying to teach me about His reality and presence in every arena of my life. Too often it has been the voices of the crowd that caught my attention rather than the still small voice of God.

May we all learn the difference between the shadows and the real thing!

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The LORD our Refuge: Keep Praying

This morning as I read the El Paso Times I read a story that reminded me once again how important it is for us to keep praying for the end of the violence in Juarez.

(CNN) — Mexican federal police interrupted a weekend massacre-in-the-making in a Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, motel and captured two hit men working for a major cartel in the city, a spokesman for the federal police told CNN Monday.

“We received an anonymous tip that these men were sequestering a group of 11 in a motel,” federal police spokesman Ramon Salinas said. “We acted on the tip and were able to catch them in the act of a massacre at a motel party.”

The men were planning to kill a group of 11 youths and managed to kill one of them before police arrived, according to Salinas, who described the 11 only as young people, without specifying ages or sexes.

King David who knew the threats of evil men sang to the LORD this song of faith and trust:

Psalm 11

For the director of music. Of David.

1 In the LORD I take refuge.
How then can you say to me:
“Flee like a bird to your mountain.
2 For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
at the upright in heart.
3 When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”

4 The LORD is in his holy temple;
the LORD is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth;
his eyes examine them.
5 The LORD examines the righteous,
but the wicked, those who love violence,
he hates with a passion.
6 On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.

7 For the LORD is righteous,
he loves justice;
the upright will see his face.

May the people of the LORD always take REFUGE in His unfailing love and protection.

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2011

Monday will be a holiday for millions of Americans who will enjoy the joy of a day off but sadly many will forget the struggle of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.

I was a young boy when our nation struggled under the heavy load of decades of discrimination and injustice. My first exposure to this dark reality came when I spent a vacation at my grandmother’s house in Mississippi and heard the “N” for the first time. It was odd and out-of-place for me to hear a grown man called “boy” and for one race to serve as servants to another.

I knew little of the Freedom riders nor the riots on the streets of Detroit. The Martin Luther King was a name I occasionally heard on the evening news blaring from our black and white television, but I do remember hearing of his assassination when he was gunned down on a hotel balcony in Memphis just seventy miles from my grandmother’s house.

As an American I am indebted to the courage and prophetic voice of Martin Luther King. God gave him a thought provoking way with words, and he was willing to break the silence and cry about the injustices in our world.

In his “I Have a Dream” speech at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., he said:

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
I pray as a nation, and especially as followers of Jesus Christ, that we would not let fear stop us from doing right in any and every situation. For too long the soul of our nation has been consumed with the cancer of indifference and selfishness.
In Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Message he captured the heart and spirit of Jesus with these words:

43-47“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

48“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” Matthew 5:43-48 The Message

On this holiday when we celebrate the courage of a prophet who helped change our nation. I pray we will live like our Savior who transformed the world.

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The Face of Homelessness

Yesterday, I visited the Dame La Mano Emergency Shelter for homeless families in the El Paso. This makeshift shelter is the home to somewhere around 30 adults and 40 children. These families live in tiny rooms filled wall to wall with mattresses, or in temporary rooms divided by blue tarps straight from the hardware story.

In recent weeks the El Paso Fire Department wrote up the facility as a extreme fire hazard and dangerous. This made news in El Paso, so many community leaders have stepped up to help. I was told a local company will soon install the needed sprinkler system to provide for greater safety for the residents.

Two young women from our church made connection with the leadership of the shelter and began to reach out to the residents. They insisted that I do a site visit. As I drove to the location of the shelter it was getting dark and I must admit I felt just a bit uncomfortable and unsettled in the neighborhood. The neighborhood is primarily a commercial part of town. Needless to say it lacked sidewalks, trees, and playgrounds.

I confess I am somewhat naive about the struggles of the homeless. For me, the bearded weathered man on the corner with a cardboard sign, and a cup is the face of homeless for me. If there was one lasting impression and memory from the visit it was the faces of the children. Homelessness in my hometown is a family story–it is the story of mothers and fathers. It is the story of boys and girls. It is the story of a toddler with a blanket, and a teenager with a cellphone.

You cannot look into the smiling face of a homeless child and be indifferent. As Henry Blackaby notes in his classic work “Experiencing God”–God invited me to join Him in His work–and now I am at a crisis of faith that demands trust and most importantly action.

In Matthew 25, the King commends his true and faithful servants for their service rendered to him. He noted:

“when I was a stranger you invited me in…”

The faithful ones questioned when they had ever even seen the King, much less the King as a stranger.” He replied:

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Yesterday I looked into the face of Jesus–in the face of a homeless child. I pray I will never be the same.

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“Living like Jesus”

This morning I was listening to a sermon by Jack Hayford. At the close of the message he made a simple yet profoundly convicting statement about the New Year.

“This year we don’t need Christians living like ‘Christians’–we need Christians living like Jesus”

In this statement Hayford confronted head on the bad reputation the followers of Jesus in AmBerica have given their Lord by living condemning judgmental lives. Too often Christians have set themselves up as the judge and jury of the society. Sadly, this judgmental attitude has been most damaging behind the stained-glass windows of our house of worship.

Brian Hardin, who launched “The Daily Audio Bible” podcasts, created this online community to provide a “virtual community” for those wounded and scared by the family of God. Yet he encourages his listeners to return to the community of faith as God brings healing and restoration to their lives.

Jesus speaks into this reality when He says:

1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-3)

Eugene Peterson in his translation of Matthew 7 captures the spirit of what Jesus is saying.

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.”

As I begin a New Year, I choose to shed the robes of the judge and take up the towel of the servant–because I know I need much more help than I need someone to tell me what is wrong with my life. Trade in your gavel this year for a helping hand extended to those who have fallen down.

 

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Border Violence: “Crouching at the Door”

The violence along the US/Mexico border continues to make headlines. Last week the El Paso Times reported the head of a man was found on a pillow nestled on one of the bloody streets of Juarez. Rival gangs often decapitate victims to send a less than subtle message about their control of the streets and to strike fear in the hearts of the people. Terrorism thrives on fear.

As I was reading through the book of Genesis I was reminded how bloodshed and violence go back to the beginning of time. The first two brothers who walked the face of the earth found themselves in a bloody struggle. Before the situation escalated to violence the Lord God sought out Cain and said:

“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

As I reflected on this story, I was inspired to focus my prayers toward border violence in a new way. I was convicted to pray for those who are plotting violence against another whether they are cartel assassins or family members seeking revenge and retaliation. My prayer is that in that “moment of decision” when “sin is crouching at the door” that they will come to their senses and choose to do the right thing and to spare the lives of their intended victims.

Just as God came to Cain at that fateful moment before he attacked his brother–I believe God still seeks to intervene. He does not want our lives to be controlled and victimized by the deadly grip of sin lurking just outside the door.

The unspeakable violence found on the bloody streets find their origin in the hearts of men and women who open their lives to the dark power of sin. Clearly we need a powerful spiritual answer to this continuing threat to our community.

Pray for that moment of decision. Pray that the young man with the gun will simply drive by without shooting. That the cartel leader will make the call and cancel the hit. Pray that the young woman sent to kill will be moved with compassion and not shed innocent blood.

From the beginning of time sin has been crouching at our doors. It is high time for us to do right and to rule over the sin within our hearts.

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