Monthly Archives: September 2012

His Vision, Our Prayer: 40 Days Seeking His Kingdom (Day 2)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”(Matt 5:3 NIV)
Lord Jesus, teach us to realize our need for You in our spiritual lives.Help us to understand that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who seek You as the source of life.
Jesus’ statement about the “poor in spirit” has been interpreted by the saints through the years in many ways. Without question the essence of the statement revolves around a whole new view of poverty. In Luke, Jesus placed this blessing on the “poor.”
In the Kingdom of God things are not as they appear. Through natural eyes the poor appear to be abandoned and neglected by God. Their plight robs them of the basic joys and necessities of life. Yet too often we are blinded by possessions. Too often what we own actually owns us.
Being “poor in spirit” calls on one to find joy and fulfillment in the LORD Himself rather that finding joy in His provisions alone. Our Father in heaven does not settle for giving us things rather than Himself. He gives us Himself in fulness then adds the stuff of life.
May we learn to value to wealth found in embracing our poverty of spirit to be satisfied only by the presence of the LORD and His Kingdom.

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His Vision, Our Prayer: 40 Days Seeking His Kingdom (Day 1)

September 28 marks just 40 days before the voters of the United States go to the polls to elect the leaders of the land. In just a matter of days the course of this great land will rest in the hands of not the politicians of the land, but in the hands of the people themselves–the people willing to go and vote their convictions.

Spiritual leaders of all stripes are calling our nation to prayer. Pleading with believers, young and old alike, to seek the face of God for His blessing on our land especially in the selection of our leaders for tomorrow. No other act demonstrates our dependence upon the sovereignty and providence of God more than humble prayer.

As I prayed about how to lead my church to pray I felt pulled in all directions by pundits on every side. Some believe our nations stands at a historic crossroads and that the dream of America sits on the brink of destruction. Others believe that we are on the right course, but it took us a long time to get into this mess and it will take us a long time to get out. I don’t know if you believe the sky is falling or not, but I believe our hope for the future rests not in Washington nor Austin but in heaven. I believe we need a fresh and powerful movement of the Kingdom of God in our day.

Out of this deep conviction I have drafted a prayer guide for these 40 days around the themes and principles in the “Sermon on the Mount.” I believe in many ways this sermon was the inaugural address of King Jesus over his followers. In this classic sermon Jesus casts his vision of tomorrow. Some have suggested that the fulfillment of this vision could only happen in the day after Jesus takes complete control of our world, but I believe it was his call to act for today–for the world we live in.

In light of this conviction, I believe it is fitting in this historic hour for believers to pray down the Kingdom of God over our land. Let me encourage you to join us in this petition that at least will mold and shape our hearts.

“(Jesus) He began to teach them, saying…” (Matthew 5:2 NIV)

“Lord Jesus, speak to our hearts and teach us to live like citizens of the Kingdom of heaven. Use us to expand the reach of your Kingdom.”

As we begin this journey listen closely as Jesus seeks to speak life into your heart and mind. The Kingdom of God begins at the feet of Jesus. Only in response to His voice do we become the people of God on mission. Jesus knew the most powerful force in the world is not an armed terrorist. The most powerful force in the world is a teacher proclaiming the words of truth send down from heaven. May our nation hear the voice of our LORD and follow Him completely.

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Dreams Really Do Come True: “Paris-Style”

“..for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose”–Paul

(Philippians 2:13 NIV)

Yesterday I tearfully kissed my wife good-bye as she boarded an airplane bound for Paris. This trip into her chosen wonderland was not for a vacation excursion with our daughters or her best friend. No, Robyn will be spending four months studying French at the Sorbonne, one of the oldest universities in the world. Yes, you read right “FOUR MONTHS.”

I admit at first glance it does sound a bit like the “mid-life crazies”, but at its heart this journey for both of us has more to do with passion and pursuit of the calling of God than just about anything we have ever done together.

In 2005, Robyn took a vacation trip to Paris with one of our girls. On this trip a love for the French culture, history, art, and people emerged from her heart. She returned with a passion to know more and more and to study French as her “heart language.” At this time I viewed it as an interesting hobby but I really had no idea what God was up to her life. For hours on end she taught herself French using an old grammar given to her by a retired French professor. Her grammar text was written before World War II and started her out with the vocabulary of someone from another era. In many ways, Robyn has always been “old at heart” in her connection to times gone by–to a world open only to those with a passion for history and a creative imagination.

Soon Robyn carried a French copy of the Word of God, and her quest took on deeper roots. One intriguing twist to this journey revealed itself in a conversation with Robyn’s “birth dad.” You see Robyn was adopted at birth so she had no knowledge of her heritage.  Jack, her birth dad, shared with Robyn that her biological grandmother came to the United States from France. In addition much of her biological family still lives there in the region near the Germany border. It appears her longing for France and connection to its history and culture runs through her veins.

Back to this crazy adventure, two years ago when we followed God’s call to move to El Paso, God opened the door for Robyn to go back to school to work on her Master’s degree in French and Linguistics. For the past two years she has devoted herself to learning the language and mastering its grammar. Her thesis project revolves around capturing the lessons learned by immersion into a culture and bringing them into the classroom for second-language learners. Before Robyn began her French quest, she taught English as a second language to students from all around the world. Her love for language and students birthed the dream in her heart to help student excel in their desires to learn a new language.

This background brings us to adventure we have embarked on together. I say together, because this was a prayerful decision we both came to after long hours of reflection and talking. As we inched closer and closer to the reality of this decision I came to the realization that I had to “turn loose of her to follow her dreams so I could hold her close in my heart.” When you love someone you long for their lives to be all they were meant to be. My love for Robyn compelled me to let her go.

Paul revealed “that it is God who works in us both to will and to act according to His good pleasure…” I have come to the deep conviction that many of the dreams and passions that grip our hearts and souls ultimately come from above. God plants in our hearts and minds His dreams and the Holy Spirit stirs them into action at just the right time. I believe yesterday, Robyn took a big step into our future. Neither one of us knows for sure where this journey will take us, yet we know it comes at the high cost of being apart for these months, We believe the price is worth it because we see the finger prints of God all over the circumstances that lined our way.

You see God gives us the dreams and He opens the doors. He plants the passions and gives the abilities and opportunities. When your life moves to the rhythms of the Spirit of God you find yourself caught up in a faith adventure far from the boredom of the routine. Much like Abraham setting out for a land he knew not of, Robyn and I continued our journey of faith we started a long time ago when we said, “I Do.” Our quest has taken us to destinations far and wide like a small town on the growing edge of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, to the country living of East Texas, to the beauty and bitter cold of Milwaukee, to the Cowboy world of the Panhandle of Texas and now to our borderland home in El Paso. We have found evidence of God’s hand in each destination and yesterday Robyn embarked on a journey that will continue our quest.

Last night when I arrived home to an empty house, I found it full of her presence. I will not really be alone. I keep Robyn close in my heart. Going up to bed I spotted her reading glasses on a bookshelf and a smile creased my lips and tear trickled down my cheek. I am so happy for her, but I am going to miss her.

As we took our last morning walk before loading the car and going to the airport we descended the mountain and we looked up and to our amazement we spotted two beautiful rainbows with striking colors  on the horizon. Robyn looked at me with a big smile on her face and said “God put those there for us–to remind us He always keeps His promises.” We celebrated together this little reminder we are never alone in our journey.

To bring even more meaning to this special moment, my nickname for Robyn is “Rai”, which is a shorten version of her college pet name “Raibo.” At Baylor I called her “Raibo” because she was “God’s promise to me” just like the rainbow in the sky after a rain. My Lord knew that about me and he knew how hard it was for me to turn loose of her for these moments in time, so in his own special way He reminded us both we are same and secure in His hands no matter what twists and turns following Him may bring.

I am going to miss “Rai” but my heart swells with joy and excitement knowing she chases after the purposes of God in her life with all her heart. How could I ask for anything more?


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My Journey to the French Language Part II

My French Quest

The Quest of Jules Claire

“Why would a 52 year old Pastor’s wife from El Paso, Texas with four grown daughters want to live in Paris,France for almost six months? “  This is a question that I have asked myself many times over the past year.  In seven days, I will begin this great adventure in my life and here are, I believe, the reasons for “The Quest of Jules Claire”:

 For Graduate credit:

I have been given an incredible opportunity for a Graduate Internship through UTEP to spend a semester studying French Language, History and Art at the Cours de la Civilisation Française de la Sorbonne.  Part of this course study will be to conduct research for my Final  Graduate Project: “The Acquisition of French as a Second Language:Subject Pronouns Emphasis”, in which I will be comparing and contrasting second language acquisition between an University Immersion classroom setting in Paris and…

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Marriage: Fire in the Kitchen & Ice in the Freezer

.This year my wife and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. I can close my eyes and still remember in vivid detail the sights and the sounds of my wedding day. I can see Robyn in all of her glory standing at the end of a long aisle in her wedding dress with a white veil over her face. I flinch when I remember the stern look on her father’s face as he slowly walked down the aisle to give his daughter away to a young penniless Baptist preacher.
Over these thirty years we have learned a great deal about the joy and sorrow of marriage. The preacher spoke true when he made us vow “for better or for worse.”
As a pastor, I have had the joys of seeing marriage from both sides. I stood by the groom countless times as the miracle of marriage happened right before my eyes. I have also been called to walk in the dark valley with couples struggling to stay together as they sat at the ends of the couch glaring at each other in a last ditch effort to hold it all together.
Unfortunately, I have also stood among the fragments of a broken marriage after divorce has been decreed, and the couple set out trying to put the pieces of their lives back together—alone. Marriage is not for the faint of heart.
If there are two critical times in the life-cycle of a marriage, they have to be the beginning and the middle years. In the early days it is the “fire” of conflict that can rage out of control and threaten the viability of the union. As “two become one” life can become very complicated, and if selfishness wins the day, life together can become unbearable. Loving, sharing, giving and forgiving often are learned arts. It takes time to learn to live together in love.
Sadly too many young couples fall into the trap of thinking they made a mistake
at the altar by not marrying “Mr. or Mrs. Right.” So they hastily draw up an escape plan in search of the perfect mate. What they do not realize is that they may have given up way too soon. The reality too of-ten sets in during the second or third marriage.
The other danger zone comes in the middle years. After decades of living together and raising kids, the nest begins to empty and two strangers look across the breakfast table wondering what happened on the way to “happily ever after.” The demands of raising kids, hectic schedules, never enough time or money begin to take their toll. The young couple who knew they could live on nothing but love now lives in a three-bedroom house spending evenings in opposite ends of the house alone. To make matters worse, the idealistic dreams of youth now haunt them at night. Goals unmet color their world in dark hues. Sadly, during the crazy years, couples often entertain strange thoughts like “I just don’t love you anymore.” Who are we kidding? Love does not come and go with the wind. Love abides deep down in the soul and endures all things when nurtured and treasured.

Every marriage is worth fighting for, better yet worth loving for. I know of no “perfect marriages.” I like Reggie Joiner’s perspective on marriage and family. He observes that God focuses His creative energies more on storytelling than painting. Don’t compare your marriage to a perfect picture consider it to be more of a story in the works than a finished portrait. If you find yourself in a dark spot in your life, turn the page, and ask God to help you write a new chapter in your relationship. Remember the sage observation of Paul who wrote “love never fails.”

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Impressionism: Gustave Caillebotte

My French Quest

One of my favorite Impressionist Artist is Gustave Caillebotte( 1848-1894), one of the lesser known Impressionists.  Caillebotte earned a  law degree and license to practice,  but after serving in the Franco-Prussian war he decided to follow his passion of painting instead.  He became friends with several of the Impressionists including Monet, Renoir, Manet and Pisarro.  Since Caillebotte came from a wealthy family, he did not have to rely on painting for his livelihood as his friends did.  He purchased several of their paintings to help them out and even paid rent on occasion for their studios.

My first introduction to his work was at the Art Institute of Chicago (Worcester Collection) with his  Paris Street; Rainy Day (Rue de Paris; temps de pluie, also known as La Place de l’Europe, temps de pluie) (1877).  This is perhaps his most famous work to date and  represents the “modernization” of…

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The Clergy Project: “A Trap Door during the Dark Night of the Soul”

On Sunday, August 26th, the New York Times Magazine ran an article about the spiritual journey of Jerry DeWitt, a former Pentecostal pastor in DeRidder, La., who left the pulpit to become a spokesman for the atheist movement as a champion of the “Clergy Project.” Renowned atheist Richard Dawkins along with a band of devout followers launched the “Clergy Project” website and community as a safe haven for pastors, ministers, and other clergy who felt compelled to leave their faith for the path of “reason” and a world without God.

In the lengthy article DeWitt tells of his pilgrimage and struggle that led to this life altering decision. During a brief review of the “Clergy Project” website, one can find a number of moving and heart wrenching testimonies of those who bore the burden of ministry, who chose to lay it down for conscience sake.

As a veteran of over thirty years of pastoral ministry, I must confess I know all too well the struggles of the faith in a broken and dysfunctional world. Holding tight to one’s faith in the face of the relentless evil of our world, the plight of human suffering, the personal tragedies, and the prayers that have not been answered in the way I had hoped for can create in one’s heart what St. John of the Cross referred to as the “dark night of the soul.”

Ministry in a fallen world is not for the faint of heart. It demands that one wrestle often in the darkness with the deep struggles of the human soul. Doubt peers out of the darkness. Faith strains against the burden. Sadly too often the faithful of the church only add to the struggle with their insatiable needs, compromises, expectations, and pressure to perform at a superhuman level reserved only for the LORD himself.

Shortly after the death of Mother Teresa, the humble saint of the Catholic Church, reports began to surface about her own “dark nights of the soul.” In an article in the New York Times (8.29.2007), James Martin reveals this quote from one of her diary entries in 1959:

“In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me — of God not being God — of God not existing.”

Later in her life after a life of selfless service, she revealed:

“If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’ ”

For some these confessions might rock one’s faith, but for me I have found her transparency refreshing and challenging all the same.  Mother Teresa lived out her face in the midst of the very darkness that threatens the faith and resolve of the weak. She did not ignore the evil and suffering of our world, but embrace it with humility and simple, sincere love for the least of these.

These dark nights of the soul will plague all who struggle in the darkness, those who wrestle with unanswered questions and those who know we see but only in a glass dimly. Even the renowned champion of the faith, C.S. Lewis lived in the “shadow land” when the love of his life struggled for her life in the grip of cancer.

In the 73rd Psalm, the psalmist confessed his “dark night” when he wrote for all to hear:

Truly God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (Ps. 73:1-3 ESV)

In honest confession, the psalmist revealed how “impure” his heart and thoughts had become in the face of the arrogance and prosperity of the wicked. Later he confided:

All in vain have I kept my heart clean
    and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
    and rebuked every morning. (Ps. 73:13-14 ESV)

As I read the struggles of those who found refuge in the “Clergy Project” I felt as those I could have read these lines in the testimonial section, but his struggle in the darkness turned when in faith he acknowledged:

16 But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me (U)a wearisome task,
17 until I went into (V)the sanctuary of God;
    then I discerned their end. (Ps. 73:16-17 ESV)

The Psalmist discovered in the sanctuary the hope and light he longed for in his “dark night of the soul.” We all would be wise to heed his advice and follow his example.  I have no stones to throw at those who stumbled in the darkness, especially my peers of the pulpit. I hope and pray in the search they will not give up on the ONE who seeks them for who they are, rather than what they can do for HIM.

May each of us claim these words of the Psalmist as our own:

26 (AI)My flesh and my heart may fail,  but God is (AJ)the strength[b] of my heart and my (AK)portion (AL)forever. (Ps. 73:26 ESV)

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Labor Day: A Confusing Holiday

The Labor Day holiday announces the end of summer and confuses the one paying attention. Why do we take off from work on “Labor Day”? I guess it revolves around the same reasons we park in “driveways” and drive on “parkways”!

The origin of the holiday finds its roots in the labor movements of the late 1800’s. The unions of America that helped our nation embrace and thrive during the Industrial Revolution desired a day to celebrate their accomplishments and their role in the future of our land.

Even though there is some debate over the first such celebration, most agree that the first Labor Day parade and picnic was in New York City on September 5, 1882 sponsored by the Central Labor Union and inspired by Matthew McGuire, a machinist from New Jersey.

Speaking of labor, I came across a funny resume of someone looking for a place in the work force. Listen to his recounting of his adventure. He wrote: “My first job was working in an orange juice factory, but I got canned…I couldn’t concentrate. Then I worked in the woods as a lumberjack, but I just couldn’t hack it, so they gave me the axe. Next I tried working in a muffler factory but that was too exhausting, so I attempted to be a deli worker, but any way I sliced it, I couldn’t cut the mustard. My best job was being a musician, but eventually I found it wasn’t noteworthy. After many years of trying to find steady work, I finally got a job as a historian until I realized there was no future in it. So my last job was working at Starbucks, but I had to quit because it was always the same old grind. Please pray for me as I keep looking for just the right job!”

Before you get too critical of this man’s adventures, you need to realize that the average person will hold ten different jobs in his working career. The one consistent reality is that every one of those jobs will require WORK, and sadly for some, WORK is a four letter word!

You did know God created us for work. Remember in the Ten Commandments there is a less than subtle hint about this in the commandment on the Sabbath sacred holiday. The LORD wrote with his own hand on tablets of stone:

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God….” Exodus 20:8-10a NIV

Sadly many have segregated their week into the “sacred” and the “secular,” when God sees everyday as “sacred” in His eyes. Paul instructed the slaves and la-borers of the 1st century saying:

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 3:23-24 NIV

This Labor Day holiday, I pray each of us will celebrate the partnership we have with the LORD in overseeing His creation. Never forget your work matters to God. Go to work on Tuesday with a smile on your face and a determination to make a difference in the world to the glory of God.

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