Friday, July 31, 2015

Celebrate Recovery

This week's post will look a little different.  I am setting this up to be a resource for those who want to see the quick overview of the principles that Celebrate Recovery is based upon and how they flow from beginning to end. 

We are going to begin Celebrate Recovery in September but I have been talking about what Celebrate Recovery is and how it works.  Below are the basic principles in the RECOVERY Acrostic:
Realize I'm not God; I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and my life is unmanageable. "Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor…"

Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to him, and that he has the power to help me recover. "Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…"

Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ's care and control. "Happy are the meek…"

Openly examine and confess my faults to God, to myself, and to someone I trust. "Happy are the pure in heart…"

Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects. "Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires…"

Evaluate all my relationships; offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I've done to others except when to do so would harm them or others. "Happy are the merciful…" "Happy are the peacemakers…"

Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible readings and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will.

Yield myself to God to be used to bring this Good News to others, both by my example and by my words. "Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires…"
You can find out much more by getting the book, "Life's Healing Choices" by John Baker and Rick Warren.  Where do you need recovery?
for the journey...

Friday, July 24, 2015

Power in the Blood

A week ago I went back to my foot doctor to receive and injection in the foot that I broke back in December.  It was something that he suggested some time ago and something I have had done to this foot to help with a problem I was experiencing even before the break.  It is not a steroid injection, but an injection of my own blood, centrifuged down to platelets and plasma.  That platelet rich plasma is injected into an injury to use your own blood's healing powers to help enhance the healing process.  It is a fairly simple process, with no side effects.  Except for the pain of the injection.  That is no small thing.

I was sitting in the chair in the exam room and the doctor was ready to inject the plasma into my foot when the thought occurred to me, I better not cough while he is doing this, that would not be good.  I had been coughing with a sinus infection that week.  Just as I put a cough drop in my mouth, the doctor stuck this ten inch needle in my foot (I know it was not ten inches long, it just felt like it).  I immediately sucked in a breath of air and the cough drop went to the back of my mouth.  I could swallow it or choke on it.  Chocking with a ten inch needle in your foot would not be good. I decided to swallow.  But then I had to fight a cough and I could not catch my breath. 

The nurse that was with the doctor kept saying, "Breathe, sir, breathe."  I wanted to say, "I would if there was any air left in this room," but I could not even get that out.  I did not remember my previous injection hurting like this.  I am glad I did not remember or I would not have agreed to have it done again.  It really hurt.  For a few days after, it was pretty sore but as I write this, I can say my foot is feeling better.  I am not ready to run a 5k race but it feels better than it did.

It is funny how things that help heal us often hurt in the short run - at the beginning. Then over time, God brings the healing to a place where we can feel it.  It is not just in physical things, it is that way in spiritual things as well.  Confession can be pretty painful in the moment but it leads to great healing.  The thought of repentance can fill us with a fear of pain, but later when we really have repented, we find it was a lot more painful to go around doing things our way instead of God's way.  If we have been running from God, the thought of following God can fill us with thoughts of dread.  But when we follow God, our lives become filled with His love.

When Jesus died on the cross, he went through pain, he shed his blood, he went through a dreadful death for us so we would not have to go through it.  There is power in our own blood to help heal a wound.  There is power in his blood to free us from all of our sin. 

This week and next week, we will be talking about "Life's Healing Choices."  Those messages will be an overview of the core of a Celebrate Recovery ministry that we will be starting soon.  I am praying that a lot of us will find healing.  And get free of a lot of pain.

for the journey...

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Every Tribe...

"After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb."  Revelation 7:9

A couple of months ago, my wife, Judith, and I went to a Christian concert in Houston.  It was a big, sold out event with thousands of people.  I noticed something different about this concert that I had not seen at previous Christian concerts - the crowd was much more ethnically diverse. 

Now Houston is a very diverse city.  I remember being sent to the grocery store while we were visiting in-laws there and I counted six different languages being spoken by the people in the aisles of Kroger.  This concert must have had people there from all over the world.  I sat next to a family that spoke Spanish listening to a band from Ireland singing about the love of God.  There were Asians, Africans, and some I did not recognize - quite literally as the children's song says, "red, brown, yellow, black and white."  I don't know if that would have happened just a few years ago.  But I am glad to have seen it happen now.

We started to leave the concert a little early, to beat the traffic but also because it takes me longer to get places now with this bum foot.  The best way to leave this outdoor pavilion was to exit near the stage area.  I looked back over the crowd as it rose up the slope of the hill and people seemed to extend all the way into the night sky.  They were standing and praising God.  I was reminded of John's experience in Revelation 7, "every nation, tribe, people and language."  It was a beautiful haunting sight and sound; a glimpse of heaven.  I wanted more and yet in that longing there was a sense of assurance that someday there will be.

A group of us have been praying for the Muslim world through this month of Ramadan. It has been an eye-opening challenge.  We will conclude things this week by hearing from one of our missionaries who has returned from a closed country in the Middle East.  All of this has gone to help me understand that God's love keeps getting bigger.  He cannot love us more than he already does, but he makes it possible for there to be more for him to love.  Let's see how big that love can be.

for the journey...


Friday, July 10, 2015

How Jesus Defined Marriage

This is a special blog post that is a synopsis of my message on July 5, 2015 in response to the legalization of same-sex marriage.  Before the message, I explained that the ministers on staff at Northside, as a matter of personal belief and conscience,would not be performing same sex marriages.  We have also prepared a resource page on our website to help people know how to respond to this issue.  It can be found at

for the journey...
How Jesus Defined Marriage
Mark 10:2-9
Have you heard the story of "Love Locks" in Paris?  People began to place a lock on the railing of a footbridge as a nice way of expressing love and commitment to one another.  It started in 2008, and the locks, often with the couple’s name, initials or anniversary, began to be a phenomena.  Thousands of locks were placed on the railing of the bridge.  Historical societies began calling for stopping the practice.  But what is wrong with people expressing the permanence of their love.  Engineers began to question the safety for this old bridge to have this many locks.  Similar objections came about the expression of true live.  The practice went on until the bridge held 700,000 locks, the weight of 20 elephants.  Then some of the railing panels holding those locks began to collapse.  Now they have to be removed so the rest of them don't cave in.

 Can’t we express love any way we want to?  How can my showing my love for the person I love negatively impact someone else?  What is wrong with it?  Have you heard that recently?  We are going through a marriage controversy today with the legalization of same sex marriage.  Jesus lived through a marriage controversy too.  Let us just simply look at his words about marriage as he answers a controversial question. 

 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
“What did Moses command you?” he replied.
 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied.  “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’  ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”  Mark 10:2-9

Marriage as Jesus defined it
There were two schools of thought on divorce in that day.  A very liberal one that said it was ok to divorce your wife for any reason and another that said divorce should only come about because of marital unfaithfulness.  It was a divisive issue, a test in which they wanted to trap Jesus.  Can they get him arrested as John the Baptist had been for criticizing the ruler of that region, Herod Antipas who divorced his wife to marry his brother's wife?  What does Jesus say?  Go back to the Bible, the words of Moses is what they had.  The answer to divorce is found in what God intended marriage to be.  Here is a key, God made marriage for a reason, a cause, a purpose.  He has a plan, a definition for marriage so...

Marriage first and foremost is obedience to God’s commands.
He gave commands about marriage and about sex.  Sex was and is to be only in marriage between one man and one woman.  Look at those words, "God made them male and female." Jesus did not have to say that for his day but he did, it speaks and it speaks to our day.  It also speaks to where we must look in our controversy, it also speaks to how we build a strong marriage God’s way, by constant input from the Bible.  That is where we must turn so as not to let the thought of our day influence us more than His word.  What have you read more this past week?  News, opinions, social media or His word?  Let all of His word speak to all we are going through.  Someone may read it and say, "Isn't Jesus saying things have changed about divorce; that marriage had 'evolved?'  No, that certificate they mentioned just stated that this woman had not committed adultery, she just was no longer pleasing to her husband so he was divorcing her.  It kept her from further ridicule.  Jesus said God gave this because of the hardness of men's hearts.  Divorce is a sin with which we cannot trifle.   We, as God’s people, need to embrace the word for our day and let it influence our attitudes and our marriages.  We need to let God show us how to deal with sin in our lives and in our marriages.  How?

Marriage as Jesus defined it is a transformation toward God’s oneness, this one flesh of which he speaks.
God has a bigger purpose than just loving each other, even for a lifetime.  Remember the "Gospel idea" we talked about a couple of weeks ago – two people being transformed by God, "leaving," "cleaving," "becoming one?"  Two people knowing God's power in overcoming sin and doing God’s will and work in life?  A lot of people live long successful lives but never fulfill God’s purpose, just their own.  Marriages can be that way too.  God has transformation for you to experience and for you to be a part of making happen in the world.  Your marriage has an influence on the world.  What kind is it?  We can look in the Bible and see that much of our Middle East problems stem from one bad decision in one marriage.  That mistake?  Abraham taking Hagar to have a child by her, even at his wife Sarah's encouragement.  What were they doing?  Following the influence of their times and not God’s plan.   Ever since then, the children of Abraham - the Jews and the Arabs have been at one another.  Abraham and Sarah gave up on God's plan, redefined their marriage and now we see the pain that is caused by the influence of one bad decision.

Some have had this objection in light of all we see in the Bible, "What is Biblical marriage?"  There is a lot of sex outside marriage; there is a lot of polygamy.   Let me answer it this way, people have been trying to redefine marriage all through history.  One man and one woman to one man, many women.  Men have always been trying to redefine God's plan for sex only in marriage.  Let me borrow a phrase I read this week, "What the Bible describes is not always what it prescribes."  Just look at Abraham’s marriage and family.  We see the pain caused when we do not follow God's plan.  Yet God wanted to bring transformation even back then, through a marriage. He graciously continued to work with Abraham and Sarah and they returned to God's plan.  What does all this point to for us in our day?  We need the constant work of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit works to change people in a relationship and to change people’s ideas of relationship to match God's.  The thought of marriage that, "I find someone to make me happy and love them all my life," is not God’s plan.  He wants two people to become like Christ and then find what they are looking for in following Him.  The transformation of Holy Spirit is exactly what we are looking for in marriage.  Look at what Paul says this fruit of the Spirit is, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control."  Exactly what we want in marriage.  But it only comes by the Holy Spirit and it only comes in God's plan, not outside of it.  We must stop trying to redefine marriage to be about us.  There must be change in the way we naturally think about marriage and our spouses, for marriage to be what God intended - the way Jesus defines it.

Jesus definition of marriage also involves effort towards God’s permanence.
God intends a marriage to last a lifetime that is the way he will work with you.  We need to not “let” things happen that separate us.  A lot of those bad things we just let happen.  We don’t keep working on marriage and learning to love and give sacrificially.  I can "let" myself be shaped by the world to think that marriage is over when I no longer find happiness.  That is the circumstance of the sin of divorce Jesus is speaking to here.  The way Jesus defined love, was sacrificial. I give something of myself for the good of another. In that sacrifice, I find the other person made better and I find joy in it.  So how does Jesus define this effort?  As constant attention to love another person as he does.

Don’t let those things happen that destroy marriage.   Here is a lesson I have learned:  Salvation is by the grace of God, but marriage is by works. Not the other way around.  You must act in obedience to what God is doing to change you because he will enable you to love this active, sacrificial way and not just let things come that bring separation.  Let me give you an example.  For years the song, "You were Always on my Mind" has been popular.  Brenda Lee sang. Elvis sang it.  Willie Nelson won a Grammy for singing it.  Here is how that song begins,

Maybe I didn't love you
Quite as often as I could have
And maybe I didn't treat you
Quite as good as I should have
If I made you feel second best
Girl I'm sorry I was blind

You were always on my mind
You were always on my mind

And maybe I didn't hold you
All those lonely, lonely times
And I guess I never told you
I'm so happy that you're mine
Little things I should have said and done
I just never took the time

But you were always on my mind
You were always on my mind

Ok, that is just stupid.  That is "letting" something happen that separates.  We must act in obedience that is how you stay together and overcome sin.  Yes, marriage was made to overcome sin, not continue it.  And in obedience to God and his plan that is what happens.

Marriage and a personal saving relationship with Jesus are joined together in the Bible, they have much in common -  obedience, transformation and effort - all of those involve love.  They are inseparable but we can often try to do things on our own.  We need to hear his words, follow his ways to eternal life and then follow his ways for this life.  Have you made that commitment to him?  He has done all he can.  In a sense, he has proposed and waits on your answer.

We must hear words that we often overlook, words that speak about God doing something in our lives and doing it His way. These are not just nice words said at a wedding, they are words of life.  “What God has joined together let no one separate.”  What is God bringing together in your life?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

This Boy

I have story to tell you about this boy.  Something special is happening in this boy's life.  He was involved in our children's sports program, Upward this past year.  In Upward he received a Bible.

This boy came to Vacation Bible School.  I taught the Bible study one night for he and his fellow fourth graders.  He made an impression on me.  He was very attentive, bright eyed and interested in what we talked about.  He even made a comment about a particular Bible verse which, though I really can't repeat here, showed me he was getting the point of the verse.  This boy doesn't know how to do "church talk."

This same boy came to Summer Music Camp and during the Bible study time there, he made a realization.  The stories we were talking about at SMC were, as he termed it, "in that book I got from Upward."  He asked his teacher to write down the scripture reference where each day's story was in "his book."  Each night he would go home and read it for himself.

On the last day of SMC, he did not get written down where that day's story came from so he found his Bible teacher before the performance to make sure he would be able to read it that night.  This boy is very interested in the Bible though he does not yet know all our terms.

Sunday, this boy and several of his family members came to church for the first time to a worship service.

We don't always get to see how God is working in a boy or in a girl or in their family, but He is making it clear in the life of this boy.  Slowly, step by step, God is leading this boy to understand His love.  Slowly, step by step, God is using a whole church's efforts to impact this boy.  Would you keep this boy in your prayers?  Will you keep on being the kind of church that God can use to reach this boy and others like him?

for the journey...