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Joy

You don’t often hear men use the word ‘joy.’ Can you imagine if you were watching a football game with your buddies and you said, “Man, if the Giants score right now, I will be filled with such joy!”

You’d probably be kicked out of the house.

But it’s not a word men should be afraid to use, especially with regard to our faith. What is it that brings me joy? I play the drums in one of our church praise teams. It’s not an easy thing to do, and that goes for any member of the praise team. We routinely give anywhere from 6-8 hours of our time every other week to that ministry. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but there’s rehearsal on Tuesday that lasts anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours. We arrive at church on Saturday at 4:30 to rehearse and we’re there for two hours. Then we come in at 8:30am on Sunday and we’re there for four hours. Giving that much time to ministry in the church is pretty significant.

But to me it doesn’t matter. There is no greater joy I have at church than helping to lead people in worship. It is so much fun. And in that, not only do I get to lead people in worship, but I also get to worship at the same time. When I play, I am playing before God. In addition, I have the privilege of serving in a church where the Pastor and Worship Pastor are willing to step outside the box with music. Some of what we play would be unheard of in other churches. We have members now who think we’re playing music that is nothing but “noise” and there are people who would think that such music would not be pleasing to the Lord. I completely disagree. 1 Chronicles 13:8 says:

“Then David and all Israel played music before God with all their might, with singing, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on cymbals, and with trumpets.”

All their might! That’s an amazing thing and I am blessed to play with all my might every Saturday and Sunday.

There is a joy in all of it for me. What helps me so much musically is that I am surrounded by people much more talented than I am. Of course, God is always there for me. I am thankful that no matter what happens on Tuesday, God helps me work things out over the weekend.

Psalm 5:11

But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You;
Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them;
Let those also who love Your name
Be joyful in You.

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It Isn’t Easy

In a previous entry, I wrote about how the excuse of “not having the time” to spend with the Lord is bogus. It’s true. Of course, saying and doing are two different things. It’s not easy making a commitment to do something and then sticking with it. People always say that when you commit to something, the hardest part is the beginning. When you commit to doing something, you have to push aside other things. So I’ve made this list of things that I want to commit to doing and I will share that with you. This came as a result of my Pastor’s message one week (he’s doing a series on the book of James). In that message, he talked about things that we should be doing that we’re not. At the end, he asked people that felt they needed to do the things they’re supposed to but not, to stand so he could pray for us. I didn’t hesitate to stand up. I didn’t care if people saw me or not.

That was August 3rd. My birthday. And on that day I committed to do the things that I should be doing. As a Christian. As a husband. As a father. I’ve made a list of some of those things and I wanted to share it:

1. Being in the word on a daily basis. Like I said earlier, getting a desk of my own has helped me tremendously. It’s in my bedroom and each night, I close the door and read God’s word. But I’m not just reading. I am studying it. Though some of it will take years and years for me to understand, I still want to try and understand it as best as possible. For example, James 1:4 says, “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” A person would read that and think, “Perfect? How can I be perfect?” Well, in the commentary it says that ‘perfect’ means “spiritually mature.” I’m not there yet either, but at least I understand what James was saying.

2. Reading. This is not related to the Bible, but just reading in general. When I used to work in New York, I read books like crazy. When you commute, there’s nothing to do on the train but listen to music or read. So I blew through newspapers and books. I could finish a 200-300 page book in a couple of days. But then my reading slacked off. Badly. I would do some light reading during business trips (James Patterson, John Grisham, etc) but now I don’t travel as much as I used to. So my reading took a hit. Granted I often read what’s on the Internet, so if you want to know about current events, politics, technology, etc., you can ask me because I’ll know about that. But regular reading is something I am going to keep doing.

3. Praying – This is a weak area for me. I know that we can pray at any time, but there are times when we need a quiet time to sit there and pray, not only for ourselves but those around us. This is one area where I need encouragement, so for all three of you reading, give me all the encouragement you can…and pray for me.

4. Time management – This is an area I struggle with more than anything else. First off, I’m a big time procrastinator. Second, I jump from thing to thing, getting all of them done, but not in an efficient manner. I’m looking for a good book on this one.

That’s where I’m at. Moving forward.

Stay Outside The Box

I’m a self admitted tech geek. People talk about how they’d like living in the 40’s and 50’s when times were simpler and it wasn’t always go go go. Bah. Not me. I like the age I am living in and having information available to me at my fingertips is great. Do I sometimes get caught up in too much? Definitely. I have a Blackberry like many people and like many people when that thing vibrates or makes noise, I am always quick to see who emailed me and about what. The don’t call it crackberry for nothing.

Blogs, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are all tools that can be used for social networking. There are people that I’ve ‘known’ on the Internet for nearly 10 years. Some of them I have never met in person. But we stay in contact and a quasi sort of friendship has built up. I really don’t think people can be true friends without spending time with each other on a personal level, but it wouldn’t be out of line to say that I have ‘friends’ I’ve met online. The Internet is also a way for people to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. The information is easily reachable by anybody with an Internet connection. It’s great.

But I’ve noticed a disturbing trend on the net and I think it is something that people need to reconsider. Christians too often are quick to create an “alternative” to a particular site. Granted, openly public sites such as YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, etc. are going to have some objectionable content and as Christians we should be aware of that and be careful about what we post, read, and what people we add to our ‘friend’ list. Of course, there are sites now like GodTube.com and YourChristianSpace.com that are “alternatives” to the other sites. There are plenty of others as well.

The question is: Why?

If all we do is keep ourselves in a Christian cocoon (for lack of a better word), then what benefit does our testimony have? If you’ve used the Internet for any length of time, there have been a number of times that you’ve probably ‘stumbled’ across a great website. One that you reached merely by clicking through other sites. A person going through YouTube or MySpace isn’t going to ‘stumble’ upon anything people have to say about Christ if we’re all huddling with ourselves on Christian websites.

We don’t do this on the outside world. When churches hold functions that are used to witness to others, do they restrict access only to other Christians? When churches send out mailers to inform people of special kind of service to the public, do they target only Christian homes? Of course not. What good would that do? We don’t want to be an echo chamber. We want people to hear the Gospel of Christ and accept Him as their personal Lord and Savior.

What does the Bible tell us? In Matthew, the Pharisees were stunned to see Jesus and his disciples sitting down to meals with tax collectors and sinners. It would be like today sitting down with pornographers and drug addicts. What did Jesus say to them in Matthew 9:12-13?

When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

What did Jesus tell us in Matthew 28:19-20?

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you;

Jesus doesn’t tell us to go and make disciples of people who are already believers or to restrict ourselves to where other Christians will be.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying as Christians that we throw caution to the wind. We need to be diligent in our faith that while watching videos on YouTube and browsing around MySpace or Facebook that we don’t give into the temptations that we’ll come across. But we can’t successfully witness to others about Jesus Christ if we cut ourselves off from where the sick are.

Good Friends

I love my children with all of my heart. But I will be honest when I say that sometimes they drive me crazy and there are times when parents need time to themselves. Gary and Vicky, good friends of ours told us they would take our kids for pretty much the entire weekend. They come to our small group on Friday’s, so the kids went home with them that night and we didn’t see the kids again until Sunday.

That gave us Saturday all to ourselves and we took advantage of the situation. We went out for breakfast. We then took a ride to St. Augustine where we walked around as I scouted spots for a photo project I am working on. Then we went to a few stores and to lunch. After lunch we went home and relaxed for awhile. Then we went to church and we then went and ate dinner. We spent the rest of the evening at home alone, enjoying each others company.

Good friends are a blessing from God. The thing is, making friends in church really relies on two different things:

1. Being part of a ministry. When you’re involved in ministry you work closely with people whereas at church it’s mostly, “Hi how are you?” kind of talk before and after the service. You don’t get to actually know people.

2. Being part of a small group. We met Gary and Vicky at our small group and they’ve been a part of it ever since. Being part of a small group gets you connected to people in a great way. Friendships are born out of these groups and I can easily say that the best friends Sylvia and I have made at the church were friendships forged in our small groups.

We Have The Time

Yesterday I was walking through the new Books-A-Million in Palm Coast. They have an excellent an area of Christian books. Two long aisles with Christian living books, bibles and Christian fiction. Great stuff.

I picked up Steve Baldwin’s autobiography, ‘The Unusual Suspect: My Calling to the New Hardcore Movement of Faith’ and read through it briefly. If you don’t know who Stephen Baldwin is, he’s one of the acting Baldwin brothers. His most famous role was that of Kevin McManus in the excellent film, ‘The Usual Suspects.’ Steve’s wife is a born again Christian (one has to admire her strength in the times before Steve was saved) and Steve accepted Christ as his Savior not long after.

What I liked about the book (from what I read) was that Steve spoke right from the heart and didn’t mince words. One part had to do with people telling him they just “didn’t have time” for things like being in the Word, praying or engaged in Christian activities. His response? “What a bunch of crap.” He went on to relate how loved playing golf and that it was super easy for him to bound out of bed at 5:00am to make a 6:15am tee time. However, he freely admits that if he had to awaken at 5:00am to pray, he “be drooling on the pillow at 5:05am.”

The thing is, he’s 100% right and I’m just as guilty as those he says are full of it. I’ve tried to use the clock as a defense for not getting into the word or not praying. I’ve slacked off on small group studies (and I’m a small group leader!) and have tried to say that time just wasn’t there. Ah. But there was time for writing blog entries. There was time to watch sports. There was time to wash the car, play on the Xbox, watch movies, etc. People are always making time to go to the beach, fishing, swimming, etc. We make time for our families and friends. Yet, how many of us don’t make time for Jesus Christ on a daily basis?

I’ve got my hand up.

It may seem strange, but you know what has helped me in the last few days? Getting a desk. My good friends, Scott and Alycia moved to Georgia and they left behind this really nice desk. Now, my wife and I purchased a really nice desk to go in our Florida room about 18 months ago. Well, she has since taken over that desk. It’s hers. I just visit. The computer is there, but I use a laptop most of the time, so I don’t need to use the desk. Now, when this desk became available, Sylvia was like “Where are we going to put it?” I responded that it was going in our bedroom. Thankfully, we have a large bedroom. But it was a perfect fit. The color matched our bedroom furniture. Best yet, it gave me my own space. It’s my own space to spread things out and take time to get into God’s word.

Our next small group is going to be a Bible study on the book of James. I committed to reading James and getting to know that book and study it before we even have the small group study. As a small group leader, I have a responsibility to those in my group to be able to answer questions and be able to discuss what we’re going over without having to defer to my wife who I know will be ready (there’s nothing that stops Sylvia from having her own quiet time with the Lord every day and admire that very much).

So the next time you think, “I just don’t have the time to _______” when it comes to time for the Lord, think about everything else you have time for during the week and make that time for God.

We All Have Talent

I’m a big fan of the cinema. I drive my wife crazy because I can watch good films over and over again and there are often times when I will quote a movie in everyday conversation. She’s not as much as a buff as I am, so when I do that, I often get a, “What in the world are you talking about look?” and when I explain it, I get the eye roll. Oh well.

I was thinking about talent this morning for some reason and there are two films that popped into my head that discussed talent. In one, ‘A Bronx Tale’, Robert DeNiro’s character tells his son, “There’s nothing sadder in life than wasted talent.” In the other, ‘Bull Durham’, the character of Crash Davis is explaining why he’s mad at ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh. He says, “Because you’ve got talent. When you were born, God looked down upon you and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt. I’ve got brains but you’ve got talent.”

The thing is, we all have talent. We may not know where that talent lies, but it is there. And it’s true that wasted talent is sad. How many times have we seen professional athletes, blessed by God with amazing talents, waste it all on drugs and alcohol? How many actors and actresses or musicians have done the same?

Sadder still, are the people who waste the talents God has given them to serve God. Matthew 25:14-30 is about the parable of the talents. Talent comes from the Greek word talanton which is a unit of weight used to measure gold or silver. In the parable, Jesus speaks of the man who is going to travel and gives each of his servants talents of gold according to their abilities. To make a long parable short, the first two servants invested their talents and doubled what they had been given. The third however, buried his away as he was afraid of his master. What happened? The master praised his first two servants for what they had done and promised them more. But he rebuked the third for not investing the talent given him.

To me, what is being said is that we’re all been given talent in life. Some of us have more than others and Jesus acknowledges that. But it is what we do with it that counts. I play the drums in one of our church bands. By no means, am I the most talented drummer amongst the three drummers the church has. But what talent I have, I didn’t bury away.I use it to glorify God and to serve him by helping to lead worship every other week. It’s an amazing privilege to serve God in that capacity. Churches have needs in almost every capacity and everybody has talent that can be used to contribute to those areas of ministry.

Invest your talent in God’s kingdom. The rewards will be plentiful.

A Criticism of Joel Osteen

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Christians often need to feel convicted. There are times when we’re going about our lives doing things we shouldn’t be doing. We convince ourselves that it’s “no big deal” or procrastinate about doing something to get a hold over an area of our lives where sin is controlling us. When we’re in church, or with church friends or in a church-like environment, it is very easy for us to say we’re going to do something differently. But where we fall short is outside of that umbrella of protection. It’s when we go to work, or to school or even to our homes where that conviction needs to follow us and to seek the Lord when we feel that urge to sin eating away at us.

What does any of this have to do with Joel Osteen?

Well, Joel Osteen is almost like a rock star in the realm of television evangelism. He’s the Pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas boasting a congregation of around 30,000 people. He’s sold millions of copies of his book, “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential.” Churchreport.com has him number 1 on their list of the 50 most influential Christians in America. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a large church. Andy Stanley’s church has a 15,000 member congregation. Max Lucado has sold millions of books and Billy Graham is number two on that same list.

But there is something missing from Joel Osteens ministry that you’ll find in the ministry of Stanley, Lucado and Graham. That is conviction. Why did Jesus die on the cross at Cavalry? He died for our sins and they were washed away with his blood. How can a person understand what it means to accept Christ as their Savior if they don’t have a rudimentary understanding of why he died? You’ll never hear Osteen discuss sin in his sermons. It’s all positive. This doesn’t mean that I want Osteen to browbeat his congregation or have people walking out each week sobbing with grief. But his ‘Christian-light’ style of preaching is not going to convict anybody. If anybody amongst that 30,000 is dealing with sin in their lives (and plenty of them are), what tools is Osteen giving them to help overcome that. Nothing. You can’t think positive thoughts and have it overcome sin. After all, what do we look to Pastors for? Spiritual guidance. They’re not supposed to tell us what we want to hear, but what we don’t want to hear.

What if you went to the doctor because you were feeling pain somewhere and he told you, “Don’t worry about it” after doing an examination. Meanwhile, what you had was an ulcer and you didn’t change your lifestyle in any way. Why would you? You were advised by somebody with real knowledge of the issue to “not worry about it.” The consequences of course, could be disastrous. That’s what Osteen is basically saying. “Don’t worry about it.” It’s a “don’t worry, be happy” message he preaches. And it is one that will not guide people to seek change in their lifestyle outside of that safety zone. As such, it could lead to disastrous consequences.