Let it Rain!

I drove to work this morning in the rain – heavy rain. The rain slowed down the traffic and increased each drivers’ attention and intensity.

I could not help but think about rain in the Bible. I know that God brought the rain in Genesis 7 when “the windows of heaven were opened.” God’s judgment came because of the great sin in the land. The Lord rained down on Sodom sulfur and fire. God at times would stop the rain to get his people’s attention. “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk, and grant rain upon your land, which you have given to your people as an inheritance.” (1 Kings 8:35, 36)

But most often rain speaks of God’s provision and His grace.

The early rains were a blessing to the farmer and his crop while the latter rains were an extra special blessing to expand the crop before the harvest (Jeremiah 5:24). The Lord provided food for his people by raining down manna (Psalm 78:24).

You and I are blessed by the rain of God’s grace. His rain of common grace falls on all mankind as he blesses with life itself, skills and wisdom. Those who know Jesus have experienced his special grace involving life in Christ, the indwelling Spirit, the promise of his abiding presence, answered prayers, and the list goes on and on.

While we may want these April showers to come to an end, we are thankful for the rain of God’s grace and we rejoice in it.

I like the tagline of Todd Agnew’s rendition of “Amazing Grace”:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I’m found
Was blind but now I see so clearly

Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me
Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away, washed away

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me
Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away, washed away

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing Your praise
Than when we first begun

Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me
Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away, washed away

From Tears to Tears

Last night I attended a Thailand report by our most recent team who returned from a medical/ dental trip last month. A local dentist and Woodside member of the White Lake campus, Dr. Jim Bedor, gave the presentation which showed the pictures and told the stories of the children in the orphanage and people in the villages that are finding new hope and a future in Jesus Christ. As Jim shared, there were times he seemed emotionally moved. In fact, for all who have been to Thailand there have been tears of joy as they watched these children grow, make decisions for Christ and be baptized. I remember well my own tears at the dedication of the orphanage. As the children sang songs in English and in Ahka, I wept as I thought of how their lives had been so dramatically changed from where they were to where they were now. Their smiles shouted hope, joy and gratitude.

But last night as Jim shared, my mind went back to another time and different tears.

It was the fall of 2005 and I was having dinner with a potential staff member to our Woodside team. Daryl Bursch shared with me that his hobby was to go to Thailand as often as possible. When I inquired as to the purpose, he talked with me about the horrible sex trade in that country that robbed children of their innocence and their future- children as young as seven and eight years of age. He told me that he had rescued  young children from the streets of Bangkok and relocated them to an orphanage high in the mountains. He had done that 110 times. He wept as he shared the burden and I wept listening.

I later had Daryl share his burden with the Woodside family- we all wept. Those tears of burden are just emotion unless they are followed by action. Woodside sprang into action by generously giving and going. We put together a strategy, bought land, built buildings, sent teams and prayed. It is amazing to see all that has happened in the last seven years. We have plans to continue to develop and expand the orphanage along with developing that campus as a  for Ahka evangelism and discipleship in Thailand, China, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

The tears of burden with work and prayer have produced tears of joy as lives have been eternally changed. Today I praise God for what He has done and I am grateful to the Woodside family for their willingness to be used of God. From tears of burden to tears of joy–and it has only just begun!

Cutting through the Fog

A few weeks ago I arrived at the Troy campus well before sunrise. It was a very foggy morning. As I entered the north driveway, the fog hid the building and all that I could see was the large well-lit cross that now appeared to be suspended in midair. It was beautiful and almost breathtaking. The LED lighting of the cross was powerfully cutting through the dense fog. What a graphic picture of the cross as it for centuries has cut through the fog of men’s religion, human pride and self-sufficiency. We are indebted to the Lord for what he did for us on the cross.

While many (even religious people) seemed to be embarrassed by the cross with its cruelty and bloodshed, the Apostle Paul had a much different perspective: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

For the Jews in Galatia the cross was an object of shame, but for the Apostle Paul and us today it is a symbol of God’s love, Christ’s sacrifice for us and our freedom from sin and reconciling with God.

We can and must boast in the cross. John Stott wrote in his classic book, The Cross of Christ, The object of our boast or glory fills our horizons, engrossed our attention and absorbs our time and energy. In a word, our glory is our obsession.” So we boast in the cross for many reasons; let me give you a couple to think about:

First, we can boast in the cross because it is our only way to God the Father. It is only through the cross that I as a guilty sinner can stand in the presence of a holy God. It was on the cross that God placed on Jesus my sins and the sins of the entire world (2 Corinthians 5:21). Since he took my place and offered me something I could have never earned or purchased, I have no reason to boast except in the cross. The cross eliminates all claims to boasting because I brought nothing to the table. The song writer summarized it well, “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.”

Second, we can boast in the cross because it shows us how to live. While Christ died on the cross, my identification with him means “the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” The cross calls me to live a life of gratitude, humility and self-sacrifice. The cross delivers me from sin and has broken the power of sin over me. Another songwriter exclaimed, “My sin O the bliss of this glorious thought. My sin not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord O my soul.”

Along with Paul, we boast in the cross as we carry it and preach it. Thank you Father for the cross.

A God Who Never Sleeps

I was awakened at 12:05 a.m. this morning by a text from my wife Carolyn who is with 23 other Woodsiders on a short-term trip to Thailand. They are 12 hours ahead of us. It was almost exactly the same as the text message I had received 24 hours earlier. The team had taken a three-hour trip by sontel (a small pickup truck with bench seats around the box for passengers) up into the hill country to do medical and dental work among the Ahka people.

The text messages shared the good news that each of the last two days six adults had responded positively to the gospel message. After receiving the texts, I wrote back words of celebration and assured them of my prayers as they continued their ministry into the next village.

Before I could return to sleep I lay in the bed and rejoiced over an incredible truth: we have a God who is at work when we are asleep. We have a God who neither slumbers nor sleeps. He does not need to sleep. All over the world God is beautifully, powerfully and often mysteriously working out His will to benefit people and bring him glory. While He has often chosen to work through human hands, He does not need to. We are thrilled to be in this divine human cooperative with the Lord.

Far too often I have worried or stressed about something that I wanted to do or was supposed to do. The pieces were not coming together and I lost sleep. Solomon reminds us of the truth: “it is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to His beloved sleep” (Psalms 127:3). The passage could also be legitimately translated, “He gives His beloved in sleep.” In fact when one reads 1 Kings 3 he will find that God gave Solomon great wisdom in his sleep.

God is at work at Woodside-even when we are asleep!

The Greatest Goal for 2013

Have you set your new year resolutions for 2013? Each year I typically determine a number of measurable goals for the physical, social, intellectual and spiritual dimensions of my life. This process has helped me to keep focused and keep moving in my endeavor to become more like Jesus. This year I chose not to follow that pattern that has served me well for many years.

Charles Lindbergh, the famous American aviator, was reported to have ended each day by reviewing fifty-nine character qualities to see how he progressed that day in relationship to each one. There is some disagreement as to whether that is a true story. There is value, however, in evaluating our life as it relates to how we want to live. I believe it was Socrates who once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Without thoughtful examination and some accountability to our values and goals, years can quickly slip by us without any significant growth.

This year I want to stay focused on one goal every day. The goal could not be stated any better than how the Apostle Paul worded it in Philippians 1:20 “as it is my earnest expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Each night in bed before I end the day in prayer with my Lord, I will ask the question “Did I courageously magnify the Lord Jesus with my life today?” As I review the events, meetings and conversations of the day, I will attempt to answer that question. Where I have done well, I will give God the glory. Where I failed or came up short, I will determine what needs to happen. Is an apology necessary? What I am going to do to make sure that it is not repeated? How could I do better? What could I do more strategically and intentionally? Did I miss opportunities? Why?

If you do not have a plan for 2013, let me recommend this plan of the Apostle Paul. Have a great 2013 and may it be a year where we all magnify the Lord.

Grieving and the Newtown Tragedy

If you go to a hospital emergency room, somebody there may ask you what your pain number is.  That number may determine the kind and speed of treatment. For the families in Newtown, CT there is no number can can rate their pain. We all hurt so deeply for each of the victim’s families. The story of the elementary school massacre has dominated our thoughts, brought tears to our eyes and has focused our prayers.

In the days ahead there will be many who will offer solutions so this does not ever happen again. While I am sure that there is a lot that can and should be done, until the sin in the human heart is dealt with there will always be incidents that cause unspeakable sorrow and pain. But what about these grieving families?  How do they deal with the pain? How do you go on after placing your “baby” in a casket?  How long does it take before the hurt becomes bearable?  How do you keep from being consumed by the anger and imprisoned by the pain?

I am thankful that there is help for these families. A nation will grieve with them. Counseling experts will commit their time and expertise to bring emotional and spiritual healing. Time will provide some help. But the greatest help comes from a God who understands pain and loss. God’s heart is touched with our grief. God declared to Israel, “I am the Lord your HEALER”. Throughout Scripture God is described as the one who heals the broken hearted.  Along the three year journey of Jesus to the cross, he healed so many. The blind, the demon possessed, the grieving parents, the guilt ridden sinner, the lame and the list goes on.  In the words of Jesus, “Come unto me….”

As I write this blog I am weeping as I listen to the song “Healing is in your Hands.”.

Please watch and listen by clicking the video below and together let’s pray that these grieving families and a nation might find the healing that only God can bring.

Hope for the Brokenhearted

At some point or another, we all have had our hearts broken. The cause may have been rejection by someone we cared about, unrealized dreams, financial ruin, death of a loved one, sickness or one of ten thousand other realities of life. The Bee Gees performed a song years ago that has become somewhat of a classic. In the chorus of How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? several questions are asked:

And how can you mend a broken heart?

How can you stop the rain from falling down?

How can you stop the sun from shining?

What makes the world go around?

How can you mend this broken man?

How can a loser ever win?

Please help me mend my broken heart and let me live again?

Tonight I am joining many other Woodside volunteers at the Troy campus as we are hosting homeless men, women and children this week. These are wonderful people who have experienced some very difficult times. None of them ever planned on being hungry or homeless. Their stories are real and powerful and moving. Many of them are heartbroken.

Broken hearts seldom heal themselves. While time helps, time does not always bring hope to the hurting, crushed and broken heart. Is there any hope for the Brokenhearted?  Good news-YES!  God heals the Brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3). God is near the Brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). Isaiah prophesied that when Jesus came the Spirit would be upon him to bind up the Brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1-2). Jesus fulfilled that in his ministry here on earth as he continued to reach out with compassion to bind the hearts of those whose lives had been ripped apart by sin, by people or the misfortunes of life.

If your heart is broken, run to the only One who can give you hope. Jesus still is near to the Brokenhearted and he still binds up wounds. He often does that today through his followers. The Brokenhearted are everywhere. Let’s bind up the wounds in the name of Jesus through our love, our resources, our prayers, our time and our hugs. There is hope for the Brokenhearted and they will live again!


The Three Most Important Days in My Life

There are many things that I wish someone would have told me a long time ago. They probably did and I was not listening. Why didn’t someone emphasize to me the three most important days in my life?

The first is the day I accepted Jesus and his work on the cross for me.  I did hear that message and became a Christ follower at the age of eight. From that day on my life has been shaped by my new identity as a child of God. I will be forever grateful.

The second most important day is referred to in Scripture as “that Day”. It is the day we as believers stand before our Lord Jesus to give an account of our lives.  According to 1 Corinthians 3 we will account for the deeds done while living, both good and bad. The purpose of that Day is not judgment, but rather for the receiving of rewards. The Jesus I met through eyes of faith when I was eight I will now see face-to-face on that Day. Stephen Covey wrote in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that we should live our lives from “end to beginning”.  We must live our daily lives with That Day in mind. The most important thing we can do for our children is to prepare them for that Day when they will stand before Jesus.

The third most important day in my life is Today. Yesterday is past and I cannot be drawn back into it (neither in its defeats or its victories). Tomorrow may never happen for me. While I make plans I realize tomorrow is in God’s hands. But I do have Today. My Today’s go by so quickly and I have to be intentional about making them count for God and eternity (Psalm 90:12).  Since the Today flies by with no guarantee of tomorrow, let’s maximize our Today to magnify Jesus, to forgive each other, to encourage at least one person, to express our love, to live pure lives and serve Jesus by helping people.

OK, so now you cannot say that nobody ever shared with you the three most important days in life. Let’s make all three happen well.

In God we trust

On this morning after a national election, approximately half of our country is elated while the other half is disappointed. According to the national exit polls, the evangelical church also shares those same divided emotions based on the vote split (60% for Romney, 40% for Obama).

While the bombardment of political advertising has ended, the exit poll analysis and post-election evaluation will dominate the next few days. Both winning and losing candidates and parties on all levels will be trying to learn the lessons from this election.

What are the lessons for the church? Let me suggest just one from Scripture. When Nebuchadnezzar, the strongest ruler of the world at the time, bragged of his greatness, a voice from heaven informed him that he would be humbled “until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” (Daniel 4:32)

This message is not for President Obama or for Governor Romney, this is the message for the evangelical church.

God rules and he does whatever he wants. We may not always understand or even agree, but we always trust our God.

What elections will NOT change

It is finally here.

The election countdown that began a couple of years ago is now just a few days away. I am thankful to be living in a country where we have the opportunity to vote and with our votes make a difference in people, policy and direction. As followers of Christ we must all take very seriously this privilege and responsibility of voting.

I am also thankful to live in a country where there has always been a peaceful transition of power in  local to national elections.  We have no record of military coups or the overthrow of governments as some other countries have experienced.

No matter what happens on Tuesday, on Wednesday morning I know the following things will still be true:

  1. God will still be on the throne as the sovereign One who was and is and always will be exalted high and lifted up. Please read Isaiah 40.
  2. We still will have a responsibility as followers of Christ to pray for all government leaders that have been placed over us. Please read 1 Timothy 2:1-4.
  3. Our responsibility to reach this world by making disciples for Jesus Christ will not change. We know that the answer to this world’s major problem is found only in Jesus Christ. Please read 2 Corinthians 5:20.
  4. There will still be people who are hungry, thirsty, without parents, without houses…without hope. As followers of Jesus we must bring hope and help to the needy.
  5. There will still be need to look to God for His help, His promises and His Kingdom. Elections may bring changes but they do not usher in spiritual kingdoms.  Like Abraham we look forward to a city whose builder and maker is God. While we love our country and we endeavor to be the best citizens possible, we look forward to the day when Jesus will rule and set up his kingdom and he will reign on the throne of David forever and ever. Please read Hebrews 11:13-16.
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