Seeing Souls.

The Lord is showing me that many times our frustration towards the moral climate in our country is often misdirected. I watched video recently of a Muslim father in court hugging and forgiving a young man who was convicted of murdering this father’s child. He told the young man who was heading to jail that he was not angry at him, but that he was angry at the devil for influencing his decision to kill. This was a powerful moment in both of their lives, definitely a mile marker. It made me think about how I view people who live, act and are just plain different than me, or who are directed by a different moral compass. I don’t know that I could have done what this father did in court that day, let alone forgive some of those who have hurt and disappointed me over the course of my life.

Let me just say that I am a firm believer that the world’s hope for healing and unity lies only within the redemptive blood of Jesus the Christ and His forgiveness. He alone is the way, the truth and the life. Yet, unfortunately “the church” (me included!) has so often misrepresented the name of God in our righteous indignation, that we have repelled more lives than we have embraced. Politics, social media and the news all play an influential role in shaping our world view. Yet, we can no longer use that as an excuse. As followers of Christ, we must hold ourselves personally accountable to God, His word and His Spirit in being our priority and our dominant influence.

As I put down my phone and it’s connectivity with the world and sit quietly with Him, He is revealing to me that I can be more effective for the kingdom of heaven by remembering that “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

What does that mean practically? First, it means that when I personally come into contact with those who speak and carry themselves in a way that opposes God and His word, I gotta remember that there is a spiritually demonic influence behind them. I am called first to love and care for their souls, and second to intercede on their behalf.

Love. It has many meanings and is displayed in many ways. “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

(I Corinthians 13:4-8)

The most accurate definition and display of love is Jesus Himself. He is the source, He is the manifestation and He is the example. Spend some time examining His conversations, His life. He was the master of exposing people’s sin without shaming them, and pointing them to redemption. He showed them that He was their Hope. He took all our shame to the cross. That’s real love. Speaking truth while offering hope, all motivated by caring for their soul. If we (I) could just work on that, the world would be a better place.

Prayer is powerful. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (II Corinthians 10:4-5)

I’ve got to take these promises seriously and activate them by praying for, and over those who oppose God, who oppose His word, and may not even know they’re doing it. They may have been lied to, been hurt by a “religious” influence, or were victims of abuse of some kind. I may not be the one to lead them to healing, but I can certainly be a seed planter and move them closer to redemptive freedom by standing with them in prayer.

I want to change. I want to be less critical. I don’t want to be so jaded by the world that my “Christianity” appears oppressive, rather than freeing. As I encounter those on the street and in my realm of influence, may I open the door to their freedom, if by nothing else with a smile, maybe even a “Hello.” I think that operating that way may be more effective than an eye roll. That simple gesture could be the beginning of their road to redemption, to real freedom, to living the life God intended here on earth, and securing their soul in the kingdom of heaven forever.

Peace friends

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The Back of the Desert.

I’ve spent the last week with my beautiful bride Michelle listening to the memorial and funeral services for our old friend and spiritual father Pastor Jerry Hill. I don’t think I can describe to you all the emotions we’ve been experiencing (as Im sure his own family and congregation are as well) as we are grasping the reality that he has been ushered into the immediate presence of Christ our King. It’s amazing as you listen to those, if not all of those who attended his services, as they speak about Jerry’s steadfast faith, the way he loved people into the kingdom of heaven and how he stayed true to just preaching the gospel of Jesus.

I reflect back to 1986 when we were being discipled by Jerry and Grace. Their love was unconditional toward us. Jerry taught me the scriptures and how to study. I know that God used that man to stir up the love and the gift of teaching within my heart. Pastor Jerry was the vessel God chose to ignite a love for God’s word. I’ve been on my journey with the Lord ever since. I’ve had some highs and some lows. I’ve gone left when God told me go right. We’ve circled some of the same mountains as God was trying to reach our hearts. As I sat and listened to my Pastor friend speak the word, it hit me: I’ve laid down the mantle that was placed upon me to study and to give away the word of God.

It’s not as if I was in a backslidden state, but I was not owning the call upon my life. The Lord used Jerry to ignite that fire, but along the way, it seems like I may have allowed that blaze to dwindle. The beauty in all this is that as we sat in our living room and cried and laughed with the body of believers who were at Calvary Baptist Church of Carney’s Point, New Jersey celebrating Jerry’s homecoming, God was using these very sweet moments to reignite that fire. God is allowing my wife and I to process so much in the Spirit as we are sensing Him drawing us in, and calling us out. He’s drawing us into the more intimate places of his heart, and He’s calling us out of the back of the desert.

In the book of Exodus, Moses flees Egypt after he murders and Egyptian for beating a fellow Hebrew. He runs to Midian, finds a wife and begins raising a family. He’s basically laid down the mantle of his calling as the one who was to deliver Gods people. God positioned him in Egypt as the one with the favor of Pharaoh, and he kinda blew it and fled. So here he is some 40 years later hanging out with sheep out “in the back of the desert” (Ex. 1:3). It was in the back of the desert that God, the great I AM, appeared to him in fire of the burning bush and commissioned him to be the deliverer of His people. God was calling him out of his fear and inadequacy, and calling him into His will. Now, I’m not claiming to be anything near the man Moses was, nor that God is calling me to deliver a nation of people. What He is doing though, is He’s using this season in my life to peel me and my wife wide open, exposing some vulnerabilities, revealing some weaknesses and some areas that need shoring up. All the while, He’s showing us His amazing heart of love and His provision of grace for the season. Personally, He is calling me to pick up the mantle that I have laid aside. The mantle of speaking truth, teaching, edifying His people, being available and just being obedient to the things to which He has called me.

I would have never imagined that He would once again use our dear friend and spiritual father Jerry Hill to do that. Pastor Jerry lived in New Jersey and we’re in California. We haven’t talked in a couple of years. I had no idea he was battling for his natural life for the past year and a half. Not until I was promoted to call him on our spiritual birthday last week, that I found out  that He had passed into eternity.  He was now sitting with the very One that he introduced Michelle and I to 32 years ago. Even though I didn’t talk to him often, I valued him and loved him so much for how he effected our lives, literally for ever.

God, I miss him. Yet, even in his absence, he is still blessing us and compelling us to draw near to the heart of our Father. Bless you dear brother. Because of you, were moving out of the back of the desert, and into the light of His fire. Peace friends.

 

 

See you when I see you my friend.

32 years ago, a young Pastor named Jerry Hill was going door to door inviting people from the neighborhood to visit his small church around the corner, Calvary Baptist Church in Tempe, Az. When he came to our front door, I didn’t know if he was a personal trainer selling gym memberships or a Jehovah’s Witness, and I hesitated opening the door! After we talked (through the screen), my wife Michelle and I accepted his invitation. When we arrived that Sunday morning, there was about twenty people sitting in the little church pews, most of them little old blue haired ladies and a few of their husbands. There was one guy who looked like he was homeless, (brother Bob) maybe one or two other people our age, in their early thirties. We listened to Jerry’s message, shook some hands and went on home. (I think they might of tried to rope us into staying for one of their pot lucks!)

Michelle and I had recently bought a brand new condo, we had a new car and we were both just getting started on our career paths. A relationship with God was really nowhere to be found in our lives. A couple of days later, Pastor Jerry was back in our condo complex, and he met me at the mailbox as I was coming home from work. He said that he’d like to come up for a few minutes to talk if we had the time. I agreed, and raced to get to the house before him in order to warn Michelle.


It was about five o’clock when Pastor Jerry stepped through our door that day on February 27, 1986 and for the next 3 hours, we talked, he shared the simple truth of the gospel. We asked a lot of questions, and debated a bit until he stopped me and asked: “Bob, let me just ask you this, if you died today, do you know for sure that you would be in heaven?” After all the dialogue, he simply brought me face to face with a decision, and I responded, “No I don’t know.” He replied back, “Well, you can know. “ I remember Michelle looked at me and said something to the effect of, “I think this is what we’ve been looking for.” So Pastor Jerry began to pray for us. There were tears, we confessed our need for Jesus and in that moment around 8:30 PM, we committed our hearts to Christ. I remember Pastor Jerry stood up and said, “Wow, I can’t believe this! This is beautiful! I’ve got to call my wife Grace! I could do backflips right now!” he proclaimed.

For the next two years, Jerry and and Grace displayed the love of Jesus to Michelle and me so personally. They poured their lives into ours, teaching us the word, how to study it and just practically loving us while including us in their lives. Jerry gave me my first expository dictionary and a concordance that I still have today. He taught me how to teach the word and let me lead a small study for Sunday school. They were there for us when we had our firstborn son Joshua Daniel that December, and then when our twins were born the next year. It was truly a beautiful display of discipleship, Jesus style.

Unfortunately, the course of life had taken us out of Arizona as we moved back to California. I remember Jerry being pretty devastated that we were moving away. For the next several years though, I would call him every Easter, the day he baptized Michelle and me. We would update each other on our families and what God had been showing us over the last year. Jerry and Grace would end up relocating their family back to New Jersey, as Jerry was offered a Pastor’s position in Carney’s Point. Those every year phone calls turned to every few years, and then it would be several years that would often pass between each one, but it was always as if we just talked yesterday.

Jerry loved his Philadelphia Eagles, and me my Raiders. So when his Eagles won the AFC Championship this year and were heading to the Super Bowl, I called him and left him a voice mail offering my congratulations and hoped that his Eagles would do me a favor and take out the Patriots…which they did! I didn’t hear back from him, but figured I would call back before Easter this year, or maybe on our re-birthday anniversary, which just happens to be today. On my way into work this morning, I called his church in Carneys Point and got his voice mail. I figured I try again later. I was scrolling Facebook and found their church web page. As I was scrolling through their church’s events page, I was shocked with what I would read: “Pastor Jerry Hill Funeral Service.”

My heart sank and I immediately dialed the church office and Jerry’s nephew Pastor Jeff picked up the phone. I told him who I was and what I just read and I just began to cry. Pastor Jeff would proceed to tell me of the year and a half struggle Pastor Jerry had with Myeloma, cancer in his blood. He was battling the chemo like a champ, but it was the stem cell transplant last August that would take a toll on his otherwise fit body. On February 8, 2018 at age 63, Jerry would go home to meet his Savior, whom he had faithfully served nearly his entire life.

Pastor Jeff and I shared stories, some laughter and some tears. He was truly blessed to hear how Jerry and Grace had so deeply affected our lives, and how God had blessed us and our family, and that we were still faithfully serving God after 32 years. Their love and care for us in those early years was still bearing fruit, even out here in southern California, and with our kids spread out in Texas and Oregon. Their love truly created a ripple effect that still bears kingdom fruit today.


I’m still processing the fact that I’m not going to have any more conversations with this sweet man, but I know for a fact that our conversation are only delayed, until we meet in glory. I am confronted with the harsh reality time here on earth is truly short, and I need to make mine count for the kingdom, like Jerry did. I love you brother, and I will truly miss you and our random phone calls. See you when I see you my friend. God is faithful, and so were you. Peace dear friend.

kairos moments

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I don’t know why we’re surprised. Over the last year we’ve witnessed Washington and our corrupt U.S political system be turned upside down. We’ve discovered that the  media culture is not honest with us about everything, or anything, but that they’ve been exposed for extreme bias, lies and divisiveness. We’ve watched as natural disasters pummel cities all over the US. We’ve stood in amazement as paid protesters took to the streets, while others from those same communities looted their own. We’ve experienced the horrors of insane shooters taking hundreds of innocent lives in our cities. We’ve watched the entertainment industry be peeled open, via the NFL and Hollywood’s predatory executives. Out of one side of our mouth were horrified that women are actually being treated  a certain way by men behind closed doors, yet we as a culture spend billions to be entertained by the same subject matter.  What’s in the hell is next?

Revival

That’s what we are seeing: just a little bit of the power of hell infiltrating our hearts and minds, slowly but surely. Our country needs an awakening, and the church needs to speak up and speak truth, and yes, actually live by what we already know to be true. We as the church has spent the last decade in America and abroad trying to figure out how to be relevant to our culture. We now look so much like the culture, that we’ve given those stuck in its grip no reason to want to escape it. You wanna be relevant, apply His truth to your own life and stop waiting for everything and everyone else to change. We know that real hope is found in Jesus. But there is a cost, and there’s the rub. We want God to fit into our world. We want to be accepted just as we are. Yes, we can encourage those hungry to “come as you are“, but be sure to come with a heart that is open to change. Humble yourself, and be lifted up. Lay down your burden, and pick up His grace. Seek forgiveness and be relieved of your guilt. Jesus heals; yes only Jesus heals.

 Kairos Moments

God, by His grace allows things to occur, so we can align our hearts and minds with the bigger picture. The foundations of what we’ve held onto for so many generations are being shaken. That’s a good thing. These events should be getting our attention, by realizing that life is bigger than all of us, and we are not in control of it. These are  “kairos moments, events allowed by God to rattle us and to help us realize how desperate we are for Him, for His grace and His forgiveness, for His love. We, as a broken race will ruin so many more lives, perhaps our own, if we just keep going on telling ourselves, “everything will work itself out”. I believe we may be quickly cresting a tipping point. 1 Peter 4:17,18 says it this way, “For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. and if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate waits for those who do not know Him.”  Oh we will all be judged, so better to judge ourselves now, while we still can.

Work Ahead

I don’t think its going to get better. It’s beginning to unravel. It may pause for a season, but it will most likely get slowly worse. There is hope. The road to healing begins when we can look in the mirror and be honest about what we see. The cover up has to stop. We must be truthful, face the pain head on and make a change. When we recognize that what we really value (entertainment/leisure) is actually a sham, then we will have to make a choice.  If we can be honest with ourselves at that point of realization, then we give room for God to really move. Yet, if we being the church, can’t first take that first glimpse in the mirror, then we certainly can’t expect the world around us to do so. It starts right here, right now, with you and with me. Take a close hard look. What really needs to change within you. Stop. Breathe. Let Him in.

God help us as we choose the next step.

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What if…?

I really don’t  like anything that disrupts my agenda, whether it be for a particular day,  a task or chasing after a goal. A disruption is defined this way: “a disturbance or problem(s) that interrupt an event, activity, or process.” In fact, as I initially completed this blog entry,  I wanted to save it, clicked the wrong button and lost the entire entry. (Talk about learning to practice what you preach…even before you preached it!) Nobody I know likes being disrupted, especially when you’ve found a particular rhythm for your life.

In the Bible, the writer of the book of James speaks to these disruptions when he wrote: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow…” (James 1:2,4, NLT) Jesus himself spoke to experiencing trouble in the world when He spoke to the disciples in John 16:33 saying;These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Finally in 1 John 4:4, it says:He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

Quite honestly, our American culture has conditioned us to chase after a  life of convenience, success, instant gratification and quick results. Inevitably, when something disrupts our pursuit of that particular rhythm, the natural tendency is to try to quickly get around it, ignore it, or just get your way through it as quickly as possible. Yet, as a believer in Jesus Christ, we are compelled by Him to actually embrace the trial. In the natural, that is not an easy thing to do. Even as Spirit led individuals, allowing the disruption to complete it’s purpose in our lives, let alone trying to understand it, is not an easy task. It is possible though, and it may be exactly what God has ordered  for that season of your life. That reality is sometimes difficult to accept. If we truly believe the scriptures mentioned above, and we effort to embrace them for our lives, then we are compelled to absorb the following truths: 1) God knows I am going to experience trials. 2) I can overcome the trial because Christ is greater than anything or anyone I will face in this world. 3) The trials are an opportunity to choose joy for my life. Notice that I said choose. Happiness is an emotion based on our circumstances, while joy is a choice. I choose to be joyful even when Im not happy. My joy is found in Jesus. He is my joy. I choose Him even in the absence of  happiness.

Several months ago, I received a phone call from my brother. He had shared with my wife and I that his wife Janet had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. The surgeons would remove the mass, only to discover that it was a cancerous Glioblastoma.  Even with aggressive treatment, the prognosis was a few months to a year or so. Needless to say, my wife and I were pretty  much speechless, as we allowed the news to soak in. I’ve been a man in pursuit of Jesus for over 30 years. My wife and I have had our share of trials, including those experiences in raising children and battling our own physical, relational and financial issues. Yet, this was a whole new arena. This was a whole new level of our faith being tested. Something my brother said in that initial conversation stuck in my head.  He told us, “God is good and we’re trusting His will for our lives.” It’s one thing to speak truth like that, but it’s a whole different ball game to walk it out as you go through seven months of chemo and radiation therapy, only to discover that those efforts did little to better your quality of life. In fact, the reality was, that the prognosis had changed dramatically and suddenly, allowing Janet only a few weeks to enjoy her family here on earth. At age 54, she would go home to be with our Lord.

I have questions for God. I don’t understand why He allows some of the things that He does. I don’t know why my brother had to lose his best friend at such a young age. I don’t know why their kids had to lose their momma and their Grandbeauties had to lose their Gramma. “Why?” may not be the best question, but “What now God?” What if there was actually a real purpose for theses disruptions that come our way? What if God was allowing those disruptions to accomplish something deep in our souls? I am discovering that He does have purpose in everything. Yes, everything. You name it: addictions, deformity, death, identity issues, pain, suffering and crisis’ of any kind all have purpose. That purpose, I am convinced is to know God more intimately, and to glorify Him in the process, until we take our last breath. It’s not an easy process, but if you are a child of God, there is always a measure of grace provided to us with the disruption.

There is a promise in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  That’s the goal. That the power of Christ may rest upon us, and in that “resting,” others take notice of that grace, and are moved by it. They will be moved, wanting to know why you’re able to walk through your particular circumstances with grace and dignity, and not be shaking your fist at God, but rather lifting your hands up to Him in honor and glorifying His name. I remember standing next to my dads casket at his funeral, after he had taken his own life at age 62. It was not a happy experience, yet I had a joy within me because I knew Christ was with me. He was very near to me and He was glorified at that funeral. Many were moved during the service and spoke to me afterward sharing things like, ” I’ve never been to a funeral like that.” One person said, “You’ve F*#@ed up my life and given me a lot to think about.” A measure of grace was given to me for those moments, and these “worldly people” were meeting a divine presence, perhaps for the first time.

Joy. Dignity. Glorifying God. My brother and his family are modeling it. God’s grace is resting upon them as they grieve their loss. Conversations about their faith are taking place. Brothers and sisters in Christ are being encouraged as we watch this family navigate these difficult circumstances, and we are all being strengthened. How do we “count it all joy” as James talked about? It’s when we find God in our most utter moments of weakness and frailty. He becomes our joy. When we get stripped down, and we feel great loss, He steps in and becomes our gain. It’s Him whom we discover more of. He is our joy. He is our overcomer. He is greater than anything we will ever face. His presence and His comfort is precious. He becomes our everything.

A long time ago, Janet mentioned to my wife and I that we had influenced her and my brother to draw closer to God, into a more personal relationship with Him. I was blessed by that. But I can tell you, that watching my brother and his wife, and their faith in action has moved many,  encouraging us to draw closer to God’s heart and grabbing hold of more of His grace. He is becoming more precious. What if that is all that He has purposed? Then I say, “Amen”. Bless you Janet. See you soon sister.

 

 

As it should be.

Saturday morning. Sitting in Starbucks, waiting on an overdue oil change. Inside there’s a gay man, a Hispanic woman, a black man, looks like a Polynesian family a few white folks and a Japanese mom, daughter and grand daughter. No riots, no hate, just people smiling at each other and enjoying their coffee on a beautiful Southern California morning. As it should be, and perhaps as it actually is. #stayoffthehatetrain #fakenewssucks #godspeople #loveall #getoveryourself #turnoffthenews 

Be that man.

Getting ready for a garage sale, I was  cleaning out some old items from my closet and I came across some papers that had been stuffed in my old bible cover. Most of them were old messages that I had given at one time or another. A couple of them were from funerals I had presided over; one from my aunt’s and one from my dad. As I went through the folded up papers, I read a note that I had kept tucked in my bible. It said, “Remember His awe, and be that man.”

I had written this note after a Sunday morning spent encouraging and praying with some brothers in Christ. I had a moment with the Lord that morning, an awakening of sorts. I had spent most of my adult life looking for a spiritual mentor, a father figure to lean upon and learn from as I learned to walk with God on my own. My dad had been somewhat absent for most of my adolescence and teen years. He didn’t have a walk with the Lord, so I couldn’t really go to him for any type of biblical counsel on fatherhood, being a husband, etc.  I looked to Pastors, counselors to lead me, to help me define my boundaries, spiritually,  so to speak. It’s not a bad thing to have mentors or to seek biblical guidance for life’s issues. In fact God tells us that there is “wisdom in a multitude of counselors.”

I think my tendency was to seek validation from those mentors, validation as a man, as a child of God. I was afraid to take steps on my own. I needed the opinions of other men, and at times, what I really wanted was for them to tell me what to do. I was pretty weak in my identity as a man of God, and as  I sat there that Sunday morning listening to my brothers, I heard the Lord clearly tell me, “Bob, stop looking for that man, and be that man.” I was stunned. What do you mean be that man, how do I do that?” I questioned! I had a hard time just making simple decisions, and now You’re charging me to suddenly “be that man”? So I wrote down what He said, “Be that man.”

It wasn’t long after that one of my brothers at church asked me to be a part of the leadership team for the men’s group. We had about 100+ men showing up on a Sunday morning worshiping , learning and encouraging each other in the Lord. It was an honor to speak life into this group of guys who were showing up for a cup of coffee, a doughnut and some encouragement. Now, I was given the opportunity to help lead them. Holy smokes!

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What I learned in that little moment of personal revelation is that God thinks more of us than we often think of ourselves. He believes in us more than we believe in us. We see our own problems, He sees potential. We think the situation is critical, He says, “I’m building your character.” He call us to “do” beyond what we think we can do, and he does that for a couple of reasons. First, the task is often times much bigger than us so, we are forced to n to listen to Him. We need to be close to Him, talking to Him so we can navigate with Him through our circumstances and situations. Second, the task is often bigger than us, bigger than our own talents, skills or capabilities. They are divinely designed, so that any success or fruit that comes from it is obviously attributed to His working in and through us. He gets the glory.

I’m finding that I’m at a new crossroads in my heart and in my walk with God. I’m teetering on 55 years here on earth, reflecting and looking ahead.  I feel as though I’ve been floundering a bit. (Even my last blog was over eight months ago!) I want to finish strong, this race that is set before me, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that I found that paper with those words, “Be that man” written upon it. As I’m writing this, I’m realizing that today marks the day 31 years ago that my wife an I gave our hearts to Christ in our living room in Tempe, Az. He’s awakening me, again. He’s calling me to move, He’s reminding me to be that man. How about you?