trust the process

An unlikely invite opened the door for me to spend this season with the Anderson Trojan football team. Coach Daniel Hunter asked me to serve as team chaplain. He wanted the team to see a man in their community invest time with them, without any expectation in return.

So, I attended practices, led a devotional each week, and was on the sideline for the games. If you know me, you know I loved this season with Coach Hunter, his staff and the team. 

 All of these great pictures provided by Philip Swann.

All of these great pictures provided by Philip Swann.

The Trojans were coming off a 1-9 record in 2017, and the seniors had seen their school post an 8-23 record, since they’ve been at Anderson. This was Daniel’s first year as head coach. He and his staff were focused on the mission of starting a new culture. 

My role allowed me to just be with the team, to encourage them, laugh with them and cheer them on week after week. My goal was simple. I wanted to be sure they knew how God feels about each one of us. It was a crazy, great opportunity to share these simple truths with them: 

-      There is a God, and He isn’t out to get us 

-      In fact, He is for us!

-      He cares about us & all the details of our lives

-      He will come to us, in the midst of our mess, just as we are

-      God loves each & every one of us 

I had a front row seat to see a coaching staff turn a group of young men into a team. This 2018 Trojan team, with the help of their coaches, started a new culture. They competed in every game this season. They won 5 and lost 5, but they learned way more than can be measured in wins and losses.  

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Several times this season I heard Coach Hunter tell the team to “trust the process.” So many things are happening at once in a football game. It’s easy to be confused or overwhelmed. Over and over again, the coaches told the boys to simply “do your job.” 

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The team quit worrying about how they were going to beat teams they hadn’t beat before and they focused on blocking or tackling the one person in front of them. The game got smaller, and it wasn’t so overwhelming.

The same is true for us! We know God’s ways and thoughts are greater than our own, but we’re still prone to be anxious and worry about how all the details will come together. The good news is we can trust our Heavenly Father with our lives, our circumstances, and those we hold dear.

 Like this team, we can trust the process:

-      God is at work, in us and in our circumstances; “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” – Philippians 2:13 

-      We each have a significant role to play; “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.” – 1 Corinthians 12:7

-      He takes our little role and orchestrates something with greater purpose; “For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” – Ephesians 2:10

-      Trust requires faith, and faith requires believing to see; “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” – Hebrews 11:6

Like this team trusted Coach Hunter and his staff, we can trust our Heavenly Father. Our focus can become small as we love the person He brings before us. We don’t have to change the world, we only have to be faithful to the nudge the Lord gives us today. 

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Your circumstances may seem overwhelming. I saw this staff and team start a new culture. God can do new things in each one of our lives, however unlikely, if we will just trust Him and His process.

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Holy Ground at 14,000 Feet

I was blessed this summer to successfully summit four 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado.  Not a bad effort for having had a full knee replacement in March.  I’ve been chasing the goal of climbing all 58 Colorado 14ers since 2005, and I got my 50th this summer.  I hope to finish in the next two years.

I reached my last summit of the summer in late August.  I was outside of Telluride on a mountain called Sneffels. Mt. Sneffels is a wonderful mountain that’s part of the gorgeous San Juan range.  Its short hiking distance and proximity to Telluride make it a popular trek for climbers of all skill levels.  Sneffels packs just enough punch to make it interesting, but not so much as to chase off first-timers.

I camped alone just below timberline and was planning to start at 4 A.M.  Around 3 A.M. a thunderstorm rolled through which delayed my start.  It also left a thick layer of clouds on the mountain.

I got going about 4:30 A.M. and I could immediately tell it was going to be an interesting day.  I’m used to hiking under a starlit sky, but not today.  All I had was a gusty cold wind and a dark, thick cloud cover.  As dawn approached I could tell that the cathedral of towering peaks above me were all shrouded in clouds.  The higher I got, the thicker the clouds became.

When I reached the summit, I couldn’t see anything below me.  While my summit perch was clear, a thick layer of clouds below and around me blocked any potential view of the valley below and the other surrounding peaks.

I was surveying my surroundings and the disappointing lack of view when I saw it: below me on a cloud was the shadow of the mountain I was on.  There, just a few hundred feet or so below me, was the imposing black shadow of Mt. Sneffels, not on the ground, but on a cloud.

The sun was above and behind me and was projecting the mountain’s shadow onto the clouds below.

Mt. Sneffels’ summit is very pointy, and thus I could see on the cloudy shadow below exactly where I was standing on the summit.  I waved my arms and sure enough, I could see my own shadow on the tip-top of the mountain’s shadow below me.

That was a weird moment.  When was the last time you saw your shadow on a cloud?  Crazy, right?

But here’s the clincher: My reflection on the cloud below me was surrounded by a rainbow.  It was one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever had on a mountain summit.  There I was, all alone on a cold and windswept mountain summit, staring at my rainbow-protected shadow on the clouds below me.

That’s not something you see every day!

I quickly grabbed my phone and snapped the picture below.  You can clearly see the dark, pointy shadow of Mt. Sneffels in the lower part of the pic.  The bright spot on the top is the reflection of where I was standing.  There is nothing solid or material in the photo at all.  It’s just all clouds, shadow and light.

I’ve shared this story and the photo multiple times with friends and fellow climbers.  All agree that what I saw and experienced was highly unusual and very, very cool.  Others take a more spiritual tone.  I’ve heard many comments like:

  • Wow, what a gift God gave you
  • You clearly weren’t alone up there
  • You were obviously standing on holy ground
  • And…It’s proof God is always looking out for your sorry @$$

My takeaway? God is totally, bad-to-the-bone awesome.

I welcome your insights.

stagger not

“He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God…” – Romans 4:20 KJV 

On April 11th, 1970 the Apollo 13 mission took off from the Kennedy Space Center. Two days later, after one of the engineers in the Houston control room noticed a low-pressure signal, Jack Swigert executed a “cryo stir” designed to stir the tanks, in hopes of resolving the poor pressure reading. 

Immediately, the oxygen tanks in the command module caught fire and the spacecraft began to shake. Jack Swigert made his famous comment, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” Gene Kranz, the flight director for Apollo 13, pulled engineers and astronauts together to solve several insurmountable problems which should have led to NASA losing 3 astronauts. 

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Kranz’s belief challenged those on the ground to do whatever was necessary to get the astronauts home. Ed Harris played Gene Kranz, in motion picture “Apollo 13.” The film portrayed a scene where one engineer speaking to another lists the problems they’re facing: suspect parachute system, questionable heat shield, poor angle of trajectory and to top it all off, a potential typhoon in the landing zone. 

As he relays this bad news to the other engineer, the other engineer agrees this could be the worst disaster in the history of NASA. Gene Kranz overhears them, and says, “With all due respect sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.” 

It was his belief that drove the mission control team to succeed.

 Re

Stanford recently completed a study which suggests negative thoughts and complaining raises our level of cortisol, causing higher blood pressure and stress, which adversely affect our body. Conversely, gratitude is noted to reduce the level of cortisol, and lower our blood pressure, along with several other health benefits. 

It does not surprise me that God made our bodies to function better when we believe. Well, what can we positively believe in that will hold up to the crushing pressure of our times? 

Abram, who God renamed Abraham, is the spiritual father of those who have faith. God promised He would make Abram the father of many nations. Abram was 75 with a wife just as old and no child, when God made this promise. He asked Abram to leave his family home and go to a land He would show him. Abram and Sarai went.

He trusted the Lord to deliver on all He had promised. Abram did not look to his circumstances, but to the One who promised. Abram made mistakes. Eleven years later, he and Sarai wondered if God had forgotten His promise to them, since she had not had a child. She suggested Abram sleep with her servant Hagar, so they could have a child, and he did.  

While Ishmael was not God’s plan to fulfill His promise, God still remained faithful to Abram. The Lord again confirmed His covenant. When Abram was 100, God provided Isaac, 25 years after He made His promise. Through Isaac, the Lord began to deliver on His promise.

Isn’t it incredible that though Abram made mistakes, Romans 4:20 (NLT) describes him as man who “never wavered in believing God’s promise?” He and Sarai were not perfect, but they followed God; they were obedient, and continued to trust God to do what they could not see. And God took Abram’s faith and made him the father of all who believe (Romans 4:16).

“But his unstaggering faith arose from his great thoughts of Him who had promised. He kept saying to himself, He is able, He is able. …For every look at your difficulties, take ten at what thy God is.” – F. B. Meyer 

So, in our super busy world, against overwhelming circumstances, we can always look to our Heavenly Father, and believe He will deliver on all of His promises. Here are a few of those promises: 

-      His Presence – Psalm 16:8 & Matthew 28:20

-      His Peace – Philippians 4:6-7 & John 14:27

-      His Provision – Psalm 23:1 & Matthew 6:33

-      Our Right Standing with Him – 2 Corinthians 5:21

-      Our Future with Him: - John 14:3  

Do you believe? He is able; stagger not.

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How You Can KNOW You’re Going to Heaven

Susie and I had dinner with some long-time friends last week. As we neared the end of the evening one of them commented, “This is so good. Just think how great Heaven will be (If I get there).”

We all quickly countered our friend’s comment by assuring her she’d be in Heaven. She wrote off her comment to her “Catholic guilt.”

Guilt notwithstanding, I found her comment a little troubling. I wasn’t troubled so much for my friend, as she is a godly woman and a decades-long follower of Jesus. She knows her eternity is secure. But it troubled me for many other Christ-followers who still struggle with the question of their eternal destiny.

The Bible pulls no punches on this topic. As God’s children, we are supposed to rest assured in the fact that Heaven is our home and that Jesus is coming to get us. 1 John 5:13 says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

So, let’s talk about it. Let me list ten things (I could list dozens more) that are true about you if you’re a Christian:

  • You’ve been born again (or born from above). Jesus also called this second birth being “born of the Spirit,” John 3:1-8. It’s a gift of God, and it’s irreversible.
  • You’ve been sealed or marked by the Holy Spirit, Eph 1:13-14. He basically seals you as his property, his prized possession.
  • You’ve been adopted as God’s son or daughter, Rom 8:15. Paul based his theology of adoption on Roman culture. It was a permanent act that gave full benefits and rights of the family to the adoptee.
  • Your spirit has been made eternally alive, Eph 2:1-5. Your eternal life begins the moment the eternal Holy Spirit takes possession of you.
  • You’ve been saved by God’s grace, which means you didn’t earn it. It’s a free gift, Eph 2:8-9. Do the math, if you can’t earn it you can’t lose it.
  • You’re seated with Jesus in the heavenly realms, Eph 2:6. You’ve got a seat at his table, and he won’t give it away.
  • You’ve been forgiven of all your sins, Col 2:13. God’s forgiveness makes you holy, and thus qualified for Heaven.
  • You’ve been washed and made holy by Jesus’ blood, 1 Cor 6:11. What God declares holy, no man can make unholy.
  • Jesus is preparing a place (house) for you in Heaven, John 14:1-3. And, he’ll come and get you when it’s ready.
  • You’re a completely new creation, 2 Cor 5:17. A new creation with a new identity and a citizenship in Heaven.

With all of this going for us, how can we ever doubt that our eternity is secure?

Friend, get used to the biblical truth that your salvation is based on the eternal love and work of Jesus and not on any merits of your own. Once you cross the line of feeling like you need to earn God’s love and favor, accepting it for free (and the Heaven that comes with it) will be much easier for you.

Does that help? I’ll say more about this in future entries.

Living in the Land of Ambiguity

There stood Abram. He was established, rich, settled and very comfortable in his homeland of Ur. God stepped into all that comfort and wealth and basically said, “Let’s go.”

More specifically, he said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you,” (Gen 12:1).

That’s not really a lot to go on. Imagine Abram trying to sell that to Sarah:

Abe: Honey, how do you feel about us moving?

Sarah: I’m not sure. To where?

Abe: I’m not sure, but God promised it’ll be really good.

Sarah: Wait. What?

Welcome to the adventure of following God. 

God’s interaction with Abraham isn’t unusual. The Bible has multiple accounts of God’s people being invited to follow him without having all the information. Think about the countless times in forty years the cloud over the Tabernacle moved and the Israelites picked up and followed it. Not once did God say where they were going, when they would arrive or how long they would be there.

When God called Susie and me to return to our hometown of Austin and start ACF, we didn’t get a lot of details. We felt the divine call of God, we sensed God’s promise of provision, but that was about it. We made a major life-altering and career-changing decision based on the little information we had from God.

It was a complete step of faith, and that’s exactly how God wanted it. 

If you’re walking with Jesus, you have to be prepared to live in the land of ambiguity. There’s no getting around it. Walking by faith, by its very nature, involves living with the vague.

God isn’t being mean or mischievous by withholding some of the details. Rather, there are Kingdom purposes in his methods. Here are just a few things God uses ambiguity to accomplish:

  1. It makes faith relational. God leads us through relationship. When you’re seeking your next steps in something, you have to press into him. You have to seek him. God told Israel to march around a city only one time–at Jericho. Every other city they took required a different strategy. And that required relationship.
  2. It keeps us from running ahead. Were God to give us the full download up front, we’d be tempted to skip some steps and run to the end. But in following Jesus, how you get somewhere is as important as getting there. The methods matter. God allows the ambiguous sometimes, so we don’t get ahead of ourselves, or him.
  3. It allows for God’s power. When we have to wait on God, we’re much more positioned to receive his miraculous provision. God waited to give Abraham and Sarah the son he had promised until it was humanly possible for them. That way his power would be obvious and he would get all the credit. Don’t fear when God’s plan appears to be ambiguous. Ambiguity is the breeding ground for the miraculous.

Sometimes following the Lord is like ordering from a restaurant menu that simply says “Food”. You know you’re getting something, you’re just not sure what. Don’t fret in the process and don’t panic when you don’t have all the details and can’t answer all the questions.

You don’t have to know everything.  Just trust that the one who does is good.

The Role of Faith in Knowing God

If you struggle with faith, this may encourage you.

People having to walk by faith was not part of God’s original plan. Adam and Eve, the original humans, had full access to God. They could see him, talk to him, walk with him. Their relationship was based on loving obedience to him.

Because they could see him, they didn’t need faith. The very nature of faith is believing in what you cannot see, in what you cannot prove. The original humans didn’t need a belief system–they had sight instead.

Genesis 3 changed all that. When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost that wonderful and innocent access to God they had so taken for granted. Because they became sin-stained, they couldn’t be in God’s unfiltered presence.

Compare the scene in Exodus 19, when the Israelites were terrified of God’s flaming and thundering presence on the mountain, to the “walking with God in the cool of the day” access that Adam and Eve had known. The difference? Sin.

In a sight-based environment, faith isn’t required. Just obedience. That’s how God’s followers who could see and know him demonstrated their love–they did what he said.

But in a sin-based environment, one where God cannot be seen and access to him has been lost, faith is the most critical ingredient. Faith even precedes obedience in importance, because we don’t even know that we need to obey God until we believe in him.

Thus, in the Genesis 3 world, the world where everything is contaminated by sin, faith is the most powerful tool a person can have. Faith bridges the gap between the perfect worlds of Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22. Faith wasn’t necessary in the pre-sin world and it won’t be necessary in the post-sin world either. We won’t need faith in Heaven. Yea God.

But today, in the sin-filled world where access to God is by grace only, faith is everything. That’s why the writer of Hebrews told us that without faith it’s impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). We may not be able to see or prove God, but he still expects us to believe.

Pray for your faith level. Pray for God to deepen your understanding of him and his holy, mysterious ways. Pray for the courage to walk by faith. Read God’s Word so you can learn more about him.

And then, do whatever God tells you to do. Obedience is still the best way to grow your faith and to show your love for God.

 

 

Living in Exile

Recently, an ACF staff member wrote me asking how to deal with a situation. She was ministering to a young woman who was wrestling with the new cultural norms of same sex relationships, transgender kids and adults, and gender-neutral individuals.

Her wrestling wasn’t with the morality of it, but rather why the Bible and many Christians don’t support it. This young woman’s viewpoint is quite representative of many Christian’s these days. She just didn’t see how the Church wouldn’t fully support someone as they tried their best to work out their gender or sexual identity.

(For the sake of clarity, the Bible doesn’t condemn anyone–and I mean anyone–for their behavior, no matter how extreme. The only condemnation of people in Scripture is the result of their open and overt rejection of God and/or Jesus. Said differently, God doesn’t condemn people because of their sexual choices. He does, however, judge those who refuse to humble themselves before him in faith.)

I wrote a brief reply to the staff member that stimulated some discussion among our staff. I thought I’d share it with you.

“Your email is troubling on so many levels. I think the crux is in this statement you made– The question I have is how to best equip these older women as they disciple these younger women who have great passion for Jesus, but don’t know what the Word says (or, if they do, don’t understand how what it says is what’s best for us re: sexuality).

 I have found that many people we’re trying to disciple–or even those themselves charged with making others into disciples—do not know the Word. Thus, we have to teach them what the scriptures say. But even then, we still have work to do, as many no longer see the scriptures as the sole authority—or as any authority—for their lives.

I find the same issue when I talk to believers about baptism or giving or sexual behavior before marriage. I used to say, “The Bible says . . .” and that was the end of it. That doesn’t work anymore, at least not as much.

I am finding that prayer, patience and MUCH relational investment does work. We are doing ministry against a cultural backdrop that has greatly changed. We can no longer assume the home field advantage. We have to think, lead and pray from the standpoint of a church in exile, not a church in the promised land.

I am ministering to a friend who has a really tough story. But she does believe in Jesus and is slowly falling for him. That’s both my strategy and my hope. As she falls for him, he is changing her. And he gets to decide what changes she needs to make and when.

But it’s SLOW. We must give the prayers and the relational process TIME.

So, my answer: we’re going to have to spend lots of time in 1×1 and 1×2 conversations with this generation. We can’t simply throw the scriptures at them anymore. I would tell your friend to see how many of these women she can invite into relationship for the long haul (it sounds like she is doing that already). Then I’d counsel her to teach them the Word, pray like crazy for them, and to be very patient. The road back seems to be longer than it used to be.”

So, did I advise her correctly? Comments welcome.

Finding God in the Crisis

Recently my good friends Mary Anne and Trey Kent shared a significant piece of their marriage story at our church. The occasion was the 33rd anniversary of a fatal car wreck that forever changed their lives.

On August 5, 1985, just two weeks after they were married, the Kents were hit head on by a young woman who crossed over into their lane going 70 mph. She never braked.

The accident tragically killed her, left Trey pinned in the car with severe injuries and seriously injured Mary Anne. You can see the severity of the wreck in this picture of the Kent’s car.

But Trey and Mary Anne’s story wasn’t one of loss, but rather one of great victory. They actually shared that if they had the choice to do it all over again, they would. That’s how much God has redeemed, or over-redeemed, the accident.

In their message, which you can watch below, Trey and Mary Anne shared many of their learnings from walking out life after the wreck. Here’s some of what I wrote down in my journal during their talk:

  • God wants to turn your greatest tragedy into your greatest testimony
  • God’s strength is best perfected in our weaknesses (2 Cor 12:9)
  • Nothing is ever impossible with God (Luke 1:37)
  • Life’s difficulties teach you that Jesus is enough
  • We meet God best in our pain
  • You don’t overcome by being strong; you overcome by being loved
  • And, when you wake up in the middle of a crisis, Jesus is right there with you

Those are just a few of the amazing lessons Trey and Mary Anne shared. They also shared many miracles that God worked in and through the wreck. I’m so grateful for their story. It greatly encouraged me.

So have you been in a life-wreck recently? Is there debris scattered all about? Or, are you a wreck? Either way, God wants to meet you and love you in it.

Why don’t you go ahead and watch my friends’ message. I know it will greatly encourage you too.

Tragedy into Testimony from Austin Christian Fellowship on Vimeo.

Romans – here we go!

There isn’t much that’s sweeter than answered prayers. In the face of my own leadership struggles, busyness in our church community, and waning participation in our small groups, I was frustrated last spring. Frustrations are isolating. I felt more alone than I actually was.

On the advice of a mentor, I began to pray for The Lord to direct the next step for our church. Understanding we all run at 3500 rpms, in bodies that are made to rest around 1000 rpms, I didn’t want my request for our church to meet in groups to ever be “one more thing” people had to do.

After pulling back on my own schedule, and praying, I was led to this idea: small groups, for 10 weeks, from Labor Day to Thanksgiving.

Entry and exit dates; so no one feels they’re joining something for life. Planning and prioritizing for 10 weeks is a smaller and easier commitment. I’ve seen The Lord answer my prayer,  and been encouraged to see new leaders and groups come together, excited about meeting.

If we’re committing to 10 weeks this fall, my next prayer was about what would be worthy of our concentrated effort. Paul wrote Romans as a letter to the church in Rome, to set straight the design and nature of the Gospel, to help this church against those who were trying to make this new faith in Christ into a bunch of rules. In my mind, this letter is one of the most clear and comprehensive books on what it means for us when we choose to follow Christ.

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“For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”” — Romans‬ ‭1:16-17‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I have written this study with the idea that anyone can pick it up and the hope that everyone who reads Romans is touched by our Heavenly Father. So, here we are, beginning 11 weeks of study, and 10 weeks of meeting together.

My prayer is we will find ourselves thrilled, amazed and in awe of all God has done for us. And as we open His Word, that we would encounter His Presence over and over again this fall. Whether we are alone at our breakfast table before the sun comes up or in a living room with our small group.

In Romans 8, we are told we are not given a spirit of fearful slaves, but a spirit of adoption, as we have been adopted into God’s family. May we walk in this confident hope, as we build on our knowledge of all He has granted to us.

If you’re a part of ACF Northwest, you can pick up a copy each week. If you miss a Sunday service, or if you’re not in Austin, but would like to participate, you can get a copy on our website: 

https://www.acfellowship.org/northwest/romans

We will post a new week of study, each Friday. May The Lord bless you as you read His Word, and meet in groups to discuss it with others. And let me say to all who might read this, He is faithful! He has heard and is answering my prayers.

Here We Go Again

Hello friends, after an unusually long hiatus from writing I intend start posting again right after Labor Day. I’m sorry it’s been so long, but it’s been an important season for me.

I’ll probably start out by posting once a week. If you have any hot or pressing topics you’d like me to weigh in on, please just leave a comment. Thanks and see you in few weeks.

Will