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friends…

Driving Miss Daisy is a great movie!  If you have not ever seen this movie take some time to watch it.  It is a classic, it won four academy awards.  There are a lot of wonderful lessons about people, racism, getting old and friendship.  As I watched it again the other night I laughed, got angry, and was reminded about how dear and important are our friendship.

There are a lot of wonderful scenes and words spoken in this movie, but my favorite one was when she was getting old and needing a lot of help and Hoke, her driver, was the only person around for her.  She had finally come to a place in her life where she grabs his hand and says to him, “Hoke, you are my best friend.”

Her family didn’t have much patience with her, but Hoke was there in good weather and in bad.  He was there for her when she didn’t want him around. He drove her and cared for her like no one else and even when her prejudice would come out he was still loyal and caring.  Over time she began to love this black man as a family member.  Then when they were both too old to drive and to live by themselves, he still would go see Miss Daisy in the nursing home weekly and he would talk with her and feed her.  He loved her, and she fell in love with him.

The lesson for me is how am I loving others?  Am I showing even my neighbors that I care for them, and if I am, will it just be a matter of time that they trust me and count on me and I become a friend?  My prayer is that God would use my friendships to draw others to Him.

Hoke was her driver, how will God use you?

John 15:13 (NIV)  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Parenting

This past weekend our church hosted a parenting conference for any and all parents who needed help, ideas, encouragement, and resources to be a better parent.  It was a good turnout, but we always wish more would show up for this important responsibility.  I am so grateful for the children’s ministry at our church.  They do an incredible job of loving children, teaching children, and loving the family.  Their passion to love and build up the family is encouraging and needed.

This workshop reminded me of how God led me when I was parenting my girls.  I wouldn’t say I was the world’s best parent, but the one thing I learned from my parents was making your family a priority.  As a father I have been given a great task and responsibility to love and care for my children.  God has made me a steward of their lives for just a few short years.  That time was so critical and valuable to my girls and to me and Sabrina.  God used it to help me understand my Father’s love for me.  God also used them many times, when they would say to me, “Daddy, hold my hand.”

I remember holding the hands of my girls and walking beside them when they were children. Sometimes I would hold on to them tightly and then God would remind me that they belong to Him.  No one can hold them like He can, yet He has entrusted us, parents, to hold, guide, instruct, discipline, and love them as a priority in our lives.

My strong natured Hispanic father loved his family.  He was a disciplinarian, but he also wanted to be around us and he wanted to be a good father and parent.  As I watched his life ebb away on that hospital bed, his family was around him and he was still being a great parent…holding my hand.

I am so grateful for Barbra and her staff making parenting a priority.  Thank you for reminding me of the gift of parenting.

 

Getting in Shape!

I am a runner and I am getting ready to run a race that is a few more miles than I have run in a while. It’s not that I am out of shape…well maybe a little. I just haven’t run as much as I used to run, plus my diet has not been a good runner’s diet. In fact, I have been lazy in my training and the amount of running I should be doing. I really enjoy running, but at my age I need to train and prepare myself to be able to enjoy it and get the full benefit of running and competing. I am really not prepared for this race like I should be so my form and my shape are lacking.

I am also getting ready to lead a session at a conference on “Shaping the Heart of a Leader.” I am excited about spending some time with these pastors and ministers and know I need God’s wisdom to teach such a session. God has allowed me to lead in my career and I realize that even Christian leaders need spiritual forming and shaping. There are just times that we become lazy and indifferent and try to rely on our talents, abilities, and skills to get us through.

I believe in the spiritual disciplines and how we need them to keep us on track and to grow in our faith. I need them in my life daily and truly do feel strengthen when I stay obedient and faithful. But even before I can take on those disciplines I must be open and willing to allow God’s Spirit to shape my walk. It is so easy to be shaped and influenced by our world and culture today. Sometimes we just get lazy and give in to bad thoughts, wrong attitudes, and a lack of passion. We get out of shape.

I believe it is impossible to be formed and shaped by His Spirit if you are resisting or grieving His Spirit within us.
1 John 3:24 (NIV) The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

If His Spirit is in us, then it is also His Spirit that shapes, forms, and prepares us to be used by Him.
1 Corinthians 2:10-11(NIV) These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
I am praying that you will allow God’s Spirit to remind you of His presence in your life and to get you back into shape. So whether you are running or walking, it’s time to get in shape.
Anyone want to join me on a run?

Join in…

As a kid growing up in Tucumcari, New Mexico we would start a baseball game, a game of freeze tag, a basketball game or any game we could think of and the neighborhood kids would come out and join in.  We didn’t always know them on a first name basis, but that didn’t matter. We were just enjoying their company and them coming out to play with us.

In the same way it would be like going into your neighborhood and starting your grill and inviting some neighbors to join you.  Maybe even going into a different neighborhood or apartment complex and taking your grill to help develop new friendships.  You know food has that effect on people. It helps us forget our differences or sometimes it helps us start conversations.  Food is especially important to Baptist. A friend once told me when Baptist meet, a chicken dies.  Food is a good way to connect to people or maybe it is just a wonderful way to bless them.  One meaning of blessing is to confer happiness upon them or to fill them with encouragement.

Last weekend, I had a chance to be involved with many adults and children from our church serving and loving our community through different projects as well as going into neighborhoods across Waco and blessing others.  In one instance, we went to an apartment complex and rolled in a grill and cooked 100 hamburgers and about 75 hotdogs–what no chicken?  Then we waited…and slowly people began to come out. We talked with them, played, and of course we ate with them.  This was all part of our spring break mission project in Waco called Engage His City.  The weather couldn’t have been any better, the food was excellent, and we met and started some new friendships.  We wanted to fill them in two ways, food and encouragement.

Oh, I forgot to tell you about the blessing!  We had hoped we were a blessing to them, but honestly they blessed us.  There is something about hanging out with people that reminds you of God’s incredible love for us all.  His love is unconditional, it doesn’t matter who it is, whoever wants to join in come on.

Lent

I have observed Lent for 16 years and this six-week period has been a wonderful experience that has allowed me to draw closer to God. It has helped me to focus on repentance and prepare for the celebration of Easter.  It has drawn my attention to the idea of penitence.  I know this is not a word we use much in Baptist circles, but the definition of penitence is the action of feeling or showing sorrow and regret for having done wrong or repentance.

A friend reminded me recently this needs to be something we do daily.  I agree completely, but for me during this Lenten season I am reminded I live in a fallen world and I am also sinful.  The world and my old nature battles with the new man. My sinful heart and mind separate me from God, my God and my Savior. The separation causes us to live in the flesh where we fall prey to our enemy, the deceiver and father of lies.  Convincing us at times to submit and fall in line with the world and our sinful actions and thoughts.

However, I do need to confess my sins daily. His Word says in 1 John 1:9, “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  I need that daily confession, but I also need this time to refocus my heart and my will to His.  I need to repent and turn around, show sorrow and regret for my weakness, see the wrong in my life and ask God to change me.  This season gives me a new devotion to follow God.  Not after things or ideas or selfish gains, but to deny myself and follow Him.

Lent also gives us a chance to fast.  A denial or sacrifice of something I enjoy daily.  It helps me be aware of how much I depend on other things in life rather than on God.  It reminds me of my commitment to God and my passion to make Him first in my life, “seek first His Kingdom.”

Finally, Lent prepares me for Easter.  It draws my attention to the sacrifice Christ made on my account, but also that He came out of the grave, He was raised from the dead, and came back to life…for me.  Romans 4:25 says, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”  We are justified, which means He has removed our sins, made us new, and has declared us righteous.  He has declared me righteous!  I am no longer a slave to sin, I am now a slave to righteousness.  Therefore, I am reminded of my sinfulness during this Lenten season, but I am also reminded of the new life I have in Christ.

I am grateful for this time to draw nearer Lord to thee.

I am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice,
And it told Thy love to me;
But I long to rise in the arms of faith
And be closer drawn to Thee.
Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord,
To the cross where Thou hast died;
Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord,
To Thy precious, bleeding side.
(Fanny Crosby)

I am the clay…

Sometimes we need to reflect on who we are and where we would like to be. It is easy at times to fall into a comfortable state of existence and routine. We actually develop a tunnel vision and can only focus on one thing, one direction. Those directions aren’t always bad, but they can be self-serving or very introspective.

This week I participated in my first staff retreat on a church staff. It was a blessing to sit, to be a part and to hear the passion of the other pastors. I learned a lot about the wonderful staff that God called me to join. They are an incredible group of people who are passionate about serving the body of the Christ and sharing Christ with all that they encounter. I am grateful for His call and very excited about His plans to use me at First Woodway. I am certain God will be shaping me through these people.

I also learned and realized at this retreat that I must be open to something new and different for me. I have not ever been afraid of changes or challenges. I have always tried to be available to God using me however He wants to use me. I don’t feel like I have any amazing talents, just ordinary talents that I am asking God to use. Like a piece of clay ready to be molded and shaped by the Creator, no matter how old I am or how different the task maybe, He is just asking me to be available and open to His will and direction.
Those moments we slow down or stop and look at ourselves are important and needed. I believe God uses those times to remind us of His mission in our lives. He created us to be in relationship with Him, not to ourselves, and not focused inward. We are to be available and ready to go as well as ready to bring others to Him. Ready to share the love He has given us with others. Ready to step out of our comfort zone, out of self and routine, into a new and exciting place.

When we are ready to take that step out, where is that place? Where does God want to use you, where does He want you to go? Keep looking up and out. God has great things in store for you.

Isaiah 64:8 (NIV) Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

New Identity

I had the privilege of speaking and singing at the annual Widows Luncheon this week and it was a joy to be with them.  I thoroughly enjoyed the time with these ladies.  They reminded me of my mom, strong, enduring, and faithful in their walk with Jesus Christ.  I shared a little of my testimony with them through words and song.  The first song I sang was by Nat King Cole:

L is for the way you look at me
O is for the only one I see
V is very, very extraordinary
E is even more than anyone that you adore…

I sang a couple of secular love songs and shared how my family was very loving and caring as a child, but my home and family did not know Christ.  Then I sang a couple of Christian songs and began to tell them how my dad and family were transformed by the love and grace of God.  I explained to them that my dad’s identity was once in his family.  When he came to know Christ, he was no longer identified by his family and culture, but by a new life in Jesus Christ.

The first scripture my dad memorized was Galatians 2:20 (NIV), “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  The old man was gone and the new one was born.  It wasn’t long that until our whole family had a new identity.

I wanted the ladies to know that God’s intentions for them has always been to be His children, holy and righteous, daughters of God.  He did not intend for us be identified by others and circumstances in life.  Yet we all do it.  We let life and death hold us back from be being all that God has called us to be: sons and daughters, adopted into the wonderful inheritance of God’s love.

The theme of the luncheon was “Sing unto the Lord a New Song.”  We can sing a new song and live a new life because we belong to Him.

Now your burden’s lifted
And carried far away
And precious blood has washed away the stain
So sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus and live  (Chris Rice)

 

Praying for more chocolate…

I love the season around Valentine’s Day.  It gives me an easy time to let my wife and my daughters know how much I love them.  They are a gift of love from God to me and to others.  Plus, I also love chocolate, and this season brings the chocolate out.  One survey showed that consumers will purchase more than $448 million and 58 million pounds in chocolate during Valentine’s week. I am one of those consumers who usually buys it and I always end up buying some for myself.  Chocolates are a great gift and way to share your love.  They seem to say the right thing even when you can’t.

Thinking about Valentine’s Day makes me consider questions about my life. What message am I  saying to others around me?  Is my life saying the right things? Am I sharing the love that God has given me?  I think He gives us opportunities daily to share the love.  I don’t always do it, but I pray that I will be aware of those moments to share His love.  It doesn’t have to be Valentine’s Day or Christmas or any other holiday, God ordains those moments when we become like chocolate, a kind and satisfying gift.  A flavor and taste of life and goodness.  Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  This world sometimes seems like the opposite: bitter, cold, and without care.  I am so thankful that God blesses us with moments to be light, to be hope and to share the love of God.

This morning I was going to stop in to Starbucks for some tea and to do a little bit of reading.  God had other plans.  He wanted me to be there to talk with a lady who was struggling to find a job, just became a mother again to a grandson, and feels very overwhelmed by it all.  As I began to listen to her tell me her story, I realized God wanted me there to share His love and comfort.  It was only a few moments, but she began to weep as I explain that God wants to be her focus even in her struggles.  He wants to be her love and her passion for living.  He wants to be her hope…and I just so happened to be there to share the love, His love.

By the way…chocolate comes from the cacao tree that produces a fruit that hold the cocoa beans.  My prayer is that my life would produce fruit through the moments that God gives me to share the love.

Lord, I am praying for more chocolate.

God loves you

God loves you

What a great time I had this week preaching in chapel at Baylor University. I worked at Baylor for over 13 years, my wife and I received degrees from Baylor, and I have had many cousins, nieces and nephews also attend and receive degrees. My mom and dad also attended and my dad graduated in 1952 then later in 1990 he became the first Hispanic regent at Baylor. Since I was a child coming to Waco to see my grandparents, I have always had a great fondness for Baylor.
“That Good Old Baylor Line…We’ll fling our green and gold afar…to light the ways of time…and guide us as we onward go…That Good Old Baylor Line.”

So as I preached to 4000 students my prayer was that God would guide and direct my words, and that He would also guide the hearts of those students to a greater understanding of God’s amazing love for them. I was actually surprised at the number students who were very engaged and listening, thankful. Then as I looked across the audience, there were also many who were checked out, asleep, or just apathetic to the message and time of worship.

My heart and my attention was drawn to them, those who for whatever reason had no interest in hearing about God’s passion for them. I understand it could have been the messenger, but my spirit still was burdened for them. They are studying at such a wonderful place of learning and guidance. How could they miss the true guidance and light in that environment? How could they miss a God who deeply, stubbornly, and eternally insists on loving each and every one of them? I am grateful for the number of students who listened with their ears and hearts, and I pray for those students who need to understand that God has a passionate and enduring love for them.
Thank you Lord for allowing me to share with the students at Baylor University and for reminding me that even when I fall asleep on you or when I am distant with you, you still love me dearly.

Community

Community is good. I had a chance to attend a chamber of commerce banquet recently and really enjoyed the time, the networking, and the speaker. It was great seeing many people I knew as well as meeting several community leaders for the first time. The banquet was the annual time to recognize outstanding businesses, individuals who have excelled this past year and volunteers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. The community recognized them all for their great work in building community. They had all given themselves to their work and community.

The definition of community is a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage. Look at how the early church began in Acts 2, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Sounds like the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce. They met together, ate together, sold and purchased to support each other and just enjoyed being together…networking.

What a great example and reminder of how important community is for nurturing relationships. How important it is for us to be in the community of friends and believers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “Christian community means community through and in Jesus Christ.” There is something to say about community. We need it, it is healthy for us, it brings conversations, closeness, connection, and most importantly it unites us as followers of Jesus. I believe it is difficult to grow in your faith without community. We need each other.

Hebrews 10:24-25, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.”

The church is a place to connect, be encouraged, and to be together in community. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” Psalm 133:1