Back to Mexico

The very first thing we did as a youth group when the Farra Tribe moved to Texas in 1995 was take a mission trip to Juarez, Mexico…before we even unboxed things in our new apartment. That yearly spring break trip would shape our personality as a youth group and influence who we became as a whole church for over 15 years.

For years, we raised money, stockpiled tools and camping gear, collected donated food, and mobilized teams of kids and adult leaders to make our yearly 1300-mile round trip through west Texas nothingness, to build houses for people living in poverty.

We would load vans and trucks and trailers and buses full of nervous expectations and servant hearts.  We would always come back changed people with a different view of ourselves and the world we lived in here in Lewisville.  On those trips, we always felt a little closer to what Jesus called his followers to do in the world and a little better prepared to do it at home, also.

Then it all changed.

In March of 2010, we made our last youth group trip to Juarez. That was the year the local drug cartels made open war with each other and travel to Juarez became too risky.  Even though things got back to normal in just a few years, Amor Ministries (the organization that always managed our trip) had decided to close down mission trips in that area for good.

I had always hoped we could take kids back to Juarez.  A couple of weeks ago, that hope became a reality as we took a small group back to where our life in Texas began 24 years ago.  I am grateful to Amor Ministries for making the trip possible…for connecting our youth ministry to the group of Mexican pastors in Juarez who have continued the work of building homes for people in need and to the local church that hosted our group.

The trip was very different than the way we used to do it back in the old days.  We stayed inside a nice church building and shared fellowship with some pretty sweet church folks.  Gone were the dusty tents and bucket showers and temporary banos. It was anything but roughing it.

The work project was like old times, tho.  We raised a bunch of money to pay for building materials and supplies.  We cut and hammered and nailed and mixed and rolled and stretched and spread.  And in the end, we passed on a set of keys and a Bible and some hope of a better life for a young family and their parents.

The house isn’t much by our standards.  It’s an 11-foot by 22-foot, wood framed, stucco coated, asphalt roofed building.  Not much bigger than a bedroom or a backyard storage shed here in our burgh. But to the family that received it, the gift is a treasure.

It was good to be back.  It was good to get our priorities realigned.  It was good to be reminded we have more than enough and that, as a church, we spend way too much money and attention on ourselves, our building, our technology, and our experience…all in the name of kingdom building.

I’m glad we get to go back. We’re better now.


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Saying “goodbye” to old friends

So I recently started doing this thing at 9:30 on Sunday mornings.  I’ve called it “Wading into the deep water”. I figured it was about time to address some of the wild javelinas in the room…starting with the fact that we don’t all agree.  Theological opinion circulates in the church more than the smell of expensive hipster coffee in the lobbies of big churches.

There is no doubt I feel the pressure to give black-and-white, authoritative, “right” answers when I am confronted with questions…especially the hot button kind.  I am a spiritual answer man, for crying out loud.  I’m also aware there are “conventional” interpretations…answers I was taught when I was just a theological grasshopper…traditions as church practices that I just assumed as my own for years…that I no longer believe or practice.

Change did not happen overnight.  Nor did it happen flippantly. I didn’t just wake up one day and realize I had fallen off the Bible teaching bandwagon of my past.  I’ve read. I’ve studied…the Bible and the writings of church thinkers throughout the ages. I’ve listened. I’ve compared and contrasted.  I’ve weighed things out. I’ve wrestled with my motives and the possible outcomes.

There are many things I still hold as unshakeable truths.  I cannot remotely imagine ever changing what I believe about certain things.  Yet, there are others that have morphed over time…and still others that are long gone.

Some changes have been relatively easy.  Other changes in my thinking have been painfully difficult.  Some changes have been fully embraced. Others are still a work in progress.  All have been fueled by a desire to be a true disciple and obedient to the word.  At the risk of looking like a crazy man or being labelled a heretic, here’s a look at some things I no longer hold as absolute truth…things I have “changed my mind” on over time:

  • Rock music is of the devil.
  • Women are unfit to lead in society.
  • We can trust the american judicial system to treat everyone with fairness and impartiality.
  • Pastors are to be the theological authority in a church family.
  • The goal of the church is to get bigger.
  • True christians needed to picket abortion hospitals.
  • You can’t be a private gun owner and truly trust jesus.
  • Making condoms available from the health centers on High School campuses is always a bad thing.
  • Getting counseling is a sign of weakness.
  • The premillennial position on end times is the right position.
  • Men are always to be the spiritual leaders of the marriage and family.
  • I will be “raptured out” before the “great tribulation”.
  • Since God apparently knows everything that’s going to happen (and is possibly causing it), prayer can’t change God’s mind.
  • Calvinism and Arminianism are both equally true.  Our finite minds are just incapable of completely understanding it.
  • Any people who speak in tongues are just wacky.
  • Paul wrote the book of Hebrews.
  • You must have an invitation to accept Christ into your heart at the end of a worship service.
  • It is a sin to miss communion on a Sunday.
  • It might even be a sin to miss church on a Sunday.
  • Church services are only to be done on Sundays.
  • Communion has to be unleavened bread and Welch’s grape juice (the sacred grape juice).
  • Guitars should not be used in church.
  • We need to dress up on Sundays for church.
  • The earth is less than 8000 years old.
  • The King James Version is the most reliable translation of the Bible.
  • Christians should not have tattoos.
  • Dancing is sinful.
  • Women should never speak in a church service.
  • If a person repents of sin and professes trust in Christ for salvation on their deathbed…but never makes it to the baptistery…they will go to hell.
  • All catholics will go to hell.  Probably most episcopals, too. My home church even had some serious doubts about Southern Baptists.
  • Real christians don’t drink alcohol of any kind.
  • Missionaries and pastors are superior christians.
  • America is more “christian” than other countries.
  • Jesus was really born on december 25.
  • Homosexuality is always a choice that people make.
  • Hell is endless and eternal pain and torment.
  • Divorced people are prohibited from important ministry in the church.
  • Sundays are the New Testament equivalent to the Old Testament Sabbath.
  • Church meetings need to begin and end with prayer.
  • Only certain people are predestined to be saved.
  • The sermon is the most important part of a church service.
  • God’s greatest attribute is his omnipotence.
  • Christians have to be republicans.
  • Personal wealth is a sign of God’s blessing.
  • Personal poverty is a sign spiritual maturity.
  • Churches are better off being racially segregated.
  • There is a sure-fire formula for marriage success.
  • Natural disasters are a form of God’s punishment.
  • My church and my doctrine are “right”…and everybody else…if they disagree…is wrong.
  • I have an obligation to perpetuate my denominational heritage.
  • My words or my relationship with a person can keep them from sinning or self-destructing.
  • If i am doing something really important for God, he will protect me from harm.
  • When a child dies, we can console ourselves by believing God wants them more in heaven than he wants them on earth.
  • All Muslims are inherently bad people.
  • Mormons and christians basically believe the same thing.
  • It is important to teach people to tithe.
  • The Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the 27 Amendments to the Constitution and the Sermon on the Mount are all to bear equal importance in the life of an American christian.
  • the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.
  • The amount of people believing a particular doctrine, teaching or tradition increases its credibility.
  • Since we’ve always done something that way (or believed that way), it must be right…and we must continue doing it.

I suppose…

Light bulbThe King of my life… was a rebel-leader who routinely broke the law in service to a higher law.  Let that sink in.

As much as I love the energy and cultural connection of modern musical worship…it more often than not, leaves me wanting and in need of corporate worship that is less dependent on performance artists.

After ten days in SoCal… it sure looks like the only pro football team that area cares about is the Oakland Raiders.  LA doesn’t want or deserve the Chargers. #stillinmourning

Whataburger > In-N-Out.  For me, it’s official.

Do not lie.  Always tell the truth.  Parents know this. Good children know this.  Why is it no longer a treasured value in our culture?  Where are the role models?

A friend brought up the idea of a sabbatical to me.  Nope. I will work hard not to be judgmental of those who feel they need them.  I throw up a little in my mouth at the thought of people who think they deserve them.

I’m learning to be a grandparent as I go.  I only met one of my grandparents. Neither of my parents were around long enough to show me how.  There is a special love I have for my grandkids…an unexpected surprise I didn’t see coming.

It’s going to be 109 degrees in Lewisville today.  But it’s a dry heat. Like a furnace on high.

The very best youth ministry…always has been and always will be parents who model Jesus’ love for people and love for the church to their kids.  The problem? Most parents struggle with that and won’t ask for help.

When I’m 64

Sgt PeppersDo you ever watch Carpool Karaoke?  If you don’t, you’re missing some of the greatest TV ever.  For the uninitiated, CK is a sketch on the James Corden Show, where the host rides around in a car with singers (or bands), singing their songs “karaoke style”…all in front of a mini-cam mounted somewhere on the front windshield.  It’s pure greatness.

The other night, Corden shared the front seat with Paul McCartney.  It was a nostalgic, rock and roll wannabe’s dream come true. Singing both old and new hits, it was a stroll down memory lane, as well as glimpse into McCartney’s continued creative and artistic genius.  It was awesome.

Somewhere in the middle of the sketch, they started singing one of the lesser-known Beatles favorites, “When I’m 64”.

Well…today I’m 64.

Paul McCartney wrote the lyrics to the song when he was 16 years old (1958), though the song was first released on Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album in 1967.  That’s a long time ago.

I was 13 in 1967 and Sgt. Peppers was one of my prized possessions with songs like “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”.    “When I’m 64” was just a sappy little song about growing old…that had nothing to do with me.

Well…today I’m 64.  And it has everything to do with me now.  Who would have thought that a 13 year old boy would grow up to be the star of that sappy song?  I had no clue what life would be like 51 years down the road. I do now.

I have lost some hair, but I’m still receiving Valentines from the one I started with two years after this song came out.  (Yeah, we were 15 when we sent our first Valentines to each other.)

Over the years, I’ve learned to be pretty handy and though Wanda has never knit me a sweater, I’ve watched her crochet a few hundred baby blankets for all the young couples who’ve wandered through our lives.

Unfortunately, we didn’t take too many Sunday drives, but what we have done on our Sundays for 43 years has been a pretty good trade off.  We have scrimped and saved and done some serious grandkid bouncing on the knees…and even got some shiny new metal ones along the way.

This song holds an unsuspecting place in my heart today.  It’s good to know I’m still needed when I’m 64. Happy Birthday to me.

* Go to my WordPress page to see the video

How I make decisions

Tough decisionsHere’s the deal…practically speaking, we all have to make decisions every day.   Daily decisions are usually pretty easy.  The big ones?  Sometimes they can bring us to our knees. 

Church folks (and even lots of others) love to talk about the “will of God”…as if they are experts.  People here in Texas, when faced with a particularly difficult decision, like to say, “the Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.”  I have no idea what that means…

This, then, is how you should pray:  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Matthew 6:9-10

I’ve come to the realization that for most people, decision making involves:

  • Praying “God, this is what I want”
  • Looking for a feeling of happiness or contentment 
  • Taking the path that provides the highest probability of success
  • Finding people who agree and then listening to them validate your decision
  • Looking for an open door (where things all line up…or fall into place)

In 2 Corinthians, Paul recalls a time in his life when he faced a difficult decision and he writes an easily overlooked statement:

Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them and went on to Macedonia.  2 Corinthians 2:12-13

Are you kidding me?  God clearly provided Paul an “open door”.  God did it.  God opened the door.  And Paul slammed it shut and kept moving.  Wow.  So much for the open door theory…

Over the years, this verse has forced me to think and re-think what I believe about decision making and the will of God.  A while back, I figured it was important for me to come up with a plan for making tough decisions.  Here’s the end product.  Here’s my thought process.  Maybe it can help you.

Go to God’s Word.  Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.  Psalm 119:105

For me, the Bible is pretty clear on a lot of things.  As a matter of fact, I’d say about 90% of my day to day ethical decisions are dictated by the law of love or the example of Jesus, as I read of them in the Bible.  God’s Word remains my starting point and my true north.

Pray for wisdom.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  James 1:5

Praying for wisdom…for God to give me eyes to see clearly and to apply the truth that I know…is always the one conversation I bring with confidence and boldness.  Others prayers?  Not so much.  This one?  Always.

Live a life that is pleasing to God.  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.  Romans 12:1

It’s pretty hard to seek after God’s will when you’re spending your time pleasing yourself.  Duh.

Determine the desires of your heart.  Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Psalm 37:4

I have to remember…always…that God is my Father and he cares about the things I care about.  Even though I don’t believe his priority is my happiness, I’m confident he cares about what I like…what grabs my attention…and what thrills my heart.

Seek wise counsel.  The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. Proverbs 12:15

I learned early on in my adult life about the genius of asking quality, mature people for their insight and advice.  I am constantly amazed by people who stubbornly (ignorantly) want to make important decisions all alone.  Totally amazed.

Ask others to pray that God would give you wisdom.  We heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  Colossians 1:9

Such a simple, humble, practical thing to do.

Be still and wait.  Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.  Psalm 37:7

Everything about this command rubs us the wrong way.  Bow.  Be quiet.  Listen.  Wait.  Practice patience.  Definitely NOT a value we see modeled much these days.

Use common sense.  For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.  Titus 2:11-12

God gave you a brain.  Use it.  All of it.  Learn to say “no”.

Be aware of peace in your heart (and also of open doors!).  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Colossians 3:15

In the midst of difficult decisions, I have waited for, and even sought after a peace in my heart.  But I have often prayed just as passionately for God to help me be content in the situations I find myself struggling with.

Decide if you trust God or not.  Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

This is the ultimate bottom line.  When I spend my life and ways acknowledging him, difficult decisions are placed in proper perspective.

Hope this helps.

*This blog post is based on my sermon from 5-27-18

42 Days…study questions

42 Days Announce Slide(For those of you outside my church family, here’s a note of explanation:  We are currently doing men’s groups called 42 Days.  It’s a six-week commitment of meeting together, daily Bible reading, and reading a book.  During this time of 42 Days, we are reading an old classic, Improving Your Serve, by Chuck Swindoll.  I will be posting our weekly study questions here on my blog.  Feel free to buy the book and study along with us!)

Reading assignment and questions for week of May 20-27

Chapter thirteen

How do you picture heaven?  What do you think it will be like?

What do you believe about the rewards spoken of in the Bible?

Make a list of the some of the promises of God you hold on to?

If you don’t have many, why not?

Can you be satisfied with God being the one who knows your acts of service, even though nobody else does?

“We see action.  God sees motive.”  Is this good news or bad news for you?

Are you ever motivated by rewards that could come from God?

Are you more motivated by heavenly rewards or temporal rewards?

Do you feel you are being molded into the image of Christ?  How do you know?

Chapter fourteen

Do you believe unselfish living is an “art”?  Why or why not?  

This book was written nearly 40 years ago.  In what ways have you noticed differences between then and now, as you have read through it?

What does it mean to live from “the inside out”?  The author writes that you are a different kind of person, simply because you started and finished reading this book. What do you think he means by that?

Do you do better at “telling” the Gospel or “showing” the Gospel (the story of Jesus)?

Are you motivated by mercy?

In Matthew 25, Jesus says when we serve others, we are serving Him.  What do you think He means by that?

What does it mean to “lose” your life?

What is a bold act of serving you have thought about doing, but said “no” to?  Why?

How could you serve in our church family better?

How could North Point serve better?

 

42 Days…study questions

42 Days Announce Slide(For those of you outside my church family, here’s a note of explanation:  We are currently doing men’s groups called 42 Days.  It’s a six-week commitment of meeting together, daily Bible reading, and reading a book.  During this time of 42 Days, we are reading an old classic, Improving Your Serve, by Chuck Swindoll.  I will be posting our weekly study questions here on my blog.  Feel free to buy the book and study along with us!)

Reading assignment and questions for week of May 13-20.

Chapter ten

What are some of the “perils” of your work?

What are some ways your ego gets over-inflated?

Why do we have such an unwillingness to admit we struggle?

Does God really protect us from bad things?  How?

Serving is often thankless.  How can that lead to bitterness and depression?

Do you still compare yourself to others?  Why?

Why is it so hard to confront the sin of others?  Why is it a cop out to hide behind our own imperfection?

Why is it important to do things for free?

What are the risks in loving and serving?

What is your motive for serving…really?

Chapter eleven

How would you describe yourself?

How would others describe you?

Are you a gentle person?  Why or why not?

Can servanthood be learned?

What does humility actually look like?

Do you receive as graciously as you give?

Why is it important to receive well and let others serve you?

What do we value about servanthood in the church?

How does serving bring joy?

Chapter twelve

What are some examples of suffering for doing right?

What is your response to the stories of “real life” persecution?  (How does it make you feel?)

How does stress affect you?

How did you score on the stress test?  (pgs. 183-185)

What is the purpose in struggle?  

Why doesn’t God eliminate bad things?