2018: A New Year

New Year’s Day represents something powerful in the Western psyche. We love the idea of a fresh start, a second chance, hope, and the idea that this year might be different than the last.

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newyear2018_24-dea0cc09d9b756a44574e87b010b6115To be honest, I am beginning this year simply grateful. On December 29th, my absolutely amazing dad had a serious heart attack. Though I will spare you the details, I sat for an hour or so waiting for a text/call from my mom (dad had been care-flighted and mom was driving that way) that might mean I never get to see his face, hear his voice, or say “I love you” again. I will never forget those 60 minutes. Due to God’s providence and an amazing collection of factors, not only is my dad alive, but even better, his heart sustained NO permanent damage. I would share more, but it is too personal and I am still processing through some difficult emotions. This year could have been so different. I am thankful. I am so thankful. I love my dad who has always been such a tender, strong, Biblically-grounded, inspiring, persevering, visionary, encouraging, hard-working, responsible, present, and trustworthy man. Yep, that about sums it up.

We we are weeks away from our little girl being born. We will then have one son and one daughter! I have no idea how I will juggle family, work, and a full-time doctorate, but there is no point trying to figure that out. Not possible. One must be thrust into a situation before they can know how to arrange the beautiful parts. For now, I am working hard to get ahead on my Ph.D. work (if there is such a thing as getting ahead). Worrying about the future is not fruitful (though I can be quite good at it). Jesus said, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27)

New Year’s Day has come and gone. It goes without saying that there is nothing particularly magical about a specific day. That being said, New Year’s Day represents something powerful in the Western psyche. We love the idea of a fresh start, a second chance, hope, and the idea that this year might be different than the last. For some reason, it is at the beginning of the year when we Westerners are willing to let our hearts dream a little, consider an alternative future, and relinquish at least some of our skepticism.

For this reason, this is usually the time when we all make insanely impractical resolutions. Setting goals, especially if you have someone holding you accountable, can be really helpful. It may be time to lose weight, implement a discipline in your life, enroll in school, ask for the raise, exercise, or plug into your local church in a meaningful way (instead of being a useless bump on a log). In a word, it is a time when we pledge to be more intentional in one or more areas of our lives. Sadly, most people are not very intentional.

Making resolutions is not an intrinsically bad practice, but it may not always be useful either. I think Christians should go about this cultural practice a little differently. What if the majority of your resolutions were birthed out of prayer? In other words, your resolutions are something that the Holy Spirit is already committed to realizing in your life. Granted, I don’t think every resolution has to be of this nature, but I am absolutely convinced that hearing God about the upcoming year is the best recipe for Kingdom success (not just success), personal growth in Christ, influencing neighbors and co-workers for Christ, seeing a relationship restored (God may tell you to take the first step), stepping into the freedom of Christ, forgiving someone, or taking the risk you have been scared to take.

So make the little resolutions and strive to improve. That is great. But take time as an individual and a family to pray, seek God’s face, hear his voice, and make resolutions that not only have eternal value, but are backed by God’s word and his specific vision for your life.

Happy New Year! Let’s begin the year as we ought to begin each day: seeking God. Only his will and desires truly matter.

A Tribute to Grace Fellowship Ministries

By eighth grade, I had already planned my religious escape…and then Grace Fellowship happened.

GraceFor those who don’t know, my dad is the senior pastor at Grace Fellowship Ministries in Winnsboro, Texas. This is the text I just received from him:

“22 years ago today Grace began Sunday morning service!! Been a journey!!! Aug 14, 1994. STILL BELIEVING!!!”

Oh my, congratulations dad. Congratulations mom. Very few could have made it. Very few would have pressed through. People stabbed you in the back. Friends betrayed you. People around town would not talk with you. The church even hurt our family. A lot. But you persevered. We all did. I am so glad. I would not be where I am at today spiritually if you hadn’t.

The church began my freshman year in high school. It is amazing to think that this church began in God’s heart, traveled to my mom and dad’s heart, then to our living room, then to a downtown storefront, and now to a 25-acre property with a beautiful building surrounded by a forest. If you are struggling to hold on to something God has put in your heart, my dad’s church ought to be a fresh reminder of the following: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” (Zechariah 4:10 NLT).

Keep going.

Daddy God always starts with little bitty seeds and a pile of dirt.We are the dirt (Genesis 2:7; Psalms 103:14). He plants the seeds.

By eighth grade, I had already planned my religious escape. I loved my parents so much and I loved God. However, I was so, so, so bored in church. There seemed to be so little life and power. I decided that in order to honor my mom and dad, I would stay in the church until I graduated from high school (four years away). Then, I would walk away from the church for good. What was extremely difficult for me was that I, in my eighth grade mind, could not reconcile how I was going to be able to love God (because I did) yet forsake the church (you know, what so many Millennials have regrettably mastered). But I knew that there was no way I could sit around and be a part of something so dead and boring for the next 60 years of my life.

And then Grace Fellowship happened.

Through a series of unfortunate events and quite frankly, suffering and disappointment in the life of my parents, new desires were birthed.

Suffering truly is a womb of sorts. A matrix. A greenhouse. A launching pad.

For the first time in my life, we began traveling to Dallas, Texas every weekend to visit churches that were more “open” to the Holy Spirit, the spiritual gifts, healing, and God’s power.

And not long into this movement, we were meeting in a home one night and God demonstrated his power. My brother had a milk allergy so severe that a few sour-cream-and-onion chips could send him to the hospital. You can only imagine what milk or ice cream would have done.

While I played in an adjoining room, a group of people gathered around my brother Clay, laid hands on him in Biblical fashion, and prayed for him. They really prayed. The next day we were scheduled to leave for vacation and before we went, Clay wanted a glass of milk (or ice cream, I can’t remember). But dad and mom told him that we were going to wait until we returned from vacation to “test” things out. Clay insisted. The rest is history. Rather than go to the hospital, we left for vacation. Nothing happened. Clay was healed! HEALED! Physically healed. He never looked back. He has enjoyed dairy products since that day.

Since that time, God has fulfilled the vision that he gave dad at an old run-down car wash full of broken appliances. God would bring people to Grace, heal them, and send them back out. I am one of those. I was going to walk away from the church after high school. But God used this local church to show me that there is life and power both in Christ and his community.

Thank you Lord for my dad, my mom, the suffering you used, and the beauty of Grace Fellowship Ministries. I am one of those changed.

Congratulations dad, mom, and the people of Grace.

*** You can check out Grace Fellowship Ministries’ website at http://www.gracefm.org/.