Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sometimes I am amazed at the rancor that takes place among Christian men and women about the "right" reading of scripture, doctrine, the "right" way to govern a church, etc. and so forth ad nauseum. And, I am not talking about having such discussions over things like whether Christ is divine, whether salvations is secure, whether salvation is by grace alone or requires some works, or whether Christ is the only way to the Father. I am talking about great angst and argument over things like whether there are such things as "private prayer languages," whether women can serve in certain roles in ministry, whether worship is too charismatic or not, whether anyone can conduct baptism or whether certain people can participate in the Lord's supper.

I appreciated Dorcas Hawker's recent post on choosing optimism in the midst of this atmosphere. And, it doesn't even require people of different religions or denominations within faiths to develop such rancor. In fact, often the most heated discussions take place within single denominations. And, while in the midst of all the stormy dialogue accusations arise, attacks are made, battle lines are drawn, and all of it is done in the name of defending the faith.

I don't want to stop just at choosing optimism, however, I want to choose faith in the One True Living God! Let me explain.

I frankly don't understand the rancor among Christians. To be Christians means to be like Christ. And, being like Christ and showing that we love Jesus means to obey Jesus. Jesus is the Word and obeying Him means obeying His word. Moreover, it would seem that walking by faith clearly would be to obey the Word regardless of whether it makes sense or not.

So, what does the Word teach us about our conduct and attitudes toward brothers and sisters in Christ? First, we know that Jesus' last recorded lengthy prayer included a prayer for us that we would be one and brought to complete unity to let the world know that the Father sent the Son and have loved them even as the Father loved the Son. John 17:20-23. (But unity isn't a primary doctrine, and what is unity really??? It can't mean that we don't argue over things, does it??) We know that blessed are the peacemakers, who will be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9. We are commanded not to judge. Matthew 7:1. We are taught that God is in control and that we shouldn't worry about anything as though we might some how change something with all our worry; instead, we should seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness. Matthew 6:25-34.

We are taught to owe no man anything except love and to love them as we love ourselves. Romans 13:8-10. We are told to bless those who persecute us, to bles and not curse; to live in harmony with one another; not to be proud; not to repay anyone evil for evil and to be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. We are even told to do all that is possible within our own power to live at peace with everyone! (But God, didn't you hear what he said about me? I mean, how can I just walk away from those comments?) We are told not to take revenge and leave room for God's wrath and to overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21.

More? How about accepting him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. Romans 14:1. (But God, how can I do that, I have to disciple him, don't I??? What if he spreads that opinion??? Surely I can be the guardian of "the truth" (as I see it).)

People ask, "What is wrong with the church today?" "Why is it not having the impact on culture that it should, given the power of Jesus?" Or, even in our own lives we ask, "Why do I seem to be so powerless to battle this sin within me?" "Why does it seem I fail in my Christian walk?"

Could it be as simple as the fact that we aren't living by the words of the One true Living God? I think of God's words to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6, when he tells them to keep His words upon their hearts, to impress them on their children, to talk about them when they sit at home and when they walk along the road, when they lie down and when they get up. (How often do we do that??) He tells them that if they do these things that all will go well. God tells us plainly that people will know that we are Christians by our love. The church loses its saltiness to the world when it doesn't live by faith upon the loving words of the Word, Jesus, and people have no reason to follow us because we don't appear to be following Christ.

I believe the only way we will truly reach this dark world for Christ is to repent of our lack of faith and of the many idols we worship. Just as it talked about in 2 Chronicles 7:14, God's people must humble themselves and pray and seek His face and turn/repent from their wicked ways. If there are any who believe they don't have wicked ways or that they are following all the commands, then please continue to do so; otherwise, we need to join together in humility and beg the forgiveness of our gracious and loving God for our pettiness, doubt, and lack of love.

I know there will be many Southern Baptist leaders gathering soon to discuss matters significant to that denomination. I pray they will choose complete surrender to the Spirit's leading and the Father's call upon their lives, wholly choosing to follow the principles God has spelled out for all of us. I pray that I, and all of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, will do so as well.
My last post was about God working me over as I struggled with sleep. Well, that was just the beginning. I have spent the last four days with fevers as high as 103, which, for an adult, or at least for this adult, means loss of all strength and will to live. Even with medication my fever would only get down to about 100. It finally broke today. I'm exhausted, achy, and generally having a hard time recuperating. I am so tired of trying to find an elusive comfortable position in bed, but that was about the best goal I could have during these last few days.

I don't really have anything profound to say about it, nor did I have some vision while full of fever. For the most part I spent four days on my back, occasionally reading books. I will say that I realized that the only thing I really could do while in such a weakened state besides read was pray. And, with that thought I realized that that is the attitude God always calls us to. All too often I "believe" I can handle something so I just do it without praying and without depending upon God for direction and strength. So, one thing I prayed during that time of utmost weakness was that God would help me to remember that no matter how "strong" I seem I always need to pray and depend upon him.

I hope to publish some pictures of my kids and from around the island soon. My computer has had some issues of late, too, so I hope that I will be able to do so.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

You just never know when God's going to speak to you or what little thing He may use to help you hear His voice. Last night I was reading a book my wife had just finished and she wanted me to read it. It wasn't a book I would have ever picked up and read through without her encouragement as it is somewhat of a "Christian chick" novel with a female author and female main character.

In the story, the main character is experiencing terrible upheaval in her life as her husband becomes consumed by work (in part because she wasn't listening to his needs) and at the same time she is reading a journal of an ancestor of hers that she found in her mother's attic. In what I was reading last night the second storyline was set on a rural corn farm, and the young journal writer was about 14 years old. Her heart had just been trampled upon by a young man who had become her first crush, and she wrote that "my mama said that idols always have feet of clay."
Well, God was working me over last night. That is why it is only 5 a.m. here and I am finally at the computer writing this. I haven't slept much at all. Many would say it was just physical because one of the "idols" God reminded me of last night was my belly. Like the Cretans. Here we have for the most part been able to let go of good ol' fashioned food worship in some ways, simply because we cannot afford to eat out much and the food that is served is more often sufficient as opposed to decadent or succulent. But, at the same time, what that can facilitate is a certain desire driven "need" to go get some "real food."

Now, you will laugh at this paragraph because of the place where I ended up with my family getting such food. Whereas I used to be somewhat of a regular diner at places like the Palm steakhouse, great italian eateries, a number of great restaurants in Philly, DC, and other metropolitan areas, last night my whole family was literally abuzz with energy because we ended up in a Denny's. The kids were literally bouncing on the booths and excitedly reading their menus to find all the perfect pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, etc. I ordered a fabulous scrambler that had ham and jalapeno in it, but of course it comes with a huge helping of hash browns, and three gigantic pancakes. Heavy sigh.

Meanwhile, yesterday, we all went over to some friends' house here in Kona to watch our college alma mater play football. Yes, we are Arkansas Razorbacks fans. Woooooo Pig Soooie.... only, well, we lost. And, of course, while God was working me over about my food he also was reminding me of how much that game affected my my kids would never sit for 3-4 hours to watch a football game and, as they ran around and made noise, how quickly I was snapping at them to quiet down (all so I could watch a silly football game), which only got worse as our quarterback made one bad pass after another.
I literally felt like I was going to throw up last night. My belly was very upset with me for over filling it with greasy spoon (but very yummy) food, and God's still small voice was reminding me how quickly I could delight more in something sensual rather than spiritual. And, as He also tied that into my attitude around the football game, I heard that little 14 year old girl recording what her mother said, which was developed from God's word, that "idols always have feet of clay." Another heavy sigh..

For me, when I struggle through these types of conversations with God and my heart, I keep wanting to say, but, Lord, surely it is okay to watch football or enjoy a good meal. I mean, how weird do I have to become? Do I just end up holed up some where and only read the bible and pray all the time or what? Praise God He is so patient with us. He's heard that cry so many times from me. He reminds me that I am free in Christ, but that He alone is worthy of worship. If I let things of this world get between my worship and Him, I have erected yet another idol in my heart and am headed down that path of doublemindedness. Whether it is the god of sex, the god of food, the god of pride, the god of work, the god of family, the god of recreation, the god of laziness, all gods will fail me, be unfaithful, and have feet of clay. He alone is worthy of worship and He alone will do all things in accordance with His nature and character, which is defined by love. The heaviest sigh yet.

Lord, please help me keep my eyes on You so that I won't sink into the waves. Please help me seek first Your kingdom and allow you to be my delight. Tear down the high places in my heart and mind and give me the grace to offer myself as a living sacrifice to You every moment of my life.

"And whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." Colossians 3:17

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I know this may be true in many places in the more southern parts of the United States, but being here in the southernmost place of the United States, in the middle of the Pacific, focusing on missions (which means thinking more globally than I ever have before), holidays have a way of sneaking up on you. It is strange not to have seen any leaves changing colors or falling to the ground, to keep having 85 degree days, and to be in a place far away from family and realize that Thanksgiving and Christmas are knocking on the door. We have not heard one single Christmas song, seen one Christmas display, seen one Christmas season TV commercial, or felt Jack Frost nipping at our noses.

I don't think there necessarily is a connection here, but, what is amazing is that, in spite of all of that, our family this year is more thankful and prepared for Thanksgiving than we have ever been before. We are thankful that our family is together, much more now than ever before. We are thankful that we are seeking Him daily in His word, learning more about it, and hearing His voice more clearly than we used to hear it. We are thankful that His grace covers all our sins and that we can serve Him in spite of our battles with the flesh. We are thankful for tears, laughter, heart to heart communication, learning how to accept our hearts, seeing our children learn bible verses with joy, watching our kids learn new responsibilities and play well together, really beginning to believe that God truly loves us.

Thank you for all of your prayers and encouragement. And, with that, I pray:

Father, please bless each reader of these simple words. May each individual truly begin to understand what it means to be content in You and You alone. May each person trust in You and learn how that trust enables and empowers them to rejoice evermore, to pray without ceasing, to give thanks in everything, and to live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thank you, Lord, for the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, which provides the way for me to approach your throne of grace and present these requests. Amen.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

This picture, by looking at Regan, must be from June of 2005, and was taken when we celebrated Keaton's 4th birthday (he is now 5). My dad, Billy Wayne Riley, was born on this day (November 18th) in 1938 as the youngest of 7 children. He was only one of four that survived infancy.

Now, 68 years later, he is still going strong, giving great fatherly advice, loving on his grandkids, and traveling in an RV quite frequently with my mom. (They're actually in Florida right now visiting relatives.) It's a lot of fun to see how much joy they receive from our children. They've been married for 48 years.

Happy Birthday, Dad. May you get to see many more and watch your grandchildren continue to grow in wisdom, grace and truth. "For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." 2 Timothy 1:7.

Friday, November 17, 2006

One of the things my wife and I have really failed at over the last few years of "busy-ness" with jobs and three children has been real conversation. And, to say it in a very vernacular way, that is some serious scary. Imagine, this is my marriage, the person with whom God has created a spiritual union. The person I've pledged to love and encourage over all others. But, the reality of life, as I was ordering it, put that person way down the list of communication, time, and effort.

I see it throughout our society, too. Not only is there a high divorce rate, including among Christian couples, but in marriages that have stayed together, most people don't know how to communicate. Have you ever watched a couple at dinner in a restaurant? They have little to nothing to say. More communication goes on at their table when the server is present than at any other time during the entire "ordeal." And, this is supposed to be fun? What about how many couples just let their children's lives absorb their own? Again, they don't communicate about their own feelings, jobs or lives; instead, their communication is either to or through their kids or about their kids.

This is way more scary than Halloween!!!

Here is something Tara and I have recently implemented in our daily lives. It's a simple "sharing exercise." And, the first time we did it we were scared to death that we simply couldn't do it. In fact, we thought the times prescribed sounded like days rather than minutes. Here's the gist, and I challenge you to try it with your spouse or, if single, with your best friend.

1. One person is the sharer and one is the listener.
2. When listening you are not to let your mind wander or think about how you might respond. Listen with your eyes and ears.
3. Your goal is not to agree - rather it is simply to communicate your own thoughts, feelings, attitudes and opinions.
4. Do not criticize, respond, defend, or apologize. Listen only to understand. Do not look for flaws. Simply try to understand.
5. Listen and limit responses to the sharer's message to either "I understand" or "I don't understand," and perhaps a question to ask what the sharer means by his or her words.
6. Use "I" sentences and not "you" sentences.
7. the MINIMUM amount of time for such sharing is 20 minutes! Find a place where you won't be interrupted and turn off phones.

We have, with practice, begun to see that 20 minutes flies by and quickly becomes 30, 45 and even 60 minutes. We also have realized that if our priorities make such times impossible to have that we need to reorder our priorities. God tells us to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and that then all the rest will be added unto us, but all too often we just chase after the rest and forget His priorities. We are going to endeavor never to do that again.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Loren Cunningham recently told me this: "Humility is choosing to be known for who you really are. Humility is transparency." Can you imagine the difference it would have made for Ted Haggard if he had chosen transparency for all of these years rather than having a secret that he kept in his heart? Can you imagine how it would change your own life if you lived a transparent life in Christ? The traps I've fallen into could have been so easily avoided. Oh, Lord, please give us hearts that honestly stand before you, recognizing who we are in You, unashamed and full of integrity!

This thought humbled me today. God commands me to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, always be thankful, always be content, to love, to forgive, to do nothing that impugns His character and nature. Yet, when I look into my heart I often find an angry and ungrateful heart, a heart that lacks contentedness, a heart that seeks his own rather than God's desires. I find myself grumbling when I feel slighted by another or when I don't get my expectations met. All the while I quickly forget God's command to rejoice and be thankful.
So, I'm trying to learn to be more transparent. I've found that I've got messages written on my heart that confuse sinful pride with feeling worthy of love because of the saving work of Christ. Please understand that as I try to put these feelings down into words I am afraid much will be lost because it is very difficult to describe with my mouth and mind what is going on in my heart.

Here is what I think I've come to understand. I often sabotage my own "loveableness" because I have this false humility that says I can't be worthy of God's or anyone else's love because if I feel that I am worthy of such love I am being prideful. So, I act in a way to sustain this belief, conducting myself in a way that validates my belief that I should be unworthy of love. This results in me feeling all sorry for myself because I believe no one loves me (or they really don't like me much because of my silliness), and, in desperation, I feel compelled to tell everyone how great I am because I do still need their love and appreciation. This results in people seeing me as being prideful and/or a person who doesn't need others and intensifies my feelings of worthlessness as the distance between me and others grows. Although I feel "glad" that I'm "not being prideful" I also feel miserable that I'm so worthless and that "nobody loves me." This is a vicious closed loop in my heart.

So, I like David, will continue to ask the Lord to find these offensive ways in my heart where I believe lies or partial truths rather than resting wholeheartedly on His perfect truth. Just like the song we all learned as children, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so...." "[T]he Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God." John 16:27. I need to represent more of God and His truth to my heart, meditating thereon and storing His words up in my heart like Mary. And, like David and Solomon, I want to continue to commune with my heart and let God do His amazing work of sanctification in my heart and life.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Being like Jesus is an incredible challenge. I pondered it in the wake of the Razorbacks win over Tennessee this past weekend. What does God desire for us? He desires the very best for us. And, He knows that we will receive that very best when we love Him with all our heart, soul and strength and when we love others as we love ourselves.

What does that really mean? I'm not sure I have that all figured out, but one of the things God has been showing me that it means is that we can have no idols in our hearts.

When David cried out to God to search his heart and see if there is any "wicked" or "offensive" way in him, the word has in it the concept of an idol. Any high place or idol in our heart must be torn down. We must have God as the sole object of worship. There can be no distractions from Him. That is the life Jesus led, and it is the life we must lead. We must not let anything intoxicate us, drug us, distract us or capture us except the magnificence of our Father in Heaven.

Why did the Razorback football game get me thinking about this? Good question. As I examined my heart and asked God to do the same He showed me that there was a time when I would let football season be a drug and a distraction. I would watch football games to escape the misery I had in my life. It was an "acceptable" way to keep my mind from thinking about how far I was falling short of the glory of God.

But that was not the sole lesson He wanted me to see. He also showed me how easily I could swing to a different drug of choice: pride. He reminded me of the "spiritual" pride I developed in my first few weeks here at the University of the Nations. You see, the transition into missions support here really did inundate me with a new life and desire for God. And, much of my former life really was forgotten. That first weekend here I not only didn't watch any football (we have no TV anyway), I didn't even remember that college football was happening and had no idea what the Hogs were doing until friends and family from home told me about the game. I was somewhat smugly impressed with myself. And, I found myself drifting from a worship of God and God alone to a desire to promote the religious success I was having.

I so want to love God with everything I have. It is a very difficult pursuit. I see at every turn how easily I let any and everything distract me from the only goal worth pursuing. I pray God will continue to reveal Himself and His desires for my life to me. I am so glad that He promises to give good gifts to His children and that He says that we should simply ask for those good gifts like wisdom and the filling of the Holy Spirit.

Oh Father, please give me wisdom as I desperately seek You and fill me with your Holy Spirit. Thank you that I can approach your throne and ask you for these things through the blood of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Don't lose your heart trying to save your mind; you will lose both in the process.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Yesterday, during our staff meeting here in Kona we prayed for the Body of Christ (universal), our campus, New Life Church, and for the Haggard family. It was a great time of prayer. I felt like God gave me two words from that time. First, we should all, as Christians, pray for our churches and fellowships that the things that are done and said "privately" that are not consistent with the nature and character of God would be made public so that any who lack integrity will be brought to repentance. Second, we need to pray desperately for reconciliation, repentance and revival in the Body of Christ. PRAY!!!

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.

Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:1-10.

Monday, November 06, 2006


I hate to troll for comments, but I am very interested in hearing from some of you theologians (and from those who aren't!) on this topic.

Clearly, we all have hearts. The dictionary defines it as "a hollow muscular organ of vertebrate animals that by its rhythmic contraction acts as a force pump maintaining the circulation of the blood." See heart. But is that really the "heart" of the bible? Heart is mentioned over 800 times in the bible, which is about 4 times more often than the mind is mentioned.

Did you know that God grieved in His heart? And it was all because of the evil of our hearts. Genesis 6:5-6. We of course are called to love God with all our heart and to keep His commandments on our heart. Deuteronomy 6:4-6. It is in our hearts that we develop pride and forget the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:11-17.

Fearful hearts are contagious. Deuteronomy 20:8. Our hearts can be circumcised. Deuteronomy 30:6. Drunkenness brings a merry heart. 1 Samuel 25:36. And King Solomon, when granted his wish, asked for an "understanding heart," and God granted him his prayer by giving him "largeness of heart." 1 Kings 3:9 & 1 Kings 4:29.

Solomon and David both had conversations with their hearts. Psalm 4:4 and Ecclesiastes 1:16. Imagine that, some might thing you crazy, talking to yourself that way. :) And we know that the pure in heart are blessed and that where we put our treasure our heart follows. Matthew 5:8 & Matthew 6:21. We can harden our hearts (Hebrews 3) and God can harden our hearts as well (Pharaoh). One last example is that the Word of God judges our hearts, penetrating deep within. Hebrews 4:12.

So, getting to my point with this brief survey of a few of the verses on the heart of the bible, what does this really mean? What is the heart of the bible? How do we talk to our hearts? How is it that only God can discern the heart and not even we, the "owner" of our hearts, can discern it? Jeremiah 17:9-10. We cannot even depend on our own heart; we must trust in Him alone. Have you ever studied the "heart" of the Bible? What do you think it means to love the Lord with all our hearts? What really is the heart???

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Missions. What is it? Can you be a missionary even though your career, drive, giftings, passions, etc. aren't for preaching, singing, and teaching the bible? Check out this website: Kona I.T.

The Kona I.T. department is all about serving missions globally with information systems and technology. As you might imagine, every organization in the 21st Century has a huge need for people gifted with computer skills, whether programming or otherwise. As a result, one family came to the University of the Nations over 3 years ago to build an IT department that could support the campus. Chong Ho and Kris Won (and their three young children) left their 8000 square foot home in Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C., and began volunteering (making no money) for the University of the Nations. In the past 3 years he has built a department of 12 people, implemented several new systems, all of which communicate together, and developed a global vision that is amazing and God glorifying!

The picture above is of a computer lab that one of his team put together in South Africa. Now, the IT Department is looking to build additional labs all around the world. Why? Because they can put these labs into impoverished communities, teaching computer and job skills to the people, and help the local people develop skills that will bring prosperity to their communities. Meanwhile, they will be sharing Christ with the people and giving them an ability to improve the quality of their lives while teaching them about eternal life, joy, and hope.

Now, most of the year, the people who serve as IT professionals at the University of the Nations in Kona will be working on the big Island of Hawaii doing exactly what they may be doing now, developing and maintaining software and systems for businesses, but, as God directs, they will also take those skills to places like South Africa, Fiji, other African nations, China, and other places around the globe. This is an amazing vision that we can all get excited about. (John and Jeff Parker, what do you think???!!!)

Please pray for Chong Ho and his team. As you look at their website, consider whether you could support them. Remember that many of these professionals could make in one hour of consulting in the states their staff fees for one month of food here in Kona ($250.00). Yet, they have given up that kind of income to come and support the work of the Great Commission here and are now working solely as volunteers. Also, if you have computer skills at all, consider coming to Kona and participate in the IT Discipleship Training School that will begin in January. When it may be 30 degrees or lower wherever you are, it will be 80 here.