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Here are two articles written by Emily Guevara ( Twitter: @TMTEmily)  on our background and on  Grace Español .   Tyler Morning Telegraph...

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

E's to live by

For the most part, I don’t like clichés. Most of us have heard the following “God, Family and Country” or whatever order it is usually said. It’s a good cliché but it means very little unless each one is defined. I do think, however, that we need to have some basic principles to live by. I’ve thought of some. They are not new and everyone has probably heard them before. But they work for me. They are in the form of an alliteration. I call them “The E’s to live by.”
The first principle is edify. This simply means to build others up. How do we build up others? Not by giving them clichés or the usual pop psychology. But we need to encourage them. Encourage them in their goals and pursuits. Everyone is unique and thus can contribute in a unique way. Yet, we need others to do it. Encouragement plays a big role. Human nature is prone to judge others before encouraging. Judging only leads to people becoming isolated from us. But encouragement goes a long way. We should also build others up by easing up their lives through service. Little things we do for others, insignificant at they may be, can alleviate the frustration and stress that so many of us carry from day to day. Sometimes a simple “hello” or a smile goes a long way. There are things that are easy for us to do but aren’t for others. It’s an opportunity to serve others. We should never be too busy to help others. Anything we invest in others is never lost. Investing in people’s lives is the best we can do in a culture that is consumed with self.
The second principle is to examine our lives. Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” He had a point. Living our lives without evaluating who we are, what we believe, where we are going, and what we are doing is not worth living. When we examine we evaluate where we are and what we are doing in our lives and see if this is a reflection of who we are and what we believe. Many times we do certain things out of boredom or necessity. We evaluate whether a decision is right or wrong for us. Once we do this then we should enjoy our life. We enjoy our lives within the parameters we have set when we evaluate ourselves. Sometimes we don’t enjoy our lives because we are doing something that is not part of who we are. We enjoy who we are, what we have, and who we have with us.

In a nutshell here are my E’s for living a good life:
Edify others by encouraging them and by easing their lives through service.
Examine your life by evaluating and enjoying it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Going Deep: The God Narrative

Today we heard a message on Genesis 4. Some things mentioned were: effects of sin: murder, polygamy ( concept of marriage), life without God (notice v 26). But I want to focus on the God narrative. God's story that he begins to write down for us. It is the story of God reaching out to men because men is incapable of having a permanent relationship with Him without His help.
It is interesting that verse 25 says: At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD,
After 140 years, Seth is born and her offspring Enosh (born on 105th birthday) calls the name of the Lord. In such little time the
God narrative is lost. Here the narrative begins to be restored. Men seek God. The simplicity found here makes me think how it was then and how it is now. Today, there is so much we add to the concept of seeking God that it becomes convoluted with man-made institutional ideas. Here we find God's narrative (next chapter shows the genealogy from where the Messiah would be born) been written because man is incapable of finding God all on his own because of sin. I wonder what Adam passed on to his generations. What narrative? Did Adam ever had contact with Cain? What did Cain share with his children? Apparently he shared his disgrace (see v. 23, 24 where Lamech boasts about killing a man and refers to Cain's killing of Abel) but did he share how it was to be in the presence of God? Maybe he did but it was distorted by the effect of sin. It makes me think what are passing on to our children. Of course not everything will be good but the God narrative is the most important to pass on. Our children need to know God is there and they can have a relationship with Him. They can also call on the name of the Lord. It's that simple.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Going Deep: Reflecting on the Sermon Cain and Abel

I've meaning to reflect on the Sunday Sermons and I get all these thoughts while I am sitting at church and while driving home with my family. We often discuss them in the car with my family. I have often thought it would be appropriate to have a Sunday school class after the service to discuss the sermon. This is often an element missing in our churches. We are left with all this information and thoughts but with no one to digest them with. Well, here is an attempt to do that here.

Recently our pastor started a series on the book of Genesis called "God of Wonders." Over all, the sermons are great but always leave me thinking. Now, having earned my Masters in Divinity over ten years ago, I think, gives me an edge. However, I often wonder why are we not asking these questions to our members. Why aren't we challenging to go deep. But let me get on with it. Before I start though, I begin with a presupposition that the bible is historical accurate and that the events are to be interpreted literally unless otherwise stated or the immediate or remote context indicates to be the case (these are basic interpretation-hermeneutical-principles).

We all know the story of Cain and Abel found in Genesis 4. Both were born to Adam and Eve after the Fall. Both were brothers. Cain whose name means "the man" was the firstborn. He was a farmer. Abel whose name means "breath" was a shepherd. Both were probably adults by the time this takes place. They probably had more brothers and sisters since Adam lived 930 years. We don't know what transpired when they were growing up. But we know that both came before God and presented their offerings. Abel brought fat from his firstborn animals and it pleased God. Cain brought some of the fruit of the soil and God was displeased with him. Why? Here's is where we begin to speculate. Some say that Abel brought the best while Cain did not. Others say that Abel had faith (see Hebrews 11:4) whereas Cain did not. Our pastor said today that it was how they worshipped God. He gave applications related to our worship. But I think it goes deeper than that. All this might be true but what we are told is that it was related to sin or his actions (see 1 John 3:12). How did Cain sin? Was he a man without faith?

Immediately after this Cain becomes angry and downcast. What was going through his mind? Why was he so angry, especially toward Abel. I am going to assume that this is not the first time that they both presented their offerings to God. Maybe this happened over and over to the point where Cain became jealous of Abel. I really don't think that a single event would cause him to become so angry to the point of murdering his brother in a premeditated way. I think Cain had become so bitter towards Abel (and God of course) that it dominated his life (thus God says, "sin desires to have you or control you"). Did he get plenty of warnings from God? I think so. God must have told him to be righteous. But he had become so blinded by his own bitterness that he could no longer respond to truth. There are powerful lessons learned here. Think.

We know what happened next. We don't know the details but we read that he killed Abel. God called him and asked where his brother was. He answers by saying he is not his brother's keeper. He actually was, being the firstborn, but he denies it. God knew what happened but he asks him first. I can hear some asking questions about God's sovereignty. Why didn't God stop him? Why did he allow the first murder? I am afraid we can't answer this question just like we can't answer why he allowed Adam and Even to eat of the forbidden fruit. All I can say here is that man is capable of much evil even in the presence of God himself.

Cain is punished by being sent out of the presence of God. The land will no longer give him what he wants and he is a marked man so that no one is killed. Cain leaves and marries (obviously someone from his own lineage but who knows how old he was) and has children. Very little to we know about him after this. We don't know how long he lived or how he died.

Did Cain ever repent of what he did to Abel? We don't know. All we know is that he lamented the punishment he received from God.

To me, this event goes deep into the problem of man. Sin. Evil. It will control us if we let it. It comes in various forms. It makes us insensitive to truth. It leads to bondage of the will. It leads to destruction. It doesn't have to control us. Let's learn from Abel. Abel was sensitive to God. He listened. He had faith in God. He was a righteous man. He speaks even though he is dead.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Muddling God’s Will

I recently read an article by iMonk on the issue of God’s will. It says what I have come to believe for some time now. This topic is so misunderstood and has caused many problems for Christians, both theologically and philosophically.
Deists believe that God created the world and left to run its course. I guess in this situation, there isn’t any God’s will, or at least it is not evident. We create our own will without direct intervention from God. This would be the extreme view for not believing in God’s will. Others have argued that there are several types of wills. There is God’s perfect will and God’s permissive will. God’s perfect will, is like, plan A. Then plan B, is God’s permissive will, everything God allows you to do.

Early on in my Christian walk I was taught that I had to find God’s will for my life (Plan A) otherwise I would follow my own plan (Plan B). I went to seminars that gave me steps to find will. It sounded like a treasure map. Find the clues from God and you will find God’s will. I wasn’t quite satisfied. When I had intentions on getting married many in the church wondered whether the person I chose was God’s will for me. Many didn’t think so. How they concluded beats me. Some went even further. Some said God had to choose for me. Somehow or someway I would know God’s will. They often used the example of Isaac finding a wife as if this was normative. A particular pastor even said publicly that the woman he married was not God’s will for him. God’s will was plan A. He chose plan B and God had no choice but to go with it. I wondered why God would be so involved in matchmaking.

I believe that in the issue of God’s will, Christians have become mystics. We say we believe objective truth found in the Bible but guide our lives subjectively following clues that will prove that what we do is God’s will. This creates so many problems. First, we misunderstand who God is and become prone to judging everything based on God’s will. Many Christians make God the Evil Genius Capricious Puppeteer that manipulates everyone and everything with strings. Everything must be part of his plan. If a death or an unfortunate event happens we either say that it is God’s will or we blame it on the Devil. Everything is either black or white. We cannot feel good if we say that some things just happen as a result of our own actions or of nature. To say that God is not involved in everything is anathema. After all, we are not Deists. Second, we presume to know God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty means that there are things that I don’t understand but that ultimately God knows how it fits in his ultimate purpose. I don’t have the right to explain everything that happens because I don’t understand God’s sovereignty. Third, we become arbiters of God’s will. So many Christians have been hurt by others saying that it was God’s will for them to experience a tragedy or that everything will turn out for good. What a tragedy! Who are we to say that!

I have come to believe that I really don’t know what God’s will is for everything in my life. Honestly, I don’t think I have to explain them in such terms. God’s will for humanity is revealed in his objective truth, the Bible. It is not person-specific. They are general principles that we must apply and live by. The application varies from person to person. That’s all I have to worry about. Besides this, I cannot be certain what God’s will is. Furthermore, I don’t think that we should categorize everything in what is God’s will and what is not because we simply do not have enough information from God to do this. We are foolish if we think that we can know with certainty God’s will in every circumstance. We don’t have to say anything theological when bad things happen. We just say they happened. How is God involved? We don’t know. We are part of a play, we are the actors but we don’t know how everything will play out. The Master will reveal someday, maybe, He doesn’t have to (i.e. read the book of Job). All we need to know is that someday what happens to us won’t matter because we will be in His presence.

Note: Here are two books I recommend on this topic:
1. Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View (a lengthy but comprehensive book) by Gary Friesen
2. Decision Making and Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. (a short new book) by Kevin DeYoung

Monday, July 06, 2009

Goals - 8 weeks after

In a previous post close to the beginning of the year I stated I didn't believe in resolutions and I gave my reasons. I do however, believe in goals. Goals are meant to be measurable and reachable. Many times we are unrealistic about our goals that they almost become wishes. Once a goal is made we should develop a plan and stick to it. It should also be flexible enough to adjust if things aren't going the way they should. I made some goals at the beginning of the year. One of my goals was losing some added pounds. I have always done exercise but when I got married I just ate too much and wasn't consistent with my exercise. I tried many different products to try to lose some pounds. I joined 24 hour fitness and I was able to go from 180 to 175. Then I decided to just do weight training at home. I gained almost 10 pounds. I thought it was all muscle, but it wasn't so. At this point my wife and I decided to start watching our calories. We both used "Lose it" on our iphone to track our calories. I also started biking for about a half an hour a day. I did this for about three weeks then I decided I wanted to run. I started running 3 miles the first day and I have moved to an average of 5 miles a day, six days a week. I also do some light weight training. I keep track of my weight every day and I get tips and encouragement from people at Calorie Count. In fact here is what I wrote in my journal there:

"Last week I ran 10 miles in 1 hour and 52 mins. I feel proud of this accomplishment. It hasn't been easy. I have experienced some physical ailments that I've never felt before. I am suffering from headaches on my right side but they are not too bad. My knee on my right leg tends to hurt but I have minimized the pain by putting a bandage around it. The neck area become stiff but I have been massaging it after each run. I am not fast but I am building resistance and slowly building speed. I'm enjoying this. This is the longest I've ran since I did cross-country in Jr. High. For a 38 year it's not bad. My goal is to run a marathon but I want to be ready first. Next week I am going to work on passing the 10 miles. I will keep running 5 miles, five days a week and one day I'll do a long run. I rest one day.

As far as my weight, I am getting closer to my goal of 175. My ultimate goal is 165 which where I should be. I sticking to my diet by keeping track of my calories intake using Lose It on my iphone. So far so good. This hasn't been easy either. Many nights I feel hungry and I wake up hungry. I know thought, that eventually I will get used to it and this will become part of my life and won't need to keep count of my calories."

After eight weeks of keeping count of the calories I ingest and after five weeks of running these are my results. They are not surprising but I've made growth and I quite satisfied. But I press on. Oh, I forgot to mention a book I began reading: "Born to Run." I recommend this book to anyone interested in running or who is interested in cultures. It deals with the Tahumaras in Mexico's who are considered the best runners in the world. It's more of a narrative about them and not so much a how to book on running.

As a note, I also say that my wife has lost at least 5 pounds by keeping track of her calories. She also has began running with me some days even thought she says she hates running. I also have to say that without her help, especially in the food area, I would not be making this progress. She makes sure that we all eat right. We measure and weigh food. We encourage each other. We are making a lifestyle change for the well-being of our family.