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Pennies from heaven

Posted: December 19, 2010 by Brian Andrews in Devotional, Theology
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I went to the grocery store yesterday to pick up some items on a list. We’re trying to pay cash for everything, so I headed to the ATM first to get some money. As you know, ATMs only give you $20 bills, which was fine with me.

When I parked my car at the store and got out, I decided to bring in some coins because I generally like to get as close as possible to giving exact change. Scrounging around the car, I found a few coins. I was just about to head in the store, when I looked down and saw a penny on the ground. I picked it up and then happened to notice two more rather scuffed up pennies under the car. Thinking to myself that I might need these, I shoved them into my pocket and entered the store. My youngest son was with me riding in the cart.

Now, you have to understand that I often have trouble making decisions. That day was no exception. Fruit was on my list, but I didn’t have any idea what type of fruit or how much to get. Granny Smith and Red Delicious apples, pears and kiwis passed the test and made it into the basket. I got some sweet potatoes for pies, but first had to make sure I had just the right weight. I picked up and put back a few of them until I was satisfied with my choices. A number of items made it into the shopping cart that weren’t on my list, but I felt like I should get anyway. For example, normally, I don’t buy things on a whim, but when my son asked for shells and cheese I got it for some reason. A little later he saw an apple slicer and reminded me that we needed one so I got it.

I know this may seem like a lot of boring detail–(I mean, how exciting can grocery shopping be?)–but that’s part of what makes the outcome so significant to me.

When I was finally ready to check out, I went through the self-checkout line, scanned and bagged all my stuff, and got the total: $60.73. At that point I remembered the change in my pocket and wondered how close I would be to having exact change. I reached into my pocket and found that I had exactly 73 cents, the three pennies I found on the ground having made all difference. Not only that, but since I had gotten all $20s from the ATM I had exactly what I needed down to the dollar and cent.

Another thing you have to understand is that I’m a math teacher and God often speaks to me through situations involving numbers. (BTW, the odds of the above happening are about 1/2000.) What I sensed God reminding me of through this whole thing is that He is in total control of my life. He is sovereign over all the choices I make. He is interested in even the most minute, unimportant details of my life, like buying kiwis and apple slicers.

Some people don’t like the idea of God being in control of everything, but this is a very comforting truth for someone like me who too often agonizes over “did I make the right decision?” He is with me; I don’t need to fear. Whether big things or mundane things, my Heavenly Father concerns Himself with the things that concern me. If you are His child, He has the same concern for and interest in you. You are not left alone in the tough decisions you face. He is with you and will in everything work it out for your good. He reminded me of that when He gave me His three cents.

My wife asked me today what my goals were for the year. To be honest, I hadn’t even thought of it. I typically do not make New Year’s resolutions because they always seem so short-lived.

There are a few things, however, that the Lord has brought to my attention over the past year that I want to emphasize for the coming year.

• Spend at least one hour a day with God. I’ve noticed that I typically spend more than an hour on the computer each day on stuff that has a low “rate of return.” It’s not evil, it’s just idle. My days go so much better when I have quality time with the Lord. Also, I could come up with goals for the New Year that sound great, but aren’t what I’m supposed to be focusing on. I need the time with God to know where I should be spending my time.

God has put things on my heart to do, but I want to operate in His timing and not jump ahead. When Jesus heard that His friend Lazarus was sick, He didn’t go immediately to heal him, He stayed where He was for two days (John 11:3-6). Why didn’t He go right away? The Scripture doesn’t say that He was involved in some important task that He had to complete. It gives no reason at all. Jesus spent regular time with His heavenly Father. My guess is that Jesus was simply in tune with the Father, and the Father told Him to stay two more days before heading out. I want to be like Christ and be in tune with God’s timing.

• Be content with knowing and doing the “What” of God’s will even when I don’t know the “Why” or the “How.” This follows from the point above. When I’ve spent the time with God and have discerned His will, I want to be quick to respond to what He says. I often fall into the “paralysis of analysis” because I overthink God’s will rather than just obey because He says so.

• Be an encourager. First in my family and then to others God has put in my path. The Bible says to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today” (Hebrews 3:13). I received a hand-written note of encouragement in the mail from someone recently and it made my day. (Who hand-writes and uses USPS anymore?) I need to be on the giving end of encouragement more.

• Be a listener. I could avoid a number of problems if I were always “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

• Prioritize relationships over rules. I know I’m a “rules guy” and I play that card too much. I need to get that in order.

• Live within my budget. My wife and I were blessed to have gotten out of debt a few years ago (with the exception of our home mortgage.) Lately, however, we have become somewhat sloppy with our finances because things aren’t as tight as they used to be. We have been hugely helped by following the financial advice of Dave Ramsey and using principles found in his book The Total Money Makeover. We’ve committed to getting back on track by being more hard-nosed about our spending, and looking for ways to increase our income.

Of course God’s grace is needed for all of these areas. I am comforted knowing that He will be with me as I go through this year and beyond.

I returned from a two-week trip to Uganda on July 25. I did not have time to post updates while I was there, so I’m catching up now that I’m back in the U.S. The first update can be found here. New updates here.

Mission trip in the summer

Posted: March 10, 2009 by Brian Andrews in Missional Thought

My family and I are planning on going on a mission trip to Uganda in July. Details are

Dead Sea Stone and the resurrection

Posted: July 5, 2008 by Brian Andrews in Christology, Theology

The New York Times reports that a 3-foot-tall stone tablet found near the Dead Sea in Jordan contains writings that mention the Messiah and the resurrection. Scholars believe that the writing on the stone talks about the Messiah, “prince of princes,” who “in three days…shall live” after being killed.

Two things were particularly interesting to me about this story. First, the stone dates to a few decades before the birth of Jesus. Second, it was Jewish and secular scholars—not Christian—who reported the findings. I pray that God will use this stone to point many Jewish people to the Stone, the Lord Jesus Christ.

No, this isn’t a post about dating! It’s about the practice of using the prophetic gift. I’m starting from the premise that the gift of prophecy continues today and is to be used for upbuilding, encouragement, and consolation of others (1 Cor. 14:3).

Paul instructs us to “pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1, ESV). I was really struck recently by the phrase “pursue love.” When I think of pursuing something, what comes to mind is chasing after it with all I’ve got. Even though the thing I’m after may be elusive, I can’t give up trying to get hold of it. That’s what we are called to do as far as loving people.

Being a public high school teacher, I have been really stretched in the area of love. Students have stolen from me, used profanity toward me and threatened me. (And that’s on a good day!) Often I have struggled with the “Jonah syndrome”: ‘God, send me anywhere but that classroom!’ Anger, frustration, and resentment build up because of the students’ behavior. I find it to be an hourly battle not to allow my heart to grow callused to them. But I know the Lord has me there for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to give them a glimpse of the Father’s love.

Pursuing love has taken on a very literal meaning when it comes to my students. I have to continually pray and ask others to pray for me that I would love these kids. I have to regularly release my anger and offense to God. I have to keep coming back to the example of Jesus, who loved those who despised and rejected Him.

But we are not only to pursue love, we are to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts especially prophecy. We must be careful not to so emphasize love that spiritual gifts become optional. There should be a longing in our hearts to operate in the gifts of the Spirit that others may be brought (closer) to Jesus. Some ways that we can “earnestly desire” the gifts are: reading Scripture and books by solid authors on the subject, watching others operate in the gifts, praying to receive the gifts, and praying for opportunities to use the gifts. We needn’t be afraid of the gifts if we have the foundation of love.

Yesterday, I had a difficult interaction with a student. He refused to comply with a request I gave him, so I initiated a disciplinary procedure. He was quite angry with me, and expressed that in no uncertain terms. When I got home, I felt that I did not quite have the foundation of love for this student that I should have had. (I had prayed for him in the past, and I felt the Lord had given me some insights into his life.) I prayed for him again, yesterday, that God would touch his life. I also prayed that God would give me His love for him.

Early this morning, this student (I’ll call him Devon) came to my classroom.

“Hi, Mr. Andrews,” he began. “I just wanted to apologize for the way I acted toward you yesterday. I wasn’t angry with you; I just took it out on you.”

I was really impressed by his gesture. “I forgive you, Devon,” I assured him. “Hey, I prayed for you yesterday.”
“Oh yeah, why?”
“I try to pray for all my students.”
“Oh.”

“Can I ask you a question, Devon?”
“Go ahead.”
“Are you disappointed with your father?”
Devon got a rather surprised look on his face and asked, “How did you know that? Have you been reading my files?”
“No, sometimes God shows me things.”
“Are you a psychic?”
“No, I’m a follower of Jesus.”

We continued talking a short while. I could see that God was working in him. We parted with a “man hug,” and I told him I’d see him later that day in class.

There were a couple of good reminders for me in that exchange. One was that God can use me even when I’m going through my own personal difficulties. The other was that when I pursue love, God will open doors for me to use spiritual gifts to minister to others.

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.

—God via Malachi the Prophet, (Mal. 4:5, 6)

These are sobering words which bring the Old Testament to a close. I believe they accurately provide an explanation for much of the destruction we see in peoples lives in America. I see it now in my students, I saw it in people whom I pastored in previous churches, and I saw it and heard it in the stories of inmates I used to visit: fatherlessness.

Christian fathers have the awesome privilege of giving their children their first glimpse of who God the Father is. Fatherhood gets its definition from the heavenly Father (Eph. 3:14). When the father/child relationship is broken, the child misses out on a piece of who God is.

One day when I first started teaching, “Duane,” a 15-year-old, and I were talking. At one point in the conversation, it came out that I was a Christian. I could see the wheels starting to turn in his head. “So are you single?” he asked me.

“No,” I answered, “I have a wife, three kids, and one on the way.”

“Oh,” he said with a slightly disappointed look. I was about to walk away after that. I didn’t want to distract him any further from doing his work. However, my curiosity eventually got the better of me.

“Why do you ask?” I inquired.
“For my mom,” he said.

On another occasion, “Daisy” came to my class in tears. I didn’t know what the issue was, neither did I feel comfortable at the time asking. Weeks later, an innocent question I asked her became an opportunity for her to pour out her life story. Her father, (who was on his way to becoming a pastor), left the family when she was five years old. He owes thousands of dollars in child support. Daisy’s mother recently lost her job. Food stamps stand between them and hunger. “The day I was crying in your class was my birthday,” she told me. “My dad didn’t even send me a card. I guess all the stuff that has happened is the reason I carry so much anger.”

Situations like these move me to tears. Sometimes the problem can seem so overwhelming, we might be tempted to put our heads in the sand. But as Christian men, we can do our part to reverse the curse. Here are just a few things:

As fathers, we must turn our hearts to our own children. It all starts at home. Our kids must experientially know that we love them. We need to be generously affectionate, and reassure our children of our love for them. Our daughters need to experience pure affection from us so that they can know what to look for in a husband. They need to know our unconditional love so they will be less likely to put their confidence in outward appearance, but in who they are in Christ. Our sons need an example to follow so they can navigate the rough waters to come.

Be a father figure to boys and younger men. The apostle Paul did this for Timothy, who was spiritually fatherless (Acts 16:1). Younger guys (and even older ones like me) crave manly input, encouragement and guidance. What a difference we can make in one life just by being intentional. Trust the Lord to lead you to younger men. Several years ago, I was sitting in a church service. I turned around at one point, and my eye caught a younger guy that I knew only as an acquaintance. I knew that this guy had lost his father a few months earlier. In that instant when I glanced at him, the Lord knit my heart to his. I sensed the Lord saying that I was to be a father figure to him.

After the service, I asked him if he wanted to hang out at Starbucks sometime. He agreed, and that led to two years of getting together over coffee. I have fond memories of those times. This young man is now enjoying ministry as a worship leader.

Pastors/elders should father other men and encourage those men to do the same. Paul exhorted Timothy to pass on and multiply what Paul had given him (2 Tim. 2:2). Paul was thinking long-range. He was seeing generations of men that would potentially be affected. Many of us think ahead when it comes to our 401(k) account and investing for the future. We need to have the same mindset when it comes to investing in spiritual things.

Guys, I want to challenge us to ask God for other men—men in whose lives we can invest. What if each of us asked God for one man who would then go and invest in one other man? Of course we can’t do this in our own strength; we need the power of the Holy Spirit. We may also need someone to be a spiritual father to us. But let’s not wait until we think we’re “ready to be a father.” Let’s ask the Father for men and trust Him to supply all that we need.