Sunday, December 03, 2006

Lois McAllister Roch (Mema)

These past few weeks have been horrificly beautiful. My grandmother, Lois McAllister Roch, passed away early Sunday, November 26th. She was 81 years old and she was our Mema.

Steph, Braelyn and I went to visit her at her new apartment on November 10th. We had an awesome time with her and she absolutely loved Braelyn. However, while we were visiting her we knew that she wasn't feeling well as she was on an oxygen machine to help her breathe. She was diagnosed in 2001 with kidney cancer and had her kidney removed at that time. Following the surgery she began various treatments until 2003 when she decided that she didn't like the way the treatments were making her feel and since there was not a noticable difference she stopped receiving treatments.
The doctor had also told us that the type of cancer she had could stay dormant for some time, but when it began to spread, it would be quick. And it was.

On November 11th she was admitted into the hospital where her condition continued to worsen. She always had a great sense of humor and she and I were close, so we had some great conversations and some funny times. One time, I went into her hospital room and she was talking about 'going home.' Being a minister, I thought perhaps she was speaking metaphorically of her being ready to be with Jesus. So I asked her, "Mema, are you ready to go home?" and she looked at me with these big eyes and said, "Will you take me!?!?!" Apparently she was willing to take the chance of me being incarcerated so that she could go home. :-)

Her condition continued to worsen and she was quickly tiring of being in the hospital having nurses poke her with their needles, so my mother and aunt decided to contact Houston Hospice when they were informed that my grandmother was terminal. This occurred on Wednesday morning, November 22. While my mom and aunt were meeting with the nurse from Houston Hospice my Mema and I had a great conversation. We talked about Jesus, we talked about family, and she shared her desire for her girls to be okay and for all of us to stick together as a family. I ensured her that we would and that we love her, but it is okay for her to go when the time came. We prayed together, laughed together, and enjoyed our time.

Wednesday evening we were able to transport her to my parents house. My mom, dad, and aunt were amazing at making things happen so that Mema wasn't alone for Thanksgiving and could be surrounded by family for the rest of her life. On Thanksgiving evening my grandmother really began to struggle breathing, so she called us all in to her room and told us how much she loved us, how proud of us she is, and that she desires that we stay together. We expressed our love to her and stayed with her as she slipped to sleep.

The next few days she only woke a few times and by Saturday she was really struggling to breathe. At 12:32 am her heart stopped and she went to be with Jesus. The nurses with Houston Hospice were amazing and my grandmother did not feel any pain.

For the following days we spent mourning (when we had time!) and preparing for the funeral. Tuesday night was the visitation and on Wednesday I performed the funeral service, which was tough, but amazing at the same time.
My family and I thank all of you who have extended your love. We are doing okay and God has been extremely merciful and gracious throughout this time. I'm sure I'll have more to write soon...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

So Long Training Wheels...

I remember like it was yesterday, my dad running behind me yelling encouraging words, "Keep your back straight, pedal, there ya go!!!" There was such confidence with those two extra wheels on the back. I could even ride one handed with my training wheels, but the time had come where I would have to learn to ride my 'big boy' bike. So, my dad, who was (still is) one of my biggest heroes would run behind me holding onto the seat of my 'big boy' 2-wheel bike encouraging me and holding me steady as I learned to ride without the training wheels. Fortunately, he was still in the Army Reserves, so he was in good shape. I felt very confident, because I knew that even when he would let go to let me ride a ways, I could still hear his shoes hitting the ground behind me.

One day I went inside and asked my dad to take me riding (or him running) and he told me that I would have to wait because he was busy. He then said, "Why don't you go out there and give it a try yourself." So... I did... I got onto the bike and began riding BY MYSELF! It was an amazing feeling of independence and a sudden feeling of terror! I'm sure I fell a few times in the grass that day, and since that time I have had many injuries on my various bikes, predominantly due to user end stupidity.

For the last few years I have been living by faith, but with training wheels. When Steph and I launched full-time into this ministry in 2004 we resolved to depend on God completely for our financial dependence and He has every step of the way! However, at the time, Steph had just been hired as a teacher, so we had a bit of a buffer in case the ministry had a rough month financially. So we have been riding along, but with training wheels.

However, since the birth of Braelyn, Steph and I are both committed to her staying home to be a full-time mom and wife. We have sought counsel and prayed about this and know this is what the Lord is calling us to. This will not only afford Steph the opportunity to focus on the family, but will also give them greater flexibility to travel with me. We know this is what the Lord wants, but I would be lying to you if I didn't say that I had moments feeling the amazing feeling of freedom of being solely dependent on God, and moments again of sheer terror.

Jesus encourages His disciples in Matthew 6:33 in this way, "But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and these things will be added to you as well" (NIV). So, the training wheels have come off, and while we feel a bit like the 6-year old who is set loose for the first time without his training wheels, wobbly handlebars and all, we still hear the voice of our Father behind us yelling, "Keep your back straight, pedal, there ya go!!!"

We share this as an invitation for you to embark on this excitingly terrifying adventure with us, that all of our faith might be increased as God continues to meet all of our needs. God is very evident in our midst right now and by His grace all of our needs are met. Fortunately, a friend of mine shared with me the autobiography of a guy named George Mueller a while back, who trusted in God for all of his needs to be met. God met ALL of this man's needs, beyond anything he could imagine. I'd encourage you to pick up his book!

So, we're off on our 'big boy' bike, trusting our Father, and enjoying the ride! We look forward to sharing with you amazing stories of God's provision!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Don't Waste Your Summer Vacation

18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. - Mark 4:18-19 (ESV)

Throughout the year I have the privilege of meeting people from many different places at varying stages of their spiritual journey. During many conversations there is a recurring theme of the individual not having enough time to engage in their relationship with God. This often results in frustration that leads to inactivity. This leaves the individual feeling (rightly so) inactive in the life of the Kingdom.

Jesus addresses this in His parable about the farmer sowing seeds. In the verses above Jesus is explaining the meaning of the seed thrown among the thorns. This metaphor is explained as being the persons initial excitement about God that is quickly snuffed out by life. Unfortunately, this adequately describes many of the individuals I counsel. They want God, but only in a proportionate way. They want a God who fits into their schedule rather than a God who is worthy of us falling into His schedule. Instead of bearing fruit in keeping with repentance, they often find themselves unfruitful all together.

Therefore, it is my desire to offer a new perspective on summer vacation for students and adults a like. I have spoken with or read about how bored students are during the summer. These are the very same students who are complaining that they feel far from God and dont have time for Him during the school year!!! Perhaps, we can begin to view our down time a bit differently? Rather than sitting all day playing video games, talking on the phone, going to the mall, watching TV, Myspace-ing, Xanga-ing, LiveJournal-ing, FaceBook-ing, IM-ing, etc. maybe we can invest our time and energy into a growing relationship with Jesus?

What if you begin to view your summer vacation as a gift? What if you no longer view your relationship with God as a job? What if you begin to truly value Jesus as our prize? How would that change the way we live our lives and order our days during the summer?

I have received several E-mails and messages from students who went to camp this summer who just a few weeks later are complaining that they cannot feel God. When I ask them what they have been doing to grow in their relationship with Jesus they usually respond, I go to church, or Nothing. You may be reading this right now and feeling the same way. Let me encourage you!

Here are a few simple ways for you to not waste the summer:

1. Grab a Few Friends and Spend the Next 5 Weeks Studying 1 John. This book of the Bible is 5 chapters in length and you can study 1 chapter a week together. Meet together at Starbucks, Dairy Queen, Sonic, or someones house and learn with each other.

2. Read a Proverb a Day. There are 31 chapters in Proverbs and 30 to 31 days per month. So, for instance, today is June 30th, so you would read Proverb 30 and on July 1st you would read Proverb 1. Easy, but a great way to grow in Gods wisdom!

3. Get a Group of Friends Together to Serve Others. This can be random acts of kindness, caring for the poor or elderly, or volunteering somewhere. Putting our faith into action is a great way to grow! (See James 1:27)

4. Have a day of Alone Time. That is a simple way of saying a day of solitude. Turn off the computer, the cell phone, and all other distracting electronic devices and grab your Bible and a journal. You can either go outside (if you wont completely fry yourself) or stay inside. Take a day to be alone with Jesus, listening to Him, and talking with Him. An old dead guy said, A person who has no solitude, cannot truly experience community, and a person who has no community cannot have fruitful solitude (Paraphrased from Making All Things New, Henri Nouwen).

5. Read a Smaller Book of the Bible in One Sitting. There are times when sitting down and ingesting a larger amount of Scripture is healthy for our soul. Perhaps you could sit down and read Galatians or Ephesians in one sitting. It shouldnt take more than 30 minutes, but will be very beneficial. You can ask some simple questions of the Text:

a. What does it say?
b. What does it mean?
c. How does it apply?

These are only a few suggestions of how you can view your summer as a gift to grow closer to Jesus. Developing some spiritual disciplines when you have the time will make it far more likely for you to continue them when school or work starts up again. Dont waste your summer vacation on things that are temporary. If you find yourself bored or even if youre not, use this time to grow closer to Jesus. That is where you will find the most satisfaction!

Let me know how I might encourage you in this!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Love Loves Truth

"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." - (1 Corinthians 13:6, ESV)

After only three weeks of camps this summer I am so encouraged by the deepened hunger for truth that I have experienced during my time of ministry to students. Typically, camps are a bit awkward the first few days, at least for me as the 'Camp Pastor/Speaker,' because the students and adult leaders are still trying to figure out if they like me and if I have something to say that is worth listening to. I understand this, I'm the same way whenever I am being preached to by some dude I don't know.

As I was praying going into the summer I was very specific in my requests, which were (1) Lord give me words to say that are based upon your truth, and (2) Give the students and adults a deep desire for your truth, even if it offends their flesh. My hearts desire is to serve as a catalyst/encouragement to spur all of my hearers into deeper intimacy with God. However, as many of you know, God has given me a boldness to 'say it like it is' and a security resting in His love for me and that my approval of man is not my primary concern.

The first camp I was a part of was from a church that is only about 5 miles away from my house. I know the area the students live in and that the majority of them live in an affluent area of town. Typically, students who are, shall we say, more privileged, don't usually like truth. They often prefer someone to come in and re-enforce to them that they are the greatest and that the Cross of Jesus Christ was a reflection of their vast worth. The truth that the cross was a horrible reflection of our moral failure and God's justice being poured out isn't usually very well received. So, knowing this I was resolved to obey God and say whatever He led me to, regardless of whether they liked it or not, because I truly love God, I love His truth, I do not rejoice at wrongdoing, and I love my hearers.

It's amazing to me how many people today do not love truth. I'd be the first to admit that there are times where truth hurts, but when spoken with the intention of encouraging people into closer intimacy with God, it is done in love. Back to the first camp...

These students not only met with God that week, but they are truly lovers of truth! I said some VERY hard things over the course of the week and these students realized that what was spoken was true, and rather than trying to argue, they repented!!! To be honest, I was surprised yet very encouraged by what God was doing! As the week progressed their hunger for God's truth increased and their passion for Him was kindled in an increasing manner.

This was a huge encouragement! Love does not merely give permission or make excuses for the sins of others. Love calls sin what it is and points those who are living in sin towards the truth. We MUST as followers of Jesus ask God to give us an increasing passion and desire for His truth. We must become lovers of truth. After all, love loves truth. We must not delight in the wrongdoing being done by our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, rather we must delight in truth. This is only possible when we view sin as offending God and robbing those who are in sin from enjoying Him.

I think where we drop the ball as followers of Jesus is when we point out the sins of others with wrong intentions. If we point out sin in others just so that we can be 'right' or to feel better about ourselves, then we are not acting in love and in turn we become like 'clanging cymbals' (see 1 Cor. 13:1). Sin offends God, robs the believer, and it kills. Love delights in truth and consequentially points people away from sin and towards truth.

My friends from Kamp Kingsland, Horizon Camps, and FLM Camps are truly lovers of Truth. May God make us increasingly a people who do not delight in wrongdoing rather delight in truth. That is love...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Braelyn Nicole Cease IS HERE!!!

We are so excited to announce the birth of Braelyn Nicole Cease on Wednesday, June 21st, 2006 @ 11:31 a.m. CST. At 7 lbs and 11 ozs and 20 inches long she is doing quite well! Mama is doing great as well! We appreciate your love, prayers, and encouragement during this time!!!

Casey & Steph

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Braelyn Nicole Cease - Coming VERY Soon!!!

The countdown has begun. In just a few days Steph and I will be welcoming our newest edition to our family. Braelyn is due on my birthday, June 27th, but as we have been told by many, the due date is not very static. We do know however, that if she has not come by Monday the 26th that we will go ahead and get the ball rolling. The reason being that I only have 2 weeks at home to enjoy my baby and my wife before I head back to summer camps.

I am about to be a father... A FATHER!!! We have been showered with encouragement, tips, suggestions, warnings, and everything else under the sun. However, until it actually happens we are quickly realizing that we don't really know ANYTHING! The nursery is ready, we have all of the stuff we need that we know of, and everything is in order. We have been EXTREMELY blessed by our friends and families with their love and gifts providing much of what we need to meet the physical needs of our sweet little baby and we thank God for His faithful provision through those near us.

We are praying that Braelyn will wait to come anytime after June 23rd because I am still responsible to preach at one more camp this upcoming week in Marshall, TX. As I have shared this with my friends I have received many different remarks, laughter, and smirks. However, the Doc said that we should be okay, but I will be ready to leave if things should get rolling. Please join us in praying for anytime after the 23rd! :-)

God has been teaching me that my role as a father is HUGE! Being that I minister to thousands of students each year and counsel many, I realize that the father can either bless their child or curse them. A child's early idea of God comes from their father and if the father abandons, abuses, mistreats, neglects, or does not show love and encouragement the child's ability to grasp the idea of God as Father becomes very difficult. I am praying that I would not be a stumbling block to my daughter. I long to be a faithful, loving, and encouraging father. My only hope is found in God's faithfulness in guiding Steph and I as we take this step of faith.

I am also very aware of my calling to be the provider for my family, which I embrace and long for. The biggest tension I sit in at the moment is the temptation to lack faith and try to generate income rather than trusting in God's faithful provision. This is very silly of me because God has FAITHFULLY provided for all of our needs since the launching of this ministry. However, the impending reality of Steph no longer working, which means the loss of that income along with health insurance brings along even greater responsibility. I am grateful, though for all the family and friends that God has placed in our life to encourage us back towards Jehovah-Jireh, the God who provides. He is our provider and will provide. My prayer has lately mirrored that of the father in Mark 9, "I do believe, but help me in my unbelief."

What a privilege it is to be a husband and a father! Even with all of the worldly concerns that I may wrestle with, I am confident in God's ability in spite of my own. In closing, I would love to share with you the promise I read from Genesis 28 this morning that God made to Jacob,

"13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

As God promised to Jacob to be His God, His provider, and His leader, He promises this to us as well as we too are heirs of this promise in Christ. So, with the anxiety that comes from becoming new parents, we also rest in His faithfulness.

We love you and covet your prayers...

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Bumper Stickers

For some reason, my attention has been drawn to bumpers stickers on vehicles as I am driving. I ask myself questions like, "What does this person hope to communicate about themselves?" or "Do they really think that a person is going to be radically changed by this message?" or "Why do they feel the need to post the resume of their kid's activities on the back window? However, my favorite ones are, "In case of rapture this car will be unmanned," or "CAUTION! Non-exposure to the Son will cause burning," or "Got Jesus? It's Hell without Him."

First, if our faith can be slapped into a slogan, put on a sticky piece of vinyl, then what are we doing? When was the last time the weight and power of the Gospel that was purchased through Jesus landed on someone as a result of one of these silly stickers? Is the Gospel so diluted and our desire as Christians to 'evangelize' so polluted that we believe that these 'proclamations without explanations' are suitable and honoring to our King Jesus?

Secondly, it's not just the bumper stickers that bother me. There are deeper implications. If it were just these arrogant, yet content lacking stickery statements, that would be one thing. But what is becoming more alarming for me as I travel is that people don't have much more to say than what these stickers are saying. Most people serve as what I like to call "Prophetic Parrots" wherein they say stuff they have heard other people say. Hear me, I do that too, however, before I go repeating stuff, I strive to think about what was said, how it measures to the truth of Scriptures, and how I can say it in a manner that is honest and edifying to the person I am sharing with.

It is time that followers of the living Christ be able to communicate the weightier, life-transforming, all powerful truth of the Good News without resorting to over-used and under-realized cliches. From the outside looking in, we are a bunch of people who are quick to flap our gums about God's love and scream of Hell's fire in the same breath (or bumper sticker). If we say we have been born again by the real and living Jesus Christ, shouldn't we have something more to say than, "Turn or Burn!"? Shouldn't we draw near to the living God through the illumination of His Word by the Holy Spirit? Shouldn't we think through what we believe and why and struggle to find ways to communicate these truths in ways that are consequential rather than borderline ignorant?

If you have a bumper sticker, I'm not advocating that you necessarily go rip it off the car (unless it is one of the ones listed above). I want to encourage you however, to understand that our call to "As we are going through life to make disciples of all nations..." requires more than bumper sticker evangelism. How I long to hear more and more people have such a consequential faith that their words and actions become consistent rather than overwhelmed by the marketing of overly useless novelties...

Question: It seems that some who call themselves Christians like to hold picket signs to 'show the love of God or His righteousness...' However, I have been thinking... Why hasn't anyone gone to Golden Corral (or your favorite all you can eat buffet) and sit with a sign that reads, "Eat to live, not Live to EAT!!!"? They could wait for anyone who appears overweight to come back for seconds, and they could publically humiliate, I mean show the love of God to the ever increasing group of people who have a 'life-style' sin of gluttony. I'm definitely not advocating this, but it seems curious to me the things that we invest our time and hatred towards...

I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Lord help us...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Gong Song

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."
(1 Corinthians 13:1, ESV)

A few weeks ago Stephanie and I were relaxing and watching 'American Idol' when we saw a commercial for a new show coming on immediately after the show. This new show was called 'Unanimous' and the premise was to lock these people in an underground bunker and have them decide unanimously who would win the $1.5 million dollars. I was slightly curious to see how these people would interact. For those of you who do not know, I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology, so I wanted to see how this would play out.

Within the first few minutes of the show the evidence of greed and manipulation was all over the place. However, the thing that ripped my heart out the most was the interaction between a woman from Los Angeles, CA who was a 49 year old minister and a male who was admittedly homosexual. We are aware that the producers intentionally pick people with varying backgrounds to make the show interesting. The sin issue of homosexuality quickly arose as an area for discussion. As Steph and I were watching I was heart broken and angered greatly by what was going on.

To be honest, I have been burdened for a while about how we 'Christians' address people who are in sin. Many of you know me and know that I am not afraid to address sin issues, but I always strive to do it in a loving manner that will ultimately bring about reconciliation with the person and God. I was hoping in my heart that this 'minister' would answer in a loving manner when the obvious question arose. It was my prayer that when this man found out this lady was a minister and shared his lifestyle with her that she would answer honestly, but lovingly.

However, she responded as a prophetic parrot. What I mean by a 'prophetic parrot' is someone who throws out your typical heartless clich├ęs that us Christians are famous for. When the guy asked her about her opinions she said, "Your problem is not with me, you need to take it up with the Bible," "Look at Sodom and Gomorrah," and my all time favorite, "It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." Sitting there in shock my heart sank for all parties involved.

"You can't be serious," I thought to myself. I was grieved. Then the prophetic homosexual said something that haunted me. He said, "YOU ARE RECKLESS WITH YOUR WORDS!!!" Wow... As Steph and I were talking about what we had seen we both lamented about the way Christians are often clanging cymbals and loud gongs. The truth is, what she was saying was true, however, the way she said it was unfortunately the typical 'Evangelical' response.

In 1 Corinthians 13:1 (as shown above) Paul makes a clarifying statement. The people of Corinth were enamored with the spiritual gift of tongues and by those who were multilingual. Paul was indicating that whatever way they spoke, if it was absent of love, then the were just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. This woman was 'speaking the truth,' but there was no hint of any love. CLANG CLANG CLANG!!!

Has it really come to the point where Christians have nothing else to offer to the issue of homosexuality besides, "It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!"? What an ignorant, thoughtless, and hateful statement. This isn't the only sin that we are 'reckless with our words' about. Has the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus to the right hand of the Father left us so powerless that we just tear people down? What happened to the Gospel? What happened to Grace and Truth? What happened to loving our neighbor as our self? What happened to having 'eyes to see, ears to hear, and the ability to understand'?

I invite you along with Steph and I as we seek to grasp a deeper understanding of the all transforming power found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us consider how we can lovingly communicate the Gospel as a cure to the sin disease that is killing us all. Homosexuality is clearly taught as a sin in numerous places in the Bible. However, if we are to be loving people, let us spend some time considering the complexity of the issue and how we might craft our words in such a way that it will communicate lovingly the transforming power of Jesus Christ.

For some people, I think the greatest thing they can do for the Kingdom of God right now is to remain silent. Unless you are confronting sin from a heart of love, saturated in Scripture, with the goal being reconciliation of the person and God through a relationship with Jesus, then please for the sake of God's reputation and for the rest of us Christ followers, be quiet.

My prayer for us all would be that we submit to the authority of God as communicated through His written Word and become people of understanding who lovingly choose our words. Let's not be noisy gongs or clanging cymbals, rather let us be a people who have been so radically loved by God that our response is to radically love others.