Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Let It Be (a Christmas carol)

You tell me, was Paul McCartney a closet fundamentalist?
or was he at least influenced by Horatio Spafford?

When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, 
speaking words of wisdom, let it be. 
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me, 
speaking words of wisdom, let it be. 

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be. 
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be. 

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree, 
there will be an answer, let it be. 
For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see, 
there will be an answer. let it be.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

Let it be, let it be, ..... 

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light, that shines on me, 
shine until tomorrow, let it be. 
I wake up to the sound of music, mother Mary comes to me, 
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Let it be, let it be, ..... 

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

(truth is, for all my hymnologically impaired friends, McCartney's song has more Biblicity than Spafford's. Do you know the passage?)

Monday, November 25, 2013

16 Reasons to GIVE THANKS to God This Week

During the week of Thanksgiving, my sermon was based on Psalm 107 which repeatedly tells us to GIVE THANKS to God. Sometimes giving thanks is the best way to work our way out of a slump. So today, try giving thanks, specifically because:

1) He is good.

2) He works wondrous deeds.

3) His love endures forever.

Here are some specific examples I gave of each of these attributes of God...

Give thanks because of who God is:

  1. Creator -- even in its broken state, creation still trumpets the goodness of God.
  2. Sustainer -- if He ever removed His hands, all would fall apart.
  3. Provider -- He provides all our needs (not necessarily our wants)
  4. Healer -- every earthly healing is a small taste of the eternal healing that waits for us all
  5. Savior -- history is full of stories recounting God's saving action on behalf of His people
  6. Redeemer -- He spared no expense to buy us back from our rebellion
Give thanks because of what God has done:
  1. He chose Abraham -- from Abraham he launched a new nation and inaugurated a redemptive plan
  2. He rescued His people -- by humbling the world's superpower, God displayed His power
  3. He delivered a remnant -- in the midst of judgment and destruction, God saved a few to carry on His plan
  4. He sent His Son -- Jesus came to do for us what we could never do for ourselves
  5. He sent His Spirit -- a comforter, a guide, a counselor, a convictor, He is with us forever
  6. He launched His church -- a global community, united by love for Christ and the experience of salvation
Give thanks because of what God has promised:
  1. An inheritance -- reserved for us by God. We have hope that this life is NOT all there is
  2. Complete salvation -- in the future we will experience salvation from the power & presence of sin
  3. Eternal life -- death is not the end. On the other side of the grave is a brilliant, exhilarating & perfect life
  4. All things new -- no more sorrow or pain or death. Eden Restored!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

3 Rules for Healthy Debate

DEBATE is not a four letter word. (its six if you haven’t already gone back and counted) Sometimes we treat it as a curse word, when in reality, healthy debate can often be the catalyst for the most efficient learning. Unfortunately, healthy debate is rarely found among those who hold different ideas from one another. More often, fighting is more characteristic of those discussions, and sadly this seems to be more prevalent when those who claim to follow Christ are involved.

I've been batting around the idea of what characterizes healthy debate. I think right now I want to suggest three necessary elements (somewhat parallel for the linguistic creativity junkies). These three elements are interrogate, restate, debate.

Interrogate — ask, ask, ask. Too often discussions (particularly internet discussions) consist of two people/sides firing a barrage of propositional statements at one another, accomplishing nothing but fortifying their own positions. The first element of productive debate is the process of hearing what the other is saying. This can only be accomplished by asking questions. Here’s a good rule of thumb: "make no declarative statements which aren't preceded by at least one interrogatory statement." (of course your questions must be intended to gain clarity, not to fortify your position or entrap the other person)

Restate — It seems to me that the most effective means of clarifying your counterpart’s ideas is to restate them continually until agreement is reached that you are both on the same page. Even if your goal is to convince the other person that they are wrong (a bad starting point to be sure), you cannot show them that they are wrong until you show them that you understand what they are saying. Here’s a good rule of thumb: "make no propositions until you have stated your counterparts position in your own words to their satisfaction."

Debate — state your point. Do it concisely and precisely. Define your terms. Avoid ad hominem attacks. Don’t overstate. Avoid absolutes unless they are absolutely necessary. Be courteous. Speak less than you listen.

A great Bible verse to guide debates is James 1:19. "let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger".

All that to say, debates whether heavy or light, detailed or general need to be done appropriately if they are to build the body of Christ. This must begin with more efforts to understand the other side before dismissing and dissing. (how’s that for a good finishing line?)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Jesus Led By Example. We Lead By Following.

These are the main thoughts that went out with my last "Leadership Email" to The Gathering leaders. Although the email is targeted specifically at those leading ministries and groups at The Gathering, anyone can sign up to receive the entire email at the end of the post.

In the great state of Michigan everyone knows "The Captain". He is Steve Yzerman, a Canadian hockey player who led the beloved Red Wings to multiple Stanley Cup Championships. Since Retiring, Yzerman has overseen the revitalization of Tampa Bay's hockey team, the Lightning, and was the architect responsible for building Canada's gold-medal winning team in 2010.

My son, Liam, was almost named "Stephen" in honor of Steve Yzerman's contributions to my favorite hockey team!

Despite being one of the greatest leaders in the history of hockey, Steve Yzerman is not a loud or boisterous person. In fact, he's quite soft-spoken. Yet the example he sets with the way he plays and lives has been sufficient to lead many hockey players to several championships.

Early in his career, Yzerman was an unstoppable goal scorer. He was often mentioned in the same breath as legends like Wayne Gretzky. But his team was terrible. They were known as the "Dead Things." Then Steve Yzerman changed his game. He became a more defensive player, he stopped scoring and started creating, he began throwing himself in front of opposing player's shots (risking injury but blocking goals). His teammates caught on. The Red Wings stopped paying "pretty hockey" and started playing winning hockey. The rest is history.

The best leaders lead by example.

Christian leaders lead by Jesus' example.

When confronted with throngs of people and hoards of children, Jesus modeled kindness and compassion for his disciples. After a long day in the desert, Jesus humbled himself and served his disciples by washing their feet. In the ultimate act of leading by example, Jesus sacrificed his own life for the life of his followers.

If you want to be a great leader, figure out how to set a Christ-like example in your context. Model the behavior you desire to see (especially kindness and compassion). Serve those who are following you. Above all, sacrifice your own desires and ambitions for the good of others.

The ultimate leadership example has been set for us. Now we must lead by following.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

7 Steps to Myth-Busting Prayer!

The Bible records many prayers for us. What better way to learn how to pray than to study these prayers and glean lessons from them? Here is the prayer of Nehemiah from the first chapter of his book:
Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. 
We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name. 
They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.

And here are 7 of my observations from this prayer. Notice that each of these focuses on exploding myths we tend to believe about ourselves and the world around us. Perhaps we could call this, "Mythbusting Prayer". I'm going to try to implement some of these thoughts into my own prayers this week:
  1. Recognize who God REALLY is..."the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant"...He is a lot bigger than we think.
  2. Recognize who you REALLY are..."hear the prayer your servant is praying"...You are God's servant, praying to determine what the master wishes. Prayer is not you telling God what you wish for him to do!
  3. Recognize what you have REALLY done..."I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you"...Not only have you sinned willfully and personally against God, but you are part of systems, communities, and organizations which have rejected God and sinned against Him (often by how those in His Image have been treated). Don't come to prayer like you've done nothing.
  4. Recognize what you have REALLY not done..."We have not obeyed"...Seriously. You have not obeyed.
  5. Recognize what God REALLY wants you to have..."I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen"...In spite of all the badness eminating from us, God desires to be with us. We can pray CONFIDENTLY knowing HE desires restoration and HE will act to bring it about.
  6. Recognize what is REALLY appropriate to ask for..."O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant"...The most important thing we can ask for is the ear of God. Since He hears, we can freely ask, knowing that what we receive is the grace of God demonstrating what it is we truly need.
  7. Recognize that prayer teaches us what we REALLY need..."Give your servant success today."...What if Nehemiah had been unsuccessful? Does that mean he prayed wrongly? No, it means his prayer was heard, and God in his graciousness did not grant a prayer that would have been harmful for Nehemiah. Prayer requires us to surrender our will in the knowledge that God is sovereign and God is love!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

9 Creative Prayer Ideas for Your Small Group

I've had two conversations in the past couple days about the importance of prayer in the life of the church. In light of those conversations, I thought I'd post these thoughts about praying in a small group. 

Prayer should play an important role in the life of every small group. Some groups do a great job of emphasizing prayer, but others struggle a bit to make it a piece of their community.  Often, prayer is an intimidating thing for people to do in a group. Here are a couple ideas that might help make prayer less difficult and that might help your group become more "prayer-focused" in the process:

1. Silent Prayer.Choose a soft (preferably prayer-focused) song and tell the group you're going to play this song and while it plays everyone is going to just engage in silent prayer.  Once the song is done, the prayer time will be over. If you want, suggest a pattern of prayer that might be helpful for them. One possible pattern is the "ACTS" pattern (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). Another pattern is to focus on the 3 Relationships Christians have (with God, with other Christians, with those in the world). After the prayer time is over, take a minute to let people discuss how they felt about the experience. 
2. Speak to the Chair.Place a chair in the center of the room and tell your group to imagine God is sitting there. Without bowing heads and closing eyes, have people simply talk to God. Let them say thank you or ask questions or make requests.  Remind everyone that the goal is to focus on God, so they must resist the temptation to respond to what others are saying. After a while, thank everyone for participating and give them a moment to pray silently and bring closure to the time. 
3. Thanksgiving Statements.Instead of having everyone pray, just spend time having people thank God for things. Allow anyone to speak, and allow them to speak as often as they like. But limit the prayers to one sentence prayers of thanksgiving.  Before you start let everyone know how you will signal the end of the time. 
4. Scripted Prayer.There are some good prayers in the Bible. Sometimes it can be beneficial to read them aloud as a group. Many of the Psalms will work for this. The Lord's Prayer is also great to read as a group. If you want something a little more different, find a prayer in the "Book of Common Prayer" and make enough copies for everyone. Encourage people to consider the meaning and depth of the words as they read them aloud. 
5. Written Prayer.Give everyone 5 minutes with a pen and paper.  Have them write out their prayer. After you are finished have anyone who desires read their prayer aloud. Encourage everyone to keep their prayer with them and refer back to it throughout the week. 
6. Prayer for One AnotherGo around a circle and have each person pray a short prayer of thanksgiving and encouragement for the person to their right (or left). They can say something as simple as "Lord, please bless ____________ as they go through their week." It might be helpful to give a couple minutes to people to talk to one another prior to doing this so that their prayers can be more informed. 
7. Week Long PrayerHave each person in the group commit to praying for one other person in the group for an entire week. Have them set aside time each day to specifically pray for that person. Give people an opportunity to talk to one another about their prayers before and after the week. 
8. Scheduled PrayerSet aside a time during the week when everyone in the group is going to stop what they are doing and simply pray for 5 minutes. Try to set it up so that it happens at a time when everyone can participate. The following week, have people share how this exercise impacted their day or their week. 
9. Focused PrayerIf someone in the group is in need of prayer, and if they are willing to share that with the group; have the group gather around and lay hands on the person. Choose 3-4 people to pray while everyone else prays silently. Make sure you follow up the next week to find out how the situation is working out (sometimes an exercise like this will alert a group to things beyond prayer that they need to do for one another. Read James 2:15-17).

A Practical Guide for Small Group Leaders


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

13 Reasons Christians Can Never Walk Alone

This is the greatest soccer story ever told... seriously. And the song that tells the story is the anthem of Liverpool Football, "You'll Never Walk Alone."

One of the greatest blessings we have been given is a group of people with whom to walk through life. Jesus gave us the church so we would never have to walk alone. Sometimes in our pursuit of a "personal" relationship with God, we forge that He has called us to be part of a community. That calling must be a priority for us. Check out these 13 reasons why Christians can never walk alone!

1. When we were saved, we were baptized into a body (1 Cor.12)

2. Christ's final command was to "love one another". (John 13)

3. Christ's one prayer for the church was "unity" (John 17)

4. Man was created in the image of God. Unity with diversity. (Gen 1-2)

5. It is not good for man to be alone. (Gen. 2)

6. The mission of the church cannot be accomplished if we do not love one another (John 13,17)

7. The message the apostles taught new believers from the beginning was to "love one another" (1 John 3)

8. A mature church is a unified church. (Eph. 4)

9. Our "spiritual worship" is necessarily tied to our love for each other. (Rom. 12)

10. Jesus' example was to sacrifice solitude in favor of service. (Luke 9)

11. We are called to think more highly of others than ourselves. (Philp. 2)

12. Jesus expected us to seek first THE kingdom, not our kingdom. (Matt. 6)

13. Righteousness requires justice and mercy to our fellow man. (Amos)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

10 Things You Can Pray For Other People

This list borrowed from Colossians 1:

1. Be thankful for the people God has brought into your life

2. Be thankful for the good things you have heard about other people

3. Be thankful that others have come to faith in Jesus

4. Be thankful for the love that people have demonstrated to you and others

5. Be thankful for the hope that can sustain people through their suffering

6. Pray for the increase of people’s knowledge of God’s will

7. Pray that people will have and demonstrate wisdom in their daily choices

8. Pray that people will understand the life circumstances in which they find themselves

9. Pray that people’s lives will be pleasing to God and bring glory to him

10. Pray that people’s lives will produce fruit, specifically that they will bring others to know God

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Don't Be A Fool

A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!"

On the surface, it would appear that this is an astute business man. He worked hard, he profited, he invested his profit to secure his wealth and provide for the future. This sounds like good sound stewardship.

Yet, in verse 20, God calls this man a fool. Why?

First, he was foolish because he had a faulty view of success. As we are all sometimes guilty of doing, he believed that his success was solely a result of his own hard work. Yet when we look more closely at the story, we can see that Jesus told it very intentionally to demonstrate that success in life, work, or anywhere else is something that God provides for us.

In the story, it is the farm that produces the fine crops, not the rich man; and Jesus describes the farm as “fertile.” It was ready to go. This man literally reaped the benefits of God’s creation. That the land produced more than he expected is another evidence of God’s provision. Any time we receive more than we expect, we should remind ourselves that this is from God, not something we deserve. While the man certainly invested and worked to produce a crop, without the hand of God he never would have succeeded.

His greater mistake, though, was responding wrongly to the blessings of God. He chose hoarding over generosity. Here was a man who had been given far more than he expected, far more than he needed, probably more than he even wanted. Perhaps he could have given some of his crop away? Perhaps he could have used his excess to meet the needs of those in need. Instead he chose to build bigger barns.

Have you ever seen the television show “Storage Wars”. It follows a group of people who purchase storage units which are in default. The show is part of a recent trend in television which includes shows like “Pawn Stars”, “American Pickers” and several other shows which follow a new industry being born in our country which is based solely on people’s massive accumulation of stuff and their inability to hold on to it.

Take a moment and contemplate how many self-storage units have sprung up in cities across America in the past decade. They are everywhere. We have so much stuff that our houses can’t hold it, so we build bigger barns.

One summer, several years ago, I spent a week in Chicago with a group of high school students.  We went to several different soup kitchens and helped make the food, set the tables, serve the meals, and clean up.

During those evenings I met some incredibly fascinating people.  After the men and women ate their meals, some of them were willing to stay around and talk.  I listened to their stories about which churches served the best meals in their basements, and which parks the police were most likely to kick them out of, and what was the best way to keep your bag full of things from getting stolen.

They didn't talk very much about their storage problems.  No one complained that their closet was too small. One guy commented that he wished the basket on his bicycle was larger.  It wasn't quite big enough to hold all his stuff.

All his stuff.

He could almost fit everything he owned in a bicycle basket.

An enormous number of people in our world would look at the storage units which have become so prevalent in our country, and would salivate at the thought that maybe someday they could live in a house so large.

Bigger barns.

Let me take a minute and point out what this story is NOT about. Jesus is NOT saying that wealth is wrong. Jesus is NOT saying that it is wrong to have nice things. Nowhere does Jesus ever teach that everyone should have the same amount of everything; in fact, he touches just the opposite. He teaches that everyone is given different amounts of different things. Some people have been blessed more than others financially or materially or with intelligence or athletic ability. God gives to all as He deems best, but His expectation of all is the same.

Use what He has given you as He would use it.

God said to the rich man, “You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?” Nothing you accumulate on this earth will last. So Jesus said, “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly possessions but not have a rich relationship with God.”

The rich man died. We all die. And we cannot take it with us. From an eternal perspective, money is not important and money does not last.

But seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.

Gain All You Can; Save All You Can; Give All You Can

I talked about Rick Warren's perspective on money last week. Here is a short clip of him talking about it. He speaks more "boldly" than I do on the topic which is good... If preaching on money is offensive, please be offended by him, not by me!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What Were You Doing 10 Years Ago?


Before Facebook, before Twitter, before Instagram or Snapchat... There was Blogger.

And I was blogging. Those blogs are no longer accessable to the public, but every so often I look into the archives to see what kind of person I was back then. "Disturbed" seems like a good description.

Ten years ago, I wrote this:

I think that Celine Dion would make a great hit-person. if you saw her walking toward you, the last thing you would think was that she was there to kill you. (Celine, if you are reading this, i have nothing against you, i think you are a magnificent musician). But here's the best part, as you lay there dying in a pool of your own blood...getting cold from the blood surrounding you, but also because you get cold when you die...she could sing to you...like whatever you wanted. i would probably choose Ave Maria, not because i have and special fondness for Mary or anything, but it is just a great song.


Monday, November 11, 2013

5 Commitments That Could Revolutionize Any Church

We commit to focus our efforts on pleasing God, even if that means not pleasing some people.

We commit to investing in our neighborhoods, even if that means investing less time at our building.

We commit to speaking the TRUTH in love, even if that means we’ll be accused of being unloving.

We commit to serving with all we have, even if that means losing all we want.

We commit to die to ourselves, even if that means living a way we never would have imagined.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Once for All. The Most Important Words in the Bible?

Hebrews 9:26 says:

But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Three words in the middle of that verse define the distinction between Christianity and every other religion in the world.


Virtually every world religion shares one fundamental similarity. At the heart of the religion is instruction for achieving "eternal life", or whatever else might be the ultimate goal of the religion (eg. Nirvana, Heaven, etc.). Another way to say this is to say that the majority of religions tell you what you need to do. I think this concept of religion resonates with most people.

Let me provide a few examples.

Buddhism is built on a process of holding to or believing four noble truths. The fourth of these noble truths instructs Buddhists to follow the eight-fold path, which is a list of eight activities designed to help the Buddhist gain liberation from attachment and suffering. Following the eight-fold path means doing the following:

  • Right View
  • Right Intention
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Concentration

According to the Buddha, apart from doing these things, one cannot hope to rid himself or herself of attachment or suffering, and has no hope of reaching nirvana.

Islam is a religion which many consider in the same family as Christianity. Muslims find their roots in Abraham's family tree (albeit their branch is Ishmael, not Jacob). Muslims are monotheistic, a trait they share with Judaism and Christianity (and maybe some "Christian-like" cult groups).

The core of the Islamic ethic is rooted in the Five Pillars of Islam. These five activities are the core of the Muslim's hope to one day find their way into the heaven of Allah:

  • The shahada -- a confession that there is no God but Allah and Muhammed is his prophet
  • Ritual prayer, five times a day
  • The giving of alms to aid the poor and further the advance of Islam around the world
  • Fasting during the month of Ramadan
  • A pilgrimage to Mecca (those who are physically unable or cannot afford a pilgrimage are exempted)
(I've listed here the Sunni Muslim pillars. Other branches of Islam have slightly different but essentially similar pillars)

As with the Buddhist, performing these duties is essential for the Muslim if he hopes for a "good ending" in the after-life.

Most people assume (understandably so, due to the obvious emphasis of nearly every world religion) that our destiny in the afterlife is directly tied to what we DO in this life. Many people even assume that this is the perspective of Christianity, that our adherence to the rules in the Bible affects our ability to make it into heaven.

This is the misunderstanding that Hebrews 9:26 corrects.

First, let me point out what some might view as the ethical foundation of Christianity. Many people would view the eight-fold path and the five pillars as parallel lists to the ten commandments of Judaism and Christianity, or the three commandments of Jesus in the new testament (Love God, Love your neighbor, Love one another). However, the Bible is CRYSTAL CLEAR that someone who adheres to the ten commandments and/or the three commandments all their life will NOT earn their way into heaven.

The message of Christianity is that no to-do list of good deeds will ever be sufficient to eradicate the sin that separates us from God (if this post wasn't getting too long already, I'd discuss how our first three years of life and college put us so far behind on the good deed-bad deed ledger that we can never hope to catch up).

If you'll notice in this verse, Jesus does ALL the work. Nothing is left to us. While other verses explicitly discuss our weaknesses, this verse clearly implies our inability to be right with God on our own.

Instead, we rely on the fact that Jesus has already accomplished the necessary work to make us right with God. We only need to rely on His work on our behalf.

His sacrifice was ONCE. It requires no on-going work on our part, it requires no repetition, it requires nothing in the future. It was a one-time historical event that eradicated the penalty of sin for all who believe.

His sacrifice was for ALL. We can understand this to mean that his sacrifice was good for all people of all races, tribes, creeds, etc. We can also understand this to mean that his sacrifice was good for all time, it left nothing undone that needed to be done.

According to the Bible (Hebrews 9:26 particularly), my eternal destiny is completely dependent on ONE past historical event. My ability or inability to follow a list of rules or an ethical code has no impact on my standing with God. phew!

It boils down to this:

Religions require an ongoing process of deeds as the only way to be purified from wrongdoing.
Christianity recognizes one righteous act by God was sufficient to put away sin.

How do you respond to this truth?

  • For some, this brings great relief as they willingly place their reliance in Christ's work
  • For some, this brings confusion as it conflicts with life-long deeply held notions about religion, God, and Christianity
  • For some, this brings frustration as they still cling to the idea that they are good enough on their own to be okay with God and therefore they don't need someone else
  • For some, this causes laughter as they simply cannot conceive of such a simple salvation

How do you respond?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What is Salvation?

I was recently involved in an interesting discussion about the nature of faith and salvation. As I thought about some of the things we discussed, I went back into the archives and found this draft I wrote many years ago about salvation and evangelism. It's worth consideration:

What is “salvation”? Many within the church misunderstand salvation, and therefore we must be certain to hold a proper concept of salvation before we attempt to explain it to others. Ephesians 2:8, 9 says, “…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Salvation comes directly and only from God. It is something that can absolutely not be achieved by any action. Herein lays a common and serious misunderstanding of salvation. We are not saved by something we do. We are saved by something we have, namely faith.

Faith is not something we can develop, it is not something we can find, and it is not something we can purchase. It is the gracious gift of God. This is encouraging for the evangelist. If the possession of faith of others was dependent upon our abilities, we would likely fail, and at best we could have no confidence that any would be saved. However, it is not up to us. We are assured that faith will happen through the preaching of the Word (Rom. 10:13-15). Thus the role of the evangelist is to proclaim the truth of God, depending upon the work of the Spirit to regenerate the darkened mind of the unbeliever.

If faith is the true measure of the evangelist’s success, how can he/she know when he has been successful?

Life change must be the measure. True faith is evidenced by life change (James 2:14-26). Thus it is imperative that our evangelistic method be more than just a cognitive exercise; for a cognitive exercise will most likely produce only a cognitive awareness.

Our method, while appealing to the mind, must also be experiential in nature. Faith, when received will lead to baptism (Acts 2:38), a new way of life (Eph. 5:8), and ultimately the multiplication of one’s own faith into others (Matthew 13:23).

Therefore, our evangelism must present the faith as the entrance into a community of believers, living counter-cultural lives, bearing witness to Christ’s work in them. This experiential element of evangelism may for some, be far more powerful than any well-crafted argument.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

10 Easy Ways To Be Generous Today

Jesus was the most generous man who ever lived. He gave up the most and received the least in return. Even though He was God, he gladly opened His hand and let go of his high station. He then humbled himself and took the world's most severe demotion, eventually allowing himself to be killed by His own creatures. All of this, He gave freely so that we might be made right with His Father.

God has given us so much and His expectation is that we open our hands and use those gifts to be generous. Here are some simple ways you can be more generous today:

1. Say something encouraging to someone you've never paid a compliment to before

2. Pay the tab for the car behind you in the drive-thru line

3. Send flowers to your wife for no reason (wives, send bacon to your husband)

4. Put a little extra in the offering plate at your church

5. Give a hefty tip to the cashier at the grocery store

6. Bring dessert to your neighbor

7. Make a micro-loan through Kiva

8. Send a handwritten note to a friend you haven't seen for a while

9. If you eat out, ask to see the manager and tell him/her how wonderful your server is

10. Smile and hand a $5 bill to a complete stranger

Don't Worry; Be Generous!

I just finished this graphic for Sunday and it made me smile, so I posted it here.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you." (Luke 12:22-31)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Your Focus Might Be on The Wrong Person

It's Christmas season...

As we approach this season when it is fairly easy to be focused on the work of Jesus for us, it’s a good time to remind ourselves that our lives should always be focused on Him and on what He is doing in our lives. Think about Philippians 2 which encourages us to focus on the needs of others before we focus on the needs of ourselves.

Do you remember those old, “You might be a redneck” jokes? At the end of each of these statements, insert the expression, “Your focus might be on the wrong person.”  And, if any of them apply, refocus yourself.

If you are wondering why no one else recognizes how valuable your work is…

If you are irate that someone didn’t pay enough attention to you…

If you are stressed out because of circumstances beyond your control…

If you are upset that you can’t get access to the important people…

If you are angry that you didn’t receive the proper thanks for something you did…

If you are certain that no one can replace you…

If you are frustrated that no one is listening to you…

If you are sure that your way is the only way…

If you are disappointed that someone else didn’t give you what you wanted…

...Your focus might be on the wrong person

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Yes, But...

Every so often I have a Sunday morning experience that I am quite certain is not unique to me. I call it the Yes But. Anyone who preaches on a regular basis has probably observed the Yes But at some point in their ministry.

The Yes But sounds something like this, "Pastor, I agree with what you said, BUT..."

Sound familiar?

Before you decide I'm being overly critical of the Yes But, though, let me finish. I have discovered that the Yes But can teach me a great deal about the words I just spoke.
Sometimes, when confronted by the Yes But, I find myself feeling defensive. I immediately begin planning my response. I look for ways to show the Yes Butter that they are clearly in the wrong.

You can be certain that this response clearly indicates that the words I just preached were not God's, they were my own.

The more defensive I am of the words I preach, the more likely it is that they reflect my ideas, not God's.

Sometimes, though, when confronted with the Yes But, I don't feel the least bit defensive. Sometimes I feel quite peaceful, and sometimes, I have found myself feeling a genuine concern for the spiritual journey of the person speaking to me. When I don't feel the need to defend my words, it is likely that they were really Gods words.

The beauty of speaking the word of God is that I never have to defend myself. As long as I can say, "I am simply preaching directly from the Word of God", I never have to worry about the Yes But. I can always say, "you don't have to agree with me, but please make sure you aren't disagreeing with God."