Monday, December 29, 2014

3 Resolutions You Must Make This Year

Here's something new for the blog. Maybe it will happen once, maybe it will happen weekly.
What follows is yesterday's sermon in 10 statements...


1. Jesus provided three primary commands for those who wished to follow him. They were:

2. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength. "All" is the key word.

3. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Here is the foundational principle for what would someday become the golden rule.

4. Love one another as I have loved you. Jesus' love for his followers was a sacrificial love. He said the greatest love of all is a man who lays down his life for his friends. Then He laid down his life for His friends.

5. Prioritizing these commands in our life requires us to DEMONSTRATE our love through ACTION.

6. Our love for God is demonstrated when we obey ALL his commands. If we choose to ignore certain of His expectations, we are demonstrating self-love rather than love for God.

7. Our love for our neighbor is demonstrated when we positively impact every person with whom we come into contact.

8. Our love for one another is demonstrated when we sacrifice our time, talents or treasures for the good of the body of Christ.

9. Our journey of character formation is made up of the whole of every "step" we take.

10. Each new year's resolution you make is a step toward something. Use your resolutions to form your character to match that of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tonight, My Heart is Full.

My heart is full tonight.

And not just because I’m hanging out on the couch with my honey watching a BeeGees tribute band (although that would usually be enough).

Two years ago, Marianne and I moved as far back in the auditorium as we could. We simply wanted to watch our daughter perform in the band and remain as anonymous as possible. We didn’t really know anyone around us, and that was okay.

For several years, we had struggled to move our children out of a dysfunctional school that was not good for them. Now they had started at a new school and were transitioning well, but we were yet a bit numb. We had lost friends; for integrity’s sake, I had left my job; we were making ends meet but had no idea what was around the corner. That night, we just wanted to get in, hear the music and get out.

Tonight was so different.

Tonight we sat with close friends and laughed with the people around us, the parents of our children’s classmates. We watched our daughter do something she loves, surrounded by people who love her. We enjoyed the performance of the children of our closest, life-long friends, people who had made this difficult journey with us.


As we stood to sing carols, surrounded by over 1000 parents, friends and grandparents, I looked over the edge of the balcony and swept my eyes across the crowd of people who used to be strangers but were now friends. There were soccer parent friends and volleyball parent friends, partners in the concession stand and co-chaperones from class trips and parties. I couldn’t help but think how fortunate we are to have been warmly welcomed into this community.

My children are loved by their teachers. They are mentored by coaches who care about every child. They have been positively influenced by older students, and now they are seizing the opportunities to build into the lives of those who follow them. They understand the power of servanthood. I could never have imagined a better environment for their education.


My mind wandered to my church family at The Gathering. Less than a month after that first concert, I received the initial call from a friend wondering if I might be interested in pastoring there. I am so fortunate to teach there every Sunday. I thought about how kind, gracious, generous and loving my church is. I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude that they have been so flexible to allow me to be their pastor and still be a father.

I couldn’t help but think of my friend John and the picture he posted on his Facebook page shortly before his death. He quoted C.S. Lewis, and those words which applied to John’s life certainly apply to mine.

There are far far better things ahead than anything we leave behind.

Indeed, there are.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How do you deal with life's disappointments?

Everybody deals with disappointment in life.

Some people face minor disappointments and some people face major disappointments. Some people deal with unspeakable disappointment.

 But for the Christian, disappointment should never lead to despair. We all have different disappointments in our past, and we all share one common event in the past.

That event is the cross. Christ's work in the past brings peace to our present and gives us hope for the future!

 

Monday, November 10, 2014

10 Rules To Shape Your Life

Try reading this list every morning to inspire you toward better living. Then examine yourself each night to evaluate your growth.

  1. Be good 
  2. Incentivize desired behavior 
  3. Delay spending 
  4. Seek a third solution 
  5. Compliment effort and virtue 
  6. Invest your energy in that which you can control 
  7. Plan ahead 
  8. Confront others lovingly & only for their benefit 
  9. Do your best 
  10. Give credit; claim blame

Monday, October 27, 2014

2 Easy Steps to Change Your Life


Life-Change made simple requires two steps.

1) Get rid of the bad stuff in your life.
2) Replace it with good stuff.

This seems ridiculously simple, but often the simplest things in life are the hardest to believe. However, this formula doesn’t originate with me, it was Paul’s idea about 2000 years ago.
Read and contemplate Colossians 3:12-17.

The part of Colossians 3 which you read was part two of our formula above. These were the things you are to bring into your life to facilitate spiritual Life-Change.

Consider this.

Paul says (v15) to let the peace of God reign in our hearts. Can you do that? If you can relax and be at peace, knowing that God is in control, you’ll have a much easier time loving those around you.
Those who have peace can love others because they aren’t worried about taking care of themselves. As a result, they are able to “above all, put on love”.
Paul’s point is that if you are a loving person; your heart will be compassionate, you will be a kind and humble person, your life will be characterized by meekness and patience, and you will have no problem bearing with and forgiving those around you.
Of course, all this is made possible if you are letting the “word of Christ dwell in you richly.” If you are spending time (particularly with other believers) getting into the Word of God, and letting the Word of God get into you; it will not be long until you begin to notice the Life-Change taking place in your own life.
Ultimately, Life-Change happens (check out verse 17) when you are willing to attack every thing in life as if you are doing it specifically for Jesus!

Today:

If you have time, go back and read the entire chapter of Colossians 3. Think through the “bad stuff” you need to get rid of and what “good stuff” you will replace it with.

Friday, October 24, 2014

How to Avoid Feeding the Stomach But Losing the Soul


Read and Contemplate 1 Peter 2:11-12.

In our efforts to be "in the world", we face a constant temptation to become indistinguishable from the world.
One must be careful that in pursuit of being relevance, the true distinctness of faith is not lost. Because an externally-focused life requires loving the people in the world (particularly those who are "hard to love") it can be easy to get so caught up in social causes that the gospel is lost.
It is right, appropriate, and incumbent on the church to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, and comfort the oppressed. However, it would be better for those people to enter the kingdom hungry, naked, and captive than for them to be full, clothed, and free but miss the kingdom.
The other side of this coin is that Christians can sometimes, in an effort to bring change to the world, become so politically entrenched that the lines between God's kingdom and the political parties become impossible to see (this happens on all sides!).
We must take great care as we seek to enact the mission of Jesus, that it not lose the Gospel of Jesus!

A template for externally-focused living is found in 1 Peter 2:11,

“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Externally-Focused Christians:

  • Understand their identity -- Aliens and Strangers Understand their identity
  • Embrace their location -- in the world Embrace their location
  • Live Appropriately -- abstain from sinful desires Live Appropriately
  • For the sake of the Kingdom -- they may...glorify God on the day he visits us.
Instead of separating ourselves, by abstaining from the world, we need to cautiously abstain from sin, not the world. That is the heart of externally-focused living.

Today: Focus your energy on serving someone you don’t know. Imagine what Jesus would do for that person, then do it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What Does the Bible Say About That?

What if, in church, we made it our habit to begin our answer to every question we’re asked with:

“Here’s what the Bible says about that…”

I don’t mean that this should be done in a smug or snarky way, but in a way that makes it clear that we (particularly in the church) should approach every issue (particularly those pertaining to the church) by STARTING with the Bible’s teaching on that topic.

Of course, some will read this and say, “But the Bible doesn’t speak to ever issue!”

To which I will respond, “The Bible may not answer every question you can ask, but it most certainly addresses any topic topic which may come up!”



This approach to question-answering, problem-solving, strategic-planning, etc. may at first sound better than a visit to Pablo’s Tacos on dollar-taco-Tuesday; but after a little reflection, some may not be too happy with this approach. Consider some of the ramification:

1) Our own personal opinions will be subjugated to a higher authority. 
2) Our past experiences may not be enough to validate a path of action. 
3) Some really “good” ideas will not be acted upon. 
4) Some really “bad” ideas will be carried out. 
5) The person who knows the Bible best (and I don’t mean the person who is most opinionated about the Bible or the person who beats a few particular Bible passages to death, but rather the person who best understands the larger message of the Bible while being able to interpret the smaller and more specific portions) will be the person who speaks most authoritatively when questions are being answered. 
6) I will not be able to just state my opinion without taking the time to hear what the Bible says about that issue.

By the way, I’d just suggest as an aside here, that number five might be a RADICAL shift in the way business is done in most churches in America.

How would this play in reality?


Q: I’d like to talk to you about the music the teenagers are listening to.
A: Here’s what the Bible says about that. We’re to worship God with a variety of instrumentation and musical styles that reflect the wide diversity of his character and His church. Check out Psalms and Revelation for examples.

Q: I think every one of our small groups should go through this Beth Moore study.
A: Here’s what the Bible says about that. We’re to encourage one another and teach one another and bear with one another and love another and be devoted to one another. So we let each group figure out how they can best carry out those and other one another commands on their own.

Q: I’m tired of the legalistic old people in our church.
A: Here’s what the Bible says about that. We’re to honor and respect those who are older than us. We’re also to learn from them. Maybe we need to find better ways to show honor to them rather than just criticize them for legalism.

Q: I’m tired of the rebellious young people in our church.
A: Here’s what the Bible says about that. We’re to find ways to impact those who are younger than us. We need to not just teach them, but significantly invest in their lives so that they can grow up in the faith. Maybe we need to find better ways to build into them rather than just criticize them for being rebellious.

Consider also, if this way of doing things became standard operating procedure in a church.

1) People would center their discussions around Scripture. 
2) Most of the discussions about church would be about what the Bible says instead of about what people think or what “works” 
3) People would go to great efforts to become more Biblically literate, just so they’d have more ability to discuss questions that arise. 
4) Pastors and teachers would speak to and lead captive audiences. 
5) People might begin their questions/suggestions/criticisms by saying, “What do you think the Bible says about…” (and then they might pause to listen to the response!)

So, yeah… now that I’ve hashed all this out, I’m not sure any of us are ready for a church that looks like that! Maybe I should rethink my initial thought.

What if we made it our habit as pastors to begin our answer to every question we’re asked with:

“What does the Bible says about that?”

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sometimes You Just Need To End Things!

Life is a series of endings... And new beginnings.

The new beginnings are always great, but we often miss out on great beginnings because endings are often painful. Too often we choose to continue something we know should end, simply because we are afraid the ending might be too difficult. As a result, we often miss out on what could have been a fabulous beginning.

STOP! You don't need to keep doing that
For some people, endings are never an option. Rather than choosing to stop something that is no longer healthy, they will work themselves into exhaustion trying to solve an impossible problem.

Sometimes the truth is uncomfortable, and for that reason people are often unwilling to face it. Almost always, this type of avoidance leads to an even more uncomfortable situation or truth.

Richard Nixon learned this lesson the hard way. When the watergate scandal first broke, he could have stepped in, apologized, and ended the wrong behavior. This would have been painful. He would have needed to swallow his pride, admit wrong-doing, and indict some of his clothes friends and trusted advisors. That pain was something he was unwilling to face, so he chose continued deception over a healthy ending. Eventually, he lost everything because he wasn't willing to lose a few things.

I know this runs contrary to most "wisdom" we hear or think. But according to Necessary Endings (by Henry Cloud), "sometimes the best thing a leader or anyone else can do is give up hope in what they are currently trying." Hope often is the only thing that keeps us going... Sometimes, that is a big problem. Your hope can keep you walking a path that may have been right at some time, but is not right now, and will never be right again. It might be your hope that is keeping you from getting back on the right path.

Pruning is a process we all understand to be necessary for healthy growth. Usually it is a term reserved for gardening and nature, but occasionally Christians use it to refer to the trials God uses to grow us. Almost never, though, do we speak of pruning our own lives. Why not?

Life is full of dead-ends. Recognize them, and move on.
You don't need to succumb to the misery of going nowhere. Life's dead ends don't have to cripple you. You aren't consigned to fixing every problem you ever encounter for the rest of your life. You can choose to create your own healthy endings, to cut away the once good things that are now weighing you down. You can proactively prepare yourself for a NEW BEGINNING by making space with a necessary ending.

Of course, some will abuse this concept. We shouldn't always end things musts because they are hard. We should never break the covenants we have made with God or others simply because we have a hankering for something different. But consider this post an encouragement to look at your life. What are the the things that could end, that you could do without. How can you clean up your world to make room for some new beginnings which today are still beyond your comprehension?

Endings don't have to be bad. Sometimes, they are the best thing that could ever happen!



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Before You Yell, Play 90 Minutes in Their Cleats

This was originally posted several years ago, but it is always relevant to talk to parents about their kid's involvement in sports! (also there's a little life lesson for EVERYONE at the end!)


Two things I observed over the past week (both at Shoreline Soccer) that gave me pause to consider my own behavior.

The first happened while Liam was a footwork clinic (put on by Dan McAllister of FC Joga Bonita). On the opposite field a game was being played by two girls teams; I would guess they were U8 (maybe U10). One dad was standing directly behind the goal loudly admonishing his daughter, the goalie, to play "better". Actually, he was yelling and screaming at her "use your hands", "go out", "cut the angle", etc. When the other team scored, he would throw his hands up in disgust and walk away... not aware that she had turned to see if he would tell her that it was okay.


Most striking to me about this situation was that I was fairly confident, based on the size of this man, that he would not be able to play goalie at any level of soccer. Quite frankly, I think his daughter was making saves that he couldn't dream of making.

The second incident happened last night at my own soccer game. I didn't have my "A" game (by the way, my A game would be considered a low C by most). We lost the game, partly due to my poor play on defense. I can't account for why I played poorly. I was putting forth a good effort, I didn't give up on plays, I was concentrating on having good technique, I talked to my team-mates; in short, I did everything a coach would tell a player to do, but I was just off. My shots were poor, my passes were a bit long or a bit short, my long balls into the box were nowhere near my teammates heads. It was frustrating.

Sometimes that happens. Sometimes I play well, sometimes I play poorly.


Here's where I'm going with all this. Over the years, I've watched/coached A LOT of youth soccer. Few things bother me more than the parents who take their kids to task for not playing well, when the parents have no idea what it is like to be out on the field. Most of the time, when a kid is not playing well, they know it. They're trying, but it's just not happening. Most of the time, they are putting forth their best effort, but their A game is simply escaping them.

It seems parents don't understand this, and I think it's because they have no idea what it is like to play a complete game within the context of a complete season.

My bad game won't bother me too much, because next week I'll have an opportunity to do better, and hopefully I will. My team-mates are always gracious with me, and so I'm comfortable knowing I wasn't great but maybe next time I'll be the one who picks the team up.

But if I was little Jimmy or little Suzie, and I had to hear my parents tell me how poorly I played after that game, I'm not sure I'd want to go back...

So there's this: PARENTS, BACK OFF!

but there's also this: Be really careful about drawing conclusions about someone (not just in soccer, but in all of life), until you've played 90 minutes in their cleats!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Don't Assume the Preview is Anything Like the Movie


Have you ever decided to not see a movie because you were so unimpressed by the preview?

Marianne and I like to get to movies early so we can see the previews, and as we watch them we will whisper to each other whether or not we want to see the actual movie.



Sometimes, we just don't go to a movie because of the preview.

Sometimes, we go in spite of the preview.

Sometimes, we go because of the preview.

Over the years, I've realized that movie previews rarely do a movie justice. There have been some movies with terrible previews that became instant favorites for us. There have been some movies with amazing previews that turned out to be unbearable. I'm not sure why I would expect it to be differently. How can I possibly expect to understand the worth of a 2 hour movie after seeing only 30 seconds of mixed together clips?

Isn't life just like that?

We get a small taste of a situation and decide immediately whether or not it is for us. We see a brief encounter between two people and quickly draw a conclusion as to the nature of their relationship. We hear a snippet of information about someone and assume we are now qualified to judge them.

Proverbs says, "The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him."

Recently, I've been learning the importance of not assuming you have the whole truth until you've examined the matter yourself. The words of James have spurred me to be one who is "quick to listen" especially when I'm not sure I have the full story.

I don't want to miss something really good because I jump to a conclusion too quickly, and I don't want to find myself in the middle of something really bad because I believed a preview.

That's where I am this morning. If it's good for you, then great!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Inclusive Christians Offer Grace to All


My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. (James 2:1)

 Have you ever noticed that some people are easier targets for grace than others? We don’t like to admit this, but we would rather show grace to certain people; and we would rather not show grace to other people. Whether it’s because of who they are, what they’ve done, where they’re from or what they smell like; I know I often find myself tempted to not extend the same grace to one person as I would to another.
Read and Contemplate James 2:1-13.
We are commanded to not show partiality.
We cannot be obedient to Scripture and treat some more graciously than others. We need to look at people through our “Jesus Goggles”.
We need to see people the way Jesus sees them, not the way they look to us. Jesus didn’t care if people were rich or poor, ugly or beautiful, fun or boring, loud or quiet, outgoing or withdrawn, etc. (you get the point!). Jesus saw everyone around him as someone who needed grace.
When you view people with Jesus Goggles, you will see them differently:
  • You’ll no longer see people who have offended you; you’ll see people who need to be offered grace.
  • You’ll no longer see people who are irritating; you’ll see people who need to be shown grace.
  • You’ll no longer see people who drain your energy and resources; you’ll see people who are desperate for grace.

Today: Every time you interact with someone, ask yourself how Jesus would see this person. Then deal with them accordingly!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

INCLUSIVE CHRISTIANS MAKE ALLOWANCES FOR OTHER'S FAULTS

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.



When was the last time someone did something really nice for you? How did you respond?

Often when someone does something good for us, our day improves immediately. We feel happier, we act kinder, and everything seems to be better.

Unfortunately, the reverse is also. When we are wronged, our day often takes a severe downturn.

Read and contemplate Matthew 18:21–35.

Can you imagine being so indebted that you couldn’t pay it off, even if you contributed your entire salary for 20 years? The debt owed in this story was equivalent to over 1,000 years worth of the average person’s salary. How could anyone ever pay this off?

Grace is the best word to describe the action of the king in this story. Out of the kindness of his heart, he gave the debtor something impossible to earn, and something he could never deserve.

The scope of the king’s gracious act makes the servant’s following action even more frustrating. Though he had been forgiven a massive debt, he immediately harrassed another man who owed him less than 1/100th of the debt forgiven by the king.

I am easily angred by this unforgiving servant who was shown so much grace, and refused to show far less grace to another. However, the huge debt he was forgiven is immensely smaller than the sin-debt I was forgiven by God.

How many times in one day do we forget the debt we were forgiven and then demonstrate a lack of grace toward others. The grace of God which was shown to us should drive us to be overly-gracious to our fellow brothers and sisters.


Today: Think of someone who does not deserve your grace. Then find a way to demonstrate grace to them, not because you want to, but because of the grace you’ve been shown!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Inclusive Christians Give Grace Because They Have Received Grace


But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Why do you need grace?

If you are married, you likely need grace from your spouse at least once a day. If you are a parent, you likely need grace from your children once a day. If you are an employee, you probably need grace from your boss on a regular basis.
We all have times in our lives when we our errors or mistakes leave us in need of grace from someone.

Why do you need grace from God?

Read and Contemplate Ephesians 2:1-10.

What do you think it means to be “dead in sins?”

The first three verses of this passage describe us as being formerly (before Christ) disobedient, full of wrath and immature. Our lifelessness in the past simply means we were completely unable to make ourselves right with God (spiritual life).

“But God, being rich in mercy...by grace you have been saved.”

Despite the sad state we were in, God extended his gift of grace to change our lives forever. He did not have to offer His son for our sins. He did not have to give us eternal life. He did not have to provide a means for us to be reconciled to Him. He chose to do all this, because He is a gracious God and Father.
Verse 10 suggests the result of God's grace in our life is a new-found ability to accomplish good things. He has shown us grace so we can show grace to others.

God’s grace changes our life.

Consider how you have been made alive by God’s grace in your life. Consider how God has shown you grace even when you didn’t deserve it. What can you do to pass that gift along?

Today: Take five minutes and give thanks to God for His grace in your life. Consider how you can pass that grace along to others.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Source of Life (It's Not the Stork)

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Where do you go?

Where do you go for a good meal? Burger King? The Station? Olive Garden? The Asian Buffet?

Where do you go for medical information? Your doctor? A friend? Web MD?

Where do you go for entertainment? The TV? A book? The theatre? A sports event?

Where do you go for advice? A friend? Dear Abby? Facebook? A mentor? Dr. Phil?

Where do you go for the Words of Life?

Read and contemplate John 6:66–68.

There is only one place we can go to receive Words that lead to everlasting life. Jesus. Being Christ-Centered means Jesus is our source for life.


The restaurant you choose will determine what kind of food you eat. Your source for medical insight determines whether you get good information or bad. Some entertainment choices are better than others.

The source from which you draw your life will change your life one way or another. Many people draw life from their jobs, or families, or their goals, or passions. These life-sources become the primary factors in decision making, money spending, time usage, and beyond. But all these life-sources will eventually run dry.

Drawing your life from Christ means you look to His words when you make decisions, when you spend your money, when you allocate your time, and in every other “thing” you do. While this lifesource may not be initially as attractive or convenient, it is the well that never runs dry.

Peter’s life was never the same once he realized that to live his life right, he could turn no where else but to Christ.


Today: When faced with a difficult or important decision ask yourself, “What words of life would Jesus speak into this situation?” Then obey.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Focusing on Jesus Means Inviting Him Into Your Stress

I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified.


Have you ever had one of those days when your mind just raced from one thing to another, and you slowly drowned in the different (and likely difficult) issues consuming your life? Maybe you’ve experienced sleeplessness when your mind becomes full of the day's cares.

What do you think Jesus would say to you if you told him about your stress and your anxiety? What would he tell you to do?

Living a life centered on Jesus means I choose to invite Him into my stress.

Especially on the days I’m overwhelmed, I must find the time and make the effort to shift my focus from my own issues and toward His agenda for my life.

Whichever “important” things have grabbed my attention, they pale in comparison to what Jesus says is important. If I can share his focus, I’ll find my life far less stressful and far more purposeful.

Read and Contemplate 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.

Paul was addressing a church full of people who had their own agendas and were unable to get along. His solution for their dysfunction was to focus on Christ.

There are days when my life resembles that church. I am pulled in so many different directions by that I feel I can’t even get along with myself. I'm dysfunctional. I need to focus on Christ.

When I live by my own agenda, I reveal that I find my own wisdom sufficient to get through the day. Paul said, true faith is resting in the power of God rather than the wisdom of men.

It is scary to center your life around Jesus’ agenda. It feels like the really important things might not get done. But if I pursue Christ’s agenda and rest in

God’s power, I can be certain that whatever does not get done, was not really important.

Today: Before you get too busy, ask yourself what Jesus would want you to do with your day. Center yourself on that goal, and let God take care of the rest.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Christian Persecution and the Christ-Centered Life

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.


Should you suffer for being a Christian? We know throughout history many in the church have been through great persecution. Every day our TVs and computers broadcast jarring images of Christians in the Middle East being slaughtered for their faith.

One early Christian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Seemingly, whenever the church has suffered, growth has been the result.

Does that mean that we should seek to suffer? Does the Bible teach that we should pursue persecution, and chase after abuse? If persecution has identified the true church throughout history, and has almost always resulted in great growth, why would we not desire to suffer?

Right now, most of us in the West don't worry about the kind of persecution our brothers and sisters must suffer. We must pray for them, and when possible seek ways to support them.

But how do we approach persecution in our world?

Perhaps a different approach to this question would be helpful. Perhaps the appropriate question to ask is this: “If I live my life centered on Christ, will that lead to suffering?” I think the answer to this question is more often than not, “yes.”

Read and Contemplate Hebrews 12:1-4.

As we run the race of life, we are to focus our eyes on Jesus, thereby enabling us to run the race just as He did. When we fix our eyes on Him, we see one who endured hostility, shame, and the cross.

Perhaps it is fair to conclude that suffering is an expected aspect of life in Christ. Therefore, if I’m making decisions so I can avoid suffering, am I really living my life centered in Christ? As Hebrews says, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

Because Jesus willingly suffered for us, being Christ-centered must include a willingness to suffer for the sake of His name.

Today: Beware of any opportunities you have to avoid suffering by compromising your faith. (remember, it’s better to suffer the awkwardness which follows than to deny what you know to be right!)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Without the Vine, A Branch is Just a Board

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Often, in our conversations about salvation, we use the image of being “in Chrit” to describe the way God views us in our new justified state. Because He sees us through the “filter” of Christ’s blood, He does not see our sinful lives, but rather the righteous life of His Son (the theological term for this concept is “imputation”).


How would your life change if you chose to see the world through that same filter? What if you chose to view everything in life through the eyes of Jesus? What if you chose to make all your decisions through the mind of Jesus? This is the premise of being centered in Christ.

Placing Christ at the center of my life is important, submitting to His lordship is critical. However, sometimes we have a tendency to live as though Christ’s presence at the center of our lives doesn’t necessarily mean that He touches every aspect of our life.

Read and contemplate John 15:1–11.

As you think about this passage, consider specifically what it means that we are branches on the vine of Jesus. What happens to a branch that is disconnected from the vine?

A branch without the vine is a board, not a branch. Apart from the life-giving power of the vine, it ceases to be what it once was.

We must discover what it means to draw our life from Jesus. As long as we are depending on our own efforts to get through life, we haven’t yet realized what it means to be centered in Christ. Just as the branch cannot survive without the vine, we cannot survive without the life-sustaining support of Jesus.

Today: Whatever you are doing, wherever you are, keep this thought at the very front of your mind: “I cannot do this apart from Christ.”

Thursday, May 29, 2014

10 Things You Won't Find in the New Testament's Description of Church

This is just a list I put together a couple years ago. We could probably have an interesting discussion about some of the things on the list.

1. Weekly Sunday morning gatherings.
2. Weekly offerings @ said gatherings.
3. Voting.
4. Congregational Singing.
5. Exegetical preaching to a gathering of believers with spiritual transformation in mind.
6. Committees.
7. Youth Ministry.
8. Choirs.
9. Deacon Boards.
10. Buildings owned by the church body and dedicated to church usage.

BUT IF YOU LOOK AT THE GATHERINGS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH, YOU WILL FIND:

  • Prayer
  • People Reporting About Ministry
  • Group Discussions
  • Prayer
  • Discipline
  • Reading Letters From Other Believers
  • Did I Mention Prayer?


File this in the "for what it's worth" box. You can decide if you want to do anything further with it!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Emotional Health Is The Result of Following Christ's Agenda

Have you ever had one of those days when your mind just raced from one thing to another, and you gradually became more and more overwhelmed with all the different (and likely difficult) issues you were facing in life?

Maybe you’ve experienced the sleeplessness that ensues when your mind becomes full of the cares of the day.

What do you think Jesus would say to you if you told him about your stress, and your anxiety? What would he tell you to do?

Living a life centered on Jesus means I must invite Him into my stress. Especially on the days I’m overwhelmed, I must find the time and make the effort to turn my focus away from my own issues and toward His agenda for my life. Whatever “important” things have grabbed my attention, they pale in comparison to what Jesus says is important. If I can learn to share his focus, I’ll quickly find my life to be far less stressful and far more purposeful.

Read and Contemplate 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.
"And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."
Paul was addressing a dysfunctional church full of people who had their own agendas and were therefore unable to get along. His solution was to focus on Christ.

There are days when my life resembles that church. I am pulled in so many different directions by the interests of life that I feel I can’t even get along with myself. I need to focus on Christ.

When I live by my own agenda, I demonstrate a belief that my wisdom is sufficient to get through the day. As Paul said, true faith is resting in the power of God rather than the wisdom of men.

It is scary to center your life around Jesus’ agenda. It feels like some really important things might not get done. But if I pursue Christ’s agenda and rest in God’s power, I can be sure that anything which does not get done, was not really important.

Today: Before you get too busy, ask yourself what Jesus would want you to do with your day. Center yourself on that goal, and let God take care of the rest.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Here Is A Simple Way You Can Be a Partner With Satan

Perhaps I am the only person who struggles with this, but i tend to think this is a pretty common issue:

I like it when people say nice things about me.

It makes me feel good about myself, and it makes me think that maybe I am doing something well. Sometimes people tell me I'm a good soccer coach. Sometimes they tell me I'm a good preacher. Sometimes people tell me I made a nice golf shot. Some people have told me I'm a fast runner. Once someone said I had above average intelligence.

These things make me happy.

I don't even realize that sometimes these people aren't telling me things for my own good. They may not even believe them, but they know I will. They're saying nice things about me because they have an agenda, or because they want something from me.

A few years ago I was reflecting on my week and realized that on three separate occasions, I had been paid compliments by people that initially made me feel very good about myself... then i started wondering if those compliments were truly sincere.

  • One person told me what a great job I was doing in a particular area.
  • One person referred to the positive influence I had on someone they knew.
  • One person told me what a great fit I was for an upcoming project.

Later, it struck me that each of these instances had given me an opportunity to feed the monster that lies within me
(aside)
i regularly point to the concepts of pride and autonomy as the root cause of virtually all sin. thus that which feeds my pride and autonomy is feeding my "sin monster"
(aside done)
... and then I realized that likely none of these people really believed what they were saying. They were flattering me.

Flattery is defined as "excessive or insincere praise."


Flattery is a powerful tool which causes us to gain a false view of ourselves and those around us, and if not recognized, will typically lead us into temptation by feeding our pride and distorting our view of reality and truth.

Flattery is manipulative. It is something we all do when we want to gain an ally or a partner. It is not something we do when we want to gain a friend.

By the way, this observation isn't original with me. Proverbs 29:5 says:

Whoever flatters his neighbor
is spreading a net for his feet.

I've noticed a disturbing trend among many people who find it "appropriate" to use flattery as a tool for gaining influence, winning friends, gathering "buy-in", achieving promotions, etc... Sometimes this methodology is even encouraged and honored. I find it particularly disturbing when I sense that I am flattering someone in order to get them to see things my way. Ahh, the darkness that resides in us all.

No wonder Proverbs 28:23 says:

He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor
than he who has a flattering tongue.

Eve fell prey to a flattering tongue. The serpent tickled her ears with ideas of being god-like. He fed her monster by suggesting she was being treated unfairly, that someone with her gifts and abilities certainly deserved more privilege and responsibility than God was giving her.

His flattery distorted her perception of reality and truth.

This is what I must remember when I find myself flattering someone. I have become the serpent. I am appealing to their pride and autonomy so that they will do something to benefit me. In reality, I have become the tempter. I've become the serpent. I've led my neighbor into the wrath of God.

Scary.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Definitive to Guide to "Keeping It Real"

Not really. No list here. That would be unkind.

However, everyone hates a hypocrite.

Perhaps "hate" is a strong word, but the point is that very few people want to be friends with someone who acts hypocritically. Hypocrisy can be simply defined as "pretending to be what one is not." How many of us fit that definition sometimes?

Think about this question for a moment, "which is worse: someone who pretends to be religious at church or someone who pretends to be worldly in the world?"

Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is--his good pleasing and perfect will." Conforming means to change outwardly, or to change the shape but not the properties of something. A Christian who conforms to the pattern of the world is someone who is living in the world and whose lifestyle looks exactly like the lifestyle of the world.

Conforming to the pattern of the world might mean chasing wealth and success by trampling other people. It might be adopting the world's standards of sexual morality. It could be a choice to willingly sin because it "feels good" or it "looks good." The world's pattern exalts pleasure, self-centeredness, lust, uncontrolled passion upward mobility and more. It is very easy for any Christian to get caught up in these pursuits.

Of course, this kind of lifestyle flies in the face of 1 Peter 2:11 which says, “Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” We are not called to love the world's value system, we are representatives (ambassadors) of another kingdom.

Are you conforming? You are either:
1. A Christian who acts like a Christian.
2. A Christian who is a hypocrite (acts like the world).
3. Not a hypocrite, but not a Christian.
Everyone want to be a person who is "keeping it real." Keeping it real means we might look a little different than those around us. In fact, if we aren't noticeably different, maybe we aren't keeping it real at all. Maybe we're actually hypocrites?

Friday, April 18, 2014

6 Reasons Good Friday Is Good

Good Friday is not good because of the cross. It is good because the benefits of the cross are applied to our lives.  Today is a great day to spend time considering how God extended His grace to us through the work of His Son on the cross.  Below, I've listed six words which describe the benefits of Christ's death. Take some time to read the passages and think about how Good Friday was good for you.


Take time to read the passage for each question, and then for each word, answer the four questions below:

  • How would you define this word?  What is an example of this from every day life?
  • How does this word apply to the relationship between God and humanity?
  • Did this happen immediately (at the cross), later (sometime after the cross), or is it a future event?
  • How does this effect me personally?


THE BENEFITS OF THE CROSS

Restoration. (Revelation 21:5-6)

Redemption. (Ephesians 1:7-14)

Regeneration. (Ephesians 2:1-6)

Reconciliation. (Romans 5:10-11)

Ransom (Mark 10:45)

Restitution (1 John 2:2; 4:10)

Once you've finished, spend time in worshipful prayer thanking God for His grace as demonstrated through His Son.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

5 Things I'm Communicating To My Church Family To Prepare For Easter Guests

I send an email to my church family every other week. This is one way I can communicate to them and invite them to communicate back to me. This week I did not have an all-church email scheduled, but I sent one instead. I wanted to be sure we had done everything to be prepared for this Sunday. God may bless us with many guests this week, and my desire is that we will be excellent hosts. This email is one way I'm trying to foster that.

If you haven't prepared your church for Easter guests, there is still lots of time for you to send an email!

 

Sunday is Easter! This is often the most crowded day of the year in American churches, so I wanted to take a moment and send a few suggestions your way.

This Sunday morning, we have a great celebration planned. I hope you are planning to be a part of it. I want you to know that right at 10:30 we'll be launching into some creative and meaningful pieces of the Easter service. If you aren't there at 10:30, you'll definitely be missing out! This is a great week to get into the worship center on time...

More importantly, we will likely have many guests this Sunday. This is the only week of the year when many people come to church. We want to do everything we can to warmly embrace all our guests and demonstrate the love of Jesus to them! Remember, we are called to serve, not to be served... even on Easter Sunday!

Over the past year, I have been impressed over and over again with the incredibly friendly spirit that exists at The Gathering. I hear from many people who visit how welcomed they felt (some of you who are reading this have experienced that warmth!) Please think about these ideas to help us create a welcoming environment this Sunday:

  • Try to arrive early and sit near the front or in the middle of a row. We want to leave plenty of easily accessible seats for any late-coming guests.
  • If you see someone who looks lost, ask them if you can help them out.
  • During our connection time, meet someone you've never met.
  • Don’t race out. Enjoy a conversation or two before you leave.
  • Fill out your connection card. If everyone is writing on their card at the same time, we create "positive peer pressure"

Tomorrow is Good Friday, the day we commemorate Jesus' death. We are reminded of the great price He paid so that we could be the recipient of God's rich blessings. But He didn't remain dead! He rose again, and by doing so, He launched a brand new day in human history. I'm looking forward to celebrating our NEW DAY this Sunday! See you then.

 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

If You Are Asking What God Will Permit, You're Asking the Wrong Question

When I was a youth pastor (and still, whenever I speak to teenagers), one of the more popular questions kids want answered is, “How far is too far with my boyfriend/girlfriend?”
As our culture has become more sexually aware and explicit, that question has become more and more difficult to answer as kids today are exposed to far more far earlier than kids in the past. However, my answer remains the same today as it has always been.
How far is too far?
You’re asking the wrong question.
This exchange is very similar to one Jesus had with the Pharisees in Mark 10:1-9. The Pharisees (likely trying to trip Jesus up) came to him and asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"
I want to focus on the word “lawful”. Essentially the Pharisees were asking Jesus, “What can we get away with?” (it’s the same as “How far is too far?”). They were most concerned with how much questionable activity they could engage in without being considered sin.
Too often, we take this approach in our lives. We assume that we can do whatever we want as long as the Bible doesn’t clearly condemn it. This argument from silence is not only illogical, it is unhealthy and unwise.
Jesus didn’t answer their question. He turned the tables on them and pointed out the foolishness in their thinking. ”Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.” Jesus said. In other words, the law only exists because men’s hearts are evil. The law is the lowest common denominator.
Jesus moved away from the law and pointed the Pharisees to the created order. "But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’… What God has joined together, let not man separate." Moses’ law permitted divorce in some situations, but only because of men’s sinfulness. God’s intent from the beginning was that a man and a woman would be united for life.
Rather than debate what God would permit, Jesus wanted the Pharisees to consider what God had intended.
Instead of asking, “What can I get away with?” God wanted them to ask, “What should I be doing?”
The Pharisees wanted to get as close to sin as they could without crossing the line. Jesus wanted them to pursue wisdom with all their energy.
Are you living your life, trying to figure out what you can get away with?
Stop asking, “What is permitted?” and start asking, “What is wise?”