Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Unrequested Advice is Criticism, but Truthful Confrontation is Loving

I don't remember where I first heard it (a quick web search suggests it may date back as far as George Washington), but somewhere I picked up the idea that:

Unasked for advice is heard as criticism.

Even though I didn't ask for it, this was good advice. Who doesn't understand the pain of listening to someone give you unrequested (and sometimes unnecessary) advice. I remember a fellow once coming to "visit" with me only to leave an hour later having spent the entire time unpacking my many shortcomings. While some of his critiques may have been on target, our relationship and the setting certainly didn't merit such behavior.

So I've really tried to take this idea to heart. I've worked hard to be someone who listens as people unpack their problems, but not to offer up my solutions unless asked for.

Of course, the reverse of this is not true. I need to be careful to not ignore advice just because I didn't ask for it. In fact, Proverbs says:

The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.

So, there needs to be a balance. James seems to have it right when he says:

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry...

I don't know about you, but sometimes it's that unasked for advice that can get me on the fast track toward anger. Sometimes, it seems like people offer up suggestions that seem to imply I am a total idiot. It's hard in those moments to be "slow to speak and slow to become angry." But that's probably why James says:

for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.




Doh! If I can't be slow to speak and slow to anger, I can't live the righteous life that God desires. So my natural tendencies need to be brought under discipline. I am usually slow to listen because I want to talk. I need to reverse that.

BUT... here's where the dilemma comes in. James finishes his book by saying:

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

So, there is a time to give that unasked for advice. There is a time to "confront". And as hard as that is, I have to recognize it as a part of being not just a pastor, but of being a Christian brother. Of course, being quick to listen and slow to speak means I don't rush into confrontation.

Rather it means I do so having measured the situation carefully, having listened to all parties to gain clarity and understanding.

Over time, I've formulated some guidelines for when to "confront" and when to "sit back". Here's my thoughts:
1) Confront when you are certain a clear Biblical teaching is being contradicted. 
2) In such a case, use the Bible to confront, not your own words. 
3) Always present your "case" in humility, acknowledging your perceptions and seeking to "see the best" if possible. 
4) Remember Paul's instructions to protect the unity of the body in all things. 
5) Remember that love is the standard by which all else is to be judged. If you cannot lovingly confront, you shouldn't confront. 
6) Offer thoughts for resolution. If you don't sense your confrontation will lead to restoration/resolution, wait. 
7) Pray before, during, and after.
I'm sure there are a lot more ideas out there. I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Is It More Difficult To Wash Someone's Feet or To Let Them Wash Yours?


Read and contemplate John 13.

Jesus washed the disciples feet.
Image courtesy of christianpost.com
When Peter protested, Jesus explained that unless Peter's feet were washed, he could have no part with Jesus.
We understand Jesus was teaching that we are made clean through His sacrificial and substitutionary death. However, like Peter and the disciples feet, our feet get dirty. We step in the dirt of life.
We need to regularly take time to clean our feet so that they match the rest of our clean self. But here is what I think might be the toughest part of this passage to swallow. We are supposed to wash each other's feet!

Consider this:

If footwashing is a metaphor for cleansing ourselves from the daily dirt (read:SIN) that accumulates, then washing each other's feet means I am not the one responsible for washing the dirt of my feet, you are!
Which means, I have to let you.
Typically, we prefer to handle our own dirt. We want to take care of our own sin issues, and not really let anyone else know about them. But if we are truly going to live up to the example Jesus set for us, we need to learn to allow others to be the instrument of cleansing in our lives.
I need to be open to the possibility that someone else can see the dirt I've accumulated better than I can. I need to be willing to let others question me, probe me, and hold my feet to the fire so that I can be better cleansed. I need to be willing to ask my brothers and sisters to critically examine the fruit of my life and tell me whether or not its time for another good foot-scrubbing.
I need to be willing to clean their feet also. However, I ought to do it like Jesus, with my hands and a damp towel, not a power washer!

Today:

Ask a close friend if they can see dirt in your life that you should deal with. Then ask if they have any suggestions for how you can clean it. Finally, pray together.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Complete Beginner's Guide to Advent

"Advent" is defined as "the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event." The Christian church has entered into the season in which we celebrate the Advent of Jesus Christ. Many Christians have never celebrated Advent and are not even sure what it means. The following is a very brief introduction to Advent. It is written specifically for those who want to understand the basics of this season.

The Meaning of Advent

Christmas is a celebration of Christ's first arrival on earth. Advent reminds us that His first arrival was only a taste of what is yet to come. His second arrival will signal the fullness of time and the completion of His plan. All wrongs will be righted, death and sorrow will be banished and peace will rule the world.

Advent is a time to recognize the darkness in which we still live, but to embrace the light that is breaking into our world and which will ultimately overtake and destroy the darkness.

The Complete Beginners Guide to Advent

Decorating for Advent

The advent wreath serves as the primary decoration throughout the season. The circular evergreen wreath may be natural or artificial. The circular shape of the Advent wreath reminds us of the nature of God. He is eternal and his love and mercy have no end. The green of the wreath symbolizes our hope of new life or rebirth.

The wreath contains four candles. Usually three are purple or blue and one is pink. In the center of the wreath is a larger white candle, known as the "Christ candle."
If you would like to create your own wreath, click here for a creative take on the traditional advent wreath. Of course, there is also a pinterest board with many ideas for making your own advent wreath.

The Candles of Advent

The five candles in the Advent wreath each carry their own symbolism. Different religious traditions assign slightly different meanings to each candle, but the general concepts are typically quite similar.
  • The first candle represents Hope or Expectation. Prior to Jesus' first coming, His people were waiting for the Messiah. Today, we are waiting for His second Advent and the fullness of His kingdom.
  • The second, third and fourth candles most commonly represent love, joy and peace. Some traditions also use these three candles to recreate the Christmas narrative. In those situations, the candles may represent angels, shepherds and wise men or annunciation, proclamation and fulfillment.
  • The third candle is usually pink. It represents the joy of the season. Some traditions may reserve the pink candle for the fourth Sunday so that it is closer to the birth of the Christ child.
  • The larger candle in the center is the Christ Candle. Traditionally it is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Celebrating Advent as a Church

Advent Candles: Those Walking in Darkness have Seen a Great LightThe formal celebration of Advent centers around the lighting of the candles each week. As each candle is lit, we are reminded that the light ultimately conquers the darkness. As the darkness recedes, our hope for the new life promised by the Light of the World increases.

Each Sunday during Advent, time during the church service is devoted to lighting a candle, reading Scripture, reading a short devotional and prayer. Each church may have its own tradition which dictates the precise Scriptures used or the readings which are selected.

However the Advent celebration is designed, worshipers are reminded that our hope for the future coming of Christ is rooted in his first coming. Just as the center of the advent wreath is the Christ Candle, at the center of the Advent celebration is the Christ child.

Celebrating Advent as a Family

Many families celebrate Advent in their homes. They may use Advent calendars to count down the days to Christmas. They may engage in fun activities each morning or evening to remind the children of the true meaning of the season. Some families have their own wreaths and light the candles together while reading Scripture.

Find Advent Resources

Learn More About Advent

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

16 Ideas to Make Your Life Better

I was reading this morning in Proverbs 16 and noticed several "better" expressions. Each of these short sayings suggests a counter-cultural idea which is a "better" way of living. So I did a quick search of the entire book and compiled this list from Proverbs of...

The Better Life

  1. wisdom's profit is better than silver and gold.
  2. wisdom is better than jewels
  3. better to be poor and content than to act rich and come to ruin
  4. better to have just a little but respect God than to have much and endure the trouble of wealth
  5. better a salad eaten with those who love you  than a steak with with those who hate you
  6. better to make a little and be righteous than to earn much through injustice
  7. better to have little and share with the poor than to divide spoils with the proud
  8. whoever is slow to anger is better than the might
  9. whoever has self-control is better than a great conqueror
  10. better a grain of rice in a quiet house than a buffet in a house full of strife
  11. better to be poor but have your integrity than to be deceitful
  12. the poor man is better than a liar
  13. better to live in the desert than in a house with a quarrelsome woman (i don't write this stuff...)
  14. a good name is better than riches
  15. it is better to be invited up than to be upwardly mobile
  16. open rebuke is better than hidden love


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Changing Your Relationship with the Bible

How do you approach a cadaver?

Cadavers are that most useful, frightening, intriguing, disgusting, and beneficial tool of medical students everywhere. Doctors and scientists have been using cadavers for thousands of years to gain a better understanding of the human body and the way it functions.

Doubtless, the use of cadavers has saved thousands (millions?) of lives over the years and has led to magnificent scientific, medical, and pharmaceutical advances.

I don't profess to have ever handled a cadaver (I did have one disturbing experience in a funeral home after hours), and I certainly am no expert when it comes to anything scientific. However, let me "simplify" for the sake of brevity the usage of a typical cadaver.

The point of using a cadaver is to be able to pick it apart. If you are exploring a cadaver you will spend enormous amounts of time surveying the body, examining the parts, isolating certain organs, comparing and contrasting different elements, cutting things open, placing some parts under a microscope, analyzing connectedness of different pieces, etc...

But you wouldn't do that to a body that was alive. You can do that, precisely because the cadaver is dead.

How do you approach the Bible?

Do you seek to pick it apart? Do you spend enormous amounts of time surveying the body, examining the parts, isolating certain verses, comparing and contrasting different authors, cutting words open, placing some paragraphs under a microscope, analyzing connectedness of different pieces, etc...?

I wonder if the way we approach the Bible keeps the Bible from really changing our lives? If the Bible is just a cadaver to be picked apart to further our knowledge, then the paragraph above describes exactly how we should approach it.

But, what if it is a living, active thing? What if the whole point of the Bible is not to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives?

Wouldn't that demand a different kind of approach?

What if instead of “reading the Bible”, we allowed the Bible to “read us?” What if we took to heart Peter’s statement that the Word of God is “living”.
Most books are nothing more than slices of dead trees bound up in a dead cow. What makes the Bible different is that the Words on the pages inside the leather binder are actually the Words of God spoken and written to deeply impact our lives.
In a sentence, the subject is the person, thing, or idea that is performing the action. The sentence is about the subject. The verb is the action; it is what the the subject is doing. The verb is the plot of the sentence. The object of a sentence is the person, thing, idea, etc. that is being acted upon. The object is pretty much helpless, subject to the whim of the actions of the subject.

When we talk about objectifying something or someone, we are talking about "behavior in which one person treats another person as an object and not as a fellow human being with feelings and consciousness of his or her own, in other words as, as without agency."

Typically, objectification of someone is a bad thing. To deem powerless the image of God is to drastically mistreat God's creation. You can probably think of a lot of different ways, humans assert power over others by objectifing one another:

  • Bosses objectify their employees to justify huge bonuses while cutting jobs.
  • Generals objectify privates.
  • Pornography objectifies women... and men.
  • Politicians objectify voters.

Objectifying someone is a way to remove the power of that person and impose your will upon them. Here's a silly example:
Liam punched the squirrel.
Who has the power in this sentence? Who is powerless? Who is in control? Who is being affected?

Now consider the object and the subject in each of these sentences:

  • I read the Bible.
  • I study the Bible.
  • I teach the Bible.
  • We learn the Bible.
  • We listen to the Bible.
  • He preached the Bible.

Nothing is inherently wrong with any of these statements, but we need to be careful that we don’t assert power and control over the Bible by making ourselves the subject. What if we were to let the Bible assert power and control over us? What if we thought of the Bible as the subject, and we were the object being acted upon?

  • The Bible reads me.
  • The Bible studies me.
  • The Bible teaches me.

This is a subtle difference, but an important distinction. If I only study the Bible, the outcome is new knowledge. If the Bible studies me, the outcome is lifechange.

The Bible is full of great stories, beautiful poetry, wise instructions, and much more. But these are not like any other stories or poems or rules. They are not written to simply be read or studied or memorized or recited. Simply pursuing in-depth knowledge of the Bible is missing the point.

A few days ago, I referenced James’ words, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves, do what it says.” Those who accumulate vast knowledge about the Word of God but never act on it have deceived themselves.

It is far better to know one verse and allow it to remodel your life than to memorize whole chapters and never change.

When you approach the Bible, do you just read it for information? Learn how to let the Bible read you. Let it expose the parts of you that need to change. Allow it to be alive in your life, making you more like Jesus every day!

Friday, October 7, 2016

10 Neat Tricks To Keep Your Bible Study Fresh

As we prepare to go through our 40 Days In The Word series, I sent out an email today which linked to an article about studying God’s Word. You can link to the article here. The author lists 25 different methods of studying the Bible. I found the list to be fun.

Not every method is for every person, but every person will probably find 2–3 methods that work for them. Below are a couple of my favorites:


Survey the Word
Whether it be the whole of Scripture, an entire book in the Bible, or a given passage, capturing the big picture makes a deeper engagement of the Word more accessible and productive.

Discuss the Word
Discussions about meaning, interpretations, doctrinal substance, and sheer trivia can be a productive means of engaging the Word and driving it more deeply into our hearts.

Hand-copy the Word
Hand-copying the Word slows the brain down and synchronizes the mind with the meaning of a passage. Bible on one side. Journal on the other. Copying the word is a tremendous way to nourish the spirit and align the mind with the thoughts of God. Take. Eat. Enjoy!

Cross-reference the Word
Cross-referencing one passage with another related passage can release as much light into the soul as opening into the night the door of a lit room. Use a concordance. Use in-line references found in a study Bible. Use a computer search capability.

Paraphrase the Word
Good translation can be defined as taking the meaning from one language and capturing it accurately in another language. Paraphrasing is like that, only it is capturing the meaning of a passage and re-expressing that same meaning with different words. The paraphrases don’t have to be of publication quality. Though, if you come to like this type of exercise, you might be surprised by some of what you write and want to share it with others.

Sketch the Word
For the right-brain artistic types among us, sketching the Word is something that is second nature. But even for those of us who do better with straight lines and right angles, sketching the Word can be a rich experience capturing the big idea of a passage or even details best highlighted with a picture or illustration.

Memorize the Word
David said he hid the Word of God in his heart to avoid sin (Psalm 119:11). Scripture memorization is a foundational exercise on which many other forms of Scripture meditation are based.

Display the Word
Some passages are just so wonderful they are best artistically displayed in some fashion. Such passages might be Bible promises to keep in front of us or reminders in our walk with God. Consider commissioning a calligrapher to artistically transcribe your favorite verse in a frameable drawing or painting. Or create a colorful depiction of it yourself in PowerPoint, print it on a color laser printer and have it framed.

Share the Word
What would it do for your own Scripture focus if you were to give away one Bible verse to a different person each of the next 30 days? I encourage you to try. A friend who was studying with me at Wycliffe’s Summer Institute of Linguistics caught fire with God’s Word and could hardly contain himself. Brian would constantly hand write verses on 3 x 5 cards and leave them in our mail boxes. The personal touch brought these verses to life and I remember feeling like I had received numerous personal messages from God himself. And Brian himself grew deeper as he shared with so many of us. Sharing the Word with others engages us in it more deeply ourselves.


Do the Word!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

4 Ideas To Help You Create More Time In Your Week


People have many reasons for not joining a small group. Some are good reasons and some are not as good. "I don't have enough time" is a less-than-good reason. Consider these four time-creating ideas which will enable you to spend two hours a week in a LIFEgroup (the two hours includes thirty minutes of drive time!)

DVR two television shows for the next six weeks.

At the end of the six weeks, you may decide you don't need to watch that show anymore, or you can find time on a weekend to binge catch-up.

Wake up 30 minutes earlier four days a week.

Organize your schedule to use that extra half hour each day to accomplish the tasks that keep you from being able to go to LIFEgroup.

Skip a workout.

Your spiritual muscles are as important (if not more) than your physical muscles. You may not work out for two hours, but factor in transportation, cool-down, and clean-up as well!

Cut out (or just reduce) your social media use.

The New York Times reports that people spend an average of 50 minutes per day on Facebook. That amounts to nearly six hours per week. If you eliminate that time, you will be much more productive and may discover it is easy to invest two hours a week in spiritual growth.
The purpose of this list is not to shame you into joining a group. It is to inspire you to be creative in finding SOLUTIONS that enable you to do something you know will be good for you. If you have other ideas for creating the time necessary to join a group, share them in the comments!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Here's Why I'm Not Preaching A Sermon Series On The Election

We are now entering the time of year when churches all around America have special sermon series that focus on the impending election. Every four years, our country makes a big decision about leadership and some might wonder why our church isn’t talking more about that on Sundays.



On October 9 we will be launching a new sermon series entitled 40 Days In The Word. This series has already been done by hundreds of churches around the country with extremely positive results. This series is an opportunity for us to create and improve our Bible study habits. Through Sunday’s sermons, small group interaction and daily journaling, everyone in our church will have the opportunity to learn God’s Word, love God’s Word and live God’s Word.

I believe focusing on Scripture through the election season is the best approach a church can take. Rather than telling people how they should interpret current events, we’ll point them to the Bible and let God’s Word be their guide.

One of the beautiful things about The Gathering is that we have people from every walk of life. We are all different. Every Sunday we have democrats, republicans, libertarians, independents and even some who don’t care in our worship services. Yet, we all stand shoulder to shoulder and worship the same God, focus on the same Jesus and work together to reach the world.

This election season, we won’t pay much attention to politics on Sundays (I know many of you will passionately work for good during the week, and you should!). In our worship gatherings and small groups, we are going to unite around God’s great gift of the Bible. We are going to immerse ourselves in His Word. We are going to develop habits which lead to life change that lasts a lifetime. As we do that well, we’ll trust God to take care of the rest!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

How To Get The Most Out Of Your Sunday Morning

Is Sunday morning the most important morning of your week? Most of us would say it is because Sundays are our time to come together with God and His people. Yet, I am often guilty of approaching Sunday with far less intentionality than the most important day of the week deserves. 

Today, I’d like to offer a few suggestions as to how you (and your family) can tweak your Sunday morning routine to make it the BEST day of the week!

HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR SUNDAY MORNING


Make your plans on Saturday night
It’s easy to sleep in Sunday morning, crawl out of bed, debate which service to go to and then finally decide to just take the morning off. Have a brief discussion with your spouse/family on Saturday night. Decide which service you want to attend (think about what the rest of your day looks like) and then set your alarms accordingly. You’ll be glad you did.

Spend a few minutes being quiet
Some time during the morning, find a quiet place in your home and relax for a few minutes. Spend some time talking to your Heavenly Father. Tell Him what’s on your mind and ask Him to show you what’s on His mind for you. Read a couple verses from the Bible. This time will empower you to have a calm and peaceful Sunday morning, which will enable you to have a meaningful and joyful experience at church.

Arrive at church early
Nothing is worse than arriving at the church, running in from the parking lot, racing through the child check-in process, speeding through the cafe and then sneaking into the service as the last song finishes up. By the time you catch your breath and your heart rate slows down, the service is over. Try to arrive early so you can enjoy your morning routine and feel relaxed and at ease when the service begins.

Enjoy coffee and a donut
Sometimes a Sunday service can be long and tiring with all the standing up and sitting down. Sometimes the preacher is less than exciting. You’ll have an easier time keeping your energy up and staying awake if you have a little energy boost before the service.

Find a seat before the service begins
If you get into the Worship Center before the service begins, you’ll have your pick of seats. Find something that works for you, but try not to isolate yourself. Once you’re seated, have a brief conversation with someone around you or take a minute and browse the information in your program. If the sermon passage is listed, you can read it before the service to give yourself a head start.

Make a new friend before you leave
Unless you know the name of everyone who attends your church (and none of us do), you always have a chance to make new friends. During the service, notice the people sitting near you that you’ve never met. Before you leave, greet them with a smile and introduce yourself. You never know what the outcome might be: you may never see them again or it might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.


Maybe all of these can be helpful for you. Maybe just one or two are beneficial for you. This Sunday is a great time to practice. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

God's Secret of Success



When he was named leader, Joshua was undoubtedly a bit hesitant. He wasn’t managing a bank or a fast-food restaurant. He wasn’t leading a sports franchise. He wasn’t taking over a family business. He wasn’t even becoming a CEO of a nationally known corporation. Instead, he was assuming leadership of a brand new nation encompassing millions of people who had no land, no formal government, and no clear direction other than a cloud they followed.
Joshua was probably a bit fearful. He needed some direction.
God wanted Joshua to be successful (read to the end, “success” might not mean what you think it means). He wanted Joshua to lead Israel appropriately. His instructions to Joshua were quite simple:
Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
These were powerful words. Joshua took them to heart, and he was successful (read to the end, “success” might not mean what you think it means).

The Stuff You Can't Stop Talking About

What do you like talking about? I love to talk about the things that are important to me. You don’t have to be around me long to hear me talking about my wife or my children. Probably if you listen long enough, you’ll hear me talk about sports, particularly golf. I’ll talk your ear off with my thoughts on church, Christianity, and theology. The things about which I’m excited are the things which won’t depart from my mouth.
God told Joshua to not let the words of Scripture depart from his mouth. If God’s Word was the most important thing in Joshua’s life, then Joshua would be successful.

The Stuff You Can't Stop Thinking About

I remember when my wife was pregnant with our first child. Many nights I would run out in the middle of the night for a bean burrito. I was just glad Taco Bell was open all night! Women who have been pregnant can sympathize with my wife.
While I’ve never had those types of cravings, I have plenty of my own obsessions. I hate being late, so I am always paying attention to the clock. During baseball season, I give more than an appropriate amount of attention to the Detroit Tigers. When I am preparing for an important presentation, I obsess about the details. I’ll spend day and night meditating on the words I’m going to use.
James 1 contains a brief parable about a man who wakes up in the morning, checks himself out in the mirror, and begins his day without making any adjustments.
A mirror’s purpose is to point out the elements of our appearance which need correction. The benefit of looking in the mirror is lost if a person chooses not to act according to the information obtained. James’ used his story to challenge people not to “merely listen to the word”, but to “do what it says”.
God did not want Joshua to simply accumulate and think about the information contained in Scripture. He wanted Joshua to “be careful to do everything written in it.” Success for Joshua would be accomplished by acting upon the information he discovered in God’s Word.

Prosperity is relative

Many people read God’s promise to Joshua and begin salivating at the prospect of a simple formula which will lead to prosperity and success. Such excitement is often based on a misunderstanding of these two concepts.
Prosperity is relative. For every person you can find who is more “prosperous” than you, likely just as many exist who are less “prosperous” than you. Success is a perception. Almost everyone is successful in someone’s eyes (even if it is just your parents!). The reality of success is dependent on the standard used to measure success.

Success is a perception.

Everyone is successful in someone’s eyes. In whose eyes are you successful?
Joshua was certainly not successful or prosperous in many people’s eyes. Very few accounts exist of his individual exploits. No record can be found regarding the extent of his wealth or possessions. He is remembered as much for his great defeats and mistakes (Ai and Gibeon) as he is for his victories (Jericho). His is a good story, but certainly not a “great” story.
The last we hear of Joshua is written in Joshua 24:31:
Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel.
Everyone is successful in someone’s eyes. Joshua’s success as a leader was in the eyes of God.
  • Joshua never let the Word of God depart from his mouth.
  • Joshua never stopped meditating on God’s Word.
  • Joshua was careful to do all God’s Word commanded.
Everyone is successful in someone’s eyes. In whose eyes are you successful?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

8 Requests You Can Pray For Your Church Every Week


Whether you are a pastor, a bathroom cleaner, a deacon, a youth leader, a worship leader, a camera operator, a cafe worker, a diaper changer, a small group leader, or just a bi-weekly pew sitter; you should be praying for your church.
By spending a few minutes each week in prayer for your church, you are doing much more than offering requests to God. You are aligning your heart with God's heart because God's heart is for His church. You are prioritizing God's kingdom because God's kingdom is played out through His church. You are focusing your attention on the proclamation of the Gospel because the church is the vehicle God has ordained to spread His good news to all the world.

You can pray many things for your church. Below are eight requests you can make on behalf of your local faith community. These are pulled directly from our church's Sunday Prayer Prompter which guides our Prayer Crew during their Sunday morning meetings.

Pray that God will be honored with our worship on Sunday and the lives we live during the week.

Worship is more than just singing. Perhaps it begins with our Sunday music, but that is just the inspiration for us to go out and live worshipfully(made up word) in the world. It is good to pray the lives of your brothers and sisters would be honoring to God and it is VERY GOOD to pray that your life would be honoring to God.

Pray that the words we speak to one another would be full of grace and truth.

Every person who worships with you on Sunday should leave feeling encouraged, energized and inspired. If the words they hear are harsh and judgmental or if the words they hear lack the power and conviction of God's truth, they will leave with less than they should. How we interact with one another when we are together is critical in how we will interact with the world when we are apart.

Pray that Jesus and His teachings would be at the center of all we do.

Too many churches get distracted by programs, events and politics. Too many preachers get distracted by life improvement sermons and the health and wealth gospel. This is not to say every sermon must be based on Matthew, Mark, Luke or John; but rather every sermon should emanate from and point to Jesus. Pray that your church will never lose their Christ-centered focus.

Pray that many of our people will have opportunities this week to change the world around them.

I often say that none of us should expect to change the world on our own, but each of us should strive to change the world of those around us. Pray that the members of your church would do well with the opportunities they receive during the week. Pray that they will be generous, kind, gracious and loving to everyone who crosses their path.

Pray that we will be constantly changing as a result of our interaction with God’s Word.

Sanctification is the ongoing process by which God's Spirit forms us into the image of Christ. One of the Holy Spirit's primary tools is the Bible. As the people from your church invest their time in God's Word, pray that they will be willing to take the steps prescribed for them by the passages they read and study.

Pray that everyone who joins us today will know that they are deeply loved by Jesus.

Jesus loves everyone. Jesus' people ought to love everyone. Everyone who encounters Jesus' people ought to know they are loved. This seems simple. Pray it will be the reality in your church.

Pray that we would be known throughout the community for the love we show people.

In John 13:35 Jesus said, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Every church is known for something (unless they are not known, which is even more sad). Pray that your church will be known for the way they treat people, specifically, the way they love people.

Pray that our children and teens will learn to love God and follow Him for their entire life.

Churches that do not pass their faith to the next generation do not have a next generation. Children today face a vastly different world than did we. The world today is more hostile to faith and more inviting to temptation. Pray that God will protect the hearts and minds of the children in your church and that His Spirit would fill them with a burning desire to follow Christ for all their life.

Monday, August 1, 2016

20 Things I Could Have Said In Sunday's Sermon, But Didn't


These Are Literally My Sermon Leftovers

What follows are several copy/pasted excerpts from my studies for last Sunday's sermon. Of course, they are a little out of context and some are more devotional than exegetical. However, they might be interesting to some.
I struggled this week with whether or not to address the issue of racial reconciliation. It's not obviously tied to this passage, but I think Jesus' heart for the excluded and the oppressed naturally leads to that discussion. At the end of the day, I felt it more important to make a clear gospel presentation which meant some of my thoughts on racism, #blacklivesmatter, and inclusiveness ended up on the cutting room floor. I'm sure they'll resurface down the road.

MARK 10:13-16

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

Excerpts from My Study

  • People usually want good things for their children. This helps us understand God our Father. It helps us understand the importance of being good parents. It helps us identify our important role of passing a better life AND a better faith to the next generation
  • Jesus was indignant with the disciples because they didn't value the children and they didn't value the parents. Jesus' followers must value everyone!
  • The term "indignant" (Jesus' response to the disciples) literally means to be "overwhelmed with anger." God has no patience for those who mistreat others.
  • Little children don’t have the preconceived notions and experiential assumptions that often keep us from recognizing simple truth.
  • Jesus said the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are childlike, not those who seize it through politics and power-plays.
  • Through his words and actions, Jesus communicates how important the “least of these” are to God.
  • Opening your arms to those who are oppressed or rejected is like opening your arms to Jesus (Matthew 25:40).
  • The disciples thought the most important thing happening was Jesus’ teaching and healing. Jesus knew the most important thing happening was his interaction with people from all backgrounds.
  • Jesus’ arms are open wide to everyone. His blessings are available to everyone.
  • There is something in this passage that speaks to much of the social division we are experiencing in our country currently. The disciples seem to be telling the parents that their children's lives don't matter. Should we ever tell anyone that their life doesn't matter?

The Sermon I Didn't Preach

Regarding racism and reconciliation, I found the following "spectrum" of positions on race helpful. This is pulled from a Rick Warren sermon. I offer it without comment. It was part of my study for the sermon although it didn't make it into Sunday's final notes.
These are seven different descriptions of people's approach to racial issues. None of us live at one of these, we likely drift between two or three of them. Rick pointed out that we cannot accurately assess where we belong on this scale. We need to allow those around us to help us identify where we might be.
  1. Racist -- hates, bullies, discriminates against other races
  2. Bigot -- believes stereotypes and belittles other races
  3. Avoider -- uncomfortable around other races
  4. Insensitive -- unaware of what is hurtful to other races (we don't get to decide what hurts other people)
  5. Apathetic -- just doesn't care about race issues (if you claim to be a follower of Christ you have to care about fairness, justice, love & reconciliation)
  6. Sensitive -- kind and inclusive to other races
  7. Reconciler -- active builder of bridges to other races (God has given us the message of reconciliation -- it is reflective of the heart of God)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter!


NO! All Lives Matter!


Blue Lives Matter!


You don’t understand!


No, You don’t understand!


When we fight over which lives matter, aren’t we behaving just like Jesus’ disciples who constantly argued over who was the greatest or who would sit next to Jesus in the kingdom?




This doesn’t need to be so complicated. If someone suggests to you that their life matters, regardless of how their sentiment is phrased, why can’t you just agree with them?

If, as some say, “all lives matter”; then black lives matter. Why does that need to be a point of contention?



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*I'm choosing not to make all the disclaimers I think I need to make because I'm trusting that we can all be adults and recognize that this is not a comprehensive treatment of the issue and general truths always need to be applied with wisdom and flexibility, right?