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!


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?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

I Don't Have All the Answers, But I Can See One of the Problems

*This was originally written in 2011 and while the data may be a little out of date, the principle is still true in 2016.

I saw a commercial this morning in which Ed Schultz said something to the effect of, "I never imagined I'd see America like this. Wall Street is going through the roof and Main Street is footing the bill."

This is not an uncommon statement these days, and it seems to get a lot of traction. But is it true?

I decided to do a little research myself, and here's what I found.

The top 10% of all wage earners in America currently pay about 70% of the taxes in America. I would imagine the "Wall Street Barons" probably fit into the top 10%, yet it would appear they are footing 70% of the bill for America.

The top 1% of all wage earners in America currently pay about 35% of the taxes in America. To really understand what that means, think of it this way: The wealthiest 1% of Americans are not only paying their own way, each of them are also footing the bill for 35 other Americans who are paying NOTHING.

It would hardly seem that "Main Street" is footing the bill for Wall Street. In fact, the numbers would suggest the opposite.

One more stat. The top 50% of wage earners in America currently pay about 98% of the taxes in America. In other words, half of Americans are not footing any part of the bill...

Here's the problem. When guys like Schultz use deceptive and inflammatory rhetoric, we are unable to address the real problems. By using words he either knows to be false (the alternative is that he's a lazy fact checker or an idiot), he is diverting people's attention from the real issues and is creating unnecessary divides between classes.

We will always have people who make more money than others. We will always have people who are far wealthier than others. These are not problems. In our current system, the wealthy and the high earners are already paying far more than their fair share.

Yet we still have issues.

Unemployment is really high. Poverty continues to grow. Children are being neglected and abused. Families are falling apart. People are losing their houses. Soldiers are being killed. etc...

But none of these problems are going to be solved by pointing our fingers at "classes" of people and screaming that they need to pay their share...

I don't have the answers this morning. But I do know that dishonest journalism doesn't get us any closer.

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)