Category Archives: The Church

Be Astonished and Afraid

Jesus wasn’t looking for fan, he was inviting followers. We have spent the last 6 weeks examining this from many angles, however in a congregation our size it seems there are always some who hold on to the idea that being a fan of Jesus is what we do here. We are really missing something if we get from scripture that we are merely to believe or behave.   Jesus’ disciples certainly did believe and behave, but that isn’t what made them disciples.  They followed!

What’s the difference? At what point does believing or behaving become following? That’s a fantastic question and I’m really glad you asked it. The answer is much too long for a little column like this one, so I would suggest that you go back and listen to Joe’s messages on the church website.  Get a copy of the book “Not a Fan” by Kyle Idleman and read it. Most of all, pray. Examine your life and ask God, “When I did this thing today (be specific) was that the actions of a follower or a fan?”

Let me offer this for you to think about: in Mark 10:32 Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem.  This takes place just before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.

“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished and those who follower were afraid.”  NIV

When you follow Jesus daily you will certainly have many moments were you are astonished at what he is doing in your life. You will also find yourself afraid, not the kind of fear that reveals a lack of trust but instead the kind of fear that leaves you no other choice but to fully trust in Jesus.  Jesus will often lead you to places that will make you uncomfortable – places you would not go on your own.

Please, please, please don’t let this series fade into a distant memory as a nice sermon series that meets your expectations for a quality worship service and message. Make a conscious examination of yourself through the lens of scripture, narrated by the Holy Spirit.  Determine to be a follower and put away the selfish ways of religious fandom.

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A Great Time To Be a Fan – A Critical Time To Be a Follower

I’m writing this blog post on Thursday but it will post on Saturday. As of now the KC Royals are playing every game hoping that the next victory will help them squeeze their way into the post-season.  The Chiefs are off to their best start in recent memory with a great chance to knock out their new coach’s former team.  It’s a great time to be a fan of KC sports.

I suppose it’s a great time to be a fan of Jesus as well.  After all, He conquered the greatest enemy of all – death!  And while we may “share” in the Royals’ or Chiefs’ victory through the window of our televisions, we can only share Jesus’ victory if we follow Him.  And following Jesus is hard!  While being a fan of Jesus might be socially acceptable, following Jesus isn’t.  In fact Jesus himself said that if we follow him, the people will despise us.

“And all nations will hate you because you are my followers.  But everyone who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22

“Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master.  And since I, the master of the household, have been called the prince of demons, the members of my household will be called by even worse names.” Matthew 10:25

It seems to me that we are in the middle of a message series that approaches those teachings of Jesus which the crowd considered to be too difficult to understand and/or follow.  John records in chapter 6 that many, in fact, turned away.  Remember that these are the same people who ate the miracle fish and bread meal earlier in the chapter.  It very well may be that this series offers a turning point for all of us who listen.  What if we find the cost of being a follower to high?  What if we discover that we prefer what is socially acceptable rather than obedience?

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23


To Him Be Glory in the Church!

For the past few weeks Joe has reminded us of a verse (3:20) from Paul’s prayer (3:14-21) written in his letter to the Ephesians.  I absolutely love this verse!  Paul gets caught up in the greatness of God and the power He supplies His people for His Kingdom purpose.  Joe used verse 20 because it is there that Paul makes his point about God’s ability to do immeasurably, unimaginably more than all we ask.  As we set our goal of living this Christian life Unleashed, let us by no means fix a limit in our minds of what God can do in us.

It may have occurred to you that verse 20 ends with a comma, at least in most versions.  Paul includes all three parts of the trinity to make his point for us, but I have to include verse 21 to show you.

“Now to him (God the Father) who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power (Holy Spirit) that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”(NIV) Eph 3:20-21

God sent the Holy Spirit for a solitary purpose –to glorify his Son, Jesus.  The purpose of God’s power, which is given us through the Holy Spirit, is to build His church and to bring glory to Him, in Christ Jesus.  We glorify Christ, Christ glorifies his Father.  Part of unleashing God’s power in our lives is that we align our motives with God’s purpose – “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.”

Warren Wiersbe puts it this way; “If our motive is to glorify God by building His Church, then God will share His power with us.  The power of the Spirit is not a luxury; it is a necessity.”

To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations.


Don’t Forget the Left-Overs

Each year, after thanksgiving meal is over, I’m still excited for the left-overs – a reminder of the wonderful meal, recently enjoyed.  The bounty of food is too much for one sitting, too much even for one day.  It spills over to supper, then to Friday and further.  Back home our tradition is to pour the gravy over a plate filled with cold turkey, stuffing and potatoes and warm it up in the microwave. Best. Left-overs. Ever. I’m going to have to work this off!

The left-overs turn my thoughts toward the twelve baskets left over after Jesus fed the multitude; then to Paul’s reference to spiritual food.  Jesus always fills us to overflowing!  He meets our every need and more.  “Taste and see that the Lord is good!”  When we sit at the feet of our Savior, we are fed the good, spiritual food of the gospel until we are so filled, we cannot take another bite.  We must leave and rest, then work it off before we come back for more.

Here’s my point and my prayer for all of us as we enjoy the spiritual blessings this Christmas season.

  • Taste and see that the Lord is good. (Come to Christ)
  • Gobble up the spiritual food He brings. (Sit at His feet)
  • Rest in Him – (Enjoy the fellowship of Christ and His church)
  • Work it off – (Serve Christ by serving others)
  • Come back for left-overs – (Remain in his Word and let us not forsake gathering together.)

I Appreciate You!

Many churches across the country designate October as a month to tell their pastor that they appreciate them.  I have experienced this in  each church I have had the privilege to lead as pastor of worship.  It’s difficult to express just how much a word of encouragement from someone within the congregation can lift my spirits.

Somewhere I heard these  statistics; Upon receiving good news, a person will tell 3 people but when receiving bad news, the same person will tell 11 people.  I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I think the church as a body can take a different approach.  When someone does something well, we should tell them.  It matters.  It’s encouraging.  It’s instructed by God and recommended by Paul!

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Jesus words) Matthew 7:12

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

At the top of this blog is a picture of my collection of encouraging cards and letters I have received throughout the years of my ministry.  I keep them all.  During times of discouragement I pull them out to be reminded that I am doing something that really does have a positive effect on the lives of those I’m called to serve and lead.  But it’s not always a Dayspring card coupled with a favorite candy bar.

I also have received my share of criticism and hate mail.  I hope you are not familiar with this style of communication.  It usually looks something like this.  The letter is addressed to you, but your name is spelled incorrectly.  If it comes in the mail, there is no return address.  Most likely it was found by the secretary because it was left on her desk, however, it is more likely that stepped on it Monday morning because it had been slid underneath your office door.  It is not signed.  The subject matter is almost guaranteed to en-capsule an event – which you do not remember – that happened months ago.  The handwriting is barley legible because of the spots where the goading instrument broke its lead or forced the ink through the paper onto the other side. The letter continues with a generalized evaluation of your ineptitude and lack of qualifications and social graces.  Several names for your misguided leadership style are suggested.  It is not signed.  This is where I file these letters.

Thankfully I have not received a letter like this for a long, long time.  If you have a pastor or staff of pastors, it is likely that they have received one or two of these during their tenure.  But this is not a blog about unfair critics and hurtful comments.

Please take the time to encourage your pastors next month.  Ministry can be full of discouragement and it’s easy to become disheartened.  A simple word of encouragement from you can go a long way.  Consistent prayer can go even further.  When both take place consistently, your pastor will begin to feel like he could move mountains!  Based on some of the best encouragers I’ve known over there years, here are a few ideas on how to encourage your pastor(s).

  • Send a card that expresses how much you value the role they have as your pastor. (cards are easier to file than emails)
  • Let them know that they made a difference in growing your love for Jesus. (often times the enemy tries to convince us that we aren’t making a difference)
  • Be specific about something they said or did and how it benefited your relationship with the Lord. (sometimes the deceiver tries to convince the pastor that no one notices)
  • When offering spoken encouragement, look your pastor in the eyes. (it’s a nonverbal way to communicate that you are their friend) (-Pastors sometimes falsely believe that they aren’t allowed to have friends among the people they lead. – I reject this thinking!)

I know that this blog has readers who are in a lot of churches other than mine. So I feel comfortable offering this as a 3rd party intermediary.  Don’t say to your pastor, “hey, I read this blog and it said I should give you this.”  Feel free to leave me out of it and make your encouragement your own.  Be personal.  Be genuine.  And let me know how it goes.  Share here on this blog what you did to encourage your pastor (or what you intend to do since it is not yet officially Pastor appreciation month.)

Bill Hybels has said on many occasions that he believes “the local church is the hope of the world.”  It’s true because the local church – when healthy – carries the light of Jesus.  Healthy churches are led by encouraged pastors.

And to my pastors; Joe and Andy, I love serving with you.  Thank you for being pastors for me and my family.  Know that I’m praying for your leadership and I submit to you as brothers and leaders under Christ (Ephesians 5:21).  May God bless your ministries wholly and completely as He has blessed me through each of you.


Keep Sowing

Remembering that Christ used seed as parable on multiple occasions, please read my following story with your spiritual eyes wide open.

There’s just something very refreshing about coming home from work and walking out to the garden with fresh seeds.  That’s what I got to do Monday evening.  After I pulled into the driveway, carried my backpack in and set it by the sofa, I kissed my wife on the face and asked “where’s my packets of seeds?” I hadn’t needed them since I planted in the spring.  That was months ago so I lost track.  I found my seed and tromped out to my garden spots determined to sow a little hope.

In the spring I had such high hopes for a garden that would feed us a bounty of fresh food.  I sowed tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, carrots, radishes, snow peas, onions, garlic, strawberries, basil and asparagus.  I knew that it would take a couple years for the strawberries and asparagus, but there would be plenty of other vegetables to feed us over the summer months.

But after a while the brook dried up, for there was no rainfall anywhere in the land.” 1 Kings 17:7

Fortunately I started my garden earlier than I normally do.  I had some nice radishes and we really enjoyed the snow peas but it went downhill fast after that. I waited and waited to get some nice peppers but only had four all season from four pepper plants. Onions = 0, Carrots = 0, Garlic = 0, Strawberries = 7 tiny ones (but small enough to add up to one barely full sized berry.) If it weren’t for the lettuce and tomatoes we got to enjoy, we would still have lived like those who think that food only comes from the grocery store.

I have had several gardens through the years, good ones too.  Everyone’s gardens suffered this year from the extreme heat and drought.  I don’t begrudge or complain. Because I enjoy gardening and the taste of fresh produce I won’t stop planting.  In order for us to enjoy the fruits once again, we have to labor in the garden where life is yearning to burst forth.  So many of my little seed packets offered two seasons for planting April-May and July-August.  It’s not too late to work toward a harvest in the autumn season, so I will sow more seed and keep sowing seed.

Father, would You bring the rain of Your word once again to so many who are thirsty for You.  Help our churches to sow the seed of Christ into the souls who long to taste the freshness of new life in You.  Even we who are in You are hungry for a fresh work of Your power in our day.  We repent from our dry season of complaining about the weather and harsh conditions of our culture.  You have commanded us to sow Christ.  We ask You to let Your healing rain fall on us once again. -Amen.

Have you suffered a dry season in your life and recovered to see a season of growth and strength?  Have you asked Christ to do something new and bold in your life lately?  Have you given up on a friend only to share Jesus at a later date and find your friend surprisingly receptive?


Happy Dependence Day

 

Wednesday we will celebrate the anniversary of when the United States first declared its independence from the oppressive empire of Britain.  (This is history, not politics.)  In contrast, every Sunday, as believers we celebrate our dependence on Jesus Christ.  The United States, at its very foundation, gained its freedom by declaring itself sovereign then fighting and winning a war for liberty. As believers, we recognize Christ as our sovereign.  We trust in the battle that Christ won on our behalf; His death on the cross a substitute for our sin, His resurrection from the dead that we might have life.

The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:35-36

In this word picture, Jesus explains why He, the Son of God, had to be the One to pay the debt of sin owed by humanity.  We are all slaves to sin because of our sin nature.  We owe a debt that we cannot pay.  As slaves, we do not have authority over sin.  We cannot break its power over us by our mere, limited words.  But Jesus could pay our debt and He did.  And after paying our debt, Jesus as God’s Son, has the authority to declare us free!  And He does, to all who believe in Him and call upon His name!

Christ is the One who has made us free!  Let us celebrate our dependence on Him.

This post originally appeared in “The Connection.”  The Sunday morning publication of First Southern Baptist Church Lawrence.

 


Handkerchief to Cell Phones

I sorted through my drawers this weekend (something my wife has been after me to do for some time.) I needed to get rid of some shirts, that at this time in their life, would make better rags.  This was a task long overdue, Melanie would agree.

As I sorted through and threw rag/shirts over into the toss pile I wondered what had taken me so long. I have a tendency to wear shirts down to nothing  – especially undershirts. Working my way to the bottom of the drawer I discovered an ancient artifact – handkerchiefs.

What were these square clothes – much to thin to make a good rag? I don’t know why I even have them in my drawer.  I don’t remember buying them.  One was blue with a KC logo.  Okay that one was promotional item.  Two others were folded in a triangle – I remember wearing those under my bicycle helmet to catch sweat.  Four were the straight up white variety (much whiter than my undershirts due to the lack of use.)

I recall my dad and grandpa always having one of these in their back pocket.  On the farm it was handy in the field, when no tissues were nearby.  And the dust and dirt blowing up in your face always made a handkerchief necessary.  Just a kid in those days, I remember having a handkerchief of my own when I joined dad in the hayfield.

Why don’t I carry them around now?  Well, I work in an office.  Dirt seldom blows up into my face.  My biggest nuisance is the occasional headache from the florescent lights or the sore shoulders and back from hunching over my computer.  Even if I needed a handkerchief, I wouldn’t have room for one.  Like a lot of us, my back pocket is occupied by my cell phone.

Handkerchiefs now seem to be something of nostalgia and not just of a life on the farm where one was needed to relieve the sinuses of dust.  Remember how Carey Grant or Jimmy Stewart used to offer the lady their handkerchief when she would cry?  Who does that anymore?  Handkerchiefs came in very handy to the beau sharing a moment onscreen with his emotional gal.  “Don’t cry, shopgirl.”

Romans 12:15-16 says; 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! 

This is all a part of sharing life together. We are made in the image of a relational God and we are to be relational! And not just carnal relationship, but heavenly relationships – sharing life as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Galatians is one of my favorite books in the NT, especially chapter 6.   And in that chapter, Paul instructs us to;

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. 

I’m not saying that we should all go back to the days of carrying around a handkerchief, or that we should give up our cell phones in our back pockets and return to the days of blowing our noses into linens. What I am saying is that, as the opportunity presents itself, we should be obedient to Christ and submit ourselves to one another.  We should speak truth and encouragement to one another and when the moment calls for it we should just shut up and be a shoulder to lean on.  There isn’t an app for that.


The Paradox Between Being Relational and Being Right

I see in my kids a reflection of myself.  We are caught in a paradox seeded in the blueprint of humanity.  An inner desire to be in relational conflicts with a passionate drive to be right.  For my kids, this comes out in epic sibling battles.

My kids love each other, and depend on that sibling relationship for encouragement.  Through their friendships with one another they gain an understanding of the world of High School and Middle School.  They share in common the burdens and blessings of being a child whose Dad is a Pastor of Worship.  They rely on each other to endure the German stubbornness and sometimes quick temper of their dad.

But, while they see their need for a sibling relationship, they are torn with a drive to be right.  Now, I don’t mean to say that they look for the right answer.  No, not at all.  They deeply desire to prove that the thoughts and opinions they start with are the right ones.  Scripture teaches that none of us, by nature, are right.  None of us, by nature, are even good.

Romans3:10 As the Scriptures say,
   “No one is righteous—
not even one.
11 No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
12 All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.”
13 “Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
Their tongues are filled with lies.”
“Snake venom drips from their lips.”
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “They rush to commit murder.
16 Destruction and misery always follow them.
17 They don’t know where to find peace.”
18 “They have no fear of God at all.”

We were made to live in intimate relationship with our Creator.  Because of our sin nature it is impossible for us to have this Father/son/daughter relationship with God here in this life or in eternity.  This sin nature is our inheritance (Thanks grandpa Adam and grandma Eve). We have also inherited the penalty, which is death.

That sounds so harsh. “But, I’m a nice person.”  “I do more good stuff than bad.”  “I help the poor.  I go to church.”

Let me ask you a question.  Where did you ever get the idea that God has a scale and weighs your good things against the bad?  That’s not how it works. If the imagery of a scale helps your understanding of the judgement, then you should think of it like this.  If you were born standing one the side of the scale and you needed to throw your good deeds to the other side of the scale, you would not be strong enough to throw them that far. No matter how good your deed is, your arm isn’t strong enough. It’s not about how good your deeds are.  It’s about you not being able to reach the other side of the scale with them.

Romans 3:19 Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. 20 For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. 21 But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses[a] and the prophets long ago. 22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

Jesus came and poured out His righteousness for us. He substituted Himself for us on the cross. He died in our place. Because we were helpless to do anything, He did it all.  Every ounce of our salvation is the work of Jesus.  You can’t do good enough works to earn it and you can’t do enough good works to prove it.  Try as you might, you can’t even live up to the laws we’ve been given.

 Romans2:23For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

Made in the image of God to live in intimate relationship with God under the righteousness of God.  That relationship was broken by Adam who passed on to us an inheritance of unrighteousness. This unrighteousness first inherited then fully embraced by our own sinfulness. Jesus came to cleanse us from Adams stain and forgive our sins.  His work on the cross did it ALL!

I recently saw this tweet – “Supplementing God’s grace with your works is like supplementing the Arctic Circle with your ice chip.  You Are You Kidding?” – Scotty Ward Smith via twitter.


What Is A Disciple?

At my church, we are in the middle of the series we’ve titled The Original BIG XII:  That is the 12 disciples.  So I thought I would look up the definition for disciple.  Here is what I found.  Disciple – “One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another.”  Have you ever been convicted by the dictionary? (I know that the Holy Spirit is the real one who convicts all men.)
We have assumed for too long that just because we have been saved that we are automatically “disciples.”  That is our mistake.  As the saved church of Christ – His body, His bride, His beloved sons and daughters – we are called to be disciples, but not every one of us who is saved answers that call.
I think there are a number of reasons or obstacles that keep us from being disciples.  One reason, I just mentioned; we assume we already are disciples.  We make the hearing the call with answering the call.  You’ve been told that you are called, but just being called is not what made the original BIG XII into disciples – Answering the call did.  They “embraced and assisted in spreading the teachings of Jesus.”
A second reason we don’t answer the call is because we think it is too difficult.  A narrow path and filled with many trials it is. (Did that just sound like Yoda?) Personally I’d rather walk the narrow path, where my guide is Jesus himself, than walk the easy path, where my guide only has one thing on his mind – my destruction.
The original BIG XII understood that Jesus was calling them to “embrace and assist in spreading his teachings.”  He was called Teacher by Peter in Mark 9:5.   Even Pharisees called Jesus teacher. (Mark 12:13-14) (John 3:2) The disciples embraced Jesus’ teachings.   And as far as the second qualification for a disciple – as assisting in the spreading of Jesus’ teachings – Jesus let them know, from the beginning, that this was why he’d called them.  Mark 1:17 “And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  And that is exactly what they became.  In fact, the original XII – minus Judas – died because they would not stop spreading the teachings of Jesus.
These are the men who, along with Paul, penned the New Testament.  These are the disciples God is calling us to join.  This is the original BIG XII whose examples we are invited to follow.