Archive for September, 2013

Sep
25

Hope for the Vertically Challenged

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way. When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled. Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Mana came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:1-10, NLT)

Last weekend we dedicated a new parking lot edition that added 97 stalls to our campus. On Saturday we invited the neighborhood come and play on our new parking lot and enjoy pony rides, a bounce house, snow cones and an 80 foot long zip line. The local fire department brought a truck and the EMS crew was on hand to display their rescue unit. On Sunday I talked about how our new lot was nothing more than concrete. We weren’t really dedicating concrete, but rededicating ourselves to fulfilling our mission as a church. The text I selected for worship was familiar, the story of Zacchaeus from Luke’s gospel. Here are some of the bullets I attempted to drive home from the sermon.

* The fact that Luke points out Zacchaeus’ limited height is not to be ignored. I’m sure he was literally a short man, but the point Luke’s making is that each of us has fallen short of God’s standard of Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 3:23). We all have the DNA of sin that keeps us from connecting with God.

* When Jesus came to Zacchaeus he did two remarkable things: he called him by name and he committed to spend the entire day with him. Jesus is merely a couple of weeks from his crucifixion, and he chose to spend one of those days with this “notorious sinner.”

* Jesus’ personal mission statement was to seek and to save the lost. Seeking speaks of the heart of God, and saving speaks of the help of God. Jesus was interested in more than conversions. He was and is interested in disciples.

* Jesus saw who no one else saw. He saw a man who was loved and valued by God. When others saw Zacchaeus they saw a “bad” person. Jesus didn’t see “bad” people. He saw “broken” people in need of grace and forgiveness. Maybe if we changed our perspective to see people as more broken than bad, we’d be more aware of the human need around us.

* 34 out of 35 of Jesus’ miracles were NOT performed on the Sabbath. Why do we expect so much to happen in one hour on Sunday when Jesus did his work during the week?

* As a church we are like the sycamore tree. We have been strategically planted in our community by God to elevate and lift the broken so they can connect with God. In the story the tree served as the point of intersect between Jesus and Zacchaeus. We exist to serve the same purpose today.

Following the service we passed out sidewalk chalk to our congregation and asked them to go into the new lot and write the initials on the concrete of those they know who need to be elevated to connect with Christ. I was moved by the sight of our congregation–from the very tall to the very small–hunkering down to make their mark. My prayer for our church is that we will never lose sight of Jesus’ purpose. We have no other purpose than to serve his.

Categories : Church, Church Growth, Luke
Comments (0)
Sep
19

Why God Uses Unlikely People

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!” (1 Kings 17:1, NLT)

Elijah was a remarkable man. So remarkable, that many thought him to be superhuman. There is some evidence for that. He did not experience death; rather he was “translated.” Elijah appeared 1,000 years later at the transfiguration of Jesus. And some believe Elijah will appear again as one of the two witnesses prior to the return of Christ (cf. Revelation 11:1-12). All of that is impressive, yet James 5:17 says that Elijah was a man “as human as we are.”

Crisis may build our character, but even more crisis reveals our character. When crisis comes into your life it will reveal greatness or smallness. Elijah came on the scene at Israel’s darkest hour. After the kingdom divided after the death of Solomon, Israel had 19 kings. Each king was a little worse than the king before. The timing was right. The greatest OT prophet came at the hour of Israel’s greatest need. Elijah was the right man at the right time.

1 Kings reports that Elijah was from a small village called Tishbe. We don’t really know anything about its location, but we do know that Gilead was a rough, rugged, mountainous region. By geography, Elijah was a country boy. He was probably a shepherd, spending the vast majority of his time alone. He would have only the smallest villages. Ironically, God called this unvarnished, uncultured man to deal with the most sophisticated culture and the most powerful people of his day.

The point I want you to see is that Elijah was an unlikely choice. What were his credentials? Did he have education or experience? There was nothing about him that would cause the nation to observe that he was the likely choice to leave his small community and step onto a very large platform as God’s spokesperson. That’s fairly consistent with others we see God use in the Bible. Think about David, who wasn’t even regarded by his father enough to be presented to Samuel. Think about the prophets, many of whom were uneducated farmers and shepherd. Think about the disciples who were day laborers or fishermen. Think about Paul, though highly education was a Christian killer and persecutor of churches. He was the one selected to begin the gospel movement beyond the borders of Israel to the known world.

As a pastor, the number one reason I get for a negative response to an opportunity to serve is not “I won’t,” but “I can’t.” Whenever I hear someone say, “I can’t do that,” I am reminded that God’s preference is always the unlikely person. God uses unlikely people and places in them in large spaces so his glory can be displayed.

Categories : Elijah
Comments (0)
Sep
18

Understanding Christian Love:: 4

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Keeping in Stride

This week I’ve been posting reflections from John’s third exhortation on the subject of Christian love in his epistle. Yesterday I noted that God’s indwelling love enables us to love others. In this final section John points to how God increases our capacity to love.

“And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world” (1 John 4:17, NLT)

The word “perfect” does not mean mistake free. It means “mature.” As we embody Christ’s love we are able to express love in ever deepening, sacrificial ways. As you might suspect, our capacity to love is not enlarged by being surrounded by loving, gracious people. That’s right, God enlarges our capacity by introducing difficult people into our lives.

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first” (1 John 4:18-19, NLT)

We know that different people come in all shapes and sizes, but John calls out those who create fear in our lives. In the first century there were only two kinds of people: the slaves and the free. Literally one half of the world was enslaved to the other half, so power issues were a great concern to John’s congregation. 2,000 years later we still have global concerns relating to the use and abuse of power.

Today we also have fear regarding those who are different. We distinguish one another through labels, which seldom unite us. Republicans and Democrats; the wealthy and the poor; white, black, Asian and latino; liberal and conservative; educated and uneducated; gay and straight; married and divorced are examples of labels that we frequently apply to one another instead of seeing others in light of the value that God has placed on them. God will bring people into our lives who are different as an invitation to grow in our capacity to love.

“If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters” (1 John 4:20-21, NLT).

We not only have different people come into our lives, we also have difficult people. Some people are just hard to get along with, let alone love as Christ would have us love. When you have a difficult person in your life, remember that love doesn’t overlook offenses, it overcomes offenses. We can overlook offenses by ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist. Love overcomes offenses, seeking to reconcile relationships with difficult ones rather than kick them to the curb and moving on.

I alluded to this a moment ago, but I want to make sure you get this. Every person that is different or difficult that comes into your life is not there by accident. That person, or persons as the case may be, represent God’s invitation to you to increase your capacity to love.

Comments (0)

There’s a lot of concern today about why the Millennial generation (1984-2002) is leaving the church, thus producing a host of theories about how to reach the generation and get them back into the fold. Barna Group has published a new research report titled 5 Reasons Millennials Stay in Church. Perhaps our concerns are best viewed through the lens of those who haven’t departed. I hope you find this helpful.

Comments (0)
Sep
17

Understanding Christian Love:: 3

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Keeping in Stride

Before we can understand how we are to love each other, we have to first understand a couple of things about God’s love. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, God’s love flows out of his character. His love is most clearly demonstrated through the sacrificial gift of Jesus Christ. That brings us to my third observation from John’s text: God’s love is what enables us to love one another. Check this out.

“Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them” (1 John 4:11-16, NLT).

To summarize John’s words, the only way we can appropriately love one another is to embody Christ’s love and let his love be expressed through our lives. So how do we do that?

1. I must understand that God’s love for me is more than part of a legal transaction.

As a believer I embraced God’s love at the moment of my salvation. God loved me and sent his Son, and I responded to his grace in faith and received Christ as Lord and Savior. But God’s love is more than a legal transaction. It is important that I understand this because if all God’s love means to me is that I receive salvation and go to heaven when I die I’ll never be able to fully love others. It is true that I embraced Christ’s love at salvation, but I must also embody that love. His love indwells me, thus enabling me to live as Christ lived and love as Christ loved. His love is not merely an experience. It’s a relationship.

2. The command to love one another is beyond my personal ability.

I must confess that I do not have what it takes to love others as Christ would have me to. It is a goal that is beyond my reach. I need to rely on Christ’s indwelling love to be able to love others. Otherwise, I will settle for simply being nice.

3. God gives his love to me so He can get his love through me to others.

I have certainly benefited from God’s love. The day that I finally understood that God loves me in spite of myself was a great revelation. In his love I find comfort, strength, and security. But I began to mature when I realized that God loves others as well. It’s not just about me. It’s about others as well.

Comments (0)
Sep
16

Understanding Christian Love:: 2

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Keeping in Stride

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:7-10, NLT).

The first thing John wants us to know about Christian love is that it originates in the character of God. We are well aware of the fact that God does loving things and that He expresses love on a continuous basis. But what God does comes out of the overflow of who He is. John spoke plainly: “God IS love.” This is foundational to our understanding of Christian love, especially with regards to how we love one another, which is John’s chief concern in this passage. If we are going to genuinely love one another we must love out of who we are. If our love is not character driven, then we run the risk for settling for being “nice.”

Next, John reminds us that love has been demonstrated for us through the sacrifice of God. Think about this for a moment. Every gift says something about the giver and every gift says something about the receiver. When we consider the gift of Jesus, we recognize that God is extravagant, generous, and selfless. When we consider ourselves in light of this priceless gift, we realize that God places high value upon us. We have done nothing deserving of the gift. It has not been earned. It is out of his loving character that God gave his very best to the world, because that’s who He is.

Comments (0)
Sep
15

Understanding Christian Love:: 1

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Keeping in Stride

There’s an old story that’s told about a young preacher who was called to his first assignment as Pastor of a church. The congregation was excited about his first day in the pulpit and the young pulpiteer did not disappoint. After the service the congregation congratulated themselves on finding this diamond in the rough, and quickly agreed that they could not wait until the next Lord’s Day.

When the following Sunday arrived the young pastor stood to preach. Within moments church members were a bit confused. The pastor preached with the same fervor and the same eloquence as before. The problem though, was that he preached the exact same sermon as the week before. In the parking lot church members expressed mild disappointment that they received the exact same sermon as the previous week, but quickly gave the youthful preacher the benefit of the doubt, assuming that it was first church jitters.

Week three arrived and the church was filled. To the surprise of the members, the pastor stood and preached the exact same sermon for the third week in a row. After the worship service dismissed, the board assembled in the church basement to discuss their emerging dilemma. After some conversation, the board agreed to send a representative to talk to their new pastor to see if they could understand why he only seemed to have the one sermon.

That week the board representative made an appointment to meet with the pastor. After their obligatory small talk, the board member asked about the three sermons. The young pastor pushed back in his chair and replied, “When our church members start living the sermon I preached, they’ll get a new one.”

John’s readers must have felt the same way. John had already addressed the importance of Christian love two times before he made his third run on the same subject in chapter 4. It makes you wonder if John felt as though he needed to be redundant to make sure his point hit home. This week I’ll be posting about Christian love and John’s helpful explanation that helps us understand what it really means to love one another and why it matters. Thanks for checking in, and thanks for referring your friends to my blog.

Comments (0)
Sep
11

Where Have The Real Heroes Gone?

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Today I met one of our church members for lunch. Outside of his retirement community, the staff and residents were honoring public servants with BBQ and the appropriate side dishes. As I walked through the tables and smelled the smoke from the grill, I remembered that today is September 11. I’m confident that the meal was simultaneously an act of gratitude as well as an act of remembrance.

I hadn’t devoted any time to social media this morning. But this afternoon I flipped through today’s posts on Facebook and Twitter. I saw several who had chosen that medium to honor the true heroes of our nation: those who place their lives on the line for the safety and security of others.

When I was a kid, like most I suppose, my heroes were movie stars, rock and roll bands, and professional athletes. Those athletes, actors and musicians seemed larger than life and were shrouded in mystery. All I or anybody for that matter knew about their lives is what they chose to let us know. My friends and I were filled with wonder at any brief glimpse we could get. But in today’s world, social media and the internet have pulled back the curtain on reality. The great and powerful “Oz” has been unmasked and fully disclosed. And reality can sometimes be a tough thing to see.

Our culture likes to elevate and emulate those whose lives we think we’d like to have. And certainly there are people who deserve to be honored, like those whose actions are inspirational and motivational. How do we know the difference? How do we evaluate those who are in the public eye? Should we even have heroes, given our natural propensity for idolatry?

I’m not going to suggest you cease looking for role models to emulate or as sources of inspiration. But here are a couple of quick suggestions that may serve as filters for your lens as you evaluate your choices. First, I think its important to be reasonable about who you select as a role model. Look for those who do great things in small places, largely in anonymity. Teachers, coaches and public servants, for example, routinely do hard things in hard places for little pay on a routine basis. Their work isn’t always notable, but its usually noteworthy. These are the people who make sacrifices on a daily basis for nothing more than the satisfaction that they have done something to help someone for that day.

Second, be realistic about the human condition. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That’s God’s way of saying, “nobody’s perfect.” I’m always amazed at the shock people display when an athlete or entertainer is arrested for a drug possession or a DUI or domestic violence or some other illegal activity. Its as if Americans have become so caught up in the image and persona that is marketed that we forget that everyone’s halo is a bit skewed. We enforce an expectation on our American idols that is unrealistic and unreasonable. Of course they’re not perfect. Why are we so disappointed at their behavior, or worse, prone to deny its existence, as if we “know” them?

As part of my daily Bible reading this morning I read Psalm 16. Verse 3 says it better than I ever could: “The godly people in the land are my true heroes! I take pleasure in them!” Role models, mentors and yes “heroes” can serve as wonderful guides and examples for living. They can challenge us and inspire us to reach our personal potential. Just be discerning about who you look to.

Categories : Uncategorized
Comments (0)
Sep
10

Be Discerning:: 2

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Keeping in Stride

Today we face different challenges than John’s first century audience, but there are challenges nonetheless. God has given us three tools to help us be discerning regarding the messages we hear.

The first tool God has given us is the Bible. One thing the New Testament Church lacked that we have readily available is Scripture. What we hear and read must be measured against that standard. Do you remember Harold Camping? He was the radio evangelist who predicted Christ would return on May 21, 2011. As the day passed, Camping commented that he had miscalculated the date and that Christ would return in October. That day passed as well. During the days leading up to May and again in October, I received a ton of mail encouraging me to lead our church into preparedness for the second advent. As I considered this prediction, I recalled that Jesus said that no person would know the hour of Christ’s appearing (Matthew 24:36). When we hear something or read something, our first response should be, “What does the Bible say about that?

The second tool that we have to discern truth from error is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus Christ and serves us in two ways. The Spirit convicts us of sin and convinces us of righteousness. When we stray, the Spirit calls us to return. When we hear truth, the Spirit confirms and affirms what we hear. Truth resonates in our hearts because the of the Spirit’s confirming voice.

The final tool we have is each another. The verbs in the text (1 John 4:1-6) are all plural, indicating that we are not to undertake our struggles and questions singularly. Throughout church history, the people of God have gathered to clarify their understanding and weed out theological error. The creeds and confessions we have today are largely the result of such gatherings that have determined to distinguish fact from fiction.

We hear a lot of different messages today, but the Scriptures, the Spirit, and the Body of Christ help us to discern truth from error.

Comments (0)
Sep
09

Be Discerning:: 1

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Keeping in Stride

God has always encouraged his people to think critically about the content of the teaching they hear. Twice in Deuteronomy (13:1-5; 18:22) and again in Jeremiah (28:9), tests are provided the verify the authenticity of the prophetic message. Jesus addressed this as well in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:16-20) with the challenge, “You shall know them by their fruit.” The first century was filled with itinerant teachers. Like Paul and the apostles, itinerant teachers would travel from community to community, sharing their inspired messages about God. Some who went out were legitimate, spreading the gospel and starting churches. Others were illegitimate. Itinerant teachers had no source of income other than the hospitality of the listeners. The illegitimate teachers would seek to share messages that would allow them to profit. You don’t have to be an economics major to understand that the bigger the audience, the bigger the income potential. So the false teachers would tailor their messages to have a broad base of appeal so they could profit from the people. Evidently, John’s readers tended to accept any and all teaching that claimed to be inspired. John’s pastoral response to this trend was to challenge them to investigate the source of every claim.

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a propheta acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here. But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. Those people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them. But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception” (1 John 4:1-6, NLT).

John’s counsel to the church was two fold: examine the teacher’s message in light of Jesus Christ; and to test the audience to see if the message is gaining popular appeal from the world. Times have changed over 2,000 years. Their historical setting is not exactly like ours today, and we face the same dangers in different ways. Like then, there is a lot of static in the signal. Things are different today but the overarching principle that remains. Everything we hear or read must be filtered through the lens of Jesus Christ. He is the standard.

Comments (0)