Aug
05

Joy in Connections

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I never get tired of seeing those television news clips or viral videos of deployed soldiers returning home to surprise their families. These gotcha moments occur anywhere from school classrooms to professional sports stadiums. Those stories make me happy, and always bring a smile to my face. But what if it was my son or daughter returning home? That’s one difference between happiness and joy…a connection.

The Book of Philippians is, in part, an epistle that is about joy. In Paul’s letter we find several ways that he experienced and expressed joy. The first eleven verses of chapter one describes his joy in the relationships he had formed with the people of that faith community.

For Paul, the foundation of all connected relationships began with his relationship with Christ. Christ influenced all of his relationships regardless of their roles or functions. Because of his relationship with Christ, Paul had deep gratitude for these men and women. They were not burdens–they were blessings, and expressed that gratitude in the language of prayer.

Paul’s use of the word fellowship in this passage is not a reference to Sunday-after-church-potlucks. True Christian fellowship (koinonia) happens when people partner together for a common cause. So these relationships fostered shared mission and ministry among the people

Not only was Paul thankful, his heart was filled with love. In addition to sharing the common bond of mission and ministry, they share the common bond of adversity. They did not recoil from Paul’s challenges to live lives of service.

Beyond their fellowship and shared adversity, Paul was also able to celebrate their authenticity. As they grew together in the Lord while in the midst of obstacles, their character became more and more sincere.

These three characteristics of connected relationships–a common cause, a common adversity, and sincerity in the face of struggle, produced fruitfulness in their lives. God was working in this congregation so that he could work through this congregation. This truth brought great joy to Paul.

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Jul
25

Discovering Joy

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“Joy is the serious business of heaven.” — C.S. Lewis

I find the concept of joy to be elusive. Not just for me, but for people in our Christian communities. Part of the reason is that we have made joy synonymous with happiness. While that comparison may work in secular culture, it does not work in Scripture. Happiness, which is rooted in “happenings,” is based on external factors and forces. For example, if someone gives me a gift, I become happy. But that happiness is fleeting, not unlike the child on Christmas morning that soon turns his attention from the new toy to the box that packaged it.

Joy is internal. And because it is internal, it is insulated from external factors and forces that rage against one’s life. Jesus was a man of complete and continuous joy, and maintained that joy despite a wide variety of disappointments and frustrations.

So how do we comprehend joy? I liken joy to the tree described in Psalm 1:1-2: “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”

If joy is likened to a tree, that tree is rooted in righteousness. It is planted with intent by God’s design and desire. Its not an accident. It’s fertile, meaning it has the possibility to reach its potential. And it’s designed to bear fruit.

The tree is designed to withstand all seasons of life. There are season of growth, fruit bearing, rest and lament. Each season is necessary to the process of joy. Think about what a 200 year old oak tree has withstood. It stands, having weathered all kinds of challenges. While the tree is weathered, it does not wither. Leaves fall from the tree in autumn, but leaves that wither are a sign of death.

Like those massive trees, you have been designed to prosper, meaning that you have the potential to thrive and increase your capacity. Every new tree will strive to survive. But in time, the tree begins to thrive. As the tree thrives they develop the capacity to prevail. And the capacity to prevail when the pressures of life come allow us to anticipate and even expect those pressures and face them victoriously.

Don’t let your demand and entitlement for happiness diminish your pursuit of joy. Joy is within your reach. You just need to grow your root system deeper.

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Jul
17

Blog Update

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Thank you for your patience while we work on the site. I’m utilizing a web developer and a Word Press specialist to help with updates and hopefully a new design. Keep checking in for new content!

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May
27

The Wonder Years

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Graduation season is beginning to wind down, and its been bittersweet for me because my youngest graduated from college earlier this month. We sat with pride through commencement exercises and celebrated our daughter’s accomplishment. Celebrations are best served mixed with moments of reflection as we realized the conferring of degrees was a milestone achieved over a life of learning. And with that the hope and confidence that the best is yet to come.

I mused at what it might have been like if Jesus graduated in 2019. Would he have been the valedictorian? Would he have won all of the academic and athletic honors? Would he have been presented with multiple full ride scholarships to all of the best institutions of higher learning due to his perfect ACT and SAT scores? It kind of makes you wonder.

One of my favorite passages about Jesus’ life is found in Luke 2:41-52. The story is familiar enough. Jesus and his family went to the Temple when he was 12 years old. This would have been an important visit for Jesus, because at age 13 he would become a full member of the Jewish synagogue and assume all of the rights and responsibilities of circumcision. In other words, he would become a man.

While the text is about Jesus, the story includes Joseph and Mary and their interplay through the narrative. The text reveals that Jesus, like any child, required some work. (Not that it was necessarily bad work). Verse 52 said that Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” In short, he grew intellectually, physically, spiritually and socially. Joseph and Mary were there to superintend that growth and were diligent to ensure that Jesus was nurtured in the most loving way. The preceding verse says that Jesus was “obedient to them,” inferring that the parents were going to continue to provide direction and guidance for his developmental years.

But Jesus also created some worry. You remember, don’t you? They went to the Temple as a family, and after spending some time on the return trip to Nazareth they discovered Jesus wasn’t among the caravan of worshipers.

“Joseph, have you seen Jesus?” “No, I thought he was with you.” “I thought he was with you.”

After a three day search they found him in the Temple, presumably right where they left him. And in typical parental fashion, Mary chides, “How could you do this to us! We’ve been worried sick!” His simple response was that he must be “in his Father’s house.”

Which brings me to the third thing. Jesus created wonder. Imagine Mary and Joseph’s reaction when Jesus said he must be in his Father’s house! Hence the wonder. There’s no recorded response to Jesus’ statement. The only insight we have is that Mary treasured all of it in her heart. That’s not the first time Mary has treasured the mysterious sense of wonder surrounding Jesus in her heart. And it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

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Jan
03

A Prayer Before Study

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Ante Studium

A Prayer Before Study by Saint Thomas Aquinas

Ineffable Creator,

Who, from the treasures of your wisdom,

has established three hierarchies of angels,

has arrayed them in marvelous order

above the fiery heaven,

And has marshaled the regions

of the universe with such artful skill,

You are proclaimed

the true font of light and wisdom,

and the primal origin

raised high above all things.

Pour forth a ray of Your brightness

into the darkened places of my mind;

Disperse from my soul

the twofold darkness

into which I was born:

sin and ignorance.

You make eloquent the tongues of infants.

Refine my speech

and pour forth upon my lips

the goodness of your blessing.

Grant to me keenness of mind,

Capacity to remember,

Skill in learning,

Subtlety to interpret,

and eloquence in speech.

May you guide

the beginning of my work,

Direct its progress,

and bring it to completion.

You Who are true God and true Man,

Who live and reign, world without end.

Amen.

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Dec
30

My 2018 Reading List

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2018 was a good year of reading. Although I didn’t get to all of the books I purchased, overall I was helped and inspired by the titles below. My list does not include the Bible, which I read cover to cover, nor does it include the numerous commentaries and reference works that I consulted as a part of my weekly sermon preparation. They appear in the order that I completed them.

  • The Magnificent Story, by James Bryan Smith
  • The Slight Edge, by Jeff Olson
  • The No Complaining Rule, by Jon Gordon
  • Uninvited, by Lisa TerKeurst
  • When, by Daniel Pink
  • The Power of Positive Leadership, by Jon Gordon
  • The Fear of the Lord is Wisdom, by Tremper Longman
  • Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Big Potential, by Shawn Achor
  • Drive, by Daniel Pink
  • The Christian Atheist, by Craig Groeshchel
  • Pastor, by Will Willimon
  • Open to the Spirit, by Scot McKnight
  • Your Best Year Ever, by Michael Hyatt
  • Faith Formation in a Secular Age, by Andrew Root
  • The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle

My goal for 2019 is to read 24, and with a measure of discipline I hope to accomplish even more. What are some of the books you enjoyed in 2018? What are your goals for reading in 2019? How do you determine what you will read?

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The final petition of the Lord’s Prayer concerns prayer for God’s protection. We are instructed to pray for the prevention of temptation and for the protection from evil.

The word temptation has a double sense. The English word temptation is usually defined as the “seduction to evil.” But the Greek word is neutral and is translated in many ways:

• test
• trial
• prove
• temptation

So when we encounter the word temptation in the New Testament, we need to view the word in its context so we can understand whether the Bible is talking about seductions to evil or trials that we encounter.

Anytime there is a trial or test in the Bible there is the possibility of passing or failing. So when God brings a test, there is the possibility that the trial can be turned into a temptation. So the implication of the request is this. “Lord, don’t lead us into a trial that will present to us a temptation such that we will not be able to resist it.”

We are to pray to be spared from trials. But if trials come, we are to further pray that we will be protected in the trial so that we can find growth through it.

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The most costly and essential thing God ever did was to provide us with the forgiveness of sin. This part of the Lord’s Prayer focuses on meeting on of the most critical needs we face. Before we get into the meat of the request, it is helpful to understand sin and the affect it was on our lives.

God is holy and has established himself as the standard of perfection by which our lives are to be measured (1 Peter 1:14-16). At the same time, sin is a reality in the life of every believer (Romans 7:14-20).

Sin creates distance in our relationship with God. Though we experience relational distance, God pursues us so that we will return to him (John 16:8-11; 1 John 2:1-2; 1 John 4:21). God pursues us through conviction by the Holy Spirit.

Our appropriate response to God’s invitation to return is to confess and forsake our sin. To confess means to “agree with” God about our sin (Proverbs 28:13). When we confess our sin, God promises to “forgive” and to “cleanse” (1 John 1:9). God deals with both the root and the fruit of each sin we confess.

Forgiveness is a financial term that means “to release a debt.” When God forgives a sin, he no longer holds the offense against us (Psalm 103:11-12).

We will never be fully effective in our prayer lives until we become willing to confess our sins to God and embrace his forgiveness. The all knowing, all seeing God is clearly aware of the sins we commit and wants us to come closer to him by confessing them and receiving his forgiveness.

While we may experience no greater feeling than the feeling that comes in knowing we have been forgiven, the request assumes that we in turn become forgiving persons. While many excellent books have been written on the topic of forgiving those who have wronged us, here are two simple thoughts for you to consider related to forgiving others.

First, forgiving others follows the example of Christ (Ephesians 4:32). He has not asked us to do something that he himself has not already done. Immersing yourself in the passion narrative of Christ will remind you that forgiving others always comes at a deep and personal sacrifice.

Second, forgiving others broadens and deepens our relationship with Christ. Forgiving others is a characteristic of God, and when we forgive we demonstrate the depth of our walk with him. It has been said that we are never more like God than when we give and forgive. (Matthew 5:23-34; Colossians 3:12-17)

What about those moments when we doubt whether or not God has forgiven us? What do with do with those feelings? We accept God’s forgiveness, like anything else, by faith. In order to be free from guilty feelings that pop up from time to time we have to take God at his Word (Psalm 32:1-2). If God has promised to forgive, he has. Period.

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This request marks the transition from praying God’s agenda into praying for our agenda. How do we pray for our physical and material needs?

Jesus taught us that it is appropriate and right for us to ask him to meet our physical and material needs. While he does not promise to meet our wants, he does commit to providing for our needs (Philippians 4:19).

He also taught that we are to view God as the source of everything we need (Genesis 1:29-31; 1 Chronicles 29:14; Matthew 7:1-11; James 1:17). Nothing in Jesus’ culture was more common than bread. The call to ask for our simple daily needs reminds us that we should not limit our prayers to big needs or catastrophic loss.

Even though God has provided for our needs, we are still commanded to ask. Asking is an expression of humility and dependence. We are to ask God to meet our material and physical needs so we can focus our desires on the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).

Expressing our faith and dependence on God on a daily basis provides us with two important benefits. First, we can live with a confidence that is free from worry (Matthew 6:25-33). Second, we can live with a contentment that does not seek fulfillment from material things (1 Timothy 6:3-11; Hebrews 13:5-6). God is not stingy. He does not revel in our poverty. He expects us to make our daily needs a part of our daily prayer.

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The word “kingdom” comes from the Greek word basileia, which literally means “rule” or “reign.” We can therefore understand that the Kingdom of God as the rule and reign of God within the hearts and lives of his people (Luke 17:20-21). Dallas Willard describes the Kingdom of God as the range or extent of which the will of God is done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Used 118 times in the New Testament, the Kingdom of God was the central focus of Jesus’ teaching ministry.

What are some helpful observations about prayer concerning the will of God as it relates to our lives in his Kingdom? 
The will of God is done without exception in heaven. That should be pretty evident! 
According to Romans 12:2, the will of God is “good, acceptable, and perfect.”  The will of God involves submitting my will to God and prioritizing his will above my own (Matthew 26:36-46) and is primarily discerned through Scripture and prayer (Acts 10:34- 36; 44-48).
 The will of God is confirmed through the community of faith (Acts 15:1-21) and is applied through obedience (Acts 15:22-30).
Ultimately, the goal of knowing and doing God’s will is to advance his Kingdom (Acts 15:31- 35).

So how do we pray for the Kingdom of God to come on Earth as it is in Heaven? 
We pray for the rule of God to be complete in our own lives and to be aligned with the plan and purposes of God, as opposed to asking God to approve our own plans and purposes. We pray for his rule and reign to be enacted anywhere it does not exist, and seek to cooperate with that work.
 Finally, we pray for his second advent. 


This phrase has been called “the master prayer of the Christian.” Its located in the heart of the prayer, and serves as the hinge upon which God’s agenda and our agenda swings.

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