Posts Tagged ‘discipleship’

Breakthrough Prayer

October 2, 2017

Do you believe prayer makes a difference?  Most church people would answer, “Yes”.  If you have gone to church for a while, you are probably used to hearing prayers said in a worship service, a Bible study, and a small group.  You are probably used to church meetings that open and close with prayer.  You are probably used to praying before you eat a meal.  You are probably used to praying for loved ones who are sick or for families whose loved ones have died.  But, do you really believe that prayer makes a difference?  Do you remember a prayer that you prayed that was answered?  Do you remember a person or a situation that changed because of prayer?

In the most popular devotional book of all time, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote, “Prayer is not a normal part of the life of the natural man.  We hear it said that a person’s life will suffer if he doesn’t pray, but I question that.  What will suffer is the life of the Son of God in him, which is nourished not by food, but by prayer.  When a person is born again from above, the life of the Son of God is born in him, and he can either starve or nourish that life.  Prayer is the way that the life of God in us is nourished.”  So, do we treat prayer as a snack – something small that we take every now and then when we feel like it?  Or do we treat prayer as a meal – something we have to have a couple of times a day, so that our bodies won’t break down, but can become stronger?

Sue Kibbey writes about a kind of prayer called Breakthrough Prayer in her book Floodgates.  Breakthrough Prayer is not just a prayer class, a prayer committee, a prayer meeting, or a sermon series on prayer.  It is when God’s people join together in an intentional prayer movement across all ages to simply and repeatedly pray, asking God to break through in new and miraculous ways.  We pray for breakthroughs in our personal lives, in the lives of our fellow church people, in our church as a whole, for God to use us in unimagined new ways for Christ, and to break through anything that has been holding us back, including resistant thinking and negative attitudes.

The simple focus is to pray for God’s Holy Spirit to break through anything that is holding us captive, so that we can boldly move forward and fulfill God’s intention for why we exist as part of Christ’s Body on earth.  Breakthrough prayer is asking God to do new works and new miracles we cannot do ourselves.  It is a prayer to ask God to open our hearts and our minds to what we do not expect, and move us beyond what we tend to resist and close ourselves off from.  It is a prayer for God to open a door to transform us and our church without any limits or restrictions.

Sometimes when we pray, we feel that God is present.  We sense His Spirit and we know He is there listening to us and speaking to us.  Other times when we pray, we feel nothing.  We ask God to speak to us, and all we hear is silence.  We ask God for a sign, and we don’t see anything.  We listen for God, but we don’t hear anything.  The truth is that God is equally present and responsive to us in both situations.  God is with us when we realize it and when we don’t.  God is present whether we can feel Him or not.

So, this month, we want to encourage everyone to try praying a Breakthrough Prayer.  What is one area where you would like to see God breakthrough in your life?  What is one area in our church life where you would like to see God breakthrough?  What is one part of our community where you would like to see God breakthrough?  Let’s pray expecting to see God do something.  When you see something happen, don’t keep it to yourself.  Tell someone else.  We don’t pray in order to control God or manipulate God, but in order for us to be open and responsive to what God might want to do in us and through us.  Let’s make ourselves available to God.  Let’s open our eyes to see if God might choose to do something new.

 

 

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Your Questions

May 1, 2017

This month, we are taking a look at the questions that people are asking about God, faith, and life.  If you had one question you could ask God, what would it be?  What is the one question that keeps you awake at night?  We don’t have time on Sunday mornings to discuss all the questions that were submitted, so here are some responses to three others:

1.At what point does temptation become sin?  Or is temptation sinful?  What about Matthew 5:28 where Jesus says “If a man looks lustfully at a woman, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart?

There is a difference between temptation and sin.  It is possible to be tempted and not sin.  Sin is giving in to the temptation, and acting inappropriately on what has been seen or heard or felt.  Hebrews 4:15 says “15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”  This verse is telling us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we have been, yet he never sinned.  The sin comes when we take action on the temptation.  When Jesus talks about lust in Matthew 5:28, this is more than just noticing an attractive person.  This is more than feeling drawn to someone you are not married to.  This is dwelling on someone in your heart and in your mind.  It is allowing your imagination to go down a road it shouldn’t.  While perhaps not acting physically inappropriately, it is an inappropriate mental action.  It allows your heart to stray and your mind to go to places it shouldn’t.

It is hard for us to say “no” to temptation in American society today, because so much of our advertising and our cultural philosophy encourages us to give in to temptation.  We are told that all of our desires are good.  They are not.  We are told that all of our feelings are healthy.  They are not.  We are told to indulge every emotion we have.  We shouldn’t.  Hebrews 2:18 says,

“18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  And James 1:13 says, “13 When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”  God will never tempt you to disobey God.  He will never lure you towards evil or to act vs. your original design.  Because Jesus was tempted too, He is available to help you whenever you ask.

2.What does God say about drinking?  Should we drink or not?

We know that drinking alcohol is not a sin because Jesus drank wine.  Some people will argue that the wine is Jesus day did not have as high of a level of fermentation as our alcohol has today.  That may be true.  But, there is nothing wrong with one or two drinks.  What the Bible says is a sin is getting drunk.  Ephesians 5:18 says, “18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”  In other words, instead of being filled with alcohol, be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Drinking too much is a problem.  Some people get addicted to getting drunk.  Some people are in denial about it.  Getting drunk can ruin your life.  But, if you don’t get drunk, having a beer or a glass of wine is fine.

In Romans 14:1-15, Paul was addressing a controversy in his day around eating meat that had been offered to idols.  Some people thought it was OK to eat the meat, because they didn’t believe in the idols.  Others thought it was a sin, because it had been offered to idols.  Who was right?  Paul’s answer was that there is nothing wrong with eating meat offered to idols.  It was not a sin.  However, if you cause a weaker Christian to sin because you are eating meat, then you shouldn’t do it.  Don’t put a stumbling block in someone’s way.   This verse can be applied to our present day concerns about alcohol.  Having a drink is not a sin.  But, if it causes a weaker Christian to sin, then give up your freedom to drink, for their sake.

3.What does the Bible say about Christian values for families?

Colossians 3:20-21says, “Children obey your parents, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”  Ephesians 6:1-3 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise— so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

 These verses remind us that parents need to teach their kids to obey.  Parents should not give their kids everything they ask for.  Parents need to discipline their kids and teach them right from wrong.  Parents who always praise their kids are not doing them any favors.  This teaches them the world revolves around them when it doesn’t.  They will raise kids who are brats that nobody wants to be around.  On the other hand, these verses also tell us not to embitter our children.  Parents should not expect perfection from their kids.  They should not be the kind of parents who are never satisfied.  You can crush a child’s spirit if don’t notice their accomplishments and tell them when they are doing a good job.

The Bible gives us a pattern in Luke 2:52 when it tells us that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.”  These are the four key areas we need to help our children grow in.  They need to grow mentally, physically, spiritually, and relationally.  We need encourage our kids to grow mentally by letting them know the importance of an education.  We need to teach them the value of reading, writing, doing their homework, turning in their work on time, and getting good grades.  We need to encourage our kids to grow physically.  Less than 1% of kids will grow up to be professional athletes, but we can teach them how to take care of their bodies, how to eat healthy, how to exercise, and the values of good sportsmanship and working with a team.  Kids need to learn how to win and how to lose.  We need to let our kids lose.  We need to let them fail.  They need to experience failure if they are going to become mature, healthy adults.

We need to help our kids grow spiritually.  We need to read stories to them from the Bible.  We need to teach them to pray at meal time and at bed time.  They need to see that faith is important to their parents, and that we don’t skip church for less important matters.  And, we need to help our kids grow relationally.  They need to learn how to make friends and be a friend to others.  They need to learn how to share and how to care for others.  Social skills are important, and kids need to see their parents modeling healthy relationships.

I hope you will join us on Sunday mornings this month as we continue to reflect on people’s questions, how to think about our faith, and how the Bible relates to the everyday, practical realities of our world.  Don’t be afraid to ask any question.  That’s how we learn.  God wants us to keep learning all the time.  Asking questions is what helps keep our faith growing.

 

The Easter Ragman

March 31, 2017

A number of years ago, Walter Wangerin wrote a story called “The Ragman” to help us understand the message of Easter.  The Ragman is a picture of Jesus and what He has done for us on Good Friday and Easter.  Here’s the story:

“One Friday morning, I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking in the alleys of the

city. He was pulling an old cart, filled with clothes; and he was calling in a clear,

resonant voice, “Rags! New rags for old, I’ll take your tired, old rags. Rags!” Now

this is a wonder, I thought, for the man stood six feet-four, with arms like tree limbs,

hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed with brightness. Could he find no better job

than this, to be a ragman in one of the rougher areas of the city?

Soon the Ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into her

handkerchief, shedding thousands of tears. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was

breaking. The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly he walked to the woman and asked,

“Will you give me your rag; I’ll give you another.” He slipped the handkerchief from

her eyes, and laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. Then

as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing. He put her tear-

stained handkerchief to his own face; and began to weep, to sob as grievously as she

had done. Yet she was left behind without a tear. “Rags! Rags! New rags for old!”

 

In a little while the Ragman came across a little girl whose head was wrapped in a

bandage. Her eyes were blank and empty. A single line of blood ran down her cheek.

Now that tall Ragman looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely bonnet

from his cart. “Give me your rag, and I’ll give you mine.” He loosened the bandage,

removed it and tied it to his own head. The bonnet he set on hers. I gasped at what I

saw, for with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow ran a darker, richer

flow of his own blood! “Rags, rags! I take old rags!” cried the sobbing, bleeding

Ragman.

The sun was at its height by now, and the Ragman seemed more and more in a hurry.

“Do you have a job?” the Ragman inquired of a man leaning against a telephone

pole. “Are you crazy?” the man sneered, pulling away from the pole and revealing

that the right sleeve of his jacket was empty. “So give me your jacket, and I’ll give

you mine.” The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman. I trembled at

what I saw. For the Ragman’s arm stayed in his jacket, and when the other put it on,

he had two good arms, thick as tree limbs; but the Ragman had only one.

 

By now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping

uncontrollably and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling the cart with one arm,

stumbling with exhaustion, he still ran on ahead faster. I wept to see the change in

this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And yet I needed to see where he was going in such

a hurry, perhaps to discover what drove him so. The little old Ragman came upon a

landfill, a garbage dump. He climbed the hill. With tormented labor he cleared a little

space on the hill. Then he sighed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a

handkerchief. He covered his bones with a jacket; and he died.

Oh, how I cried to witness his death! I slumped in a car and wailed and mourned,

because I had come to love that Ragman. Every other face had faded in the wonder of

this man. When I saw that he was dead, I couldn’t keep from crying. I cried myself to

sleep. I slept all the way through Saturday to Sunday. But then on Sunday morning, I

was awakened by a violent light, a pure, hard, demanding light shining against my

face. I looked up, and I saw the last and the first wonder of all. There was the

Ragman, folding his clothes, a scar on his face, but alive! And besides that, healthy!

 

There was no sign of sorrow, nor of age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined

with a clean sheen! I was in awe of the transformation, but humbled by the sorry

state of my own ordinary sameness. I lowered my head and, trembling for all that I

had seen, I walked into the Ragman’s presence. I told him my name, and that I felt

like a sorry figure next to him. Then I took off all my clothes, and I said with dear

yearning in my voice, “Dress me. Dress me with your rags.” He dressed me. My Lord

dressed me. He dressed my feet, my body; he dressed all of me. He put new rags on and

now I glow in the sight of the Ragman, this Ragman, my Christ.”

 

We Still Need Easter

March 1, 2017

A recent survey by the American Psychological Association that was released last week found that:

66% of Americans feel stress about the future of our country

57% feel stress about the current political climate

49% feel stress about the results of the 2016 election.

I think people have always felt some level of stress and worry about what is going to happen in the future, but these anxieties seem to be stronger and more widespread today than they have been in a while.

Part of what I think is contributing to this is our diminishing level of confidence in our leaders and institutions to address the challenges of our times.  People seem to have a decreasing level of trust that our leaders can focus on the big issues, have the competence to handle complex challenges in compassionate ways, and can bring people together to find solutions for complicated problems.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we have destroyed ourselves.”  The old cliché is “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”  As much as we worry about terrorists coming in to our country from outside and attacking us, our biggest problems actually come from ourselves.

This is what we learn from the Bible.  The Bible teaches us that sin lives in every one of our hearts.  In Mark 7:20-23, Jesus says that evil flows out of every human heart.  In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:3, Jesus said, “Why are you worried about the speck in someone else’s eye, when you have a log in your own?”  We don’t have to look far to find evil.  All we have to do is look in the mirror, and there it is.

In 1933, Simone Weil wrote about the suffering we experience in a world that seems to be falling apart.  She said that one of the most disorienting perplexities is that evil isn’t always recognizable.  Sometimes it is incognito.  She wrote, “Never react to evil in such a way as to augment it.”  That is one of the challenges of our current times.  How do we not throw gas on the fire?  How do we not make the situation worse?  How do we act so that evil decreases rather than increases?

When Hannah Arendt wrote about the evil that was experienced under the Nazi leadership in Germany, she talked about the deliberate disconnect from reality that she called “holes of oblivion.” (Today, we call them “alternative facts.”)  She said that one of the key ways to confront evil, and the lies that it keeps telling, is for simple, ordinary people to keep standing up and speaking the truth.  Evil will try to suppress the truth.  Evil will try to shut people up by firing them, putting them out of work, or trying to discredit them.  But, there will always be a few who will speak up and tell the truth, even in spite of the consequences.  While people worry that the evils of the Nazi way of thinking could happen anywhere, the truth is that it did not happen everywhere.  That is what gives us hope.

The presence of evil in the world, even the growing presence of evil in the world, continues to show us our ongoing need for Easter.  This month, we begin the season of Lent.  Lent is the 40 days (plus Sundays) leading up to Easter.  It has traditionally been a time for reflection and contemplation on the meaning of Easter, the sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf, and our utter dependence upon God.  Easter was the day that Jesus defeated evil in the world.  Yes, evil still exists, and evil continues to flail around as much as it can.  But, it has already been defeated.  The game is over even though the time has not run out yet.  Evil doesn’t want to admit that it is losing, and it will lose, but it will.  Easter is our assurance of that.

Easter reminds us that evil is real, that we do not have the power to stop evil by ourselves, and that we are dependent upon Jesus to defeat evil for us.  We will continue to battle it the rest of our lives.  Evil is like a boxer that has already been knocked out.   But, he continues to get up off the mat and flail his arms around, trying to inflict a little more harm on us, before he completely collapses, totally defeated, never to get up again.  Without Jesus, evil would win.  Without Jesus, we would lose.  Without Easter, we would be without hope.

Because of Easter, evil has width, but not depth.  Evil is like a bad weed that grows and grows and takes over the topsoil.  It looks like it is everywhere.  But, it has no roots. It has no depth.  It can kill off the grass and the plants on the surface, but it can’t go deep, which means that it won’t last.  Only good has the roots to go deep.  Because of its roots, good will outlast evil.  Good will conquer evil in the end.  Good has the depth that evil lacks.

That is what we learn from Easter.  That is why we look forward to Easter.  That is why we have hope.  The evil that we see now will not last.  Evil was defeated on the cross.  When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter, he signed evil’s death sentence.  It’s only a matter of time, before He shuts it away completely.  Hang in there.  Easter’s coming.

 

You Get What You Are

January 31, 2017

Sometimes we think “You are what you do”.  But, the Bible says, “Do what you are”.  The things that we do, flow out who we are.  Our actions emerge out of our inner thoughts and feelings.  The condition of our hearts can be seen in the actions that we take.  When we see words and actions that don’t match who people are, we call them hypocrites.  We look for people whose lives are consistent.  These are people who don’t pretend to be someone they are not.  What you see is what you get.  Teenagers and young people seem to be really good at spotting people who are fake – people who are trying to pass themselves off as something they are not.  So, if we want to pass on our faith to our children, or share our faith in Christ with our family and friends, we will get what we are.

People watch how we live.  People will listen to what we say.  People are looking to see if we are authentic.  Does how we live and what we say actually match who we are.  Are we living a practical faith?  Does our faith make sense in the way we live?  Does it flow naturally from our hearts or does it seem fake and forced?

When we think about passing on our faith to our kids, we want to have a sticky faith.  We want who we are and what we believe to “stick” to other people.  One of the findings of the Sticky Faith research (www.stickyfaith.org) is that you get what you are.  After studying the faith development of more than 3000 young people nationwide from Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Mormon families, they discovered that “the best general rule of thumb that parents might use to reckon their children’s most likely religious outcomes is this: ‘We’ll get what we are.’”  In general, the primary influence in a child’s faith trajectory is his or her parents.

There is no magic formula for developing sticky faith in our kids.  There is no money back guarantee that always works for every single person in every single situation.  But, the more that parents live who they really are, the more we are genuine and real and authentic, the more our kids will see that, and the more our faith will “stick” in their lives.

As important as our faith lives are in influencing our kids, multiple studies of teenagers indicate that more important than what parents believe is what teenagers perceive they believe.  If there is a difference between what we believe and what teenagers think we believe, they will be more influenced by what they think we believe.  So, it’s important to verbalize our faith and find ways to clarify what we believe, so that our kids get a clear picture of where we are coming from and why we do what we do.

The quality of our marriages also affects our family’s faith trajectories.  A nationwide study of more than 1,100 adults examining the effects of family of origin on church involvement found a modest association between the marital happiness of a person’s parents and that person’ religious involvement.  In other words, people whose parents had marriages that were more life-giving were also more likely to attend and be involved with a faith community.  But, even when our marriages are struggling, the relational glue of your extended family and the church can help compensate for what’s missing at home.

Some people think that Christianity focuses on a bunch of “do’s” and “don’ts”.  It doesn’t.  It focuses on shaping who you are at the core of your being.  It focuses on your soul, your spirit, your heart, and your mind.  The Holy Spirit is re-shaping who we are.  As this happens, it will eventually change how we live, what we do, and what we don’t do.  But, the re-shaping of our hearts comes first.

This reminds us to do what we are.  If we want our faith to “stick” to our kids, we will get what we are.  People will look at who we are more than what we say or what we do.  If we want to influence our kids towards Jesus, we will get what we are.

 

New Habits for a New Year

January 2, 2017

We have flipped the calendar.  We have celebrated the end of 2016.  We have celebrated the beginning of 2017.  We get a fresh start.  We get a chance to start over, to try again.  So, now, what will we do?  Many people make New Year’s resolutions, but half of those people give up on their resolutions by the end of January.  The key is to develop good habits.  The key is to break bad habits.  We are much more likely to act our way into a new way of thinking, than we are to try to think our way into a new way of acting.  So, where do we begin acting differently?  As we start this New Year, I want to encourage us to begin 3 new habits:

1.This year, I will grow spiritually by ________________.

If you do not yet have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, then look into this.  Read about Who Jesus is, what He said, and what He did.  Talk to people who believe in Jesus.  Explore it and check it out.

If you are already following Jesus, how can you grow spiritually this year?

Here are some habits to consider:

This year, I will read at least one chapter in the Bible every day.

This year, I will pray at least 5 minutes every day.

This year, I will attend church worship services 3-4 times a month.  (Research shows a significant difference in the strength of people’s faith who attend worship 3-4 times a month over those who only attend 1-2 times a month.)

This year, I will give ____% of my money to the church/missions/charity.

This year, I will take a Sabbath day every week.

These are called spiritual habits or spiritual practices.  If these become regular patterns in your life, you will grow stronger spiritually.

This is about Believing.

 

2.This year, I will grow relationally by ______________________.

Who are one or two people that you want to become better friends with this year?

This year, I will have coffee/lunch with someone once a week.

This year, I will invite someone over to my house to visit once a month.

This year, I will invite at least one unchurched person to come to church with me.  (The average Methodist invites a person to church once every 42 years.  What if all of us invited one person to church every year?)

This year, I will regularly attend a small group or a Sunday School class.

This year, I will call one person on the phone each week to ask them how they are doing or how I can pray for them.

This year, I will reconcile with one person I am estranged from.

This is about Belonging.

 

3.This year, I will grow missionally by __________________________.

How can you serve God in our community?

Where can you serve God in our community?

This year, I will share my faith with one person who does not yet believe in Jesus.

This year, I will talk to one neighbor a month.

This year, I will have a block party to get to know my neighbors.

This year, I will find a need in our community where I can help.

This year, I will participate in one mission effort with our church.

This year, I will donate clothes or food to a local school or mission.

This is about Blessing.

 

As we begin this New Year, I want you to think about 3 things you can do differently this year.  Think about 3 new habits you can start, or 3 current habits you can enhance and expand.  We are more likely to act our way into a new way of thinking, than we are to think our way into a new way of acting.  The quality of our lives has a lot to do with our habits – breaking old bad habits and starting new good habits.  If you become consistent in doing what God wants you to do, and consistent in living in healthy ways, you can live as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

 

What are the Big Rocks?

August 1, 2016

There’s a story about a teacher who took a glass jar into his class and filled it with big rocks.  He asked the class if they thought the jar was full.  They said yes.  He said no, it isn’t.  He then poured some small pebbles into the jar around the big rocks.  Then he asked the class, is the jar full now?  They said yes.  He said no, it isn’t.  Then he poured some sand into the jar.  Then he asked the class, is the jar full now?  The class said yes.  He said no, it isn’t.  He then poured some water into the jar.  He asked the class if the jar was full now.  They said yes.  He asked them, what is the moral of this story?  One student said, “No matter how full your life is, you can always squeeze more things into it.”  He said no.  The moral of the story is:  if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in.

The point is that we have to make sure we have the most important things in our lives first.  It’s easy to get busy doing so many good things, that we don’t have time and space in our lives for the most important things.  If we don’t get the most important things right, we won’t get the rest of our lives.  What are the Big Rocks for the Christian Church?  What are the most important things for us to focus on?

We believe that our Big Rocks are the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.  The Great Commandment is found in Matthew 20:37-40, where Jesus says Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  The Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:19-20, where Jesus says Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you, for lo, I will be with you always, even to the ends of the earth.

When we put the Great Commandment and the Great Commission together, we see that our Big Rocks are Loving God, Loving our Neighbor, and Loving our Neighborhoods.  These are the three big areas of focus for our ministry.  We want to help people come to Believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior for the first time and then to spend a lifetime growing deeper in their knowledge of God.  We want to help people Belong to a community and a purpose that is bigger than all of us.  Loneliness and isolation are the great social dysfunctions of our time.  We were all created with a sense of belonging.  And we want to help people Bless their neighborhoods and serve the community where we live.  We have been saved to serve.  We have been Blessed to be a Blessing.  We call these three Big Rocks:  Believing, Belonging, and Blessing

These are our Big Rocks – Believing (spiritual growth), Belonging (relational growth), and Blessing (missional growth).  Some people think that the Big Rock is numerical growth.  But, churches that make numerical growth their Biggest Rock, often do not grow spiritually, relationally, and missionally.  However, churches that focus on spiritual growth, relational growth, and missional growth, often discover that God is causing some numerical growth to happen as a result.  We do want to reach more people for Christ.  But, numerical growth typically follows spiritual, relational, and missional growth – not the other way around.

This month marks the beginning of a new school year here in Terre Haute.  It also marks the beginning of my second year “back home” as a pastor in this community we love.  Kim and I are delighted to back in the Wabash Valley again and we are grateful that God has led us to be a part of this community.  I have a lot of hope for this coming year.  I believe that God is doing something in our churches and in this community.  I believe that if we keep our eyes open, we will see many opportunities for ministry and new doors that will open for us to make a difference in people’s lives and in our community.

I want to invite you to join us for another important year of ministry.  I don’t know what God is going to do, but I believe He is going to do some significant things, and I want us to be a part of His mission on earth.

These are our Big Rocks – Loving God, Loving our Neighbor, and Loving our Neighborhoods.  We call these three rocks Believing, Belonging, and Blessing.  We want to help people grow spiritually, relationally, and missionally.  Please pray for me.  Please pray for our church.  Please pray for our community.  Pray that we can stay focused on what is most important – our Big Rocks.  And pray that we will be open to all the ministry opportunities God brings our way.

 

What’s the Big Deal about Easter?

March 1, 2016

What’s the Big Deal about Easter? In our American culture of today, Christmas is a bigger holiday than Easter. Thanksgiving is a bigger holiday than Easter. Halloween is a bigger holiday than Easter. For some, the Super Bowl, the Indy 500, and the Daytona 500 are bigger than Easter. For some, the first day of deer hunting season is bigger than Easter. Many people don’t even get a day off from work for Easter. Some people think it’s just a kids’ holiday where you talk about the Easter Bunny, go looking for eggs, and eat chocolate. (Where did those things come from?) For some, it’s just a day to go out to eat. What are we missing? What’s the big deal about Easter?

In his book Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright, he says that when Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, he rose as the beginning of the new world that Israel’s God had always intended to make. Jesus brought heaven to earth. In biblical thought, heaven is not a long way from earth. In the Bible, heaven and earth overlap and interlock, as the Jewish people believed they did above all in the Temple. Heaven and earth are not like oil and water, resisting one another and separating themselves out. Heaven and earth were always meant to co-exist.

The view from the Jewish Bible is that heaven and earth are twin halves of God’s created reality, designed eventually to come together. Suppose that what has kept heaven and earth apart all this time is that the human creatures who were put in charge of the earthly part of this creation had rebelled, rejecting God’s rule over them, desiring to rule themselves. We wanted to “call our own shots.” This landed us in a hole we couldn’t dig ourselves out of. We became addicted to sin, and couldn’t break free. We knew if we couldn’t break this addiction, it would eventually kill us. But, we couldn’t figure out how to undo the damage we had inflicted upon ourselves. We were stuck forever, with no hope of parole, no time off for good behavior, no anticipation that the future would be any better. We were caught in an endless downward spiral that we could not stop. We were dying.

Suppose then, that the creator God had finally come in person to set us free from the addictive power of sin. Suppose that God sent His Son to stop our downward spiral, lift us out of our hole, and put us back on sturdy ground once again. Suppose that the power of sin and death was broken, hope was restored, and the original purpose of creation was fulfilled after all. That is what happened when Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. Easter was the birth of the new creation. The power of sin and death that had tyrannized the old creation had been defeated, disabled, and overthrown. Jesus launched the new kingdom of God in power and glory on earth as in heaven.

Jesus let loose a new power in our world – the power to remake what was broken, to heal what was diseased, and to restore what was lost. The kingdom that Jesus inaugurated strangely, mysteriously, and partially during his public career through his healings, feastings, and teachings was now unveiled in a totally new dimension. Jesus is the prototype of the new creation.

This new creation overflows with the power of love. When Jesus meets his followers on Easter morning, they are sorrowful, ashamed, and anxious. He calls them by name. He tells them not to be afraid. He explains what is going on. He deals with them individually. There is a love, a deep, moving, warmth that goes out from Jesus. This love is strong, powerful, life-changing, and life-directing. The new creation has begun.

The old creation lives by pride and retribution. I stand up for myself, and if someone gets in my way, I try to get even. We’ve been there, done that, and got the scars to prove it. Now there is a completely different way to live, a way of love and reconciliation and healing and hope. It’s a way many people have never tried before. It’s a way that has been as unthinkable as – well, as the resurrection. That’s the point. Instead of building walls to keep people out of the new creation, Jesus builds bridges and invites everyone to come in. Jesus has ushered in a new world, a new reality, a new creation.

This is why Easter is a big deal. The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t just mean “It’s all right. We’re going to heaven now.” No, it means the reverse. It means that heaven has come to earth and made earth into a new creation. It doesn’t just mean “So there is life after death”, even though there is. Easter means so much more than that. Easter means you can live a beautiful, wonderful kind of life now both before death and after death. Death has lost its power over you. It will still hurt when it happens. But, now instead of being a painful end, death becomes a temporary phase that we pass through as we move on to an even better kind of life with God. Easter speaks of a life that is neither ghostly or unreal, but solid and definite and practical. Though the Easter stories come at the end of the gospels, they are not really about the end of the story. They are really about the beginning of the story. The beginning of God’s new world. The beginning of the kingdom. The beginning of a relationship that we can now have with God. A relationship that Jesus initiates for us. A relationship that will grow. A relationship that will never end. We can now experience an unconditional, never-ending love that sets us free to be who we really are, completely unafraid, healthy, honest, strong, and pain-free.

That is why Easter is a big deal. Easter changes everything. Reality has now been altered for all time. Some people will experience this new reality and some will not. If you will step out in faith, believe in Jesus, agree to follow his directions for your life, give up what he tells you has been holding you back, and join with others who are journeying with him through life, you can begin to experience this new reality. Your life can change in ways that you can’t begin to imagine yet. The world becomes a better place than you have dreamed. Jesus gives you a future that you can look forward to, that no thing and nobody can ever take away from you. Don’t miss it. Easter changes everything. Easter is a big deal.

What is the Getting in the Way?

February 1, 2016

What is getting in the way of your relationship with God? When you look at your life, can you identify anything that is keeping you from growing closer to God? Are you aware of anything that keeps dragging you down? Is there some persistent temptation that keeps tripping you up?

Going back to about 325 AD, the church decided to come up with a special time in the year to encourage people to eliminate the bad habits in their lives, and focus on developing spiritual habits that would draw them closer to God. They came up with what is now known as the season of Lent. Lent is the forty days (not counting Sundays) leading up to Easter Sunday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word “lencten” which means “spring”. The season of forty days was based on the story of Jesus in Matthew 4 where he goes into the wilderness for forty days, and defeats the temptations of the devil, which prepares Him to begin His ministry.

Based on this story, Lent was designed to be a time of fasting and repentance. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. It is a time of self-denial, moderation, and the forsaking of sinful activities. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism.

The day before Lent begins is called Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras. People saw it as their last chance to party before beginning a long season of fasting and celebration. On Mardi Gras, some people engage in the very activities that the Bible calls us to turn away from. This actually makes no sense, if one is really serious about giving up what is getting in the way of a closer walk with God.

The first day of the Lenten season is called Ash Wednesday. It is called the Day of Ashes because of the practice of rubbing ashes on one’s forehead in the sign of a cross. The words from Genesis 3:19 are spoken: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” While the Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday, it does record accounts of people in the Old Testament using dust and ashes as symbols of repentance and/or mourning (2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1, Job 2:8, Daniel 9:3). The practice of rubbing a cross on a person’s forehead with ashes is a physical sign that a person is turning away from sin and identifying with Christ.

Many Christians will make personal vows of abstinence during Lent, which could include anything from eating candy to meat to junk food. Some will choose to abstain from sex, alcohol, TV, or the internet. While some choose to stop doing what they shouldn’t, others choose to start doing what they should. Some people will choose to volunteer in their community or work for social justice. Some will choose to spend more time in prayer and reflection. It is a time to focus on eliminating what is keeping you from growing closer to God and developing new spiritual habits that will strengthen your faith.

It is an opportunity to change what we ought to change, but have not. Lent is about becoming. Lent is about doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now. Lent is a summons to live life in a new way, a better way, a healthier way.

For some, Lent had become an old tradition that they didn’t understand or had lost its meaning. But some are re-discovering it as helpful spiritual practice. We live in a culture that celebrates excess, breaking rules, and being selfish. We live in a culture that encourages selfishness, no self -control, and the pursuit of pleasure. But, some have found hedonism to be lacking, unsatisfying, and full of empty promises. Some have been hurt, abused, and damaged in the process. Some are recovering the call of the scriptures to turn away from the hollow temptations of the world which do not satisfy the deepest longings of our souls. Some who are looking for a better way are returning to a spiritual approach to discover what is missing.

Sometimes the best answers are the oldest answers. Sometimes the wisest path is not the new path that no one has ever walked, but the most ancient path, that millions before us have found to be the way to go. Sometimes under layers of dead tradition, we discover a lively, vibrant, healthy lifestyle that leads us back to the truth, and we wonder why we have missed it all these years.

Sometimes what the world presents to us as fun is really just destructive sin that rips apart people’s lives. The Bible continually calls us to open our eyes to see the truth that God puts around us every day. The scriptures keep inviting us to open our ears to hear the voice of God that speaks to us every day. God’s Word keeps nudging us to turn away from what is ruining our lives, and turn to habits and practices that actually give life.

Lent can help us do that. It’s an old idea that is becoming more relevant all the time. If you have never paid much attention to Lent, this might be the year to take a look at it. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on February 10th. If you are looking for an excuse to cut something bad out of your life, and start something good, this is a good time to get started.

Hope Returns

September 30, 2015

A few years ago, it seemed like the Catholic Church was a mess. They were facing so much anger and criticism around a sexual scandal with priests and parishioners and even children. No matter how they tried to respond, it seemed to be too little, too late. They never could seem to find the right words, the right actions, or the right tone to re-assure people that they were taking corrective action and addressing the root problems. It was a mess they could never seem to get out from under. In addition to this, the church was facing questions of financial mismanagement and they even went so far as to fire the Pope’s butler.

However, last week, Pope Francis made his first trip to Cuba and the United States. For a few days, he seemed to be the most popular politician in our country. People love him. Both political parties wanted to claim him as their own. Each party focused on their policies that Pope Francis supported, but said nothing about their policies that he did not support. It seemed as if everyone wanted to see and be seen with Pope Francis.

This Pope seems to have changed people’s minds about the Catholic Church. Attitudes have shifted from being very negative to being very positive. People are much more upbeat and hopeful now about the future of the church. Why is that? What happened? What has changed?

In the early days of his tenure, many in the secular media misunderstood the Pope. They thought he was changing Catholic doctrine, when he really wasn’t. What he changed was the tone in which the teaching came through. They thought he was changing the church’s teaching on abortion, marriage, and homosexuality. He actually didn’t. What he did change was the tone, the focus, and the emphasis. He has left Catholic doctrine alone, but has said – let’s not fight the old cultural wars anymore. Let’s focus on loving our neighbor, feeding the hungry, and caring for the poor. Let’s focus more on ministering to regular people and hurting people, rather than on preserving the institution.

Pope Francis rejected the luxuries of the position, carried his own suitcase, checked out of his own hotel room, and paid his own bill. He washed the feet of women, kissed the disfigured, and put people before rules. Instead of trying to correct all the bad things that people do, he focused on loving them back to God. It has worked. He is changing the culture of the Catholic Church. He has provided hope to people who were feeling hopeless about their church. People see him as a genuine and authentic Christian, and they are flocking to that. He has focused on both evangelism and social action. He wants people to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior and he wants to meet their everyday needs. He has not been afraid to leave his privileged surroundings and go to where the ordinary people live, work, and play, finding common ground on their turf.

What we can we learn from watching this? I think there are a couple of things:
1. While many today have developed a negative view of the church, their perceptions can be changed when they see people who actually “walk the talk”. When they sense of spirit of humility and love and genuine care, they respond in positive ways.
2. There is still a deep spiritual hunger in our culture today. For whatever reason, some people have not found churches that are addressing their questions and concerns. But, when they see people with integrity and compassion, they are drawn to them.
3. We serve one surprising God. We serve a God who can bring about change in the church, in our community, and in our individual lives. Jesus brings hope to the hopeless. The Holy Spirit breaks down barriers between people. God keeps showing up in the most God-forsaken places.
4. The image of the church in our community can change, and we don’t have to throw out Biblical teachings for that to happen. Often, people listen more to how we say things than what we actually say. Both are important, but we don’t have to throw out our content to get people to respond positively.
5. I believe God wants the church to have a positive ministry in the community. This does not mean that we don’t ever talk about controversial issues, or that we have to pretend to agree when we don’t. We can be people who have compassionate convictions. We can be people of genuine grace.
6. As the church, we can’t wait for people to come to us. We have to go to them. We have to leave our homes and church buildings and meet people in their homes, their neighborhoods, our schools, and our places of work. If we are excited about our church, and if we invite them to come with us and share in our excitement, we may generate some interest and they just might come. But, that usually only happens after we have gone to them, taken the time to listen to them, heard their stories, and understood where they are coming from.

The story of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church shows us that the image of a church can change. The image of a church can get better. People can get excited about being a part of a church again. Our God can create something out of nothing. Jesus can create hope where there is no hope. The Holy Spirit can create something encouraging out of something that had been discouraging.

Christianity was founded on the story of the resurrection – what was dead has now come back to life. The God of the resurrection is constantly breathing new life back into the church. While we don’t want to minimize the challenges facing the church today, this is an exciting time to be a part of the church. We serve one surprising God. You just never know what God might do next. .