It’s A Wonderful Life

Our city’s newspaper, The Public Opinion, will publish the article below today (Dec 26, 2019). I thought I would go ahead and share it with you here on my blog. The newspaper has a limit, as you might imagine, regarding the length of the article. So, it’s a quick read!

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One of my favorite Christmas movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It might surprise you to know that it was put on the official list of the greatest movies of all-time. Chances are pretty good that most of you have seen the movie, but allow me to briefly summarize the story-line. George Bailey (played by James Stewart) lives in Bedford Falls, NY. On Christmas Eve George is considering suicide. George has lived a good and moral life. He has made many sacrifices for the well-being of his family and for the city that he lives in. But he can’t help but think that he is missing out on something. He longs to travel, see the world, and to go on an adventure. He feels deeply unhappy with his family, job, and his seemingly insignificant life. God intervenes and sends an angel by the name of Clarence. Clarence shows George what life would have been like if he had never lived. Through this process George realizes all that he has to be grateful for and he becomes a truly changed man. Let me be clear about this, I love this movie. I can’t watch the movie without something getting in my eye. OK, fine, the movie makes me cry. But, each time I watch the movie I realize that something really important is missing.

When George is given the vision of what life would be like if he had never lived he becomes grateful for all that he has. The problem is that his job, family, and even his life, are all things that can be lost. If George anchors his deepest sense of hope, contentment, and satisfaction in these temporal things he will find that his joy is like a mere vapor that easily dissipates when trials and suffering enters his life. Discovering that life does not meet our expectations can lead us into some dark places, just like it did for George Bailey. Our job, family, health are huge blessings from God and we should be grateful for them. But there is only one place to turn to if we want to find true, eternal joy, and his name is Jesus Christ.

If you and I were to slow down this Christmas season, we would find beneath all of our busyness and activity that we have a heart that is desperately searching for happiness. Maybe you, even among all the holiday festivities, are realizing that what you once thought would make you happy is not delivering as you had hoped. The sobering reality is that there is nothing on this earth that can fill the hole in our heart. St. Augustine wrote these words, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” In John 14:26 Jesus says something really bold, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” My prayer for everyone who lives in Watertown, and everyone who is reading this article, is that you find the “life” that is only experienced and enjoyed by having a relationship with Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas! (END OF ARTICLE)

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Watching the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, reminds me of the city that I live in (Watertown, SD). I dearly love this city and the people who live in it. If you want to read a few books that gives you a greater appreciation for the small city I would like to recommend the following:

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (just got this for Christmas)

A Big Gospel for Small Places: Why Ministry in Forgotten Communities Matters by Stephen Witmer

 

The Importance of Naming Our Greatest Desire

“Your deepest desire,” he observes, “is the one manifested by your daily life and habits.” This is because our action—our doing—bubbles up from our loves, which, as we’ve observed, are habits we’ve acquired through the practices we’re immersed in. That means the formation of my loves and desires can be happening “under the hood” of consciousness. I might be learning to love a telos (an ultimate object or aim) that I’m not even aware of and that nonetheless governs my life in unconscious ways.” -James K.A. Smith

I don’t know what to call this particular blog post. God is in the process of surgically reshaping my greatest desires and it is painful. I wanted to just go ahead and share with you some of the things that I am currently thinking about and experiencing. Here goes…

  • Our greatest desire has tremendous power to shape, direct, and influence our life. Think of your greatest desire as the current of a river that is slowly guiding you through life.
  • Here is the problem many of us are facing, often times we are not aware of what our greatest desire truly is. We are busy, distracted, addicted, confused and out of touch with what is really going on in our own heart.
  • Which means that we are being led in life by desires that have been unchecked or unevaluated.

Craig’s greatest desire is to be viewed as successful in ministry. His feelings go up and down based on Sunday morning attendance. He works tirelessly not out of love for God but so that others will respect and esteem him.

Jill’s greatest desire is to have a man in her life. She goes through one man right after another. She has made sexual compromises that she never imagined making.

John’s greatest desire is to go hunting with his friends. John’s kids, and wife, know what his great passion in life is.

Kelly’s greatest desire is to look like the celebrities on Instagram.  She has never been happy with the way that she looks. Food, exercise, and dieting have become evil tyrants in her life.

Mike’s greatest desire is to be appreciated and respected at work. He goes from happiness when he is recognized to anger and despair when he is overlooked.

Lori’s greatest desire is to spend time with her family. She is making a god out of her kids and she is not even aware of it. Her family quietly senses that there is a hole in her heart but they know better than to say anything.

Dylan’s greatest desire is to save enough money so that he can live a comfortable retired life. The few precious days that God has given him on earth will be wasted.

Lisa’s greatest desire is having a nice home. She finds herself obsessing about upgrades and renovations. The buzz from something new or better never lasts very long.

Brandon’s greatest desire is the satisfaction that he gets while he is on his phone. He has no idea that that he spends more time checking his phone than doing anything else.

Each of the above people, if asked, would probably say that their greatest desire is God.

  • If our greatest desire is not God we will become angry, depressed, cynical, bitter, toxic, addicted, etc. The reason is simple, nothing else has ability to satisfy us. For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. -Jeremiah 2:13
  • Once we realize that we are not being made happy by our greatest desire you might think we would wake up and change. Unfortunately, what we do is keep the craziness alive by escaping or numbing ourselves from our pain and refuse to change. This is where addiction begins to tighten its noose around our neck.
  • In order to name our greatest desire we must slow down. We must be quiet. We must come to the realization that our activity and busyness can be our greatest enemy. We need to create space where we can listen to our heart. We must pay attention to our thought life. We must ask God to reveal to us what it is that we care about the most. Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that most of us will go though life and refuse to do this hard work of naming our greatest desire.
  • But if we travel down this lonely path then we need to be ready for heavy doses of pain. This desire that we treasure above all others will not leave our life without kicking and screaming. We must be ready for spiritual warfare and it can not be entered into lightly. Recently there has been research that has shown that our addictions actually change the way that our brain works. Leaving these false lovers will be one of the hardest things we ever do.

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas as you think about what your greatest desire truly is.

Hosea: The Covenant Love of God (Part 1)

I began a six week sermon series on the book of Hosea this past Sunday. I will be sharing thoughts on the book of Hosea with six different blog posts. Here is Part 1: The Covenant Love of God.

Hosea 1:1-11

1 The word of the LORD that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. 2 When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” 3 So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

4 And the LORD said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”

6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, j“Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. 7 But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

8 When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. 9 And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People,2 for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And sin the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” 11 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.

Historical background

  • Author: Hosea (perhaps had a scribe help him)
  • Date: Approximately 750 BC
  • State of affairs for Israel at the time of Hosea:
    • Hosea ministered about 200 years after the division of Israel. The divide tookdivided_kingdom_of_israel_and_judah1 place approximately 930 BC and it was a division between north and south Israel. The ten northern tribes made up Israel or sometimes called Ephraim. The two southern tribes were Judah and Benjamin and they formed the nation of Judah.
    • Hosea’s ministry took place when the northern kingdom of Israel was once again prospering and doing very well economically. The problem was that they were far from God. The people were focused on their money, their comforts, and they became very immoral. Does it sound like another country that you know of?
  • In order to understand the book of Hosea it is important to understand that Israel was in a covenant relationship with God. In Exodus 19:5 we read this, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine.”

Main Points

We are in grave danger of forgetting that we are part of a divine love story

There is a danger that we face today. We can study and jump from bible study to bible study and actually forget that our Christian faith is all about a love story. God has gone to great lengths to be in a personal, intimate relationship with us. He wants much more than for us to be learning about him, he wants us to grow when it comes to experiencing and loving him.

Did God really tell Hosea, a prophet, to marry an immoral woman?

In verse 2 God makes it really clear, Hosea is to marry a whore to be his wife. It is meant to be shocking! It is meant to make us sit up and wonder ‘what in the world is going on?’ There is no doubt that Gomer was a sexually immoral woman before she married Hosea. She might have even served as a temple prostitute in a local cult religion. So the answer is, yes, God did command his prophet, Hosea, to marry an immoral woman.

What was the point of telling Hosea to marry Gomer?

Hosea 1:2 gives us the reason God tells Hosea to marry Gomer. “…for the land commits whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” God is using the marriage between Hosea and Gomer to reveal that Israel had committed spiritual adultery against him. God’s people were being unfaithful regarding their covenant relationship with God. What do we learn from this?

1- God is revealing that there are consequences for our sin. This is not a popular teaching in our enlightened, progressive culture today. Hosea and Gomer have three children and they are given very strange names (Jezreel=judgment, Lo-Ruhamah=no mercy and Lo-Ammi=not my people). What God is doing through the naming of these three children is telling the nation of Israel, telling you and me, that to continue in sin will bring pain and suffering. God was warning his people but they would not repent. 30 years after these three children were born God raised up the violent nation of Assyria to bring absolute devastation to the people of Israel.

2- Certainly we learn that God’s heart is absolutely broken over the fact that his people pursue other lovers. Think for a moment how you would feel if your spouse was continually unfaithful to you?

3- We also learn that God’s love knows no boundaries. Hosea in many ways reminds me of the story of the prodigal son in the gospels. The younger son has left his father and lives a blatantly rebellious, immoral life. Yet at the end of the story we find that the father is running towards his son because his great grace and love. This gives us sinners great hope to know that we are loved like this. Plus, it motivates us to love people like Gomer in our everyday life. We love the misfits and sinners in our culture because we too have received God’s amazing grace.

We are Gomer

We might be tempted to shake our head at Gomer and secretly wonder how she could be so immoral. If that is as far as we get when it comes to thinking about Gomer we have missed the point of the story. In this story Hosea represents Jesus and Gomer represents the church (you and me). Go ahead and say it, ‘I am Gomer’. I know it is true in my life. In a million different ways I pursue other priorities, passions, and make God second in my life. Spiritual adultery is something we are all guilty of. Spiritual adultery is not just something we do or an act that we commit. First and foremost spiritual adultery happens when we love something, or someone, more than we love Christ.

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What do you talk about?
  • What do you think about the most?
  • What are you known for by the people that know you best?
  • What worries you or makes you anxious?

The answers to these questions may go a long way revealing false loves (idols) in our life.

A better love is available to us

This chapter ends with good news. In verse 11 we read this, “And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered  together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.”

Hosea is prophesying that there will be ‘one head’ in the future. This is a reference to the fact that Jesus Christ will one day, approximately 750 years later, arrive on earth. Jesus, our Messiah, was prophesied of old and one of his many names was Immanuel (God is with us). Jesus is the fulfillment of these two verses, and Jesus is the one to whom you and I can have a deep, intimate, loving relationship.

*The video and sermon outline came from Irving Bible Church. The sermon(s) I preach are mine!

My Testimony (Pleasure, Grace and My Parent’s Oldsmobile)

As I slowly crawled out of the car I realized that it was upside down, the top had been pushed dangerously close to my head, the windows had all been busted out and I was in serious trouble. I clearly needed to redirect my pursuit of pleasure.

michael1 (2)

Let’s go back in time for a moment. I was nine years old and was living in Needles, California. I believe it was a Sunday night and my dad was preaching a sermon and it included descriptive information about the realities of hell. We were Baptist after-all. Even at the age of nine I knew that spending eternity with God sounded like a much better deal than an eternity in hell. So, I gave my life to the Lord and was soon baptized. But, like many PKs, my spiritual life during the days of my youth were a bit of a roller-coaster. Things changed dramatically when I turned 18. I developed a friendship with a guy who owned a Camaro and who liked to drink…a lot. (I googled this old friend a few months ago and discovered that there is currently a warrant out for his arrest. Not kidding.)

What I quickly learned about myself is that I loved to party but with 3 times the energy and enthusiasm as everyone else. The picture above is an actual photo of what I did to my parent’s car after a night of “hanging out with friends”, which is code for having way too much to drink.

After leaving the party I vaguely recall driving on I-17 in Phoenix, I think I was falling asleep (passing out) and began to sense that I was about to run into the back of a car in front of me. I pulled the steering wheel sharply to the left, rolled the car off of the interstate and down an embankment. When I eventually stumbled out of the upside down car there were already several police officers waiting for me.

interstate-17

The whole thing leaves me with four thoughts…

The Oldsmobile is a vivid picture of what the evil one wants to do through our pursuit of pleasure.  The devil, I believe, wanted me dead. Isn’t this what sin always does? Kill? I think, we think, that the next drink, job, house, purchase, achievement, relationship, touchdown that our kid scores, vacation will satisfy us but it never does. Is there anything you are pursuing these days that, if you were honest, is slowly killing your soul and leaving you feeling less alive?

God’s grace is written all over my life. How did I get out of that wreck with one small scratch? Without wearing a seat belt? I can only attribute it to the grace and mercy of God. I frequently think back to the accident in the Oldsmobile and thank God for sparing my life. Whatever your struggle might be, God’s grace is always available to you.

I am still a pleasure junky but God is the only One who truly satisfies. Prone to wander, prone to leave the God I love. I would like to say that because of the car accident I have safely concluded that this world and it’s temptations are dead to me. I would like to say it but it would be an enormous lie. All of us are hedonists who end up wasting precious time looking for happiness in the wrong places.

Finding true pleasure is a matter of life or death because the spiritual well-being of our soul is at stake. One sign that we are growing as Christians is that we are living and obeying God based more out of a sense of delight then duty. Which describes your reasons for obedience these days? Delight or duty? This battle of finding pleasure in Christ is going on in my soul every moment of every day. But this I do believe to be true, and this is what I cling to; Jesus is the only One who brings true, lasting pleasure that never disappoints.

Finding pleasure in the things of this world is not wrong in itself. In fact, God has made this world for us to enjoy.  “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving…” -1 Timothy 4:4. The problem is when we seek ultimate satisfaction from the world and fail to remember that God, and not his gifts, are to be worshipped.

You may wonder, why share any of this in the first place? I deeply wrestle with that question. Motives are always a murky thing to sort out. I guess this is my best explanation. I don’t think we help our family, church, friends, or the world when we pretend as if we are not sinners saved by the grace of God. I know for certain that everyone I encounter on a day-to-day basis is fighting a spiritual battle and instead of putting up a false image of “having it all together” one of the best things I can do is to say, “yep, me too.” Perhaps if I, if we all, take down the veneer of super-spirituality it will free others to do likewise. I believe God is honored when we openly admit our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 11:30) and boast in His righteousness, grace and goodness.

Although the pursuit of pleasure is a daily, slug it out, spiritual battle I am glad to know that our God not only wants us to be good and moral but also to be as joyful as possible. A joy that is only possible as we go deeper in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

You can read more HERE about what I am up to these days.

It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. -CS Lewis

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! -Psalm 34:8

Are you experiencing the manifest presence of God in your life?

Within every human breast rages this desire, driving him forward. Many a person confuses the object of that desire and spends his or her entire life striving for the unobtainable. Very simply put, the great passion in the heart of every human being, who are created in the image of God, is to experience the awesome majesty of God’s presence. The highest accomplishment of humanity is entering the overwhelming presence of God. Nothing else can satiate this burning thirst. -AW Tozer, Experiencing The Presence Of God

A busy religious life devoid of God’s presence

Have you ever been haunted by the idea that there should be more to the Christian life than what you are currently experiencing? I will admit that I have frequently felt that way. When I read in the Psalms how the saints of old delighted being in God’s presence I feel an ache overcome me and I want the intimacy and joy that they experienced.

We need to know the difference between the omnipresence of God and the manifest presence of God

One of the things we learn in God’s Word is that there are different ways to understand and experience the presence of God. In Psalm 139:7-12 we read this:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

What the Psalmist is describing is the omnipresence of God.  To say that God is omnipresent is to say that he is present everywhere. But Scripture also describes the manifest presence of God.

“You make known to me the path of life, in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” -Psalm 16:11

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and hit filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. -Acts 2:1-4

The manifest presence of God is when he reveals himself in a unique and clear way. It seems that the pathway to true joy is found in only one place, God’s presence. When we experience the manifest presence (or some refer to it as the relational presence) of God we find that our hearts are impacted and we are spiritually transformed. The reason why it is imperative to make this distinction is that we can affirm with our minds that God is omnipresent and yet never truly experience his power in our life. Our greatest spiritual need is to go beyond the omnipresence of God and into his manifest presence.

We need to be aware of what is keeping us from the life transforming presence and power of God

What are some of the barriers that keep us from experiencing God at a deep level?

  • We don’t truly have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It is possible to be religious, attend church, and still not know God personally.
  • We allow distractions and busyness to keep us on the surface of knowing God. How many hours do you think you devote to a screen during the week compared to meditating on God’s Word? Social media, the news, entertainment, busyness, all work in such a way to keep us on the surface of what it means to know God deeply.
  • We numb our pain with worldly pleasures. This is a temptation that I face on a regular basis. There are hurts and wounds in our heart that we refuse to deal with. So, instead of doing the hard work of laying our hearts bare before God we self-medicate. Alcohol, shopping, TV, exercise, perfectionism, sex, and work are all ways that things that can keep us from allowing God into the deep places of our life.
  • We are stuck in a habitual sin. We have given up the idea that we can experience spiritual victory in a particular area of our life and we have grieved and quenched the power of the Spirit of God in us.
  • Truth be told, we really don’t like the idea of God being God in our life. We might not say this out loud, but completely surrendering our life to the manifest presence of God does not sound like all that much fun.

We need to know what we must do to experience the life transforming power of the manifest presence of God

So what do we do to actually experience the presence of God in our life? As I have been reading and studying God’s Word I believe these are the primary ways that we can experience God today.

  • We experience the presence of God when we are honest. Ask God to give you a desire him on a deeper level (this is where I am at right now). God already knows where we are at spiritually so we might as well just be brutally honest with him.
  • We experience the presence of God when we repent of our sin. Darkness and light can not co-exist. God will not put up with false gods and idols in our life. Spiritual renewal and revival are preceded by confessing and turning away from our sin.
  • We experience the presence of God through reading God’s Word. Are you soaking your heart and mind in the truths of God’s Word on a daily basis? One area that I want to grow in is not only reading and studying the bible but actually meditating on it.
  • We experience the presence of God when we pray. Prayer is talking and listening to God. It is in these sweet times of fellowship that we can go deeper with God. I have been challenged recently to come to God and to just be quiet in his presence. When was the last time you spent 10 minutes just being quiet in God’s presence?

The last thing I should do is act like an expert when it comes to revival. I have never lived through anything like what I have read about in the Great Awakening. But it seems to make sense to me that genuine revival among God’s people would need to be preceded by a growing awareness and desire to be in his presence.

Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas as you ponder the idea being in the manifest presence of God.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” -Augustine

Reclaiming America For Christ

One of the primary arguments that I want to make in this brief article is that Christians in America have relied too much on politics to change the world when in fact our focus should be on the good news of Jesus Christ. How did we get to this point?

Brief history of the Moral Majority

falwell and ronald reaganThe Moral Majority was started in 1979 by Jerry Falwell, a Southern Baptist pastor, who worked to unite other conservative evangelicals to address what they saw as the problems in American society.

There were lots of things going on in American culture in the 70s and 80s that led to the formation of the Moral Majority. Abortion, gay rights, sexual immorality, humanism in the public schools, liberal Supreme Court rulings, etc.

But could there be more behind what really got the Moral Majority started in the first place?  You can go HERE to read some other theories as to what inspired the Moral Majority to move into action in the first place.

Getting involved in politics is a good thing

On a personal note, I want to say that I strongly believe that it is good for Christians to be very involved in the political world. One of my heroes is William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a British politician who worked zealously to end the slave trade that was prominent in his day. In order for Christians to live as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) they must engage the world they live in rather than retreat or withdraw.

So what was the problem with the Moral Majority?

Paul Michael Weyrich, co-founder of the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell, wrote these words, “When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.” Re-create the nation? Really? Does anyone today really think that our nation has been “re-created”? Ed Dobson who co-authored the book, “Blinded By Might: Can The Religious Right Save America?” wrote these words as he pondered the impact his time working for the Moral Majority had in American culture:

Did the Moral Majority really make a difference? During the height of the Moral Majority, we were taking in millions of dollars a year. We published a magazine, organized state chapters, lobbied Congress, aired a radio program, and more. Did it work? Is the moral condition of America better because of our efforts? Even a casual observation of the current moral climate suggests that despite all the time, money and energy-despite the political power-we failed. Things have not gotten better; they have gotten worse.

What are the unintended consequences of making an idol of politics?

One of the unintended consequences for being so involved in the world of politics, and losing sight of the power of the gospel, is that Christians have become known more for their political ideology than they are for mercy, compassion and love. Thomas Kidd puts it like this, “In short, evangelicals have gone from being known as born again Christians, to being known as religious Republicans.”

But there are other consequences as well. By engaging in a culture war we have alienated the very people that need to hear the gospel story. Our angry rhetoric pushes people away from us because we have been treating them like our enemy and not the lost sheep that Jesus came to die for (Luke 15:1-7).

Is there a better way?

As Christians we should long to see the world changed and actively work towards that end. Of course what we should strive to do is evaluate the way we are living and contrast it with what we read in Scripture. What do we learn from observing the life of Jesus and the apostle Paul?

Jesus emphasized serving

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” -Matthew 20:25-28

Jesus’ disciples completely misunderstood that it meant to be a part of the kingdom of God. In Matthew 20 we see James and John come to Jesus seeking power and glory and Jesus has to redirect them and tell them that they way that the kingdom of God flourishes is when Christians seek to put others first and serve them.

Question: How are you, and your church, serving others in your neighborhood and city?

Jesus emphasized making disciples

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus spent the bulk of his ministry years making disciples who would go on and make disciples. This was Jesus’ plan for changing the world, spending time with people, helping them to become more like him, and then releasing them so that they could go and do likewise. What is our plan for changing the world? Does it look like the method that Jesus employed?

Question: Who are you discipling?

Jesus and Paul emphasized love

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. -1 Corinthians 13:1-3

The apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that if there is anything that Christians should be known for it is love.

What does this love look like? Love is not winning an argument. Love is not an insulting meme that belittles our political rivals. Love has a heart filled with compassion that longs to see the lost sons and daughters of God come to know the grace of Jesus Christ.

Question: Are you known on social media, and in everyday life, for being a person of compassion and love?

The spirit of the moral majority lives on today

There is no doubt that some of the negative aspects of the Moral Majority, and the Religious Right, are alive and well today. The problem is that it is such a part of the air that we breath that we have a hard time seeing the error of our ways. The key will be for Christians today to refocus on the words, and the life, of Jesus Christ and how he worked to transform this fallen world.

Tomorrow Is World Suicide Prevention Day #BeThe1To

Tomorow is World Suicide Prevention Day and I wanted to stop and share a few thoughts with you. From most of the reading I do it seems that depression and suicide are on the rise here in America.

So here are a few articles, links, resources that can help you, or someone you love, know how to deal with the sensitive topic of suicide and depression.

HERE is an article I wrote about a year ago after Anthony Bourdain committed suicide.

THIS link has five steps you can take to help a friend who is contemplating suicide. #BeThe1To

HERE is a book that does a great job of talking about the fact that Christians can get depressed and what we can do about it.

One of the things that we need to keep in mind is that many times people who are hurting the most keep up a facade in public of being OK. So my suggestion would be that if you begin to wonder if someone is struggling ask them out for coffee. Ask questions. Genuinely listen. Show compassion. You could be the one that God uses to save a life.

If you need immediate help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 800-273-8255, or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Are you changing the world or fanning the flames?

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ you have a desire to make a difference in this world. The thing that is causing me great concern lately is that it would seem that far too many Christians are actually doing more harm than good when it comes to making the world a better place.

The best place to look when it comes to an example to follow is, of course, Jesus Christ. Jesus came to this earth out of a desire to bring abundant life to a world that desperately needed it (John 10:10). So what we need to do is examine the way that Jesus spent his time. We need to carefully contemplate his methods for ushering in his kingdom and bringing lasting change.

So, how did Jesus do it? Yes, of course he lived a perfect life, died on a cross, and three days later he rose from the grave victoriously. Praise God, this is the heart of the gospel story! But Jesus has given you and I a specific mission, something that he personally modeled during his three years with his disciples.

Here it is, Jesus discipled 12 men. Yep, that was his grand plan. Jesus was super relational. He got to know people who were far from the Father and built deep, meaningful relationships with them. He prayed with them. He ate with them. He taught them the Scriptures. He loved them. He partnered with them in ministry. He taught them to go and do likewise.

Some where along the way the Great Commission has been hijacked by a culture war. Dictionary.com defines a culture war like this, “a conflict between groups with different ideals, beliefs, philosophies, etc.” Issues that we Americans are willing to fight about include abortion, climate change, claims about absolute truth, conservative vs. progressive,  LGBT rights, immigration, racism, global warming, standing or kneeling, the right to die, etc. Wikipedia points out that the phrase “culture wars” became a part of our everyday vocabulary when James Davison Hunter wrote his book in 1991 called, “Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America.”

Is it possible that you are caught up in the culture war and are not even aware of it? Maybe you are not sure. What does it look like to be fighting a culture war?

  • You focus too much on winning arguments.
  • You have an unhealthy anger towards people on the other side of the political aisle and it is eating you alive.
  • You are known more for what you are against than what you are for.
  • You emphasize the passing of laws over the need for salvation.
  • You believe a post on social media is more effective than having a neighbor over for a meal.
  • You don’t pray as much as you use to.
  • You are anxious and worried instead of hopeful and optimistic.
  • You have never discipled anyone and have no plans to do so.
  • You have forgotten Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Maybe you are thinking that just a little cultural warfare can’t really be all that bad. 

So this begs a question. How in the world have we taken the command to make disciples and twisted it into fighting an angry culture war? I believe there are three primary reasons why so many Christians have gotten involved in a culture war.

hypnotized by TVFirst of all, let me say that I do not believe Christians have consciously decided that they want to minimize the Great Commission and engage in a culture war. I think it happens because it is the air that we breathe. The culture war is raging all the time on social media and in the news. Before we know it, we Christians are fighting the same way that the world fights. We are using their weapons and we are only fanning the flames of anger and outrage all around us. Tragically, we are making things worse, not better.

Second, we have lost sight of what the true solution is to our cultural problem(s). Jesus said “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (John 15:19) All of the bad behavior that we see in society today comes from the sin nature that is a part of each and everyone of us. The only thing powerful enough to change the human heart is the good news of Jesus Christ. So, when we are consumed with the culture war we are often times failing to address the main problem, the sinful heart of men and women.

Third, fighting a culture war is easy and our sin nature loves it. It is much easier to fire off an angry post on Facebook or Twitter than it is to get involved in a meaningful, personal relationship. Let’s be honest, you simply can’t follow Jesus and refuse to invest in the lives of other people. Jesus told us many times that to follow him would be costly and, quite honestly, many of us don’t want to pay the price (Luke 14:25-34).

I am not advocating for the unbiblical idea that Christians should retreat from the world and live in a holy huddle. It’s great for Christians to be involved in politics and to speak up about the issues of our day and time. Personally, I would love to see Roe v. Wade overturned. But we need to always remember that our hope is in God alone, not in the POTUS or the Supreme Court. 

Let me wrap this up by asking you what are some practical steps you can begin taking to build relationships with people in your neighborhood, workplace, school and city? It is in the context of relationships that the gospel is able to work it’s way into the deepest parts of our lives. Jesus’ plan for changing the world has not changed, disciples making disciples.

Let’s recommit to actually living the way that Jesus lived so that we can make this world a better place (instead of fanning the flames). Let’s be known for being the most relational, loving people in the world.

Talking To Your Kids About Sex And Dating

It is not an exaggeration to say that we live in a highly sexualized culture here in America. Here is the scary part, this sexualized culture is discipling our kids. Friends, schools, movies, and social media are having a huge impact on our children and much of it is not good. It makes no sense that the culture is talking about sex all the time but all too often the church (and parents) have nothing to say about it. As parents we must be willing to have uncomfortable conversations with our kids about all the issues they are facing on a daily basis.

This past week I went away for an overnight trip with my youngest son. I used a resource called “Passport to Purity” by Dennis and Barb Rainey. With the help of this resource (cds and workbook) we probably spent about 6 hours talking about peer pressure, dating, sex, pornography, etc.  We also did some fun things like going out to dinner and watching the new Spider-Man movie. I consider it my responsibility, and honor, to talk to my children about such important topics. A number of years ago I did the same thing with my oldest son and Marcie (my wife) has done so with our daughter.

One of the things that I am proud of as a father is that both of my sons learned about the birds and the bees from me. Not from some friends on the school bus. Not from a dirty movie. I love the fact that I was able to step into their life and tell them about sex, dating, and what the bible has to say about it.

passport-to-purity-by-family-life

I would strongly encourage you as a parent to take the time to talk openly, and honestly, to your kids about dating, sex and peer pressure. Passport to Purity is geared for kids who are between the ages of 10-14. If they are much older than 14 they will think Passport to Purity is a bit too childish.

So Passport to Purity is a great tool for younger kids, but what do you do if your kids are older? I would like to share with you a few parenting ideas and then give you some questions that you could use to generate a good discussion between you and your son or daughter.

A Few Ideas To Ponder

  • Get to know the young man or young woman that your child is dating. This is not weird! The only reason we think it is weird is because our culture has completely lost its way when it comes to the role parents should play in the lives of their children. What is weird is allowing your child to date someone that you don’t know. 
  • You need to talk to your kids about dealing with peer pressure. There is a HUGE amount of pressure at school to conform to a worldly lifestyle. You need to help your kids think about some biblical ways to resist negative peer pressure.
  • You need to give your kids a biblical reason to save sex for marriage (1 Corinthians 6:18-20, 1 Corinthians 7:2, Hebrews 13:4, Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).
  • You need to give your kids a biblical reason to pursue purity in general (Leviticus 11:44-45,  1 Corinthians 6:18-20, Titus 2:11-12, Ephesians 5:3-4).
  • You need to make sure that your kids know that God’s boundaries are meant to lead them to deeper joy and contentment. God gives boundaries because he loves us and wants what is best for us.
  • Talk to your kids about the importance of dating someone who knows and loves Jesus. Missionary dating is a really bad idea. Look up and discuss 2 Corinthians 6:14 (unequally yoked).

A Few Questions To Ask Your Kids

  • What are some of the ways that you feel the impact of peer pressure? Especially in regards to dating and sex?
    • Our kids are under constant peer pressure in a variety of ways. We need to guide them and help them to understand how to resist negative peer pressure. The story of Daniel is a great place to go. A teen-age boy who glorified God by standing up under tremendous pressure.
  • Read and discuss 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. Ask your child how these verses relate to dating, sex and peer pressure.
  • What kind of boundaries should you set when it comes to dating?
    • It’s best to set these boundaries before they begin dating.
  • Are there any other challenges you are having right now at school or life in general?
  • Are you struggling with lust or pornography?
    • “Finally Free” by Heath Lambert is a good resource for purity, pornography, and sex.
  • How should you respond to someone who is pressuring you to have sex (or is pushing past your boundaries)?
    • As parents we need to give our kids the tools to say no!
  • As a parent write down some of your own questions.
  • Ask your son or daughter if they have any questions.
  • If your child is dealing with some guilt and shame give them heavy doses of God’s grace (Psalm 86:15. 2 Corinthian 5:21, Ephesians 1:7, Hebrews 14:6). HERE are a few books that talk about guilt, shame and the gospel.

If you have any thoughts or questions I would love to hear from you!

This Might Be Making You Miserable

I am currently preaching through the book of Romans. It is the second time that I have preached through it and I can say that it is definitely one of my favorite books in the bible. The gospel is on full display in every passage. This week I will be covering one of the most well known verses in all of Scripture:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28

As I previously stated, it is one of the most well known verses in the Bible, but I must add, it is also one of the least understood verses as well. The reason why I believe this verse is so misunderstood is because we fail to look at it in context. In verse 29 we read this:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. -Romans 8:29

In verse 29 I believe that Paul is describing what “good” means in verse 28. When Paul writes that “all things work together for the good” he is talking about the fact that God is at work in our lives for the specific purpose of conforming us into the image of Jesus Christ.

So, how is it possible that a promise like this can actually end up making us miserable? Let me explain. Many times we will associate God being good to us when he makes our circumstances in life better. For example:

I got the promotion, God is good.

I ‘m no longer sick, God is good.

I got into the college of my dreams, God is good.

I’m getting married, God is good.

My kids are doing well in school, God is good.

My depression and anxiety have eased up, God is good.

Paul’s point in Romans 8:28-29 is that God’s primary way of revealing his goodness to us is not by making life more pleasant but by using the good and bad stuff of everyday life to make us more like Jesus. When we fail to understand this important biblical truth we become angry, cynical, depressed, impatient and distant towards God because he is not doing what we want him to do. We need to be reminded that God is not aiming for our comfort, he is aiming for our heart. God wants to change us more than he wants to change our circumstances.

One final thought. Having our circumstances improve can only, at best, make us temporarily happy. As Augustine pointed out a long time ago, the stuff of this world can not fill up the gaping hole in our heart. God is working to make us more like Christ and he knows that this is also the pathway to our deepest satisfaction, contentment and joy.