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Posted on Aug 22, 2017 in Blog, Culture, Featured, Hope, Truth

Purveyors Of Hope

Purveyors Of Hope

1 Peter 3:14-16:

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,

“Whoever would love life
    and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
    and their lips from deceitful speech.
11 They must turn from evil and do good;
    they must seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
    and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

I have lots of thought about what’s going on in the world right now. I’m wired that way. I think & process internally. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about things, thinking about the world, thinking about why this or that is happening. I’ve written some about what I see going on. We’ve talked about this around our table here at church. In fact, we just talked about this today. Jim was sharing about how our response to evil should be to do good. And I wholeheartedly agree. It’s biblical. It’s not just in this passage, but Paul also mentions the same idea elsewhere.

But, this thought is striking me today. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

Many of the people who should have the most hope seem to have the least. 

I live in a pretty Christian world. I’m a pastor. I’m surrounded by many Christians. Yes, I also know plenty of non-believers, but the majority would definitely lean towards believers. You would think that, since the majority of people I know are believers, then the majority of information I see them share on Facebook or hear from them in conversations would be hopeful.

But, that’s not the case.

Why do those of us, the ones who should have THE MOST hope on the planet, seem to be some of the main culprits of pessimism and negativity?

I’m sure there are a lot of reasons. We, just like everyone else, are inundated with negativity. Why? Because negativity sells. Negativity gets ratings. Negativity gets your attention and gets you to click. It’s easy to get sucked into it all. I do. One of my friends on one side will post an article and I’ll read it. Then another friend will post another article on another side and I’ll read it. Before too long, I’m started to get filled up with negativity and despair.

But, I think there’s another reason. I think many of us, falsely believe that we in a war against those among us who believe differently than we do.

May I make something clear? We are not in a war against other people made in the image of God.

Before you go thinking I’m this or that, let me explain. We are not in a war against people, we are in a war against deception. There are many among us who are deceived. There are lies being hurled to and fro. There are lies driving one side to attack the other and there are lies driving the other to retaliate. Our battle is not against people who think differently than we do. Our battle is against deceit.

How we see people changes everything. If we see people who believe differently than us or who have been deceived by this or that, we have an incorrect view. Every human being is made in God’s image. No matter how right, no matter how wrong.

Without getting into the muck and mire of all that’s going on, I do also need to say, there is truth. There are absolute truths that exist. There is an order God has designed and put into place, and when we operate in accordance with that order, we thrive. Truth, however, is not found in the agendas of various organizations. I don’t care what viewpoint or stance or side, all organizations are driven by an agenda of some kind. Some good, some evil. But, the truth for humanity is not found within that agenda. We must be very careful about allowing ourselves to be led by organizations that are not clearly lined up with God’s truth. Why? We may find ourselves being used as a pawn in someone else’s game.

We only find truth from the one who is the truth. Who is the only person that lays claim to the truth? Jesus. He also happens to be the only one that has proven He is the truth and worthy of the title. The one about whom hundreds of prophecies were written and fulfilled, the one who spoke of things yet to come in his life that were also fulfilled, the one who predicted his own death and resurrection, the one whom hundreds of witnesses saw ascend into Heaven and the one who sent His Spirt of truth to dwell in his followers is the only source of truth in all creation. We do our best, as believers to interpret other things in light of God’s truth, but the only absolute truth that exists is the truth that The Truth Himself created.

I think that’s part of where we are. We’ve allowed ourselves to become pawns in someone else’s game or games. That’s why we struggle with hope, because we’re not really in the business of hope. We claim to be, but our real loyalties are in the agendas of these other organizations. We don’t have a reason for the hope we have, because our hope is no in the power of God working in the hearts of people our hope is in the power of “the man” and making sure that “the man” in charge is “our man.”

Hope Doesn’t Seem To Be Anyone’s Platform.

I don’t hear a lot of people talking about hope right now. I hear a lot of tearing down. We’re pretty good at that at the moment. We tear down people who disagree with us. When someone disagrees with an opinion, we can’t just have a civil disagreement and remain friends, we have to unfriend them on Facebook and take some kind of “principled” stand against them for holding such beliefs.

I’ve watched quite a few of the videos that have been posted of what’s going on at these “protests” and “rallies.” There’s not much in the way of hope. A lot of back and forth derogatorial statements. But, it seems that the platform isn’t so much hope as it is hate. For some reason, at this present moment, we hate those who disagree with us.

Hate is a strong word, but that’s the only word I can come up with. The fruit of hating people who hate you is hatred. That fruit is very much in season at the moment. Hate has flooded the market. And it’s driving us all down in the process.

Where is our hope? 

Jesus is the only hope. There is no other source of hope. Jesus died to set us free from our bondage to the lies and deception of this world. There is coming a day when He will return and everything will be made right again. All that is wrong with the world will be gone forever and only truth will remain. We have the hope of that day that is still yet to come.

But, we also have hope for today. Jesus didn’t just die to set us free from the power death holds over us, He also, send his Spirit to dwell in us. Which, by his own words is the spirit of truth. And the Spirit of truth will teach us all things, and guide us into the truth. (John 16:13) That means we also have hope for the right now. The Spirit of truth wants to transform our lives today, in the here and now present realities we are living in. And if the truth sets us free, then we can also experience freedom today. We have hope for today.

And, for us who believe, who have already received the benefits of this hope, who have the future hope awaiting us…we need to become the purveyors of this hope.

What is a purveyor? A person who sells or deals in particular good; a person or group that spreads an idea, view. etc.

Purveyors of Hope

This is my agenda for this article. This is the platform I would like to see built by believers across this country and around this world. I do not have a big following. I do not have an extremely popular blog, nor am I a pastor of a mega church. I am just one person. But, if you’re reading this, that makes two of us. And together, we can start moving people towards hope.

What if, instead of responding to those with whom we disagree by spouting more incendiary comments, we sought to be the peacemakers we were called to be? What if we sought to become masters in the ministry of reconciliation? Not just reconciling person to person, but seeking the ultimate reconciliation, bringing lost sons and daughters back into a right relationship with their father.

Maybe we can join those who have gone before us and make our small contribution to the cause of humanity by joining them in dreaming of a better tomorrow. Maybe we can become those who are more interested in selling people on a dream for the future of this country than we are in trying to get more people on our side of the red rover line. Maybe we can get bold about hope, get bold about the good that we see, get bold about the dreams we have and the dreamers we know. And instead of allowing ourselves to be drawn into negativity, we find ourselves boldly standing up with the hope that we have.

May this become our platform

  • May we find ourselves, when standing in the midst of negativity and hatred of all kinds the brave voice, willing to stand up for hope. Willing to say, I see a better way forward for all of us. Willing to say, we may never agree on this issue or that, but there are things more important than our agreement. After all, what kind of agreement is it if we have to force upon one another. Instead of being drawn into negativity and bitterness, hatred and unforgiveness, we will boldly proclaim that there is hope for us all.
  • May we seek the brotherhood that was once written about and sung about by our ancestors and may that brotherhood truly become our crown.
  • May we become masters in reconciliation, quick to admit our wrongs and quicker to celebrate others accomplishments.
  • May the footprints that we leave, everywhere we live and walk, be the footprints of feet fitted with the gospel of peace. Not just peace between men, but peace between men and God.
  • May we seek to be filled with righteousness, not our own righteousness or righteousness in the eyes of the a world that is constantly changing the definition of it, but filled with the righteousness of God. And may we be so filled with that righteousness that it overflows out of our lives onto the world around us.
  • May we become passionate about the truth. The truth that gives actual meaning to life. The truth that tells us what is actually right and what is actually wrong. The truth that is not only knowledge, but presence. Not only factual but practical. Not only intellectual but effectual.
  • May we become more focused on being and living rightly than we are about pointing out how others aren’t.
  • May we become instruments of Justice, God’s true and lasting Justice for the oppressed. Not justice that makes me feel good, but justice that seeks a long lasting, effective solution.
  • May we become a people so internally changed by the grace and mercy of God that we are passionate about mercy.
  • And and may we all do this with the utmost humility. May we understand that it is God at work in us, causing us to will and to act according to His great purposes. Apart from Him we are nothing, in Him we have the fullness of life.
  • May we constantly work at turning the eyes of this world away from the hatred and violence and negativity and point our eyes towards the hope. The hope that we can all possess if we choose. The hope that is available to all people of all nations of all genders and races. Pointing people to the hope that when it is fulfilled looks like people from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and before the lamb…holding palm branches (a symbol of victory) in their hands…having endured great trials and having been washed by the blood of the lamb…we will one day be sheltered by the presence of the almighty, at that time we will no longer hunger or thirst, the sun will no longer scorch us and the lamb will be our shepherd who leads us to springs of living water and will himself wipe every tear from our eyes.

We’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s going to take a lot of effort, but if we all get busy spreading hope things will get better.

Will you join me?

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Posted on Aug 15, 2017 in Blog, Church, Culture, Featured

The Church Is Not A Community

The Church Is Not A Community

I’ve often described the church as a community. Many churches do. Many churches have it right in there name. This-or-that Community Church.

But, is that really the best description of what we are supposed to be as a church? What does that communicate to the people of our church or the people outside our church? Have we even thought about it?

What is a community? This is the primary definition:

“a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.”

Is that what we are? Is the church just a social group, and the only reason we’re together is because we live in the same neighborhood?

What do you think of when you think of community? For me, I think of neighborhoods. I think of the people that live around me. That’s my community. Many of us go to church with people who don’t live anywhere near our community.

Are we just together because of our cultural and historical heritage? Is that all that binds us? Let me challenge you, if that’s the only reason you’re a part of a church, you need to dig a lot deeper. You don’t go to church simply because that’s what your family does. There’s so much more to it than that.

So, what are we? We are family. We may not be related by dna, but we, who have put our faith in Jesus Christ, have the same Father. We have been adopted into His family, and now we are sons and daughters. We have a seat at the table of the King. We have an inheritance. We are co-heirs the the Lord of all creation.

More than that. We were bought with a price. We are joined together by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In that sense, we are all blood relatives. We are bound together by the blood of the lamb. He is the bridegroom and we, all of us joined together are His bride.

It’s still more than that. Because of this love we have received, we are all on the same mission – bringing more people into the family of God. We are called to go out into the people in our communities and live a life that shines before them and share the love of God with them. When was the last time your community passionately tried to get new people into the neighborhood? Usually, the talk is “how do we get that one crazy family out?” But, not in the family of God. We are joined together as family.

Does that sound like a community to you? It doesn’t to me.

“What’s the big deal?”

Well, as a pastor I do a lot of thinking about the state of “the Church” today in our culture. One of the things I dwell on quite a bit is, what has led the church of today to it’s current state? What do I mean?

The church is nothing like it used to be. Gobs and gobs of “regular church attenders” consider themselves a part of their church community even when they only go once a month or less. Commitment levels in church across the country have dropped and continue to do so. Why? Why does it seem that our current church climate is so apathetic about these communities they are a part of?

Well, I think there are probably dozens of reasons. But, this, in my humble opinion, is a big one that is seldom talked about. Reasons tend to include things like busyness of schedules, widely increased sports activity for kids, crazy work schedules, etc. Are those problems? Sure. Is that the biggest problem?

Let me ask you a question: When there is something that is really important to you, how to you approach it? Let me give you an example. For most of us, our families are very important to us. Most of what motivates us in life revolves around our family priorities, agendas and desires. We take vacations to spend time with our family. We hurry home from work to see our family. We save money to care for our family. When a family member is sick, we care for them.

Our families are really important to us, so we approach our families with intentionality, purpose and passion. We make our family the top priority – as we should. Our family purpose changes the way we approach everything in life. Why? Because it’s our family.

Our approach to church used to be quite similar. The example set before us in the New Testament was very much like a family. The “held everything in common” they “shared with anyone as they had a need”,  they devoted themselves to fellowship, they ate together daily. They were a family. In fact, I would challenge you to look at the descriptions of the church in the New Testament and see for yourself which word best describes what God did among them: Community or Family?

My church experience growing up was like a family. Everyone knew everyone in the church. We at meals together regularly after Sunday evening service. We visited people in the hospital. We brought food when other families needed it. Other families in our church provided our family with clothes. All of this, by the way, happened without the church leadership having to facilitate it an organize it. Sure they would encourage it and teach about it from time to time. But, it was just how we cared for one another. Why? Because we were family.

When our approach to our church is community, I think it creates some problems.

  • In a community, the problems are always someone else’s fault and responsibility. That’s why we have Neighborhood associations and elected officials right? It’s their job to take care of the problems that arise. Isn’t that what they’re paid for? Have you ever heard that kind of talk in a church? I have. Why do we have to visit people in the hospital pastor, isn’t that why we pay you?
  • Communities are full of critics. You’ve heard your neighbors complain about this problem or that problem. How many of them ever take initiative to do something to fix the problem? They/you may care, but not enough to act. Or, when the community leaders make a decision we disagree with, we voice our complaints loudly. Our churches are full of critics too. Full of people who like to complain about the things they don’t like but refuse to get involved to solve the problems. We like to voice our complaints, but when challenged to solve the problem, we resist.
  • Community isn’t permanent. It used to be. People very rarely moved. Today, people move across town all the time. I’ve known people who moved multiple times a year. Others who move every couple of years. We get bored with a house and with our neighbors, so we decide it’s time to find something new. So we do. And we love it until it gets old too. Church used to be something we committed to for the long haul. Now, many of us change churches more often than we change communities.

I’m sure there are other problems, but these are some of the big ones I’ve noticed.

“Gee, it kind of sounds like you’re being critical.” I guess I am. But, there’s a reason.

In treating the church like a community, we miss out on the majority of the benefits. 

I’ve often said, you get out of something what you’re willing to put into it. Over my years in several different churches, we’ve had people leave our church, frustrated that they never really connected with anyone. When we ask the question, “what did you do to try to get to know people”, the answer usually comes, well, “I just didn’t have the time…” or “Isn’t that your job?” In essence, the reason they’re leaving is because they expected others to do the work of getting to know them, but were unwilling to put in the effort to get to know others.

Do you know the people who stick at our churches? They’re the ones that come in and make it their mission to get to know the family. It’s very rare that one of these families will leave the church unless they’re moving out of the area. They get more out of the community because they invest into it.

In other words, they treat their church like a family. They approach church like a family. They see it as something into which they need to invest. It’s not a commodity to be consumed. It’s a family to be committed to.

How are you approaching your church?

Do you feel like you’re not getting anything out of being a part of a church? Is church just something you do once in a while, if there’s nothing better to do? Are you sitting and waiting for someone to twist your arm to be a part of this or that? Or, are you jumping in to the deep end?

We can sit around and blame the church all we want, but in the end we all know, that much of the reason we don’t get anything out of church is because we’re not putting anything in. We want to make continual withdrawals without every making a deposit. We want to be cared for and loved without ever having to care for or love anyone.

Our mindset towards church needs to change. If we can get the right mindset and approach church as a family we are eternally committed to (because we are), it will drastically alter our personal experience of church. It won’t be this outdated thing that people used to do, it will become an extremely relevant and extraordinarily powerful part of our day to day lives.

Will you join me? Will you start to shift the way you think about church? Will you start to see the church family God has placed you in as your literal brothers and sisters in Christ?

If we will, I think the end result will be so compelling to the unbelieving world around us. That was what Jesus said would happen, “They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another.” What kind of picture of Jesus have we been painting for the world with the way we approach our church?

Maybe it’s time for a new canvas.

(If you’re looking for a church family to be a part of, we would love to have you join us at SixEight Church!)

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Posted on Aug 14, 2017 in Blog, Culture, Featured

The Truth behind racism and the only way out of it.

Once again, my Facebook feed is full of stories and posts and responses and posts of solidarity. There is another slew of official letters and responses to what’s went on in Charlotte over the weekend. I first heard about it last night on the news because we were with our church family all weekend. And by the way, it was awesome, so is our church family. We are really blessed to be a part of it. If you are longing for a church family, you should come check ours out, because it’s awesome.

Once again, I find myself trying to make sense of it all. But as I thought about it, it’s really simple. Let me explain.

Made In The Image of God. 

God made all human being in His image. That’s it. It’s really that simple.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

Every single human being is made in God’s image. From the moment they are conceived to the moment they take their last breath, we are stamped with the image of God. There is no argument, if you argue as some point along that way that we aren’t made in God’s image, then you open the door for for devaluing life all along the way. This is a hard line.

We are all made in God’s image. Because of this, every single person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Does that mean everyone is right about what they believe? No. But, a person’s beliefs do not make them less human. A person’s beliefs, right or wrong, do not dictate being treated in a different way.

This also must be a hard line. Why? If we are allowed to dehumanize people because they believe differently than I do, or than you do, or that popular trends dictate, then we are yet again on a very slippery slope. Who gets to decide which set of beliefs are more primary or important? Is it based on popular opinion or majority votes? If so, we should all be very wary, because there are many things that have been popular throughout human history that we see as egregious today.

All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. If we abide by this simple truth, racism in all its various forms is dead. You, my fellow human, are my brother and sister because we are made in the image of the same father.

But then there was the fall. 

Adam and Eve chose to rebel against that God who made them in their image. From this point on, murder, pain, grief and yes, racism entered the world. God had set up the perfect existence for us and created a garden for us to live in, where we walked with God. It was the perfect operating system.

But, Adam and Eve (and all of us since), decided we wanted to be our own gods. It wasn’t enough to be made in God’s image, we wanted to God’s power. So, instead of enjoying the world as God created it, we followed the liar into a world of deception. We replaced our Father with the father of lies. The whole foundation of our existence was cracked and began to crumble.

From that point forward (read from Genesis 3 to Genesis 4 and see how quickly things changed) our world was built on guilt, shame, blame shifting and lying. These characteristics drive our world today. And we, apart from God, are trying to create a world that is free of these things. The operating system had been corrupted by the virus of deception.

But, apart from God, we will never be able to.

Without God, we will never be able to truly end racism. Racism is not a person to person problem. Racism is the fruit of a life that is rooted in things other than God. The reason racism is not dead is because we are a fallen people. We rebelled against God. And as long as we are rebelling against the God who made us in His image, we are embracing the virus not the cure.

The virus will never provide the ultimate solution, because the foundation of the virus is deceit. We can do our best to try to legislate racism out of society. We can do our best to stand for unity and shame those who still embrace racism. But, in the end, we are using a fallen system to try to fix what’s broken. We’re using a broken wrench to tighten a broken bolt. We’re using a trojan horse to repair the damage of a worm. Racism isn’t just a behavioral problem, it’s a heart problem.

What do we do? 

If we’re going to fix this (and the many other problems with our world), the only real solution is to reformat the hard drive and install a new operating system. We have to wipe the drive and start from scratch.

But, this isn’t something that can be done on a societal level. It can only be done, person by person, heart by heart, life by life. In other words, the solution to the problem of racism is not more laws. The solution is me. The solution is you. More correctly, the solution is the Love of God overwhelming our lives, overpowering the sinful ways in each of us and eradicating our old, broken ways of thinking, acting and living.

The more of us who are radically changed by the love of God, the more we still start to treat one another with dignity and respect.

We can’t expect non-believers to act like believers. It doesn’t work. It’s actually not possible. We can’t live a holy life without the power source that enables us to do so. Apart from God, we can do nothing. With God, nothing is impossible.

What is the solution to racism? Laying down your life and picking up the life God has for you.

But what if I am the target of hatred? 

This is hard. While I have been mocked and made fun of plenty in my life, I have never really been treated poorly because of my race. So, I can’t exactly speak from experience. But, I do follow someone who set a pretty perfect example for how we ought to handle being treated poorly.

Jesus set the example for us. What did Jesus teach?

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? – Matthew 5:43-47

Not only was this Jesus’ teaching, it was his life. How did he respond to persecution? He didn’t set the town on fire. He didn’t riot. He didn’t stir the people he was leading to mount an insurrection. In fact, in the end he was replaced with someone who did when the people chose to release Barabbas instead of Him. He, endured the beating and the ridicule and the cross. And what was his response in the end? Forgiveness. “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”

We can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers. When we see an unbelieving world acting out in rage and violence like we have seen this weekend, we see a world living out the only thing they know: brokenness. We see a world, veiled in corruption. Their only frame of reference is deception. There is no hope or peace to be found within the confines of this broken and corrupt world we live in.

So, we shouldn’t be surprised when we see the world acting this way. And, we, like Jesus need to learn to respond to this brokenness in the same way Jesus did. We see the world who doesn’t know what they’re doing. And our desire should not be revenge, it should be compassion. Our desire should not be to hurt, wound or murder. It should be a broken heart. They’re not thinking, speaking, seeing or hearing correctly. They don’t know what they’re doing.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another.Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 – Romans 12:14

What is our response? Good. Do good. Be good. Live good. It’s kindness and generosity. I understand the desire. We want to lash out in rage over the injustice we see. And we do have a responsibility to stand up for those who are being oppressed. But, we do not have a responsibility to respond with more injustices. We stand and lead the way for forgiveness. We don’t stand for the rights of one human over another. We seek to bring every human together.

Ours, after all, is a ministry or reconciliation.

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Cor. 5:11-21. 

Maybe we can all be ambassadors of reconciliation. Not to a political party or other agenda that is driving us. But, ambassadors seeking to see the world reconciled to the God who created them to live in harmony with him and with one another. The only hope for true, long lasting reconciliation is found here.

 

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Posted on May 9, 2017 in Blog, Church, Culture, Featured, Worship

Motive Shift

Motive Shift

What drives you? What are your motives? What is that thing, which, at the end of the day makes you push a little farther, work a little harder and drive a little longer?

Why are you doing anything that you do?

At the end of the day, for most of us, I think our motive is: self. I work hard so I can play hard. I work hard, so some day I can retire and do what I want to do. Yes, I’m working. But, the reason I’m working is for something else. I want this kind of a house, with this kind of a car, with this kind of a family, with this kind of a life.

I want.

Motive = me.

I’m that way. I often have selfish motives. So, I’m not judging you, I’m just speaking from what I know of me. Maybe you’re not selfish like I am. If so, good for you. You’re awesome. I’m pretty sure they make a T-shirt for that now.

This is probably no surprise. I mean, it’s not like any of us have to try to be selfish. We just are. I don’t have to try to make the world revolve around me, I just naturally do it. It’s not because I have some kind of psychological delusion. It’s because I’m human. Just like you.

So, what’s the problem? You might ask me. Well, as I said, self, when left un-checked, has a tendency to make everything about itself. Everything. We have a tendency to make work about us, to make family about us, to make relationships about us, to make money about us, to make church and God all about us.

“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We quote. And we get a hearty, “Amen!” from the batpicostals in the room. It is about me. Jesus died for me. That whole redemption story, is about God loving me. 

Then, everything has to be approached from that vantage point. And if something dares question that, well, there’s going to be hell heck to pay. When that crazy pastor dares suggest that God is all about His own glory, and that my salvation is for His glory and that my life is supposed to be for the praise of His glory, well. Be careful pastor. You’re treading on thin ice.

We can even endure such talk to a point. As long as it stays abstract and philosophical and intellectual, it’s fine. Okay, fine, God is all about God. He saved me for Him. I can intellectually affirm these statements. But, as soon as we take the next step from knowledge to heart and life change.

BOOM! Don’t you tell me how to worship God. That’s personal to me. I’ll worship him how I see fit. You can’t judge my heart, doesn’t the Bible also say not to judge? Who’s the hypocrite now? 

We are okay with God, as long as God doesn’t expect us to give Him total ownership of our lives. We’re okay with God as long as he remains external to our situation, a figure we can ask for free stuff and blame for the bad stuff. But, when God expects me to live my life as a sacrifice for His purposes, well, it’s time to find another church.

And many do, and many have.

This reminds me of Jeremiah. At the beginning of his ministry, as he is learning what it means to be a prophet, he has some soft words to share with God’s people.

“I will pronounce my judgements on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshipping what their hands have made.” Jeremiah 1:16

“What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.” Jeremiah 2:5

Jack Hayford said: “Worship changes the worshipper into the image of the one being worshipped.”

When we have self at the center of everything, we are really worshipping ourselves. Me, with a capital M. And when we do that, there’s really no point to anything. Worship is about ascribing worth and honor to something. It’s about submission and surrender. What good is it to ascribe worth to ourselves based on ourselves. What good is it to submit to and surrender to ourselves. We are already pretty good at doing that.

That’s not how God designed things. He designed us, created us to worship him. When we worship things other than him, we become worthless. Ouch. Glad I wasn’t the one that had to tell people that. I can just pass the buck back on to Jeremiah.

But what does this mean? Let’s get a little more substance to work from:

“But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men…those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” – Psalm 115:4,8

“At Horeb they made a calf and worshiped an idol cast from metal. They exchanged their glory for an image of a bull, which eats grass.” Psalm 106:19-20

So, when you worship something other than God, you are ‘exchanging your glory’ for the thing you are worshipping?

We still need a little more help:

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Wait a second! It’s right there, Pastor. We are the ones that are crowned with glory and honor. To which I would, say. “You’re right…kind of.” Yes, we are crowned with glory and honor, but who crowns us?

“Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.”

Do you see it? The only way we have glory is because God gives it to us. The only reason God can give it to us, is because He already has it. He is the one true God. His glory is in the heavens, far above and beyond anything we can experience in its entirety. But, he has given us glory and put everything under our feet?

Why? We have to go back to see where the psalmist got this idea of putting everything under our feet:

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

God made us in His image. That is, was and will always be the only reason we have any glory at all. We have glory because God gave it to us. We are the only thing in all of creation that has his image. We are the only created being that reflects God.

If we have glory because God gave it to us, is it any wonder he would be a little put off when we decide that we are the most important thing in the universe, that we would make this whole thing about us, and we would make our relationship with him all about what God can do for/give to us while at the same time refusing to give anything of ourselves back to him?

We’ve taken the glory that He has given to us, and exalted ourselves to His position – WITH HIS OWN GLORY!

The reality is, none of any of all of creation has any worth or value if it wasn’t given by God.

“Nothing teaches us about the preciousness of the creator as much as when we learn the emptiness of everything else.” – Charles Spurgeon

When we realize that, we begin to understand why things have gotten to be such a mess in the world. We’ve prostituted God’s glory for our own purposes and agendas. We’ve used God’s glory to advance our selfish pursuits and desires. We’ve made it all about us, and we get mad at God or anyone who would dare suggest it should be any other way.

May I ask you a question: Do you really want it to be this way? Haven’t you ever seen Bruce Almighty? Do you really want to be God? Of course, even asking such questions is ridiculous because none of us can be God.

“Isn’t it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate?” – Francis Chan

Wouldn’t you rather worship the God who created you, the God whose name is “I AM.” The one who is the beginning, the middle and the end. The creator of all things and sustainer of all things. The author of life, the one who numbers the hairs on our head, whose thoughts for us are more numerous than the sands on the seashore. The one who knows each and every one of us by name, formed us in our mother’s womb, created us for a purpose and created good works for us to do. Wouldn’t you rather worship the one whose name is provider and healer? Wouldn’t you rather worship a God who is too big to comprehend, who is immortal, all knowing and all powerful?

Obviously, none of us are any of that. And, (also obviously) none of us will ever be any of that.

What is worship? Paul makes it clear:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” 

Worship is living sacrifice. Why does that ring a bell?

“24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” Matthew 16:24-27

May I ask, what are you living your life for? Who are you living your life for? Have you spent your life in pursuit of your own dreams? Are you chasing the pleasures of this life and this world?

For those who are Christ-followers the call is clear. Worship isn’t about my own wants, desires or preferences. Worship is actually denying them. My true and proper worship is not touting and lauding me, it is sacrificing me. Worship is conformity with God’s will, which requires nonconformity with the world. Can you and I say this is our motive right now? If not, it’s time for me and all of us to repent and turn away from that desire to seek our own glory.

If you happen to be reading this and you’re not a Christ follower, may I make an invitation to you? Step into this idea and see for yourself if God really is who He says He is. Try it out. If I’m wrong, what have you lost? But, if I’m right, it could change everything, literally, forever.

 

 

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Posted on Nov 9, 2016 in Blog, Culture, Featured

What Do We Do Now?

What Do We Do Now?

Every year, many of us get our hopes up about a particular football team. We root for them throughout the course of the season, and we root against their opponents. If we’re lucky (which my team hasn’t been for almost 30 years now) our team will get to the Super Bowl. Many of us will spend the weeks leading up to the big game trash talking the other team, and speaking of how our team is going to win the day. Inevitably, one team wins and another team loses. If we are fortunate, it was our team. For me, that’s never been the case, the Bengals have been to the Super Bowl twice and lost both times to the Forty-Niners.

If our team won, we want to go brag about it and celebrate. If our team lost, we want to mourn. Either way, we probably said some things that shouldn’t have been said. We probably believed some hype that shouldn’t have been believed. We build up our team and tore down the other team in unjustifiable ways. And, we have to learn how to get along with the fans of the other team.

We’ve just gone through something very similar in this years’ election. However, we’ve been building up to it for almost 2 years instead of 2 weeks. And it’s not a football game. This was based on deeply held beliefs on both sides. There has been a lot of trash talking going on. There has been a lot of hype we probably shouldn’t have even given a consideration to. Both sides have been vilified. Both sides have been pitted against each other. Both sides have been demonized. 4 & 8 years ago one team won, and one team lost. Yesterday one team won and another lost.

And, now we have to figure out how to get along with the other team. 

Part of  what always discourages me is seeing how people respond in such negative and fearful ways. It happened 4 years ago. It happened 12 years ago. It is happening as we speak.

My question for us today, is what do we do now? (Romans 12:14-21)

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

This is what we do now. Especially for those of us who follow Christ, our hope was never in any political candidate. Whether the candidate you voted for won or lost, that candidate is – like you and I – a broken person whose only true hope is in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.  Christ is not only our redeemer, but our example. If you aren’t familiar with His story, He didn’t come out on the winning side. He was betrayed, despised, rejected, beaten and executed. He was truly innocent, the only truly innocent there has ever been, and he was executed as a criminal.

And how did He respond? 

“And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. (Luke 23:34)

He had been wrongly accused and was in the midst of being wrongly punished for crimes he didn’t commit, and he was asking the Father to forgive the very ones who were stabbing him, the very one who had driven the nails in him, the ones who were mocking him and spat on him.

You believe your team is the right team. But only one team won. What do we do? No matter which team you were on, we need to all do the same things.

  • Forgive.
  • Bless those who curse us.
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice.
  • Weep with those who weep.
  • Live in harmony with one another.
  • Don’t be proud.
  • Associate with people of a low position.
  • Don’t be conceited.
  • Don’t repay evil for evil.
  • Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone (not only the people on your team)
  • Don’t take revenge
  • If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
  • Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.
  • As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

That’s what we do. All of us. Regardless of which team you were on. Why? Because, for those of us in America, we’re all one team. We are all joined together by the fact that God chose for us live in this nation in this time for His glory and His cause. And for all of humanity, we are all made in God’s image. There are many who may not understand that or believe that, but we are joined together by that fact.

As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 

  • Don’t respond out of pride if your team won.
  • Don’t respond out of anger if your team lost.
  • Don’t further the division and spite by venting your joy or frustrations in front of the other team.

Be an agent of peace. You can’t control the people around you. But, you can control your response to them. As far as it depends on you, be an agent of peace.

What can you do today to bring peace to a divided and hurting world? We’ll get much further by seeking to live at peace with one another than by blasting those we don’t agree with. If you and I commit to being agents of peace in the midst of a divided world, we have the chance to shine brightly the hope of the gospel of peace.

As Chuck Colson reminds us:

“I meet millions who tell me that they feel demoralized by the decay around us. Where is the hope? The hope that each of us have is not in who governs us, or what laws are passed, or what great things that we do as a nation. Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people, and that’s where our hope is in this country; that’s where our hope is in life.”

Be the hope. Be the peace. As far as it depends on you, be an agent of peace to bring unity to a divided world. 

 

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

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Posted on Oct 18, 2016 in Blog, Church, Culture, Lost Virtues

When Is It Okay To Leave A Church?

When Is It Okay To Leave A Church?

“This church just isn’t meeting my needs.”

I can’t read your mind. No pastor can. (Though some think we have that super power. If I could choose a super power, I don’t think that would be it, haven’t you ever watched Bruce Almighty?)

But, if I could read your mind, I’d be willing to guess you’ve had that thought about your church. “I think it’s time to start doing a little church shopping because I’m just not getting what I need here.” “If they would do this program like this other church, I might stay, but…” “If the pastor was funny like the other guy…” “If the pastor would just feed me instead of making me laugh…” And the list goes on. And the list goes on. (Insert Sandi Patty music here.)

So, we go shopping trying to find a church that is going to meet our needs. And everything changes.

We go from being a part of a loving community to being a consumer of a good or service. We stop thinking about the good of the whole and start thinking about our own good. Without a thought of how our actions are affecting others, we just change everything.

Churches aren’t commodities. Churches aren’t storefronts or business. Churches don’t exist to please its constituents.

I’ve had several conversations with people who have left our church over the past few years that I’ve been here. If someone leaves, I try to talk to them and find out why (if I don’t already know). Not once, has the issue been something relevant. “We are leaving because you’re teaching heresy.” It’s always been something preferential. We need this or that. We want this program. We want our kids to have this thing. When I ask the question, “Have you considered how you leaving will affect the rest of our community?” people don’t really have an answer. Some have thought about it, but their own personal desires trump the good of the whole.

(By the way, I’m not writing this post in response to someone leaving our church. In fact, we’ve had some new families join us and stay. So, that’s why I’m writing it now. It’s a good time to write about when you’re not having the problem)

Maybe you’re thinking about looking for another church. Let me as you a question: who is church for? If you’re answer is you, then you should probably do your church a favor and leave. “Harsh words man, lighten up a little bit.” Sorry, but that might be what you need to hear.

Churches exist for worshipping God, for the good of the local body of Christ and for shining the light of God’s love into the darkness.

“My personal pleasure” is not a role that churches are supposed to play. To reduce your church to pleasure puts it in the category of a social club, and we have not interest in being that for you.

You’re not getting anything out of church? Maybe that’s not the point. What have you given to your church lately? What have you contributed? Have you loved your brothers and sisters in Christ in a way that serves them? Or are you just looking for people to meet your needs and serve you?

These are the problems we face in the church today.

Reasons people leave church:

  1. My needs aren’t being met.
  2. I don’t like being under authority.
  3. I have a disagreement/conflict with someone in the church and it’s easier to leave than work it out.
  4. I don’t like the style of music.
  5. I don’t like the teaching.
  6. My kids’ needs aren’t being met.

There are others. Honestly, too many to list here. What makes these wrong?

Your needs will be met if your in true biblical community. True biblical community starts with me sacrificing myself. If you have a problem with authority, you will have a problem with every church, because your problem is not with the church but with God. If you can’t solve conflict, you just shouldn’t be around any human, stay at home and watch a TV preacher. There must be someone who likes the style of music your church uses, think about what’s best for that group of people and not what you want most. Is the teaching heretical? If not, there is something you can learn. If your kids’ needs aren’t being met, maybe that’s why you’re there.

“Okay, what’s the point of this article preacher man?”

You are where you are for a reason. What can you do to be a part of the solution? Maybe God wants you to help your church serve one another better, but He needs you to get over yourself first. I don’t know. What I do know is that God wants you to be committed. And until you make a commitment, you will be constantly disappointed because church isn’t about you and that’s what you’re trying to make it about.

Commit to worshipping God. Commit to the body. Commit to shining the light. Put your name on a pew. Be so committed that people know where you sit and notice when you’re missing. Meet the needs of other people in your church. Meet the needs of people in your community. Love God above everything and love your neighbor as yourself. Get those two things right and not matter what church you are in, you will be blessed.

When is it okay? Well, if the pastor is teaching heresy, that would be one. If something immoral is happening and not being addressed, then maybe. But only after following what the Bible says to do about confrontation, etc. Aside from those two things, there’s not much.

What are your thoughts? When is it okay to leave a church? Mad at me? Let me hear it!

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