Monday, February 28, 2011

Who? Me? Holy?

We are starting a new series on Sunday, where we will walk through the book of Ephesians together. This series is entitled "Identity" because the entire book answers the questions: "Who am I in Christ?" and "What should I be doing as a Christian?" From the beginning of the book, Paul tries to instill a confident DNA in these new Ephesian believers. In verse 1 of the first chapter Paul writes, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:" Paul calls his audience holy. In fact, the implication here is that all the Christians who are faithful to Jesus are holy.

Let me ask you a question: Today, do you feel holy? "Holy" is one of those words we usually reserve for special objects or special people. The literal word means, "set apart," and the implication is that those set apart things or set apart people are perfect. Most days, I'm not feeling perfect. I know my heart. I hear my thoughts. I know what I do throughout my day and I cannot, with a good conscience, describe my activity or motives as pure, holy, or perfect...or even kinda pure, kinda holy, or kinda perfect. So how can Paul tell a bunch of sinners, like you and me, that we are holy? The answer to that question is that our holiness is not based upon our actions or our hearts. Our holiness is the marvelous gift that Jesus gives to us. He gives us His righteousness. This little fact has amazing implications in your life. Read this from Romans 3: 21-22.
"But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe."

How amazing is that fact!? You and I are given this gift of righteousness when we put our faith in Jesus. This fact gives me comfort when I fall and when I don't feel holy at all. Our belief in Christ is attributed to us as our righteousness. I don't deserve this kind of favor, but I'm sure glad the Lord offers it! I hope this encourages you today. You, yes you, are made holy through faith in Christ!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Luke 14:33, "In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples."
I've been preparing the first message in the Radical series this week. In my preparation I came across this passage. Take a moment and consider the implications if this passage were taken literally. Everything. In the Greek, it I can't get away from this thought. As I analyze American Christianity I see a group of people who are content with sacrificing so little. We are very comfortable with the professionals, such as ministers and missionaries, to make great sacrifices for the Kingdom. In fact, many people are Christians for what they perceive they can get from it, such as: stability, morals, Heaven, peace of mind, a good marriage, moral kids, etc. The idea of sacrifice is foreign because we want the sacrifice to be made for us. What does your Christianity cost you? Maybe that's why I get frustrated so many times as I see Christians not taking the initiative to give of themselves or to share of their resources. People want to receive more than sacrifice.
Everything. Think about the sacrifices Jesus asked of people wanting to follow Him. To the rich man, He told him to sell his possessions and follow Him. To the family man, He told him to hate his family or leave his dying father in order to follow Him. To the religious man, Jesus asked him to recant the error of his religious ways and start over. To the living man, Jesus warned that he would die for his faith. So what might Jesus be asking of you? I wonder what my reaction would be today if Jesus turned to me and asked me to leave the treasures of my life? I've been working through my life this week, analyzing what I've been holding back from consideration...and actively giving those things/people over to Jesus in my own way. Everything has to be on the table in a conversation like this. Is there anything you've kept off the table from Jesus? Why wouldn't you offer it to Him? Just some thoughts...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Boring Churches...

I have the privilege of leading a Bible study for 4th/5th graders each week at Iva Elementary. It is so cool to see anywhere from 40-60 kids meet in the library each week to listen to the short Bible study and to pray together. A few weeks ago I overheard 2 boys talking right after we finished. One boy told the other, "Hey, that guy is the pastor over at Good Hope Baptist Church." The other boy rolled his eys and said outright, "I don't go to church. CHURCH IS BORING." I wish I could have videoed the scowl on the boy's face as he made this pronouncement...or indictment, I should say, against the churches he has visited in the past.

It would be very easy, at this moment, to rip on this young man for not liking church. I mean, what is there not to like, right?! Take a moment and look at your church through the eyes of an unchurched young boy. What is there that would capture his attention and get him excited to be there? Maybe the teacher came in 10 minutes late and had to make up a lesson on the spot, since she didn't have a curriculum. Maybe this young man encountered an unprepared, half-hearted teacher who read the lesson out of a book to him. Maybe all they sang were sad, slow songs with complicated words. Maybe everything invovled construction paper, glue, crayons, and scissors. Maybe no one took the opportunity to find out his name and to get to know him. Maybe all they did was "sissy stuff." Maybe they made him wear stiff clothes, sit as still as he could be, and never engaged his curious mind. Maybe no one showed him about how awesome it is to follow Jesus. Maybe no one made him feel like he was important. Maybe that is your church...

I believe it breaks the heart of God that His people can't capture the heart of a 10 year old boy. We have to ask these kinds of questions about our church, and not just for 10 year old boys. I am consumed with the goal of reaching the unchurched and dechurched people in my community. I want to reach laid-off mill workers, lonely single mothers, and crackhead loners. I want to reignite the heart of the middle aged man who got burned by a bad church experience a long time ago. I want to capture the heart of a 20-something young person who is asking lots of questions about life. I want to captivate a young married couple with the transforming grace of Jesus. I desperately want to reach that 10 year old boy so he can see that following Jesus is the most exhilerating adventure of his life! I am constantly trying to look at our church through their eyes. I don't want to create a stumbling block, because of my laziness, my stubbornness, my traditions, or my preferences that would keep someone from experiencing the love of Jesus. I will do whatever it takes the capture the heart of my community for Jesus. If that means doing things a different way, so be it. Whatever the case, we cannot let church be boring.

As I heard the boy's comment I stepped in and said, "I'm sorry that the churches you've been to are boring. You've obviously never been to my church. My church is awesome. I promise that my church isn't boring at all. If you come some time I guarantee you'll have an awesome time." And I meant that. Good Hopers, help me make sure that my promise to this young man is kept. Let's strive to captivate whoever walks through our doors with our message, our innovation, and our excellence. Church ought to be a place that captures the heart of a 10 year old boy. If we refuse to do it, who else in our society is poised to do it?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Abortion Survivor's Testimony

The videos I posted below are of Gianna Jessen, an abortion survivor. Watch these videos and think about the mass genocide of millions of children, our future, that we have allowed to die under our watch. Gianna's testimony is a powerful reminder of why Christians must be the voice of the "least of these" in our society. If Christians will not defend the rights of the voiceless, who will? Remember that every "fetus" is a life. Psalm 139:13-16 tells us how God sees all babies in the womb, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." Every life matters!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Review--Lee:A Life of Virtue by John Perry

Occasionally I get advance copies of books to read and review from Thomas Nelson Publishers, which is a real blessing. When I got the opportunity to review a biography recently I accepted . Let me start by saying I usually don't get the opportunity to read biographies because I usually focus more in the religious/academic realm for my regular reading. However, I jumped at the chance to read a book on an enigmatic character that has always intrigued me: Gen. Robert E. Lee. I am a history buff and have always enjoyed the great story of our past. I admit that most of my knowledge of Lee before reading this book was based upon History Channel documentaries and small biographical glimpses from school history lessons. Sadly, his name is synonymous with racism and the ugly era of our past. Perry's biography is an attempt to go beyond the stereotype and see a genuine man who had a heart for his family and his country. This biography is nice in that it doesn't get mired down with the dates and battles, as many biographies about military heroes outline. Rather, Perry attempts to give you a glimpse into his family history and their interaction throughout Lee's full life, of which the Civil War is only a small part. One of the most interesting things I learned from this work is the connection between Robert E. Lee and many of our nation's founding fathers, mainly George Washington. For example, did you know that Arlington National Cemetery was actually Robert E. Lee's family home before the Civil War? Did you know that Lee's wife was the step-great granddaughter of George Washington or that Lee's father was a governor of Virgina? I found this to be a fascinating tie in about which I never knew. Beyond the history lesson, Perry offers glimpses of a devoted Christian man who was dedicated to many virtues lost in our time: love of country, devotion to family, and the power of hardwork. I recommend this book to any of you history buffs out there for an informative, casual read.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Eat, Love, Gain

I came to the realization 3 weeks ago that I had gained some weight over the summer. That realization came pretty easy as my pants were feeling more snug and my belly was getting sore from hanging over my belt just a bit. I stopped tucking in my shirt, becuase it just felt a little too tight! I could trace back where it all started. I guess you could say I "let it go" for the week leading up to our big trip in July...after all, I needed to carbo-load to get ready for our big Grand Canyon hike, right! And then I was on vacation after the hike so I ate what I wanted. Then we had home group where everyone brought desserts. Then we started eating out a few more times...Soon, the weeks of eating what I wanted turned into a month. I was jogging about once or twice a week, slowing down a bit from my regular routine. The realization hit when I stood on the scales one morning and saw the 13 pound swing in my weight. "Aw crud!" I thought.

At that moment I recognized I was at a crossroads: Do I continue with the recent pattern of being slack, or do I buckle down and set my course straight before it gets out of hand?

Admittedly, every other time I've gotten to this point in my lifelong battle with weight I have either excused it away, or postponed getting back on the strict diet until it got totally out of hand. This is how one falls off the wagon.

This battle is just like our fight against sin. You slack up on the little things. You eat ice cream here and there. You indulge in a big burger and fries one day and then start craving it again soon. Before long you are sneaking a snack every now and then when no one is looking...and you slowly fall off the wagon. Most failures aren't cliff drops, they are baby steps. The culmination of those baby steps results in being a few degrees off-course. With the right perspective you can trace the trajectory of where those actions are headed. At that point of perspective you have to I going to continue this slow slide, or do I, as the great philosopher Barney Fife so aptly stated, "Nip it! Nip it in the bud!"?

James 1:14-15 tells us about sin, "(B)ut each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." I preached on David and Bathsheba a few weeks ago and referenced this progression found in James. If we can catch ourselves at the point of temptation, or desire, we can keep from allowing ourselves to fall into sin. Desire breeds sin in our lives. My ice cream temptation is no different than your porn issue, or your alcohol problem, or your struggle with gossip. Whatever you struggle with--when the desire hits, recognize it, think about where it will take you, and run away!

For the first time in my life, when at this crossroads, I made the right choice a few weeks ago. I buckled down and went back on the strict phase of the South Beach Diet. So far I've lost back 10 pounds of the weight I gained. I've been running between 17-20 miles each week for the past 3 weeks. I'm back on track, and it feels good. I'm so glad that I buckled down and took care of my problem instead of excusing it away and letting it get worse.

My prayer for you in whatever battle you face, is that God gives you the strength to stop the downgrades before they become landslides. Let's press on together and defeat the sins that drag us down!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Power of Planning

I apologize for taking a bit of a break from blogging. Everbody needs to drop the unnecessary things some time just to get a bit of clarity. I'm not one of those guys who feels that he has alot to say. It's what kept me from blogging for a long time. I thought, "Why would anybody want to know what I have to say anyway?" But I've come to realize that it is important to share what is on my heart from time to time for my sake and for yours...but I digress.

What has been on my heart is an upcoming excursion with my wonderful wife, Chrissy. This upcoming Monday we fly out West for a long awaited trip in honor of our 10th wedding anniversary in August. We will fly...without our 3 children (a special thanks goes out to Papa and Nana Duncan for that detail) Las Vegas and then on to the Grand Canyon for a few days. We plan on hiking to the bottom of the canyon, spend the night in a lodge there, and hike out the next day. Both she and I have been preparing for this trip for a long time. To be honest, it's one of the reasons I started on my weight loss journey last year. I have spent countless hours on the internet pouring over the details of this trip: from planning our accomodations, to buying hiking equipment, to figuring out our routes. I've also spent countless hours getting ready physically through running and getting used to being out in the heat. It's almost surreal that the time is now here to strike out on this great adventure!

As the time for this trip draws near I know that all of the planning and attention to detail will make the time we share special. Planning is an art that I have learned to appreciate over the recent years. Before, I was one who enjoyed the thrill of doing things "off the cuff." Spontaneity was my preferred M.O. I was the sick0 college student who intentionally waited to write the entire research paper until the night before it was due. It was the thrill of the deadline and the all-nighter buzz that drove me. Now, that kind of mentality drives me crazy. Planning eliminates the potential for problems to arise, which can derail the when I accendentally erased the all nighter paper in the middle of the night and had to start all over again. Planning and details do matter. This week I am preaching on the importance of excellence in the things we attempt for God through the church. When we plan ahead and carry out those plans with excellence we are telling the world that what we are doing matters to us. On the opposite hand, what does it say when we do things for Jesus halfway? I've come to realize that HOW I do things matters just as much as WHAT I do for Jesus. If I can spend so much energy on a measley trip for myself, then surely I can focus that kind of extra attention on things for the Lord. Let's all aim to do things excellently, well-planned, and in advance so we can do our best for our main audience--Christ!