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!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Great Blog Post

"Third Generation Conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention" by Steve McKinion

I just found this blog from February by a well-respected professor at SEBTS, where I attended. He explains exactly how I feel about the situation of the SBC and the generational divide that exists among the leadership of our churches. Let it be known that I do respect and honor our SBC elder pastors and denominational leaders. I do believe that we all can work together. We just have to be able to embrace the generational diversity that exists as healthy. It takes all kinds of churches and all kinds of leaders to reach all kinds of people. Apologies go out to my blog readers who aren't real interested in the SBC situation right now. As we get ready for the Annual Meeting in 2 weeks, it has caused some real soul searching for me.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Empowering Whose Kingdom?

This is an article that I submitted to our state denominational paper this morning for consideration. These are my thoughts on the state of our denomination, in light of the Great Commission Resurgence report, which will be voted on at the SBC Annual Meeting in June.

Empowering Whose Kingdom?

I am the product of many Southern Baptist institutions who nurtured my faith. Of all the values instilled in me from my religious education, the most important of those values is the Great Commission. The Great Commission is the bedrock of our denomination, founded some 165 years ago. Our faith forefathers decided it was better to pool our resources to exponentially multiply our effectiveness in spreading the Gospel to the nations. That missions focus, together with our cooperative spirit and doctrinal integrity, is what compelled me to remain a Southern Baptist as many of my ministerial peers decided to align themselves with other faith families. Like many of you, the past few years have been rather strange for me. Like you, I sensed that something was wrong. We all became increasingly aware that we were becoming less effective in reaching our country for Christ. Most of our churches were plateaued or declining. Many of our churches were aging fast, as we failed to reach the next generation for Jesus. There was also an increasing disconnect among us. We began to fight over worship styles, church planting, political activism, and CP percentages. I saw an unhealthy devotion to an outdated set of practices and institutions that was slowly killing us from within. The sinking sense set in that we were on the brink of fostering an ineffective Baptist subculture that resembled the Pharisees of Jesus’ time more than the Acts church. The Great Commission was taking a backseat to petty politics, musical preferences, and generational bickering.

I was greatly encouraged by the clarion call last summer in Louisville to examine ourselves to see what changes needed to be made to make us more effective, aptly named the Great Commission Resurgence. I closely followed the GCR progress through the past year with great anticipation. To me, it was a chance for our convention to analyze ourselves from within and make changes that could greatly impact our collective futures. When the report was released in March, I was initially disappointed because I expected greater wholesale changes. Most of what I saw were token gestures, hinting at bigger changes that really need to happen. What really encouraged me, though, was the renewed emphasis upon fulfilling the Great Commission by prioritizing money toward the IMB and the starting of new churches in the areas of our country yet to be infiltrated with the Gospel. I saw a call back to our 165-year-old purpose, pooling our resources to share the Gospel with the world. Instead of the normal badgering pleads for Southern Baptists to simply give more money as in times past, this report actually called for the realignment of funding structures to support these changes.

What I didn’t expect to see was the groundswell of negativity concerning this report as national, state, and associational leadership rang the bell of alarm. Many of our denominational stalwarts felt threatened by the changes. I have attended a few denominational meetings in recent months to speak and to listen. Many people talk about the GCR changes as if they are a slippery slope to splintering our denomination. They talk about the fear of cuts and the unhealthy competition for funding that is likely to ensue as churches feel more empowered to fund individual entities, circumventing the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program is a wonderfully effective way to give, but it is not the only, divinely inspired, way to fund God’s Kingdom work. This method of giving was born more out of pragmatism than biblical inspiration.

I understand it is extremely difficult for large institutions to change because, inevitably, somebody appears to lose. Everybody will not receive the funding they have always received as we realign our priorities because there is a limit to the dollars we all share. All of us will need to sacrifice to make up for the proposed missions focus shift. However, instead of concentrating on what we lose with the proposed changes, I encourage you to think about who wins. Lost people groups who have yet to hear the name of Jesus spoken in their native language win if we can get more missionaries on the field. The great American cultural centers of the Northeast and West win if we can start vibrant churches that reach the millions so distant from God for many generations. The Kingdom would win from the changes, but our smaller kingdoms might have to take a hit.

The statewide theme for many years was “Empowering Kingdom Growth.” It was a call for us to see beyond our own church and denominational dominions to grasp a full vision of God’s movement in the world. It was a call to fight the spiritual nearsightedness to which we naturally gravitate. The question that hit me lately through the ensuing debates is “Whose Kingdom are we really trying to empower?” Our hearts and pocketbooks are closely aligned. Our financial spending highlights our priorities. If our focus is saving our denominational legacy over and above reaching the lost outside of our region of the country and the dark corners of the world, what does that say about our hearts? We say we are Great Commission Christians, but does our spending reflect that heart? I think most Southern Baptists would be disappointed to know how small of a percentage of their Sunday offerings actually support these endeavors. The irony is that we use international missions as the great motivator to spur our people to give their money and then turn around to spend most of it on ourselves. Most of our Sunday offerings stay in-state through local church budgets, the large percentage of CP undesignated funds kept in-state, and regional NAMB partnerships. Pennies on the dollar actually make it overseas and to the unreached North American regions. I know we need to reach our Jerusalem and our Judea, but it should not be where we spend a majority of our mission money. Otherwise, we have an unhealthy fixation on building our own denominational kingdom. I call on all of us to support the GCR this June to reverse our financial focus to the greater Kingdom to come.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In the Garden

Matthew 26
39Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
42He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."
44So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

Over and over in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus offered this request to God. Over and over, I believe, He received the same answer. "There is no other way. You are the Way, my Son." I hear the agony in Jesus' voice as He cried out to His Father. "This cup" is the sum total of God's wrath. There are many references to the devastation of God's wrath being unleashed with the cup imagery. (See Jeremiah 25:14-16 and Revelation 14:9-11 as examples. Not so pretty!) Jesus knew He was going to endure the full weight of humanity's sin and their consequences. The cross was was merely the physical death. What He dreaded, yet so obediently endured, was the penalty of your sin and mine. In His heart, Jesus knew there was no other way. He knew the full weight of that punishment greater than anyone. Today, take a moment and ponder the price that Jesus paid for you. Consider the death He willingly died so that you may live.

Romans 8:1-4
1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Luke 11: Persistance

In this passage, we have the "less popular" version of The Lord's Prayer. Most of the time, the unabridged Matthew version is the most popular. Some of you guys may be a little freaked out because the 2 versions are different. Luke leaves out some of what Matthew keeps in his version, but the gist is the same. When you pray: exalt the Lord, focus on His will for your life and not you own, depend upon God for your daily needs, seek forgiveness through repentance, and pray for spiritual protection.
The latter part of this passage is what I want to talk about today. The next story in verses 5-8 has a great lesson we need to hear. In this story, a man has a surprise guest in the middle of the night and needs to feed him. Knowing he has no food, the man pounds on his neighbor's door so he can borrow some food. Because he is a friend and because of his persistance (v.8), the neighbor relents, gets out of bed, and helps the guy out with some bread to share. I love the 2 criteria by which the neighbor decides to act: relationship and persistance.
In other words, he wouldn't have just done this for just anybody. Because they were friends, the neighbor wanted to help him out. Friends have each other's back. Friends look out for the best interest of each other because they are committed to each other. Is God your friend? Do you have an intimate relationship with the Lord as such that when He needs for you to do something you would do it for Him?

"Now wait," you say. "I thought this passage is about God doing what I ask Him to do for me?"

This passage is about just that...but friendship is reciprocal. Most of the time when I think about prayer I think about me asking God to do what I want him to do. I'm just reversing that thought for a second, since friendship is a reciprocal act. Let me ask you again. Since you are a friend of God, would you be willing to do whatever He asks you to do because you trust Him? Jesus speaks here as if the Lord feels that way about us.
The Lord also responds to persistance. The NIV calls it "boldness." Have you quit praying about something because God didn't answer it? Maybe you should consider asking again. God answers all prayers. Sometimes He answers yes, sometimes He answers wait, and sometimes He answers no. But we have to know, based upon verses 9-13, that He answers out of a heart of concern for me. He is my Heavenly Dad and He knows best. Aren't you glad God hasn't granted everything you ever prayed for Him to do? If that were the case, I would be married to someone else. I wouldn't have finished college. I would not be pastoring a church...the list could go on. My life would be dramatically different, for the worse, if God just did everything I asked Him to do simply because I asked Him to do it. That's where the Lord's Prayer fits in. Remember the part in the prayer about "Your Kingdom come." My life is ultimately about ushering in God's Kingdom on this earth. Admittedly, most of my prayers revolve around my kingdom. Prayer is about lining up my heart with my best friend's heart. So pray about your life...pray with persistance...and accept the Lord's answers!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Day 26: Will You Be My Neighbor? - Luke 10

Many of us will gloss over the story of The Good Samaritan when it comes time to read this assignment. "Oh, I know that one." I've said before. But take a minute and think about the moral of the story. Don't think so much about the details of the plot, the people who walked by, etc. Think about the "big idea" that Jesus is trying to convey. The conversation leading up to this parable is interesting. A pharisee is trying to impress Jesus and the crowds with his question...and Jesus returns volley, closing with the command to love your neighbor as yourself. At the heart of the passage is the pharisee's question as he tries to "justify himself," or save face. Mr. Smarty Pants asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?"

In my little world I have a few neighbors. In fact, the closest one lives a quarter of a mile down the road...welcome to country life! If Jesus just means to love those people who live one house in each direction, then that's doable/tolerable/comfortable. But the point of this story is that EVERYBODY is my neighbor. (Cue the Mr. Rogers' theme song here..."Will you be my neighbor?") The gist of the parable is that the most unlikely people are your neighbors. In fact, the people who are the farthest from you socially, racially, and economically should be considered neighbors. He defines that subgroup as "everybody," then reminds you to love them as much as you love yourself. Jesus refers to this as showing "mercy" to them (v.37). When I think of mercy, the perspective of the mercy-giver is a position that is higher than the mercy receiver. A mercy receiver is in need of help. I extend mercy to someone who NEEDS it. That usually means they are in a bad situation, likely lower than my own. So mercy drives our hearts as we extend concern for everybody. This concern should not be in a "well bless his little heart way," but in a way that empathizes and genuinely cares about that person's welfare. So, to narrow it down...or really to broaden it everybody as well as you love yourself with an empathetic heart of concern. Why should we do it? Because Jesus demands it. And it reflects the heart of God, who gave great mercy out of a heart of concern for us.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Great Commission Resurgence

I want to take a break from the 40 Days with Jesus blog today to highlight, what I believe, is an important issue for all of us. Let me start by affirming this, I am proud to be a Southern Baptist. I choose to remain a Southern Baptist, not because I of my heritage or my job, but because I feel that we are one of the most doctrinally and missionally sound denominations in the world. God is using our denomination, and will continue to use the SBC, as long as we remain true to the task to which He has called us. That task is the Great go into all the world and make disciples. It is cool to think that when you give each Sunday at Good Hope you are supporting the largest mission sending agency in the world.

Having said all of that, I do affirm what other leaders within our Convention have been sensing for a while now. As good as the SBC is, there is room for improvement and refocus. Just like any other institution with age, there is a wonderful litany of programs and initiatives that we have taken on. The problem is that, with time, that litany continues to grow. Most organizations gravitate toward complexity and doing more stuff...we usually don't have a mechanism that evaluates and says "no" to ineffective or superfluous things. Churches are guilty of this, too. That's why I am huge fan of the book Simple Church by Geiger and Rainer. Please read this book, if you've never read it. I have 2 copies in my office if you'd like to borrow one! We have to define our priorities as an organization...those 3 or 4 things that we really want to do well...and then focus all of our effort and resources into those initiatives. If we don't, we'll turn inward and spend all of our energy and resources on maintaining the bloated institution we've created!

Last year at the Southern Baptist Convention we voted to form a task force to evaluate our entire convention to see what needed to change. Their report came out today. Their inquiry and consequent findings have been associated with the movement called "The Great Commission Resurgence." I will be in Orlando at the convention this summer to vote in favor of the changes they recommend. Honestly, I think this is just the beginning of the changes that need to be made...but you have to start somewhere! I encourage all of you to read over this report, watch the video, and process the changes recommended. Let me know if you have any questions. I would love to help you understand what we are trying to do to make the SBC a viable strong arm for the Lord in reaching the world for Jesus!

The report can be found here .

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Day 19: Increase our faith!

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" - Luke 17:5
What an honest plea here! Jesus had just given a difficult teaching. He challenged them to live a strict regimen that included a clean public testimony and forgiving people who repeatedly sin against you. The life that Jesus demanded was impossible within one's own efforts alone. It's as if the disciples were saying, "That kind of life takes supernatural power to live out, Jesus. Help us!" I've always considered faith to be one of self-determination. In other words, my faith is my capacity to trust and believe this Jesus and His teachings. The disciples' plea here is an appeal for Jesus to give them more faith as if it were something He personally could deliver- faith as an entity. To me, this is good news. If that is the case, then I want more faith, too. I want the ability to trust and obey Jesus. Jesus, help me not to depend so much on my ability and what I can do...but to ultimately have confidence in what You have done on my behalf. Increase my faith so I can be bold for you. Increase my faith so that fear doesn't determine whether or not I move forward. Give me more!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Day 11: How Not to Pray for Your Enemies

We had a good time unpacking Luke 6 at Coffee House on Wednesday night. I don't know about you, but I felt really challenged about how I should treat my enemies. Jesus' words really struck a chord with many of you. Loving our enemies...bless those who curse you...pray for those who mistreat you. The Holtzclaw's told me about this song after our study and I couldn't resist posting it for your enjoyment. Remember, this is NOT how to pray for your enemies!!!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Day 9: The Plain Truth

This passage, often referred to as the Sermon on the Plain, sounds very similar to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. The glaring differences are three-fold to me:

#1) It was delievered from the flat ground, and not on a hill.
#2) This is much shorter...more simple...more direct...more "plain" :)

#3) Jesus not only gives the "Blessed" statements, but He also gives "Woes" to their counterparts. Check out the woes and really take some personal inventory today.

Take a really close look at the "plain truth" (sorry...2 plain jokes in 1 blog) in verse 35.

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. - Luke 6:35

The life of the Christ follower is one of self-examination and discipline...2 words that turn most people away. In this verse Jesus probes deep into the heart level of why you do what you do. If I want to be like Christ, then I have to treat people the way Jesus treated people...even His enemies. Who are your enemies? You might say, "Well, I don't hate anyone." But down deep somewhere there is someone, or a group of "someones" you don't like...or you don't gee-hah with...or who has hurt you. That person is your enemy. You don't like them. They are not like you.

Jesus is a radical. He tells you to do the thing that is opposite of how you probably would act on your own. He says to respond to them with goodness. Why should you do this? Because your Jesus showed His enemies great goodness. Have you ever considered that before you gave your life to Christ that you were an enemy of God? Check out Romans 5:9-11 for further explanation. We were reconciled to God through Jesus. Only enemies need reconciliation. At one time I stood as an enemy of God by my rebellion. I chose to spit in God's face and do things my way, denying the sovereignty of the Master of the Universe. So, if God can love His enemies, shouldn't we?! Decide today to love them for Christ's sake.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Day 7: Calling the Disciples

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. - Luke 5:4-6

Peter and his professional fishing partners had been fishing all night with no luck. Honestly, I've been fishing quite a few times and I've never experienced the exhileration of when "they're really bitin'" I know how they feel. Unlike me, these guys knew what they were doing. This was their job. They knew this sea like the backs of their hands. They knew the hot spots and the honey holes. They did everything right that night. The fish "just weren't bitin'."

So along comes Jesus, the carpenter/traveling rabbi, who pops in and takes command of operations. If I was Peter, I would have been thinking, "Who does this carpenter think he is?! I've been out here all night long and, from what I can tell, it's just a bad fishing day." The other funny part is that Jesus told them to throw their nets in the deep water. Real fishermen knew that you only throw your nets into the shallow waters. What was this guy thinking?! Despite their reservations they obey what the carpenter says to do and they get overwhelmed with the results. Lesson learned. I can do things my own way, from my own limited (albeit knowledgable) perspective. But if I'm not being obedient to the Carpenter, it is utterly futile. How many times have I pridefully continued to do it my way, ignoring Jesus' advice, and totally missed the big catch He had waiting for me?! But I know what I'm doing, right!?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Day 5: A Hero's Welcome

"All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way." - Luke 4:28-30

Nazareth was a really, really small town...maybe a few hundred people. Many of you are from small towns. Living in a small town is definitely interesting because everybody knows everybody's business. We know family histories, triumphs, and troubles. Rumors fly and whispers get passed around. Jesus was already the talk of know...Mary's son, the one who claimed that God impregnated her and who married the carpenter Joseph (v.22). That guy. And now he has the audacity to walk into their synagogue and basically claim that he is the fulfillment of the messanic prophecies (v.21).
Most communities are supportive of their bright, up-and-coming youth. I love to see it when a small town prodigy emerges and everyone rallies around that person. It's what endeared me to the show American Idol when it was first broadcast back in 2002. When Kelly Clarkson won, her entire town showed up for a huge parade with great fanfare. She was the champion of Burleson, TX who made it big. Compare that reception to Jesus' neighbors! We all love to see someone rise from humble beginnings to make it big.
I wonder sometimes how I would have reacted to what Jesus said and did if I was an average Joe living in and around Nazareth or Jerusalem. Would I have been so quick to believe that this guy who I watched grow up in my town be who he claimed to be? Surely, God wouldn't use somebody from pittely ol' Nazareth to do something that great. (Read John 1:45-46!) Aren't you glad that God uses small town, out-of-the-way people and no-name regular Joe's to do His work!? Let's not discount where we are from, or who we are, as being useless to the Lord. And let's not be so blinded by our prejudices and sensibilities that we miss Jesus completely when He shows up at our church!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Day 4: The Woman at the Well

The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) -John 4:9

I'm preaching from this passage on Sunday...and can't wait! This is definitely on my short list of favorite all-time stories. Just a thought about this verse. The racial divide in Jesus' time was much like the racial landscape of the segregated South, if not worse. Jews and Samaritans did not associate with one another. In fact, Samaritans were considered second class people. The very fact that Jesus was willing to talk to this lady in public startled her. Aren't you glad Jesus is willing to associate with people who don't deserve it?! (like me and you) Come to think of it, there is not one reason why Jesus should have anything to do with me. My ways, my heart, my intentions are so awry many times. And yet He chose to stop, consider me, and value my life. I'm glad He took the time to reach down and give me a sip of living water.
Just like Jesus, we have to be willing to cross man-made barriers that keep us sequestered from people not like us. Who are your Samaritans? Who are the people who are scary, or dirty, or different that make you uncomfortable? These might be the very people to whom Christ sends you. And you would miss out on the blessings if you don't do it. Jesus' compassion rocked this lady's world. I pray our compassion does, too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Day 2: Matthew 4:1-17

Matthew 4
• It is comforting to me that our Lord had to withstand temptation as well. He did walk a mile in my shoes…and He kicked Satan right in the teeth through it.
• (v.1) “The Spirit led Jesus into the desert”…God uses temptation to make us stronger. God doesn’t tempt us, but He can use Satan’s schemes to toughen us and taunt the Evil One.
• Jesus endured the common temptations we all face: lust of the flesh, lust of pride, and lust of power.
• (v.11) I love how simply it reads. When you resist Satan he has to flee. When you resist Satan angels are there to attend to you and restore your strength.
• Jesus’ first recorded sermon: “REPENT!” (v. 17) Why? Because the Kingdom is near: Sounds like immediacy and urgency, for all who heard the sermon from Sunday.

Monday, April 12, 2010

40 Days Reflections- Matthew 3

As we do the 40 Days of Jesus readings together, I just thought I’d put down some bullet points about some of the passages each week. I’d love to hear what you are learning as well! Please fill me in on the Comments section below!

Matthew 3
• Throughout this passage, I am reminded of what truly following Jesus is about. Take a look at the verbs used in this passage that described the new disciple’s actions and John the Baptist’s message to the Pharisees: Repent (v. 2), make straight paths (live righteously) (v. 3), confessing their sins (v.6), being baptized (v.6), produce fruit (good deeds) (v. 8), being filled with the Spirit (v.11).
• Sounds like our message today, eh?
• Repent and obey…sounds so simple, yet so hard to follow through.
• Jesus talks about “fulfilling all righteousness” by being baptized (v.15): public profession of your faith is extremely important! If Jesus thought it was a big deal, maybe we should too!!!
• Jesus didn’t have to repent, He was sinless…and yet He considered it important to submit Himself to someone else. Humility always characterizes a good leader.
• The end of Chapter 3 is one of the few times that we have all 3 members of the Trinity represented at the same time….so cool.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Welcome to Super Bowl Week!!!

I know some of you will read the title and think the pastor is going out of his mind. If you are a football aficionado like myself, you know the Super Bowl is over and done. The Super Bowl is the pinnacle for football fanatics like myself...just like the opening of your favorite hunting season (attention turkey hunters---just a few days)...or the Masters, for your golfers. There is that One Day that is the epitome of experiences for your respective passion. For passionate Christians, our "Super Bowl" ought to be Easter. I know, some of you really, really love Christmas. It's a close second. I mean, you can't go to Myrtle Beach and shop at a year-round Easter store! We know what most people think is the most important holiday. What happened on Easter, though, is the reason we exist. Granted, you can't have Easter without Christmas...but you can't have eternal life without Easter. It's the pivotal event of all human history. So it should be the biggest celebration of the year! Our hearts should beat a little faster and our minds should race when we think of it. Take a moment and ponder what the Resurrection means for you. Jesus' resurrection was the fatal blow that destroyed Satan. Easter morning is the exclamation point on the end of God's redemptive plan for humanity. We echo Paul's thoughts in I Corinthians 15:54-55 on this day, "Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The one thing all people universally dread has been nullified, emptied, and deemed impotent by the One who conquered death on this day. For believers, death is just a doorway that ushers into eternal life with our resurrected savior. Death actually initiates what we will come to know as "real living" for eternity to come. When Jesus burst out of the tomb some 2,000 years ago He illustrated what we should expect will happen with us. He is the first of many who will explode out of the tomb in power. So, yes, we do have something to celebrate on Easter. The whistle is blowing, it's time for kick-off. The crowd is jumping up and down as "Zombie Nation" pulsates over the intercom. Let's celebrate this Sunday like it's supposed to be done! Who's in!?!

Monday, March 15, 2010

How I Feel Today...

As with any job, some days are just plain better than others in ministry. Sadly, I find myself more or less motivated than other days...yes, I am human and not a cyborg. :) Yesterday was a perfect day in terms of ministry and church life. We had a great service in the morning. There were new faces in the crowd and people responded to the word. It was so cool to see new families that I met through the week actually visit with us and enjoy their experience. I got to preach on the cross...which never gets old! That afternoon I got to play a great game of ultimate frisbee with a group of young Good Hopers who braved the cold and the wind to play. It was a great time to hang out and catch up with some of our young people. It's fun being their pastor, too. I then turned my attention to pulling off our first, but definitely not last, Night of Worship. It was refreshing to see the level of engagement in the service. The band did a great job leading us. In the midst of that wild schedule I got to share both lunch and dinner with some young couples from our church. It was a busy, but fun day...which probably explains why I feel like I got pancaked by Julius Peppers today! I made myself hit the pavement this morning and churn out a few miles before coming in to work, which felt great. My new smaller pants are getting a little snug and I've got to get back on the workout/stricter diet plan to drop a few pounds as I head into the Spring. My children are all healthy. Brooke has started to walk, which makes me beam. She is a complete joy. I love my wonderful wife, a wonderful advisor and friend. Life is just good and balanced right now. I feel whole and healthy in most every way imaginable. Life is good. Thank you Lord for my job, my family, and my life. I delight in You and the life with which you've blessed me.

Isaiah 55:1-2
Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Laughing at God

To see the lyrics to this song, click here.

Music is one of my heart languages. To me, there is nothing like a well-crafted song to deliver truth because it affects both our minds and our emotions. I discovered a song today that really struck a chord with me…no pun intended. J Regina Spektor is neither a scholar nor a theologian, but she is a master poet. I don’t endorse everything she sings about, but some of her songs are wonderfully inspiring. In the song I’ve uploaded for you here, she laments the fact that our culture has lost a high view of God. If you think about it, most references to God around us usually involve curses, crude satire, or silly caricatures. The same treatment is reserved for other deep issues in our culture: spirituality, sexuality, and relationships. (Just watch the Comedy Network and notice the subject matter!) We've lost the ability to deal with such heavy issues because it makes many of us uncomfortable. We mock the serious, mysterious aspects of life because we don’t quite know how to handle the gravity that accompanies them. These subjects are difficult work to unpack and analyze internally…so we slough it off and laugh. Spektor has a way of punching that thought straight in gut. When times get serious…when we get hurt…when the future seems uncertain…no one laughs about God then. When the chips are down, who is really laughing then? Trust Him!

Psalm 62:5-8

5 Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from him.

6 He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

7 My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why Churches Plateau

My friend, Rob Tims, is the pastor at Lake Murray Baptist Church in Columbia. He had a thought-provoking post on his blog today that I want all of us to consider. Are there any of these signs prevalent in our church? Let's all commit to make sure these attitudes don't pervade us, as a church or as individuals!