Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Time for Change?

I am considering a new blog. You can check it out at http://breakingthrough.tumblr.com/ and let me know what you think. Be sure to read why I am thinking of changing. What needs challenged/change in your life?

More thoughts for young leaders from Ed Young

The Cussing Pastor

Advice from Pros

As a young preacher, I actively look for and soak in as much advice from more experienced preachers and pastors as I can. And I am thankful when they share. James MacDonald is someone I have a lot of respect for and he shares a few tips for young preachers here.

If you've got experience, who are you sharing it with?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Inside Out Living

I just finished my first ever sermon series. It was a three-parter that was entitled "Inside Out Living." It was a great series to be a part of and to see how it impacted people. Here's the short version: we are to have three priorities in life: #1 is a relationship with God, #2 is our family, and #3 is community. We talked about one priority each week. The first week I focused on John 15, in which Jesus says "you must remain in Me, apart from Me you can do nothing." God has invited us to have a 24/7 personal, deep, relationship with Him - and if we don't have that as our first priority in life, everything else will be more difficult. Our other relationships will be more difficult, coping with stress and trials will be more difficult - because we will not have a solid foundation built under us to support and strengthen the other areas of our life. I invited folks to try using a watch or cellphone (something that will beep on the hour) to remind them every hour just to notice God's presence with them, as a way to begin remaining in God. Brother Lawrence called it practicing the presence of God.

In week 2, we explored the family. Our family is to be our next highest priority - above all else besides our relationship with God. We talked about how important it is to make our marriage a priority, and I shared my own story of struggling with that (from one of my previous posts entitled "Quality Time." This resonated with quite a few people. Why do we assume no one else is struggling and that everyone else does marriage without any effort? EVERY marriage relationship takes a ton of TIME and COMMITMENT, as well as a lot of love. We also talked about how raising your kids needs to be a priority as well (in front of hanging with friends, golfing, etc.). As a family, we have to plan God into our everyday lives. Deuteronomy 6:4-7 tells us that we should impress God's commandments upon our children and discuss them at all times. It should be a part of the family's life (how we spend time, how we use our finances, maybe setting up family values). Healthy, functional families are incredibly important in this day and age, and both the aspects of marriage and raising our kids right have to be a priority.
The final week, we talked about community, or in essence everyone else. As a corporate body, we the Church have a responsibility to build community. Acts 2:42-47 tell us what that looked like in the early church - they spent all their time TOGETHER, and they shared every good thing they had with anyone in need. The 2 results were that they found favor in the eyes of all the people, and the Lord added to their number daily. If we want similar results, we have to adopt a similar desire to come together to help people. There is SO much more that every church could be doing, without a tremendous effort. And when we are not invested in helping those who are hurting, addicted, and lonely in the community, we are essentially saying "You don't matter, and I don't care." Jesus said "if you want to be great, you have to be the servant of all." As they did in Acts, we must serve others in our community, and that is what will make our church something special. Also, as individuals and families, we need to make community a priority too, and we do that by committing to missional living. This means being intentional in what you do every day. Getting to know people in your neighborhood, at work, at the coffee shop, building relationships with them, praying for opportunities to help and to have discussions - not just living every day for yourself, but for others.

Our jobs are important, as are many other things in life - but those other things CANNOT take PRIORITY over God, Family, and Community. When we cram other things into those priority slots, our worlds get messed up. If you have more than 3 priorities, you have no priorities. Inside Out Living works like this - it begins on the inside with that relationship with God, but it isn't meant to stop there. We have to begin to bring that out into the rest of the areas of our lives and show people every day the difference it makes to us. Later on in Acts, those folks were not known as Christians, but as The Way. The reason for this is because they didn't just believe in a set of principles, they had a unique and entirely different way of life that stood in contradiction to the mainstream culture. Are you just a Christian or are you following The Way?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sermon Prep - In the Trenches

As I have gone through life, especially in the last 5 years, I have grown more and more confident that God IS out there, and He IS involved in my life directly. There have been so many "coincidences" that I just can't call them that anymore. The sermon series that I am working on right now has been an amazing experience. The first week I was struggling to get my direction for my first sermon. I had a lot of stuff gathered in front of me, but it just wasn't coming together. I did something I've never done before - I literally got down on my knees, bowed down and said "OK God, I NEED your message, and I'm not getting up from here until I have it. What do they need to hear You say tomorrow?" And I stayed there for a while. Eventually I heard "Remain in Me" and knew I had finally found my direction. I got up and prepared my sermon.

I struggled the day of that first sermon and was attacked with thoughts/ideas of me having bombed the sermon and being a loser - to the point that I didn't even want to preach the second service. But I worked through it, finished the day, but felt lousy. I have told myself and others many times - if I know I preached what God wanted me to, that's all I need to feel satisfied. But, this week, for the first time in a long time - not one single person said a positive or encouraging word to me after the services. No one! It was silent. People were talking, but no one approached me at all. For the first time, I had to deal with whether I really believed what I said - if I did what I know God wanted me to, am I really ok if no one responds in any way? It was TOUGH.

I struggled to get back on track for the next week's sermon, but once I began thinking through it and spending a little time with it, I was totally re-energized for the message of this series. God lifted me up and helped me know that I WAS on track, and it didn't matter what people said or not. The second sermon was delivered and a lot of people were positively affected by it and told me so. Coincidently, after my second sermon, several people told me how much they got out of my last sermon. One person even said - I meant to call you this week and tell you, but I just didn't. I think God was preventing that so I could work through it the way I needed to. Momentum is picking up now, and I KNOW I'm on target with this series and I am so thankful to be used by God in this.

I began last night preparing the final sermon in this series. As soon as I sat down, several key things came together with an awesome passage of Scripture, and even some things I was working on several years ago are going to play in huge with this week's message. I put together a rough 4 pages last night almost effortlessly. I got some key phrasing in place to tie the whole series together really well. The Holy Spirit is really carrying me now. I am SO excited to wrap this up - not because it will be over, but to see it come to completion. I got up today and looked again at the Scripture passage I'll be using this week - love it! I got to work today, turned on iTunes to listen to some sermons while I work today (normal habit). I went to Elevation Church podcast from two weeks ago - the Scripture he's preaching on is the very same one I'll be preaching on this week!

I don't enjoy preaching for me, but I can say that I am SO blessed to be allowed to do it, and I enjoy more than I can explain watching God work in my life to prepare messages in me. If I ever used to doubt his direct involvement in my life, I don't anymore. The key is to keep allowing it to be His leading and not moving to far forward on my own. Any of this resonate with you other pastors/leaders out there?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jon and Kate: A Case Study

I've been preaching through a sermon series called "Inside Out Living" and the basic premise is this: You have 3 priorities. God first. Marriage and family next. Everyone else. This past week, I preached on the family. I shared a personal story (from my blog a couple weeks ago) about how my marriage was struggling because we hadn't made it a priority, and how difficult it is with busy schedules, and children, etc. Thankfully, God helped both of us see the path we were headed down and we got things turned around and are kind of doing a self-counseling thing together now by going through the book "The Love Dare" - HIGHLY recommend it to ANY couple! As I shared and really pushed the idea that a relationship with God MUST be your first priority in life, and right behind that your relationship with your spouse, and right behind that your relationship with your kids - then comes everyone else. I then spoke to the fact that you have to put tons of time and commitment into your marriage, as just loving someone may not be enough - as my wife and I never stopped loving one another, but weren't spending enough quality time together. I had a lot of young folks coming up saying things like, "good to know we're not alone" and "I'm in the same situation you were/are." There are tons of people out there who are struggling in their marriage relationship and they have no idea why.

Enter Jon and Kate. They have been smeared all over the tabloids and internet for months now. They were the happy little, or is it big, family that even went to church on TV at first. Now, tonight was the season premiere and they never even looked at one another and it seems like divorce is a real possibility in their future. They both talked about feeling alone in what they were doing, and they both also said, "I'll keep doing this for the kids." "As long as the kids are happy that's what's most important." My wife and I just felt horrible watching it unfold before our eyes tonight. Regardless of what has or has not happened with Jon and Kate individually, here is yet another couple who has the same problem - their priorities are messed up. I'm sure they both have a relationship with God, but it doesn't seem like it's the FIRST priority in either of their lives. And also, it doesn't seem like they've made their marriage a priority either. They have put their kids (and careers) before their marriage - trouble city!!

We prayed for them tonight during our Love Dare time. I got online to see about sending them an encouraging note. Their personal website was crashed because it had so much traffic. Their TLC site was up, I linked to her blog and read her most recent post (a week ago) and there were 640 comments to her post - MOST of them in response to watching tonight's episode. Hundreds of people are wrecked after seeing what's going on between the two of them. I was going to leave a comment, but the folks who had been there before me had more than covered what I would have said. So I went to my blog instead. SO many people were calling them out on not putting their marriage first, and also trying to persuade them that what's "best for the kids" is a mom and dad who stay together and work it out. I HOPE they get the message.

I'm praying for big things for the two of them. Not because they're celebrities or because they deserve it, or because they have a lot of kids. I'm praying for God to do big things in their relationship because SO many people NEED to see that reconciliation can happen in a marriage. It doesn't have to always resort to separation! What an amazing thing it would be if by the end of this season, they were working it out in front of millions of viewers. Truth be told, I hope they stop the show altogether as I think that is one of the main problems, but before they do, I'd love for God to work a miracle and use them to hammer down this point, and I hope they get God involved in it.

It's not easy, but it is clear - you HAVE TO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AS YOUR FIRST PRIORITY IN LIFE. John 15, Jesus says, "Remain in me," "without Me you can do nothing." We will have a horrible time with all other relationships in our life until we get this one where it needs to be. Then right behind that has to be your relationship with your spouse - and it takes love, time, and commitment. And parents, we have to raise our kids right - plan God into your family, make Christian living a part of your everyday life. And of course, we have a responsibility to everyone else around us as well. If you can get your priorities straight, it will change your life, for the better. Without these priorities set, you're in for a long, hard road.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Christians are Judgmental

I include myself of course. It's one of our worst traits, and a major contributor to the bad reputation Christians have today. We're judgmental. Why are we judgmental? Because we're fractured, fallen people just like everyone else. But there's more to it than that. There's this group of ideas that go something like this - they're the world, we're the Church; we're saved, they're not; and the ideas go on from there until we basically see the world as us vs. them and when we see it like that, we simultaneously put ourselves on the right side of the tracks, and everyone else on the wrong side. We're the stuff, everyone else needs help. And then (this is the worst part), THEN - we criticize them for being where/who they are in life.

I just can't get over this. And the sad part is I hear it every day - not from a couple Christians I happen to know as friends that just aren't good people - from Christian radio, from Christian leaders, from pastors, from people who you would HOPE wouldn't be like that. The local morning radio personality here whenever the birthdays of the day are read there is always some "joke" to be made about non-Christian celebrities. My TH morning men's Bible study is thick with put downs for the Democrats, especially since the election. Anytime there are big things on TV, like last night the American Idol finale was on, people begin taking up sides for someone (which is fine), but to the extent that there is namecalling and insulting put out on social networking sites like Twitter and blogs that put down the person they "don't like." I have heard preachers in the pulpit criticize and make fun of other denominations than their own (and those folks are Christians too!). It all SMACKS of pride and hypocrisy, and we tell the world by the things we say that we are judgmental and see them as less than we see ourselves.

I HATE THIS. When we look to the example of Jesus, was this what He modeled? Absolutely not. He always reached out to, befriended, healed, helped, and loved the outcast - those who the religious type of His day wanted nothing to do with because of how "sinful" they were. This judging that we do every day is not what we are supposed to be about, and it certainly isn't making a convincing case for people who look at us claiming to love and accept everyone, and then not living up to it. Are we perfect? No. But are we responsible for our words? Yes. Are we ruining the witness of the Church and of Christ's Gospel by being judgmental of others? Yes.

I encourage everyone to read Gabe Lyons and Dave Kinnaman's book "unChristian." It addressed the main problems Christians are facing right now with our identity, and being considered judgmental is one of the main ones. We're also seen as hypocritical, narrow-minded, old-fashioned, and hating homosexuals. This is what we've done to ourselves, because people listen to what we say and they watch what we do. Our creed doesn't match our deed. And it's going to take a lot of work to get our reputation back. And one of the places it starts is by choosing to use our words to love people, instead of criticize them - even if you don't really mean it, it still comes across the same. Again, I don't exclude myself from this charge - I need to do it just as much as everyone else. So let's encourage one another and start living and speaking in truth and love.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Some of My Favorite People

I think one of the biggest benefits I enjoy by being connected to the people I am through blogs, Twitter, etc. is all the stuff I am exposed to that makes my life better that I otherwise would never have known about. So, to keep sharing the love, here are some of my favorite people, and why you should check them out:

If you want to learn how to be an amazing leader, you gotta check out Andy Stanley and John Maxwell. I also am going for my second time this October to a great leadership conference called Catalyst - I highly recommend it!

Something I am really coming to love and need in my life is authentic living - as defined by speaking and living in truth. Two people who really add a unique perspective to my life, who both live in truth moreso than a lot of others are Carlos Whittaker and Anne Jackson. These two keep it real in a way we all need to be exposed to.

Some men who I highly respect as preachers, because they are unashamed of the Gospel, bold in their Biblical preaching, and model integrity and holy tenacity as church leaders are Steven Furtick, Matt Chandler, and James MacDonald. I also recently came across Tullian Tchividjian and am very interested in some of his ideas and highly admire him.

My wife and I are really striving toward living a lot cleaner and greener this year, and also in light of saving money on electricity and water, etc. we are looking for lots of ideas to help us out. These guys have TONS of ideas: http://www.carbonrally.com/ Also I encourage you to read Matthew Sleeth's story and see his ideas for how we can be more responsible for God's creation.

And the guys at Evernote have changed my life in such a great way I can't possibly not mention them as some of my favorite people. They offer a FREE service that you can put on all your computers and phones, and that is also on the internet that allows you to store tons of notes, documents, pdfs, etc. and sync them up to all other locations you have set up so that you can make a note on your phone while on a trip, and send it to your database where all your other notes are that you will access on your computer when you get home. You can also check the internet site from wherever you are and access the stuff you worked on at home last night. I don't know what your needs are - but there was a big hole in my information transfer needs that they filled - so check them out!

That's it for now. If you're not on the list, trust me, you're one of my favorite people too. I'll do a round 2 sometime, so look for your name there. Anything you've really enjoyed in your life you'd like to share with me?

Oh, and if you couldn't tell, everyone's name is a link to their site. Click.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Love Dare

My wife and I just shared our 5th anniversary. We went out to eat for dinner at one of our favorite places, and as a gift for both of us, I picked up a copy of a book that my best friend Kevin recommended. It is called "The Love Dare." The book is designed for couples to go through together for 40 days. Throughout that time period, the book challenges the couple in many ways. You are asked to examine the things that make you upset, to begin to control your anger and have patience, to share your feelings.

We started today. The very first thing we read about was having patience - especially when your spouse does something to make you angry. Our challenge is to use patience whenever we get upset for the next day and then talk through what that was like tomorrow night. We also spent some time talking about some of the things that make us upset, in an effort to stop doing the things that make us mad to begin with.

As you might expect, the things that she was doing that made me mad - she did not know it was making me mad. Now that she knows, she can take steps to stop putting me in that situation. One thing we talked about was navigation in the car on trips. I thought she was criticizing me in the moment while I was driving - she thought she was helping by suggesting something I could do that would be better. Now that we've talked about it, it'll be better.

The whole point of the book (I assume, since I'm only on day 1) will be that if we as husbands and wives would take time - real, quality, regular time - to sit down and get real with each other and talk this stuff out, we would have healthier, stronger relationships. But so often we just try not to make waves, or we think it will get better, or we think they will pick up on the subtle clues that we leave (THEY WON'T!). In order for a relationship to become unshakable, it first has to be shaken. It's not easy to talk about this stuff through, but it is absolutely essential to any relationship that wants to last.

What has been going on in your relationship that you need to talk about? Will you commit to practicing patience when you're upset and talk through the things that make you angry later when you're calmed down? Is your relationship important enough to do whatever it takes to make it last? Mine is.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Old Self Wants to Party

When I was in college, I spent many weekends out at bars, parties, etc. Mainly drinking, dancing, being loud, hitting on girls, trying not to get in a fight - but feeling ready for one at all times. There was a sense of excitement and adventure leading into a Friday night. Everyone was getting cleaned up and putting on nicer clothes - everyone was in a good mood. You go out and get your buzz going and the night just swept you away. I'm just going to be honest - I loved it. I don't know why really, maybe it was the anticipation of feeling good, the possibility of "romance," and the bravado associated with going out with your friends. But I definitely enjoyed it and did it a LOT.

Fast forward 5 years after I graduated from college. I am still drinking a lot on the weekends, and also pretty much every weeknight too. Except now I am living alone in a different state and I am noticing an ever-increasing rise in the amount I am drinking. I had very little to no self-control. Whatever amount or type of liquor was in the house, as soon as I started drinking I wanted to go until it was all gone, and then some. Thinking back, I was like this in college too. In college there were nights when one friend and myself could drink over 40 beers together. I was once asked by a psychological counselor if I knew that amount of alcohol could have killed me. Oh yeah, I had to see the counselor because I got in trouble numerous times for underage drinking while in college and came within inches from being thrown out of college. I had to see a counselor as part of my punishment. I didn't see back then that I had a problem, only that I was just doing what I wanted to do.

Nice flashback, now back to the future. I was drinking large amounts of beer and also starting to desire hard alcohol more often (stronger buzz). I got married, and she didn't partake hardly at all, but didn't ask me to stop. It was part of who I was when she married me, but I always felt guilty to myself. Maybe because I knew she deserved and expected better but it hadn't caused any real problems yet so it wasn't an issue. I began to realize just how much I was drinking and desired to quit. I started buying smaller amounts, so the opportunity wasn't there. I'd buy a six pack for the whole weekend. But I would also buy another six pack and drink it real quick when I got home (before my wife got home) and then have one from the other pack open when she arrived so if she smelled alcohol on my breath I was covered - but I had 7 when it seemed to her like I had only had 1. I was lying to my wife. I finally stopped buying it altogether because I couldn't even have it in the house, but if we were out somewhere I would have some. Same problem - once I got started I didn't want to quit. I could go for 6 months and not have a drop, and be okay with that. Then we'd go to a work party or something and I'd have one, and another, and 3 more, and - well you get the idea. I couldn't stop.

Finally it all came to a head when I was back in Ohio for a friend's wedding (a Friday night). I was preaching that Sunday at my church. I hadn't had a drink in months, but I decided to just have one with the reception dinner to celebrate. It was over as soon as I had the first drink. I can't tell you how much I had that night, but it was a lot. I was told the next day how obnoxious I had been and also how rude to my wife - I was told this by my wife. I felt...devastated. How was I ever going to get up the next morning and stand before a church and tell them how God wanted them to be living when my life was in shambles. I finally realized I was an alcoholic. I don't know anything technically or officially like to what degree I was one or anything - I only knew that when it has control of you and not vice versa, and when you do things like lie to the people you love in order to get away with it, you have a serious problem. Driving back to Virginia I was a wreck. I cried, I apologized to my wife and to God. I begged Him for forgiveness, to do something to allow me to preach the next day - although I was the most unworthy person ever to do it. On the 6 hour ride, I got a lot straightened out. I received forgiveness and grace, slowly, but it came. I remembered reading something recently about where had all the strong men of the Bible gone - men who would vow things to God and live their lives resolutely. The next day, January 1, 2006, I took a solemn vow to God never to drink again. I knew it was the only thing I could do that I would take serious enough to keep me in check in the future. If I vowed something to God, I could not break that - I wouldn't allow myself to. So I sealed it in Him, and have not had even one sip since.

I have slowly been experiencing healing from my past experiences. That weekend I reconciled with my wife for what I had done, and I reconciled with God. There was one other big thing looming that took more than a year to face - my parents. I had lied to them all the way through college. They had no idea I was drinking and when they asked, I denied it. They never knew I came within inches of being thrown out of college and was on probation for a year. I knew I needed to confess to them, and finally one day I did. It wasn't easy, but a huge weight left me once it was over, and I feel like my relationship with them is better now for having done it. Also, this past January 1, 2009, I had two neat experiences. First, I celebrated being alcohol free for 3 years. Also, on the very same day, my boss (whom I have known for a while now and who I have had many deep talks with) told me that he was giving up alcohol for life, and it had a lot to do with me. I didn't know this, but he went on to tell me he had been having a very similar problem to what I struggled with, and he felt it controlling him. He didn't want this and he knew my story and struggle and how I handled it, and he chose to stop as well. It hasn't always been easy for me, and it hasn't for him either as a lot of what we do as a company is take people out for drinks to celebrate. I just enjoy my never-ending free refills of Diet Coke and the conversations. When people finally realized he wasn't drinking anymore, they were confused and it was hard for him to try to explain, but he's stuck to his guns now for over 5 months. I ask him from time to time how he's doing and we both enjoy sharing the experience of freedom and talking about it.

It wasn't until I was out to dinner last night with my wife that this thought hit me - I struggled with alcohol so I could help someone else who was struggling quit. My struggle had a purpose, and my striving to conquer it and being open and sharing about it with others has made a difference to at least one other person. Actually more than one - we both have a wife and children. The healing continues.

Also when we were out last night, we went to a place that serves good dinner, but after a certain hour is basically a nightclub for young folks. As we were leaving around 9pm, tons of people were beginning to trickle in. They were all dressed nice, coming in with their friends - you could see the sense of adventure in their eyes and the willingness for the night to sweep them away. I still remember that feeling, and for a few moments I longed for it again. That part of me is still there - it's the old self who wants to cast off all responsibility, and go headlong into the night. But instead I walked back outside to the car with my wife and we enjoyed driving around town that evening with the windows down and having a great conversation.

I don't give in to the old self anymore. Since I finally got drinking out of my life and regained control, God has been using me in big ways. He is teaching me and preparing me for big things - as He is you. I know that if I let the old self start partying again, I would head off the path and down a ravine as far as my journey through life. As for me, I'm going to stay on course, and take joy in knowing I'm the person God wants me to be - imperfections and all. I'd much rather be following Him than my old ways. I think this is the first time I have written about my story. Thanks for listening.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Eyes Wide Open (review)

I was recently given a copy of Jud Wilhite's new book "Eyes Wide Open" to read and review. The first page of the introduction says "Too many of us live with a distorted perspective of God." This book goes on to address the many ways our view of God becomes distorted and what we can do to begin to change that perspective and begin living with 'eyes wide open' - really seeing our relationship with God as He sees it.

There are four areas in our lives that our vision needs help in - in relation to God, our identity, change, and influence. Jud starts out working on the way we see God, which in turn affects the way we see ourselves. Once we have corrected the way we see those two things, our lives begin to change and as they do it is our responsibility to have an influence on those around us - to help bring about the same in their lives.

The book is filled with stories from Jud's own experiences as well as those of people he has had interactions with. The stories all illustrate problems we have in our own lives and help us to begin to see the problem. What is the problem? We (for the most part) see God as someone who demands perfection or else, and so we try to live our lives by being as perfect as possible (which ALWAYS fails and leaves us hurt, guilty, and feeling worthless). This is what the devil wants - he wants us to think we couldn't possibly do anything for God - at least not until we become better individuals. That's living with our eyes shut to the real reality of God and what He has done/will do in our lives. When we open our eyes to the way God sees us, and get our sense of identity from Him and Him alone, in His grace - then we will begin to understand that there's so much to do right now, even while our lives aren't perfect. There is a life to be lived that's bound up in God's promises, not in us striving for perfection. "You may still feel like a mess, but... you'll be God's mess."

In and among the many stories, you will also find life-changing insights. Here's how we're living - here's how God wants us to live. Here's something we struggle with - here's how to get past it. One of my favorite parts was towards the end where Jud was discussing authenticity - which is a popular word in Christian culture today. He shared that Jim Gilmore had mentioned to him that "the Bible...doesn't talk about authenticity as we do today. The Bible talks about truth. Living in the truth and sharing the truth." This was a big insight for me as I have been talking about authenticity a lot lately. I have a new perspective on that now - a more Biblical one - we find authenticity in truth. I now challenge myself with how can I live in truth?

The book is a relatively short one and is very easy reading, but don't go too fast through it as there are life-changing words on every page. Regardless of who you are or where you are in your walk with God (whether you have one or not) - there is something in this book that you need to hear. You may not even realize it, but everyone is struggling in one way or another and while Jud doesn't address every problem out there today, he does take you through a process that will help you at least get to where you need to be with God and with yourself in order to begin living out life the way it was intended. Each of us is has our own unique responsibility and path to influence the world around us, but it begins by having our eyes opened to the realities of God's grace and acceptance, and finding our identity in Him and Him alone. "No matter how shaky your life may seem, God is still working.... He has plans for you.... Plans to live with your eyes wide open and fulfill your unique calling."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Why Do We Bother With Prayer?

I have been thinking about this a lot lately - why do some prayers that people pray get answered and some don't? More importantly, if there are prayers that don't get answered, then perhaps God picks and chooses what He wants to do. And if that's the case, why would we even bother with praying? And if God is influenced by our prayers, then that would seem to indicate we have some power over God - that we can in some way tell Him what to do. This would hurt the idea of God being sovereign though. If God's in entire control, which I believe He is, then we can't actually move God to do anything (we have absolutely no power to influence Him) - and again, why would we bother to pray?

So, I am actually teaching on this tomorrow and I've had some time to do some reading and get more information from some other folks. There are three main criticisms we have for prayer. First, that it's just a ridiculous idea. Why do we have to tell God what to do - doesn't He know? Do we really think He cares about our tiny problems? Isn't prayer essentially bullying God into what we want Him to do? All of these things boil down to - it's ridiculous to think this works at all, for numerous reasons. Second, prayer is unnecessary. Look how many people get along just fine without prayer - they have jobs, make money, good health, etc. They get through life without prayer just as well as we do with prayer, sometimes better. You're just wasting your breath - you'd get that stuff even if you didn't pray - it's totally unnecessary. And third, prayer is unproductive - it doesn't always work. What about all the things people have prayed for and NOT gotten? Tests that were failed, aunts who never got better, lotteries that were never won by you, peace in the world that hasn't happened. People pray about that stuff and it doesn't happen, so prayer doesn't really work. Let me address each of these individually.

First, prayer is ridiculous.
Us getting what we ask for depends on us asking first. But this isn't because God is dumb and needs to be told, or that we coerce Him to do our bidding. It's more that He's always ready to give, but we're not ready to receive. When we pray and ask God for things, it is our way of submitting to Him and acknowledging that we are ready to receive from the only One who can give. It's us reminding ourselves and God that we are totally dependent upon Him. God doesn't just drop tons of gifts all over the place regardless of whether people are ready - He waits for them to ask. So, it's not ridiculous, it's the way we let God know we are ready to receive what we know He can give and wants to give.

Second, prayer is unnecessary.
There is an important distinction to note in this discussion. There are two types of gifts - creation gifts and redemption gifts. Creation gifts are bestowed by God as the Creator, and to all creation. Whether you are a believer or not, because you were created by God, He bestows gifts upon you - life, air, rain, food, and the rest of the benefits of being a part of His creation. Redemption gifts are given out to those who have been redeemed - those who have accepted Christ. These gifts are wisdom, hope, increasing faith, strength to get through tough times, forgiveness, etc. These things are not given to all, but to those redeemed.
Creation gifts we get without asking, so yes, there are things that all people get whether they pray or not. But there are other things that people definitely do not get unless they pray, and these are the things we REALLY need to get through life. Those people who make money and have families, but are not redeemed, they have a much tougher time getting through life than a believer because they don't have access to the redemption gifts, except through other people who are believers who touch their lives. So prayer is necessary.

Third, prayer is unproductive.
In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus says "Ask and it will be given to you....everyone who asks receives." But this isn't true, is it? Tons of people ask for things they don't get. This statement is not to be understood as an unconditional, no-strings-attached, offer to anyone in any condition. Prayer is not magic. It's not, 'well I prayed it so God has to do it.' You can't control the sovereign God of the universe, regardless of how much you wish it was that way. If you got everything you asked for, do you really think that would be a good idea? Are you so smart that everything you ask for would REALLY be for the best? Or, since you're not the only person who's praying, what if everyone got what they wanted? Looking further into verses 9-11 of Matthew 7, Jesus uses the illustration of parents and children. If a child asks for something (like something to eat), what parent would give them something useless like a stone, or harmful like a poisonous snake? The parent knows what's best for the child based on what they ask. How much MORE does the all-knowing, good God know what is best for us? Regardless of what we ask Him for, or how often we ask, or how persuasive we try to be - God is not going to give us something that is harmful or useless. He is only going to give us what is good for us - or for the situation we are praying about. God wants what is best for everyone, and this is evidenced through the way He answers prayer. So, when our prayers seem to be unanswered, it's because God knows it's better not to do that (it's for your own good) - it's not that He doesn't hear. Jesus assures us of that in verses 7-8.

So, if you've stuck with me through to this part, you might be thinking - well then what's left to even pray for? Why even bother if God is so picky? He's only going to do what He wants anyway... Yes, He IS in control - He's sovereign and that's far better than us being in control. He will give you good things, when you are ready to receive them. Prayer is necessary for us to let God know that we're ready and we're depending on Him. Prayer also shows God that we trust Him - that we believe He CAN do what we ask.

Prayer is our conversation with God, and it's important, necessary, and it works. But we have to understand how it works in order to benefit from it.

*Many of my thoughts in this post are based on John R.W. Stott's "The Message of the Sermon on the Mount."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Talk Yourself Down

Today Anne Jackson put up a post on her blog that talked about the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other shoulder. Her question was, what do you do when the devil latches on and screams at you that you're not good enough, you're worthless, etc.? You can check out her post and the ton of great responses by clicking here.

I had a similar problem this past year - the devil on my shoulder was leaning on me real hard and tempting me to the breaking point...almost. He was in my thoughts, all the time, working out tons of scenarios that could happen. My inside voice was saying the way wrong things I didn't want it to even be thinking. I was being tempted big time and I wasn't sure how to stop it or what to do to get past it.

Then, the answer came to me as I was reading Chapter 8 of Oz Guinness' book "God in the Dark" one day. He had a few quotes by several different men in there, and I found a few similar ones at the same time too. I'll share them:

"Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?" - Martyn Lloyd-Jones

"Unless we train our emotions, they will lead us around by the nose, and we will be captives to every passing impulse or reaction." - Oswald Chambers

"For my part, I run with a clear goal in front of me; I am like a boxer who does not beat the air; I bruise my own body and make it know its master." - The Apostle Paul

"We have to take ourselves by the scruff of the neck and shake ourselves, and we will find that we can do what we said we could not." - Oswald Chambers

"Moods never go by praying, they go by kicking." - Oswald Chambers

The main point is that we need to take control of the situation. Whether it's a foul mood, temptation, not feeling good enough, or just feeling like the world is getting too overwhelming - we need a new perspective. We need to stop listening to ourselves (because we know our minds can race 100 mph and come up with all sorts of nonsense and fantasy) and begin talking to ourselves. Not in the straight jacket rubber room sense, but speaking truth into the volley of lies and deceptions. Speak Scripture to yourself. Have a couple memorized that specifically deal with a situation you're struggling with and when it comes up, repeat those and ponder them for a while.

You can also call a friend to get some encouragement or a reality check - again, getting a different perspective. You literally can also take over the conversation raging in your head - NO, I'm not like that, I won't do that, it's NOT over. Resolve to think on what you DO want to happen, not what you think could happen in the worst case.

And if you're in a foul mood, sometimes you just need to kick your own butt - snap out of it, watch a funny movie, go for a run, lift weights - go get it out, but take the bull by the horns. Stop letting life run you down and start running your life again. Help is available to you through the aid of God and His Holy Spirit - you're not in this alone. And God is bigger than anything else. Get Him in on your side and the opposition will shrink away.

One last thing - I'm not peddling some you-can-make-it-so-life's-always-easy method. It's not. Life can beat the ever-loving crap out of you sometimes and you just want to crawl in a hole. That's real. But don't let that rule your life - you can bounce back, you can fight it, you can get past it, over it, through it. I know it's not easy, but He's there.

Monday, April 27, 2009


I got to see something pretty cool while I was at work today. Some of my fellow Twitter-ers are in India right now for Compassion International and are doing some really cool work with a lot of children there. If you don't know what Compassion is, check it out here. It's only $32 per month to sponsor a child, and if you can't do that but want to do something still they have an unsponsored children's fund that you can donate whatever amount to.

If you would like to know what this group particularly is up to, check them out at http://compassionbloggers.com/. There are many folks over there, but I am only familiar enough with two to recommend where to find their own personal blogs, which have a lot of stuff about this project too. They are:
Anne Jackson http://www.flowerdust.net/
Pete Wilson http://withoutwax.tv/

They are posting videos and all kinds of other links this whole week and next. Here's a video from Anne Jackson:

There are SO many people in this world that need help. If you're able to, help more. There are millions of people trapped in sex trade, millions who need clean water, millions who need food, millions who need warmer clothes. And many of those people live in your area too. I don't have a strategy for how to figure out who to help - I just go by what I'm able to do when I hear about it or see it. The main point is - DO SOMETHING. As citizens of a wealthy country, we have more than enough resources to route these problems, if we only will.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Natural Selection

We all know that the theory is that evolution occurs via the process of natural selection. The stronger, more healthy animals survive, and the weaker, sickly ones die. Hence animals continually evolve into better, stronger animals. Now, I'm no scientist, and I don't have a textbook in front of me, so excuse the lack of exact correctness, but I think I at least captured the gist. You want the good genes to be passed on, and the bad ones to die with the weak. This is called natural selection.

So here's a question - why do we as a society spend literally billions of dollars trying to cure cancer, or AIDS, or tons of other things that humans contract? Doesn't it stand to reason that nature is selecting these folks so they can be taken out of the equation and humans can continue with the passing on of good genes and evolve? For all the people out there who BATTLE to find cures and who spend their lives donating to and researching for these causes - how do you reconcile the fact that we as humans have an extremely strong urge to fix people when something goes wrong - although natural selection would say that's just how it is, so let it be.

There's something wrong with this system, and we all know it - we feel it and recognize it every time we see it. When someone we know gets sick, we just know it isn't right. When we hear of someone getting cancer that makes us uneasy. When we see on the news people in Africa suffering it bothers us. It feels at times as if humanity is being attacked and we have to defend ourselves from these things. We don't like the idea that the weak and sick should just be picked off - as a society, we resist the natural selection process.

Why do we resist? Because we love people. We feel compassion and empathy. Sure, it's fine to stand up for natural selection when it's out there in the world, but when your mom or your son, or your spouse gets cancer or has a heart attack - it's a lot hard to say, 'well, looks like it's just your time.' We love those people and we find natural selection severely lacking as a sufficient worldview in these instances. Nature selects to be sure. But there's more going on here than just biology.

When you seek your answers simply within the realm of biology, it leaves you short - there are times when it doesn't make sense and we fight against it. That's because biology isn't the only thing going on, so seeking answers within biology will always leave you short. God created this world and everything/everyone in it. It is only when we go to God for answers does it start to make sense. God is where love and compassion come from. And it is only through a relationship with God that we will begin to understand more fully what is going on in the world around us. Biology is present and active to be sure, but there's more to it - and the proof is in these instances above. If nature gets her way, that's not a satisfactory answer to us. But when God gets His way, the answer is always good. When the question involves influence that supercedes science, you have to look to the One who supercedes all else for the answer - God.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Failing Again

I was talking with someone recently who has been struggling to get back into a relationship with God. They said they were going to try to start setting aside 10 minutes a day to just stop doing everything else and pray. I encouraged them in this but provided a caveat - don't worry about it if you can't make a full 10 minutes, or if you don't have much to say, or if you miss a day here and there. It's ok - God sees progress, and is happy to have it.

After about 5-6 days, I talked with this person again and said, how's it going? OK was the response. They had done well the first two days and then hadn't prayed at all for the last 3. This person was very bummed out about that and feelings of failure were evident just below the surface. I encouraged again - "God is not disappointed in you." "He's not?" was the answer through sniffles. This person, who was trying to do things for God, felt like a failure because they weren't able to be perfect in it and felt like they never would be able to. They thought God thought less of them for not being a "strong" Christian and not being able to do even this one task.

I explained it like this - God knows our hearts. He knows what your desire is - and it's to get closer to Him. How could that make Him upset? Wanting to do a prayer time and not making it happen isn't a sin. God doesn't look at us and focus on our failures, letting out a big sigh and saying "well, I guess you failed again didn't you?" NO! God's love and grace is boundless, and you trying to get in touch with Him but not doing it perfectly yet makes Him overjoyed that one of His children is trying to draw near to Him. We feel like such a failure sometimes, but God doesn't see us that way. Satan is the accuser. He's the one who says "you can't do it" "you're worthless" "you'll never get it right" "well, you screwed up again." These are not the words of God. The words of God are encouraging and loving - "keep it up" "try again" "I love your efforts" "I love you just the way you are and nothing you do or don't do will change that."

I am reading a book by Jud Wilhite right now called "Eyes Wide Open." This book addresses a lot of the same issues - living a life in full acceptance and realization of God's love and grace. So many people are living with this heavy weight on them, when they don't have to. If this is you, keep in perspective where negative influences come from - they don't come from God. He's happy with progress - He knows the motives of your heart. And NOTHING you do can change the way He feels about you. You are His child.

When I finish "Eyes Wide Open" I'll be publishing a review of it on my blog, so stay tuned for that. I encourage you to purchase this book and read it if this is an area you are struggling in. You're NOT a failure.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Homeless

We had a guest speaker at our church yesterday named Roy Marshall and he runs a local ministry providing food, money, and other needs as he's able to the homeless and needy. Our church has supported him, even as recently as the high school class I teach donating 250 food items to his stock. To give a little backstory about Roy, he also owns a place called The Gym and he splits his time between running the Gym and helping others. He's a great Christian man and he's had a big influence on my life. Almost 5 years ago he spoke at my church and God used his message to change the course of my life. It was a defining moment in my history and that message set me on the path I am on currently. Yesterday was a repeat performance in that God once again used him in a mighty way to affect me and many other people.

Roy's main point is this - why are there millions of dollars worth of buildings and resources in this county (also known as churches) that are not being used but a few hours a week and that the homeless are continually turned away from? Why won't we let them stay in our churches? Why do we send them elsewhere? And no, we do not need to build a homeless shelter - that's just shoving it off on someone else. That's what we're so good at. We send money to organizations, we fund missionaries, we donate food - but we do all this while constantly avoiding ever talking to, or looking at, or touching those around us who are poor and needy. WE never really do anything, but ignore and hope someone else deals with it.

To insert a real story into this - I was a deacon in my church for 3 years recently. We have a fund that people donate money to and it is our job to hear requests for help and give out money and do things to help people. When the year started, the chairman asked who would hold on to the checkbook? Silence. Long silence. NO ONE volunteered. Everyone had excuses. We all donate money to the fund, we all accepted positions as deacons, but no one actually wanted to hold the checkbook and deal with the situations. This went on for MONTHS. It was ridiculous. And I was one of them. I had my own excuses but I can't honestly say I had any right to say no, I just did, and so did everyone else. Pathetic.

Back to Roy's sermon - he reminded us that the poor will always be among us. Why? Because that is the path God has chosen for them to walk, in order to continually give Christians opportunities to live out what they say they believe. So that we can begin to see Jesus in those people. Jesus himself said, whatever you did to the least of these, you have done to Me. Throughout Jesus' life He was despised and rejected - and He still is today - because the least of these in our society represent Jesus to us and we despise, reject and ignore them. Why are we even going to church? If we refuse week after week, month after month to see these people (they're all around us but we don't see them) and reach out to them - why are we wasting our time in church? How could we hear the Gospel over and over and do nothing? James 2 reminds us that those who hear the Word and do nothing are deceiving themselves.

In closing, he said, so what are you going to do? Don't let this message slip away like so many others and the memory fades and old habits set back in. DO SOMETHING - NOW. So, what is my church going to do? I don't know yet, but I have talked to some folks and this has gripped us. I am planning to send out an all-church e-mail with my ideas for short and long-term planning and action to get the ball rolling. Ultimately, I do not hold a position in the church so it will need to be picked up by those who do, but we're going to get things going.

What are you doing to help the homeless and needy who surround you? Are you going to keep refusing to see them and offer them anything other than directions to somewhere else they can get help? If your church doesn't have this one figured out, there needs to be an immediate change in your priorities. If you wonder if there's any validity to this, just examine everything Jesus ever said and see if it lines up.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Quality Time

My relationship with my wife has been missing something for a long time now, but I didn't know what it was - nor did I realize we were missing it. Neither did she. But we both felt something - something wrong. I began sensing an estrangement between us several months ago.
Let me set the landscape for you. I work a full-time job (requires me being away from home roughly 50 hours a week including travel time), I am working on an MDIV part-time (occupies most evenings and some weekend time), and I have other things to do each week too that take up time (paying the bills, mowing the yard) and the hours stack up. My wife works 2-3 days a week, attended a Saturday morning Bible study for a while, and does some things with friends and family even though I can't always go. We have a 9 month old son, whom we both love dearly. I usually get home around 6pm, and I spend a good hour entertaining him until his bedtime while Sarah gets a little breather from watching him all day. Then I study, she busies herself around the house, and sometime later we go to bed around the same time. That's pretty much every week.
We were irritated with each other often - not arguing or getting mad, just irritated. We hardly ever go out on "dates" anymore. The time we have spent together has been in front of the TV. I USED TO think this was good quality time together. It's not. It's time spent with the TV, at the same time as your spouse. It all adds up to the fact that we have slowly grown apart due to lack of real quality time spent together and we never even realized it. We were roommates raising a son.
I had been feeling this for a while, and I tried little things here and there to get closer to her or spend more time together in pieces, but nothing really worked and it didn't catch on as I had hoped. I still hadn't realized what the real problem was. And she wasn't ready yet. I began to pray about it - God, I don't know what needs to happen, but we both need to realize it before things can change - and they NEED TO.
I left my house yesterday morning for work, once again feeling like my wife was disgusted with me and not knowing why. I hate leaving the house like that. I prayed on the way to work again - something needs to change. My wife called me early in the afternoon to say she wanted to talk when I got home this evening. Uh oh. Usually means I've done something wrong.
Once Ross was asleep, we sat down to talk. She told me all about how she doesn't feel close to me anymore and that after a lot of thought she thinks it's because we don't spend any real quality time together anymore. She said she'd always heard about people who get divorced who say, 'we just grew apart' and thinking that was crap, but now she felt like that's where we were, and she didn't want it to lead any further down that path. I agreed. We finally had come to the same conclusion and both felt compelled to do something about it. We spent a lot more time talking and working out our weekly schedules so that at least for now, we are scheduling time together regularly throughout each week. I suggested (since I had just realized the fallacy of this) that our time together never involve TV. She agreed that this was a good idea. We are also going to start going out on dates every other weekend.
I can't tell you what a weight was lifted from both of our hearts last night as we talked and cried and worked it out together. I also realized that I needed to do a better job providing spiritual direction to my wife (and eventually my son), not only as the head of the family, but as someone who is in seminary and is gaining all this info. and not connecting it to her life. I am going to help her in her walk with God going forward too.
This is a very personal matter, but I felt compelled to share it because I fear many young couples, especially who have busy schedules or who are just starting to have kids may be in a similar situation and not yet know it. Last night we recommitted ourselves to this relationship and to actively working on it. It takes work and effort, and it takes QUALITY time - just any old time may not get the job done. It has to be quality, special, the two of you only, time. Don't be one of those couples who "just grew apart."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hell and the Resurrection

Today after the second service, someone actually told me "You just preached one Hell of a sermon." He meant that, but he was partially joking too since my sermon was on Hell. An Easter sermon, on Hell?? Yes, indeed. Here's the abstract from today's sermon. (it will be hard to condense this, but I'll try)

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important thing for every single person on the planet to not only know about, but to see as absolutely necessary and important. Why? Because the resurrection is the only thing standing between us, and an eternity in Hell. A lot of people don't take Hell seriously, but it's a reality, and it's no joke. People are on a path right now in their lives, and it's either a path of turning towards God and asking forgiveness for their sins - this path leads to Heaven; or they're on a path of turning down God and wanting nothing to do with Him, and that path leads to Hell.

What is Hell? Hell is a place of eternal torment for the impenitent (those who choose to be without God). Going by Scriptural descriptions, it is a place of fire, destruction, and is referred to as the outer darkness. A lot of people joke around and say they might be going to Hell but it will be okay since they'll be with their buddies - it will be a party! There is no together in Hell. It's a place of isolation, disintegration, and absolute darkness. You are 100% alone. You can't see or hear anyone or anything, and you are removed from God's presence and thus your soul is ruined and rots for eternity, without any connection to God. The use of fire in the Bible is largely metaphor - but only because they couldn't put into human terms the horrors of Hell, so fire and burning was the closest they could come to describing the eternal torment that's there.

But wait, if Hell is all that, then what about the concept of a loving God? A "loving" God wouldn't create a place that horrible would He? Why would He play favorites and send some people to be punished and not others? Is He really as loving as we think He is?

Well, the Bible says God didn't create Hell for people, but for Satan and his demons. See, they decided they wanted nothing to do with God, so He created a place where He was not - where they would spend eternity. But people have free will and are able to choose what they want to do with their lives too. And for the people who choose to be without God, He has created a place to honor that decision. Hell is simply a place where God is not. The gates of Hell close from the inside. You have shut God out, and in eternity, when He finally separates your soul from all influence from Him, you will just continually rot away in torment - being away from His presence. God doesn't send people to Hell, they choose to go.

Romans 3:10-12 says, "There is no one righteous, not even one...there is no one who seeks God." See, Hell is the place where God's wrath is poured out for all the sins committed throughout time. We all deserve to go to Hell and suffer that wrath. But John 3:17 says that Jesus didn't come to the world to condemn it, but to save it through Him. And 2 Peter 3:9 says that the Lord doesn't wish any should perish but that all would come to repentance and be saved. God has created this place, but He doesn't want you to end up there. That's why He sent Jesus to earth, to die on the cross and be resurrected. Jesus was without sin, innocent. He took all the wrath that God had for us and our sins and He bore it Himself, through extreme suffering and even death. Why? So we wouldn't have to go to Hell. So we could instead spend eternity with Him.

Understanding Hell is necessary for us to understand and know the love of God. Until you know how much He paid, you don't know whether to shake His hand, or fall down at His feet. Jesus spoke more than anyone else about Hell - that's because He knew how big this is.

God didn't create you for Hell. He created you to be with Him forever. But it's your choice, and although it kills Him when you reject Him, whatever your choice is - God will honor it. For eternity.

We have to remember how horrible Hell is, in order to remember how wonderful the Resurrection is.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Your World is Framed by Your Words

I heard Steven Furtick say this in his most recent sermon from the book of James (on iTunes). I don't know about other people, but my voice and my words are VERY impressionable. And I am realizing that is something I need to guard against and watch out for. I'm so impressionable that even hanging around someone with a different accent than me for a couple hours and I start unconsciously beginning to use their accent. I watched a Sunday of Ice Road Truckers on the history channel and I was speaking perfect Canadian English to my wife that evening (without the expletives!). That isn't the real problem, although it points to just how impressionable I am with what I hear and then what I say.

I worked a job a while back with someone who got very angry all the time. Within a month or so, I began to become that way too - getting angry at little things, and angrier than I normally would. But I didn't notice it at first. Eventually after another month or so, it hit me - whoa, what am I doing? Why am I so mad? This isn't me. Or is it? No, it's not. I had picked up on the attitude and the way of reacting to things from hearing it over and over and being around it. It rubbed off on me.

In my current job, the trend is that as soon as there is a hint of something that could be problematic, people rush into worst case scenarios, and we CAN'T do this, we WON'T do that. Also, we get very argumentative in debates and go and go at each other trying to be proven more right. I don't know HOW many days I have been driving home from work, rethinking conversations I partook in during the day, and thinking - why did I say that? Why did I get swept up in that? Why can't I just keep my mouth shut and not participate? Something else I have found myself doing at work is participating in "joking around" about people. Translation - insulting behind their back. I don't like that I do it, just calling it what it is though. All these things are normal in my office. I shouldn't say normal - maybe frequently occurring is better.

And I regret my participation in these things often, but I am so impressionable that when those things are actually happening I rarely recognize it in the moment and pull myself back. I really want to work on this area of my life. Your life is framed by your words, like Pastor Furtick said. You either bring life with your words, or you bring destruction. You either lift up, or tear down. You either spread lies, or truth. You either respect, or disrespect. And very often what is heard in your voice is an outward expression of what's going on in your life. James reminds us how important it is to tame the tongue. In 3:5-6 he says, "Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of one's life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell."

Master Po said, "The greatest warrior is the one who has conquered himself." I want to be a great warrior, so to speak. I want to be a great influence on those around me. In order to do that, I HAVE to get control over myself and what I say, or don't say. I want to choose to only speak when my words will bring life and wisdom into a situation, not destruction and lies and rash, desperate thoughts.

I have tried having my headphones on more often, but I think this is the wrong tactic. It only avoids the conversational realm. I must be in it in order to master it. How well are you in control of your tongue? If your world is framed by your words, what type of world are you building around you?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Making Faith Complete

Here's the abstract for my sermon tomorrow. There are two types of Christians in the world: those who are living out amazing and abundant lives, and those who aren't. Why the difference? It is a matter of faith - but not in the amount. Jesus said even the smallest amount would be sufficient to move a mountain with. So, what's the deal? First, James 1:22 says, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceives yourselves. Do what it says."
If you hear the Word preached or read the Bible and you don't do what it says - you're fooling yourself thinking that that's a great way to get through life. It's not. Matthew 6:33 says "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness." First and foremost, put God in charge of your life. Then, submit to that Lordship and do what He says (that's the stuff in the Bible). If you don't do this, you can be a saved Christian, but your life won't be that amazing and abundant one Christ intended that you have.
WHY? James 2:14-22, "What good is it...if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them?....You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did."
The idea here is that there was a kind of completion that Abraham's faith had similar to something being fully developed, or matured. So, YOUR FAITH IS MADE COMPLETE BY WHAT YOU DO. This is the main point. Many Christians are living lives of incomplete, or not fully developed faith. Why? Because they are deceiving themselves and not doing what the Word says they ought to be doing.
Mark Batterson wrote a great book called "Wild Goose Chase." I highly recommend it. Here are a couple quotes from that book that apply to this situation. "Jesus didn't die on the cross to keep us safe - He died to make us dangerous." "It's time we started playing offense with our lives." "The world doesn't need more people playing it safe all the way through life to death. It needs daring people with daring plans, in pursuit of the passions God has placed in their hearts." "Getting where God wants me to go isn't nearly as important as becoming who God wants me to be."
When people find out they're terminally ill, they immediately change disposition and begin spending time with family, donating money, traveling - they live as if they don't have much time left. They realize how much they've squandered the previous part of their lives. Do yourself a favor - let me give you a diagnosis that will change your perspective. Here it is: You don't have long to live. No one knows when they will die - so you really might not have that much time. Regardless, isn't it time you began pouring your time and energy into the things you are passionate about instead of wasting most of your life on things you "have" to do that don't inspire you or impact anyone else?
My paraphrase of James 3:13 - "You want to know who has it figured out? It's the people living our their faith through their deeds." What you do with your life will show whether or not your faith has been made complete.

Final thought from Curry Blake - "If your gospel isn't touching others, it hasn't touched you."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Buried somewhere inside...

I have a lot of creativity buried inside me I think. I have moments of wild passion and my heart strains out of my chest to follow after something that has inspired me to write or photograph. But most of the time it's somehow overlooked, neglected, and forgotten. How do I tap into it more often? Sometimes I want to write so much and nothing comes out. I feel it, but I don't end up thinking it. Same with photography - mostly due to not having a camera handy and especially just not feeling like I have time. So many other things I HAVE to do. Well, I'm taking off from school this summer and I'm going to try to make time - really concentrate on drawing out my inner, hidden, creative self. I know it's in there, and I'm sad when I have moments of realizing it's inside and not out and active, and I can't just make it so on the spot. I think I just need to make time. I also think I need to take more thoughts down in note form. I re-introduced myself to my moleskine today. The world doesn't need more people who put their energy into doing what they HAVE to do. It needs more people who are willing to realize there are passions inside them that need to be drawn out and pursued with great ambition.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Be a Real Man

The older I get, the more I realize how backwards my views on being a man were when I was younger. I used to think being a man meant being physically strong, knowing how to do everything, not taking crap from anyone, and having lots of people respect you.

Then I got married. And I realized that trying to gain those things meant that when I always had to be right, it hurt my wife's feelings. And that not taking any crap meant being a jerk. And showing off and spouting off to get people's respect actually took it away. I have talked in length with my friend Kevin about how glad we are that we're getting older - because it means we're further away from the young idiots we used to be. It's the process though. It's called maturing, and if you're a man you need to do it. Being a real man is about inner strength, taking responsibility, leading humbly but courageously, and following God.

Then I had a son. Now everything I do is up for potential adoption by my son as he grows up. Suddenly I want him to be different than I currently am. I don't want him to have problems with anger like I do. I don't want him to waste his time watching TV and playing video games. I want him to be passionate and bold about his beliefs. And I realize that these are all the things I wish I was, but am not.

So, what to do? What to do is to stop going on being the man I don't want to be, and start becoming the man I do want to be, and the man I want my son to grow up wanting to be like. It's time for us men to start living the life of the strong Christian we're supposed to. Stand up against injustice, give generously, lead humbly and wisely, get your strength and wisdom from God, respect, honor and cherish your wife, and for the sake of their future and yours, spend lots of time with your kids - loving them and affirming them. Watch what you say. Leave your pride behind and live for others for a change. It's time that being a man meant something more than sitting around being bossy and watching football. Stop being a control freak, stop micromanaging, start encouraging. Start being a real man. It's time for us to get off our butts and start working hard - for God, and for our families, and for others. And get in shape so you CAN work hard. Stop living for yourself like some selfish little kid - shut up about how great you are and prove it. Prove you're great by not trying to be. Help raise your kids, love your wife, lead your family financially, spiritually, and morally. Be a man of integrity in your job - don't squeeze out extra minutes if you're hourly, and if you're salary, don't use that as an excuse to not put the hours in. Are you spending time with other men, sharpening one another as iron sharpens iron?

The world needs you. Your family needs you. The people around you need you. When they look to you for leadership and integrity, will you stand tall as a real man? Or will you not be up to the challenge. Start now. I am. Get involved.

What Have You Done This Week?

That mattered. For eternity. Listened to a great sermon this morning by Francis Chan on "Living a Life that Matters." He used a great visual illustration on how important this is. He uncoiled a rope that was maybe 100' long. On one end was a little red tape wrapped around maybe 3 inches of it. He said, this red part - this is your life here on earth. And all the rest that comes after it, this other 97 feet and 9 inches is eternity (if you imagine the rope going on forever). This time we have is so small, yet so significant. What we choose to do with the time in the red part determines what we will be doing for all the rest of time. Either we choose God, or we choose not God, and we spend eternity with Him, or not with Him (hell, in agony from the absence of God's presence).

He asked two questions at the end of the sermon. First, "what have you done this past week that matters in light of eternity?" And second, "what have you done this past week that will not be remembered in eternity?"

Thankfully, I was able to recall things done that have mattered - maybe this was a good week for me. But there were a LOT more things that were on the list of things I've done that won't matter in the end. All the TV I've wasted time watching comes to mind.

What have you done this week that really matters in light of eternity? What will you start doing? What will you stop doing? When will you stop saying, "I'm going to" and start saying "I am" or "I will." There will be a day when all who stand before Jesus have to account for the way they chose to spend their life. Make that day a day He is proud of you. Live a life that matters.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Choice is Simple

The more I study in depth the Sermon on the Mount, the more I become convinced that there is a very simple point that Jesus keeps bringing you back to. In everything, you're either choosing God, or you're choosing yourself. When he talks about not being like the hypocrites who draw attention to themselves when fasting and giving to the poor - they're doing that for their own benefit and those things are supposed to be for the benefit of God and others. They're choosing themselves, not God. He also says, you can only serve one master - you cannot serve both God and money. What'll it be - God, or your own greed?

The more I thought about it, there really is only those two choices in just about every aspect of life, no matter who you are. The main difference between Christians and non-Christians? One has chosen God, the other has not. There are lots of ways to argue around this that I'm sure many people can come up with, but reading through chapter 6 of Matthew, it seems Jesus is trying to draw out this point - you have a choice, and there's only two options. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Monday, March 16, 2009

An Empowering Statement on Faith

My cousin, Paul, posted on his blog this evening one of the most interesting and insightful ideas that I have read in a while. It deals with the way Jesus used His faith, and it directly correlates with how we are using ours. It's very thought-provoking and I highly recommend reading it - you can read the entire thing in a few minutes. You can read it HERE.

Great stuff!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Grinding out the Sermon

The Sermon on the Mount, that is. I am co-teaching a high school class at my church on Sundays and we have been studying the Sermon on the Mount since oh, about early December. We're about halfway. I think I once taught Revelation in a shorter time frame than this. But I was younger then... Anyway, it has been really great. Our class is comprised of various age high school students, military academy students, and one young man who is an atheist. There is nothing better for young folks to hear about and to be challenged with than the way Jesus told Christians to live life. The Sermon on the Mount was counter-cultural when it was first given and it is just as counter-cultural today. And that causes a lot of questions.

Questions are great though - I wish more churches did like Erwin McManus does at Mosaic where he incorporates a question and answer time at the end of some of his sermons. People have questions, we need to let them ask them, and do our best to answer. I realized this recently. We (the teachers) dictate what few verses we will study each week, and it's all focused around that narrow topic. We usually end 10-15 minutes before our hour is up so we are using that time now to allow any and all questions that the students may have. Of course, when you allow teenagers to ask "any" question, you don't get easy ones like 'what's the book right after Acts called?' No, we get more of this type - "Why does God always get credit for the good stuff that happens but not the bad stuff He allows too?" "Why do you need God to get through life?" "What is your definition of adultery?"

But this is one of the most important things we can do I think - allow them to ask questions and do our best to answer them. They have the questions in their minds, whether you allow them to ask or not, so wouldn't you rather let people ask and get them closer to figuring things out? I would. We get a lot of questions during class too that point to the problem mainstream Christianity has today. Jesus says, you can't serve both God and Money. Hand goes up - "Don't lots of Christians today do both?" YES! And that's the point! Even among the Christians, these ideas from the Sermon on the Mount are counter-cultural. Hardly anyone actually does them. If they did, Christianity would have quite a different reputation. Is it any wonder that Jesus refers to many of the bad examples as hypocrites, and Christians today are believed to be many things by non-Christians, and one of the main things is hypocritical? It's no surprise. The hypocrites back then were the Jewish leaders. The hypocrites today are many of the Christians still.

The entire Bible is worth studying in depth and reading over and over. It's a work that must be taken as a whole. But if you just want to start living the way a Christian is supposed to - OR if you want to know what those people you know who say they are Christians are supposed to believe and act like - just read the three chapters of the Sermon on the Mount - Matthew 5 - 7. That will get you started. After Jesus finished preaching that, the people "were amazed." If you want some amazing guidance for your life, read the Sermon. It's life changing!

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Listening to an old sermon series from Elevation Church today (from last summer). It was entitled One and involved some prominent pastors from around the country preaching to many (over a thousand) churches about their ideas on if they got one prayer, it would be ______. Craig Groeschel preached to Elevation the second week and it was pretty awesome stuff on the idea of the Church becoming One. It's something I've been passionate about for a while now - ideas like how denominationalism has been so divisive and how critical we are of each other instead of working together, etc. This was his final thought:

"When the world stops hearing about Jesus and actually sees Him through the Church, they won't be able to say No to Him. What would happen if we the Church across the world united and took all the resources that God has given us and we became one? What do you think God could do through us this week if we became one? Here's what God could do: By Monday - starvation around the world could be eliminated; by Tuesday - every person could have access to clean drinking water; by Wednesday- everyone with a medical need could receive proper medical attention; by Thursday - poverty could be completely irradicated; by Friday - every orphan with a need could receive adequate attention; by Saturday - the whole world could not only know the name of Jesus but they could see Him, if we became one; and on Sunday we would worship like we've never worshipped before, because the world would know the glory and the power and the love of Jesus through His people. That's why if I had one prayer to pray, it would be "Father in Heaven, make us One."

This is my prayer too.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Peculiar People

Listening to Purple People Leader series on iTunes this morning, by Steven Furtick of Elevation Church. Great message! My favorite quote from the first sermon - "Stop trying to fit in and stand out for the glory of God!" Cool is not what we try to do to be like them. Cool is what we do that is different - fidelity, not getting drunk, telling the truth, living with integrity. Start being exceptional! He's rocking this sermon series in a big way! I'm pumped up. "You're not an abnormal person living in a normal world, you're a normal person living in an abnormal world."

I am trying a new multi-media experience this morning too, which I am really liking. I have iTunes on, listening to his sermon, but I also have some KJ-52 on in the background on Windows media player, playing at the same time but at a little lower volume. It sets his whole sermon to a rocking soundtrack and I love it!! It's really neat to see how the music changes and how that influences how you "read" what he's saying. I'm going to be doing this with a lot of people/soundtrack mixes in the future. I am a big fan of multi-tasking. So, this morning, I'm working, listening to a sermon, and music all at the same time (while drinking coffee! - OH!!!).

Work as for the Lord, and not for men.

Here's the link to his sermon - http://www.elevationchurch.org/mediaPlayer.php?sermon=158

Monday, February 23, 2009

Keepin it Real

I love the internet! It has been such a good friend to me over the last few years. It has helped me get jobs, informed me on tons of stuff, showed me the upcoming weather, and allowed for many a game to be played during boring times. But it has also been an interactive network of people who are inspiring me and influencing my life in a big way. I download sermons through iTunes and listen to them while driving or while at work. I read tons of blogs - thank you Google Reader! I check out church websites, and other websites that have helped to really get me thinking. I also read tons of books. Ok, not as many as some people I know, but more than the average bear. I finished three books last week!

And it was in one of those books - "it" by Craig Groeschel - that I was reminded of something very important. I need to make sure I am worshipping God, and not the things written about God. It was something Craig said he had gotten caught up in one time. He was reading everything he could get his hands on about churches and worship, and leadership - but in the meantime he hadn't been spending significant time with God, and it hurt his ministry. I too fall into this temptation. How tricky is that? Reading books about God (when done in excess) can lead us away from Him. The truth is, you'll never get more benefit than having that personal relationship with God. And that means spending significant time with Him, and in His Word, every day. Books and the internet are certainly good tools, but all things in moderation.

Don't forget to keep it real by staying in the real world and worshipping the real God.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New Video Tool - Animoto

One of my friends showed me this the other day and I loved it. This is a video of Ross's first 7 months. The song choice isn't an exact fit, but I still liked it. Enjoy!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Prophetic Words from the Past

I just finished reading God in the Wasteland by David F. Wells. I had to read it for class, and I cruised the entire thing this afternoon/evening. The book mainly deals with the church's struggle with modernity, but towards the end there was a few ideas that really stuck out to me. Here is what he said:

"...a church that can find in the midst of our present cultural breakdown the opportunity to be God's people in a world that has abandoned God. To be the church in this way, it is also going to have to find in the coming generation leaders who exemplify this hope for its future and who will devote themselves to seeing it realized.... They will have to rise above the internal politics of the evangelical world and refuse to accept the status quo where that no longer serves the vital interests of the kingdom of God. They will have to decline to spend themselves in the building of their own private kingdoms and refuse to be intimidated into giving the church less and other than what it needs. Instead, they will have to begin to build fresh, in cogently biblical ways, among the decaying structures that now clutter the evangelical landscape. To succeed, they will have to be people of large vision, people of courage, people who have learned again what it means to live by the Word of God, and, most importantly, what it means to live before theholy God of that Word. These leaders must successfully accomplish two major projects. First, the church is going to have to learn how to detect worldliness and make a clear decision to be weaned from it.... Second, the church is going to have to get much more serious about itself, cease trying to be a supermarket serving the needs of religious consumers, and become instead a force of countercultural spirituality that draws from the interconnected lives of its members and is expressed through their love, service, worship, understanding, and proclamation."

Now, the most interesting thing about all that is that he wrote it back in 1994 - 15 years ago. That's why I believe it was in some ways prophetic. From my perspective, these things are coming to pass. There is a new generation of leader being established that is doing things differently - better. The past is the past, and I'm not saying there was anything wrong with the way things were done. But continuing to do the same thing in the future is just poor logic and a lack of wisdom. The things he wrote about back then are happening now. If you don't see that, take a look around at the many failing and dying churches that were started within the last 50 years. Then, if you want to see what the new era looks like - go visit the websites I list under "My Influences" on the right side of this page. You will find that these guys are doing things in a new way - but they have reclaimed a tight grip on the Word of God and are letting it determine their worldview once again.

When you look around the landscape of Christianity in America - what do you see?

I have the song "God of this City" stuck in my head tonight...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Fatherhood Fraternity

One of the coolest parts of being a dad is talking with other dads about being dads. I just recently caught back up with a friend from college and we were both discussing how great fatherhood is and how cool it is that we both were. I have another friend from where I vacation who posted a video on his blog of him tickling his daughter, and it was almost the same thing I do with Ross. It was great! There are a couple guys at work with older kids, so it's nice to talk to them sometimes and they let me know that the current crisis I am facing will be shortlived, or not nearly as bad as so and so that will happen later.

There's always been the brotherhood of men, and I greatly enjoy sharing stories of feats of strength, hunting and fishing, and other things that only guys find entertaining (like how I lost part of my big toenail). But there's another fraternity within all men that is comprised of those of us now raising little men and women. For those of you who aren't yet fathers, I can only say that it's like nothing you can imagine. It's both the most challenging and rewarding thing you'll ever do. And once you are one, you won't be able to ever imagine what life was like before and you wouldn't have it any other way than now.

And from my wife's experiences and discussions with her friends, I know there's a sisterhood of mothers out there too. When you think about it, it's what life is all about. Finding groups to belong to, sharing common ideas and interests, and supporting those in your group. This idea encompasses all realms of society from biker gangs, to the Ruritans, to well, hopefully, local churches. It's called community. And it is integral to making it through life. We all need people around us and we all need support and friendship. As Seth Godin says in his book Tribes, people tend to break out into groups of similarities. My current one happens to be fatherhood.

Take some time and think about what communities and tribes you are in right now and what those mean to you. Jim Kallam Jr. wrote a book several years back that is one of my absolute favorite books about how churches should be, called Risking Church. If you want to learn more about why community is important in the church and how to begin cultivating a good one, this is a must read. Without God, and without each other - we will struggle horribly with life. But with God, and with a supportive community around us, we will, as Jim says, "struggle well with life."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wisdom from Willard

Dallas Willard wrote a great book a while back that I read for school called "The Spirit of the Disciplines." I am currently listening to him on mogulus.com/monvee. He just said something really profound. He said (in effect) "no Christian should spend any amount of time worrying about the longevity of any local church." John Ortberg, who was interviewing him, asked him to repeat it just to make sure everyone got that. He said, Jesus Christ is building His Church, so we shouldn't waste time worrying about whether it will last or not - it will, and Jesus has it under control.

This struck me as so insightful. SO MANY PEOPLE are focused on their local church and whether or not it is growing, how it's doing financially, etc. That is not really what we're supposed to be focused on. We're supposed to be focused on being Jesus to the world - meeting the needs of those outside the church, reaching out, spreading the good news of the Gospel. When it all comes down to it, the longevity of any given church should have nothing to do with those other things. We should always be doing those things and spending our time thinking about them. Jesus is taking care of the Church.

Now, this is not to say that the Church isn't vital and important - it absolutely is. It was set up by Jesus, it is the bride of Christ, it is His Body. But it is not contained in a congregation or a building or a name. It is all of us, every Christian man and woman living and being that Body and working out the Gospel message in our lives and making a positive difference in the lives around us. That's what matters. We do that in part THROUGH the various functions of a church, but there is a distinction here that bears thinking about. Are we putting our time and energy in the right places? Are we letting God be in charge enough? Are we fighting the right battles - the ones that make an eternal difference?

Essentially his main message today is that we need to live out a radical trust in God. Don't worry about results, don't worry about anything really - trust it all to God. Let Him account for the numbers or whatever. It's about living deeply. It's about trusting deeply, and the freedom that comes along with it.