Past Exhilaration

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Roller Coaster

I can still remember the day that I got through the fear. I remember it well. I was in the eighth grade and my parents took me and my brother to Disney World. The drive to get there from our home just outside of Washington DC seemed like it took forever, which is one of the things that helped me get over my fear. I told myself, “I’m not traveling all the way down to Disney World and not riding these awesome roller coasters everyone’s talking about, just because I’m afraid!”

So, there I was standing with my brother outside of the coaster I heard about the most: Space Mountain.

After the ride was over I realized a couple of things: one, I was still alive, and second, that was actually exhilarating! Like, I want to ride that again! I think we rode that crazy roller coaster eight times strait!

This opened the world of roller coasters to me. That summer when we went as a family to a theme park close to our home I was riding everything they had. And, I’ve never stopped. When my daughter was six years old, I had her on every adult ride she was tall enough to climb on; and she loved it too.

But, I realized something after years of riding the same rides that used to be so exciting to me. After riding a roller coaster 50 times, it loses much of it’s exhilaration. It’s just not as exciting anymore.

You know, so many people walk into churches and they’re looking for something. And they should be! Everyone who walks into a church is looking for what they’re looking for. What I mean is they know what kind of music they like, and what they don’t, what kind of church “feel” they like, and what they don’t, what kind of preaching they like…You get the point.

When they come into church and it’s what they like, it’s exhilarating. I often have conversations with folks about that. They’ll say, “the worship is fantastic,” “the sermons are just what I need” or “the people are so friendly I feel like I’m at home.” Just so you know, to be a pastor and hear these things is definitely a win!

Inevitably, however, after a while the church can become like my experience with roller coasters. What was once so exhilarating is now, because of familiarity, no longer that big of a deal. And, it becomes easy to drift. What happens? The same thing with so many Christians in America. They stay for a while at a church, it loses it’s exhilaration, then off to the next. So many American Christians are bouncing from church to church because the excitement and newness wears off after while.

What’s the answer?

1. Remember what church is really all about.

If you’re looking for a church you should find one that makes you glad you were there. There’s nothing worse than boring church. As a matter of fact, it a tragedy when worship of our great God and His Word are made boring—because there’s nothing boring about them!

But, church is not about being excited all the time. It’s actually about Jesus and following Him. If you didn’t know this, following Him is not always easy and He never promised it would be.

2. Remember that Jesus brought you to His church on purpose. 

You are a part of the whole and that matters more than you may know. Paul uses the metaphor of a “body” for the local church. And a great metaphor it is. A body only functions correctly when all it’s parts are in place and healthy.

Paul Tripp explains it this way:

Autonomous Christianity never works, because our spiritual life was designed by God to be a community project.

It’s good that you loved what you saw and experienced when you first went to your church but make sure your love for Jesus and understanding why He calls the church together become important to you too. Then, you’ll become a part of the church’s mission:

Reach people with the Gospel—make disciples—change the world.

Let me tell you, there’s nothing more exhilarating than being a part of the church that way!

3. Church doesn’t exist for Christian consumption.

If Christians are always just looking to be exhilarated, the work of the church will actually never be done. And, that work is the only thing going on in this world that’s actually of eternal importance. That’s pretty important.

Thom Rainer states this very well in his book I Am A Church Member.

Rainer states that Jesus,

placed us in churches to serve, to care for others, to pray for leaders, to learn, to teach, to give, and, in some cases, to die for the sake of the Gospel.

In other words, Christ brought us together for so much more than a fleeting feeling of exhilaration.

If you’ve spent any amount of time in church, I’m sure it’s been for you like roller coasters became for me when I was a teenager—exhilarating at first but not so much with more familiarity. Just know, that for you to see the church as more than that, is incredibly important. It won’t always be so exhilarating, the sermon won’t always be exactly what you want to hear, and the song choice won’t always be the one you like the most.

But, the purpose and eternal impact of the church will never be less than Jesus gave His life for it to be. And that’s a huge calling, purpose and impact that needs to include you.

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The Myth of Prosperity – And why it won’t make our nation great again.

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Prosperity

Many of the candidates throwing their hat in the ring to be the next president of the United States are speaking much about helping our nation return to something she was in the past. Just so you know, I understand what they’re saying. Everything in our nation seems in flux these days. Many are asking questions like; how did things get this way? Why is it that our nation seems so different? What happen to patriotism?

There are a lot of opinions and even more questions as to why things are the way they are. Let me share, though, what won’t bring our nation back to what it was:

Prosperity.

I completely understand the confusion, however. So many think that prosperity is what made our country great and many, many immigrants came to this nation looking for that prosperity. What the immigrants had, however, was much greater than prosperity. (More on that in a minute).

Unfortunately, the confusion continues even in and through the American church. So many look at the church as a gateway to prosperity and look at God as someone who exists to give us more and more. Megachurch pastors seem to be competing against each other to see who can build the biggest multi-million dollar mansion and who can buy their own private jet. It’s pretty bad when CNN has to tell people who Jesus was and what He taught. (See Video below).

Now, we have Donald Trump throwing in his candidacy for president, full of boasting of his own prosperity. The Donald rolls out his campaign plan by boasting his eight plus billion dollar net worth. His goal is seemingly to lead us back to prosperity. He has no hope of doing that by the way.

The problem is that the search for prosperity and our finding sufficiency in it is fleeting.

Here’s the truth: prosperity is not what made our country great. That which made our country great is what made us prosperous.

We’re not the first nation in the world to place false hopes in prosperity. It’s happened many, many times before. You can see it all through history in the story of many nations like the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, and yes, even in God’s own nation of people, Israel.

Through the prophet Isaiah, God told Israel what their prosperity was actually getting them–nothing. Actually, it was less than nothing. Because they “did not look to the One who [gave] it,” Israel ultimately lost it. And that’s why America is losing it too. It is today just as it was then, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (See Isaiah 22:8-14)

That’s why James’ words are recorded in the New Testament:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. (James 5:1–2)

Because prosperity does not deliver greatness!

As long as we think prosperity is what makes men great, we’ll continue to choke on it.

Will God allow our prosperity to fail? Has He? The answer is yes! Why? So we will return to the things that truly made our nation great. He knows as long as we’re enamored with stuff we won’t be seeking Him and He is gracious enough to let those things fade so we will look up again.

You see, it wasn’t prosperity that made the immigrant come to the United States. It wasn’t prosperity that made him leave his home and family in search of something better. It was hope.

Hope is why many an immigrant came to the shores of the U.S. Hope is why so many men and woman in history have looked up from adversity and found the strength to continue. They found the ability to put one foot in front of the other to work, fight, climb, and struggle to make it; to even be great. It was hope! That’s why the psalmist so long ago wrote:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:11 Emphasis mine)

Will prosperity make our nation great again? No. Is it evan possible for our nation to be great again? Maybe not. But this I know, if we ever decide to return to what made our country great in the first place, things like faith, hope, and love; only then will we ever see greatness. Only then will we again be a place where people will want to come for a better life.

Hope in God!

(Start at 39:56 to see Trump share his net worth)

The “Amazing” of grace – My personal thanks

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The Amazing of Grace.001

Have you ever struggled to say thank you? I don’t mean struggled as in the inability to say “thank you,” but struggled in how to go about saying thank you? Struggled to find a way that is adequate? I find myself in that place. (I don’t know who all I need to thank but want to reach everyone in some way. And, I don’t want to post an annoyingly long Facebook post. You’re welcome for that).

So, here’s how I want to attempt to say thank you properly:

I’ve been so pleasantly and unexpectedly reminded of grace and why grace is so amazing.

When John Newton wrote his famous hymn he was definitely right about something, grace is amazing. What makes grace so amazing? It’s amazing because it can’t be earned or expected. Grace is a gift that comes when you’re not looking. Grace lifts your spirits even when you didn’t know you were down. Grace is salve to places you didn’t know were burning. Grace is, in a word, amazing.

As a pastor I speak much about grace, specifically God’s grace, and spend much time trying to deliberately extend and give grace. But, sometimes I can forget how much of a recipient of grace I actually am.

So often, I see the struggle; so often I am confronted with hatred, betrayal, struggle, abandonment and it can become easy, though I constantly preach grace to forget to “see” grace. God’s grace is always at work in my life through Him directly and through others who extend it. To make sure I remember that, every now and then God gives me reminders as He did so well this past weekend through you.

So, here’s my “thank you” to those who were such a blessing to me and my family this weekend. What you did was an incredible act of grace during a time of trial. I know that our personal trial was something that all of you encounter in your lives too. I also know that you were not obligated in any way to bless us as you did. Yet, you were an incredible blessing to us, it was completely unexpected and we are overwhelmed.

In doing so you reminded me again of how God’s grace works. Unmerited, unexpected and extended purely out of love.

You have reminded us of your love for us; you have been a picture of God’s unfailing love for us; and, you have reminded us of God’s amazing grace toward us. Thank you!

I leave you with one of my favorite New Testament verses:

“For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother(s) [and sisters], because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” (Philemon 7)

Thank you!

Faithful when faithfulness gets difficult

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Walking-Away Have you ever noticed that the longer you are a Christian, connected and involved in a church, the more seasons you see of difficulty? I’m speaking about the relational, spiritual and emotional challenges that cause some people to walk away from fellowship and seek it somewhere else. Often even seeking it in community outside of the church.

I find myself often talking to new and growing believers and almost warning them. I warn them because I know that what is now so fresh and so potent in their life, their new life in Christ and the unbelievably liberating joy it brings, is a feeling that they will not always have. Eventually, to continue in Christ and in fellowship with the local church in which He places us becomes difficult. There will always be seasons of that. Why does it become difficult? Because we know in our world that anything worth doing will be difficult or bring difficulties. If that is true, and it is, how much more true will that be for eternal things? So, we agree that difficulty will come. As a matter of fact, we’re promised that difficulties will come. (John 16:33)

But, here’s the question: How can I stay faithful when faithfulness gets difficult?

1.  Remember truth is not about how I feel. It’s about who God is.

On of the biggest stumbling blocks that keep Christians from continuing in what and where we’ve been called is self. In our culture of self, feelings rule. The problem is feelings so often take us away from the truth. That’s why Paul wrote Philippians 4:6-8. You’d better believe that he struggled from time to time with his feelings. But, he never let them rule his thinking. “Whatever things are true…”

2.  Keep Jesus as the greatest authority in my life.

The necessity of Jesus’ authority in life will always bring us to this question: who am I trying to please? The answer to this question will (or should) determine much, if not all, of what I do and why I do it.

This won’t be easy, however. There are times that Jesus will ask us to do things the we don’t want to do. Remember, He’s taking us away from self and toward him. We need to recognize that when He asks us to do things we don’t want to do, it’s not a curse, it’s an unbelievable act of grace!

3.  Recognize the spiritual battle.

The spiritual battle gets people off the path and out of the fellowship of faith quicker than anything. Satan wants to divide, and he’s good at it! He’s been practicing for millennia. That means that the major temptation you have to walk away may very well be straight from the playbook of the evil one.

This is why it’s paramount that when Christians have relational problems with others in the church, they go to that person, or people, and seek resolution. That’s what Jesus is asking the people of His church to do.

4.  Resist the devil and draw near to God.

This is the only response to spiritual struggle that will keep you on the path on which Christ is leading you. And, by the way, He is leading you into His church and to continue faithfully. (Jesus leads everyone that’s following him to the same place: the church, local, active and faithful. And also to the cross. But, that’s a different blog post.)

We are not told anywhere in Scripture to fight the devil. We are told to straight up run! He’s powerful and he’s a jerk. But, when we resist him the promise is that we can drawn near to God who will ultimately keep us where He wants us. (James 4:7)

5.  Pray – ask for help and strength.

Jesus connected prayer to both watching and waiting. Prayer keeps your focus right and that focus must always be the One you call Lord and Savior. Only then will you and I be able to stay faithful when faithfulness becomes difficult.

So, if your currently in community within a church and you’re struggling to stay faithful. Remember, God led you there for a reason, and He didn’t do that on a whim. Remember also that community takes patients, forgiveness and even a little work. But, because of the Gospel it is worth it! Remember, anything worth doing will be difficult.

 Stay faithful, He’s worth it!

He’s making me new?

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New?

It’s imperative for the believer to know what Jesus is actually intentionally doing in his or her life. Unfortunately, so many people who believe in Jesus for salvation don’t understand the work He intends to do. And it is much more than simply getting you and I to heaven.

So, what is it that Jesus intends for your life? In in a word: new.

I have met many people, whom after they become believers memorized 2 Corinthians 5:17. You may be able to quote that verse right off the top of your head now. Its a great verse.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

But what did Paul mean by “new.” This, I believe, is where many Christians miss what Jesus desires to do in a life that knows Him as Savior.

What is the opposite of new? Well, old, of course.

Did you know that Jesus didn’t make you new so that you, then, in Him might become old. Now, of course I’m not talking about age. We’re all going to grow old unless God is gracious enough to take us out of this world before we do. But, “old” in Christ is not found anywhere in the New Testament and is definitely not the goal. We’re always “new” in Him.

Jesus did not save us into a religion that becomes old. 

He saved us into a life with him that is constantly becoming new. He didn’t call you into life with Him to be new once, in the past. He called you into life that is constantly being made new.

That’s a great goal to live!

Here’s why I say this. As Paul talks about what Christ, through His Word and Spirit, is doing in the Christian’s life, he speaks of it in a progressive manner.

You and I are a work in progress.

Earlier in the epistle of 2 Corinthians Paul speaks of Christ’s work in us as being “from one degree of glory to another” or “from glory into glory.” (2 Cor. 3:18)

This is a process that is to occur in us from the day we meet Christ by faith until the day we meet Him face to face. That being true, there should never be a time in a Christian’s life that he or she seeks to stay the same. Change is good. Change is necessary. Change is Christianity.

How do I know I’m growing and changing in Christ the way He wants me to?

  1. When I no longer live my life trying to reclaim the past or afraid of the future. 

In Christ, the future is always bright!

  1. When I do look to the past, I always see that I’m different than I was. 

If you look to the past and see something you’d rather be today, you’re going in the wrong direction.

  1. When I’m committed to becoming more like Christ as a part of my every day life. 

That includes personal Bible reading and prayer as well as a committed connection to the local church where disciples are made.

  1. When I begin to think more and more like Christ. 

This is a goal that has a very large scope in meaning. How do I know I think like Jesus? I’m sure He has a lot on his mind! But, here’s a few goals that are worth while:

  1. Humility – I mean a humility that puts others above myself. And, not just others but others who may actually want to do me harm. That’s what Jesus did when He came to earth and went to the cross. He put everyone else’s life and needs above his own. Those for whose sin He died and even those who killed him.
  2. Jesus straight up dealt with sin. He didn’t hide from it, pretend it didn’t happen or overlook it. He paid for it.
  3. Jesus had a priority to reach, with His Gospel, those who did not yet know God.
  4. Jesus developed a community around Him that majored in unity.
  5. Jesus displayed and called people to the greatest aspect of God’s work and character ever, forgiveness.

Did you know that Jesus has called you into a life of new? And you and I haven’t arrived yet. Not even close. But, you and I are His workmanship and He’s constantly changing us from the inside out, making us new. Or, at least, that is His supreme desire for you.

A Wish and a Prayer

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wishful-thinking

There is a great difference between a wish and a prayer. It’s very possible that what Christians so often do is offer “wishes” to God instead of praying in hope. So, let me say again, there’s a huge difference between praying and wishful thinking.

This topic really takes us to the big struggle of prayer. Why does God, at times, seemingly not answer and why is the answer sometimes just “no?” If you don’t struggle a little bit with this question you probably don’t have much of a prayer life. If you’re praying as a lifestyle, you will eventually run into the difficulty of not understanding why God is doing or allowing what He is or why He doesn’t seem to want to do what you’re asking.

So, here’s the question: is what I’m doing praying in hope or just wishful thinking? There’s a big difference in praying “wishes” to God and praying in hope.

To understand this difference in prayer, I must first demonstrate the difference between these two things: a wish and a hope.

Henry Cloud tells a story of a conversation he had with a woman who was frustrated with the relationship she was in. She had boyfriend and their relationship had been serious for some time, even to the point of talking about marriage. But, the longer their relationship went on he seemed to have less and less time for her. She felt that she was very low on his list of priorities. Out of frustration she broke up with him. After some “time off” she called him back to talk about rekindling the relationship because she missed him. When they were together, they enjoyed each other’s company. But, the problem was, he just didn’t seem to have time for her even when she gave him a second chance.

As she was trying to figure out whether or not to continue in the relationship she ask for some guidance. “Should I continue with this relationship?” was her question. The answer to her was that it dependent upon if there was hope or not. She said that she hoped it would work out. The problem was that it was not really hope at all, it was just a wish. She had all the objective evidence that clearly showed that he would not treat her as a priority, ever.

A wish is subjective, hope is objective.

Cloud’s summation of the story was this: “Remember that hope means investing time and energy toward results that you have solid reason to believe can be achieved. It is not hope to invest time and energy in a goal that has no forces acting upon it to bring it about.” That’s just a wish! (Henry Cloud. 9 Things You Simply Must Do. 63)

To pray for things that God is not even doing is nothing more than a wish.

How, then, do I pray in hope?

Before I can answer that I first must define what hope actually is. Here’s three definitions of hope:

Hope is something known but not yet seen. 

  1. “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” (Romans 8:24)
  2. Peter describes hope as something “living.” Because of who Jesus is, what He’s done and what’s he’s promised to do we have hope that has life to it.

Hope is expecting what is to come because of God’s reliability.

  1. “Faith trusts in God’s promises, while hope expects what is to come. God’s reliability and his promise should foster lively, growing assurance, despite delays and doubts.” (Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. 306)
  2. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
  3. In other words, we have great evidence from the Old Testament account of God’s reliability. He promises and does what He promises. He knows all things, even before they happen. Therefore, we can attach ourselves to Christ’s words all the more: “….your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8)

Hope is solid reason to believe because God is acting on it.

  1. Christian hope is: confidence in the future, consistent trust in Jesus to provide and patient endurance to wait.

I still need to answer the question, though: how do we pray in hope?

It’s impossible to pray in hope if you don’t know what to hope for. Here’s a few questions that may help steer you in the right direction: What does Jesus promise? What is His desire for your life and the lives for whom you’re praying? What does He want to teach you? Are your current circumstances part of His plan for which you hope?

Praying in hope, then, is always praying “forward” (always looking to the future based upon the promises God has made) basing our request on what we know God is doing. That’s how we have true prayer in hope. Our prayer is based upon objective evidence that God is able or working to bring something about. That “something” is that for which we ought to be praying.  This is essentially what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. This is praying in hope.

Day 21 / 21 Days

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Reach_t

Tuesday, March 10

Missions Revival 2015 – 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” Pray once again for our Missions Revival. Pray that it will be well attended and that we’ll have guests at church Saturday and Sunday. Pray for our Faith Promise Offering and that God will give you the heart to give as well. Pray that we will raise the money necessary, not only to continue to support our current missionaries but to have the opportunity to partner with others.

Day 20 / 21 Days

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Parable of the Talents

Monday, March 9

Faith Promise – 2 Corinthians 9:11 “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” Pray that God bless the Faith Promise pledge offering on Sunday morning, March 15. Pray that our church will pledge to give to missions so we can see our reach as a church increase in the world. Pray, also, and ask God what He would have you pledge for Faith Promise.

“Prayer [is] the quiet, persistent living of our life of desire and faith in the presence of our God.”
― Andrew Murray

Day 19 / 21 Days

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Come unto me

Sunday, March 8

The Lost – 1 John 5:12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” Pray for someone specifically who you know, whether family, friend, neighbor or coworker who needs salvation through Jesus Christ.

“The Christian should work as if all depended upon him, and pray as if it all depended upon God.”
― Charles H. Spurgeon

Day 18 / 21 Days

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salvation is here

Saturday, March 7

Our Ministry – 2 Corinthians 5:20 “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Pray that God would use our church to bring people to be reconciled to God. Pray that God would use us at work, at school and in our neighborhoods for His Good News.

“Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.”
― Charles Grandison Finney

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