Jesus the idol

The photo below is a somewhat typical rendering of what some hold to be the image of Jesus. Honestly, it’s the typical none realistic “white Jesus” that has, in my opinion, given many an inaccurate view of what Jesus was really like. I’m convinced Jesus looked nothing like this, as many others are too. (By the way, I’m not picking on the source of this picture by using it–but simply want to use it to get you thinking with me).

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Past Exhilaration

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’s 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 impact. 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.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/128048643@N02/15145049938″>IMG_4766</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

The “Amazing” of grace – My personal thanks

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

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!