After the Candles Go Out

Candlelight Service
Candlelight Service

Like most churches, we have done our best to minister during the Christmas season to anyone God put in front of us as well as declare the truth of the Gospel. Having seen many new faces over the last month I guess we can deem this past Christmas season a success. Of course, nothing would make it more of a success than if all those who have come in contact with Jesus this Christmas have been changed by Him. This is not just a goal for those who do not yet believe but also very much a goal for those already a part of the church.

So, now the candles from the Christmas Eve service our blown out and, as we speak, the Christmas decorations are being taken down. It’s time for a new year.

I imagine most people are beginning the new year with thoughts of what the year will bring, some with resolutions, some with regrets looking forward to escaping the past. I guess there’s all kinds of thoughts we can have when a new year approaches. Of course, if you are a follower of Jesus, you have the opportunity to find yourself with hope; hope that the new year can be one that brings you closer in fellowship with Christ, experiencing the life-altering influence of His Spirit and the ability to hear more when your Good Shepherd speaks. I’ve been reflecting a lot on Psalm 96 as I prepare to preach a New Years message this Sunday. I love how so many of the Psalms speak of the newness we find in God, even when we’ve known Him for a long time:

Oh sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth!
(Psalm 96:1)

As a pastor, I often find my personal “hope goals” are often the same as the goals I have for our church. This year, I have one goal in particular:

This year my goal is too big to be a resolution and is probably impossible to measure. As a matter of fact, this goal is something that should be on going and should be, and have always been, the most important goal of my life since meeting Jesus Christ.

This year my goal is to make decisions, act, speak and even think (thinking is probably the most difficult) as if the only thing that matters is what Jesus thinks. Is that crazy or what?!

You see, my thinking is simple. If Jesus Christ is really the creator of the universe (See John 1:1 and Col. 1:16-17) and all of this world is really about what He’s planning and what He’s doing…and…He’s calling me to follow Him, hear His voice and live the life He’s given me, then, my crazy proposal is, I should care about what He thinks.

So, that’s my New Year’s “Hope Goal.” To live, act, move and breath as though what Jesus thinks matters. What do you think? Are you crazy enough to try this with me?

I was struck by the words of Oswald Chambers this morning, as I often am, so let me conclude with an excerpt from My Utmost for His Highest:

“If we have never had the experience of taking our commonplace religious shoes off our common-place religious feet, and getting rid of all the undue familiarity with which we approach God, it is questionable whether we have ever stood in His presence. The people who are flippant and familiar are those who have never yet been introduced to Jesus Christ. After the amazing delight and liberty of realizing what Jesus Christ does, comes the impenetrable darkness of realizing Who He is.”

Now that the candles are out, it time for us to live as though Christ has come and that what He thinks really matters. Read More

What’s a Christian? (Part 4)

Headphones

I read the story in Acts 10 this morning about Cornelius the Centurion and his request for Peter to come and tell them, in Cornelius’ mind, whatever Peter needed to tell them. Peter had the greatest message to tell in the history of the world and Cornelius had a chance to hear it!

Ever since I preached a sermon from Matthew 13 several months ago asking the question, can you hear Jesus speaking? Do I want to hear what Jesus has to say? I have been trying to evaluate in myself how much drive and desire I really have to hear Him. I could picture in my mind all these people who were looking for their Messiah, but when He was there, they didn’t listen; they didn’t even have ears to hear! Scary!

It seems that we are in a culture, a church culture, where few seem worried about what God says or wants, or wants to say. Even in the church I pastor, I see people who say they’re Christ followers yet their decisions on their involvement, and even church membership, seem to be made without regard to what Jesus is wanting or saying. Usually, it comes down to whether things are done the way they want or whether it’s the right program, or the right program on the right day, or the right program on the right day at the right time.

I wonder if this is just a symptom of the real problem, which is, a lack of desire to actually hear God speak through His word. I wonder if the problem is really just a matter of familiarity.

Doesn’t it seem like our human nature just causes us to want things we can’t or don’t have and think of that which we do have as no big deal?

I wonder if this is the reason it seems so many, who call themselves Christians, don’t read their Bible with regularity and don’t seem to allow Jesus’ desires and Word to factor into decisions of church attendance, membership and even worship.

Anyway…..

As I was reading Acts 10 this morning, I found myself wanting to feel like Cornelius. Can you imagine wanting to hear God speak so badly? I don’t just mean “so badly” that he would send for Peter but Cornelius had such an expectation of what would be said that he assembled “his relatives and his close friends.” Can you imagine? Cornelius just knew that God was going to speak through Peter so he gathered everyone he knew and loved!

I want that kind of desire to hear the Word speak!

So, I want to be careful with my next answer to the question of What’s a Christian? I want to say, “A Christian is one who is driven to hear their Savior speak.” But, I know there are many Christians, who like me, at times struggle with this. So, here’s my statement:

A Christian is a person who wants to here their Master speak. This, at times, culminates in a prayer asking God to give a desire to hear Him. Lord, please give me ears to hear! A believer is someone who cares about what Jesus has to say.

“And he said to me, ‘Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.’” (Ezekiel 2:1)

Sunny Reminder

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“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Ps. 119:1)

I love how this verse just reminds me that the creation around us speaks of God and that Someone did create all that is. I was outside in the beautiful and unusually warm weather today washing and waxing my car. (It’s rare that I take the time to do that.) I was standing in my driveway and the sun was shining and felt so warm. The sky was blue and there was barely a breeze. God’s creation reminded me of a passage of Scripture which sent to a moment of Spiritual comfort.

Here’s the passage that came to mind:

Matthew recorded Jesus’ words: “For [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

I was reminded of this passage by the warm sun today that I will experience sunny days and rainy ones, both good days and difficult ones. And that’s ok. Because of who God is and who I am in Him, I know, just as Paul knew that “I can call all things good” in this life. (Romans 8:28)

I have two thoughts from this:

1. I can count all things good in my life because God is good. Because He loved and pursued me, I love Him and I am called to His purpose.

2. We will decide, when it’s sunny, how we will respond to the rain. I’m reminded during the sunny day that God is just as good and still at work bringing about His purpose in my life during the rainy day.

Maybe it’s best to remember, when the sun is shining, that no matter what happens in life, because God is good and loves us, we can call it all good. It brings new meaning to the cliche; “it’s all good!”

Thank you Lord for the sunny day…..and the rainy one!

What’s a Christian? (Part 3)

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This is part three of the series, how many parts there will be I don’t know. But, it’s fun just to continue to write though I’m confident the subject will never be exhausted.

My desire is to find, Scripturally, what a Christ follower is and what one isn’t. I’m positive that I’m growing in my understanding that what we in the American Christian culture call Christianity, in ways, does not measure up to what Jesus would call it. So, I continue my pursuit to find out what Jesus wants me to be, in Him.

I preached a sermon last Sunday from the book of Ephesians, and the text in chapter 4 brought me to what I think is a pretty major conclusion. (My text was Ephesians 4:17-24)

The point that jumps out at me the most is when Paul writes to, “put on the new self” in verse 24. This after a lot of language explaining that our old life, old thoughts, old drives and old wisdom are worthless for the pursuit of this new life in Christ. Worse than that, the old life is actually a major rub, a stark contrast, against the new, Spiritual life.

Here’s the problem. Widely in Christianity, and I think in my own life too, we’ve reduced our faith in Christ to learning a set of principles and trying to apply or live up to them.

Please know this truth. Jesus cannot be reduced down to a set of rules to follow or reduced down to some kind of philosophical salve that’s used as a momentary relief to the pain of life. He’s much more than that! Christianity that defines itself as a new principle to learn and then to apply which continues like the instructions on the back of the shampoo bottle; lather, rinse and repeat, is a painful substitute for real faith and a true relationship with Christ.

So what is Paul’s “put on the new life?” He speaks of this “putting on” also in Romans “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:14)

Paul’s statement isn’t that we would have Jesus as a proverbial monkey on our back but that we’d have the connection to Him that He desires. In my estimation, Paul’s “put on Jesus” is equivalent to Jesus’ “I am the Vine, you are the branches.” (See John 15:1-5) The key to this new life is not leaning and applying new principles, it’s simply about abiding in the Vine; in Jesus. That is the very thing Jesus said we must do. He never said, “learn and apply principles from my word,” He said, “Abide in me!”

What is a Christian?

A Christian is not someone who is trying learn something about Jesus that my help out in this life, though learning Jesus’ principles certainly do. A Christian is a person who is learning Jesus and learning by the Word and by His Spirit how to truly, fully abide in Him.

Living by Faith?

Struggling to live by faith today? We often do struggle because we misunderstand or even misdefine faith. So, what is faith?

I was reading the story in Genesis 22 of Abraham’s testing as God instructs him to sacrifice his only son. Remember, Isaac was not only his only son, but a miracle son who came because of a promise of God. Needless to say, this was test. But, this was not the first “test” that Abraham lived through. His faith had been tested several times before as God so much wanted Abraham to come to the place in life where he could truly trust God with all.

This “testing” of Abraham was to find out if he now really believed the promise of God.

Paul, in Romans 4 sums up exactly how Abraham grew in his faith and what faith actually is. According to Paul, the reason Abraham was willing to do what none of us would ever consider doing, killing our son, was because of what he believed God was going to do.

Paul writes that Abraham placed his faith in God, “in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”[1] Abraham’s faith was that he determined if he trusted God and did what God asked him to do, God, by His own promise, would be required to raise Isaac from the dead and fulfill the promise that Isaac would be the promised blessing to the entire world. In summation, Paul gives the definition of Abraham’s faith:

fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Romans 4:21, ESV)

Abraham isn’t considered the “father of faith” because he believed God would give him ability to do certain things; he’s considered a great person of faith because he believed God would do certain things. And note this, he believed even though he couldn’t see. Why did Abraham believe?

Abraham believed because he had already been tested and learned that God does everything He promises, without fail!

Faith is not in your own ability or even in the hope that God will give you more ability. Faith is believing that God will do what He promises, and that’s life changing, attitude changing, day changing faith. This is why you can trust God even in situations when you can’t see the answer.

“Faith can be defined as living in advance what you will understand only in reverse.”[2]


[1] Romans 4:17

[2] Wayne Cordeiro. Sifted: Pursuing Growth Through Trials, Challenges and Disappointments. 39