Monday, November 28, 2011

Once Upon a Time

The common misunderstanding about the Bible is that it is two different tales. The Old Testament is the story of a God that is judging and damning of people. The New Testament tells of a God that loves His people and would do anything to save them. The truth is that the Bible is a metanarrative (an overarching story) that declares the same consistent theme throughout each part. It tells of a Kingly Father who created us to love Him and has done everything that He can to bring us back to Him since our separation of sin. The root of the story doesn't change-God is always good and has been working since the beginning of time to reconcile His people to Him.

We each play our part in this overarching theme of love, redemption, and restoration. It starts with our commitment to Him, but that is only the beginning. We get to have input in what our part of the story says and how we want it to reinforce what God is already doing. He tells us that if we will delight in Him that He will give us the desires of our hearts. I firmly believe that He takes those passions and weaves them together with others to advance His Kingdom and transform individuals into a collective tale of majesty, power, and perfect will.

I know that the story ultimately ends in heaven, but I am also challenged (and a little anxious) about the impact that my story will have while I am here in the middle of it. The beauty of living out my part in this grand adventure is found in sharing that experience with others along the way. It creates an epic telling of life that reinforces God's Holy purpose and His desire to share that story through the transformation of His people.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Nothing But the Truth

We live in a world that is fascinated with lies. Covering up physical blemishes, inflating personal accomplishments, dishonesty in relationships, shifting blame to other people & circumstances, and false advertising are only some of the lies that we allow to infiltrate and rule our lives.

Is it that we don't want truth or that we are afraid of what the truth might be? In relationships it can be messy to work with the truth, so many people ignore it for the sake of "comfort" not realizing that it leads to destruction. We believe the lies of "it's not that bad" and "at least I'm not doing what he/she is doing" instead of realizing that any sin obstructs our view of God. We have managed to look in the mirror at our broken lives and yet convince ourselves that everything will be fine-as if it will just magically get better one day without changing anything.

The truth can be painful, but it is the only option for real life. It is exclusive and leaves no room for any falsehood-no matter how big or small.

Jesus is The Truth. He shines a light so bright that the darkness of deceit doesn't stand a chance. He is ready to speak a reality into us that will set us free from the traps of our past and those that satan has set for our future. It is time for our circumstances, addictions, and sin to be exposed for the flimsy substitutes of grace that they truly are. It is the only way that a full life here in God's Kingdom can be lived.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Anger Management

What makes us angry? The results of our favorite sports team? The rudeness of someone at the grocery store? An injustice that we want to correct? Self-righteous indignation over perceived slights from co-workers, friends, and family? That guy who ate the last piece of pumpkin pie?

I want to be able to say that I get angry over the same things that God does. I want it to be said of me that I was upset over the sin that continually entraps people. I want to be striving against satan and the strongholds that he has set up against our community. Even if everyone else around me becomes tolerant of sinful behaviors I want to stand against anything that violates God's Word.

We sing songs that say, "Break my heart for what breaks Yours" but I don't know that we truly mean what we sing. If we did we would be praying with increased ferocity for God's Kingdom to expand and destroy ingrained habits of generational sin. We would genuinely be upset about the addictive power of sin that enslaves instead of simply judging people and casting them aside for their choices. 

True Christ-followers let their emotions be stirred up by the Holy Spirit to fight the right battle-not against each other, but against the powers of darkness that seek to destroy individuals, families, and communities. When we focus that anger in the right direction and allow our efforts to be fueled by the Holy Spirit, we'll start to see what the power of God in His people can truly accomplish.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Attitude of Gratitude

I co-taught with a good friend at Mainland High School who would use the phrase, "Attitude of Gratitude" when he was talking about a thankful lifestyle. It truly should be more than just periodic gratefulness for this blessed life that we get to lead, but in honor of the calendar I thought I would carve out (no pun intended) a blog showing appreciation for my own blessings.
  • Salvation-knowing that I am not condemned to a life of sin
  • A God that loves me for me-in spite of my numerous faults, failings, and flaws
  • My wife-there is no way to adequately appreciate her in a few words here, but to know that this gorgeous woman has my heart and I have hers is mind-blowing
  • Three beautiful, intelligent, and caring daughters-they amaze me in so many different ways and I can't believe I have anything to do with how incredible they are
  • My family-a special place in my heart reserved for my mom and how she has influenced me, my brothers & sisters and extended family, my stepfather and his love for family, my grandparents who continue to influence my life even though they are no longer with us
  • Friends that stick with you-from childhood friends that I still communicate with, my Mainland family (Buc Pride Never Dies!), new found friendships that continue to develop, and those you weather the storms of life with and come out together on the other side
  • My calling to be a pastor-working through tough periods of refinement and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make the best/most impact for the Kingdom
  • Teaching God's Word-working right in the middle of my gifting and feeling alive as God opens that Word up to others through it
  • Second chances-being given an opportunity by a boss & friend to do things over
  • Simple pleasures-a good book, a strong cup of coffee, playing guitar while my children sing along, holding my wife's hand, watching a sunrise & sunset, enjoying good Chinese food with friends & co-workers, making my children laugh, daddy/daughter breakfasts, a big bear hug, early morning prayers
  • Physical blessings-a beautiful home (and generous friends!), a meal prepared in love, clothes to wear, and health
  • This journey of life-not often easy, but knowing that this is where & when God has placed my family to grow together with others makes me thankful that He is in charge and I am not.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Who Are You?

There is a fine line of difference between your reputation and your character. How you are perceived and the true nature of your heart don't always match up. We can choose to hide our character (creating a false positive reputation with some) or it can be misinterpreted through the lens of other people's experiences/biases and our (in)ability to communicate.

Both of these are developed over time-one as a product of conversations, actions, and attitudes with others that determines the images that they conjure up when your name comes to mind. Your character is refined through some of the same things, but is also a product of our life story, environmental influences, and the work of the Holy Spirit in us. They can both be changed, but none of that work is easy.

I have been pondering this concept for my own personal development, but also for the church. Measuring and desiring to close the gap between reputation and true character is the first step in growth. Consistently working to reflect Christ is the long journey of spiritual refinement for individuals and the body as a whole. In the process we discover more of God and our utter dependence on Him for true success.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Don't Look at Me!

As a Christ follower we tend to deflect people to the image of Christ. We believe that a properly humble Christian will say, "Don't look at me-look at Christ for He is the reason that I am." 

Perhaps this isn't the proper attitude at all. What if God intended for people look at us since we are created in His image and should be a reflection of Him? It was Paul who wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1 "Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ." This adds a level of responsibility to a Christian lifestyle that demands authenticity and consistency. It is an accountability for our choices and attitudes that might influence others to choose to follow Christ as we do. 

The recognition for such a life is still attributed to God and yet gives us a motivating factor to reflect Him through our lives. Following through on this mission accurately describes the call of leading someone to Christ-in fact, it is the only way it really occurs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Who's In Charge Here?

When things go well (and especially when they don't) we want to know who is responsible. We possess a desire to find out who we can blame for the results we see in front of us. Sometimes it can be easier for us to accuse other people and experiences: our parents, the government, our spouse that doesn't understand us anymore, our children that we don't communicate with well, the school system, the church, or that boss that is difficult to work for. We create scenarios in our mind that usually do not reflect the truth, but instead feed upon our own insecurities and shortcomings. We imagine that circumstances are worse than they truly are and create conflicts that don't actually exist. 

When we are caught in this spiraling pattern of sinful, self-destructive thought we have to recognize that we have now let our thought life take charge of us. I know from personal experience that this can be dangerous for the well-being of your soul. Without proper boundaries of godly discipline and prayerful focus these thoughts can eventually lead to decisions that can threaten our spiritual, emotional, and physical health. 

It is a matter of deciding whether we will let our thoughts enslave us or if we will take each thought captive through the power of the Holy Spirit so that there is no doubt God leads our life. It is this slow process of letting God take charge that is necessary for our holistic health and spiritual fulfillment.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Unpopular Prophet

The prophet Amos didn't always work in ministry, but had the secular job of shepherding until God put a call on his life that changed his career profile to full-time ministry. Amos now had the unpopular job of relaying God's message to the Israelites who had forgotten who the One True King was. Several times Amos would beg God to stop the impending judgment and destruction that was forthcoming and God acquiesced. This did nothing to increase Amos' popularity, but he was obedient to that calling nonetheless.

Pastors are called to be prophets. This does not always guarantee popularity or loyalty, but it is more about our obedience to God's calling and our confidence in His faithfulness than it is about our reputation. We have to be willing to speak the truth from Scripture as revealed by the Holy Spirit regardless of crowd affirmation. We also must speak to God for people who are unwilling or unable to do it for themselves. With true compassion for the circumstances that our people find themselves in, we will humbly seek God's favor for them-even if they don't appear to desire it.

The response of people isn't the main predictor of success-not in God's eyes anyway. It is found in the fulfillment of His calling and our confidence in Him. The seems antithetical to American standards of church success, but being a faithful Christ-follower is almost always countercultural to popular opinion.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Torn to Shreds

God doesn't sneak judgment in on us-He doesn't play games or try to trick us. He repeatedly tells us that if we ignore His Word and choose sin that destruction will follow. We establish a pattern of ignoring His warnings and then are devastated when the consequences fall on us.

In the book of Joel, the prophet is revealing a message from God concerning the destruction that is on the way. The Israelites have forsaken God for too long and are about to suffer the consequences. Staying true to His compassionate nature, God again offers an opportunity at repentance in Joel 2:12-14. He tells them to return to Him, but to "rend their hearts and not their garments."

It was a cultural sign of sorrow to tear your clothing and it symbolized the remorse that you felt over your current circumstances. It was supposed to be a reflection of the deep anguish that was felt over sinning against God, but easily turned into a false display of humility and repentance that did nothing to bring about transformation. While we no longer tear our clothes, this disingenuous action is still seen in dashing to the altar at the end of the service for prayer while doing nothing all week to actually change our hearts.

God's greatest desire isn't for us to do the right thing externally. It is for our hearts to truly be broken over our sin against Him and for that soul transformation to be reflected in the decisions we make. Authentic pursuit of godly repentance is the key to personal and community revival.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Scripture repeatedly tells us that we will reap what we sow-if you plant tomatoes you will harvest tomatoes when the time is right. In other words, our current circumstances in life are a result of our efforts and investment of resources in the past.

If you neglect your children so that you can focus on your career you shouldn't be surprised when they become adults and are no longer close to you. When you live beyond your financial means each week to maintain your status you shouldn't be shell-shocked when your car is repossessed or creditors call. When you don't have the tough conversation with your spouse because it brings up things that make you uncomfortable, you shouldn't expect there to be honesty & intimacy in your relationship no matter how long you've been together. When you are difficult to work with and don't build trust with your co-workers it shouldn't be a shock to you when you are asked to leave your job. When you continually choose your addiction over real relationships, why would you be stunned to find yourself broken, alone, and desperate for something that lasts?

You can't plant squash and expect cucumbers to grow. The only way that we can harvest something different from what we have planted is through God's power. It is a result of His ability to transform our weaknesses and sinful pasts and turn it into something magnificent for Him. This is a product of our willingness to fully repent of sin and beg God to redeem our mistakes through the power of His grace.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

We've Got Spirit

Striving to live a Christian life isn't always easy. Part of that struggle is trying to keep your focus on Christ so that the decisions we make reflect our commitment to Him. It is the constant tension of who God is calling us to be and who we actually are. It can sometimes be discouraging, but I attribute the majority of that to our disappointment at the results of efforts powered by us. 

2 Timothy 1:7 says, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." This is a verse that is often quoted to remind us that we don't need to live in fear, but that as Christians we have a confident spirit of power that fuels us. As I read it this morning, I see that it encapsulates our calling as followers. We are called to be bold witnesses for Christ and we can leap forward in faith with the understanding that the power comes from God. Our capacity for loving other people also doesn't rely on our ability, but is from the King as He enlarges our hearts to have compassion for those around us. The self-control that we need to exhibit doesn't come from our ability to regulate ourselves, but from the power of the Holy Spirit that transforms us from the inside out.

While it is not often used in this context, this verse perfectly embodies what a Christ follower should be and the recognition that all of the power that we might have in our life comes directly from God. If we were to pray, witness, and act in the authority of this verse we would start to see a transforming revival in our community that even the schemes of satan couldn't stand against.

Monday, November 7, 2011

It Could Get Messy

Our lead pastor, Mike Waers, preached a hard & powerful message yesterday about the call for us to minister to our modern-day Samaria. This would be defined as people that we have a hard time reaching out to because of our own prejudices and biases. Our discrimination can be based on ethnicity, socioeconomic standards, or just a general dislike for people based on our own selfishness. Fulfilling this calling takes a change of heart in many ways and will most definitely make us uncomfortable.

If we are actually willing to fulfill God's call to the church we have to realize that things will start to look different than they do right now. As we wade into the middle of people's hurts and share the truth of Christ that will save them, it will prove to be a difficult and messy journey. It will stretch us as we ask God to increase our compassion and place a new heart within us that does not judge based on our weak prejudices. This will be a church that is actively engaged in reaching all of the community and not just people who are similar in appearance and experience.

It brings to mind an image of sitting around a table filled with diversity as we share with the King in worship, repentance, recovery, and healing. This will certainly change the way church looks, but I would wager that it would finally start to be the church that God has envisioned all along.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Always Alert

I wrote yesterday about the need for us to stay focused on what God has and not our own agenda. There is another part to that verse from 1 Peter-the need to to be vigilant. This requires a daily, intentional awareness of what is happening around us and the intensity of the battle that we face. Our calling is not to just fill ourselves up with the things of God, but to be ready to confront the things of this world with that truth.

Each day will come with temptations and influences that will work against God's plan for us. When we don't recognize those schemes we suffer damages that pull our hearts away from God. We see disunity arise, families drift apart from each other, addictions take hold of us, and rationalization of sin become our new pastime. Even if we are equipped with the power of the Word we have to engage the enemy to defeat him otherwise we are spiritually impotent.

Our enemy (satan) is always prepared and ready to steal, kill, and destroy us. Being alert to what he is attempting to do and fighting it with the preparedness that comes from God's Word and the power of the Holy Spirit will certainly defeat him. If our eyes are not open to the constant battle we will certainly become casualties of war and the lost souls of people around us are collateral damage.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Ready or Not

Life can come at you quickly and often not too gently. There are periods of peace, but also times of trial that require diligent perseverance to survive. Most of us are unprepared for those difficulties which in turn brings a reaction that isn't always healthy for us or anyone else around us.

God cautions us to be ready for these moments in 1 Peter 5:8 when He says, "Be alert (vigilant) and of sober mind." He understands the need for us to be focused on Him and not to be consumed with other things. The common perception of "sober" is usually associated with alcohol, but it can apply to anything that we allow to take all of our focus: sports, our fantasy football team, careers, hobbies, our children, love interests, etc. Those things are not bad as part of our overall life, but when they become the primary focus of our energies and thoughts they crowd out any space that we might have for God. 

That is where God is trying to guide us-into a daily, desperate search for Him that fills our needs and prepares us for whatever comes our way.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

In Progress

I admit that I often feel tension in my life-not in any relationship, but within myself. It is the gap that exists between the man that I presently am and who I feel God is calling me to be. It isn't necessarily an unpleasant tension, but one that keeps me focused (most of the time) on what is next and how I should be preparing in the interim. It can sometimes be a touch frustrating as the pace of growth doesn't seem to be fast enough for me, but I have to remind myself that my faithful obedience in small steps leads to something bigger.

I finished typing up my end-of-year evaluation to submit to my boss today and it caused me to evaluate a great deal of that growth as well as look to the future. I know that I am a continual work in progress, but I think it is healthy to step back periodically to see what growth has happened. It brings me encouragement to know that I am on the right path-maybe not moving as quickly along it as I would like, but on the path nonetheless. The confidence that I gain from even the small recognition of God's work in me is worth the examination even if the tension reveals the work that still needs to be done.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Walking Shoes

The old expression is that you have to walk a mile in someones shoes to understand their problems and to give them a little compassion. The mistake that we often make is that we put on other people's shoes without taking ours off first. Instead of seeing things from their perspective we end up looking at things from our viewpoint. While this might help us be more comfortable it won't provide the most effective compassion for their situation.

Being willing to step away from our own experience and viewpoint to gain understanding for someone takes maturity and intentional effort. It is not always easy to do, but it is the mark of someone who truly cares for others. It is an extension of the grace that has been given to us and reveals whether we actually are invested in building Kingdom relationships.