Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Discipleship Road: Providence

 I am preaching a sermon series called The Discipleship Road at Bethlehem Church. The series is loosely based on Eugene Peterson’s book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. 


The big idea I have for the series is: Discipleship takes us from the place we don’t want to be to the place God has prepared for us. 

Discipleship is like a long journey. It starts with the realization that we are in a place that we don’t want to be, or that we are not the people we want to be, and that we are committed to doing what it takes to change.

Yet, maybe the most important part of that is the understanding that we need God’s help to make this possible. A disciple of Jesus acknowledges that everything, even faith and repentance, are ultimately gifts from God.

Text: Psalm 121
Bottomline: Our Discipleship journey relies on God’s power and help.
Challenge: Daily surrender your discipleship to God.


Monday, January 17, 2022

Prayer is Essential to Change



The world that we live in is not what it should be. On a daily basis we are saddened to hear about the murders, disasters, wars, and other tragedies that dominate our headlines. 

Even though we are saddened, we know that there is little that we dan do to change the major issues that face the world. So what are we to do?

As cliché as it might sound, we who follow Jesus are called to pray. It is through prayer that we experience change.



The reality is that we have very little control over what goes on in this world, but what we do have control over is how we live. While we our actions may not result in world peace or solve world hunger or diminish crime in our communities, our choice to love, to forgive, and to serve can have a huge impact on those around us.

Here is the issue, we are not naturally loving, forgiving, or merciful. We tend to be selfish, prideful, and untrustworthy. In other words, we contribute to the problems in the world, rather than doing what we can do to relieve the issues in our part of the world.

This is why change is crucial.

If all our failed attempts to change have taught us anything, it is that we need help to change. We can’t change on our own, especially in ways that make this world a better place.

Ephesians 3:14-18 (NLT)
When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.

Paul’s prayer for the people who received his letter was that they would  receive what they needed, that they would be strengthened and experience God, and that they would have a knowledge of God’s love. This was a prayer for the Ephesians to experience transformation. A transformation that allows them to know and experience God in a new way.

This is a transformation that cannot happen apart from God working in our lives. The deep work that needs to happen in our hearts and minds can only be done through the work of the Spirit. Without prayer and surrendering our wills this transformation is not going to happen.

While it is important for us to pray for healing or friends, family, and acquaintances, it is equally important for us to pray prayers similar to Paul’s for ourselves and our church families. Without God’s work, change will not happen.

Make prayer an essential part of your spiritual formation.




 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Discipleship Road: Repentance

 At Bethlehem Church I have started a new sermon series entitled The Discipleship Road. It is loosely based off Eugene Peterson’s book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. The point of the series is to emphasize the importance of being committed to the discipleship process. Being a disciple of Jesus is a journey that is going to take the rest of our lives.

This first sermon looks at repentance. Repentance starts with the realization that we are in a place that we don’t want to be in or that we are not the person that we want to be. That is motivation that gets us started on the journey.

Text: Psalm 120 
Bottomline: Our Discipleship Journey begins with repentance. 
Challenge: Daily Confess That You are not where You want to be. Ask God to rescue you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Living a God Honoring Life



We are created in God’s image.

The main point of that reality is that we are to be God’s representatives in the world. I like to say, “We are created to demonstrate God’s character.” 

Demonstrating God’s character means, like any good representative, that we bring honor to Him. Our lives should honor God.

This is how Jesus lived. 

On two occasions (his baptism and the transfiguration) God declared that He was pleased with Jesus (Matthew 3:17 and Matthew 17:6). Jesus lived the life that God desired him to live.

A question I need to ask myself is: Do I seek please God with my life? 

I confess the answer is scary. 

Honetly, I have a desire to honor God and to please Him with the way I live. If that wasn’t the case I wouldn’t be a pastor and I wouldn’t spend so much time thinking, writing, and talking about following Jesus.

There is no doubt that I want to live a life that honors God.

Yet, when I take an honest evaluation of my life, I get discouraged by the lack of intention that I put into actually living a life that follows Jesus and honors God.

I realize that part of this is human nature. It is hard to give up our agendas and pursue God. 

We are trained to think about what is best for ourselves and to look after number 1. Perhaps it should come to no surprise that part of what Paul prayed for the Colossians, people he had never met, was that they would live lives that honored God.




In order to honor and please God, I must have a knowledge of God’s will. 

The number one way to know God’s will is to be a student of Scripture. This includes personal reading and study to sitting under the instruction of qualified teachers. We need to be diligent and intentional in learning for God’s Word.

To honor and please God, I need to be a person of prayer. 

Paul prayed that God will fill the Colossians with a knowledge of His will and spiritual understanding. While it is essential for us to be intentional students of the Bible, the reality is that part of being a student is asking for help. Through prayer we can ask the Author for the help we need in understanding.

To honor and please God, I need to obey. 

It is one thing to know what to do, but it is another to do it. Remember, faith isn’t so much about believing the truth at it is about living the truth. By living out the truth we know we discover even more and deeper truths about God. 

Living out the truth isn’t just about living a moral life and going to church. It is also about bending our wills to the will of God. It is about doing those hard things that He asks us to do that we don’t want to do.

It isn’t easy to live a life that honors and pleases God. 

The easiest thing to do, in the short term, is to continue to live the way I want to live. That way of life requires little effort from me.

We were created to demonstrate God’s character, so for us to experience life at its fullest, we have to intentionally seek to do God’s will. In this way, we will live a life that honors God.



Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Bible is not an Answer Book


 I love the Bible. 

In fact, I believe that people who follow Jesus should be readers and students of the Bible. In the Bible we discover God, His character, and His will. 

Without the Bible we would not be able to follow Jesus or be the people God created us to be.

Last year I lead Bethlehem Church through The Story to give us a good overview of what the Bible is about. One of the things I constantly talked about through that series is that the Bible is gift from God. In all the 30 sermons I preached, I said, “We need to read, study, meditate on, and pray the Bible to be good stewards of the gift God has given to us.”

Even though I have a high view of Scripture, I also understand that it has limitations.

As modern readers of the Bible, we often approach it as if it has the answer to all of life’s questions. That is a primary reason why we  read and study the Bible: to have all the right answers.

Instead of viewing the Bible as an answer book, we need to see the Bible  as a tool to help create a worldview. It may not provide the answers to all the questions asked in our culture, but it does provide a framework that helps us create a Christian worldview.

I have been pondering how we use the Bible the past few days for a couple of reasons.

1. BibleProject has a podcast series that looks at ancient cosmology. One of the key points in the series is looking at how the Biblical account of creation is in dialogue and debate with the other ancient creation myths. 

Many Western Christians, for the past 120 years or so, have used the Bible to provide facts and answers about the beginning of the universe. The problem is that the Bible was not written to answer modern scientific questions. It was written to give God’s people a particular view of the world and to combat the pagan religious views of their neighbors.

Therefore, we shouldn’t expect the Bible to give us definitive answers about the how and when of creation, but we should expect it to give us an understanding about who God is and why He created the world.

2. Preston Sprinkle wrote:

If someone experiences and congruent between their biological sex and their gender, which one determines who they are—and why? What does the Bible say about this question?

That’s the problem. The Bible doesn’t directly ask and answer this question. There’s no verse in, say, Leviticus 28 that says, “If thy gender identity does not match thy biological sex, then thine body is who you really are.” Or whatever. (There is no Leviticus 28, in case you are flipping pages to check.) But the Bible does say quite a few relevant things about human nature and the importance of our biological sex which will position us to cultivate a theologically informed and biblically rooted answer to our question. (Embodied, p. 63)

After doing lots of research, Sprinkle admits that the Bible doesn’t contain the answers to the questions surrounding the transgender conversation. You can’t compile a list of verses that deal specifically with these issues. 

Not only is this true for the transgender conversation, but it is true for many of the questions we have today. Our culture is significantly different from the cultures that the Bible was originally written for. We shouldn’t expect to to have answers to our modern questions.

Since the Bible is God’s gift to His people, we can expect that it will give us a proper perspective to see the world.

It is important to make this shift away from seeing the Bible as an answer book to one that helps us create a Christian worldview.


God did not give us the Bible so we can have all the right answers. 

Rather, He gave us the Bible so we can become the right type of people. 

If we primarily use the Bible to have the right answers, to win arguments, and to point out other people’s sin then we are using the Bible wrong.

The Bible should help form us into the people God created us to be. One of the ways it does that is to create a proper perspective for us to see the world.

Let the Bible form your worldview.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Best Motivation


 Our motivations matter.

We can do the right thing for the wrong reasons, but eventually we will be discovered to be a fake.

On the other hand, we can do things wrong and make mistakes, but if we do them for the right reasons those things become lessons that help us get better.

There are many different reasons why a person would follow Jesus. 

Fear is a big motivation. We are afraid of going to hell, so we want to follow Jesus to avoid the punishment.

Obligation is another reason. We think, “Jesus died for me, so I guess I had better go to church.” Our obedience is something that we feel like we need to do.

Expectation might be another reason. Our family and friends are Christians, so we feel like we are expected to be Christians as well.

Reward is a motivation for following Jesus. Not only do we want to escape Hell, but we want to enjoy the eternal life God has created for His people. We keep the end in mind to remind us what it is important to follow Jesus.

While all these motivations have their place, they miss the most important reason for following Jesus.



The best motivation we can have when it comes to following Jesus is love.

John wrote:

Love is the best motivation for following Jesus because it is a response to the love Jesus had for us.

It was love that motivated Jesus to show compassion and heal people. It was love that motivated Jesus to spend time with those on the margins of society. It was love that motivated Jesus to stand against the oppressive behavior of the religious leaders. It was love that motivated Jesus to leave Heaven, become a man, and die a painful death on a Roman cross.

Love is what motivated Jesus.

The proper response to love is love.

This means that the more we experience God’s love, the more our understanding of Jesus grows, and the more the Holy Spirit transforms our hearts, the stronger our love for God becomes.

Fear may have been the reason why we first decided to follow Jesus. A sense of obligation might be the reason why we first started to be committed in our weekly church attendance. The expectation of friends and family might have been the reason why we started to worship. Our starting motivation doesn’t matter, what matters is the reason why we continue to follow Jesus.

One of the ways we know we are growing in our faith is because motivation becomes more about our love for Jesus than it does anything else.

There is no formula for learning to love Jesus. It happens as we study Scripture, as we engage in the work of ministry, as we sacrifice in our giving, as we spend time in prayer, and as build friendships with other Christians. Just like other relationships, love grows stronger the more time you spend with them.

Follow Jesus because you love him.

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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Don’t Neglect to Train

 

Practice makes perfect.

This old saying reminds us of a basic truth: In order to do things well we need to learn how to do them.

This is a process that takes time. The repetition that happens through practice is essential for learning fundamentals and building muscle memory. Both are needed to make a new skill become like second nature in our lives.

If we are going to do something well we have practice doing it.

A musician needs to learn how to read music, to play scales, and to keep time before any actual music can even be played. Even then hours of practice are required to play a piece of music well.

A basketball player needs to learn how to dribble, pass, and shoot so he can play with other players. After that hours of practicing the game is needed before an actual game can be played so that both player and team play well.

Practice is a universal law governing how we improve a skill or a talent.

Since this is the case, why have we overlooked the importance of practice when it comes to our spiritual development?

Perhaps it is because we don’t want to be accused of doing “works” to earn our salvation.

Perhaps it is because we don’t have a coach, teacher, or mentor guiding us through what we need to do.

Whatever the reason, we have neglected the development of our spirits.

C. E. Orr in his book How to Live a Holy Life wrote:


One of the main problems for American Christians today is an understanding of spiritual formation. They have confessed their sin, repented, declared their faith in Jesus, and have been baptized, but then they have been abandoned to figure things out for themselves.

The American church lacks true discipleship.

Reflect on what the apostle Paul told Timothy:



Paul reminded Timothy not to waste his life in doing things that did not matter. Timothy could spend his life arguing against the silly myths of the day, which would take time but ultimately would be ineffective and a waste of his time.

Timothy could also devote his time to healthy living and exercise, which would benefit the body, but would have minimal impact on his spiritual formation.

Instead Paul told him to train for godliness.


How do we do that?

If we approach our spiritual formation in Jesus like we approach training and practice in other areas, like music and sports, then I think we can see two commitments we must make.

First, we need to commit to spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are activities that God’s people have historically done to mature as people of faith. In fact, many of these disciplines are things that Jesus during his time on earth. These disciplines include activities such as Bible study, prayer, fasting, giving, and worship. These things are the equivalent of learning how to play a music scale or learning how to dribble a basketball. They are want teach your mind, heart, soul, and body how to act when faced with the realities of life.

Second, we need to commit to Christian duties. Duties are those things that God expects His people to do. They include things like serving people, forgiving those people who hurt us, sacrificing time and money to help make disciples, and standing up for what is right. These are not things that we do naturally or even enjoy doing, and that is why they become duties. When we do them, because of our love for God, they teach us humility and loving neighbor as ourselves. These duties are much like practice. They are boring, just like playing the same piece of music a thousand different times or going to basketball practice day after day and compete against the same people, but they help you get ready for the concert or game. When we make the choice to do these duties we are preparing to meet the unpredictable choices that we face in life.


If we are going to be like Jesus we need to train to be like him. This training is going to take a lot of hard work on our part and a lot of grace on God’s part, but working together transformation will take place.

We can be conformed into the image of Jesus!


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Friday, September 10, 2021

Trust God to Forgive


It is never easy to admit that we have made a mistake. 

The bigger the mistake the more we want to hide it, deny it, or ignore it. 

It is no wonder that we have a hard time confessing our sin, even in our private prayers to God. The result is that we carry around a complex baggage of guilt, shame, temptation, and habitual sin. This reality makes it difficult to accept God’s promise of forgiveness.

I know that I find it hard to confess my sins to God because I am embarrassed about what my sin reveals about my weakness. 

 After all I should know better! 

 “If I truly had faith,” I reason, “this sin wouldn’t be a problem.”

As a result I keep my distance from God. I don’t want to be weak faithless fool before Him.

Perhaps you struggle with asking for forgiveness because you are afraid of God. 

There is a voice inside of your mind telling you that if you confess your sins to God then He will punish you.  

“After all,” you think,  “isn’t God going to judge lawbreakers?”

In his book Created to Be God’s Friend, Henry Blackaby wrote:



Faith is lived out through trust. 

The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Do I trust God to forgive me? 

If we don’t trust God to forgive then we won’t turn to Him and confess our sins. 

Instead we will run away and hide. We will ignore the sin that is ruining our lives. We will do every thing we can think of to avoid God.

For us to trust people we have to believe that they have our best interest at heart.

This means we need to answer this question: Is there any reason why we should trust God to forgive us?
 
The reason we can trust God is Jesus. 

The life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is the evidence we need to trust that God will forgive us. This is true, no matter who we are or what we have done.

The writer of the book of Hebrews gave us this gem of truth:



How do we come before the throne of God? 

First, it requires our surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord. If we are not willing to be a follower of Jesus it is impossible for us to experience God’s gift of forgiveness. Jesus is the High Priest who has prepared the way to God. There is no other way to forgiveness except through Jesus.

Second, we need to confess our sins to God through prayer. God knows our sins, and He has declared His willingness to forgive. Yet, forgiveness requires the acknowledgement that we have done something wrong. This is an act of trust, because we need to believe that God has our best interest at heart. So we confess our sin because we trust that God will forgive us.

Third, we need to worship God. From singing praise songs to serving people in need, it is important that we set our hearts towards God. Worship requires the right motivation more than it requires the right actions. We can go through the motions of worship without love and trust. Worship that is grounded in faith is the type of worship that God desires from us.

Living in these bodies of flesh in this world means that sin will be a part of our lives. 

Not only do we need constantly struggle with sin to eliminate it from our lives, we also have to trust God to forgive us when we sin. 

God is gracious and willing to forgive us, but we need to turn to Him and ask for it.

Trust God to forgive you.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Committed to the Body



Something that has been on my mind recently is our commitment to the local church.

As a pastor this is something that concerns me a great deal. The church, a local community of Jesus followers, is a gift from God. 

In the church we have people who are there to support us, encourage us, grieve with us, and help us. It is a community where we find acceptance and belonging. At its best a local church provides the environment needed for discipleship to happen.

Granted, local churches are rarely at their best. The realities of poor leadership, personal agendas, and inconsistent attendance make it difficult for the church to feel like home. 

I agree, being part of a local church can be a lot of work and it can be messy. There are many reasons that making a commitment to a local church is difficult.

This morning on Twitter I saw this:

I think many of the problems we have with the various expressions of the local church come back to consumerism. 

We have these expectations of what the church should be like and when it doesn’t live up to our expectations we are willing to leave. It doesn’t matter that we are handicapping that church as they seek to take the Gospel into the world, because our needs aren’t being met.

All are different expectations are not what makes a church a church.

The reality is that there is not much a group of believers need in order to form a church. One thing that is essential for a church to exist is commitment.


We were created to bear God’s image in this world. The full expression of that image comes when we are working together as we love one another and serve the world. 

That is when we truly become the body of Christ.

This is why leaving a local church family handicaps them. It is like removing a hand, leg, or eye from a person. Sure, he still can function, but his ability to do work is limited.

Leaving a church may not kill the church, but you make it more difficult for them to do ministry.

I am not saying you can never leave a church.

I am saying that by making the church something you attend or a service that you receive, you make it easy to hop from church to church when your expectations are not met. 

In this way you handicap the mission of the church.

Being committed to a local church is a responsibility that we have as followers of Jesus. 

I want to encourage you to commit to a local church, even if the sermons are boring, the music off key, and the people are a mess, because you will be a blessing to them, and through them God will bless you.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

A Repentant Heart

As a life long Christian, I know the right things to say.

For instance, when life becomes difficult I know that the right thing to say is, "I am trusting God an His timing." 

I may say that, but the reality is that I am full of worry. Rather than praying and doing the next right thing, I distract myself with scrolling through social media or watching YouTube videos. Then I wonder why God never showed up.

It is possible to say that right words while lacking the faith to believe those words. 



The prophet Isaiah made it clear that God wants to help us. His desire is to show us love and give us life.

Here is the kicker: God is waiting for us.

He is generous and desires to help, but we are not turning to Him for help. We are trying to make it on our own. If we would stop and turn to God the experience of our lives would be different.

What is the answer? 
How do we receive the love God has for us? 

King David in Psalm 51 gives us an insight on how we are to approach God:



David wrote this Psalm after Nathan the prophet confronted him about his sin against Uriah, stealing his wife Bathesheba and murdering him. For a year afterwards David pretended everything was fine, but in reality it wasn't. So when David thought about what he needed to do, in light of Nathan’s words, this is was came to his mind: Repentance.

At the heart of repentance is the denouncement of our actions and declaration of our loyalty to God. 

Repentance requires both.

This isn’t about coming to God through religious piety and tradition. Going through the motions of religion does not move God’s heart. 

What moves the heart of God?

Our heart is what moves God.

We can imitate the motions. 
We can fake the right words. 

What we can't fake is the genuine emotion, motivation, and intention of our heart. There needs to be a genuine sorrow for our evil and a genuine desire to be in a relationship with God for Him to act on our behalf.

God waits for us because He wants us to have a heart that desires Him above everything else in our lives. 

Until we approach the throne of God broken and repentant we will never realize the awesome love God has for us. 

This makes pride the biggest obstacle we have in experiencing the love of God.

When we are prideful we believe we change the circumstance of our lives by ourselves. We pursue happiness the way we think is best. We may say all the right things and go though the motions, but the intentions of our heart is on our plans. 

Our pride keeps us from experiencing God’s love.

I am  tired of mouthing the right things and ignoring God. 

My pride has kept me from admitting my weakness and my need for God’s wisdom and strength. 

I come before God with a humble spirit in search of His love. 

Will you do the same?

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Benefit of Principles


Last week I posted this to Facebook:

 

I believe this is true for the majority of controversial topics that are out there today. We watch a 7 minute segment on Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow  and think we understand the topic to give our hot take on it. To truly understand topics we need investigate all sides of an argument. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a gut feeling on things (often that is all that we can go on because we can’t properly study every topic out there), but it does mean that we don’t present our gut feelings as THE truth on these topics.

There is no possible way that we can adequately research all the different areas of knowledge that are out there. No one is an expert on everything.

This is why it is okay to go with our gut feelings on things. When we do so we need to keep in mind that our guts could be wrong.

The gut feelings that we have often come from the principles that make up our lives. For instance, when it comes to something like biblical interpretation or reading the Constitution, the principle that guides my understanding is: How would the original readers understand this. 

Granted, this is not always easy to figure out, but it helps us establish the original intent, then we are better able to apply that to our lives.

When we have certain principles that guide our lives, they provide shortcuts to through the maze controversial issues that we face in life. They provide a solid ground for us to stand on and they give us a starting point on determining what is true.

Since we don’t have the time or the ability to research all the different topics out there, our principles provide us with a way to navigate the landscape of current opinion as we seek to follow Jesus.

The Discipleship Road: Providence

 I am preaching a sermon series called The Discipleship Road  at Bethlehem Church. The series is loosely based on Eugene Peterson’s book A L...