Wednesday, July 15, 2020

After Thoughts Ep. 2: A Clearer Picture of Jesus

Who is Jesus?

One of the challenges for Christians is to have an accurate picture of Jesus. We tend to create Jesus in our own image, rather than allowing Jesus to mold us into his image.

In this episode I expand on my sermon, A Clearer Picture, as he looks a three portraits of Jesus found in Revelation.

Music is Eyes of Time by Danosongs


 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

A Clearer Picture

Here is the sermon I preached on June 28,2020 at Bethlehem Church in Austin, MN. 

I looked at three "portraits" of Jesus found in Revelation so we can have a clearer and a more complete picture of who Jesus truly is.


 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

After Thoughts: What is Truth?

I started a podcast for Bethlehem Church this week.

The podcast is called After Thoughts because it goes beyond what I am able to share in the sermon each week.

This week I am talking about what it is important to anchor our lives on the reality that Jesus is the truth.

 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Patience is Required

It is hard to be patient.

Our culture has trained us to be impatient. You and I expect to have things now.

Remember when the internet first started to become a thing?

There was the process of connecting through the phone line. Then websites and content took their sweet time to load. Streaming videos would not have been possible since the constant stopping and buffering would have been unbearable.

Now, we expect our internet experience to be instantaneous and smooth.

Our expectations have changed to the point that if images and videos don't load lighting quick we are moving on to something else.

Impatience isn't isolated to our online experience. It colors everything that we do.

It is one of the reasons why consumer debt is unbelievably high in the United States. We want what we want right now. We don't want to wait and save for it. With easy credit all we have to care about is, "What is the monthly payment?"

While impatience affects our lives in many different ways, one of the most impactful ways is in the area of discipleship.

"Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence  for mature Christian discipleship is slim...There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness."
Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p.16

We can be manipulated into have some sort of "religious experience" that makes us feel good. This is why feelings and emotional experiences are a poor foundation to build faith on. Once the feeling leaves and the experience fads into the past, it is easy to doubt God and wonder if any of it was really real in the first place.

True discipleship is a slow process.

It requires patience and a commitment to endure the ups and downs life throws our way.

The goal of discipleship is not an experience, feeling, or even acquiring all the right knowledge.

The goal is becoming holy.

I know holiness sounds rather dull and boring. Our pictures of holiness have to do with a life of strict discipline and quiet solitary life.

Let's face it. Satan has done a great job of turning what should be our greatest desire into something that we want to avoid.

I want to encourage you to think about holiness in this way: holiness is to live the life of Jesus.

Imagine living life with the compassion, mercy, wisdom, confidence, strength, and love of Jesus. 

Through discipleship we seek to be conformed to the image of Jesus. That takes time as we learn to be guided by the Spirit rather than the flesh and how to love God and people the way they need to be loved.

Discipleship doesn't happen over night and it takes faith, commitment, and work, but it does lead to a life of no regrets.

A life worth living is found on the road of discipleship.

Be patient and stay committed and you will discover the life God created you to live.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Be Humble and Respectful

People are different.

I know that isn't breaking news, but it is worth remembering. You and I are different in dozens, if not hundreds of ways. That is a good thing

The world would be a boring place if everyone believed and acted the same way.

The world advances when people of different backgrounds and skills work together. Everything from making a ham sandwich to creating a pencil to assembling a car requires a division of labor that benefits the world.

Diversity is one of God’s great blessings to the world.

Even though we acknowledge the blessing of diversity, the number 1 reason we judge other people is because they are different from us.

They do things different than we would do them, they believe different ideas than what we believe, they value different things than what we value, or they have a different set of morals than what we have.

These differences lead us to call other people weird, stupid, ignorant, immoral, and evil.

Our prideful side whispers in our hearts that our way is the right way and if that person doesn’t do it our way they are wrong. This reality (even though we wouldn’t actually admit to it) causes us to be very harsh with one another.

We see it in our discussion of politics, in our conversations about religion and theology, in our relationships at work, and our interactions with our neighbors.

Be careful about the way you view other people.

If you label people as weird, ignorant, or wrong simply because they do things differently than you do, you doing what Jesus asked you not to do.

Matthew 5:21-22
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.
In order to live the way of Jesus we need to be humble and patient.
The apostle Paul wrote; “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3, NLT)
Without humility we will cast judgement on others and treat them harshly. A lack of humility will prevent us from embracing the diversity God designed within the world.

This is especially crucial to do with people who are ideologically opposed to us. It is too easy to disregard what they have to say and to treat them as second class citizens. Yet, as followers of Jesus we are called love our neighbors and our enemies. To do that we have to treat them with respect.

Be humble and be respectful of the diversity that is all and us.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Listen to Jesus: Evaluation

This is the third sermon I preached in a series called Listen to Jesus.

God created us to bear His image in this world. We don't naturally bear His image, we have to be taught how. Jesus came to teach us how to demonstrate God's character in this world.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

How to Read the Bible: Design Patterns


One of the great gifts that God has given to His people is the Bible.

The Bible helps us understand who God is and what He desires for His creation. This means it is important for Christians to read, meditate, and live out Scripture.

One of the difficulties that we have when in it comes to reading the Bible is to see it as a unified Book. With all the different stories and types of literature we can be tempted to view the Bible as a hodge podge collection of writings that don't have a lot to do with each other.

God inspired the authors of the Bible to create a unified Story by using certain words, images, and themes that help link the various parts of the Bible together.



The design patterns of Scripture are something we can overlook when we are only reading short passages at a time.

To catch these patterns we have to read long sections at a time and then keep in mind things that seem to keep popping up. This skill takes work, and it helps to have some sort of teacher who is able to start pointing them out.

This is certainly a skill that the more you using, better you become at spotting the patterns.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

What are Rights?


Rights are a popular topic. It seems like everyone justifies what they want to do by calling it a right.

The major issue in this discussion about rights is that few of us have a good understanding of what a right truly is. We want to claim certain behaviors as rights, but few people could give a working definition for rights.

Think about it.

If someone asked you the question, What is a right?, how would you respond?

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson named life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as God-given and unalienable (which means they are not transferable to another or not capable of being taken away or denied) rights.

What makes those three ideas rights?

The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. They were written to protect the rights of citizens that the Founding Generation feared the new general government might violate.

What makes the freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and all the rest rights?

Are rights anything that would make life easier? Are they anything that supports the life we want to live?

I believe it is crucial for us to spend time thinking about what makes something a right and what disqualifies something as being one.

 In this article, Rights and Non-Rights: A Simple Way to Distinguish the Two, Lawerence Reed provides a brief summary for identifying rights.

Ultimately a right requires nothing from anyone else, except that you are left alone.

We have the right to our lives. That means no one can take our life away from us. It means I have the right to defend myself against people who want to do me harm. Because everyone has the right to life it means the only justification for killing is in defense of life. Abortion is wrong because it takes the life of another human being.

We have the right to liberty. This means we are able to choose the course of our lives. It is a violation of our rights to have another person force us to do things we do not want to do. This is what makes slavery evil. Slavery robs people of their liberty.

Admittedly, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the conversation about rights.

My hope is that this will provide you with a starting point when it comes to thinking through whether something is truly a right or not.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Don't Surrender to Fear

The tasks God calls us to do are often scary and overwhelming.

One reason for feeling this way is because we know that if completing the tasks depended solely upon us then they will remain unfinished. We are well aware of our weaknesses and the ways we have fallen short in the past.

A second reason for feeling this way is because of the unknown. We don’t know what the obstacles will be, but we know that there will be obstacles. Anytime we are moving with God we can expect opposition.

I imagine that Joshua felt this same way when he was called to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy 31:7-8 (NLT)

Then Moses called for Joshua, and as all Israel watched, he said to him, “Be strong and courageous! For you will lead these people into the land that the LORD swore to their ancestors he would give them. You are the one who will divide it among them as their grants of land. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Moses had been the leader of Israel for 40 years and he understood the difficulties that were involved with the task leadership. Like a wise leader he took the opportunity to encourage Joshua to be strong and courageous. Moses reminded Joshua that he could be confident in the task because God would go with him.

Deuteronomy 31:23 (NLT)

Then the LORD commissioned Joshua son of Nun with these words: “Be strong and courageous, for you must bring the people of Israel into the land I swore to give them. I will be with you.”

For a second time Joshua is encouraged to be “strong and courageous.” This time the encouragement didn’t come from Moses, but from God. Joshua wasn't appointed to be leader by Moses, but by God. God told Joshua that he can boldly lead the people into the Promised Land because God will go with him.


What a great promise to have as you begin to live out your calling.

Joshua 1:6-9 (NLT)

“Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

On the eve of venturing into the Promised Land God came to Joshua and affirmed the promise that he had been given. Joshua could be strong and courageous because God went with him.

In this passage we also discover God’s instruction to Joshua on how to be strong and courageous: to know and obey the law.

God established a covenant with Israel, and as Israel's leader Joshua was charged with teaching Israel how to obey the terms of that covenant. It was essential that Joshua knew, obeyed, and ultimately modeled covenant faithfulness to the nation.

As Joshua knew, lived, and taught the terms of the covenant to Israel, he would become more and more confident of God’s faithfulness to His promises.

2 Timothy 1:6-8 (NLT)

This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 
So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News.
Timothy had a task to complete. It was based on the talents and spiritual gifts that God had given him.

Even though Timothy was called by God and had the necessary skills to complete the task, there was a part of Timothy that was holding him back. If he was to accomplish his God-given mission he would face persecution and opposition. Paul reminded Timothy that God's Spirit gave him the courage and boldness he needed to accomplish what God had called him to do.

Followers of Jesus we are not to surrender to our fears. We are to go forth in courage and do what we have been called to do: to make disciples.

Yes, we will face opposition.

That reality shouldn’t hold us back. We move forward, confident that as we demonstrate our faithfulness we will experience God’s faithfulness.

We can go confidently into the world because we know that God goes with us. He has empowered us, through His Spirit, to be the strong and courageous people He called us to be.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Continue to Struggle

We were never promised an easy life.

Even though we know this is true, we always feel like life is unfair when hardships, trials, and difficulties show up in our lives. 

We expect life to go easily, and when it doesn’t it shakes us to the core.

I believe that Christians, though we wouldn’t admit it, secretly believe following Jesus should make life easier. After all, we reason, we are doing God’s will and that means He should help us in our work. This unspoken belief is why it is easy for people to walk away from Jesus when things get difficult.

Let me throw this thought out at you: Does opposition make things easier or more difficult?

The Bible tells us that there is an enemy, Satan, who is opposed to God and His will. It is logical to conclude that following Jesus would make things more difficult. Satan is not going to sit idly by as we pursue the will of God. He is going to fight us every step of the way. 
The presence of an enemy, the reality of evil, and the corruption caused by sin means we can expect difficult times in our lives.

This implies even when we are doing God’s will things will not always go smoothly for us. The mere fact that we are doing God’s will means we can expect opposition. 

When hardships and trials come our way the best thing we can do is to struggle forward. As James pointed out in James 1:2-4, God uses these situations to mature our faith. In the face of opposition, of hardships, and of trials it is vital that we hold on to God’s promise. 

Hope is essential to enduring the struggles of life.

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive:

“I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death. (Revelation 2:8-11; NLT)

Jesus told this group of Christians not to give up in the face of persecution. “Hang in there,” He says, “this persecution won’t last forever.”

Our struggle may not be persecution, but it is still a form of opposition from the enemy. In the middle of hardships we are often tempted to give up and do something else. We need hope to stay the course, and this is why Jesus reminds us of the great promise he has for us: a crown of life. 

Don’t give up, the reward is more than worth the pain!

How do we hang on and trust in Jesus when life becomes a struggle?
  1. Ask yourself the question: Is my struggle tied to right and faithful living? We need to be honest, sometimes life is a struggle because we have made bad choices. If that is the case, then we need to change the way we live. While God won’t take away the consequences of bad choices, He will empower us to get through them. On the other hand, if our hardships come from doing God’s will, then we need to remain faithful. If our desire is to honor God, encourage people, help others, and mature in our faith then we can expect to be opposed by Satan. We overcome Satan by being faithful to Jesus.
  2. Let go of your expectations. Each one of us carries around in minds what it life should look like and the wild success we will experience in ministry. These expectations can motivate us, but they can also be a huge stumbling block when life turns out to be different. That is why it is essential for us to be flexible, to lay down our agendas, and seek God’s guidance. Keep your focus on the hope of Jesus’s promise and not on your expectations.
  3. Surround yourself with friends. If we believe that we are alone in our struggle it is very easy to give up. It is much easier to endure when we are with friends. My first hiking trip to Colorado I went myself and I didn’t complete one hike. The reason was because I was alone and I got discouraged by the difficulties of the trials. When I have gone with friends I have been able to complete the trials, even when I felt like turning around, because we were on the trial together. The same is true in life and ministry.
Life is tough. 

The fact that life is tough doesn’t mean that we are on the wrong trail. Remember, we can expect opposition to find us as we follow Jesus. That means the struggles of life can be an indication that we are doing what God wants us to do. 

Rather than being on the wrong path, we are being opposed by the enemy. Regardless of the circumstances of life we need to stay faithful. It is only by remaining faithful that we can experience the life God created us to live.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Listen to Jesus: Deep Clean

As I a pastor I am currently preaching a sermon series entitled "Listen to Jesus" that looks at 6 teachings of Jesus that provide an understanding of how we can bear God's image in this world.

This is the second sermon in the series that focuses on our part in cleaning our hearts.

Friday, May 15, 2020

God Cares For You

Worries are a part of life.

Some have worries about health problems and medical tests.

Others have worries about relationship issues.

Still others have worries about money and bills.

Worries are universal, a common experience of life.

The apostle Peter wrote; So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and in his good time he will honor you. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you (1 Peter 5:6-7; NLT).

God cares about us!

The implication of this great truth is that all of our worries and cares matter to Him. He cares about those silly fears we have about talking in front of a group of people, being in the dark, or the sound of thunderstorms.

The big worries also matter to God.

He cares about the fact that we worry about the salvation of our friends and family, that we are unable to find work, or that our parents' are sick. Everything that causes us to worry or that we care about, God also cares about.

How do we know that?

Peter wrote that God “cares about what happens to you.”

The evidence of God's love for us is seen in the blessings He generously gives. This is why it is important to take a few minutes on a regular basis to write a list of God’s blessing.

The life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus is more evidence that God cares for us. He is the one who took the initiative to save us when He had every right to allow us experience the pain of our rejection of Him.

The knowledge of God's love for us should motivate us to pray. The knowledge that God cares about the smallest detail of our lives helps us not to hesitate to pray about the circumstances of our lives, the wounds of our hearts, and the problems of our loved ones.

We have to be aware that with our limited perspective on life will lead us to question what God does and how He answers prayer. Even when we don't understand, I am certain as we reflect on our lives we will be able to see God's handiwork.   I am even more confident that when all is said and done we will realize that God led us by the best path for us.

I think this passage provides us with a great picture of God. We matter to God, and He cares about what happens in our lives. May this truth motivate us to continually come to God in prayer.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

How to Read the Bible: Setting

An expectation God has for His people is that we will be holy as He is holy. To help us in this task God has given us the Bible. 

The Bible is a wonderful library of books that cover many different events and themes, which are woven together to tell one story. This one story leads to Jesus.

Even though the Bible is a wonderful gift that helps us understand Jesus and guides us on how to live, it can be hard to understand. We need to be taught how to read the Bible.

One of the basic things we need to understand about the Bible is that it is written in a variety of literary styles. The most common of these styles is historical narrative. Understanding narrative means we have to follow the plot, know the characters, and discover the setting. Knowing the setting of the narrative provides essential clues to understanding the point of the story.

 

When we take the settings of the narratives into account it helps us to build links to others stories. As we link different stories together we are able to see the unity of Scripture. For example, garden narratives should get us to recall chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis and get us to start drawing similarities and differences between what that story and what happened in the Garden of Eden.

Another key component of settings is time. The number seven is important because it going to remind people about Sabbath and resting.

Like any good story, it is important that we pay attention to the setting as we read through the narratives in the Bible. The biblical authors provide details about the setting to give us clues to the larger story that is going on.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Citizens of God's Kingdom

{Ephesians 2:19-22; NLT} 
So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. 

 
There are two kingdoms. 

There is the kingdom of this world and there is the kingdom of God. 

 The reality of life, apart from Jesus, is that we are excluded from God’s kingdom. This means we are strangers and foreigners in the very kingdom that God created us to call home. 

Things can be different! 

Our citizenship can be changed!

 Not only can we become citizens of God’s kingdom, but we can even be adopted into God’s family! 

Before, while we were in our sin, we were outsiders, we didn’t belong to God’s Kingdom, but now we do. We were citizens of the world, and foreigners in the Kingdom of God, but now our citizenship has changed. 

The world is no longer our home, we are pilgrims in this land, because our citizenship is now in Heaven.

 I want to point out two implications that come with being citizens of God’s Ki ngdom. 

  1. We are not alone. I am not the only citizen of the Kingdom, and though it might feel like I am all alone at times, that is just a feeling and not reality. In this Kingdom reside all the faithful who lived under the Old Covenant as well as all of the faithful who follow Christ Jesus. The writer of Hebrews writes of a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). It encourages me to think about all the people who have lived faithful lives, because it reminds me that I am not the only one to experience the struggles of faith. 
  2. There is a standard for living. God expects His people to live in a certain way. One of the expectations God has for His people is that we will be servants. We need to help those people who are in need and in the process bring God’s love and hope into their lives. A second expectation is that we live moral lives. The moral standard that we live by needs to be better than the standard the rest of the world by. People need to recognize that there is a difference in the way we live and the they live. 

What a word of hope we find in this passage. 

We are part of God’s Kingdom! Being citizens of God’s kingdom is going provide us with some challenges. It will be a challenge simply because our purpose of life has changed. The fact that we are citizens of God’s kingdom and members of His household needs to shape the way we live.

Why? 

It needs to shape our lives because we no longer live for ourselves. Now we are representatives, ambassadors, of God’s Kingdom, and is essential that we to play the part.

Questions to consider: 
  • What was your life like before Jesus? 
  • Do you gain any hope from knowing you are part of God’s kingdom? 
  • How can you be a good representative of God’s kingdom?

Monday, May 11, 2020

Face Reality

I am an introvert. That is one of the reasons why I spend so much time pondering.  

All my pondering often leads to introspection. I am constantly evaluating my life.

One of my goals is to live as consistently as possible. I am always examining my thoughts and my actions to see if they line up with what I claim to believe. 

This is both good and bad. 

On the one hand, it helps me to live with integrity, which is a key part of following Jesus. 

On the other hand, it puts a lot of pressure on me, because I can see all the areas where I fall short of my ideals.

When it comes to following Jesus it is good to spend time evaluating the condition of our hearts and the way we live. 

The apostle Paul wrote:
Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. (Romans 12:3; NLT)
Paul taught that we need to have the proper understanding of who we are. 

This requires that we take time to honestly evaluate ourselves. The warning Paul gave is that we don't think of ourselves better than we are. We shouldn't put a positive spin on things, rather we accept our strengths and victories as we admit to our weakness and failures. 

For a healthy life we need to do both. We need value the positive things and confess the negative things.

Too often people fail to examine their lives and ask the tough questions. They try to keep the status quo and not rock the boat, and the result is that they remain stunted in their maturity. Some of our most profound times of growth occur when we take stock of our lives and begin the hard work of making the appropriate changes.

What is true on a personal level is also true on a group level. 

Churches stagnate and die because the members don't want to take time and to face reality. The crisis the Church in the United States is facing right now is, in part, due to the reality that we have wanted to keep the status quo rather than seeking ways to connect with people living in a post-Christian internet age.

This failure to honestly examine things is also true in the nation as a whole. We can talk about a health care crisis or a financial crisis, but we never ask the tough questions that need to be asked that help us understand the root of these crises. We don't want to know what truly caused the problem, we just want the government to make it go away.

My point in all of this is to remind us that as long as we are dealing with superficial issues we will continue to miss the core problem. Whether it is in our personal lives, in our churches, or in our nation, we need to look beyond the superficial and examine what really matters. 

While this is harder to do in the short term it will pay huge benefits in the long run. Effective solutions are those that actually deal with root problem.  By not addressing the real issue, we are just wasting time doing things that ultimately will not matter. 

We need to face reality if we hope to become the people, the church, or the country God created us to be.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Listen to Jesus: Teach Us to Pray

Last Sunday I began a new sermon series entitled Listen to Jesus.


 This series will take a look at 6 teachings from Luke 11-15 as we explore how are able to bear the image of God in this world. The only person qualified to teach on this subject is Jesus, and that is why we need to listen to him.

 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Discipleship Happens in Community


Change is hard.

We grow comfortable with the way things are, so when our circumstances or our environment changes it can be hard to accept.

Change is also hard when we want to make changes.

We convince ourselves that we are in control, but when we seek to make a change in our lives, we discover that we have engrained habits that are hard to break.

This raises two important questions:

What is the process of change?
How can I become the person I desire to be?

I have tried to change but it seems I have made little progress. It seems that the same sins and struggles that plagued my life five years ago still haunt me today. I have tried writing out a plan, enlisting the help of others, and just gritting my teeth as I try to "white knuckle" it through. 

Nothing seems to work.

When we feel like we are making little progress presents a huge problem for the Christians. 

Why is it a problem for a Christian? 

It is a problem because a lack of progress leads to discouragement, and discouragement leads to people giving up.

One of the keys to change is to know all our effort is making a difference. When we are able to see progress we begin to feel like there is hope for transformation after all.

Hope is crucial for the success of change.

There is nothing more discouraging in our journey of faith than feeling like we faking the whole thing. 

We compare our lives to the Christians we know and it seems like they have thing together, and so we come to believe that we are doing something wrong. While these people are the real deal, we are just imperfect copies.

How do we help people to change?

I believe part of the solution, especially when it comes to spiritual formation, is discipleship. 

Discipleship is not about adding another class or series of classes that explain church doctrine or what is expected from church membership. It is also not about handing people a list of "spiritual" disciplines that they need to add to their lives (though disciplines do play part in discipleship).

Discipleship requires community. We need to have a group of people who model Jesus’ love for one another, encourage each other, and help one another. While change is ultimately is a personal decision, it has a better chance of success when other people are involved.

One of the failings of the Western church has been a lack of discipleship. 

There are many reasons for this, but at the top of the list focus on the Sunday worship event. A lot of time and money are put into producing a large event that hopefully draws a crowd, but there is little intentionality that is put on making disciples. The one answer churches continue to come back to is that discipleship happens in small groups.

As wonderful as Sunday morning worship and a once a week small group are, they are not enough to bring transformation to the lives of people. This is one of those places where the values of the culture are going to go against the values of the Kingdom.

Americans tend to fill every waking moment with activity, but for Christians we need to slow down and work into our lives time to spend with people. 

I know that this is not easy to do. As a pastor I know people need a spiritual community that is integrated into their way of life. This cannot be programmed to fit into their schedules. It needs to be an organic thing that emerges from the desire to be in fellowship with God and people. We are talk about real relationships that encourages faith, that challenges beliefs, and provides opportunities to love others.

The bottomline is that change is next to impossible because we try to go it alone. We need the encouragement that comes from a loving community for transformation to become a reality.

Discipleship is the key to change, and discipleship happens within the context community.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

How to Read the Bible: Character

The Bible is a gift from God to His people. 
 
We know that it is important to read the Bible, but there are many places in the Bible that are hard to understand. There are also parts that seem rather boring and we loose interest.

Since the Bible doesn't always make sense to our modern western ears means that we need to take time to understand it. 

The Bible is a collection of books written in different literary styles. In fact, many books contain more than one type of literary style within it. 

This is important because we don't read poetry the same way as we read narrative. Understanding the literary type helps us understand what God wants us to know.

About a third of the Bible is narrative, which makes it the most common literary style found in Scripture.

In order to understand narrative we need to understand the basic plot. Often when we read the Bible we pluck sections out of their context, looking for some eternal truth that we can apply to our lives, and in the process we miss out on the bigger plot of the story.

Another feature of narratives is character development. Every good story is about people, and their development within the story draws us into the narrative and makes us care about what is going on.

To be honest, it is hard to relate to Biblical characters. Their world is alien to us. We live surrounded by technology, which prevents us from experiencing the natural world around us. The people described in the Bible were outside people. They were herders who cared for animals and lived a nomadic existence. 

This is just one of the issues we face as we come to read and understand the Bible.

How can better understand the characters written about in the Bible?


 

 The characters in the Bible show us what humans are like. They are a commentary on human nature, a reminder that we are a complex mixture of good and bad motives and actions.

While the Biblical authors provide minimal detail when describing these people, especially in terms of modern day novel authors, the details they provide are important and give insight into their character.

Another key feature is the name of the character. We don't always think about the name of a person, but for the authors of the Bible names were very important and shed light into who the person was.

A frustrating feature of Biblical narrative is that the thoughts and motives of people are rarely shared. In the stories we read and watch the authors typically provide us glimpses into the minds of their characters.

Instead, the Biblical authors provide the details of what happened without moral commentary. This forces us to ponder about what was right and wrong in that situation and how we would have responded.

The Bible is not a collection of nice children's fables that provide a moral at the end of the story. We have tried to do that when teaching the Bible to children, and have ended up watering Scripture down.

The Bible is not a children's story. The narratives in the Old and New Testaments are filled with complicated characters, who often make the bad choice. Over all, these are not people we want to imitate.

What we want to do is to pay attention to the failures of these characters and why they made those decisions. This helps us to think about our actions and the reasons behind our failures and our faith.

We also want to pay attention to how they turn to God and experience God's grace and love. These are the moments that allow us to see God's character and the love He has for us.

The more time we spend reading and meditating on Scripture the better it is able to guide our lives.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Uniquely You

At some level I think everyone wishes they were someone else.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It means we realize there are areas in our lives we wish were different. Dissatisfaction can motivate us to make changes in the way we live.

 Ravi Zacharias wrote:
One of the most liberating moments in life is when we are able to accept ourselves as God has made us and are free from the shackles of trying to be someone we are not and were never meant to be. We then soar to be the unique personality God has given to each of us. (Cries Of The Heart; pp. 39-40)

Life can be disappointing when you dream about being someone else. 

Believe me, I know. For much of my life I wished I could be someone other than who I was. 

I grew up wanting to be like Han Solo, that dashing rogue from Star Wars. There was also Snake-Eyes, the silent ninja from GI Joe. Last but not least, I wanted to be like the Batman, the greatest super-hero of all time. When I was younger I dreamed about being strong, being a hero, and going on an adventure.

As I grew older, I met people whose life I wanted to have. I was envious of the All-Star. Every sort of game and physical activity seemed to come so easily for him. He was able to excel on the basketball court, the soccer field, and the golf course. I have a competitive spirit, and jealousy set in, because I wanted to win like he does. I wanted to be the All-Star.

Another life I wished to have was the All-American. You know the type, the guy who seems to have everything together. Not only does he excel in the sport he plays, but he excels in the classroom as well. Other people look to him as an example to follow. I wanted to be the All-American.

There is nothing wrong with looking up to people and using them as an example to follow. The apostle Paul actually encourages that behavior; "Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example." (Philippians 3:17; NLT). 

We need people to model behavior for us, to help us understand how to respond to the different situations life throws our way. The problem is not in having role models, but becoming jealous of their lives.

It is hard to be happy with yourself when you wish you were someone different:
  • You cannot take joy in your accomplishments because they are not what you want to accomplish. 
  • You cannot take pride in your talents because they are not the talents you want to have. 
  • You cannot find contentment with your life because you are dreaming of a different life.
This type of living means we miss out on the best God has for us. God has created us uniquely, and the full life He promised can only be found in trusting Him as we live our lives.

Satan deceives us by getting us to believe that we will be happy if we just had what our brother, best friend, or neighbor have. Envy is a life robber of the first degree.

The truth is accomplishments and talents are not what makes us happy. If I had the athletic ability of the All-Star I still would not be happy. That is not what I was created to be. 

Happiness and fulfillment are only found when we are doing what God has created us to do.

The best lesson I learned during the five years I was the youth pastor at the Stronghurst Christian Church is that I don’t have to be anyone else. 

When I first arrived at Stronghurst I tried to be the stereo-typical youth pastor. I tried to be high energy, play crazy games, and come up with big events. I believed that if I could do those things and attract students to come, then I would be a success. The trouble is I didn’t find success or satisfaction in any of those things. I am not high energy, I am not crazy, and my passion is not in planning big events. 

By trying to be someone else, I became frustrated and discouraged.

It took a couple of conversations with my brother to help me understand my problem. Tom encouraged me to look at my talents and to spend 80 percent of my time doing what my strengths are. Focusing on my teaching, preaching, and writing has made all the difference. Not only did it make me excited about what was happening with the students at Stronghurst, but I have also began to enjoy who I am. 

By embracing the gifts God has given me I am able to find joy and contentment in the life He has given to me.

It is not enough to simply embrace the gifts God has given us. 

Using the gift for the wrong purpose will still leave us miserable and frustrated. Our talents must be used for God’s purpose, not for our purpose. If we are to find satisfaction with who we are, we must glorify the One who has given us life. 

This is one of the lessons we learn from the story of the three servants which Jesus told in Matthew 25:14-30. 

The first two servants were praised, not because they accepted their gifts, but because they risked their gifts for the expansion of the Master’s kingdom. The last servant accepted the gift, but he did not risk it or use it for the expansion of the Master’s kingdom. The result was that he was thrown out of the kingdom. 

The difference between being praised or being thrown out is not found in our acceptance of God's blessings, but in how we use those blessings. God has created us to reflect His character in this world. The only way we can do that is to use God's blessings to bless the world around us.

What this means is I have to understand how God has blessed me and how I can use those blessings to help build for God’s kingdom. 

The two go together. 

My greatest successes have happened when I allowed God to work through the gifts He has given me. These experiences taught me that God has not called me to be someone I am not, but He has called me to simply be me.

The Apostle Paul said: 
But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God. (Acts 20:24; NLT). 

Paul recognized that his life had significance when he lived according to his calling. 

The same is true for us. 

Our life will only have meaning and worth when we live it according to God's purpose for our lives. 

We discover our calling by knowing the gifts (talents, skills, education, experiences, resources) God has given us and by understanding our place in the Great commission. Each one of us has a role to play in making disciples of all nations. It is only by working together that we can accomplish this great task.

After years of wishing I was someone else, I am learning to accept me for who God created me to be. 

I am no longer frustrated and discouraged with the direction of my life. I am happy and fulfilled. 

I don’t want it to sound like I never have times of discouragement and disappointment, I do, but overall I am content with my life. I know that I am doing what God has created me to do, and I am fulfilling His purpose for my life.

A Scripture passage that has helped me in this journey is 1 Peter 4:10-11:
God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. (NLT)

God created us uniquely. 

Each of us have gifts that are able to be used for God’s Kingdom. When we use them in this manner we discover the life God created us to live.

We need to stop looking at other people and wishing we had what they have. 

What they have will not satisfy us. 

God has created us uniquely and what He has given us is meant just for us, just as what they have is meant just for them. When our focus is on using our talents to build for God’s Kingdom, then we discover the contentment, joy, and meaning we desperately want in life.

Embrace the unique you God created you to be.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Trust God's Goodness

This thought from George MacDonald resonated with me: "Because we easily imagine ourselves in need, we imagine that God is ready to forsake us." (The Best of George MacDonald, p. 36)

I may not verbalize, "If God doesn't come through and meet my need that means He has abandoned me," but it is how I feel at times.

I have this unspoken belief that if God doesn't arrange for the life I want to live, then He doesn't love me.

This is a tragic thought, and Satan uses it to rob us of life and to doubt God's goodness.

This is why it is vital we remember God as our loving Heavenly Father.

I know that the name "Heavenly Father" can make God sound cold and distant. We imagine heaven being out there somewhere and father seems to be formal name that we don't usually use. Our perspective about God makes it difficult to picture him as loving, good, and present.

Changing our perspective about God takes time and it requires a change of experience. The only thing we can do is to start acting like God is our good loving father. As we trust God we begin to experience Him as our good loving father.

Here is the question I want you to ponder: How would it change our lives if we did begin to trust God as our good and loving Heavenly Father?

Here is how I think it would change my life.
  1. It would mean not worrying about life. Instead of worrying I would be confident that God will provide for what I need for living a holy life. 2 Peter 1:3 says, "By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence." (NLT). It is hard to enjoy life when I am consumed with fear and worry. To trust God to provide means I would be free to live life.
  2. It would mean that I pursue the things of God rather than the things of this world. I live in the world and I am vulnerable to falling into the same worries, concerns, ambitions, and desires the people around me have. Jesus wants me to intentionally live in a different way. "Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need." (Matthew 6:33, NLT). I learn to trust God and experience His provision as I give myself to His will.
  3. It would mean that I live generously. When I trust God that He will provide for me and my desire shifts to pursuing His will, then I will be more inclined to bless other people. Luke described how the first Christians took care of one another, "And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need." (Acts 2:44-45; NLT). To be free from worry allows me to find ways to bless and encourage other people.
Yes, we have needs, but these needs are not evidence that God has abandoned us or doesn't care about us. My needs are opportunities for us to learn to trust God as our loving Heavenly Father. It is this trust that motivates our prayers and gives us hope.

God is our good loving, and gracious Heavenly Father. Trusting Him will make all the difference in our lives.


Sunday, May 3, 2020

Worship in Thanksgiving

{Psalms 9:1-2; ESV}

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;

I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.

I will be glad and exult in you;

I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

Heavenly Father, my great provider, open my eyes to the blessings You have generously given me. I have begun to take these great blessings for granted and I have not thanked You for Your generosity. I have come to expect these blessings as my right rather than as great gifts.

Move my heart to be thankful and open my eyes to see You at work in my life. I thank You for the food I enjoy, the clothes that I wear, the relationships that enrich my life, the work that uses my creativity, and the ministry that allows me to complete the good works You created me to do.

I worship You because You are the Creator, giving the universe beauty and meaning. I worship You because You are the Savior, giving me hope and freedom. I worship You because You are the Provider, giving me all that I need for life and righteousness. I worship You.

In the name of the Son, Christ Jesus, I pray, amen

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Trust Jesus for Hope

Online preaching is what I am doing right now.

 It is different. I would rather speak in front of an audience, but I have to do what I have to do.

 This is the conclusion of the sermon series: Trust Jesus. I added this sermon after the Covid-19 pandemic hit because I thought hope is something that we need right now.

Take some time and watch Trust Jesus for Hope.

 

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Value the Moment

We all have dreams.

Dreaming is part of what makes us human.

I dream of writing a book, getting into shape, and going on camping adventures. 

There are many things that I would like to accomplish in life, but when I examine my life I realize that time continues to move forward while my dreams gradually fade away. 

Too often it feels like life, quiet literally, is passing me by.

I assume that the same is true with you? 

Sure your dreams are different, but you too have moments when you feel like the life you have is not the life you want. You want your life to count for something and you long to be part of something special,  but now time is running out. 

Apparently our dreams come with an expiration date.

Why does life seem to gradually slip away? 

I believe it is because of the choices that we make. 

I am not talking about choices between good and evil, but about how we choose to use our time.

Erwin McManus wrote:
“This may sound too simple, but the abundant life that Jesus promises is ushered in through the choices we make in the ordinary moments of life.” (Seizing Your Divine Moment, p. 35)
Each day we are given 24 hours to use at our discretion. 

It is true that a large part of that time is taken up by our responsibilities. There are clothes that need to be washed, meals that need to be prepared, jobs that need to completed, and children who need to be loved. 

Yet, even with all our responsibilities we still seem to find time to watch Netflix, scroll through our Facebook feeds, and create awesome images of Instagram. 

Since busyness is a badge of honor in our culture, we will declare to the world how busy we are, but the reality is we are able to find time to do the things we want to do.

In those moments when we get to choose what we want to do, how do we use our time? 

I am afraid that too often I end up wasting my time. I scroll through Twitter, listen to podcasts, or play a game on my iPad. Rather than doing something productive I choose to entertain myself. 

In the process I squander the moments of life. These moments turn into days, which turn into weeks, which turn into months, which turn into years. 

It is important to remember: A moment may not seem like a big deal, but a moment is all that is needed to change the course of our lives. 

Again I like what Erwin McManus wrote in Seizing Your Divine Moment:
“The present moment is where the past and the future collide, and within a moment there is monumental potential. That’s the mystery of a moment. It is small enough to ignore and big enough to change your life forever. Life is the sum total of what you do with the moments given you.” (p. 18)
When we choose the path of least resistance, we miss out on the life God created us to live. 

There will come a time in your life when you look back and wonder: Where has my life gone?
So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.  (Ephesians 5:15-17; NLT)
We are to be good stewards of the moments God has given to us. 

To live carefully has very little to do with taking safety precautions and has everything to do with how we choose to use our time. 

The apostle Paul wants us to be wise in our use of time.

Time is our most precious commodity, it is even more valuable than money. You can use time to earn money, but you can't use money to buy more time.

Time is also valuable because our lives are determined by the way we decide to use the ordinary moments of life. When we consistently use the ordinary moments of life to follow Jesus, sooner or later we realize, much to our amazement, that we are living the abundant life he promised us.

Here is the question I want to leave you with: How intentional are you in how you use your time? 

The good news is that it is not too late to become a good steward of the ordinary moments of our lives.

Don't look back on your life with regret, but look forward with hope.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

How to Read the Bible: Plot

One of the most important tools that God has given us for our spiritual formation is the Bible.

The Bible contains wisdom from God that helps guide our lives.

But the Bible is more than a collection of eternal truths. If it was then all 66 books would read like Proverbs. No,  the Bible is made up of a collection of different literary styles. The most common style is narrative.

As we read the Bible, we notice that there are many stories that tell us about the lives of people and their pursuit to follow God. Some of these stories are strange to our ears and don't make a lot of sense to us. This problem is made worse because we are constantly looking for the lesson from the story so we have something to apply to our lives.

When we do this, we often miss out on the real lesson that these stories teach us.

So how do we read the stories of the Bible?




It is important that we don't look at stories as isolated events that are there to teach us some eternal truth. We are to look at the whole scope of the narrative and discover how God worked in the lives of people. This gives us a better sense of what God wants us to know.

There is a central plot the runs through the story of each person that connects the individual events of there lives. Understanding this plot helps us to learn the lessons we need to be the faithful people God created us to be.

Not only is there a central plot the moves through the story of each person, but there is a central plot that connects the stories throughout the Bible. Finding this plot helps us discover that the main story of the Bible points to Jesus.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

I Hope You Don't Burn in Hell

Several years ago I was at a meeting with other youth pastors planning a week of high school camp. During the meeting we discussed how we could do a better job of holding the campers accountable for the commitments they made during camp.

As we discussed the importance of commitments and what we could do to encourage the campers to honor their commitments, one of the other youth pastors said; “I am the type of guy that if someone doesn’t live up to their commitment to God I hope they burn in hell.”

I remember sitting there shocked that he would say that with such conviction. I was even more shocked than no one challenged him on his statement. I guess we were all shocked by what we heard.

It is true Christians are often portrayed with this type of judgmental attitude, but is this the attitude that Christ Followers should have?

Any time we hope for the eternal damnation of another person we are hoping for something that is contradictory to the will of God.

Consider these passages:

And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 22, 23; ESV) 
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20; ESV) 
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-3; ESV)

It seems clear to me that rather than hoping a person burns in hell for not living up to their commitments we are to do our best to restore that person to a relationship with God.

We may think that we only have to worry about ourselves, but that is not what happens in a family. To be part of the Church means that we have a responsibility for the spiritual formation of each other.

According to the apostle Paul when we don’t share in the burdens and problems of others we are not following the way of Christ.

To be a follower of Jesus means that we are part of a community.

The New Testament teaches us that our relationship with God is tied to our relationship to each other. If we get caught up in our own “personal relationship” with Jesus and neglect other Christians, then we are not being true to our calling.

Only a person who believes we are called to judge others can say what my youth pastor friend did so many years ago.

It is true that one of our roles as disciples of Jesus is to challenge people in their sin (while we continue to confess and overcome our own sin). This is to be done with grace and mercy. People are more likely to listen when they know that we care for them and when they know we practice what we preach.

One of the ways we develop this attitude is to spend time praying for and serving others. These disciplines help us develop compassion for other people. The judgmental attitude begins to melt away because we realize that, just like us, they face real obstacles in their desire to follow Jesus.

All of us need encouragement rather than condemnation.

Take time to evaluate your life and consider these questions:

  • Do I find it easy to judge people who don’t live up to my standard of what a Christian should be?
  • How am I encouraging people in their life of faith?
  • Have I shown compassion to someone who is struggling with life or do I simply cast judgement?


Jesus had harsh words for those religious leaders who were eager to burden people with shame and guilt, but did nothing to encourage them. He held people to a high standard for life and showed grace and love to them. His desire was that they would experience the love of God.

We are to follow his example.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Protect Yourself with Disciplines

All of us have those days when we don't feel like doing much of anything.

It could be the result of:

Not having a good night sleep.

Experiencing loneliness.

Feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities.

The presence of trouble in a relationship.

Or, depression settling in.

Whatever the reason maybe, we all have those days when we don't want to face the world.

I think that is one of the danger of being at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. The activities, projects, and relationships that keep us motivated and positive are not available to us. Working at home and Netflix now feel tedious. We have to be on our guard to protect our hearts and minds.

One of the best things we can do for our spiritual and mental health is to establish routines. These routines help us to get moving and thinking in ways that are productive and healthy.

Christians throughout history have found value in spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are practices, found and adapted from Scripture, that help strengthen our relationship with God and mature our faith. 

This same principle can be applied to other areas of our lives. Daily exercise, taking vitamins, following a sleep routine, taking a nap, and journaling are all examples of  disciplines that we can add to our lives that provide a sense of routine and focus to our lives. 

Disciplines, whether they are spiritual or not, help give focus to our days, and provide meaning when the rest of the day seems meaningless.

Since we know we will have days when our self-discipline gives out, it is important for us to have a routine that will get us moving in the right direction. 

For us who follow Jesus we need to set aside time each day to connect with God. We do this by reading and meditating on Scripture, praying, and journaling. By having a daily routine we become intentional about our spiritual formation, we create a time to reorient our focus, and we provide steps to help us keep moving forward in life.

I have come to discover how vital disciplines are in my life. As a guy who likes routine, they give me a path to follow as I go through my day. They also give me any opportunity to connect with God when I would rather spend more time in bed. 

We need disciplines in our lives, not because we want to show people how spiritual we are, but because with out them we will disconnect ourselves from God,  our source of life. 

For the sake of life and to grow in our relationship with God, we need to have spiritual disciplines in our lives. We cannot live a life of faith without them.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

An Example for Others

A fundamental belief that I have is: How we live our lives reflect what we truly believe.

This is why faith is more than just what we believe. Faith encompasses our actions as much as it is about our beliefs. The reason that our beliefs are important is the way they influence our actions.

When our beliefs simply remain truths that we agree with they make little difference in our lives. It is when those believes affect our actions that they take on a greater significance. 

Abraham, the great example of faith, was credited with righteousness because his belief in God was made real by the way he trusted God with his life. We can say we believe in God, but if that belief isn’t manifested into action then we really don’t have faith. 

The simple definition of faith I like to share with people is "life influenced by belief."

Faith is about applying what we believe to the way we live. 

This is why James wrote: "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:26; ESV).

Our belief maybe the root of faith, but our actions (the way we live) are the stem and branches of faith. Faith requires both.

Why is this important?

It is important because it reminds us that our faith is not a simple matter of personal preference. A person who faithfully follows Jesus is an example for others to follow. 

Think about it.

The people who have influenced you the most are not only people who taught  you true things, but also applied those truths to the way they lived. Their lives validated what they taught.

In the Gospels we discover a group of people who were not interested in being a good example for people to follow. Rather, they were interested in impressing other people with how "righteous" they were.

The Pharisees were the religious teachers of Jesus’ day. They interpreted Scripture for people and taught them how it applied to their lives.

Yet, they missed a key component in their teaching—they didn’t live it out in their lives. People were impressed by their religious piety, but people were also discouraged because they knew they couldn’t achieve that level of “righteousness".

 It was on this point that Jesus confronted the Pharisees.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger" (Matthew 23:1-4; ESV)
The underlying theology that the Pharisees taught was not the issue. The issue was that the Pharisees burdened people with law but did not teach them how to obey the laws. They taught the truth, but did not show people how to live a faithful life.

 Jesus told the crowd that the Pharisees had bad faith, not bad theology. He urged people to listen to the Pharisees' teaching, but discouraged them from following their example.

We need to keep in mind that there are two parts to effective teaching—explaining truth and letting that truth be seen in your life. When our lives do not reflect the truth of the Gospel, those closest to us will wonder whether or not it is really the truth.

The best evidence for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are the faithful lives lived by His followers. When we live faithful lives we make the teachings of Jesus real and accessible to the people around us. Without living examples, Jesus’ teachings remain a philosophy rather than becoming a way of life.

Having the truth doesn’t do us, or anyone else, any good if we don’t apply that truth to our lives.

The life of faith is the life that is lived based on the truth that we know.

Faith happens when we live our lives in the light of what we believe. A life that is lived by faith is a life that provides an example for others to follow.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

How to Read the Bible: Ancient Jewish Meditation Literature

I want to return to posting BibleProject videos on How to Read the Bible. You can find the previous three here, here, and here.

We understand that there are different types of literature. How we read a news article is different than how we would read a fictional story.

This difference in literary types is expanded as we look are different cultures at different time types. One of the reasons the Bible can be hard for us to understand is because it was written in a different time and place. If we approach the Bible the same way we would our modern day literature we are going to miss much of what the Biblical authors wanted us to understand.



There are two important lessons that we are to remember as we read and study the Bible.

The first lesson is to read the Bible slowly and deliberately, giving ourselves time to think about what was written. We are not meant to understand everything in one reading of Scripture, so we return and reread and meditate on what we have read.

The second lesson is to discuss our readings with a group. The dynamic of a group allows us to hear from perspectives we don't have as we read Scripture. This opens up the possibility for us to see the truth of Scripture in a whole new way.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Trust Jesus for New Life

It was strange to celebrate Easter at home this year. Right now Bethlehem, like most churches around the United States, are coping with the regulations given by our state government. Even though we cannot meet in person, we are doing what we can to continue to have a Christian community via the power of the internet.

This is the sermon I preached for Easter Sunday: Trust Jesus for New Life.


Monday, April 20, 2020

Trust Jesus to Lead

One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is the story of the Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30).

I like the story because the Rich Young Ruler is a person in the Bible who American Christians can relate to.

While we may not consider ourselves rich, compared to rest of the world we are. In fact, the greatest stumbling block for Americans, just as it was for the Rich Young Man, is materialism (measuring the worth and purpose of our lives by the things we have or desire to have).

The Rich Young Man comes to Jesus with the question: "How can I have eternal life?"

Ultimately what the Young Man asked Jesus is how he can be part of God's eternal kingdom.

Jesus responded, "You need to keep the commandments."

The key, according to Jesus, is to remain in God's will. God revealed His will to Israel through the Law. For the Rich Young Man to remain in God's will required that he keep the commandments.

Young Man replied to Jesus, "I have kept the commandments."

We should not hear this as being arrogant, but rather a declaration that he was following what the Law required. He obeyed the commandments, and when he broke one he made sure the appropriate sacrifice was offered. In his mind he could truthfully say, "I have kept the commandments."

Notice Jesus did not challenge him on this point. Rather, he gave the Young man one more thing to do: sell his possessions and give the money to the poor.

Remember Jesus hung all the commandments on two commands: love God and love your neighbor.

What the Young Man revealed by holding on to his wealth is that he really did not keep the commandments. He participated in a religion, but true love eluded him.

The Young Man was torn between two desires. He desired the lifestyle that his money gave him, but he also desired to be part of God's Kingdom.

The Young Man chose the immediate desire of an easy life rather than the long term desire of following Jesus.

The result was that the Young Man missed out on being part of God's Kingdom. He came with the desire to be part of the eternal Kingdom of God. He went away sad because he knew his desire would not be satisfied.

I wonder if the Young Man was still alive in 70 AD.

Did he witness the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans?

Did he experience hunger that no amount of money could fill?

Was he one of the rich people who had their bellies slit open as they tried to sneak out of Jerusalem with their riches in their stomach?

Did he see the futility of trusting in his wealth and wonder how life would have been different if he had followed Jesus?

It doesn't really matter if he was alive then or not, because his choice led him down the path of the temporary which always leads to an ever increasing desire of the things of this world. The sadness he experienced when he left Jesus was the same sadness that had him seeking Jesus. His life was missing something, but he wasn't willing to to do what was necessary to fulfill the craving of his soul.

What about you?

Is there something in your life that you are hanging on to even though you know it is an obstacle to the life God has for you?

Is there something in your life that you have learned to rely for comfort and fulfillment but pushes Jesus out?

Until we are willing to trust Jesus more than we trust ourselves we will continue to be frustrated with the direction of our lives.

Following Jesus requires us to live with courage.

The first courageous step that we must take is to give up those things we have trusted to bring us happiness, pleasure, and meaning. It is a scary thing to give up what we comfortable with in order to venture into the unknown. We will never know the life God has for us until we do exactly what he tells us to do.

We must trust Jesus to lead the way to life.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Outcome of Worship

"Worship is a deliberate, steady, focused time with God. Worship anticipates not only an encounter with God, but also a clear next word from God. Worship is totally God-centered! God-focused! out of worship comes a clear and more focused relationship of faith and obedience with God. Worship is God's way of developing character and directing the life into the center of His will...The ultimate outcome of consistent worship is a life totally yielded to God, on God's terms." ~ Henry Blackaby, Created to be God's Friend, p. 83

We worship God out of recognization for who He is and what He has done for us.

God is our Creator and we want to thank Him for giving us life. He is our Savior and we want to praise Him for rescuing us. He is our Father and we want to bless Him for loving us.

In worship we re-orient our focus on God. We need to do this consistently because we continually turn our focus on ourselves. Life becomes about what we want, our desires, and our will. The result is that we push God out of the picture.

When we consistently worship God, allowing our focus to leave us to be put on Him, our perspective changes. We come to understand the bigger picture of life and be reminded that God is calling us to join Him in His work.

This renewed sense of perspective challenges us to surrender our lives to God, because we can't truly worship until we put God on His throne and take our place in His Kingdom. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Life Is Worth It

Celebration is a part of life.

No matter how difficult circumstances might be, people always find moments to celebrate. This has been true throughout the history of the world.

We celebrate births, graduations, championships, new jobs, marriages, and personal successes. These events remind us of the importance that is woven into everyday life. 

Always remember that life is worth celebrating!

In contrast to our celebrations is harsh reality that life is difficult.

The tragedy of a job loss, the constant pain of a debilitating injury, the heartache of a messy breakup, the fear of a terminal illness diagnosis, and the grief of death are evidence that life is not what it should be. Difficulties rob us of the joy of life.  The sorrow experienced because of tragedy and hardship remind us that life is valuable.

Grief is reserved for the loss of people and things that bring joy into our lives!

Both celebration and grief teach us the value of life.

The question we need to ask is: What makes life valuable?

The apostle Paul wrote:
Can anything ever separate us from Christ's love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, "For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.")  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord 
(Romans 8:35-39, NLT).

What makes the achievements of life worth celebrating and what makes the tragedies of life worth enduring is God's love.

Without God there would be no reason to celebrate, for even our biggest victory will one day fade away. Without God life would only cause depression since the only sure thing we could look forward to is death.

Through Jesus' death and resurrection God infuses hope, purpose, and joy into life. He does that because he loves us. Life is worth living because of God's love.

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