Saturday, October 31, 2020

What We Think About Most


On Thursday I wrote a post about being a persuader.

Last year I had a Barnes and Nobel gift card and one of the books I bought was Win Bigly by Scott Adams.

Win Bigly is a look at President Trump’s ability to persuade. Whether you like him or not (I personally do not support President Trump, but I am willing to admit he has done some good things).

After writing the post I Thursday I took Win Bigly off my shelf and flipped through it, looking at the  highlights I made. The above quote caught my eye.

In persuasion it is important to get people to think about things you have said. The more they think about what we say, the more it influences their thinking. 

This is why repetition is not a bad thing. When we repeat something there is a better chance of it getting lodge in the mind of someone. 

There is a secondary reason why I shared this quote with you. It reminds us that we need to be mindful of what we allow ourselves to think about.

Remember, the key to transforming our lives is changing the way we think:

Romans 12:2
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Changing our thinking is key to changing our behavior.

This is the reason that I am concerned about the person who shares only political posts on Facebook or the person who only talks about sports. This reveals that their thinking is dominated by “the behavior and customs of this world.”

One of the key disciplines that God’s people have practiced over the years is the discipline of meditation. In earlier times meditation was crucial because they did not have access to their own copy of Scripture. They had to rely on what was said during their times together, and then remember what was said.

In this way they were able to memorize God’s word and bury its wisdom in their hearts.

Because of our easy access to the Bible the practice of meditation has fallen by the wayside. We are content to get our daily Bible reading in so we can move on to the next thing on our agendas. In the process we are not really thinking about what we read and how it applies to our lives.

I have found it helpful to do a longer reading of Scripture (I have been reading the the New Testament in 90 days, which is about 3 chapters a day) and then a shorter reading, which is just a few verses. With the shorter passage I can take time to think about it, ask questions about it, and even pray it. That way it has a chance to become a part of  the way I think.

I challenge you these next few days to pay attention to what you are thinking about. 

Are your thoughts godly and loving? Are they based behaviors and customs of the world? How can you be more intentional in directing your thoughts to things that are good, noble, and pure (Philippians 4:8)?

Understanding persuasion can help us be better persuaders and it helps us to identify things that are working on us.

Be mindful of what you let persuade you.


Friday, October 30, 2020

The Spirit and God’s Image

The opening chapter of the Bible tells us a very important truth about humanity.
Genesis 1:26-27 (NLT)
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

To be created in God’s image means that we are designed to demonstrate His character in this world, to rule with His love, grace, and wisdom (here is the Bible Project video on the Image of God). 

How are we able to do that?

To correctly bear God’s image in this world requires that we are connected to Him. We need God’s wisdom, love, and grace coming into our lives so it can influence the choices we make and the things that we do. 

This is why God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. That was essential for Adam and Eve to live out God’s image in their lives.

The problem is that sin severs that connection we have with God. 

Through our sin we declare that we have the ability to define what is good and bad, what is right and wrong, on our own and in the process we turn our back on God.

This is why we need to be rescued.

God needs to pursue us and make a way for reconciliation, a way for our connection to Him to be restored, to happen. All the different covenants we read about in the Bible remind us that God is making it possible for us to be reconciled to Him.

Jesus opened up the way for us to be reconciled to God. Through him we are able to once again experience the life God created us to live.

John 15:5 (NLT)
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

Jesus is not saying we can do nothing useful apart from him. We constantly see people who are not followers of Jesus do things that are useful, loving, and gracious. What Jesus is saying is that we can’t fulfill our work for the Kingdom apart from him. 

In order to bear God’s image we have to be connected to Him, like a branch is connected to the vine, so we can receive His life. 

What is the source of life that we need from God?

His Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Look at the description of the fruit the Spirit produces in our lives. To live guided by the Spirit means that we are empowered to bear God’s image in the world.

This is one of the main themes of Scripture: to restore humanity to our original design. That can only happen by repenting of sin, trusting Jesus, and being guided by the Spirit.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Being a Persuader

Part of my job is to persuade people.

That is what I seek to do when I preach or when I teach (yes, there is a difference, but that is for another post). I want to convince people that there is a change the need to make in their lives.

This is not an easy task. 

If I had to base it on percentages, I would guess more often than not I fail to persuade people the way that I should. Yes, they may leave agreeing with what I said, but they won’t be led to make in changes in their lives.

At the end of August Michael Malice tweeted this:

I have pondered this thought off and on since then.

Here are a few of the thoughts I have had about persuasion.

First, persuasion happens when a person is ready to make a change. That is what happened to me when I shifted away from a standard Rush Limbaugh conservative Republican worldview to a libertarian/Christian anarchist worldview. It was 2008 and I noticed more and more inconsistencies with what the Republicans were doing and the limited government beliefs I was told Republicans had. I remember a phone conversation I had with my brother when I told him about my frustration and he said, “Check out this guy named Ron Paul.” I did and the rest is history.

That change happened because I was ready to make a change.

Second, persuasion is easier when there is a trusted relationship. All my brother had to say was, “Check out Ron Paul,” and because of our relationship I did it. This means a good relationship is an important part of being able to persuade another person. When you trust the other person you are more likely to listen to what they have to say.

Persuaders need to do what they can to build relationships with people.

Third, there needs to be a level of expertise involved. It is hard to persuade people when a quick Google search reveals the holes in an argument. Two people who have influenced me intellectually have been Tom Woods and N. T. Wright. Part of the reason is I accepted their arguments is because of a level expertise they bring to their work. That helps me trust what they have to say

Persuaders need to demonstrate that they have a good understanding of the subject they are talking about.

Fourth, persuasion is a journey. More than likely, the beliefs you hold didn’t magically develop overnight. Rather, the came into place over a period of time as different influences shaped those beliefs. We can’t expect people to take they same journey that we took in the course of a single conversation or a 30 minute sermon. We need to be willing to take people along one step at a time. In my early days of being a libertarian I was quite obnoxious, everything seemed so clear to me, and I thought if I could just be loud enough people would see it too. Big mistake.

Persuasion takes time as we walk people through the process of changing their mind.

Fifth, persuasion takes integrity. When we see that the person lives what they believe, it helps us to listen to them. In college, my Christian Ethics professor’s wife had Alzheimer’s Disease. He brought her to class  each day. The way he treated her made an impression on the group of friends I was a part of and we all talked about having that level of love for our wives someday. He influenced us because he lived the Christian life that he taught.

Persuaders need to have integrity. Nothing causes a person to loose influence faster than discovering that he/she doesn’t live what they teach.

If you want to persuade people to make a change in their lives, take some time to think about that process. Persuading is not as easy as it sounds, but it is worth the effort to figure out.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Sermon: The Battle Begins

 This is the sermon I preached on October 24, 2020 at Bethlehem Church. It is sermon 8 as we go through The Story.

Be the Evidence

Questions are an important part of having a conversation.

They help us find out more about the other person and they provide us with information that we didn’t have before.

If I am going to have a conversation about God, then certain questions are going to come up. 

Truth be told, while I am a pastor, I am not a “Bible Answer Man.” There are many things about Christianity, the Bible, and God I have questions about.

The process of answering questions helps us think through what we believe and provides us the opportunity to look at the world from a new perspective.

This particular question is a common one. It would be reasonable to assume that if God wanted everyone to know Him that He would make it easy for people to find Him. 

I think at the heart of this question is this statement: "God if You would just reveal Yourself to me then I would believe in You." They justify their lack of faith because God, if He even exists, hasn’t made it obvious to them.  

I can understand why this is a difficulty to believing in God. There are times in my life that I wished God would just prove His existence. Yet, I suspect that wouldn't impact my long term faith very much.

Think about two Biblical examples of people who experienced God in a miraculous way: 
  • The nation of Israel in Exodus. These people had experience slavery at the hands of the Egyptians. They witnessed God deliver them from slavery through the use of ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and the miraculous provision of guidance and food through the wilderness. They saw how God revealed Himself to the entire nation at Mount Sinai. Moses went up the mountain, and when he doesn't return (forty days and forty nights) the people got antsy. They gather some gold together and made a golden calf to worship. In their worship they proclaimed this is the god who led them out of Egypt (Exodus 19 -32).
  • Jesus' disciples. These men heard Jesus teach, witnessed his miracles, and saw him over a 40 day stretch after his resurrection. As Jesus prepared to ascend into heaven he took these followers to a mountain in Galilee. Matthew 28:17 saws; "When they saw him, they worshiped him--but some of them still doubted!" (NLT)  

It is amazing that Israel doubted God and disciples doubted Jesus after all they experienced. We tend to think if we were in their place and were able to witness miracles and see the risen Lord face to face that we would not doubt. I am not certain that would be the case.

These examples show us that a faith built on the evidence miracles is not a sustainable faith. Time has a way of eroding our experiences. Given enough time even the most awesome miracles would loose their impressiveness.

Aside from what theologians call general revelation (the evidence of God discovered in nature), God doesn't make Himself known to everyone. It might be impressive for God to reveal Himself in all His Holy splendor, but how long would that make an impression on people? At the very least it would be something He had to do every generation.

There is nothing God can do, except what He will do when Jesus returns, that will convince everyone that He is real.

That doesn't mean God keeps Himself hidden from people.
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27; NLT)

God created human beings in His image. To be created in God's image means that we are designed to be His representatives in this world, to demonstrate His character. In other words we are to be walking, talking, and breathing revelations of God. The world should know God because of His people.

This is why Jesus told his disciples: 

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35; NLT)

The world will know that God exists through the lives of His people. May we be the evidence people need.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Presidents and the Constitution

We are a week away from determining the president of the United States.

While there is always a big push to get people out and vote, there seems to be more of an urgency every 4 years when it comes time to elect a new president. 

This is sad. Not because I think more people should be voting, but because of the great emphasis put on this one position. 

The founding generation feared a powerful executive and tried to make it so one person did not have so much influence.

That reality has eroded over time.  

Now the president has so much power that every presidential election becomes about determining which direction the country will move.

Gone are the days when we should really be asking one question when it comes to electing a president: "What is he/she constitutionally allowed to do?"

Historian and author, Brion McClanahan puts it this way in 9 Presidents Who Screwed Up America:

Is "constitutionally permitted to do" even a category we think about when it comes to evaluating presidents and electing new ones? Was that challenge even offered during the debates? 

The more power we allow presidents to have the more we move away from the constitutional republic created by the founders and closer we become to being a dictatorship. 

This is why it is crucial for us to know that Constitution of the United States, so we are able to point out when it is not being followed. Apart from that, it doesn't matter who becomes president, we will just mover further down the road to tyranny. 


Monday, October 26, 2020

Keep Making Progress


This year has been, at least emotionally, the most difficult year of my life.

It started last November with a difficult situation within our church community that caused me to doubt my leadership abilities.

Then we moved into winter, that dark time of year that causes depression in many people, myself included. My heart, mind, and soul were heavy.

We all know what happened as winter began to turn into spring - pandemic and lockdowns. I was faced with trying to pivot and provide online worship and resources for people, while not being able to meet face to face to figure things out.

In May my right leg began to hurt. I lived with the pain for a week, trying to convince myself that it wasn't what I knew it was - a blood clot. This was my second clot and I knew that I would now be on blood thinners the rest of my life.

During this time came BLM and protests, and the added pressure of trying to figure out the right things to say about an important moment in America. One of the difficulties of being a pastor is the expectation to have a position or at least a thought about everything that happens.

As things began to open up we had the great mask debate and the discussion of whether our not churches should follow the lockdown orders. After all, I was told, President Trump declared churches as essential, so we should be meeting in person.

This was followed by several families informing me they were leaving. Which again had me doubting my ability to do this job as pastor.

Even during the summer, when I am usually depression free, I found myself sinking deeper into depression.

By the end of August, I realized I needed to make a change. Not only was I depressed, but my health was being affected. I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life, I was not sleeping well, and the simplest activities were exhausting me.

The change started with my wife Jenny telling me about an app from Ransomed Heart that was created in connection with John Eldredge's book Get Your Life Back (which I haven't read) called One Minute Pause. I started doing the app every day, usually more than once a day. It helped me to reorient my life back to God.

Doing The Pause app reminded me that through the Wild at Heart website John Eldredge has a resource of prayers. I began daily praying the Daily Prayer for the Head of Households. This practice helped me to start reading the Bible daily again.

After about a month of putting prayer and Bible reading back into my daily rhythm of life, I was ready to start focusing on my physical health. There were a couple of false starts as I tried to figure out the best way to implement what I knew I was supposed to do. Even though I knew the right things to do I was having trouble doing them.

That is when I found out about another app called Noom. This app/program is designed to help you make a lifestyle change so that you can live a sustainable healthy life. Last week one of the readings that Noom had me read dealt with understanding that there would be setbacks and struggles through this process. To combat that reality I was asked to write an "Oh well" statement that I could use when I stumbled. Mine is, "Oh well, I am still making progress." 

The next day I saw this Dave Ramsey tweet:

It is a wonderful thing that we can decide to make changes in our lives. We can make today the day that change begins. It is crucial to remember this.

I also think it is crucial to remember that change is hard. It doesn't happen over night and it doesn't happen just because you know the right thing to do.

Things like overcoming depression, losing weight, getting out of debt, or decluttering your house takes time. If we expect this change to go smoothly, for our habits to shift right this moment, and for our life to be perfect tomorrow we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Making these positive changes in our lives requires time and effort, and more than likely we are going to have a moment or two when we binge on Moose Tracks Ice Cream or put a shopping spree on the credit card, or do something else dumb that we have trained ourselves to do.

That is why we have grace. 

God is not expecting us to be perfect. After all He made allowance for repentance and confession. What God is after is our continued progress towards being like Jesus.

I believe in our quest to make changes in our lives the best thing we can do is to give ourselves grace and to remember that we will stumble along the way. Understanding this helps us to own up to our failure and move on by saying, "Oh well, I am still making progress."

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Sermon: Wanderings

 This is the sermon I gave at Bethlehem Church in Austin, MN on October 18, 2020.


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Following Jesus and Politics

Politics is very seductive. It promises the ability to direct the course of a nation. 

It is this feature that causes many people To get worked up around election time. The belief  we have is that if the right people are elected, then the United States will head in the right direction. 

As a result, followers of Jesus can get distracted by politics. 

Since we are passionate about seeing God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, we can tell ourselves that it is essential for our country to be influenced by God’s laws and will.

We see this on both sides of the political aisle. Conservatives will emphasis the need to have a country whose laws are based on Biblical truths. Progressives will emphasize the need to have a government that works to bring justice into the world. 

In both cases these Christians claim that their politics and the way they vote demonstrates their faithfulness to Jesus.

Our faith is not defined by our politics.

Remember, politics is about trying to rally support for certain candidates, policies, and causes. What inevitably happens is that half truths and distortions are used to convince us to support them. The politics of this world depends on propaganda for the support of people.

In contrast, the way of Jesus is about truth. Followers of Jesus seek to speak truth into this world. This means we can’t just use the same talking points the politicians and their supporters use. We have to seek and speak the truth, even when it goes against people and policies that we may support.

Politics requires the use of force. The primary way the world seeks to gain compliance among people is through force. Every governmental policy and law is enforced through the threat of force. We can see this in the multi-tiered law enforcement agencies that exists: local, state, and federal. Without this extensive police force, the will of politicians could not be accomplished.

In contrast, the way of Jesus is the way of compassion and love. According to Jesus, we are able to be righteous people when we love God and when we love our neighbors. Our job is to teach people to do the right thing, not by threatening them, but explaining the wonderful love of God and serving them in their needs.

To choose the way of politics as our primary focus is to say that we don’t trust God’s way of bringing transformation into this world. It demonstrates that we are more comfortable with using the tools of propaganda and force to direct people’s lives than we are trusting God’s Spirit to bring transformation.

This is not to say that it is wrong to be involved in politics or to ignore voting. 

William Wilberforce is a great example of using the wheels of politics to bring about a much needed change in society by ending the slave trade in the British Empire. Politics, when used with wisdom and love, is certainly one of the tools available to Christians to make a difference in this world.

My concern as a pastor and disciple of Jesus are Christians whose entire Facebook page is filled with nothing but political posts, who condemn the other side as evil, and who proclaim that the only way to save the United States is to vote for the candidates of their party. This is dangerous for a Christian’s personal discipleship and it hinders the outreach of the Church.

Be mindful of who you vote for and what issues you champion, but don’t equate that with your faithfulness to Jesus. God has His own agenda and that is what we should commit our lives to supporting.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Marriage and Discipleship

 Recently I was scrolling through Twitter and saw that one of the people I follow retweeted the following:

Is this good advice for single people?

I don't think so:

Marriage is wonderful. 

I can't imagine my life without my wife and children. They are a wonderful addition to my life.

The reality is that I have lived the majority of my life not married. For most of my adult life I was a single pastor who sought to follow Jesus. 

One of my regrets is that I wasted much of my time of singleness, because I continually believed that marriage and family was the missing part of my life. Rather than seeking God and His Kingdom, I sought after marriage. 

My discipleship was stunted as a result.

Consider what Jesus said about marriage:
Jesus’ disciples then said to him, “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!” 
“Not everyone can accept this statement,” Jesus said. “Only those whom God helps. Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matthew 19:10-12; NLT)

 This does not sound like Jesus endorsed the advice to "get married soon" and "find a career." Rather, it seems like Jesus wants us to evaluate our lives and commit to a path that allows us to follow him. 

The path of singleness is a good but difficult life. Being single frees us from responsibilities that keep us from focusing solely on God's Kingdom and growing in holiness. It also creates the difficulty of being single in a world where couples and romance are celebrated and idolized. 

Being single is not easy, but it opens up the possibility of following Jesus at a deeper level than being married offers.

It is crucial that we do not offer up marriage as the perfect ideal for following Jesus. When we do we are in danger of turning marriage into an idol and making those who are single into second class citizens. 

Our marital status is not an indication of our discipleship. 

Our discipleship depends on our faithfulness to Jesus. May we continue to encourage one another, married and single, to remain faithful to him.

The Spiritually Mature Life: Having the Fruit

On Sunday, April 7, 2024, I started a new sermon series at Bethlehem Church called A Spiritually Mature Life. This sermon series is focused ...