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.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Trust Jesus for Transformation

In this time of COVID-19 isolation I am recording my sermons so we can do "church" online.

This is the second sermon in the Trust Jesus series.

Living a God Honoring Life

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