Sunday, September 17, 2017

Pray 7-5-2

Photo credit here
A friend recently shared with me a reason he believes many people don't pray. He compared it to why many people don't go snow skiing. They know they are bad at it, so they don't even want to try.

Unfortunately, just because we think we are bad at something Jesus commanded, that's no excuse to avoid it. In Matthew 6, Jesus just assumes that His followers will be praying, and He gives instruction on correct motivations, right understanding, and even a model prayer. In light of this pattern, today our church kicked off what we are calling the Pray 7-5-2 campaign. We want to make it easier and more likely for prayer to become a part of your life and your family's life. With resources, challenges, and encouragement, we hope to build a pattern in our lives that becomes a lifestyle.

You can listen to the sermon online here. The Initial Assessment can be downloaded here, to see where you stand in your prayer life. And the Pray 7-5-2 Guide can be downloaded here, which is full of resources, ideas, and prompts.

We invite you to participate in this 90-day campaign with us, to better express our dependence on God to do what only He can do in our lives, our families, our churches, and our world. Let's dive in!

Let us know below if you are participating with us from afar! 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Extended Family

Photo Credit: Sarah Willard
Every July 4th weekend, my extended family gathers at a pond and cabin on family land outside of my hometown in Oklahoma. My grandfather has 3 brothers, and each family line makes every attempt to attend this sweet time. This summer we had around 60 people.

Now, I understand our family's experience may differ from many other families. But as I was reading Carey Nieuwhof's article on things that get harder in a church as it grows, this family gathering came to mind. He said this: "Human reality dictates we can only truly know about 5 people deeply and about 20 people well." So regardless if a church is 100 or 1,000, you will not know everyone well (thus the importance of smaller groups and serving teams).

In this illustration, then, those few I know well in the church are like my immediate family (parents, siblings, etc.). They become the ones with whom I primarily spend time and call first when I need something. I approximate the rest of the church, then, to my extended family (second cousins, great uncles, etc.). You probably don't see them as often, and you don't know the details of their lives as well, but you still have that family connection and still love and support one another and have a great time together. I would wear myself out trying to keep up with every member in an extended family of 60+, but I know and love my smaller circle very well.

Nieuwhof closes with this nugget: "The point of church is not for everyone to know everyone. The point is for everyone to be known." So as a church gets bigger, it must get smaller. Members can cling to the feel of a small, immediate-family-style church, hindering any potential growth, or they can embrace the change demanded by reaching more people for Jesus and they can intimately know a few as they live life together and serve together. The extended family is an incredible blessing that can do more as a whole than they can do apart, but to be truly known one must cultivate the immediate family within a local church.

How have you seen this illustration to be true in your own life? In your church experience?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Loving God's Word

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I cannot remember where I came across this true story, but it is an incredible illustration of what it looks like to have a passion for God's Word. Enjoy it, and imitate it.
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No one epitomizes a passion for God’s Word like Mary Jones, a little girl who lived around 1800. As an 8-year-old, Mary lived in a beautiful valley in Wales. Her parents were simple, godly people who took their little girl to church and taught her Bible stories from her earliest years. These stories had to be taught from memory since the family did not own a Bible in the Welsh language. Such Bibles were very scarce, and most people could not afford them. Yet Mary loved the Word of God and longed to read it for herself. When a school opened in her area, Mary enrolled so that she could learn to read. Then she began visiting a neighbor who owned a Bible in order to study the Bible for herself. She even memorized whole chapters of the Bible and shared them with her parents.

Next, Mary began saving money to purchase her own copy of the Bible. Over the next six years, she sold eggs, gathered wood, mended clothing, and cared for younger children. Finally, she had enough money to buy a Bible. The closest town where a Bible could be bought was Bala, more than 25 miles away. So very early on a spring day in 1800, Mary Jones began to walk, barefoot, to Bala. There she met Thomas Charles, a godly man who did a great deal of ministry throughout Wales. When Mr. Charles asked Mary about herself, her family, and her knowledge of the Bible, he was impressed. Moreover, he was amazed by her love for the Scriptures and her patient endurance in saving for a Bible of her own. But he sadly told the girl that all of the Welsh Bibles he had received from London in the past year had been sold months ago, except for a few that had been promised to friends who must not be disappointed. He also told her that the Bible Society in London had no plans to print more Welsh Bibles. At this news, Mary dropped into a nearby seat and began to sob. The little girl’s passion for the Word moved Mr. Charles. His own voice broken with emotion, he rose from his seat and placed a gentle hand on Mary’s head. “My dear child, I see you must have a Bible, as difficult as it is for me to spare you one. It is simply impossible to refuse you.” So Mary Jones walked the 25 miles back home with her own copy of the Bible.

The impact of Mary’s life was much more far-reaching than her little village. In 1802, Mr. Charles visited London and, moved by his experience with the girl, told Mary’s story to the Religious Tract Society. From that meeting, the British and Foreign Bible Society was established to spread the Scriptures around the world.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cat & Dog Theology

There’s a great book entitled Cat & Dog Theology: Rethinking Our Relationship with Our Master (find it on Amazon here). This book uses the common differences between cats and dogs to illustrate our views on God. See, a dog says, “You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, you love me. You must be God." A cat, on the other hand, says, “You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, you love me, I must be God."

Image source here
Now, we might never say that out loud, but that’s a temptation any time we speak of the blessings of God we receive as believers. Often when we see God bless us and promise us His presence and that He will take care of His children and so on, we can begin to think that all of this is about us (like a cat). But that’s not the way He designed it. Yes, He will bless us, but ultimately that blessing is not only for us; it’s in order to be a blessing to the nations and to take His presence and glory to those around us. Cats say, “You exist to serve me, God," while dogs say, “I exist to serve you, God." Cats see everything in the world (ncluding gifts they receive from God) as solely for their prosperity and comfort and pleasure, while dogs see everything in the world (including things they receive from God) as for their provision, yes, but mainly for His glory and service in the world.

I know that your cat is different, but most cats aren’t fiercely loyal. They seemingly could not care less whether you are there or not, unless it is to scratch their back or feed them. But I’m sure you’ve seen a dog wait by the front door all day for his master to get home, whining and yelping if they can see them but can’t get to them. Or sitting by your feet just hoping you would notice them and pat their head, wagging their tail the whole time just because they are with you. That’s what I want us to be, church. Like dogs with their masters, I want us to delight in the God who delights in us–not just so we can get more from some genie in a bottle granting us wishes, but so we can be so filled with love and joy and peace in Him that we overflow to those around us, using His blessings as ways to show off His glory to our neighbors and to the nations.

How have you seen yourself be cat-like in your theology and life?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Clarifying the 5th Commandment

I want to be the first to admit when I am wrong--especially when it involves a large number of people potentially influenced by my mistake. Today was one of those occasions, as I preached through Israel coming to Mount Sinai and the Holy God giving them what we know as the 10 Commandments. I was uncomfortable with what I said about the 5th commandment even as I was saying it, which was confirmed when a discerning listener explained their concerns with what I said as well. With their permission, I have adapted their thoughts below as I attempt to clarify what that commandment means.

The way I said it this morning is that this command was intended for families who were underneath this covenant of God--meaning, they would be parents worthy of honor because they were seeking to follow the rest of the commands as well. But in that statement I implied that if parents are wicked then they are not due any honor whatsoever. In other words, we can kind of pick and choose what commands we are to follow based on who will receive the act or how it will be received. Clearly that is not what the Bible teaches.

If we go forward to Ephesians 6:1-3, we see Paul reiterate this command and its resulting promise: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother' (this is the first commandment with a promise), 'that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.'" Here Paul summarizes Exodus 20:12, which is where we find the 5th commandment in question here. The key is not whether the parents are worthy of honor or not; we find the key in the resulting promise: "that it may go well with you." If one would logically take my teaching this morning in conjunction with these texts, essentially I was saying that if you do not have to obey this command because your parents are wicked then you are also not eligible for this promise of it "going well for you." I don't want that for anyone.

My concern this morning was to protect those who have been severely hurt by parents who were/are wicked, and I did not handle it correctly. I never want to give people an excuse not to obey certain commands of God simply because that other person is not "worthy" in some way. Will it be difficult? Yes. Will it give opportunities for the Holy Spirit to do His work on them and the offending party? Yes (see Romans 12:14-21 about "burning coals"). I grieve over the long-term pain that children go through because of sinful parents, but I also want it to "go well" for those children and this commandment gives us part of the conditions.

But the question remains, then: how do children "honor" wicked and sinful parents? Again, that is extremely difficult, and my prayer is that no parent forces their children into that corner. But here are some baby steps that hopefully open the door to God's blessing if you are a child with a wicked parent: praying for the parents; working toward healing from the hurts caused by the parents and succeeding in spite of the parents; breaking a familial cycle of sin and bondage; changing the trajectory of the family name; maintaining some type of communication with safe and healthy boundaries; offering forgiveness, etc. Again, it is unfortunate that as a result of sin in our world we must even have this discussion. But we cannot simply skate over these issues and follow God on our own terms rather than His terms.

I am grateful for people who are like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 and who are listening with an eye toward God's Word and making sure that what I am teaching lines up with it. I hope we all do that every day. I am one in process too, so I pray that God grows us more into His image every day, even using our mistakes to lead us further down that path. I love you, church, more than you know.

Friday, August 21, 2015

What I Told My Wife Last Night

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I grieved yesterday when the story broke that the Ashley Madison website had been hacked and the list of its users had been published. I did not grieve because my name would be on the list; I grieved for the millions of lives it affects. This website was launched as a tool for married people to find opportunities to pursue the company's tagline: "Life is short. Have an affair." Obviously the exposure of these users is not the worst part; the worst part is that anyone was pursuing the website's services at all. But setting that website and any specific cases aside for a moment, let me respond personally and pastorally to the bigger issue here that affects all of us.

What this whole ordeal provoked in me is a more pressing personal need for purity and to be above reproach. I am not above any sin, so if I think _________ cannot happen to me then I am deceiving myself and setting myself up for failure. It also prompted me to say some things to my wife last night, and I want to share them with you here in the hope that it will spur similar discussions and transformations.

After a few minutes of chatting with sadness over the many difficult conversations going on that evening, as we went to bed I looked my wife square in the eyes and said these words: "You won't find my name on that list. You don't have to worry that I have a secret girlfriend. I'm not looking at anything on the internet. I don't want to go to Vegas by myself. I want you."

Now, thankfully I could say all of those things truthfully (if you can't, let's talk!). But clearly that is not the case for millions of people right now, and I am not naive to think that it is not inside the church body as well. And as a side note, my internet history is not spotless so I am not coming at this from a holier-than-thou angle. I have been broken in the war, but I am fighting the war! It has not been easy, it has taken a long time, and it is not over. But I am much further along the path than I was fifteen years ago, by God's empowering grace in me and accountability with my wife and others. Plus, I recognize the platform I have been given, one which all of us as Christians have to some degree, one that shows people what it looks like to pursue Jesus in every area of life--especially marriage, in the perilous times in which we live.

So here's my hope: I want our church and any person in my circle of influence to join me, to live a life of distinction--not for our own glory but to point to the glory of the Savior who has saved and transformed a broken sinner like me and you. I long for Christian men to be men, to pursue their wives (or future wife) with the same energy that they may have poured into hiding their sin. I long for Christian men to lead out in holiness, in warring together for the Holy Spirit's victory over temptation in their lives. I long for Christian men to not have any reason to worry that their sin will find them out. And I long for Christian women to set the example of true beauty that radiates from inside of them. I long for Christian women to find their joy in a husband who pursues them as Christ loves the Church. I long for Christian women to live freely inside the life God has given them--not a fantasy world.

Image source here
Most of all, I long for Jesus to reign in every heart and marriage. My story is not impossible nor unique. When you give Jesus the door to invade, everything changes. And that is possible for you today, no matter your history. Maybe, like we did, you need to have that conversation tonight. Husbands, I know your wife needs to hear something similar to what I told my wife. And wives, don't give your husband any reason for him to question your commitment to him. Then just think, when both of you do that, what joy and intimacy that creates in a marriage.

But for all of us, if you are trapped in sin's tentacles, get help. Walk with brothers and sisters who will point you to both truth and grace in Jesus. We are willing. Because listen: it is worth it to fight.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Fast Pass through Suffering?

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One of the ways that theme parks suck more money out of serve their patrons is by what they call a "fast pass" (or something similar). This extra purchased ticket/bracelet/gadget allows you either to reserve your place in line for a later time or even to skip the ride lines altogether. It is meant to minimize the pain involved in going to an amusement park where you feel like you stand around in the heat and wait for hours for one ride or show. An intriguing idea for sure, many people take advantage of this service and amusement parks increase revenues accordingly.

Now, this concept may work well at Six Flags or at Disney World, but I think the same idea has crept into Christianity. Here's what I mean: where do followers of Jesus get the idea that we get a "fast pass" through the incredibly challenging times of life? Why do we think we can skip the lines of suffering, when Jesus Himself suffered and even promised suffering for His followers?

The apostle Paul, no stranger to suffering, even wrote that he longed to "share [Christ's] sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (Phil 3:10-11). Is this some sort of psychological, masochistic complex that Paul had, that he enjoyed the pain in some way? No, for Paul the main thing he enjoyed was Christ, and what he found was that the suffering and pain and sorrow of life drew him closer to Christ. That's what he says God taught him in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
Here's the truth: the Bible never exempts the believer from suffering. In fact, as mentioned earlier, Jesus promises it to those who are seeking to follow Him (see here and here). But listen to what else He promises for His children: that He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5), and that whatever is going on in your life is meant to shape you into the image of Jesus (Rom 8:28-30). I love the way Matt Chandler put it in a recent sermon: "For the Christian, difficulty is not God punishing His children, but God shaping and molding His children" (watch it here). So often (especially in America) we believe that if hard times are in my life then I am either doing something wrong or God hates me. True, you may be sinning and God is lovingly disciplining you as His child. But also, because we live in a fallen world, things may just go badly for you. But even when that happens, don't forget that God is sovereign. And He is good. And He is using this weakness, this heartache, this struggle, this difficulty, to draw your heart to deeper trust in Him and to take you to a place in your life which you could not reach on your own. All because He loves you, child.

So in suffering, Christian, remember that you are loved and that you have someone to love. That's what got Paul through his many difficulties, that's what sustained Peter through torture. They knew that they shared in Christ's sufferings by faith, so they could "share abundantly in [His] comfort too," looking forward to the day "when His glory is revealed." In their weakness it was Christ who was strong, which allowed Paul to write that "in all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy." When trouble strikes, are you still able to claim joy? The power to live a life of joy regardless of circumstances only comes through Christ alone. Don't be surprised when suffering comes, just make sure you land on the right foundation.