The Challenge of Change

Posted: October 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

As culture, technology, and society continues to evolve, one overarching thought that has continued to resonate with me and drives me out of complacency is that ministry must embrace spirit-led change. Although the truths of scripture are timeless and unchanging, our methods, policies and procedures are dynamically changing every day.  Change is an integral part of an endless cycle that happens in our life.

Think about it…
healthy things grow,
growing things change,
change challenges us,
challenge forces us to trust in God,
trust leads to obedience,
obedience makes us healthy and
healthy things grow….

It is the “change” part of that cycle that often gets us stuck.  We like the status quo!  We are comfortable with the way things are!  But in order for us to get to the obedience that makes us healthy, we must get through the change.  I could write a book about the ways that I have embraced change from year to year.  The more this occurs, the more I realize my utter dependence on God for guidance, discernment and direction.  Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”  That “pursuing” is inevitably going to bring about change.  Embrace it!

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Grace and Truth

Posted: October 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

I have always said that grace and truth are twins.  I have been thinking a great deal lately about the tension between grace and truth in some of the situations I have been dealing with as a pastor.  I have been reading Andy Stanley’s book “Deep and Wide” and it was one of those books that affirmed my thoughts and simply put into words some thoughts I would like to share with you today. Thoughts that will challenge the way you think.

In a typical week as a pastor, I deal with everything from broken marriages, to benevolent cases, hospital visits, finding leaders and servants, deciding how to deal with different situations, and the list goes on and on.  And in making decisions about these situations, there is something in me that wants a definitive answer on every aspect of every issue.  I want to be gracious, but I want to do that in truth.  This is a challenge because there’s is a tension between the two.

Jesus had a remarkable approach to this tension between truth and grace in John 1. John, an eyewitness to much of what Jesus did, put it this way in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And a few verses later, He repeats this phrase by saying, “ For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  Notice the scripture says “full of grace and truth”…not a balance between, but the full embodiment of both.  Jesus did not come to strike a balance between grace and truth or try to even them up.  He brought the full measure of both. Andy Stanley writes in his book, Deep and Wide, “With Jesus there is no conflict between grace and truth.”

We often see the conflict because we sometimes think grace allows us to “get by” with things or we misunderstand truth and thinks it leaves people isolated and condemned.  But with Jesus, it does not have to be this way!

This is challenging for us because it does not seem to be fair.  There is tension when grace and truth meet and it gets messy.  If we continue to try to be consistent and fair, we will always struggle with grace and truth.  If you read through the gospels, you will find it very difficult to find one example of Jesus being fair.  He didn’t heal everyone, he allowed some to die and some to live, and have you ever thought about the contrast between the rich young ruler and the thief on the cross?  Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give it away in order to be one of His disciples and yet He looked at the thief on the cross who had lived a life of sin and said, “today you will be with me in paradise.”  How are these things fair?  The reality is that they are not fair.  In fact, if Jesus were fair, we would all be doomed to hell because of our sin.  Think about it…”the wages of sin is death.”  Therefore, the right thing…the fair thing is for us to be condemned to hell because of our sin.  Praise Jesus for not being “fair” but instead being “gracious” and giving us the gift of eternal life instead.

Think about this from a church’s perspective.  If a church continues to operate on fairness, it will eventually lead to non-engagement!  This is challenging as a pastor!  I have been known to say, “If we do it for one, we will have to do it for everyone.”  Where is that scripturally?  Jesus would say, “no you don’t…I didn’t.”  If we keep this attitude of fairness and consistency, we will end up doing for none because we can’t do for everyone.  Stanley further quotes, “I’ve seen a commitment to consistency get in the way of ministry.”  I don’t think any of us want anything in our churches getting in the way of ministry.  We must fully embrace grace and truth and understand that they are not always equal or even fair.  In fact, embracing the full dose of grace and truth in people’s lives often gets very messy uncomfortable.

 

 

No such place!

Posted: September 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

In Matthew 7, Jesus is giving the last part of his sermon on the mount.  In verse 13 and 14, He describes the narrow and wide gates.  “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  In churches today we hear so much about the “gate” but not so much about the “way”.  It is important to know that this scripture denotes a “gate” and a “way”.  The particular “gate” leads to the corresponding “way”.  So many “Christians” talk about walking through the narrow “gate” that leads to life by saying “I’ve been saved” or “I professed Jesus.”  But these same so-called “Christians” continue to walk on the wide “way.”  There is no such place!  The narrow gate that opens up to the wide way does not exist!

So is it possible to profess Jesus as Lord and not really be a Christian.  Well, Jesus says that not only is it possible, but it is likely!  In Matthew 7: 22-23, Jesus says, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'”  Let’s remember that the true Christian walk is through a narrow gate on a narrow path, lit by the Light of Jesus.  Sure, we step off of that path into the darkness from time to time because of our sinful nature, but through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we get back on it.  But we don’t “camp out” in the darkness.  1 John 1:6 states, “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.”  Let us be of those “few” who walk through the narrow gate and walk the narrow way that leads to life!  

Free Falling

Posted: June 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

A few weeks ago my incredible wife gave me a very special gift in celebration of my seminary graduation, Fathers Day and my birthday.  She arranged for me to do something I have always wanted to do but never had the chance.  I went skydiving!  Connected by a few straps and carabiners to another man I barely knew, we flew in a small Cessna aircraft to 12,000 feet on a beautiful partly cloudy day.  One other man, who was a former Army Airborne Ranger, was jumping with us.  At 12,000 feet, the former Airborne Ranger opened the door of the plane and I felt the chilly cold air above the clouds sweep into the plane.  He got out on the wing and motioned for me to slide out to the edge of the plane. This was it.  There was no turning back now.  Before I knew it, I was out of the plane free-falling to the earth.  My 30 minute crash course instructed me to kick my legs back and arch my neck and put my arms out as if I was flying.  This position makes your waist the center of gravity and allows you to free fall in a spread-eagle fashion facing the earth below.  After a couple of 360 degree flips out of the plane, I was looking at the earth below, with my arms spread out wide, falling at 120 miles per hour…yes, it was a rush!  Words simply can’t describe this feeling.  Out of a sheer adrenaline rush, I was screaming to the top of my lungs and could not hear a thing because of the speed at which I was falling through the sky.  I was completely aware of the guy strapped to my back and I had confidence in him as an experienced jumper.  With my goggles pressed firmly to my face I could see everything clearly and I was truly flying!  Then, in the distance, I saw the Army Airborne Ranger who jumped with us.  He was flying towards us in what seemed like slow motion.  I reached out my hand to him and he gave me a mid-air high-five and then he was gone.  It was surreal to think that I was meeting and greeting people at 8000 feet while falling out of the sky at 120 miles per hour.  I felt like I was flying like an eagle, it was so peaceful…and then it happened. I felt the tightness of my harness as the parachute opened and everything slowed down drastically.  Suddenly, I could hear my tandem’s voice saying “we’re under canopy now, you can relax”.  We then begin to float slowly around 5000 feet weaving in and out of clouds, looking at the beautiful scenery from a true bird’s eye view.  For about five minutes, we slowly drifted toward our landing destination.  I even got to steer the parachute a few times.  We finally landed softly, almost as if I was sitting down in a recliner in my living room.  It was everything I had dreamed of and more.

As I have reflected on this once in a lifetime adventure, I am reminded on how similar it is to our life in Christ.  There first comes a point where you decide to make the leap!  And so you jump into the arms of Jesus, your Lord and Savior, trusting Him with your life and understanding He has a plan for you.  This plan will include some flips, turns, screams, and people we will meet along the way.  There will be times when you are fast and furious and there will be times when you will float along and enjoy the scenery.  But the entire time, God has your back…not just your back, but also your front, your side, your top and your bottom. And ultimately, He has a landing destination and a purpose for your life. And don’t think you are in control…you’re not…He is.  Trust in Him and enjoy the ride!  Follow His instructions and they will give you life and life more abundantly!  The little cliché, “let go and let God” came to life for me on that day and reminded me to kick back and spread my arms wide and live with abandon for Jesus.  Are you free-falling for Jesus?

The truth about homosexuality

Posted: April 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

As I came to my house today for a quiet lunch, I turned on ESPN.  I watched as they praised an NBA player for “coming out” and saying he was gay.  He was said to be courageous…a hero.  It was also stated that this was a historical moment in sports history.  One analyst even said, “finally, tolerance can be found in pro sports.”  As a Christian who is also an avid sports fan, I was saddened by this day.  When did courage get defined as going public with a sin?  Since when did historical moments become about a man who plays a sport publicly claiming to have a lifestyle that is against God’s natural design?  Why are Christians being so silent in fear of not being “politically correct?”  Has being politically correct caused us to be Biblically corrupt?

Contrary to the thoughts of our culture, homosexuality is most definitely a sin.  You see, I believe that the main way we KNOW how God wants us to conduct our lives is by reading the Bible. God’s written Word—not culture, not experience, not tradition—no, the Bible—is the ONLY trustworthy guide for faith and practice. Scripture then, is the MAIN source of MY convictions when I say that I believe the practice of homosexuality is sinful. It is an act that is clearly contrary to God’s will. I realize that many people these days feel that it’s wrong to interpret the Bible in this way so let’s pause and briefly examine the texts that deal with this practice so that we can understand exactly what God says about this area of sexuality.

In Genesis 19, the Lord had come to Abraham along with some men who were angels.  The Lord told Abraham that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  Abraham pleads with the Lord to spare the city if just a few there were righteous.  There was a righteous man and his name was Lot.  The two angels, with the Lord, left for Sodom and we pick up the story as these two angels meet up with Lot….Genesis 19:4-13 (NIV)

    [4] Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom–both young and old–surrounded the house. [5] They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”[6] Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him [7] and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. [8] Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”   [9] “Get out of our way,” they replied. And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. [10] But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. [11] Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.[12] The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here–sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, [13] because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

Romans 1:24-27 (NIV) Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. [25] They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen.  [26] Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. [27] In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

But these are not the only texts in the Bible where homosexual practice is condemned. Both Leviticus 18:22 and 19:13 say that it is detestable for, a man to lie with a man as one lies with a woman. 1 Timothy 1:10-11 speaks against the act and I Corinthians 6:9 says, do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders…nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

So…it is striking to note that EVERY SINGLE TIME homosexual practice is mentioned in the Scriptures, it IS condemned. There ARE only two ways to can get around the biblical teaching against homosexual behavior:
1.  by gross misinterpretation
2.  or by moving away from a high view of Scripture as the Word of God.

I believe then that homosexuality then is not a political issue, or a civil rights issue, or even a tolerance issue. It is a MORAL issue.

And just so I can be clear, no where in the scriptures is homosexuality singled out as a special sin, especially offensive to God beyond any other sin.  God deals with all sin through the cross.  On the other hand, however, homosexual behavior should not be singled out for special leniency either.

The church cannot condone the lifestyle of homosexuals nor encourage their involvement as unrepentant sinners in the life of the church.  On the other hand, however the church should not try to pretend that the problem does not exist.  Churches should address the problem honestly and realistically, in love and understanding.  It is not God’s will that anyone should be bound by the sin of homosexuality.  His grace is sufficient to bring victory to those who are willing to submit this area to Him.  The church needs to take the initiative in encouraging the homosexual with this message.

Real courageous heroes are those who repent of their sins and turn their life over to God and serve him.  Real historical moments are when individuals give their lives to Jesus.

Three days and three nights?

Posted: March 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

Each year many observe “Good Friday”, the day they believe that Jesus was crucified. Then “Easter” Sunday will be observed as the day Christ arose from the dead. But was Jesus truly crucified on a Friday and resurrected on a Sunday Morning? And does it really matter? If you believe in Jesus as the Messiah, then it does matter, because the only sign which would be given to prove that He was the promised Messiah is the sign of Jonah. When the Jewish religious leaders asked Jesus for a sign to prove that He was sent from God, Jesus answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:38-40, NIV)

It is important to note here that Jesus said, not only three “days” but also three “nights.” That is 72 hours in the grave. Many erroneously assume that because Jesus was crucified on the “day of preparation” that He was killed on “Friday”, the weekly preparation day. Luke Chapter 23 says, “Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” (Luke 23:50-56, NIV) We can read the same account in the other gospels as well, so it is very clear that Jesus was killed and buried on the day of preparation. But how can we get three days and three nights from near sundown Friday to Sunday morning? Friday night would be one night, Saturday would be one day. Saturday night would be two nights and Sunday morning could not even be counted as a day. This reasoning would give us only one day and two nights, not the three days and three nights Jesus gave as His only sign.

Jesus certainly made no mistake so what is the answer to this puzzle? The answer can only be found when we understand which Sabbath is being prepared for observance. There are more “Sabbaths” than just the weekly Sabbaths. They are called “Annual Sabbaths” or “High Days.” These are a part of the annual Festivals commanded by God in Leviticus 23, and are the Lord’s appointed times for assembly and observance. They may fall on any day of the week during the year. The Annual Sabbaths are (1) First Day of Unleavened Bread. (2) Seventh Day of Unleavened Bread. (3) Feast of Pentecost or First Fruits (always Sunday). (4) Feast of Trumpets. (5) Day of Atonement. (6) Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. (7) Last Great Day.

Now with this understanding let us read Leviticus 23:5-7, “The LORD’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. 6 On the fifteenth day of that month the LORD’s Festival of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. 7 On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.” (Leviticus 23:5-7, NIV) Notice that this Annual Sabbath follows the Lord’s Passover. Now notice Luke 22:15, “And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15, NIV) After the Passover meal they departed to the Mount of Olives. In Luke 22:47 we find Jesus betrayed by Judas Iscariot and in Verse 54, Jesus was arrested. All this happened on the Passover, the 14th of Nissan. The following morning (still the Passover), Jesus was tried, beaten and sentenced to death by crucifixion. We find in Matthew 27:50 that Jesus cried out with a loud voice and died. Verse 46 of that same chapter tells us it was at the “ninth hour” of the day (Passover), which is 3 in the afternoon. All of this, from the eating of the Passover, to His death and burial, took place on the 14th of Nissan, the Passover.

Joseph, who asked Pilate for Jesus’ body, had until sundown to prepare the body with spices and secure Him in His tomb. Days began and ended at sundown, so sundown would begin a new day, in this case a High Sabbath, the First Day of Unleavened Bread (15th Nissan). This day of preparation mentioned in the Gospels was not to prepare for a “weekly” Sabbath, but the First Day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Most Bible scholars agree that Jesus was crucified in 31 A.D. on Passover 14th Nissan, a Wednesday that year (30 A.D. and 31 A.D. both had a Wednesday Passover according to the perpetual calendar) was buried just prior to sundown which would begin the next day, Thursday, 15th Nissan a High Day. Three days and three nights later, near the end of the weekly Sabbath (Saturday), He arose from the dead.

Notice that Luke says, “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” (Luke 24:1-3, NIV) It was early Sunday morning and Jesus was already gone. He was not resurrected on Sunday morning, the tomb was already empty. Fulfilling the “Sign of Jonah”, Jesus was true to His own prophecy concerning Himself. He was in the grave Wednesday Night (1st night), Thursday (1st day), Thursday night (2nd night), Friday (2nd day), Friday night (3rd night) Saturday (3rd day). Thus three full days and three full nights. If He arose on Sunday morning, that would be three days and four nights, thus nullifying the Lord’s own prophecy of His resurrection. If Jesus was put in the tomb just before sundown, then He must have been resurrected from the tomb at that same time of day three days later, which would be near the end of the weekly Sabbath as it was beginning to get dark. At sundown would begin Sunday, the first day it was noticed that He was gone from His tomb. Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday Passover, because He is our Passover Lamb. God always does things on time and at His appointed times. Everything surrounding the first Passover observance in ancient Egypt was foreshadowing Him, the true Lamb to come that would save man from death by giving His own precious life as a sacrifice. As Christians, we no longer observe this very special day as a memorial of deliverance of Israel from Egypt, but as a memorial of the death of our Lord who delivered us from eternal death. Don’t neglect this meaningful memorial.

I want to be a father like Job

Posted: January 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

We all know the story of Job found in the Bible.  We often hear the phrase, “the patience of Job” referring to Job’s perseverance through all of his trials.  We also hear a great deal about the way Job continued to praise God through his anguish as he stated, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;  may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21, ESV).  Numerous sermons and volumes of Bible studies have been  written about this interesting book but as I have been reading it lately, I was struck by a often overlooked verse in chapter 1. This verse points to what kind of father Job was to his children.  The verse challenged me in what I am doing for my own four children.  In the prologue of Job it states in verses 4-5, “His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.” (Job 1:4-5, ESV)  That last phrase really convicted me.  It was Job’s “regular custom” to sacrifice a burnt offering for his children.  I assume Job’s children were of  adult age and I am guessing this was what Job had been doing for years as he raised his children, and here he is doing the same thing, even into their adult years.  The scripture even indicates that Job perhaps thought that just maybe on that day, his children had sinned and thus he sacrificed a burnt offering on their behalf.  I think of the effort it took Job to physically sacrifice the burnt offering on a regular basis…the killing of the animal, the blood, the stench of the animal, the mess, the time.  Yes, raising children is sometimes like that…bloody knees, foul smells, huge messes, and yes, lots of time.  This regular custom of Job reminded me of how important it is for me as a father to consistently pray for my children.  I want to be a father like Job.