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December 5, 2016, 8:43 AM

Counter-Culture


A quick hit blog for Christmas:  What would a commercial for the birth of Jesus would look like today?   

If it were left up to executives or travel agencies, Bethlehem would be absolutely void of stables or sparsely apportioned inns.  There would be comfortable beds (plenty of them), people on staff to take care of every need you could think of (even giving birth) at all hours of the night.  Not a food trough in sight. 

And yet the travel agency of Rome demanded attendance in Bethlehem.  Late arrival?  Tough.  Third trimester?  Tough.  Prophecies of a new-born king?  No big deal.  

The star that lead to our Savior then still leads us today.  Into a place of sacrifice that blesses.  To a place where discomfort produces faithfulness.  To a place that is a travel agent's worst nightmare.  

Will you make the trip?  

Luke 2: 1 - 7  1At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.2(This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)3All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.4And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.5He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

6And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.7She gave birth to her efirst child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

 




November 28, 2016, 9:00 AM

Balance.


There is a theme in my ministry (sermons) that I cant help but speak at almost every opportunity:  Live the Story.  

Here's the meat behind that concept:  we must act as though we are Christ-Followers at every moment, not just when in the presence of other Christians.  To give you (the reader) the context, I was a youth minister for the first 12 years of my career, and this theme was shaped out of that decade of experiences.  

Too many times I would experience the absolute best of a student, see changes and hear positive responses to the call of Jesus.  Commitments were made, and faith seemed to be the driving force of behavior.  And then I see social media comments, stories told from friends, and parents asking me why I haven't taught little Joe about the dangers of _______ or _______ (insert your favorite teenage rebellion or sin).   It became such a pattern that I could predict certain behavior trends in certain individuals (think: the last night of camp where the emotion of the week overwhelms tired minds).  

Yes, I became jaded.  Yes, I adjusted quickly how I taught and the expectations I had.  No longer was attendance the highest goal (Yay! You made it this week!).  No longer was mountain-top confession and repentance the goal of weekend trips (CIY does this to great effect). 

What became the focus of ministry and teaching was the valleys, those points when real life was happening.  In the classroom, when the parents aren't home, when they were alone with their boy/girl-friend, when depression and anxiety ruled the day.  That mentality has crept into my time as preaching minister... In the times when we're not dressed up and at church is where the heart of faith is grown. 

Because there is a truth that we need to face:  The behavior of children is taught and cultivated at home.  Behavior patterns need reinforced in order to "stick."   Yes, genetics and hereditary features can come in to play... but we cant use that as an excuse.  Racism is taught. 100%.  Prejudice is taught.  And weak faith practices are reinforced by practices and behavior outside the Church.  

Our time together in Christian activity (1 or 2 hours a week, tops) cannot be what balances, or even redeems us.   What proves a heart seeking to follow Christ is shown in actually following Christ.  We wrapped up a small group series recently entitled: Not a Fan.  The premise is this:  "Are you a fan of Jesus?  Or are you a Follower?"  Because following Christ happens in the valleys, in real life, when we're alone and the minister isn't around to keep his eyes on us.  

Lets change the world by teaching the world through consistent, Christ-like behavior where ever we are. Especially when we're not at Church. 

Colossians 3: 16 - 17  16Let the message about iChrist, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.17And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.




November 21, 2016, 9:08 AM

A Blessing for Thanksgiving


May our hearts be as full as our stomachs. 

May our family be as welcome as the dessert table. 

May our joy shine as clear as our passion for football on Thursday afternoon. 

As we gather, wherever we are, let the light of Christ shine through our gratitude and thankfulness for our salvation.  

1 Thessalonians 5: 18   18Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

 

Be blessed in this season of Thanksgiving.  




November 14, 2016, 9:07 AM

Bears, Endures, Believes, and Hopes


Those are the characteristics of what Love Does.  Love, one of the eternal elements of belief that will remain when all else fails (alongside faith and hope - 1 Cor. 13).  This all stems from a worship moment I had yesterday, when my brain decided to take a left turn during a song.  Instead of focusing on the heart of the song, I got bored with my prescribed 4 notes and spend time looking at the words...  What does Love do?  It Bears all things.  It Endures all things.  It Hopes all things.  It Believes all things.  (At least according to The Greatest Command).  

What can love bear?  It is not a muscle.  Yet Love bears the years we spend in grief, the hours of our heartbreak, the lifetime of our pursuit of the perfect relationship with Christ.  Love can carry the heaviest weight we have:  time.  

What does love endure?  It is not an object to punish.  Yet love endures our vain pursuits, our desires to be thought of well by the world, the days we spend seeking a better reputation.  Love endures our distracted hearts, drawing us closer and closer to Christ. 

What does love hope for?  Completeness.  Unity.  Love hopes for things far beyond our imagination... Love hopes for the very heart of God to be realized here on Earth. 

What does love believe?  The best of us.  Just like Jesus. 

The story that John tells in 1, 2, and 3 John is of the power Love has over this world.  It is the identifier of a follower of Christ.  It is what separates us from those without the Holy Spirit.  

What can we endure?  Not much...  but the love of God will endure eternally.  

1 Corinthians 13: 4 - 7  4Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud5or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.6It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.7Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 




October 31, 2016, 9:02 AM

Reversing Worship


In my sermon yesterday (10/30) I mentioned a trend that worship has taken that needs to stop - Bottom Up worship.  Let me walk through the idea:  We show up on Sunday morning (or your appointed time) and tell God what we think.  The songs/sermon/scriptures are chosen to be uplifting to us, and if they aren't we walk away unsatisfied, or unfed.  Prayers are expressed for our problems, the sick, the needy, the Country.  Everything focuses on us, and if it doesn't we look for a place that will meet our needs (or our children's needs, etc...).  
Now, yes, this is a blanket statement about the state of worship, and the state of "church."  Yes, I am a part of the system that has both created and cultivated this mindset.  So Yes, the fingers are pointing in ALL directions as we dive into this thought and challenge!  

This form of worship expression (Bottom-Up) creates virtues out of things that were never really virtues to begin with:  attendance, authenticity, habit, and consumerism.  When worship is all about US, just showing up is a virtue, is a celebration, is reason to think we've got something right in the world. After all, how many people dont make an effort on Sunday morning to gather in fellowship and worship?  Just showing up is not a virtue.  Neither is authenticity.  Many, many, many worship leaders (and preachers too) seek authenticity in their services.  Here's what it means:  "God, I REALLY mean what I'm singing and saying and praying right now.  Really, really."   

Why seek authenticity?  Because we're not authentic, by nature.  And when it comes to worship, we feel the need to convince our neighbors in the pew, the preacher, the worship leader, and God that we really mean it this time when we sing I Surrender All.  

Authenticity is not a virtue.  Neither is consumerism, or your habits.  Those are traits of a soul wrapped in the comforts of culture.  

So what SHOULD worship look like?  To be simple, its a Top-Down experience.  Yes it is VERY appropriate to speak/sing our hearts to God and tell him exactly what we're feeling and dealing with.  But that is not the focus of the experience.  What God has to say is what is important.  NO, that does not mean the sermon is more important than anything else.  God's Word incarnate in communion, in the call to live sacrificially and generously, and the example already given by Jesus are what TOP-Down worship looks like.  We cant really be waiting around for a new, fabulous, get rich quick, grow your church with one easy step program message to arrive every week.  God has already spoken his heart for his people, and has set the table for our worship experiences.  

He uses his word to speak of the virtues he seeks:  patience, love, compassion, generosity, sacrifice...  none of which look anything like the virtues we've made of our expectations of worship today.  When David prayed and sang through the Psalms he cried his heart out for deliverance and peace... but was willing to wait for God's will and timing and work to be done WHEN GOD WAS READY.  He displayed a Top-Down worship: --  "Here's what I'm feeling, God...  You are God, I'm not...  I submit to your will."   That sounds a lot like Jesus' prayer in the Garden before the episode of the Cross.  

Habakkuk got the same message across to God in his written works late in the OT, and well into the captivity.  "God, look at the ruin and mess and loss that used to be your people, Israel.  Restore us!!  But not on my time....in Yours."  (Chris' Paraphrase).  God speaks to Habakkuk (and us) with comfort and the expectation of God's virtues: patience in affliction, compassion to those in charge, repentance to wickedness, and a love of God's laws.  Israel was reformed by reversing worship... We can do the same.  

Habakkuk 3: 16 b - 19   I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us. 17Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, 18yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! 19The eSovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.


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