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December 18, 2017, 8:18 AM

They Didn't Get the Birth Announcement


There were no cards, no social media posts, no gender reveal videos, no naming contests, no baby showers or gift trees... Nothing. Not a single birth announcement from Joseph and Mary. The only ones who witnessed the birth walked on four legs. The only visitors we're told about are smelly shepherds. 

Outside of the prophecies (no doubt in question after 400-ish years of silence), the only announcement of Jesus' birth was to the shepherds outside the city. Mind you, that was an AWESOME announcement, but still... it was the only one. 

It was almost as if God expected us to tell everyone the Messiah has been born. Its almost as if the pronouncement of God's love incarnate was left to those who have witnessed and responded to that love personally to share it on a global scale...  

Outside of being polite or wishing someone a Merry Christmas, who has heard us proclaim the power of Jesus' birth? 

Its time for us to share the birth announcement! 

 




December 11, 2017, 8:38 AM

-O Come Let us Casually Observe Him - Part 2


Part 1 can be found here. 

Christmas is a unique time. A majority of the world, whether they acknowledge it or not, are turned towards the coming of the Christ. Intermixed with the pop songs of the season are the traditional hymns declaring Jesus' arrival. No matter if someone demands you to say "Happy Holidays" as opposed to "Merry Christmas," there is at the very least a familiarity with the source of our joy this time of year. 

Which leads us to our big point in this two part blog: Just like with violence or sinfulness, we've become dulled to it all. We rush about to get our shopping completed and make sure everything is decorated just so and make sure all the snow-themed treats are baked. Christmas has become just as commercialized within Christianity as it has in our stores and malls. 

We casually observe the Messiah lying in his manger, wrapped in clean cloth, and wondering what that smell is. (Hint: its the ox and lamb). The heavenly host's message to the shepherds is treated as a chorus to a song we sing for about 4 weeks then shelve for another 11 months. Even those amazing tv shows we loved as kids are no longer a highlight because we can stream them whenever we want. (Seriously, do you remember waiting for the commercial that advertised when Rudolph and a Charlie Brown Christmas were going to air!?). 

We have begun to treat this season like a trip to the zoo. Casually observing creatures, that if allowed to, would wreak havoc in our lives if it were not for the moat and protective glass. 

Preachers are just as guilty, having become zoo keepers, those that curate the Messiah into easily digested viewing sessions. We answer questions and bring interesting facts to the table every week. And then end the casually observation at an appropriate time before stomachs start to growl noticeably. 

“O, Come let us Adore Him.” 

Adore. Worship. Dive into the Kingdom he established. Christmas is so vital to our faith and existence that we cannot overlook it. The manger is a vessel of immense power. The shepherds  are earthly examples of heralds akin to the messengers who sang Glory and Hallelujah in the skies that night. 

Adore Him.  Bring gifts worthy of a King. Bring everything we’ve got. 




December 4, 2017, 8:39 AM

O Come Let us Casually Observe Him


Part 1: 

Christmas is a different sort of animal isn't it? 
Some people (you know who you are) gear up for it months and months in advance. There are decorations and an entire industry of these decorations that take in billions of dollars each year. 
Christmas is a big deal.  Now, it is interesting in our group that Christmas has not been such a big deal, which is ok. We’re not tackling that issue right now. But here’s the issue I do want to address: “O, Come Let Us Adore Him.” 

Adore. Worship. Bring the best gifts, celebrate and whoop and holler through the streets in the middle of the night. Adore. 
Because Christ the King is born, here on earth, to redeem all mankind. 

I propose a change of lyrics to suit the Western Church Model: “O, Come let us casually observe him… At regularly scheduled intervals… assuming those times do not interfere with everything else we do around the holidays.” 

Kansas City has a really great zoo. It is especially neato if you live in a couple MO counties, as you get a killer discount. I happen to live in said county, and get a discount. And therefore, we visit the zoo often. We have our favorite animals that we love to stop and see every time we visit. Some of those animals are cute and cuddly and I imagine holding them would be like holding a house pet.  

On the other side of that notion are those animals that are absolutely terrifying and have huge claws or teeth with which to eat tasty morsels like myself.  I am happy to observe those creatures through very thick glass or protected by a literal moat. 

If a crocodile were to get loose near me, you better bet I would be impacted by that development. If I were to be thrust into the midst of the lion’s enclosure, you bet I would be impacted by that.  Which is why I approve of such protective measures to keep me from encountering such life altering situations. 

Maybe you see where I’m going with this. Christmas, and Christ in particular are treated much like we do the dangerous animals at the zoo. We like to visit, maybe even often, and observe his workings and miracles and blessings in the New Testament. We enjoy seeing how awesome his power is and the potential he has to shift the lives of those he encounters. And then we go home having casually observed the workings of God. 

Remove the protective glass between yourself and Jesus and then see what happens. Discover the power he has over YOUR life specifically instead of being content with what was written about him on the conveniently located information plaque on the enclosure in which he is kept. 




November 27, 2017, 8:44 AM

What Kind of Answers?


God, what is your will for Red Bridge and what do we need to do and become? 

Continue to pray this daily, seeking God's will for our congregation. As we pray seeking answers we need to expect answers. I've asked that those answers be written down and submitted to the office for Stage 2 of our prayer initiative. 

Here's a little further clarification: As we pray and as we begin to receive answers we need to be ready to hear and receive. That may come in the form of an attitude -- Love. Meaning, whatever we do must be done in love. The answer received may be a people group or demographic in our community that needs our focus. Perhaps the answer you will receive is a ministry that the Church needs to undertake. 

When you receive that prompting, answer, nudging and movement of the Holy Spirit... Whatever is continually coming to mind and heart before, during, and after you pray: write that down. 

When we pray for rain, bring an umbrella. When we pray for answers and direction, expect answers and direction. 

 




November 20, 2017, 9:33 AM

Forever Requires Unity


It could be said that yesterday's theme was the word: Forever. (11/19/17). The sermons I preached were both focused on Psalm 136 which has the repeated phrase: "His Love Endures Forever." Sunday morning's sermons hit on the four themes of the Psalm: God's Person, God's Power, God's Provision, and God's Purpose. Sunday evening held a slightly different approach to the Psalm, focusing instead on one word: Forever. 

What makes that word unique is how big it really is. Forever is eternal, before our beginning and long after our end. Trying to fathom forever will only create a headache. It is that very nature of the idea of forever that I want to repeat today in this blog. If we really believe God's love endures forever then we have to adjust how we act/respond to some temporary things. 

In light of the sheer hugeness of forever all the little things that seem so bothersome in our every day travels start to pale and diminish. In light of forever what we think is important becomes trivial. When we live with a forever mindset, the will of God becomes greater and our will becomes less. I thought about this concept of God's eternal love when I shaped the second sermon I preached... at the Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service. This was an hour of worship that included four very different Christian traditions and denominations. In the every day, normal routine of things we go about our business as four very separate groups of people. 

And yet.... when we take into consideration FOREVER our perspective and ideas of division must change and adjust. Forever, at least for one hour on a Sunday night in November 2017, meant that we could focus on what unites us as believers: Christ and him crucified. When we have a forever mindset we can seek the best in each other. And we discover just how much we have in common. Even if the way we do things looks and sounds different (I've never heard a prayer or hymn in Egyptian before last night!). 

Discover a Forever mindset, especially when this world pushes us to focus on the trivial problems of today. Seek Forever relationships and endeavors that keep us focused on what really matters: Christ and him crucified. 

 




November 13, 2017, 8:35 AM

I Can't Believe the News Today


Here's how the song Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2 begins: "I can't believe the news today. I can't close my eyes and make it go away. How long? How long must we sing this song?" 

This song was written concerning a massacre and violence in Northern Ireland, the song itself released in 1983. And yet every time I hear this song I cant help but think that it was written about today, yesterday, tomorrow... Because the news tells us again and again that this world is falling apart. That is the main message that the "News" has for us. "Get a helmet folks, you're going to need it." 

What amazes me is not the tragedies that happen on a weekly basis. I'm amazed by the message of hopelessness that is barraging us. Get on social media and every bit of bad news is echoed by everyone with a keyboard. Nothing is safe: politics, economics, gender battles, legal issues. It'a ALL there. 

"I can't believe the news today. I can't close my eyes and make it go away." 

What we can do is love. That doesnt make the bad news go away... but it begins healing the scars that form. 

Want some good news? Love. Love shifts. Love moves. Love builds. 

Love. 

1 Corinthians 13: 1 - 3 1If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t clove others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.2If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.3If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.




November 6, 2017, 9:02 AM

Ringing Ears


My ears ring all the time. Too much loud music and concerts. Silence about drives me insane, thus white noise at almost all times around me. I sleep with a fan, have one blowing in my office... and try to make sure there is at least something to overshadow the constant ringing. Now, don't cry for me Argentina, the truth is I did this to myself. There is hope out there for healing, but its still in testing in Germany. 

Here's why I mentioned that: its not just the ringing in my ears that pushes me to avoid silence. When I'm silent that means I'm not talking or making noise. And when I'm not making noise or talking I am receptive to what God would say to me. And that scares me sometimes. 

God can and will speak to us. The Holy Spirit moves actively. The Bible is God's powerful Word. God is desperate to communicate and share with us His heart, His will, and His love. Are we willing to be quiet long enough to listen? Last week (Oct 29) I was moved by God and given direction very clearly on two occasions. Both led to immediate action from me... and for Red Bridge. We walked through both initiatives during the sermon time last week, and you can look at those if you want!  

What I want to emphasize here is WHEN those happened: When I was taking out the trash. I wasn't talking or praying or asking God to direct me. I was quiet... walking outside... AFTER asking God for direction. And God did what I asked. Now we're all praying in that direction because I shut my own mouth for just a few moments!!! 

So here's the big point that we've been pushing the last two weeks of study: LISTEN! We have to an equal (or more) amount of time listening to God than we do telling God everything we want him to do. He WILL communicate with us and direct us. Are we listening? 

Don't be afraid of silence. God may be waiting for us to stop talking and hear what He has in store for us! 

God, what is your will for Red Bridge and what do you need us to do and become?




October 30, 2017, 9:01 AM

Listen


Have you prayed today? Have you looked at your prayer card and taken that to God? 

"God, what is your will for Red Bridge and what do you need us to do and become?" 

Thats one thing, to pray... what follows is the hard part for us: We have to listen. We have to be ready for God to actually tell us what he really wants us to become!!  The prayer we're offering for the rest of the year (every one, every day!) is full of expectation. We have to be ready for God to answer. 

Are you listening?  I rewatched one of my favorite movies this past week, The Prestige, about dueling stage magicians in the early 1900's. I remember someone telling me that exact premise and thinking: "that sounds pretty stupid."  I'm positive, if you havent seen the movie, that you thought the same thing when I told you what it is about. However, all that aside, the movie is fantastic and shows some amazing insight into human nature and how far one will go for vegence. Here's the coolest part: the movie opens with a voice-over that explains EVERYTHING! Until you watch it all the way through though, you miss it and just think you're being set up. Here's the first words: "Are you watching closely?" If we actually were watching closely we would discover what was about to happen and how the movie would end! (hint: it's the birds... they're the big clue). 

If we pray to God for answers and direction, we need to be ready for answers and direction! Be ready!  

Listen to Him

Mark 9: 7 "...This is my dearly loved Son, listen to him."




October 23, 2017, 9:15 AM

What's Next? The 2017 Red Bridge Prayer Initiative.


This past weekend we hosted a Prayer Seminar with Jon Graf. It was fantastic and opened the door to both the simplicity and complexity of a vibrant prayer life. Those who were in attendance on Saturday were especially treated to a practical approach, with many powerful examples  to build from. The Sunday morning sessions are both on the website (and in the email). 

So what comes next? 

Is it enough to host a speaker, enjoy what he says, and then move back to the status quo? Nope. That no longer is a viable option. 

So what comes next?  Simple: we pray. 

Here's how and why and what we're going to pray. Red Bridge is about to become a focused praying congregation. Yes, we already pray consitently and corporately. However, we are moving our prayers to the next level. Too often we've been praying "Fix-It" prayers that address physical needs of those who are sick or hurting. We address the grief around us, and sometimes the praises and joy. That is not a bad thing and we will continue to do so every week in our bulletins and services. However, beginning this next Sunday, we are going to start praying BIG prayers, seeking God's will for Red Bridge and praying for the willingness to do exactly what He wants of us. 

To whet your appetite, here is what that is going to look like in the initial stages: For AT LEAST the rest of 2017 we are going to pray every day that God shows us His will specifically for Red Bridge. "God, what is your will and what do you need us to do and become?" It is a simple but specific prayer. In fact, that prayer may have been prayed already, and often! We are all going to pray this, and we're going to pray it consistently, regularly......until we know God's will for us and what we're supposed to do and become!! 

Expect God to answer. Sure we expect God to answer every prayer with a Yes or No. We, as a congregation, are going to ask for specifics and expect specifics. Write the answers down and submit them to Chris. That is step one. 

The next step to this Prayer Initiative is this: "God, make us willing to do exactly what you ask us to do." As God's will is revealed to us we must be prepared and willing to be a part of accomplishing His will. Again, this sounds obvious and a natural extension of being a Christian. How often though do we struggle with the simplest aspects of following Christ though? Generosity, Forgiveness, Mercy, Unconditional Love?!  We're going to pray for pliable and willing hearts. 

God is going to do something powerful and amazing. We must be ready and willing to join Him in that endeavor. Are you ready to rediscover God's will for his Church in South Kansas City? Begin praying that we are prepared to join God wherever he needs us to be. 




October 16, 2017, 10:30 AM

Clean or Sit? (I pretty much always choose sit)


By show of hands, who can agree with this statement:  So much to do, so little time. 
I’m assuming all of you reading this are holding one hand up high.  (you can put it down now, the people around you are staring).    

Just recently in our Vertical with Jesus sermon series we spent some time with Mary and Martha. Martha gets busy cleaning and tidying up and getting dinner ready and this and that and then this again because Jesus and his disciples are coming over to dinner. Really, who could blame her, after all it’s the Son of God sitting on her recliner in the living room.  On the other hand we have Mary, stopping what she’s doing and sitting at the feet of Jesus.  

Martha loved Jesus dearly and would have done anything for him, so don’t think too low of her.  Her struggle came in being still.  Martha spent so much time serving Jesus that she had no time to enjoy his company or to get to know him better.  The harder Martha worked the more frustrated she got with he sister Mary.  Mary was sitting around while Martha was scurrying and bustling, making sure everything was perfect.  Martha’s service, though it started out with gladness and excitement, deteriorated into resentment and envy.  

Luke 10:40

It is good to want to serve Christ as an expression of love for what he has done for you.  But when your activity consumes your time and energies so that you have no time for him you have become too busy.  Its easy to think like Martha probably was: if she didn’t do it, no one would.  That may be true, but Jesus taught us repeatedly that our highest priority needs to be our relationship with him.  

IF ANYTHING DETRACTS YOU FROM THAT, IT IS NOT AN ACTIVITY THAT’S OK WITH GOD.  God will not ask you to do anything that hinders your relationship with him.  

At times working hard and busily to carry out God’s mission is the best way to know and experience him.  Other times though sitting at his feet and doing nothing but listening is where God wants us to be.  We can’t always sit as his feet, nothing would ever get done then.  But we are not called to serve so incessantly that we forget who we are serving and why we are working in the first place.  

 

  Being busy wont get you into heaven.  Having a good resume of things accomplished wont get you into heaven.  Why waste your time? 

 

Knowing Christ in all things . . . now that’s something to get busy doing. 




October 2, 2017, 10:14 AM

Being Blessed


We are blessed because God is. We are blessed no matter our circumstances, wealth, 401k holdings, house size, car condition, or anything else this world throws our direction. 

The I AM is what blesses us. Our job is to live like it. When persecuted, live blessed. 

When poor in spirit, mourning, lost and afraid: live blessed. 

It's not going to be easy, but it is essential to the Christ-Follower's identity. Live blessed. If we cross our arms and wait impatiently for our blessings we assume we deserve because we're good little Christians we will miss out on the life and opportunities placed right in front of us. Waiting for further revelation on how we're supposed to act will cause us to miss out on the instructions we already know (the Bible!). Thinking all those red lights are punishment or a sign we've done something wrong skews our image of God. 

We are blessed because God is. He is faithful to his promises. He is faithful to redeem and save. He is strong enough to carry us. 

Live blessed. 




September 18, 2017, 9:30 AM

Waste of Energy


I am a master at both wasting time and conserving energy. Give me a video game... there's an hour gone. Give me a task or routine, I'll have it refined to work efficiently with as little effort as possible. Please do not assume that the conserving energy thing is noble. No, it simply exists to serve the first part of my declaration: more time to waste. 

There is a part of me though that is not so efficient: the time and energy wasted on horizontal anxieties. In order to understand that verbiage, check out the sermon from this past week so we're on the same page (or look for the devotional book "Vertical With Jesus"). There is a vast category of things that occupy way too much of our brains, memories, and emotions. Jesus addresses these things multiple times, and I want to echo his teaching here.

Doubt. Fear. Worry. Anger. Jealousy. Greed. Grudges. 

Those are horizontal matters that only waste our time and energy. They distract us from the Vertical matters which should occupy those dark areas inhabited by them. 

How much time, energy, and emotion are we wasting on them? Too much. The beauty of focusing on the Vertical is the energy and passion we gain from it. 

Matt 5: 6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; For they will be filled. 




September 11, 2017, 8:45 AM

So Much More Than Just Food


Yesterday (09/10/17) was Friend's Day. It went very well, and there were many, many new faces in the crowd. Well done Red Bridge. It is always amazing to see what can come from the simplest of questions/invitations. Sometimes we're the ones who create the rejection, which stops us from ever asking anyone to do anything (like coming to Church with us). Yesterday proved otherwise, and I'm very proud. 

However...  (there's always a "however" isnt there?!)... I heard a line spoken matter of factly a few times throughout the morning and wanted to address it here. In various iterations I heard: "I guess we should have a meal every week after Church." Or: "If we have food people will come." 

Multiple times this was expressed. And multiple times I was distressed by the sentiment. Why?  Here's why:
We have so much more to offer than just food. 

The meal is not why our friends, coworkers, and family joined us yesterday. That type of thing happens every day, everywhere else. We eat with people all the time. The fact that we had lunch together IN our building is immaterial. What this sentiment identifies is a cheapening of the power of the Gospel. We assume (with the same assumption that no one would want to go to Church with us) that what people need is a good meal????  

While the lunch was excellent, the Church, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ has so much more to offer and we cannot lessen ourselves to just being a buffet. We have the very Son of God, the Messiah, The Savior, the Son of Man who inhabits our hearts and lives to offer. Next time an invitation is offered, we must make sure we're offering much more than just a full stomach. We're offering an introduction to a life, heart, and soul made full. 

John 6: 26 - 27  26Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs.27But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”




August 28, 2017, 8:38 AM

The Bat-Signal


This is a follow up to last week's article. You may or may not be lost if you havent read it. 

The Church's greatest asset and power is not from its strength or ability to shine a spotlight into the sky telling the world we are here and ready to love them. Truth be told, most churches cant afford a spotlight, more or less make one bright enough to reach past a few blocks. No, a bat-signal is not what we're missing. 

The power of the Church is in the smallest of things: Relationship. Now that can be interpreted a few ways, so lets break it down a bit. There are some relationships that are barely that at all. We'll call those acquaintances. The Church is FULL of acquaintances. If someone you recognize but don't know extremely well is missing a couple weeks in a row, you probably don't notice or just assume they have a good reason (vacation, etc...). When you see them again you smile and say Hello. 

Lots of those around. Which is not a bad thing, our schedules are pretty similar after all. Then there are relationships that have become a little stronger based on that schedule, or simply proximity. We are all creatures of habit and like routines. When other people are a part of that, we become more than just familiar and begin seeking out relationship with those of similar ilk. Again, lots of those in church because we all like sitting in the same spot, arriving at the same time each week, etc... 

Not a bad thing either, after all our schedules are pretty similar. The big question today: do you have relationships that extend past the convenience of scheduling? I'm guessing that those exist in plenty....... outside the Church. Relationship holds people together no matter what is going on. People ride out the craziest of storms together because they really like or love each other. Sometimes the worst things can happen, and friendships only get stronger. 

Western Christianity has a relationship problem. We're quick to pull the trigger on ending our "relationship" with a church, friends, fellow worshipers because of ____________. It may not even be a storm, but the tie that binds is more of a slipknot than a locking figure eight. 

It may not look like much, but the Church remains God's most vital tool of hope in this world. Service without expectation. Sacrifice without repayment. Love without conditions. Relationships that weather storms, instead of letting go at just the wrong time. 

This past week I witnessed first hand the power of the Church during our disaster relief efforts. If you've lost hope in the Church you've simply been looking for hope in the wrong places. Stop looking for a bat-signal and seek out a relationship. 

 

 




August 21, 2017, 9:19 AM

The 6 Million Dollar Man is Not the Best Approach for Church


Yes, you read that right. Yes, I threw out an old television show as a model for Church growth and development. Here's why: Better, Faster, Stronger, More Powerful, All the Tech you can Throw at it, Sleek, Popular...  That describes a few churches who are able to pull off the dynamic approach to worship and ministry. No, they're not bad and evil just because they're the biggest and strongest. They are simply serving their audience how their audience wants served. 

How do we want served? We're a small church in a suburban area that is aging. The house market is slowly turning the median age younger, but its not moving very fast. We arent the quickest to adapt and adopt. The resources (people) are just not plentiful enough to build major programs and make us a powerhouse. 

Is that a bad thing? It is, if you judge a church's influence and ability by the standards of the world. 

A corporation is only successful if it has market saturation and brand awareness. Basically, the world tells us that we need to be the 6 Million Dollar Man to even compete in the church growth market. Is that really the only way we can hope to make a difference? I hope not, because even with inflation and the growth/decline of the dollar, $6 Million is near impossible. 

It is a good thing Jesus measures strength and power with a different metric than the world. Zacchaeus was his choice for a dinner host. He thought parties with tax collecters were a great idea to attend. He touched people who wouldnt be allowed within yards of the temple. He valued women and servants. He taught his apostles to treat people kindly (children especially), and not be blinded by cultural barriers. He modeled strength through sacrifice and service. 

That doesnt look like $6 Million dollar programming, it looks like simple relationships. It looks like gentleness. His model works for us because it is not based on budget or manpower. It is based on loving the people around us. We are not weak because we are small. We are strong because he is strong. Make a difference in someone's life today in a small but personal way, and the Kingdom of God will be that much closer and stronger than ever before. 

(I do wish i made the cool whooshing/electronic noise when I ran like Lee Majors did in the show). 

John 13: 3 - 5 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.




August 14, 2017, 9:36 AM

Faith...


This is a tough one to nail down. Meaning: kindness was simple -- be kind. Goodness, the same -- be good. But faithfulness - have faith... In what? God, yes. But the question was asked in class yesterday (08/13) "What exactly does faith in God really look like?" 

For many, it means going to church. Period. Faithful in attendance. Surely God will notice how I've adjusted my schedule to meet his, right? 

For others it means including daily study and prayer on top of dutiful attendance. Surely God will notice how I approach him on a daily basis, right? 

I am NOT decrying attendance or daily habitual reflection in the Bible and prayer. Those are essential pieces to being a Christ-follower. But they are not displays of faith. They are displays of habit, scheduling, and a tenacious desire to please God by doing things he wants us to do. Those habits may even include such radical things like giving weekly, serving in a classroom or ministry, or finding service opportunities during the week that help the marginalized and destitute. While all are good things... none of them really require faith. They require scheduling, planning, sometimes elbow grease. 

Faith is a deeper, more foundational element that changes our character, not just our schedules. Reading your Bible every day, if done out of habit or a felt need to do something godly on a daily basis, may have little to no impact on your life other than familiarity with scripture. In the same vein, prayer can be rote, or habitually asking for help as opposed to asking for a deeper connection with God. 

When you have faith in something, it shapes your behaviors, decisions, and hopes. Not just a few minutes/hours a week. There is a tenacity to the faithful that circumstance, storm, or hardship cannot shake. Faith changes the way choices are made. Faith adjusts lifestyles. Faith moves the mountains, it does not just build an easier path around them. 

I recall a story a good college friend told me about his time in Papua New Guinea as a teenager. A mountain tribe was dying, desperate for supplies, relief, and the new found hope they discovered in Christ through scripture. No one could reach them based on the terrain. One person, during a tribal council discussing the need to relocate and abandon their location held for generations, brought up Matthew 17:20 and asked the leaders to pray for the mountain to move instead of the tribe. They did just that. One shovel-full at a time, they moved a mountain. Creating a landing strip for a small plane to reach them, the tribe connected with the world and with the Gospel. Because of faith. True story. 

What mountains have we been content walking around, or abandoning all together? 

Matthew 14: 14 - 21 

14 At the foot of the mountain, a large crowd was waiting for them. A man came and knelt before Jesus and said, 15“Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16So I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.” 17Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18Then Jesus rebuked the demon in the boy, and it left him. From that moment the boy was well. 19Afterward the disciples asked Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we cast out that demon?”
20“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.

2 Corinthians 5:7  For we live by faith, not by sight. 

 




August 7, 2017, 9:15 AM

Good.


I remember a class I taught a loooong time ago in my youth ministry days... I recall it because a) its essential to this illustration; and 2) it has stuck with me all these years.

I asked my class at the time: What is the hardest part about being Christian?  The response that stuck with me: Being good. None of the kiddos responded with discipleship issues. Not one threw baptism and the heavy commitment it is as an answer. No doctrinal issues came up (instruments vs. a cappella, etc...). "Being Good" was the one that got the class talking. 

I think the biggest struggle that was being expressed by this youth group member was this: the definition of good has been skewed. We've been taught that "being good" was the main goal of the Christian life. Now, no one may have specifically said it that way, but we've shaped ourselves into communities that try to do enough good that we tip the balance of heaven and hell in our favor. Church attendance becomes paramount (not that it isn't important, but it is not a criteria mentioned scripturally for salvation), we excel at Bible drills (finding books and verses faster than others), and we can list all the things we don't do because we're good Christians. Therefore, being good is what we assume God must want from every Christian... and we perpetuate that diluted religion. 

Does God want us to be good? Of course! But we need to know the exact kind of good we're dealing with if we say it that way. Mark 10 addresses this issue, with the Rich Young Ruler being a genuinely good person, obedient, and law abiding... but lacking an understanding of what true, godly goodness meant. Following the rules and having a strong list of "don'ts" is a good starting point for establishing character and obedience. It is, however, NOT what defines the heart of a Christian. Jesus addresses that with this young man in Mark, identifying the one area in which obedience had not translated into godly goodness - his wealth. 

This story should be rather alarming. Every one comes to Jesus with a handful of good things we've done or given up for his name's sake. We all come expecting a pat on the back for perfect attendance, consistent offering plate contributions, even teaching Sunday school... We must be ready though for him to turn to us, search us, and identify what has kept us from being truly good. Your challenge this week is to find that place(s) that would have you turning around discouraged because Jesus pointed it out as not being good enough. Discover it and change it. 

And be good! 

 




July 31, 2017, 10:17 AM

Jesus was Really Nice.


Understatement of the year: Jesus was a really nice guy. 

And while that sounds so......simplistic, there is a high value to the concept. Jesus was nice. There were times, yes, where he was aggressive and firm with a lesson. But for the most part (99% of the time) he was kind. Children want to come see him, with all their wiggles and short attention spans: he welcomed them kindly. In fact, he was so kind to them that he turned it around on his disciples for pushing the kids away. Have a disease that separates you from everyone?  Jesus reached out to you kindly. Do you work for Rome? Jesus not only will heal your servants, he will profess to the crowds around about the amazing level of your faith!! 

Jesus was kind... to everyone who could not repay his kindness. Those that knew better were treated a little less kindly. When you get the time this week in Bible study, spend time in the Gospel of John and rediscover the powerful displays of Grace by Jesus. Almost every time, we could excuse anyone for being testy, short, or impatient. And yet every time, Jesus is kind and nice despite circumstance. My favorite t-shirt logo I've seen in recent history is this: "I'm sorry for things I said when I was hungry."  

In John 4, Jesus was very tired and very hungry. And yet he is filled with Grace and kindness towards a woman who could neither reciprocate or even justify talking to him in the first place. 

A closing thought to this quick hit blog: You're never too important or busy to be nice. If anyone could claim that, it is Jesus. "I'm sorry, I'm too busy making sure your path to salvation is complete."  OR: "I'm sorry, but my time is way too short to spend time with your child, your lepers, or your sick and dying servants... after all, you're not Jewish."  Never, ever did Jesus withhold compassion, grace, and kindness. What ground do we have to stand on when we withhold any of it? 

John 4: 4 - 10   4He had to go through Samaria on the way.5Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.6Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime.7Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”8He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. 9The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” 10Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”




July 24, 2017, 8:38 AM

Symptoms


After a small epiphany yesterday before the Adult class, I want to explore further a thought that unpacked itself during our class time and sermon. Lack of patience (impatience) is not THE problem... it is a symptom of a greater problem. 

As we examine Paul's list concerning what the Holy Spirit will exhibit in those seeking to be like Christ, the first three are the source... what follows (generally speaking) are results of issues we may have with Love, Joy, and Peace. 

If we do not have a full grasp of a loving life, filled with joy, and seeking peace we will naturally become impatient, mean, not full of goodness, and lack self control (among other things). Too often we point first to a lack of patience as our biggest problem. 

That is not the problem.  How we love, or choose to hate is the problem. The boundaries we have allowed to exist between us and certain people is not a lack of patience with "difficult" people. It is a problem with loving like God loves. When we choose to not see joy in our circumstances, we will lose patience at the drop of a hat. Patience is not the problem. Our hearts and the dark places we have kept hidden are the source. 

Your challenge this week as we continue studying patience is to not just be patient with someone. Be patient because you love someone completely. 

Ephesians 4: 2 - 3 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your dlove. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.




July 17, 2017, 9:19 AM

Blinded by Hope


I hope tomorrow is better. 

That probably sounds familiar, and has probably graced many lips throughout time. Today can be a struggle, and when we face the challenges and storms of the present we can rely on the hope that tomorrow is going to be better. Our faith is based upon hope that stretches into eternity. Which, when embraced, gives us the perseverance and faith to carry on. 

There are other ways we can look ahead in hope as well: I hope our Church grows; I hope the Kingdom of God (the Church) is revived; I hope things are better for believers globally and that persecution ends.  We can confidently say these things and speak about the faith that God will deliver on his promises of a strong Kingdom here on earth. 

But....... when we only look ahead with hope we place blinders over our eyes to what is around us right now. We, to our detriment, have become blinded by hope. Today is never as good as what we want tomorrow to be. Today is always wrong... because what used to be was better. Tomorrow will prove today a fluke, or just a blip on the radar to greater days. 

What if, by hoping for something great tomorrow we're missing what is great today? Are there opportunities to celebrate and worship and serve missed right now because we're focused too much on what we HOPE will happen tomorrow? Of course I want to see our congregation push the limits of attendance like it used to... but getting caught up in that hope leaves me blind to the powerful congregation of believers, servants, friends, and saints we have right now. We are not powerless because we hope tomorrow is better, because yesterday was better... We are powerful because the God we serve right now believes in us right now. And that gives us hope and faith and confidence that right now is where we need to be. Right now is hopeful, right now is where God needs his Church. Right now has all the needs of a hopeful people, not tomorrow and certainly not yesterday. Those days can worry about themselves. 

Yes, I hope tomorrow and next week are better. Yes, I get caught up in the temptation of hope for more... But I cannot be so blinded by the hope for tomorrow that today is forgotten. Remove the blinders and find hope in who we are right now. We are the Body of Christ, the Church, His Bride. 

And that gives me hope. 




July 10, 2017, 8:34 AM

The List...


Here's an activity that could potentially take up the rest of your day: Make a list of all the things that drive you crazy, make you lose self control, or just get under your skin and on your nerves.  

Ok, please don't do that. 1) if you're like me (which I'm positive you should not be), this list can take way too long to complete; and 2) it is an unhealthy exercise and I'm sorry I started my blog with that. 

What this does point out though is that, if you're normal, there are things that push our limits of self control. The problem is, those things typically don't change one bit whether we're mad or not. Think about this: what good does yelling at someone in your car do to that person who just cut you off? Nothing. It changes nothing but you're blood pressure and outlook on the human race as a whole. (I'm talking to me here). If I get frustrated with someone going slower than I think they should, the problem is not with them... it's ALL on me. 

When I lose self control, I am the one to blame. Which is the heart of much of the human problem. We're quick to blame someone, anyone for what is wrong, exonerating ourselves in the process. 

If you haven't crumpled up your list from above, check it out and see how many of those issues are really ME issues: lack of patience; loss of joy; love that is biased and incomplete; kindness that is either preferential or contingent on a return; the gentleness of a sword vs. the gentleness of our God; faithfulness to God's plan for ALL mankind to know his love; and/or the lack of peace that must be evident in our own bearings no matter the circumstances.  

The Fruit of the Spirit, when evident in our lives makes the List look downright silly. Petty grievances disappear in the light of being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Complaints turn to opportunities for expressions of Joy! And all the storms in the world wont be able to shake our sense of peace because Jesus is in the boat with us.  

The presence of the Holy Spirit within us is far more than just pushing out sinfulness. His presence brings out the very best of God in us, and lays it out for the world to see. 

Galatians 5: 13 - 16  13For you have been called to live in dfreedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your dfreedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.14For the whole elaw can be summed up in this one fcommand: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”15But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.16So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.

 




July 3, 2017, 9:26 AM

Video Games have taught me a thing or two


Full disclosure: I like and play video games. There is an Xbox One in my living room that plays a prominent role in my leisure time. Understandably that turns some people off to whatever I have to write next, but I hope you'll stick with me for just a few more moments. The games I like to play are slower paced, open world, action based games. The two particular series I like have me taking the role of the hero who must stop the bad guy(s) from taking over the city/world. Good times indeed. 

So what have I learned that would apply any spiritual thought worthy of a blog? Easy... I get lost sometimes. Inside the games I like, with an open world, there is a LOT of ground to explore... and very, very often when exploring I find myself turned around and missing an objective, etc... Here's where it connects: I know I'm in the wrong place when the music is soft, there is no one trying to beat me up, and the game is peaceful. Yep, this is not where I'm supposed to be. 

I know I'm on the right track when the game's intensity picks up, the music starts playing an ominous tune, and enemies pop up. I am no longer able to happily explore and toot around... I have to fulfill my objective and win the day. 

So where are you at? Are you in the place in which there is no challenge, the music keeps you soothed and at peace, and no one seems to be pushing against you? If so, you very well may be in the wrong place. Yes, I understand that isnt always true in real life, but lets stick to the premise of video game logic. Games will keep you focused and push you forward by challenging and opposing your progress. Simply put, if there are no challenges, you need to turn around. 

Our faith journey is very, very similar. If we are not being challenged, then we have either hid our belief system and morals so well that no one knows they exist, or we're in the wrong place. There are rare occasions in which we are really challenged in our corporate church settings on Sunday morning. In fact, it may be the safest place we can be to express our faith. That doesnt mean we're in the wrong place, but it certainly means we've got to take the momentary peace we find here and turn right around to the bigger challenges outside our walls. Jesus never told us we'd be comfortable following him... he told us there would be persecution, challenges, and the discomfort of denying ourselves and carrying a cross. 

Take a lesson from video games... if you're not being challenged, you're not on the right path. Be the hero this kingdom needs and find peace in a world of chaos and disorder. 

Matt 5: 11 - 16  11“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.12Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. 
     13“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.14“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.15No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.16In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly kFather.




June 26, 2017, 9:10 AM

What have I Become?


Remember that part in the monster movie where the main bad guy has a moment of clarity and asks himself: "What have I become?"  Now this isn't in EVERY monster movie, but there are times when we get to see some transparency from our fictional bad guys. Most often though, this moment happens when the antagonist in the film was once a GOOD GUY!  <insert dramatic music here> I'm thinking along the lines of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde... 

The moment I just imagined is fictional indeed, with very little bearing on real life. Or is it? <insert dramatic music here> 
Asking ourselves what we've become, or are becoming is a good place to start each day. If we've allowed ourselves to turn away from our Christ-like transformations, we all need a moment of clarity and reassessment. 

No we're not becoming the bad guys... but we do risk letting ourselves slip away from being those that do good in this world. Being Christ-like takes our full attention and effort. 

We spent time with our topic of Joy yesterday (06/25/17), and practically speaking: are we bringing Joy to this world? Or are we a part of the regularly scheduled barrage of bad news this world already has enough of? Does our presence lighten a room, or ramp up the tension? Can we be trusted to see the best in a situation, or add to the worry and woe? If we answer no to any of these, we need to ask: What have I become? <insert dramatic music here>

2 Peter 1: 3 - 7  By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

 




June 19, 2017, 8:58 AM

The Best and Worst of a Rock Concert


This past week I spent some time traveling to see my favorite band perform live. I stood in the sun for hours (we had General Admission tickets) in order to get the best spot possible for seeing them up close. There were some great moments before the music started while visiting with fellow concert-goers and bonding with the security guard stationed right in front of me on the other side of the railing (seriously, we bro-hugged after the show was over). The downside of the experience was literally standing/waiting for 9 hours for the concert to officially begin. Mind you, there were about 1000 other people doing the same thing, with some camping out at the venue for well over 16 hour to get in. 

Feet were tired. Neck and shoulders were sunburnt. But when the music started, that all went away in the bliss of my favorite songs being performed just for me, live in person. So lets talk about the content and theme of the show a bit. Revolution and discontent were the normatives and messages being sent. While we live in a great country, its not quite there yet to be completely satisfied. Therefore: anthems screaming for change, songs railing for better opportunity, and speeches about injustice. All done with magnificent volume, dizzying visuals, and amazing music. 

While the band was on, and while I was surrounded by 50,000 other people I agreed wholeheartedly with what they were saying.  We were charged up and ready to stand strong. I wanted to join in the campaign.........  and then the music stopped and the show ended. Instead of 50,000 people rallying for social justice, we were 50,000 people just wanting to go home and rest (and make it out of the worst parking lot on the planet alive). 

This past week we talked about Love in our service. And I think we were all on the same page that Love needs to be prioritized and modeled by Christ-followers everywhere we go. 

But what happens when the music fades and we're no longer surrounded by a crowd? When we are the only ones who will "know" whether we've obeyed those important commandments in Matthew 22 of Loving God and Loving People.  What happens when we aren't swept in a tidal wave of goodness and service? 

It's what happens in the valleys that will define us (not the mountaintops). Let Love define your lowest moments, and everything else will fall into place. 

Luke 15: 20 - 24 20“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.21His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

22“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet.23And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast,24for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

 




June 5, 2017, 8:48 AM

Money, Money, Money


Where does the love of money come from? The same place prejudice comes from... It. Is. Taught. 

There is a scene in the first Toy Story movie that cements this idea (and yes, I know it's a movie... but stick with me). The opening scene is built by the imagination of a child, Andy, and the scenario he creates with his toys. "One Eyed Bart" (Mr. Potato Head) has a convoluted plan to rob the bank, and is ultimately exposed by Sheriff Woody. There's a line in there though that speaks to a lesson we've all taught our children. One Eyed Bart gets into the bank (a cardboard box and a piggy bank), sees the coins inside and yells jubilantly: "Money, Money, Money!!"

Even the imagination of children speaks to the love of money. To be clear, money is not the root of all evil. The Bible never says that. The Bible says: "The love of money is the root of all evil" -- 1 Timothy 6:10

We have to choose which master we will serve (Matthew 6:24). More importantly, we need to choose which master we will teach others to serve. Which master makes your decisions? Jesus teaches about money often, and his message is not to ignore money or choose abject poverty... his message is to let money be money here on earth but serve God first, seek His Kingdom first.  We should give Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what is God's. 

What part of us belongs to God? All of us.

Mark 12: 13 - 17 13 Later the leaders sent some Pharisees and supporters of Herod to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. 14“Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay them, or shouldn't we?” Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin,c and I’ll tell you.”16 When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”
   “Caesar’s,” they replied.
17“Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
His reply completely amazed them.


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