Archives For God

IMG_0324Seven years ago, the narrative of Robin and I’s marriage was that we were the young couple that couldn’t have kids. Then our oldest son Zeke was born (seven years ago today). Two and a half months later we would meet him for the first time and take him home to adopt him. And then we met Shepherd two years later. Another two years went by and then God blew our minds and we had our first natural born son, Lincoln.

Today we’re meeting our little girl Elle who will complete our family. Her full name is Emmanuelle, and she is a living testimony that God continues to be with us. With kid number four, I think we’ll have to give up that narrative as the couple who couldn’t have kids. I think God’s proved his point. He can make the miraculous happen. He has blessed time and time again, and we look forward with breathless anticipation to see what He does over the next seven years.

May you be able to see and appreciate the miracles God has worked in your lives!

3.29.14WARNING: Noah (the movie) is a radical interpretation of an ancient story that directly contradicts our sanitized-VBS-idyllic notions of how we think the Noah story went. Now mind you, I didn’t say that Noah (the movie) directly contradicts Scripture. It just gives an interpretation different than we grew up with in Sunday School. It’s not a fairy-tale depiction of a doting grandfather with a flowing beard whose biggest dilemma is finding out where to put all the cute cuddly animals that made it onto the ark. It’s a movie about the end of the world. That’s what has the bloggers and talk radio hosts and Facebook prophets up in arms.

Here’s what I appreciated about Darren Aronofsky’s version of Noah and why I think you should see it (don’t worry, no spoilers ahead. If you want the spoilers, read Genesis 6-9):

  • He brought to life a vision of what the pre-Flood world could have looked like, something that’s always intrigued me. Aronofsky is if nothing else an incredible storyteller and filmmaker.
  • He told the true point of the story: the apocalypse. When we tell a sanitized version of the story to kindergartners, we keep it about all the cute and fluffy animals that got to ride on a big boat. He kept the focus on the tragic destruction of humanity. We may not be comfortable with that truth, but judgement was the central point of the story.
  • God was very much a central figure in the film. Now some are up in arms because they referred to him as “the Creator” rather than “God.” He has several names in Scripture, take your pick. They portrayed him in a way that we might not be comfortable with but falls (I believe) within the bounds of a biblical viewpoint. (I’ll admit, it’s right on the edge, but it’s just inside the edge).
  • Noah doesn’t whitewash the reason for judgment: the wickedness of mankind. I’d heard rumors that Noah would be portrayed as some eco-terrorist who was destroying the world because we were mean to trees. Not the case at all. The reason for the apocalypse was clearly presented: the wickedness of mankind.
  • Aronofsky did a beautiful job weaving in the dichotomous virtues of justice and mercy in a way that spoke to fundamental values in the human experience.
  • The last picture we see of Noah in Scripture has always confused me: a naked passed out drunk. Why not finish with the rainbow and let everyone walk away happy? Aronofsky’s interpretation of this event is the first I’ve seen that makes perfect sense.
  • Aronofsky portrayed Noah as flawed. I loved that. Too often we mythologize our Bible characters and forget the fact that they were sinners. This Noah struggled. He seemed, well, human. That gives hope.

Here are some things that made me scratch my head (a little):

  • Noah’s interpretation of the Nephilim in Genesis 6. When you watch the movie, you’ll encounter some characters that seem completely farfetched. But it’s not as farfetched as you think. Pastors like me avoid Genesis 6:2 like the plague because we have no idea what it means. He gave an interpretation of that verse. To be completely honest, it’s about as believable as all the animals joining together to help Steve Carrell build the ark.
  • The Bible is clear that the wives of all three sons were on the ark. In this movie, that truth came as a twist towards the end. Not as straight forward as we’d expect, but that doesn’t make it unbiblical. I mean, this is the same God who promised Abraham a son and then waited until Sarah was well beyond child bearing years to do anything about it. God loves a good twist.
  • In Genesis we see God’s commands given to Noah. But how were they communicated? Verbally? In written form? Through dreams and visions? Aronofsky definitely went the unusual route, but that’s his prerogative.
  • Perhaps my biggest beef would be Noah’s role vs. God’s role in deciding the fate of humanity. His interpretation is not one I’m comfortable with, but I’m not ready to throw him to the wolves for it. It’s the same tension we see between man’s will and God’s sovereignty. They’re both there, but reconciling them properly is difficult.

All in all, I’d recommend you go see Noah for yourself. You will not see a movie that is intentionally anti-biblical. You will see a movie that stretches our imagination and challenges some of our time-honored traditions about the Flood story. I’ve thought for years that those interpretations needed to be challenged, and Aronofsky has come along and done it. And he’s made a beautiful movie along the way.

But don’t take my word for it. Go see it for yourself. Just leave your flannel graphs and stuffed animals at home. A battle axe is a better choice for this movie.

QUESTION: What did you think about the Noah movie?

big_idea.250w.tnMonday I shared six months worth of BIG Ideas, one sentence statements that captured the biblical truth I was conveying that week. Here are the second half of 2013′s BIG Ideas:

“Mission Creep” Series

Jul 6 – Mission creep begins when you fear man more than you fear God.

Jul 13 – Mission creep gets crazy when you become lazy.

Jul 27 – Nothing fuels the fire of mission creep more than money.

Aug 4 – The problem with the church is that we’ve made church for church people.

 

“Front Porch Gospel” Series

Aug 11 – The world is won through Christ’s great love.

Aug 18 – Winning the world starts with seeing a world that’s winnable.

Aug 25 – Your actions illuminate what you adore.

Sep 8 – Invest and invite is the way to win right.

Sep 15 – The Kingdom explodes exponentially when we’re united in purpose.

 

“Picture Perfect Family” Series

Sep 22 – Your family has issues; deal with it.

Sep 29 – Where do you find your value?

Oct 6 – Are you doing the work required?

Oct 13 – Are you being salt and light?

Oct 20 – Are you committed for the long haul?

Oct 27 – Whom are you serving?

 

“Blessed” Series

Nov 3 – You’re blessed with a need.

Nov 10 – You’re blessed with a burden.

Nov 17 – You’re blessed to tell your story.

Nov 24 – You’re blessed to be a blessing.

 

“Advent Conspiracy” Series

Dec 1 – Spend less.

Dec 8 – Give more.

Dec 15 – Love all.

Dec 22 – Worship fully.

 

big_idea.250w.tnEach Sunday when I preach I give one BIG Idea from Scripture to the people, something tangible (and hopefully memorable) that they can hold onto. Some I’m proud of, some are honestly lame. Some rhyme, some should have been word-smithed a little more. Many are original, and some of the best are borrowed from other pastors. But, for better or worse, here are my BIG Ideas for the first six months of 2013:

“One” Series

Jan 6 – “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” (Nehemiah)

Jan 13 – There is nothing more valuable than the human spirit.

Jan 20 – “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (prayer of the apostles)

“Catfish” Series

Jan 27 – Americans have the wrong idea about God.

Feb 3 – My God is for me.

Feb 10 – Good people don’t get into heaven; saved people do.

Feb 17 – God’s chief aim is to glorify Himself.

Feb 24 – God allows evil to exist because to destroy evil He would have to destroy humanity.

“Losing My Religion” Series

Mar 3 – Jesus hates graceless religion even more than you do.

Mar 10 – To stay off God’s last nerve, don’t allow tradition to trump the Word.

Mar 17 – For the church to be its best, it needs to treat newcomers as guests not pests.

Mar 24 – Jesus walked towards the messes, and so should we.

Mar 31 – Jesus fulfilled religion so that you don’t have to.

“Culture Wars” Series

Apr 7 – When the world presents you with only two options, take option three.

“Deep Roots” Series

Apr 14 – To know the root, check the fruit.

Apr 21 – The better the soil, the better the roots.

Apr 28 – To kill a weed, you have to pull it up by its roots.

May 5 – God prunes the good so that the best can flourish.

May 12 – To see spiritual gain: don’t strain, remain.

“The Other Guy” Series

Jun 2 – There is no church without the Holy Spirit.

Jun 9 – The Holy Spirit is our guide to help us experience our maximum potential in Christ.

Jun 16 – The Holy Spirit is God’s explosive power in your world.

Jun 23 – Spiritual gifts are the Holy Spirit’s custom-designed way for you to impact your world.

Jun 30 – We’re filled to be spilled.

The Fight of Your Life

February 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

The-Fight-of-Your-Life_TitleYesterday at Mt Vernon we finished a series on temptation called “The Fight of Your Life.” Pulling from Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, here are four BIG Ideas we learned over the series.

Week #1 – When you’re tempted, there’s always more at stake than you think. We delude ourselves into thinking that temptation is just about the moment. It’s just one decision, one text, one drink, one weekend. But there’s always more at stake than we think. Looking back at our lives, we can trace some of our greatest regrets back to temptations that we gave into.

Week #2 – Temptation is always a test of your faith, not just your self-control. Pulling from Jesus’ first temptation to turn stones into bread, we learned that temptation always comes down to a test of our faith. Do we trust God to meet our needs, or will we give in and try to meet our legitimate needs in illegitimate ways? Is God faithful?

Week #3 – We’re called to cooperate with God, not manipulate him. Jesus’ second temptation was a crisis of authority. He was tempted to manipulate God, to presume on him, force God to do his bidding. The scary thing is that the more religious you are, the easier it is to fall for this temptation. Yet we’re called to cooperate with God, not manipulate him.

Week #4 – Shortcuts will always shortchange you. Jesus’ final temptation was to pursue the right thing in the wrong way. It was the temptation to cheat, to cut corners, to take a shortcut. When we take shortcuts, we are ultimately valuing (and worshipping) our goals, progress, even ourselves above God and his ways. In the end, shortcuts will always shortchange us.

Wherever you are in life when you encounter this blog, my prayer is that you can spot the lies of temptation and fight back with the truth of God’s word. May the truth of 1 Corinthians 10:13 be planted deep in your soul. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 

2.17.14Can we be honest and say that sometimes we don’t look forward to Mondays? Maybe it’s a job we loathe. Maybe it’s the prospect of working for a boss that we can’t stand or a work situation that demeans us. Maybe you partied too hard this weekend trying to “live life” before you have to crash down to reality. Perhaps you’re just at a spot where you’re not happy with your lot in life, and Monday signals another week, another week where nothing has changed and nothing seems to be getting better.

Depending on what type of motivation/encouragement you need, let me see if I can motivate you to make your Monday better:

For the ones who need a shoulder to cry on: God is there for you. He really is. Even if it may not seem like it, God’s heart breaks with yours. You’re his daughter, you’re his son. He grieves with you through the valleys of life. I know you wish sometimes that God would wave a magic wand and take all your problems away, but that’s not going to happen. Know this, though: you’re not alone. God is with you. Take comfort in that.

For the ones who need some tough love: So life sucks. What are you going to do about it? You can waste your entire life being the victim. The good life doesn’t come to those who never get knocked down. Everyone gets knocked down. The good life comes to the ones who choose to get back up. So get up. You’re better than this. God created you for more than this.

For the ones who need perspective: So you had a bad week/month/year. Maybe this whole chapter in your life needs a rewrite. Although you can’t go back and change how your story started, you can still choose how your story ends. Start writing a better ending for your story, for your family, for your life. Come with me to Haiti and see poverty at its most foundational level. You have a good life. Start living like it.

For the ones who need a vision of something bigger to hold onto: Everyone whom God used in the Bible went through significant periods of trial and testing. God used those moments to refine his people into vessels that he could use to change the world. So, if you’re going through a hard time, maybe God’s just preparing you to change the world. Never lose sight of the bigger vision and purpose that God has for your life.

Whichever way you go, I pray that you can get up and punch Monday in the face. Make this week a significant one in your life.

josh1A few days ago I turned 36. While 36 isn’t in itself a magic number, it’s an opportunity to pass on 36 things I’ve learned over the years. These aren’t the only things or most important things, just the first 36 things that came to mind. Enjoy!

1. There are no short cuts.

2. God really is faithful.

3. Even with the explosion of technology, success still comes down to how well you interact with people.

4. Be faithful with the small things. Earn your stripes.

5. Money fights account for 85% of arguments in a marriage.

6. After moving around all over, every place starts to look the same. It all comes down to the people you’re with.

7. If you work hard, you’ll be ahead of 90% of others in your field.

8. Entitlement will get you nowhere.

9. Life gets real messy when you move outside the four walls of the church.

10. Learn names. Learn names. Learn names.

11. A successful pastor is part politician.

12. Church doesn’t have to be boring. It can be fun and truthful at the same time.

13. Want to get over yourself? Have a kid. Better yet? Have four.

14. Marriage is the hardest and absolute best covenant you’ll enter into.

15. The church can be your family.

16. There’s so much more in life to live for than just money.

17. Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

18. People are desperately searching for hope.

19. You can loved an adopted child just as much as your own.

20. Every tragedy is an opportunity for God to do the miraculous.

21. Your kids grow up too fast.

22. Life is sweetest when done in community.

23. People want to be inspired and led to pursue a greater vision.

24. The local church is the hope of the world.

25. The problem with the church is that we’ve made church for church people.

26. There is value in an education, not just for the knowledge gained but for the discipline applied in completing a difficult task.

27. I started my doctorate wanting to be considered by a bigger church. I finished my doctorate never wanting to work at a church where I was considered only because of my degree.

28. I’ve learned more through personal reading and attending conferences than I ever have in seminary.

29. The growing leader can never stop learning. Never.

30. Holiness and excellence lead to success in the church. It’s not an either-or.

31. Money can’t buy happiness. It really can’t.

32. If you act like you know what you’re doing, most of the time people will believe you (that may or may not be a good thing)

33. A sermon is worthless unless it has application along with the truth.

34. Want people to remember something you say? Tell them a story.

35. Like the apostle Paul, I’ve learned the secret of being content in each and every circumstance, whether well fed or hungry, living in plenty or in want.

36. I never could have predicted the course my life would take, but I thank God everyday for it.

QUESTION: What’s something you’ve learned along the way in life?

2.3.14If you watched last night’s beatdown handed out by Seattle, then you know that the Seahawks are the undeniable champions of the football world. What was hyped as an epic showdown between the #1 offense (Broncos) and the #1 defense (Seahawks) turned into an embarrassing rout by a Seattle defense that had their foot on Denver’s throat from the first snap (literally) and never let up.

In numerous post game interviews with the historic Seahawks defense, a common thread came out: they played all year with a chip on their shoulder. In fact, I think that was their secret weapon to winning the Superbowl. The #1 defense in the NFL this year wasn’t comprised of bunch of first-round draft picks. All the blue chip picks went to other teams. Seattle’s defense was made up of guys that went in the third or fourth round, guys who were undrafted, guys who got cut by other teams. These were guys who sat there on draft day while other guys got picked ahead of them and “got theirs.”

So, did the Seattle defense have something to prove this year? Absolutely. They were the group that everyone else discarded. They were the leftovers, the second string. And they used that as motivation. When life beats you down, you can use it as proof that you’re not up to snuff, or you can use it as motivation to push you to the next level. Seattle used its chip to propel its defense to historic heights.

They’ve proved their point. They’ve got the ring. “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-27

QUESTION: What’s the chip on your shoulder?

If you’ve ever given a sick child medication, you know how much they can resist and fight. Yet as a loving parent, you know what’s best for them, even if they don’t. Watch this clip below where I talk about trusting God enough to give.

Next-StepsSeveral months ago I attended a conference at a great church in South Carolina (NewSpring) and walked away wanting to “borrow” an idea of theirs. It’s called the 90-Day Tithe Challenge. The idea behind it is simple: take Malachi 3:10 literally, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

At Mt Vernon, we’ve decided to do this. Here’s the 90-Day Tithe Challenge: tithe (give 10% of your income to God) for 90 days. Give God’s way. If, at the end of 90 days, you don’t feel like God has blessed you (if he hasn’t kept up his end of the bargain), then the church will refund all the money you’ve given during that time. No questions asked. No one will show up at your door. No pastoral phone call. Give God’s way, and if he hasn’t blessed you, then the church will refund your money.

This takes all the pressure off of us and puts it on God. And that’s okay with him. God wants us to challenge him. He wants us to take a step of faith and allow him to open the floodgates of heaven to pour out so much blessing that we won’t have room enough for it!

The response we’ve gotten (just in the past few days) has been incredible. People are stepping up. People are trusting God. I can’t wait to see what God does in our midst over the next few months!

(Click here to take the challenge!)