Archives For Jesus

4.8.14In John 5 there’s a verse that puzzled me for years. One of the times Jesus entered Jerusalem, he encountered a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. What he asks this man almost seems insulting at first:  “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’” (John 5:6). Was this a rhetorical question? Was Jesus mocking him? Why would this man not want to get better? Shouldn’t it be obvious?

But as I got older and I began to interact with more people in ministry, I realized the penetrating nature of this question. Sometimes people who are sick don’t want to get better. Sometimes people who need to make a change are unwilling to do so. You’ve lived through this. You have a family member. You have a close friend. You know they need to change. You’ve had an intervention where you’ve pleaded with them to get help for something. In a moment of clarity they’ve even admitted that they need to change. And yet they haven’t. They’re not ready to get well. They’re comfortable in their brokenness. It’s painful, but it’s what they know. They’re not ready to make a change.

Before you rehash old arguments and get angry at your family all over again, stop for a moment and ask yourself this same question: do you want to get well? What area in your life do you know you need to change? What habit or addiction has your family pleaded with you time and time again to change? In what area have you been unwilling to fully surrender to God and make a change?

Like the man who had lived with a debilitating condition for 38 years, Jesus still asks you, “Do you want to get well?”

Well, do you?

Do I Belong?

April 1, 2014 — Leave a comment

Project HopeOne of four fundamental questions all humans ask is: do I belong? (Re)discover the amazing truth that in Jesus we have hope for a home. (Sunday message on March 30 at Mt Vernon Church).

 

Project HopeThe first time I truly encountered hopelessness was in the mid-90s. To be honest, I’d had an idyllic childhood growing up: strong family, good education, great Christian college. The summer after my freshmen year in college I went on a mission trip to Russia. “Culture shock” was an extreme understatement to describe what happened when my worldview was shattered once and for all.

I remember walking through the airport in St. Petersburg, noticing the layer of grime and neglect that seemed to cover everything. But it’s the subway where I truly encountered hopelessness for the first time. Now, I’ve been on many subways in many different parts of the world. They all feel a little similar. Everyone usually keeps to themselves. But this was different. I wasn’t prepared for the hollowed out vacant stares, the absolutely expressionless faces, the catacomb-like quietness. Despair hovered over us like a suffocating blanket.

Being in Russia for a month, I saw a glimpse of the world through their eyes. Their government was corrupt, taking more than it was giving. Their economy was in shambles with no constant accept for volatility. There was little beauty to be found as millions of people lived in drab, utilitarian apartments. The worst aspect was that after decades of communistic rule, atheism was king and religion was dead. These people  had no hope for this life and no hope for the next.

Coming back to the States, I began to see hopelessness all around me, as friends would share their stories of growing up in alcoholic, abusive, or broken homes. As a youth pastor, I saw teenagers trapped in hopeless situations time and time again.

The longer I live and the more I pastor, the more I’m convinced that hope is the most valuable commodity in the world. With hope, you can endure anything. You can suffer through tragedy, you can cope with loss, you can sacrifice for the greater good. But without hope, you’re lost. We can live without many things in life, but I’m convinced that we can’t truly live without hope.

QUESTION: How has hope helped you through a difficult situation?

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.

2.26.14My heart is broken the fourth Monday of every month at 1 pm. It’s like clockwork. If you want to have your heart broken in ministry, here’s a guaranteed way: work with people suffering from addictions. Mt Vernon Church is privileged to have a partnership with Recovery House, an in treatment facility assisting ladies dealing with drug and alcohol issues. During the first 90 days, the ladies come to Mt Vernon every week for Sunday services. We get to know them. We learn their backstories, their tragic choices, and their courage in attempting to face their consequences.

On the fourth Monday of each month, I meet the ladies at Recovery House and we have two hours of “girl talk.” We get to know each other, share our stories, and they can ask any spiritual question they like (some of the questions are way out of left field). I get to know the ladies and learn about their upbringing, their families, their kids.

And then they break my heart. This past Monday, I went out and learned that we lost three ladies this month. Two of them relapsed, and one decided not to continue in the program. They’re out in their old haunts, promising to try harder, but we all know how that’s going to turn out. They’ve resigned themselves to months (and sometimes years) of struggling with the addictions that brought them to Recovery House in the first place. Many of you know the pain of watching someone you care about walk away and ruin their lives with reckless choices.

If you want easy ministry, stay inside the four walls of the church. Only talk to nice looking middle class families. If you want your heart broken, roll up your sleeves and begin caring for those dealing with major addictions. I rejoice with their successes and weep with their failures. Somehow I think Jesus would do the same.

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.” 

1.27.14It’s a new week. Why not seize the divine opportunities God will place in front of you and make an eternal impact? Here are six practical ways to open your spiritual eyes to the world around you:

1. Stop condemning the world to hell. Choose to hope. Stop watching the news if you need to. Stop listening to talk radio if you need to. Choose to hope. Choose to believe that God can still do big things today.

2.  Start each day by telling God you want to serve Him today. As simple as it seems, before you leave the house each morning, intentionally tell God that you want to serve him today. God’s always up to something in your life. Tell him you’re ready to partner with him to change lives, and watch what he does.

3. Build enough margin in your life to take advantage of the opportunities you’re given. Many times we overschedule our lives so much that we don’t have any opportunity to join God when he gives us an opportunity. Many of the best opportunities we’ll have will be ones we don’t expect. But if we don’t have margins, then opportunities look like interruptions and we decide we don’t have time.

4. Look at people from God’s perspective. When the disciples saw the Samaritan woman (John 4), they couldn’t see past her gender and her race. Jesus saw her as her Heavenly Father saw her: a precious soul that needed salvation. If we want to be open to what God wants to use us, I guarantee you will eventually step across social and racial barriers. If you can’t see past someone’s gender, race, socio-economic status or past mistakes, then you’ll miss the opportunity God has for you.

5. Listen to the nudging of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was always in tune with the Holy Spirit, so he knew when someone was ready for salvation. I know this sounds a bit mystical. How will you know when the Holy Spirit is nudging you? You’ll just know. You really will. He’ll make himself plain to you. In the book of John, Jesus is using the illustration of sheep and a shepherd. He’s the shepherd, we’re the sheep. He says, “My sheep know my voice.” If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ll know when he’s speaking to you through the Holy Spirit.

6. Do something. Say something. Ultimately, seeing a world that’s winnable isn’t just so we can be aware of it. It’s so that we can do something about it. When the Holy Spirit tells you to do something or say something, do it; say it. And watch God do incredible things.

image courtesy of: artofnightsky.deviantart.com

 

 

Next-StepsWhen we’re hurt, we get angry. When we’re angry, we can get bitter. When we get bitter, we can see our lives destroyed. Monday we talked about how to break the power of unforgiveness in your life. Today I want to talk about what you’re really saying when you forgive.

When we’re hurt deeply by others, we get angry because we feel like they (whoever “they” is) owe us something: they owe us a childhood, they owe us being there as a parent, they owe us more time with them, they owe us the trust they broke, they owe us the money they stole, etc. We feel like they owe us something, and we know we’ll never get it back, so we get angry.

Jesus tells us a story about what it means to truly forgive:

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:23-35

When you truly forgive someone, you’re saying “you don’t owe me anymore.” Whatever the offending person did to you, whatever you feel like they owe you, truly forgiving someone is coming to the point where you decide that they don’t owe you anymore. That’s how you break the power of unforgiveness in your life.

Next-StepsThis past Sunday at Mt Vernon Church we talked about taking the next step of forgiveness. When you know you need to forgive but you don’t know how, here’s a way to move forward:

HOW TO BREAK THE POWER OF UNFORGIVENESS IN YOUR LIFE

1. Be forgiven yourself. You can’t give what you don’t have. If you aren’t forgiven yourself, then you can’t show Christ’s forgiveness to others. You may have been running from God for years. Maybe it’s time to stop running and accept God’s forgiveness.  “Whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47).

2. Admit that bitterness isn’t working for you. Your current strategy isn’t working. Bitterness isn’t doing anything to make the situation better. The worst thing about bitterness is that it never hurts the intended target, it only hurts you. It’s like drinking rat poison and expecting it to kill a bunch of rats. The only person you’re going to hurt is yourself. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Ephesians 4:31). Choose to be better, not bitter.

3. Constantly remind yourself how much God has forgiven you. This step is key, because we have different standards for different people. For instance, we feel that everyone ought to obey the speed limit when they drive, but we’re okay if we speed (just a little bit). When it comes to forgiveness, we’re convinced that everyone ought to forgive everyone. We’re really convinced that everyone we’ve hurt ought to forgive us. But when it comes to us letting go and forgiving, we refuse. What does the Bible say? “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children.” Ephesians 4:32-5:1. We forgive because we’ve been forgiven so completely by God.

4. Continually make the decision that they don’t owe you anymore. Whoever “they” is, forgiveness is making the decision that they don’t owe you anymore. We’ll talk more about that in the next post. “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22.

QUESTION: What’s the hardest thing you deal with when it comes to forgiveness?

1.13.14Let’s be honest: most Christians don’t share their faith. We say it’s important, we feel it’s important, but we don’t do it. Here are seven reasons why:

1. We feel unqualified. Many of us feel like we don’t know enough Bible to share our faith. What if they ask us a question that we don’t know the answer to? We’re still trying to figure Christianity out, so there’s no way we can explain it to someone else. Maybe it’s not our lack of knowledge that we feel disqualifies us; it’s our lifestyle. We made so many mistakes in our life, we don’t feel like we can ever be an example to someone. Sometimes we feel our past disqualifies us from sharing our faith.

2. We wait for them to come to us. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you’re more than happy to share your faith, as long as a sinner comes to you on hand and knee, knocking down your door and begging you to be saved. Then you’d be more than happy to share with them. But actually going out and taking the initiative yourself? That’s a lot of work.

3. We forget what’s at stake. This gets a lot of us. We forget. We forget what’s at stake. Maybe we delude ourselves into thinking that God will let everyone into heaven at the end, that if we don’t share our faith that all people will be missing out on is some church activities and a couple of potlucks. Most of us fail to really grasp that according to the Scriptures that we follow, what’s at stake is someone’s eternal destiny. Forever. If that ever truly sunk in, there would be no stopping us.

4. We don’t really know any non-believers. This is a problem for a lot of Christians. This has happened to me before. Sometimes we can become so insulated in our church bubble that we fail to create any meaningful relationships with those that don’t believe in Jesus. We’re so afraid of being contaminated by the world that we cut ourselves off from it. So now, when some of us hear the challenge to share our faith, we look around and think, “I don’t really know any non-Christians.”

5. We don’t care. This is something we’ll never admit, but this stops some of us from sharing our faith. We don’t care. We got ours. We’ve got our free ticket to heaven, and that’s all we really care about. We’re selfish. Our entire lives have been about us, and we’ve never really cared about anyone else. If they can’t find their way to God, that’s their problem. For some of us, when a preacher talks about heaven and hell and lost and dying people, it does nothing for us. That in itself is a much bigger problem.

6. We assume someone else will do itThis is where many of us trip up. Most of us know that sharing our faith is important. Jesus talks about it a lot. Preachers like me talk about it a lot. We get that it’s important. We are also painfully aware that we ourselves haven’t shared our faith in years. Faithful to church, yes, sharing our faith, no. And we know it’s important, so we delude ourselves into thinking our disobedience is okay because surely everyone else around us is picking up the slack.

And that’s where we’ve never been more wrong. A recent study showed that 80% of Christians surveyed agreed that sharing your faith is important. But over 60% hadn’t shared their faith with someone in the past six months. We think other people are picking up the slack. The majority of American Christians don’t share their faith. And we wonder why (for instance) our denomination is on a slow but steady decline in attendance and baptisms? We think someone else is picking up the slack, and they’re not.

7. We’re scared. And last, and this is perhaps the biggest reason. We’re scared. That’s natural. What if I forget what to say? What if they reject me? What if they ask me a question I can’t answer? What if it messes up our relationship and it becomes weird? 

QUESTION: What are other reasons that we don’t share our faith?