God’s Plan to Bring the Hope of Christ to the Earth Has Always Been the Church: Redeemed With a Purpose // Ephesians 1 – Acts 19:1-10

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First Baptist Church – Chickasha, OK – June 2015

All to often, when we speak of the salvation & the redemption of our souls through Christ’s blood on the cross, the conversation remains centered on us. Even when we discuss discipleship, the focus can be far too inward, striving towards our growth through the Holy Spirit individually and not giving time to the purpose for which God has called and redeemed us.

God has not only called us individually to a purpose, but He has also called us at the body of Christ, the Church, to a purpose: to bring the hope of Christ to the earth.

The Church is not just a gathering of believers to be like-minded – it is so much more. We gather to bring glory to God through our praise but also though the mission of being Jesus to the world.

Paul emphasizes this in his Letter to the Ephesians. Chapter 1 reminds the Ephesians that Christ has redeemed them but also that God has always had the plan to use His Church to share Jesus with the world.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory – Eph. 1:11-14 (ESV)

We get hung up on words like “predestined” and think Paul is only talking about doctrines of salvation. I’m not going into a theological debate here, but a main point that we miss is that Paul is emphasizing the purpose of the Church that God has always known, even from before the world was made.

The purpose that God gives us as the Church is incredible, and even Paul understood that we can miss the brilliance of it at times. In Ephesians 1:16-23, he prays that the church would have their eyes open to see the fullness of what God wanted to do in them and through them!

16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Eph. 1:16-23 (ESV)

As a ministry leader, I have to ask myself, “Do we realize that mission? Are we leading people to realize the purpose that they have been called to, as well as the purpose of our church?”

Acts 19:1-10 tells the story of the beginnings of the church at Ephesus. Paul left the large crowds behind to spend daily time with 12 men for two years. During the time, the church in Ephesus began and their ministry helped the Gospel go out into all of Asia! That’s incredible!

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

Paul’s introductory section to the letter sent later to that same church reminds them of what God has called them to do, and he continues to focus on the church being a unified body to change the world through the Gospel.

For us today, that purpose and mission is ours as well! For a Christ-follower, being a part of a church is not just important – it’s essential. Jesus, the New Testament Authors, and God’s divine plan from before creation was always for the people of God to live as the body of Christ.

Churches are not perfect, neither are the people who are in them, but God’s plan is perfect. He has chosen us to be a part of changing the world! Isn’t that incredible? May we, as Paul prayed, have eyes and hearts that see the hope that God has called us to and the glory of what He is doing through and is us.

Demas: 3 Short Verses That Tell Us a Big and Important Story

For some time now I have been meeting weekly with a few guys to study through 1 & 2 Timothy. Just this week, we came to the final chapter of what many consider to be Paul’s final letter, 2 Timothy. In these final words, Paul distinguishes by name some people for Timothy to seek help from and to watch out for. One very interesting name appears in verse 10 of chapter 4: IMG_5904

For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. – 2 Timothy 4:10

Here, Paul makes a very powerful statement about this man named Demas. As it is with many of the names Paul includes in his letters, not much is known about Demas, but this is not the only place that Demas is mentioned in the New Testament. Earlier in the chronology of Paul’s letters, Demas is mentioned twice:

Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. – Colossians 4:14

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. – Philemon 1:23-24

Demas was a missionary companion and fellow worker of Paul in spreading the Gospel. He was considered a leader in the eyes of the Colossians, so much so that Paul used his name – a name those in the Colossian churches would recognize. But by the time Paul was imprisoned, Demas had left Paul to live his own life and do he wanted to do.

In fact, Demas did more than leave Paul, he “deserted” him. This word deserted falls short of the full meaning, which can be translated “left in the lurch.” Today we might use the phrase, “left me in a ditch to die.”

What was the motivation for Demas’ departure? Paul describes it as “being in love with this present world.” The present world, to Paul, was everything outside of the Kingdom of God. Being in love with the present world meant not being in love with Jesus, the One who had given His life to save us. Being in love with the world is really about following oneself and not Christ. Paul writes in Colossians 3:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. – Colossians 3:1-4

If we think of Demas in the context of today, he would be a respected deacon or elder in a church, maybe even a church staff member – someone who has served the church and the Lord. However, the story of Demas is all about one who serves the Lord for a time, but then decides to shift his priorities. We might even think of it as a sort of retirement from serving the Lord. “I’ve done my time. It’s time for someone else to do the work.”

The Holy Spirit worked through Paul to show us in the three short verses that this is not at all what the Lord desires for our life. There is no retiring from following Christ or serving the Lord and His church! All of Scripture teaches us that the world and its selfish desires leave us empty, but serving the Lord fills us and leaves an eternal legacy.

May our love be for the Lord and His Kingdom, not for this present world. May we set our minds on things above – on Christ – the One who gave His life so that we could live.

“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Matthew 17:14-21

This past week, I was in Colorado on a mission trip with my church. One day we took off and went to the top of Mt. Evans, which was 14,270 feet. We drove most of the way and hiked the rest to the top. Let me tell you, mountains are big. IMG_6831

In Oklahoma, we don’t really have mountains. There are a few really tall hills, and one even stops short of a mountain by just a few feet. But they are nothing like a 14,000 foot pile of rock.

At the top of Mt. Evans, my friend Aaron asked me, “Man, what do you think it would have been like back in the day trying to cross all this with a horse and wagon?” I just couldn’t imagine what it would have been like as a traveler to get that first glimpse of the mountains and think, “I have to the cross THAT?”

In your life, have things come your way that feel like crossing mountains? Sometimes the task just seems way too big for us. Wouldn’t it be easier if you could just pick up the mountain and move it out of the way?

There’s an interesting story in the Bible where Jesus talks about that very idea: Matthew 17:14-21:

14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon,[b] and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” [21 However, this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.]”

Jesus spent a great deal of time and ministry addressing several different crowds looking for him. This was no exception, as a father is desperately looking for Jesus, because his son suffers from seizures, possibly a form of epilepsy. However, from the passage, we see that this was brought on by a demonic spirit in the boy; it was not just a physical ailment. Evidently, he has already tried to ask the disciples to heal the boy, but to no avail.

The man still has faith in what Jesus can do though. He goes right to the source. But Jesus makes an interesting statement first. He seems to be troubled at the lack of faith of the disciples and people around Him. However, Jesus does not quit here or give up on these men. As we know, He continues on with them and patiently teaches them. He knows one day these disciples will change the world.

However, right now the disciples have a problem, and Jesus tells them in verse 20: their faith is too small. And evidently, it is VERY small. Jesus says that all they need is faith the size of a mustard seed, and they can move mountains. MOUNTAINS? And that’s not a lot of faith either.

mustard_seed1At the time, the mustard seed was the smallest seed people knew of, and that is why Jesus used that picture. If you have a second, go check your spice cabinet for a small container of mustard seeds and pick one up. It’s tiny!!!

But the dynamic we can miss here is where the faith really resides. Too often we place the emphasis on the disciples and what they can accomplish. If they only had a little faith, they could have healed that boy!

However, the problem was really where their faith was. They probably had faith, but faith in their own strength and power. But what we miss is that faith the size of a mustard seed is not about what we can do – it’s about what GOD can do!

And mountains are a peculiar picture. Is Jesus talking about moving actual mountains? What do you think it might look like if we could actually move a mountain. Maybe, something like this?

The theologian William Barclay says that Jesus was not talking about actual mountains, but rather difficult situations. This was a common metaphor to the Jews and used by Jewish teachers. A great Jewish teacher would be known for “moving mountains” by how well he taught. So, perhaps Jesus was really saying, “There is no situation too difficult for God to see you through. Through His power, you can overcome anything.”

Maybe Jesus was actually talking about mountains and trying to use that incredible picture? Probably a little of both. What is certain is that mountains are impossible for us to move, and many things in life are just too much for us to handle. However, when we trust in God and His power, ANYTHING is possible.

What does this mean for us today? There are several implications from this part of Jesus’ ministry that is relevant for us even today.

First, we are not perfect, but Jesus always is. These disciples failed the father, but He never lost faith in what Jesus could do. There are so many that turn their backs on God because of how the church or pastors have failed them. When we put our faith in what men can do, we will be let down some how, some way. But Jesus never fails. Never has, never will. Do you have faith in that?

Secondly, Jesus is so patient! How often did the disciples fall short, and yet He never gave up on them. How often do we fall short? Do you ever feel like He has given up on you? Having faith in Christ means knowing that even when we fall, He always picks us up.

Finally, how much do we really trust in God? I’m not saying that we have to always have a smile on our face and say with a southern accent, “Everythin’s gonna be alright!” Jesus did not say our faith had to be the size of a watermelon, although, maybe some people have that! We can think that things are impossible, but that’s God’s m.o. He loves the impossible! We just have to trust Him more than ourselves.

So what would it look like if we trusted in Jesus more? How would your life be different?

Maybe you are wondering, “How can I even do that?” There’s a verse that may show up in your Bible in this passage, verse 21, that does not appear in every translation. The reason for this is because it does not appear in every copy of the old Scriptures that we have, so it may have been added later, or maybe not. A similar phrase appears in Mark 9, so there has been some acceptance of it, although fasting is not mentioned there. But prayer is!

With or without the verse, prayer remains a vital part to our faith in God. Just look at how much Jesus, the Son of God, prayed! Prayer focuses our heart and trust on God. It draws us closer to Him.

I don’t want to minimize what mountains may be in your life, because if a struggle is hard enough, it’s like a mountain for sure! But I would like for you to take a moment and just write down what struggles or situations in your life may be like a mountain – something you can’t lift on your own.

Maybe there is also just a part of your life you know you need to trust God more in. Write that down too. Then we are going to spend some time in prayer, asking God to give us more faith. Just tell God you want to trust in Him and His power.

Put whatever you wrote down somewhere you can see it regularly. When you see it, just stop and pray. Ask God for a mustard seed. Trust in Him and let Him do the heavy lifting.

Run and Remember: Do you remember your first love? // Rev. 2:1-7, Acts 19:1-10, Eph. 1:15-16

IMG_6434Just the other day, I was rearranging some of the items on my bookshelf in my office to make room for other books and such. I’ve got this thing about my office/room/whatever needing to be clean before I can really get work done. Anyone else out there crazy like that? No? Just me?

Anyway, I’ve got this plaque from an award I received my senior year of college, and one of the major aspects of it was service to the community, both present and future. The school paper covered my acceptance speech for the award and entitled the article, “All about serving others.”

Looking back, that’s what I wanted my life to be all about growing up. My goal was to make a difference in others’ lives and be a servant to them, like Christ is to us. But when I saw that article, I had to ask myself, “Is that still true? Am I still that person, or did he ‘grow up?’”

Life has a way of doing that – getting in the way and making us forget some of the things that really set our hearts ablaze, our first loves. Marriages, causes, walking with the Lord, and so many other things can “fade” as time goes by. Our passion wanes for them. It’s not something we mean to happen, but it does.

Have you ever felt this way? Do you remember your first love and what that was like? There really is nothing that can explain what that is like.

Do you remember when you first gave your heart and life to Jesus? Are you the same person or different? What happened to cause us to be different? What do we do?

The answer to the question really is run and remember. Run to Jesus and remember all that He has done for and through us. Run with Him like we once did! Run and remember!

The Bible has incredible truth for us in this area. The church of Ephesus gives us a great example of forgetting our first love.

How it all started – Acts 19:1-10
Paul brought the truth, the Gospel, of Jesus to the people of Ephesus. He spent time discipling just a handful of people that turned that city and the world upside down. They had a knowledge of God, but it wasn’t complete. Paul told them about what Jesus had done for them. Over the next two years, they grew closer and closer to the Lord, and they took the Gospel out!

Things were going well…Ephesians 1:15-23
Paul writes a letter some time after leaving the people of Ephesus to encourage them and let them know of his prayers for them. They were a strong church in a city with many beliefs and ways of life. Some traditions even hold that the entire city was won for the Gospel at one point in time! It was a major stop in the comings and goings of the world, which led to the Gospel going out into most if not all of Asia.

The fire faded…Revelation 2:1-7
Around 30 years later, this short letter to the church in Ephesus is written. On the outside, things look fairly good. They are still standing up for what is right, working hard, and have not abandoned their faith. But Jesus tells them, you have left your first love. Does this sound familiar? Maybe our churches today? Maybe you and me? I think this message is so relevant to so many of us, especially if we have been in church or a Christ-follower for quite a long time. We can do the right things with an empty heart.

Where do we go from here?
What does Christ tell the Ephesians to do? Repent – run from where are and run back to Christ. Remember what He has done for us, and remember what we used to do for him!

I’ve said this before, but maybe It means that we need to spend less time “trying to be good” and more time with the One who is good. Trying to live a Christian life but never spending time with the Lord is like being married, fulfilling the functions of that marriage, but never spending any time with your spouse.

What would it look like if we ran and remembered? What would our lives be like if we remembered Christ as our first love?

One of the biggest issues with couples that experience a drought in love is usually a lack of quality time with one another. They are encouraged to go on dates and spend real time with one another. When was the last time you spent quality time with Jesus? When was the last time He had your heart and full attention?

I don’t know where you are right now, but I’m hoping that the Spirit has been showing you where your heart really is. What do you need to do to run and remember? Maybe you have forgotten your first love, but Jesus has never forgotten nor forsaken you. Let Him take you in His arms. Fall in love with Him all over again!

To go back to the start, in my own life, I feel like serving others was something that maybe I have been doing, but not with the passion and purpose that I used to have. That’s been my prayer these past few weeks – God, give me the passion again to serve and help others to make a difference in their lives for Your great name.

Fair Weather Fans? // Psalm 20:7-8, 23:4, 27:1

IMG_3952We all know that guy. Maybe you ARE that guy. When his team is playing, watch out. And if his team loses, don’t even try talking to him for a few days.

Do you know what I’m talking about? We all know someone who gets waaaay wrapped up in sports, and the balance of his or her life depends on wins and losses. And before you think I’m pointing a finger, I get right there too. When the OU Sooners or OKC Thunder lose, I’m not happy. When the Green Bay Packers got beat out of the playoffs this year, I was grumpy bear for a little bit. I was certainly bummed to see one of my favourite Packers, Greg Jennings, go to the Minnesota Vikings.

Many of us get tied to those things. And it’s not always sports either. It could be video games, our own performance in sports, work, or school, even fictional characters on TV shows and movies.

And I’m not saying it’s wrong to be a committed fan. No way! I’m going to be committed and root for my teams. My friend John and I were talking, and we both agreed it was good to not be a “fair weather fan.” Now, there are issues to be addressed if we get TOO tied to these things and then our behavior becomes destructive to others or ourselves. However, the point of this blog is not to address our commitment to sports teams or whatever, but rather, how is our commitment to being fans of God. Are we “fair weather fans” of Him?

How emotionally tied do we get to these people that ultimately we have no control of? We can’t do anything to help people win or lose. And even if the team is incredible, everybody loses eventually. And we put SO MUCH hope in things like these!

But then, there’s God. How much hope do we put in Him? It ought to be easy to “root” for God and be a huge fan, because HE ALWAYS WINS.

Psalm 20:7-8, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.”

Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Job 42:2, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

Isaiah 40:28, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”

We could go on and on throughout the Bible to see just how powerful God is, and how He never loses. Even Jesus, who was crucified, rose again! And you can’t even call that a “loss,” because He won the victory over sin! You can’t call it a comeback because it was always there!

What do we do for these teams, people, or whatever it is that we support? We get all hyped up, put on clothes and colours, drive miles away, stand for hours on end, pay tons of money, and so on and so on. And there is always a 50/50 chance of the team winning or losing!

As followers of Christ, what kind of fans are we of Him? Are we just the fair weather fans who will “watch the game if it’s on,” or go to church if we feel like it? Do we serve others if it’s convenient? Do we give our offerings as long as it doesn’t take any faith? Do we share the Gospel only if it’s safe?

Again, I’m railing on sports fans or any other fans (as long as it’s healthy). I just want us to consider what kind of followers of Christ we really are. Do we get as excited and go to the ends of the earth for a God who never loses?

If we put as much hope in His victory, would our lives look different?

Romans 8:31, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below!

In a world full of lies, we need to speak the truth into other’s lives.

Story of Barnabas: Acts 4:36-37; 9:26-28; 11:19-26; 13:15-16; 16:1-5IMG_3391

Have you ever had someone who believed you and really encouraged you? Doesn’t it just make all the difference in the world? Over the past week, I’ve had some conversations with some folks in our church who have a heart for encouraging and praying for young families who are just starting out.

Then, in Church Planting Apprenticeship class on Monday, we talked about Barnabas, and how his life of encouragement was an incredible way of discipling others. And then today! A friend of mine posted a video on Twitter called “Street Compliments” that just blew me away. You can watch it here:

So it seems apparent to me that God is really trying to show me something about encouragement and building one another up. And don’t we all need it? This world is full of lies that are given to us. Facebook, TV, magazines, people we know, and so many other places fill our heads with lies.

And in a world full of lies, we need to hear and speak the truth in lives.

In Acts, the life of Barnabas paints a clear picture of how living this way can change lives. Acts 4:36-37 shows us that encouragement is selfless! Barnabas’ real name was Joseph! The apostles saw what kind of man he was, an encourager, and nicknamed him Barnabas, which means, “Son of Encouragement!”

He was a selfless, generous man, which is what encouraging is all about: giving and investing into others (vs. 37). When we don’t encourage others, we are generally focused on ourselves – we are selfish. Even if we don’t think we are overtly selfish people, keeping the truth to ourselves is being selfish! Barnabas was generous and selfless with more resources than just words. His whole life reflected encouragement.

Encouragement is speaking the truth, even when it is difficult (Acts 9:26-28). Paul (or Saul) was not at all popular with the apostles, because he had been ferocious in trying to hunt them down! Even though Christ changed His life, these men were still wary.

Barnabas was able to see the potential in Paul and see the truth in His life. Christ had really changed him. That was the Holy Spirit working in Barnabas’ life to see what Paul could be. It’s hard for us to have that vision sometimes, but when we live life by the Holy Spirit, He speaks to us the truth to give to others. We live that kind of life through time in the Word and prayer. THAT is where our real truth comes from! Sometimes the truth is tough to speak.
In this part of Acts, Barnabas had Saul who had a rough past. But other times, the truth means confronting the past, or even the present. Paul did this with Peter (Galatians 2:11-14). Peter was living in the wrong, and Paul gave him a hard truth. The way Paul did it is not the model for us always to do that, but it shows all of us that we must speak the truth, even when it is difficult.

Encouragement is also contagious (Acts 11:19-26; 13:15-16; 16:1-5). In Acts 11, Barnabas’ encouragement of believers led to even more disciples being made! He then takes Paul with him and they begin to minister together.

In Acts 13, Paul, who Barnabas had taken under his wing, steps out into the lead and begins sharing the word of the Lord!

In Acts 16, even though Paul and Barnabas are not together anymore, Timothy joins Paul and the cycle begins again!

When we encourage others, we cannot think in a linear progression. Encouragement and discipleship are EXPONENTIAL!

You know what I think is amazing about the life of Barnabas? It’s simple. He didn’t have discipleship books or classes. He shared the truth of God and invested in a few others, and that changed the world!

Encouragement is not fleeting or meaningless. Real, truthful encouragement changes lives.

And don’t sell yourself short either. You may think that you don’t know enough to disciple someone or be that Barnabas to someone else, but you can! We call can! In fact, that’s our calling from the Lord – to make disciples!

I hope this encourages you as it has encouraged me. My heart is full of joy when I think of those in our church who want to be like Barnabas to other believers. Because without Barnabas, what would have become of Paul?

If I can encourage you, or help you in being that person for others, I would love to! And what are some ways that you have been encouraged? Who is God calling you to encourage? the right heart.

A New Year’s Resolution You Can Keep: Be Who You Say You Are

Deuteronomy 6:4-6 – 4″Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

James 2:14-17 – 14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James 3:13 – 13Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

When I was in the 7th grade, there was a girl I liked. Being the 7th grade Casanova I was, I asked a friend to ask her out for me. Smooth right? I know. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to go in 7th though?

This is side by side picture one of my friends sent me on Twitter, saying how much I looked like Martin Freeman, who plays the Bilbo the Hobbit. Or maybe I'm really him?

This is side by side picture one of my friends sent me on Twitter, saying how much I looked like Martin Freeman, who plays the Bilbo the Hobbit. Or maybe I’m really him?

Well, surprisingly, she said yes, and we were “a couple.” However, after about a week, we called it off (more she than me). We talked on the phone once maybe, but we never went out or did couple-like things. I mean, come on, we were in 7th grade! Still, there was no point in being boyfriend and girlfriend in title only. I’m also going to say she had something against gingers, but that could just be my bitterness talking.

How silly would it be to say “I’m married,” or “we’re dating,” but never do anything to demonstrate it? What if I said I was a pro basketball player but never played any games or put on the uniform? What if you needed emergency surgery, I stepped in and said, “Hello, I’m the Doctor,” and you asked me how many surgeries I had performed to which I answered, “absolutely none”? What would your reaction be?

The principle is the same for any relationship. Imagine if you got married to someone, but you never talked, never spent time together, or never did anything that showed people you were a married couple. What kind of marriage would that be? Husband and wife would be mere titles without any significance.

Our relationship to God is quite similar. So many of us will claim the title “Christian,” and yet our lives do not demonstrate a walk with Christ. Quite simply, many of us are not who we say we are. I have been there before – I really think we all have. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In the verses above, we see a cross-section of the Bible that goes from the Old Testament to the New. Deuteronomy 6: the “greatest commandment” as Jesus put it in the Gospels, and also known as the shema to Jews, tells us to love God with everything we are – our heart and soul and might. This is quite interesting considering where this idea is found. These words appear in different forms all throughout the book of Deuteronomy, interwoven between instructions God gives His people to live by.

The Old Testament is often considered nothing but rules and regulations, and many consider that to the “old way of life” before Jesus came. But it was never about just doing this or not doing that in order to be a good Yahweh worshipper. A relationship with God back then was just the same as it is now – in the heart. HOWEVER, all those instructions surrounding those incredible words of “love the Lord your God,” are how we demonstrate that relationship with God. It’s how a life with God is lived out!

How we live for The Lord is an external sign of the internal relationship with Him in our hearts.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, writes words that have long been studied by the Church. He says that faith without works is dead – a Christian that does not really follow Christ is a Christian in title only! And as he continues on in chapter three, you should be able to tell who is and isn’t a Christian by how one lives his life!

In other words: be who you say you are.

Does what we do save us and make us right with God? No. God has always been interested in our faith from our heart first, but what makes that faith real?

A real faith is one where God makes a difference in every aspect of your life – from how you talk to your parents, kids, or wife to how you act at school to what kind of business person you are. Christ followers are not trying to just be seen, but a real faith can’t help but be the “light to the world,” shining through the darkness.

As the New Year approaches, you may be considering making some sort of resolution. This year, make one that really counts. Be who you say you are. If you follow Christ, then make that relationship with God real by how you life with and for Him.

Christmas Memories – Holding on the Old and Making New

Many of us have memories and traditions of Christmas and other holidays for that matter. For you, Christmas may mean a certain place, meal, people, or some other defining factor. For many, those are great hallmarks in life, but what happens when those times start to change?IMG_4487

I have many fond Christmas memories. A certain prized teddy bear, my parents giving me my first BB gun the same way as “A Christmas Story,” getting engaged, and most years spending Christmas Eve at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and then heading over to Granny and Pappy’s after. Eventually it became Thanksgiving at Granny’s and Christmas at Grandma’s. As my grandparents passed away, those times changed. It was very difficult to not have Christmas where we’ve always had it.

And it’s still pretty weird. You have probably experienced something very similar. Either someone has passed away, parents have divorced, a job was lost, or you have moved. In counseling or pastoral training, we are taught that the first year of grief is always difficult, especially during the holidays or birthdays. Grief is not just about death, but it’s about losing something or someone. And we really grieve when things change, losing what we knew before.

So what do we do? Ecclesiastes has an interesting verse in 7:10, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” We can look back and live back in those times in our minds, but our bodies and lives are moving forwards (unless you have a time machine – and then you couldn’t interfere with the timelines anyway because everyone knows that would cause a catastrophic paradox event). We should be thankful for the great memories; we were blessed to experience those times.

But instead of leaving those days behind, we can learn what made those times so great and make new memories with the time we have. A house may have been where those great memories happened, but it was people who made them. Even if some of those people won’t be there, memories can be made knowing they are part of their inspiration.

I’m not saying don’t mourn or grieve – love is too strong for some to be forgotten. But if we live our lives paralyzed by the old, then we will miss out on all the fantastic memories that can be made in the new.

Remember: Christmas is about hope. Christ gives us that hope. Life is full of joy, but it is also full of pain. Christmas can help us remember that Christ has defeated that pain and one day we all, those before us and those after us, will be together again far away from the pain.

So go, make new, brilliant memories! Allons-y! Share the old ones and let their joy be reflected again.

As a wise old man once wrote, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (Gandalf/J.R.R. Tolkien)

The Real Heart of a King – The Real Heart of a Leader // Deuteronomy 17:14-20

I read a great book not long ago entitled Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership, written by a man named John Dickson. It was a leadership book with the main idea that the greatest leaders are those who are humble and servants. Those are the types of leaders we look up to and admire. In the past few days a photo has been going around the internet of a NYC police officer kneeling down to give a homeless man some boots for his naked feet.

NYC Police Officer giving a pair of boots he bought for a homeless man with no shoes.

Conversely, we tend to think negatively of those who are arrogant and full of themselves. Celebrities, athletes, and other leaders who lack humility are the ones that we tend to not be a fan of. When he left Cleveland to go to Miami, Lebron James experienced quite of bit of backlash when he held a press conference and had a one-hour special just to announce his move. Brett Favre could have been a legend in Green Bay and football but tarnished his legacy when he chose to not gracefully bow out of the game, along with some moral issues that came later. Political leaders like John Edwards who misused money to meet own needs or men like Castro who live in wealth while his country is in poverty are vilified.

However, long ago the world was different from today in this respect. Ancient leaders were qualified by their status, wealth, and displayed greatness. The Caesars of Rome put up giant statues of themselves and put their faces on the currency.

What is interesting about this time is how God defined the type of leader He wanted to see for His people. In the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord is laying out how life is to be lived in His Kingdom for His people. The main theme of the whole book is to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength – with one’s everything! But in chapter 17, God describes the type of leader in His Kingdom; He gives the description of a king:

14″When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” 15you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, “You shall never return that way again.” 17And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.

18″And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.19And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

A king by the Lord’s standards is a man who does not build himself up by an army, wealth, or wives – He is a man who follows and depends on the Lord. He is also a man who is not above His people but serves His people. The king is not above the law but embodies and enacts the law. He is a true servant, humble leader.

If you read forward from this point, you will not find any kings of Israel that really fit this description. Even David, a man after God’s own heart, falls short of many of these standards. Josiah is a bright spot in the kings that follow, but still none seem to come even close to this…until the real King arrives.

Then Jesus Christ came into the world in a manger, in a barn, in a small, unimportant town. Wise men and shepherds bow down before Him in the midst of animals, hay, and the smells. He grows up poor, lives without a home, and has 12 men that follow Him.

Jesus says things like, “The greatest of these will be your servant,” and “greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends.” But He also says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)

And there it is. Jesus is the King that Israel has always needed, but never really wanted. Even the disciples, after Jesus had died and risen from the grave, were asking when Jesus was going to restore the kingdom. No one could quite get it then, but soon they surely did. Jesus displayed what a true king was like – what a true leader should be, 1400 years (or so) in the making.

John Dickson writes in his book about how Jesus totally revolutionized our view of leaders. It was only after Christ that humility was a quality desired in leaders. He was the one who changed it all! Now we really can’t stand those that don’t follow His example. Even most people who do not believe in Jesus feel this way!

But it all started back in Deuteronomy 17, and it tells us so much about God. With Him, it’s not about status, accomplishments, or all the things we think make people great. Greatness comes from a heart that loves God with everything and a heart that loves to serve people.

May we all, especially those of us that lead, have the heart of a true leader, the heart of a true king.

The Nose Knows // 2 Corinthians 2:14-16

Grilled PB&Js – Absolutely Delicious

The olfactory senses are absolutely brilliant. Our minds connect to so many things through the senses, but a certain fragrance can bring up so much imagery in the mind.

Not long ago, we had a small cabinet built and painted to put over the washing machine. The first several days it was there, I could smell that fresh paint smell. That exact smell took me back to when my family moved into the house I grew up in many years ago. As soon as we moved in we painted most of the walls in the house, and it had that same smell for days. Specific memories and impressions came to my mind the instant I smelled that paint.

Counselors and other therapists will often not wear cologne or perfume because of this same concept. However, their reason is to avoid bringing up certain memories. Someone who had been abused, for instance, can be taken back to the horrible time when it all happened by smelling a similar fragrance. Those who work with rape victims are never supposed to wear any kind of cologne or even lotion that smells.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians about the “fragrance of Christ.” The apostle was writing about the previous confrontation that we can read about in 1 Corinthians 5, and by the end of chapter 2 in this letter, he takes a different direction.

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 “14 But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. And who is competent for this?”

As Christians live their lives out, we leave an aroma of Christ to the world. People see and experience Christ through us, whether we know it or not. And just like the olfactory senses in our noses, the aroma of Christ can have a powerful effect on others.

For some we are going to be a sweet smelling, life-giving fragrance that people are longing for. Paul’s imagery is most likely centered on incense, a powerful thing in the ancient world. And our goal should be to bring that “smell” that helps to bring people to a positive image of Christ.

Some folks won’t like how we smell at all. One reason is some people just don’t like the smell of good things, or the fragrance of God. To these people we can’t really do anything at all. God must work on their hearts. Still, we can be a stench in other ways that we can control. We can be “burnt toast” Christians that cause people to wrinkle their noses and not have anything to do with Christ or the church.

Paul asks a great question though, and it may be one that you are asking too: “Who is competent for this?” In other words, “Who can possibly achieve this kind of life?” Being a pleasing aroma is often difficult. We sweat. We stink. And sometimes, we just don’t care about how we smell. Sin does that to us.

Our only hope is to let the Holy Spirit guide us and make us the fragrance of God. The transforming power of His leadership is what makes us smell sweet. Doing it on our own may produce some results, but ultimately we will fall short. Have you ever had that one friend who put on way TOO much cologne? Or maybe you knew someone who felt like deodorant was a conspiracy and no one really needed to wear it? That’s how we get when we try to do it ourselves.

Today, just pray that you would be a sweet smell to the world. May we lead people to Christ in a way that their minds are eternally etched with the aroma of life.