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.

What Makes a Church “Attractive?”

What really makes a church attractive? Stained Glass6

In our western culture, much of how churches reach out to prospective members is through marketing. Some churches even begin with a budget that devotes half of its assets to marketing!  Many of today’s worship services are driven by thousands up to millions of dollars in audio & visual production costs.

Buildings are also an “attractive” emphasis for some churches. Style and function are the focus on building programs that also require incredible amounts of money. Often churches seem to take on a “if you build it, they will come” approach to being attractive.

There are many other factors that can go into the conversation: worship style, preaching style, clothing style, service times, ministry programs, Sunday School or small groups, and so on and so on.

The truth is, many people in our culture are drawn to these things – what they find to be attractive. Our church culture has become consumer-driven, and the church members have morphed into consumers. As ministers we see people come and go, many times based on the factors discussed above. People want to go to a church that has the things they like and where they can feel comfortable.

Are we getting it right? What really makes a church attractive? 

Looking back at the first churches in the New Testament, what did they have? There were no multi-million dollar budgets, no buildings, no lights, no sound, and no marketing budget. They couldn’t advertise – they would get arrested! Still, they saw transformation, growth, missions, community change, and movements of the Holy Spirit that would shock the world today.

Acts 2:42-47: 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

For the early church, they were “attractive” because of the transformational community of the believers. People saw the change that Christ can make in a life, and they saw the true love of God between the believers. That’s what makes a church attractive – real change & real love.

Not only did the early church demonstrate this, but the New Testament writers continually wrote about it and instructed the believers to practice it. Here are just a few of many examples:

  • Acts 11:19-26: The church at Antioch demonstrated their transformation in such a way that those outside the church gave them the title “Christian,” identifying them with Christ
  • Galatians 6:10: Do good to all, especially the household of faith
  • Ephesians 4:26-32: Build up the community of faith, not tear it down
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:11: Encourage and build up one another
  • 1 Peter 4:7-11: Our love for one another glorifies God
  • James 2:14-17: How we take care of each other’s needs in our church demonstrates God’s love to others

Why is the transformation of the Holy Spirit and the love of God so attractive? Because everyone is created in the image of God, and deep inside of all of us we long to be a part of the way things God intended them to be. That is what changes people. Impressive marketing, grandiose worship production, and beautiful buildings do not transform lives.

I’m not saying that buildings, sound systems, lights, even advertising is a bad thing. Using these things to glorify God is smart and effective. They are great tools in leading people to follow Christ and be like Him. We must always remember, however, that what really makes a church attractive has not changed in 2000 years, nor will it ever be different.

Is My Faith a Joke?

IMG_1992The other night I was watching The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, a rerun from back in May, when he told this joke in his monologue:

“The St. Louis Rams made history on Saturday by drafting Michael Sam, making him the first openly gay player in the NFL. Yep, an NFL player who’s never been with a woman — or as Tim Tebow put it, ‘Eh, it’s been done.’”

After the first part of the joke, Fallon and the audience applauded at decision of the St. Louis Rams, and then laughed at reference to Tebow’s faith and belief.

I was fairly fired up, mainly because in a world today that raises the banner for “equality,” this joke was a microcosm of what reality is really like. I know, it’s just a joke on a tv show, but it got my gears turning. And then I got even more fired up, but this time it was directed at me.

This whole instance made me ask myself, “Is my faith a joke?” What does it say about me, other Christians, and the Church, when what we believe and so many have given so much for is the punchline in a joke?

What do others say about God because of me? Is my faith a joke?

Paul dealt with this very issue when he wrote the letter to the Romans. Actually, he was bringing up an issue that was a constant in Israel’s history. Their lives and actions did not match up with the God and faith they professed. Take a look at what Paul wrote in Romans 2:17-14:

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself area guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Verse 24 is a reference to Isaiah 52:5, when the prophet deals with the same problem. No one took God seriously because the Jews were no better than anyone else. Their lives reflected no difference, no desirable qualities.

Jim Putnam wrote about this idea regarding today’s Christians. In his book DiscipleShift, he looks at the fact that Christian marriages are just as likely to end in divorce, Christians are not healthier, in as much debt, are not more generous, and so on. Basically, overall, our faith really is a joke to those that look on. Many of us are trying to hold to the days when being a “Christian” was something that was respected or admired, but those days are quickly crumbling away.

Even though Christians are divided on issues in our culture today, the Bible is very clear on many things. It is also equally clear on how much the world rejects God and all that He stands for. We can never expect to tell the world that such and such is a sin and expect anyone to listen if our lives do not show that following Jesus is better than anything else in life.

Ask yourself, are people laughing at God because of my life? Is my faith a joke?

As long as there is sin in the world, people will always reject God – even if we lived incredible lives full of faith. But we must ask ourselves about the reality of our faith.

If we really want to change the world, we have to live in such a way that shows people that Jesus really DOES make a difference. Our lives at church and at home must be the same. We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Our marriages have to be better. Our business dealings have to be better. Everything should be better – because Jesus is better!

I Hate Giving Blood, But…

I hate giving blood.blood

Don’t get me wrong, donating blood is an incredible thing that we can do to help others that really need it. I think it’s wonderful, our church supports it, and I have no beliefs or opinions against it.

My body, however, does not agree.

I am not exactly sure why my body freaks out when I give blood, but it is rather embarrassing. The first time I ever donated was in high school. I was sitting there, chatting along, and all of a sudden I got really dizzy and even more pale than I already am. Everyone started putting ice packs on me and buzzing about.

That’s pretty much how it goes every time. So when a blood drive rolls around every few months, I don’t get too excited. I really hate it, because I want to do it, but it’s hard.

However, there have been a few times when certain people I personally know have had urgent needs for blood or platelet donations, and my donation could really help them. In spite of my physiological aversions, I sign up and give. It’s never easy, and it usually ends up the same way every time. Still, there is an urgent need, and urgency demands action.

I’m not writing any of this to boast, because there anything for me to brag about really. But in the past several weeks our church family has been studying through Dr. Jeff Iorg’s book, Live Like a Missionary, which is challenging us to share the Gospel in our everyday lives. There are many reasons why we do not share Christ with those around us, but one that is huge is a lack of urgency.

Matthew 25:1-13 contains a parable told by Jesus of the Ten Virgins before a wedding. Five were prepared, and five were not. When the bridegroom came, the five who weren’t ready missed out. Jesus told this story because He wanted His disciples (and us) to always live with urgency and be ready. Verse 13 says, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

One way or the other, our time is short. Time is short for the people around us. We must have urgency when sharing the Gospel. It may not always be easy, but people NEED Jesus – they need what we know!

I hate giving blood, but I do it because there is an urgent need. Now, don’t read too much into the analogy, I DO NOT hate sharing the Gospel, but it hard for us sometimes. The Gospel is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. The main point is that there needs to be a sense of urgency in our lives.

Maybe sharing your faith is hard for you, for whatever reason. But please do not let that stop you from sharing the life that Jesus has given you with others. Without Christ, people are dying, and we can share with them what gives life.

Bless the Lord O My Soul – A look at Psalm 103 and 10,000 Reasons

BiblePsalmsI am a terrible gardener. When it comes to mowing the lawn, I will take care of the grass and do what I need to keep the yard looking nice. However, when it comes to flowerbeds and the like, I’m just not that great.

Those beds of bushes and pretty plants take an enormous amount of effort to keep looking nice. When we moved into our new house, the landscaping was not in great shape, and over the busy summer, they have gotten progressively worse. I really do want them to look good, and my wife does especially. It’s just been hard with being so busy.

Flowerbeds do not automatically look nice though. Weeds creep in, mulch dries out, and plants die. They need to be tended to – worked over – cultivated.

Our souls are the same way. The rigors of life can creep in, and we can neglect the care of our hearts. Just like unattended gardens, our souls can become overgrown and out of sorts.

Psalm 103 is a great picture of worship that is cultivation of the soul. The psalmist, perhaps David, is working on the garden of his heart, calling his own being to worship. He is not manufacturing anything artificial, but rather he is doing what he must to clear out the mess and see the beauty of the Lord again.

This Psalm has found its way into many songs, but one today has captivated the heart of Christians all over the world. “10,000 Reasons” is written by Matt Redman, one of the most prolific sacred song writers of our day. The inspiration for this song comes from Psalm 103. I want us to take a look at the Scripture, looking to gain a better understanding of this song and how we worship through it. Through our journey, we will also do a bit of gardening in our own souls, calling our hearts to worship.

Psalm 103
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
 and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!

2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
 and forget not all his benefits,

3 who forgives all your iniquity,
 who heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit,
 who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5 who satisfies you with good
 so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
 his acts to the people of Israel.

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
 slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9 He will not always chide,
 nor will he keep his anger forever.

10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
 nor repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
 so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,
 so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
 so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass;
 he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
 and its place knows it no more.

17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,

18 to those who keep his covenant
 and remember to do his commandments.

19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
 and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
 you mighty ones who do his word,
    obeying the voice of his word!

21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
 his ministers, who do his will!

22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
 in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Verses 1-5 are written by the psalmist to his own soul. He is calling his own heart to worship the Lord, bringing blessing to the One who is the author of blessings. In these first few verses, the author brings to remembrance all that God has done in his own life. Forgiveness of sin, healing, redemption, faithful love, and true satisfaction have come from the Lord. These wonderful acts of God have brought life to this author, renewing his youth and making his soul soar like an eagle.

Nothing else compares to this – nothing else compares to the Lord. Too often this is forgotten in the midst of everything. The author takes the time to remember just how good God really is.

Verses 6-14 are pointed towards the qualities of the Lord that apply to all. For those that are oppressed, God cares for them and fights for them! He is not a god who wants to remain hidden or distant, but He has revealed Himself to the people of Israel. And we know, that Christ came to the world – came to us – to save us all! John 1:14 says that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus came to be the light in the darkness of the world.

The Lord is rich in love and slow to anger. Many of us have experienced those with quick tempers, even some in terrible ways. David saw Saul’s temper more than once. From God’s perspective, His own people turned their back on Him repeatedly, but He never dealt with them like He could have. Like a true loving Father, His anger and discipline always came to correct and bring people back to Him. God never gave up on His people, and He never will. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 truly represent the nature of God’s love.

Finally, in this section, the psalmist looks at just how big the Lord’s forgiveness really is. It cannot possibly be quantified. The picture of “as far as the east is from the west” is used as a way to measure the size of God’s redemption. There is no way to fathom it. When the Lord forgives sins, they are gone. Redemption is real and true. Even when we fall, He wants to pick us up. He knows we are not perfect, but He never gives up on us. 1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That’s not a spot clean – it’s the power wash.

The final section of the psalm, verses 15-22, demonstrate just how big God is and how He still loves us. Our lives are like grass that dries up and blows away. But still, God knows us and loves us.

And God is the complete opposite. He never fades. He is everlasting. His love is everlasting. He is the only true constant – the only good that will never end. Nothing will defeat Him. Even the most powerful kingdom pales in comparison to His.

With this picture, the psalmist calls on the whole of creation to worship God just like his soul. Angels, all His servants, and everything God has made will bless the Lord because of Who He is and what He has done.

And the psalmists voice joins the song of the universe, bringing his melody to the tune.

Psalm 103 is so beautiful, because it is a song that we still sing today. The truths that the author writes about are true for us today as well! God has done so much for us, and He is still doing so much! Everyday, all around us, the Lord is working in so many ways that we do not even see them all.

And our souls need that cultivation too. Have you ever been in a worship service and felt empty? Has there ever been a day when you woke up and wondered what was the point?

Like the flowerbeds in front of my house, our souls will be overgrown and out of shape without proper care. Psalm 103 shows us how to cultivate our hearts and bring our souls to worship.

10,000 Reasons is a song that is a great summary of the truth of Psalm 103.

The first verse deals with praising God with the coming of a new day, and that praise continuing throughout the day – no matter what may come. These lyrics call the soul to worship God through any circumstance:

The sun comes up it’s a new day dawning

It’s time to sing Your song again

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me

Let me be singing when the evening comes

Verse 2 focuses on the attributes of the goodness of God. “10,000 Reasons” is a number that really is not an exact quantity, but rather it is a picture of just the great number of reasons we have to worship God. Even if we were to sit down and write out each one, ten thousand would just be the beginning.

You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger

Your name is great and Your heart is kind

For all Your goodness I will keep on singing

Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

The third and final verse is a beautiful picture of looking back at life but also looking forward to the life yet to come. Praise for the Lord has only just begun, for everything our heart is longing for is just ahead. For ten thousand years we will be with God, and that is just the beginning. During that time, no sin or darkness will be between those who belong to the Lord.

And on that day when my strength is failing

The end draws near and my time has come

Still my soul will sing Your praise unending

Ten thousand years and then forevermore

Finally, the chorus is the call to cultivate our hearts to bring praise to God. For all these reasons, we bring a song to Him.

Bless the Lord O my soul

O my soul
, Worship His holy name

Sing like never before

O my soul, 
I’ll worship Your holy name

Today, lets take some time to cultivate our souls. For the next few minutes, we want to call our hearts to worship like the psalmist and Redman do.

Let’s listen through a couple of versions of 10,000 Reasons together. While it plays, let’s focus on three things:

  1. Remembrance: Write down some of the ways God has blessed you, either recently or throughout your life.
  2. 10,000 Reasons: Write down the goodness of God. What makes Him worthy to be worshipped?
  3. Bless the Lord: Write down a prayer of worship to the Lord. He always blesses us, and our worship to Him is a blessing to Him. Bless Him today. Commune with Him in worship.

May our worship cultivate our souls towards God. And may our worship lead our lives to live for Him. One final question for us to consider, is God calling you to something? As you spend time calling your heart to worship, let the Holy Spirit speak as well. What is He saying to you?

“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.

Christ, the Creator, Sustainer, Saviour, Redeemer, and Lover of His People // Colossians 1, Psalm 33

IMG_4826Psalm 33 could quite possibly be my favourite Psalm. It has a four-part movement to it that is just absolutely brilliant. Not only does it bring praise to the Lord, but it gives a great picture of Who He really is!

Before we go there, I want to look first at how Paul described who Jesus was to the people of Colossae, the Colossians.

In Colossians 1:15-23, we see a picture painted by Paul of who Jesus is:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven,making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Jesus, the Son of God who came down to us as a man, shows us physically who God is. Paul describes that through Christ, all things were created, He holds all things together! Not only did He create, but He gave His life to save that creation from themselves. Through His blood, burial, and resurrection, we can be right with God. Our faith in that sacrifice, in Jesus, is what makes us right with God. Following Jesus is the only way!

That’s what this week, Passion Week or Holy Week, and Easter is all about. God’s plan to save us and His creation. And this whole concept is actually quite different from any other religion or belief that exists. Everyone else is searching for what we must do to get to God, but Christians believe God came to us!

Psalm 33 describes this very well. As we read through it, notice the four-part movement it makes in showing us who the Lord is.

The first section, verses 1-5, the psalmist gives an introduction to God and a call to praise Him. Singing is called for, as well as skilled playing on instruments. An overall picture of God and His faithfulness is shown here.

Verses 6-12 speak to the mighty power of the Lord. He created the universe by His words, and He holds everything together in His mighty hands. There is no nation or power on earth that is stronger than God. He never fails, never ends, and never gives up. God always wins; blessed are those that see that and know it to be true. These verses demonstrate just how big and mighty God really is. The next section takes a surprising turn.

The next section is verses 13-17, which demonstrates that while God is infinite, He is also intimate. He is not far away from His creation, but rather, the Lord is part of the comings and goings of all that happens. He is not a Creator separated from His creation.

Finally, verses 18-22 converge on all that has been brought forth to show that not only is God infinite and intimate, but He is faithful to those who fear Him. Those that hope in the Lord will never be dismayed, because He is always faithful. He love chases us like a lion chases its prey.

Psalm 33 is a great picture of how incredible God really is, and how much He really loves us. When we know a truth like this, we cannot help but worship Him! In so many of our churches today, worship is stale not because of style or setting, but because the Lord’s worshippers do not really know who they are worshipping!

It is simply awesome for me to think that the God who made everything I can see (and even what I cannot) by the words of His mouth is the same God who loves me, knows me, and will never leave me.

Verses 18-19 are very similar to something Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

One might think that God only hears or works in the lives of those that love Him. However, a theologian named William Barclay wrote in his commentary on Romans that God doesn’t just work in certain lives of those that love Him. Rather, when we love and trust God, we see Him working. If we don’t love and trust Him, we won’t see what He is doing in and around us, and we certainly won’t trust in Him!

God is not far away with a big beard looking down on Earth like a diorama, watching little people go to and fro. He created us, He loves us, and He works all in and around us everyday. Jesus Christ came TO us! He really wants the best for us, and is with us through the good and the bad and the ugly.

May this truth be written upon your heart, and may you love and trust Jesus today – for the first time or like never before. May the more you get to know the infinite God who made us and loves cause you to worship Him more and more.

Praise to the Creator and Preserver.

33 Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones;
Praise is becoming to the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.
Sing to Him a new song;
Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
For the word of the Lord is upright,
And all His work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the lovingkindness of the Lord.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
And by the breath of His mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea togetheras a heap;
He lays up the deeps in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.
10 The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations;
He frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
The plans of His heart from generation to generation.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance.

13 The Lord looks from heaven;
He sees all the sons of men;
14 From His dwelling place He looks out
On all the inhabitants of the earth,
15 He who fashions the hearts of them all,
He who understands all their works.
16 The king is not saved by a mighty army;
A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
17 A horse is a false hope for victory;
Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.

18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
19 To deliver their soul from death
And to keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
He is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart rejoices in Him,
Because we trust in His holy name.
22 Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us,
According as we have hoped in You.

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.