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!

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“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.

Christ Makes Things New // 2 Corinthians 5:17

2013. Somehow we survived the “end of the world” and other crazy things, but now, it is a new year. Isn’t new great?

This is a pic of my grandpa's 1944 Farmall tractor he completely restored from a pile of rust to look brand new.

This is a pic of my grandpa’s 1944 Farmall tractor he completely restored from a pile of rust to look brand new.

The New Year has always been somewhat interesting to grasp, especially when it seems to fall in the middle of everything we are involved in our lives. School starts in the Fall, many fiscal years begin in mid-Summer, but yet, our calendar begins on January 1.

Here in America, “new” is a concept that we understand but don’t always fully appreciate. We have a very “throw-away” based society where if something is overused or completed, we get rid of it. Also, we have so much freedom and opportunity with work and beliefs, that we can start a “new” career whenever we want.

So, for many of us, a “new beginning” may not be as incredible as it is to some.

Over the past 10 years, I have been very blessed to serve and do mission work in East Asia in a communist country. Several times I have traveled over there, but the first time the missionary I worked with taught our team what “new life” and “new beginnings” meant to these people.

For them, communism traps economically, spiritually, and geographically for the most part. Some younger students may travel to a university, but generally where you are and what you do stays the same. Not everyone is a communist. In fact, one has to be a part of the communist party to have higher paid jobs and power, but it restricts your lifestyle even more. IMG_1438

So, when our conversations would turn to Jesus, we would talk about John chapter 3 and the conversation Nicodemus about being “born again.” We would also show them 2 Corinthians 5:17,

17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

The idea of a life with Jesus being brand new with a new beginning was simply astounding. It wasn’t a rescue from the life that surrounded them, but it was a life with hope, purpose, and love.

For me, I had never really appreciated that idea until then. There are many days when I even forget it. Jesus has made me brand new. He hasn’t just cleaned up the old me – He paid the price with His life and purchased me with His blood.

Whatever your past year or years has been like, or wherever you are right now, do you long for a new beginning? Do you ever feel like no matter how hard you try you just can’t get things right?

Give your heart and life to Jesus. Let him make you brand new. Baptism is an incredible symbol of this. Before Christ, our lives are above the water, then we are submerged and we die to our old life, then we are raised out of the water to walk in new life with Him. IMG_2654

Doesn’t that sound amazing and refreshing? Even if you are already a Christ follower, today you can make that commitment and resolution to walk in the new life Christ has given you.

Life with Christ is full of new hope, purpose, and love. Walk with Him this year and the many to come!

ps…Do you have a story of new life in Christ? Leave a comment below!

pps…I would also like to hear some of your favourite new things: like new car smell, new clothes, etc. Leave a comment below!

Leaders Who Love Success Use Others, but Leaders Who Love Jesus Serve Others.

Reality TV is somewhat of a paradox. It really isn’t as real as it appears to be. Clips are cut, manipulated. Characters are directed and plots are produced. Still, its unscripted nature is supposed to validate the “reality.”

I remember when the term “Reality TV” was starting to be coined. The first Survivor show was paving the way into a new realm of television. There had been other shows before it, but it was one of the trailblazers. Many people watched and became engrossed in the storylines of the show, and there was an interesting dynamic that rose from the interactions of the members of the cast: alliances to win.

You were “voted off the island” in Survivor. That’s how someone left the show. The idea was the weakest link of everyone would be the one voted off, but over time people started to form alliances with one another to assure votes would be stacked up again others and not themselves. These people did what they had to serve their own needs and stay in the game.

And that’s all it really was – a game. Donald Trump introduced us to “The Apprentice” and we saw an even more interesting dynamic as people were put in “real life” leadership positions. Still, it was a game where you had to whatever you had to do to win. Ultimately, success was about taking care of you first.

As Christians, we can get pulled in to this paradigm very easily. We want to see our churches, ministries, Sunday School classes, small groups, and whatever else grow and “succeed.” Some of us (mainly in the ministry) want to climb the ladder and get to bigger churches or be known as a Christian leader.

When we have this mindset, the people around us become tools to our success. They become numbers that we need to increase. They become strategies to develop and enact. They become the target of marketing and the validation of what we do.

But did Jesus operate this way? The time Jesus spent with people was not focused on building a ministry. He spent time loving the unloved, the sick, and the “unimportant.” And so often, He loved others that would not love back or give anything in return. These people were not beneficial in the way we might think.

Because of this, the “important” people sought Jesus out. They wanted to find Him. Nicodemus sought Jesus out in John chapter 3. A rich young ruler came to Jesus. The centurion came for healing for his servant. Christ did not neglect them either, but he was not focused on those who would help Him promote what He was doing. But when He lived His life the way He did, people came to find Him.

What was the motivation for this type of life and love? Humility. Jesus was so humble, even when He really did not have to be. But time and time again, He pointed to His Father and the Kingdom of God. Real success for Jesus that He showed to us was loving others and letting others see God through Him.

When we love others, people see Jesus through us. As Christians and ministers of the Gospel, we must lead people to love Jesus more than us. His love is what they (and we) really need.

Don’t love with an agenda to build yourself or your ministry. Love with the pure motivation to be Jesus to others. As Paul wrote in Romans 12, “Let love be genuine.”

We live in a world where we often do things because they will benefit us in some way. The alliances on Survivor were made because they would use people to get what they want. May it never even be close to that in why we minister and love people. Real Christ-like love is humble and expects nothing in return.

You know what is amazing though? There is SO much we get in return for loving that way. Loving others because we love Jesus, being the picture of Jesus to the world, is such a deep communion with the Holy Spirit. There is no greater place to be, no greater life than that.

If you love success, then you will use others to succeed no matter what it takes. And if you are leading people, they will live their lives in the same way. And some very big and “important” things may be built, but without love, they are meaningless.

If you love Christ, then love others because that is who we are and that is how He loved us.

Philippians 2:5-11, “5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Power When Unplugged // 1 Corinthians 1:18

There’s a plan in everything. At the beginning of our Sunday School yesterday, one of the church’s power lines burnt in half. This knocked out most of the power to the church yesterday morning, which as our pastor Michael wrote in his blog, began a Sunday that no one would forget.

Our church members were like champs with the situation, not really even being phased due to the lack of power. Classes continued and no one complained. Going from Sunday School to the Worship Service was a bit chaotic with the mass transit of people down dark hallways, but apart from one person being stuck in an elevator for a few minutes, there were still no big problems.

Once we all arrived in the Worship Center with no lights, sound, screens, or A/C, everything was great. Honestly, for me it was both exciting and refreshing. Not that I enjoy the chaos that comes with some of the unexpected issues, but I really saw God teaching us something in all of this.

Worshipping yesterday reminded me of the times I’ve been around the world worshipping with believers in a wide variety of settings. From the Great Wall of China to the top of a pagoda in Asia to small houses to hotel rooms to churches in the middle of the rainforest, there have been so many times when I’ve seen God’s Church worship without the need for electricity, lights, screens, even a band. Just pure, honest, God-desiring worship.

Are great lights and sound in worship bad? Not at all! What IS bad is when we start to worship those things instead of the Creator and Saviour of the Universe. If the music doesn’t sound a certain way or the sanctuary is too old looking, then we don’t really engage. Or if the A/C is out, we get really grumpy and just can’t wait until church is over.

When our worship becomes dependent on the mediums for which it is carried, then we are unplugging from the power of God. Paul writes to the church in Corinth a verse about the power in a believer’s life,

“For the word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Cor. 1:18

Maybe in the comfort of our Christian lives here in our part of the world we have forgotten where the true power of what we believe resides – in the Cross. Maybe we have come to worship the power that comes from the power in the wall instead.

Again, I’m not saying things that are used in worship today are bad. But I’ve been up leading worship and I’ve seen and felt that spirit from people – depending on a certain sound or look.

Michael Butler preaching with the electricity out.

Yesterday seemed like God was showing us here in Chickasha that His power doesn’t depend on power. He isn’t pleased if a worship service looks and sounds fantastic but the hearts of His people aren’t plugged in to Him.

Our pastor’s sermon yesterday, planned before this power outage, was out of 1 Corinthians 4, which is part of Paul’s plea to the people of Corinth of the real power of God. In verse 4:20 he writes, “For the Kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” Even the pastor of a church can be eloquent, smooth, and charismatic, but he is not plugged into God it does not mean anything!

All of this to say, from music to the preaching, REAL power comes from being unplugged from everything we think matters and plugged into the Holy Spirit. And as worshippers and members of the body of Christ, that is where we must be plugged in as well.

May your heart desire to bring honor and glory to God through worship wherever, however, and whenever you are.

Trading the Kingdom for a king // 1 Samuel 12

Ever feel like you got a bad deal on a trade in? It always seems like cars never quite the trade-in value we feel like they should. I remember one time I had a nice acoustic guitar that I paid quite a bit for, and I wanted to trade it in a music store for an electric and an amp. In my head, I figured the values were about the same.

When I went in, the people at the store looked over my guitar (in great shape by the way), and after some time they offered me a price, which was WELL below what I had hoped. As much as I wanted that electric and amp, I knew this was not a fair trade.

The people of Israel wanted a trade – they wanted to make a deal with God. Picking up the story of the Hebrews in 1 Samuel, up to this point Israel had been led by the Lord, His Law, and several men and women who “judged” or helped the people live the law out. This didn’t always go like it should, for man is man, and several of these judges fell short.

Even before that the people had Moses and Joshua – great leaders but still lead only by the voice of the Lord and made it known that it was God who led the people.

But in the time of Samuel, the people of Israel were not happy being unlike the rest of the world, not having a king. Everyone around them had a king for their kingdom, and the Hebrews were not satisfied to have God as their leader.

Don’t we act the same way? The people of Israel had the Creator of the Universe leading them. They were HIS people and He wanted to be THEIR God, but time and time they rejected him. They “traded down.”

We will do that in different ways too. We will say we are God’s people, but our time, money, energy, and worship goes to things that are not worth it. Samuel, the great prophet who lead Israel until they had a king made this statement in his farewell address in 1 Samuel 12:20-21,

“Don’t be afraid. Even though you have committed all this evil, don’t turn away from following the Lord. Instead, worship the Lord with all your heart. Don’t turn away to follow worthless things that can’t profit or deliver you; they are worthless.”

I know I’ve been there before. I’ve felt like I’ve messed up so badly that even God wouldn’t want me back, so what’s the point? And I have also spent plenty of time chasing after worthless things.

Any trade that we accept in exchange for God is a trade-DOWN. Make no mistake – you can’t get better than Christ and His Kingdom.

All the time in the Old Testament people would carve an idol out of wood, stone, or metal and worship it. And so many Scriptures showed how foolish that is. Habakkuk 2:19 says, “Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it.”

Between people and idols, we far too quickly put our lives and loves in the hands of corruptible, lacking things. Take just a minute and read 1 Samuel 12 and Samuel’s words to the people. Look and see if there is any correlation you can see between our lives today and how Israel was acting.

Are you chasing after worthless things? Our time is much too short for that. The Lord is the One who loves us and will deliver us. Put your trust and faith in Him.

Don’t get the raw end of a lousy trade. Follow Christ, He will take you on a life of unending worth.