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!

God Wants a Meaningful Relationship – Not a Meaningless Religion – Micah 6:1-8

These are the notes from from my sermon at FBC Chickasha on August 4, 2013.

IMG_7144Have you ever been in a relationship before, either with a friend, girlfriend or boyfriend, spouse, or maybe parent, and thought, “What do you really want from me??” Expectations in a relationship are very difficult to understand sometimes, especially if the other person doesn’t communicate well. There have been relationships in my life that have left me very, very frustrated because I just didn’t know what I was supposed to do.

Have you ever felt that way too? What about with God? Have you ever wondered what He really wants from us? Honestly, somedays I have sat and wondered, “Am I doing this right? What do you really want me to do?”

The truth is, God has told us time and time again in the Bible what He really wants. We simply forget it – a LOT.

The Bible tells us that what God desires, what He really wants, is a meaningful relationship – not a meaningless religion. 

Let that soak in for a bit. This may be something you have heard quite a few times. But what does that really look like?

When I think about this idea, I consider meaningful relationships in my own life and what they would look like if I took that meaning away. Take a look at this video and see if you think this is a meaningful relationship or not.

Does that look familiar to anyone? That seems like a silly example of marriage, but doesn’t our relationship with God look like that week in and week out?

Micah 6:1-8

6 Hear what the Lord says:
Arise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth,
for the Lord has an indictment against his people,
and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you?
How have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt
and redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised,
and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah is a “minor” prophet in the Bible, just because the length of his book. However, his messages were anything but minor! He spoke to Israel during a time of outward prosperity but inward injustice. Under David and Solomon, Israel had a golden age that slowly slipped away as time went on. Pressures from neighboring nations and shallow spirituality led the Jewish people into a different type of lifestyle. Money also became more prevalent in everyday life, which changed so many things.

Priests started doing sacrifices for payment. Merchants would use fixed scales to unfairly charge too much for what they were selling. Land used to be owned in several small sections by many people, but the growing materialism led to the rise of just a few landowners who employed workers at terrible wages. From this, many people were forced into poverty and poor lives. Crime went up along with corruption in the justice system.

Still, with all of this going on, people were still going through with the religious rituals of the day. Sacrifices and festivals were still going on. They were still “doing church,” as we would say today. But life for them did not reflect that at all.

And so chapter 6 in Micah culminates in this argument. Through Micah, the Lord asks the people, “What have I done to you to make you act this way?” God brings His case to the most ancient things in creation – the mountains and the hills. They act as the jury, because they have “seen” all that God has done.

But this question is actually a little silly and is intended to be. “What have I done?” is almost sarcasm, because God knows He hasn’t done anything but good to His people. He then goes on to talk about a few of the most memorable moments in His work for Israel – rescue from Egypt, Moses, protection from Balak who was trying to just get them cursed by Balaam, and all the victories in the Promised Land. The people had forgotten what God had done for them.

Verses 6-8 are the closing arguments in this discussion. Speaking from the perspective of the people, the question is asked, “What can we do to make up for all of this? Does God want…” and several over the top, outrageous religious offerings are mentioned. Calves were considered the most precious sacrificial animal. Thousands of rams? BARRELS of oil?? A firstborn child?

Is God asking for any of those? Not at all! The point is that these “things” are not what really matters. They aren’t what makes God happy.

I like how The Message paraphrase of these verses reads:

How can I stand up before God
and show proper respect to the high God?
Should I bring an armload of offerings
topped off with yearling calves?
Would God be impressed with thousands of rams,
with buckets and barrels of olive oil?
Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child,
my precious baby, to cancel my sin?

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously.

God says He just wants a meaningful relationship with His people. He is tired of this fake, phony duality between worship and life. People would bring a sacrifice then go out and cheat their customers or rob someone of his livelihood.

This is really an incredible truth about God. Yes, He did give His people commands and a way to live, but He wanted them to have meaning with His people. He was never interested in requirements to be met to enter into the “heaven club.” And they all get summed up in verse 8: do what is right, love how God loves, and follow Him more than yourself. That is what a meaningful relationship with God looks like!

And a relationship like that is meant to not just change you but the world around you! That’s why God was so upset here, because life was getting worse around the people, even in the midst of following “religion.”

Before we move on, let’s just break down this last verse to really understand what is being said. Do justice – do what is right, and care that what is right needs to be done. Love kindness – love people like God loves us, and know what that love is really like. Walk humbly with God – know God, and let Him be your Lord, the One who leads you! Put His ways before your ways.

Hopefully, you are beginning to see the parallels of life in this passage and life today. Aren’t we in the same spot? I mean, hundreds of people file into this church alone every week. A few thousand attend church services all over our community each week. But, does our city really the effects of that? Is Chickasha changed? How would you answer that question?

Let’s make it smaller. What about your neighborhood? Your street? Your workplace? Your family?

Just going to church isn’t the answer. Now, please hear me, it’s a big part of that! I’m not trying to devalue what we do here. Worshipping the Lord together each week is incredible. But fulfilling a requirement changes no one, starting with you.

Do you think your relationship with Christ is meaningful? Just going to church some throughout the week doesn’t make anything meaningful or honest. It’s easy to put on a happy face for a few hours. You can come be fairly fake in a Sunday School class or sanctuary. Then when you get home, that mask comes off and it’s back to normal.

So let’s just take those masks off right now. God wants you to be honest. Is your relationship with Him real and meaningful? Does knowing God change you and the world around you?

And church is not a place where you need to come and hide either! That doesn’t do anything for your relationships with others here. Meaningful relationships with other believers need to be authentic – they need to be real. That’s what real church is all about. If you want a show, go to the movies! We are not here for that, and God doesn’t want that.

He’s not interested in the show! He’s not interested in your “Sunday best.” Honestly, He doesn’t cringe like we do when stuff goes wrong in the worship service – when our “plans” fall apart.

I’m not trying to put a guilt trip on anyone here today, because that is not my job. And to be honest, this is going right back to me just as much as anyone. I’m pretty good at putting on my “preacher face” on Sundays. It’s easier to hide away all of my imperfections and not deal with anything. Life is much “smoother” then.

But if I can’t get real with God, then nothing is going to change. Not me, not anyone.

Where do we go from here? What would would our lives look like if our relationship with God was more meaningful? Do you feel like you are hiding from Him?

There isn’t a real a + b = c formula to making a relationship meaningful, but there are some things you can do to get started in the right direction.

  • Do justly: what areas in my life do I need to correct to do the right thing and live how God wants me to live?
  • Love mercy/kindness: Who in my life do I need to love like God loves me? Who around me can I serve, even if they do not deserve it?
  • Walk humbly with God: What is my personal relationship with God like? How can it be better?
    1. Pray. I know you hear this all the time, but it’s true! In that video earlier, how much did I really talk to Courtney? What kind of relationship is that?
    2. Read the Word. Getting to know God more means spending time with Him and learning more about Him. Best way to do that? Read the Word, put it in your heart.
    3. Let truth intersect your life. Now, praying and the Bible do not really do much good until they find a real place in your life. In what ways does what you learn in the Word or at Church play out in real life?
    4. Let God lead. Follow God’s call and purposes in your life.

Today, there are many great truths for us in these few verses, but I hope that you see that God wants a meaningful relationship with us and not a meaningless religion. And you know, maybe you are here today, and your life has been lived in a meaningless pursuit. Maybe you’ve been chasing after “doing” all these things to be right, but you are missing the mark. And that’s okay! It’s good news, that Jesus wants us to follow Him! He died and rose again to fulfill that requirement that we could never achieve. He was the firstborn that God actually did give, like we saw in verse 7. The first step for you in having a meaningful relationship with Jesus is actually putting your faith and trust in Him, not yourself.

For all of us, let’s take a few minutes and reflect on what is saying to us through this. Maybe you need to come pray and take your mask off. Maybe you want to sit for awhile and write down what God is telling you about changes you need to make. Don’t wait to get real with Him.

“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.

What is your favourite Psalm?

BiblePsalmsI have been asked these question in the just past few days, and I wanted to ask it of you as well.

What is your favourite Psalm? Why? How has it brought you closer to the Lord?

Talking about our favourite Psalms is like talking about the songs we love too. They all affect us differently. So please, let me know about yours!

I’ll post thoughts on my favourite, Psalm 33, later on. I’m actually teaching through it tonight (along with Colossians 1:15-23 & Romans 8:28) tonight with some college students.

I want to hear from you! Leave a comment below!

Grace and peace,

Doug

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.

Valentine’s Day: Is Your Relationship Real? // Deuteronomy 30:11-20

love-2Valentine’s Day: the celebration of the life of St. Valentine or the commercialization of affection in the world today? Whatever you might think, it’s on the calendar and it is nigh. And if you’re like me, you oft contemplated how silly it is to conjure up a day just to make you have to go out and buy a special something for that special something. Or maybe you’re like me and February 14 each year was the day you lamented the lack of homemade cookies from the pretty girls in your class at school. Wait, that wasn’t me…yeah…anyway.

Let us just move past the origins of the day and who the real St. Valentine was just for a moment and consider what February 14 really means. Yes, it’s a payday for retailers. Yes, it’s a stinging wound for those sans-valentine. But I think we lose grasp of the opportunity a day like Valentine’s Day provides – a chance to show that the relationships in our lives are real.

Do gifts in heart-shaped gift bags define a relationship? No. Well, at least, not on their own. Even though love is the heart of a real relationship, there must be evidence of that love. Maybe it’s a gift. Maybe it’s a genuine act of kindness. Maybe it’s heart-shaped pancakes with powdered sugar. Just saying.

Today, our post-modern approach to Christ and being a Christian can often push back against duty and commitment, which drove the Church in the last generation. Many of us today look back and see what we think are people committed to the Church but not committed to Christ personally. The danger of this is thinking that it’s ALL about love, a feeling. However, how we live shows how we love.

As I have said before, the Old Testament contains many laws and rules that we think defined righteousness. But throughout the book of Deuteronomy, we see that love ALWAYS came first, but what came next was how that love was supposed to be lived out. How the people of Israel lived was their relationship with God.

Deuteronomy 30:16, “For I am commanding you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the LORD your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess.”

That entire chapter of Deuteronomy is worth your time right now to read. It even speaks of God’s faithfulness and love to His people when they don’t keep up their end of the relationship. Things may get really difficult, almost hopeless, but God will never leave them – and He will never leave us.

But how we do show God our relationship with Him is real? Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Not that we are earning God’s love, but we are demonstrating our love for Him.

On the eve of another Valentine’s Day, may you consider the reality of the relationships you have. They do not have to be romantic relationships necessarily, as I think Valentine’s Day has led us to see love in the context of.

Are you relationships real? With Jesus? With the ones you love? Show it!

Valentine’s Day may be over-commercialized and falsely romanticized. Those at Hallmark may not actually mean all those things they put in their cards that make you cry (if you work for Hallmark and are reading this, and you really do care, I’m just making an example and will still buy your cards).

Even if all that is true, that does not give us an excuse to “buck the system” and rebel against our relationships. May Valentines Day can serve as a reminder to make your relationships real.

What are ways that you show love to God with your life? What are ways you show love to those you have relationships with? And what are ways that you like to be shown love? Please comment below! I’d love to hear what you have to say!

One Voice is Not Enough // Acts 19:8-10

When you think of the greatest voice of the Gospel of our day, who do you think of? Most of us would probably consider Billy Graham to be the most influential Christian voice in the past 100 years. There are so many others that preceded him – Edwards, Luther, Augustine, and many others.Spot lit microphone and stand on an empty stage

Now, what about closer to home? Who is the voice of the Gospel in your life? Does your pastor come to mind? Maybe a Sunday School or small group leader?

Is sharing the Gospel only for the experts?

Even Billy Graham, whose message has been shared with millions, has only reached a percentage of the billions in the world. Your pastor will never be able to share the Gospel with all the people in your city or community.

Even Paul, THE missionary, did not do it all himself. Take a look at a glimpse of Paul’s missionary journeys in Acts 19:8-10.

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

This all started when Paul went to Ephesus and shared the Gospel with 12 men there. They became Christ followers, and he stayed in that area for two years sharing and working with the people in that area.

And yet, in verse 10, we see that in those two years, “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”

Paul didn’t travel to do that. Even if he did, could he have reached all those people? No way? Even more, did all those people come to see him?? Not at all!

People heard the Gospel not because they came to a church service and not because a preacher when out to find them. People heard the Gospel because those who were saved by Christ went out and shared that good news with others!

Paul, Billy Graham, your pastor – they are not some Gospel experts who are the only ones who have the responsibility to share with non-Christians. WE ALL have that call in our lives.

And why wouldn’t we want to share such life-changing, incredible news? We will tell people about a great movie or song or restaurant all day long, but when it comes to sharing Christ, we check out.

Maybe you think you don’t know what to say. Maybe you are scared that you’ll mess up. Maybe you are scared you’ll get told no or something worse.

But let me tell you, the same God that saved Paul saved you and works within you! HE is the One who be with you. He is actually the One who does the real work anyway!

One voice is not enough. We cannot rely on the Billy Grahams or our pastors to share the incredible Good News of Jesus with everyone we know. And we cannot count on the whole world coming to the church to hear the Gospel message.

Let your voice be heard to those you know who need Jesus. If you know the difference He has made in your life, then tell others what He has done!

“But if every believer reached just three people in a lifetime by effective witnessing, the lost in America would be reached within a generation.” -Bruce Dreisbach

What are some things that hold you back from sharing the Gospel? Also, what are some stories that you have of when you shared Jesus with someone? Leave a comment below!

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!