November 30, 2009

The Perfect Spot

We're in full holiday season swing which, if you attend a church, can mean two things (of course many more but I just want to highlight these two to make a point):

1. More than likely your church will see an increase in the number of first-time visitors on Sunday mornings. The Christmas season, like no other time during the year (minus Easter maybe) turns peoples' attention toward spiritual things. A lot of these people have no idea exactly what they mean when they think "spiritual" but if they haven't been misled by Oprah they might actually end-up at your church, so be ready!

2. Part of being ready for first-time visitors is NOT taking the BEST and CLOSEST parking spots in the church parking lot. What a simple and yet profound way to show your visitors hospitality. If you are physically able to park "far" away, you should seriously consider doing so during the Christmas season. What better time of year to do a simple thing that can make a HUGE difference for that single mom visiting your church for the first time who is trying to keep track of her kids. To think that her worry of them getting hit in the church parking lot could be that much less because she is that much closer to the door. HUGE! Do not underestimate the message this can send to your local community and guests that not only do you have a spot for them in the parking lot but in the church family as well. I know winter is cold but so is a church that doesn't have a place for visitors.

November 26, 2009

Giving Thankfully

I hope that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and a chance to spend it with family and friends. If you're Thanksgiving festivities have been anything like mine they involved a generous amount of turkey, starches in various forms (mashed or perhaps candied with marshmallows), some things we call "salads" that few people would find in or put on an actual salad, hanging out with family that you don't get to see often enough and watching awful Detroit Lions football. Oh yeah, while being reminded to be thankful.

What if we were thankful for more than just today and instead it became an attitude we carried with us through the entire holiday season? Just taking a look at the word itself we see that it is about giving thanks, which of course makes sense because we have a ridiculous amount to be thankful for. The more I thought about this today the more I started to wonder if Thanksgiving might be a way to challenge us to give thankfully? Think about what a huge difference this could make on your perspective and mine during this time of year.

There are countless reasons why you and I can be thankful; the biggest reason is God's willingness, in his grace, to send Jesus on our behalf. Out of this deep sense of gratitude we become willing to "cheerfully" (2 Corinthians 9:7) give of ourselves because God has given so graciously to us. This is not simply about money but time, talents, service, prayer, relationships...our very selves...things that you and I can thankfully give as acts of giving thanks. Might be something to try this season and see what happens.

November 23, 2009

American Music Awards

First, let's not forget about the likes of artists such as Cher, Madonna, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Shakira, etc etc that have repeatedly pushed the envelope in live performances on various award shows before we get too wound-up about Adam Lambert's closing act of the American Music Awards last night.

Of course I found Lambert's "in the moment" choreography to be not only played out but offensive though what may have offended me even more (or at least the same amount) was the fact that he sounded awful. It's one thing to dance around "all suggestive-like" and sound decent, but it is a completely different thing to do so (quite poorly I might add) and sound horrible. Typically there is some sort of redeeming aspect of a performance that can be pointed out but in this case, everything was bad: costumes, set, theme, music, lyrics. I found myself wondering two things as I watched this disaster unfold; 1) Why in the world is this guy performing at the AMA's on the same stage as people like Whitney Houston? 2) Does he really have an album coming out?

As best I can remember, this is the first AMA's I've ever really watched and I must say that overall it was pretty bad. Most of the performances were not very good and everything sounded the same, whether it was the live performances or the nominees. I guess I never realized that the AMA's were so lame or maybe that's just because I'm picky about my music.

November 21, 2009

By Your Bootstraps

I know it's been a while since I've posted, my apologies. Work at the church combined with my schoolwork has kept me pretty busy the past week or so. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to the down-time that is coming along with Thanksgiving.

6 weeks ago a person walked into our church on a Sunday morning for the first time. This individual was very different from the majority of the congregation, in more ways than one. He did not have a job, a car, a valid driver's license, a computer, a phone, money or friends. He was living with his parents and had no idea how to use a computer, let alone navigate the internet to find a job. He did have a felony record and a past that went with it from 20yrs of street life.

I've had the opportunity (and honestly the blessing) to befriend him and witness firsthand some of the things God has been doing in his life over these past 6 weeks. He recognizes that the life he was leading is not the life he wants anymore and he's been willing to do what it takes to become "legit", not only in the way he earns money but in his relationship with Christ. I am being reminded how significant even baby-steps can be...

...but this is not the biggest thing that has hit me so far from my relationship with him...

...I think I have come (or am quickly getting there) to the conclusion that the cycle of poverty, speaking specifically about the United States because that is where I live, is virtually impossible for an individual to break unless someone else steps in to help. How can we tell someone who not only has nothing in his favor but actually has things stacked against him that he has to "get out there and make it happen"? So many people don't even have a way to "get out there". We are telling people to pick themselves up by their bootstraps when in fact THEY DON'T EVEN OWN BOOTS!

Sure, my friend made some bad choices but so did you. Last I checked, the meaning of grace is getting something you don't deserve and if I remember correctly, that is exactly what Christ has called the Church to be about. We as Christians must step in the gap and be that grace by finding ways to break the cycle of poverty. James (2:14-18) reminds us that it is no longer enough to simply say "Good luck!" or "I hope that works out for you." because acknowledging someone's need is not the same as helping him fill it. This is a perfect time of year for God to remind me of exactly this.

November 14, 2009

The Weight of it All

Have you ever taken a moment to think about the crushing weight of sin that is present in our lives? It is a humbling thing to experience even just a portion of this burden which can instantly paralyze. I'm not sure how someone could think about the impact of sin in his or her life and not feel the gut wrenching sickness that being held in its vice-grip can bring. Sin has a destructive force that we cannot overcome on our own, which many of us know and yet, we still try. It is impossible to stand up on our own under this crushing weight and yet, we still try, leaving us to piece a fragmented life back together.

I was thinking about this the other day and was humbled by how far short I fall in trying to be like Jesus. Humbled is just a watered down way of saying that I could relate with Paul when he says, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). I don't know about you but I am sick of sin in my life and the feelings of emptiness, guilt, and shame that come with it.

In steps Jesus.

Paul answers his own question, "Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25). Jesus fills our emptiness, erases our guilt, takes our shame. It is Him and only Him who is able to pull us out from under the weight of sin and allow us to be truly free and completely whole. The One who is willing and able to bear the weight of it all desires to do so for you and I. Sin doesn't have to weigh us down anymore.

November 11, 2009

The Avett Brothers

I just can't seem to get enough of these guys right now.

November 9, 2009

"rethink: Salvation"

This is the outline of my sermon from Sunday (11/8) around salvation. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions.


rethink: Salvation

A few weeks ago I gave a message challenging us to rethink a couple things, they were: sin, grace, church and evangelism. If you remember, the idea to "rethink" something is to either think about it again, as if maybe we haven’t thought about it in a while or to reconsider something in an entirely new way. I realized after having some conversations in the office over the past couple weeks that it's possible that not many of us ever think about salvation. We really don't use the word much, if at all and so I thought it might be good to rethink it.

I don't know where you are in your relationship with Christ but I would guess that you fit into one of these three generalized scenarios:

1. You would say that, for whatever reason, you do not have a relationship with Christ whatsoever. I'm also going to assume that you might be interested or at least open to the idea of what that might look like for you because you are sitting in a pew, in a church (or maybe reading my blog?).
2. You would say that you have a relationship with Christ but it is nominal at best. You could say that you are a Christian but that is about as far as it goes.
3. You would say that you have a relationship with Christ and that it is strong and growing as you attempt to be more and more like Him each day.

My hope is that regardless of whichever scenario you might consider yourself to be in, you will find some benefit from taking some time to think about salvation as I highlight these three points...

1. what Salvation saves us FROM
-Sin (Matthew 1:20-21; Romans 6:17-18)
*this is the power of sin over our lives
*we no longer have to be slaves to sin
*we can even be saved from the guilt of past sins
-Ourselves (1 John 1:8; Romans 3:23)
*in the first chapter of James he talks about a pattern of sin that starts with our own evil desires, which when full grown gives birth to....
-Death (Romans 6:23)
*notice the word "wage"...this is something we've earned
*this is a spiritual death that pervades every aspect of our lives: relationships, attitudes, and even our very soul

2. what Salvation saves us FOR
-Freedom (Galatians 5:1, 6; Matthew 11:28-30)
*each one of us clearly have things we need to be set free from
*Jesus is the only one that can truly set us free
-Now (2 Corinthians 6:1-2; Ephesians 2:1-10, 13; 3:17b-19)
*salvation is not some ticket to heaven that we simply hold onto while we sit in this "waiting room" we call life
*it saves us now to make an impact today
-Forever (Romans 6:22)
*it also saves us for eternity
*there is more to this than just the "here and now"
*salvation secures our eternity

3. what makes Salvation POSSIBLE
-Christ (Romans 3:22-24; John 3:17)
*the price that Jesus paid that day on the cross and His victory over death three days later
*the righteousness of Christ
-Faith (John 1:12; 3:16)
*not "good" works or being a "good" person because we'll never be good enough
*an act of faith that Christ really did pay the price for my sins
-Repentance (Acts 3:19; 1 John 1:9; Romans 10:9-10)
*which involves confessing we need a savior
*the idea of repentance is to turn in the opposite direction, to do a 180
*John Wesley said, "Whatever your sins might be, "though red like crimson," though more than the hairs of your head, "return to the Lord, and he will have mercy on you, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."
-Acceptance (Romans 6:23; Revelation 3:20)
*like any free gift, you have the option to accept or reject
*for some of you, Jesus may have been knocking on the door of your heart for some time
*the question you have to deal with is whether or not you will open the door and let Him in?

November 8, 2009

James 5

The 5th and final part of our five week study through the book of James. I have always enjoyed the book of James because it is short, to the point and extremely practical. I hope you have found this study to be helpful in some way as you spend some time studying this book of the Bible. Don't hesitate to share any questions, thoughts or comments you might have.

James 5

Vs 1-6: this passage is addressing issues of equality and fairness while keeping in mind the dangers of wealth and possessions. More than likely James is addressing rich non-believers as they abuse power and authority by taking advantage of others in order to maintain a certain level of living or lifestyle. (2:5-6) This also serves as a reminder to the believer not to get caught up in wealth or "things". (1 Tim. 6:10; Rom 12:1-2)

Vs 7-11: early and late rains remind us of the need for patience as we go through "seasons" in life that will eventually change (2 Pet 3:8-10). This is not a passive form of patience but rather James is calling us to action by having courage and strengthening our hearts which can bring about peace and justice. Grumbling against one another is not living in patience.

Vs 12: (Matt. 5:34-37) the oaths that James is talking about are oaths that people would make verbally and then back out of through some legal loophole. Similar to the fine print we come across in various legal documents, warranties, etc. This really becomes a matter of honesty and goes back to the words we use and the power of the tongue, as James mentioned in chapter 3.

Vs 13-18: prayer is a powerful tool in the good times and bad. Confession can bring about healing, as well as praying for each other. Looking back at 4:2-3, we see that our motives going into prayer really do make a difference.

Vs 19-20: the power that you and I have to bring back a lost believer is humbling and yet also a significant responsibility. (1 Tim 4:16)

November 6, 2009

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Extravagant Generosity

The fifth and final part in our series through the book by Robert Schnase entitled, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. The topic is Extravagant Generosity. If you have any thoughts you would like to share, comment below.

Extravagant Generosity

"The money talk" really likes to do it or have to listen to it. Part of me wonders if it's because we aren't really sure how to address the issue. Schnase says that generosity is how a Christian demonstrates his or her unselfishness in a way that makes a positive impact for Christ (112). I think giving should be talked about in a way that helps people see it is simply one aspect of what it means to follow Christ. "Growing in the grace of giving is part of the Christian journey of faith, a response Christian disciples offer to God's call to make a difference in the world" (Schnase, 107).

Giving of ourselves (time, treasure and talents) helps us prioritize our lives. Being willing to practice giving provides us with a perspective that is outside ourselves, that sees others needs before our own. Just as Jesus did. It also helps us value the things that are truly valuable, to make heavenly things our "treasure" (Matthew 6:19-24). Paul tells Timothy that generosity helps us to take hold of "the life that is truly life" (1 Timothy 6:6-19).

So often when we talk about money, we put a heavy emphasis on tithing. I wonder if we are missing the point by doing that. I'm not saying giving 10% is wrong or bad but I'm not quite convinced that is the model we should be shooting for. The word "tithe" doesn't really show up in the New Testament and yet clearly Jesus emphasized the importance of sacrificial giving. What would happen if we focused on the idea of sacrificial giving instead of a certain %? Jesus doesn't tell the rich young man to give 10%, instead He tells him to give all he has (Matthew 19:16-24). I'm thinking this might be another post for another time...

November 3, 2009

James 4

Week 4 of 5 in our study through James. Post your thoughts, questions or comments below.

James 4

Vs 1-6 "Friendship w/the World": notice that the conflicts are a result of what is inside us, the desires that lead us away and into sin against God and one another (1:14-15). Paul talks about this struggle in Romans 7:14-20. James goes on to talk about "wrong motives" and I can't help but wonder if this is something we should be challenged by when it comes to our prayer life. There is a strong statement made about friendship with the world and how it leads to becoming an enemy of God and the jealousy with which God desires to know us and us to know Him. What types of worldly things have you and I allowed to compromise our friendship with God?

Vs 2: in the Greek "conflict" = make war

Vs 3: in the Greek "wrongly" = badly, wickedly

Vs 7-10: one of my favorite passages of Scripture. We see another pattern here that James is presenting which leads to God lifting us up...submission > resisting the devil > drawing near to God > repentance > live with humility > God not only lifts but sustains. I LOVE the idea that you and I can actually resist the devil to the point of making him actually wanting to flee from us. This, of course, is not done on our own power but through the power of the Holy Spirit, helping us not only resist the devil but to draw near to God. The other idea I LOVE is that God would actually be willing to draw near to us. The thought that the pure and holy God would even want anything to do with me let alone come close to me is mind-blowing! We've got to ask ourselves what we are doing to draw near to God, it takes action. "Drawing near" is not a passive thing, it is a deliberate act. How deliberate are your acts of drawing near to God?

Vs 11-12: we are reminded again of the power and importance of our words. Again, how much hurt could be avoided if we would simply be "slow to speak" and "quick to listen".

Vs 13-16: we deceive ourselves if we ever think that our time is actually our own. As if somehow we could ever do anything to bring about or get back any moment. C.S. Lewis writes in his book The Screwtape Letters, "Man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift".

Vs 17: might be one of my favorite verses. Simple. Clear. Real.