Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Joy and Pain

Hebrews 12:2 "look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross..."

When we think about life and what we want to accomplish, we think of great things. Every couple walks down the isle thinking of the "happily ever after" type of marriage. People going into business for themselves think of all the money their going to make. Athletes dream of making the winning shot, or run for the TD when the seconds are ticking. Christians who think that everyday is going to be sunny and full blessings.

I don't think that there's anything wrong with these dreams and desires, but we must realize that a healthy and lasting marriage, success in business or athletics, or even a genuine walk of victorious faith comes with a great price. Even as a Pastors, my wife and I desire our ministry and the church to be effective and influential. But no matter what arena of life, success starts when we "look unto Jesus". Why? Because He's the one who is the author (giver) and finisher of our hopes and dreams, not ourselves. He is the one who has gifted us, positions us and gives purpose in life. It not only brings us fulfillment and joy, but it brings joy to Jesus as well.

BUT... before there is joy, there is always the cross, and we must endure it. What's the cross? The cross is sacrifice, it's struggle, work, painful learning through experiences, fighting discouragement, working through fears, overcoming lack and conditions that aren't favorable. When we're not directly under the weight of the cross, we tell ourselves: "I understand that... no pain, no gain". However, when we actually undergo the pain of the cross, we forget "the joy set before us". 

What's going to allow us to endure the cross? Joy... the same joy and dreams that launched us on the journey in the first place. When my wife and I have a conflict, I know that if we work through it, we will be another step closer to a healthier marriage. Keeping our joy before us is a God given way for us to endure the weight of the cross. Jesus kept the joy of restoring us before Him. His love compelled Him to finish the mission He was sent to do.

Regardless if the pain and struggle you're in, look to Jesus. Remember: He places that gift and dream in your heart. He's preparing you for what's ahead. Everyone will face the cross... but keep you're eyes on Jesus, and keep reminding yourself of the joy that waits on the other side.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Don't Be A Typical Christian

John 17:15 - "I'm not asking You [God] to take them out of the world... "

This is just one line out of an entire chapter that records Jesus praying. Just to know that Jesus prayed for us is amazing; you should read it some time... Anyhow, the part that stood out to me was this statement: "I'm not asking you to take them out of the world..."

It's really funny to think about how Christians live their lives. I can remember that when I decided to be a follower of Christ, the church I attended taught: "Now that you're a Christian, you need to stop hanging out with your non-christian friends, stop listening to non-christian music, don't participate in non-christian activities like school dances." My parents wouldn't even let me go to the movie theaters to watch any movies because they were non-christian.

In the 80's (their back by the way), Christian schools, christian music, christian clothing, christian TV and christian bumper stickers became big. Now, I'm only guessing, but what was the motive behind that? Was it because the "world" was enemy? Was it such a dark and evil place, that we had to remove ourselves from these influences?

Sad to say, many of the christian who grew up with such teaching find themselves today not having any relationships or connections with anyone who isn't a christian. So the thought of bringing your non-christian friends to church is difficult for them because they don't know any. Statistically, less than 3% of American churches are growing. Some say it's because the preacher isn't charismatic enough, or the music isn't up to date... what about the fact that most christian people have removed themselves from a natural mission field... the world. Our schools, our work place, the neighborhoods, the ball games, the bowling leagues... these are the places that Jesus has called us to be an influence. (BTW - not everyone who goes to christian schools, has a christian bumper sticker on their car, or wears a christian t-shirt is a christian)

Look around you, in all the arenas of your life. There are people, and no matter what they may be involved with, or the lifestyle they live; all of them are loved by God and He desires that they would know the reality of who He is. God isn't sending angels to their door once a week to tell them about Jesus. God has called us to be people of influence in this world. Don't pull out of the world and the circles of people who don't believe like you or talk like you. Be in their world... just a God came to ours through Jesus Christ. You may have to deliberately go and introduce yourself to people you don't know. You see them at the gym, the grocery store, school, at your kids soccer games or favorite resturaunt. Invite new people out for coffee or to the house for a BBQ. Double date for dinner and a movie... don't take yourself out of the world!

A Reconciled Life

2 Corinthians 5:19 "God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ..."

I don't know if I will ever fully understand the depth of this verse. The simple part of this is that God desired to have restored relationship with us, His most precious of all creation. Think of reconciling in terms of your finances, like our checkbook (for many it's online banking... I'm still old school). The purpose of reconciling your account is to make sure that your records balance with the what the bank has on record. This keeps things in sync and helps avoid being over drawn.

The part that is so overwhelming with this verse is that God took it upon Himself to balance our life... not me balancing it. Before the days of online banking, one would take their bank statement from the mailbox and open their check book and go line by line to make sure that everything was accounted for. Sometimes a check would be forgotten and the two seperate records would not reconcile. You would rack your brain trying to recount where you've been and what you spent your money on. Some people didn't bother keeping track at all, and would open up their bank statement and would find themselves either pleasantly surprised by the amount of money they had or fearful of what they didn't have.

God could have put the weight of responsibility on us (our records) to reconcile with Him, but He reconciled our life with Himself... His records with His records. God understood that we were dead in our sins, and had no idea how "over drawn" we were, and provided a way to make us reconcile with Him; the life of Jesus Christ. As real as this is, some people still try to reconcile their life with God by their own means: acts of kindness, trying to be good people, not get into too much trouble, etc. All these thing aren't sufficent to reconcile us with God. Basically, they reject God's gift and plan of settling accounts by relying on their own records and methods.

I know I'm not God, but if I were... I would be sad, frustrated, angry and frankly insulted at the rejection such an act of kindness that was made available through my Son Jesus Christ. I find myself trying to be self-sufficient at times, paying no attention to what "debts of sin" I have built up. These include words spoken, attitudes, being rude and causing hurt in peole, in my anger reacting wrongly.

Where would I be without God's love for me? I can't even imagine the questions and fears I would have hoping and praying that I've done enough to make things right with God. He removed all doubts by giving His Son Jesus Christ to die for my sins. And to think that all I have to do is acknowledge and repent of my sins and confess Jesus as the Savior of my soul. To devote everyday of my life in humility and faith in Christ Jesus. That's too much for me to comprehend. Thank God for His love for me!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The View

Romans 12:1-2  " view of God's mercy... be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will."

Being a parent is a challenge. If you're a parent, you understand that. The greatest weight of responsibility I feel I have as a parent is to train my two girls to become all that God has intended them to be. I want the best for them, even when I'm not around. When I look at the day to day activities, I can run myself ragged if all I'm doing is addressing their actions, conversations, attitudes... trying to keep them on the 'right road'.

The reality is that I only have about 8 to 10 years left before I lose my years of influence and training. As they grow up, their seasons of life bring new challenges for me as a parent. I've come to believe that my greatest priority is to shape and influence their mind. Either I'm going to be giving them fish for 18 years, or I'm going to teach them how to fish. Their life is going to go beyond the days they have in our home, but my influence can go with them everyday of their life.

The church really is the sum of God's children, He is our father. To think that God is going to chase us everyday of our lives trying to correct every action, blow the whistle on bad attitudes, and slap our hands when we do the wrong things... even God doesn't have enough time or energy to do that everyday. Many people have this view of God.

As I get older, I realize that my view of what my parents did for me they did with the motive of love. It humbles me and gives me greater appreciation and love for what they did. When was the last time we stepped back and took a different view of what God has done in our life? How long has it been that since we've taken inventory of God's mercy and reminded ourselves that He desires His good, pleasing perfect will for us?

The view I have will determines what I think. If I keep His point of view, I can be transformed in my mind. And if my mind is transformed, I can experience His best in my life!

Lord thank you for your love and mercy. Help correct my vision and mold my heart to be transformed by seeing what you see. Teach me to walk each day of my life with eyes of mercy for those around me. Amen.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Beauty of Our Scars

Today was a great day (minus the Seahawk loss to the 49ers)... our services were incredible. Several people made decisions to GET UP from failures; past and present, asking for God's forgiveness and forgiving themselves. I cannot tell you how exciting it is to look into the eyes of people who experience the reality of God. They look alive, as if a weight has been dropped or they just took their first breath.

I also performed a wedding this evening as well. It was one of the most enjoyable times I've had at a wedding. I had a chance to meet a particular gentlemen and we just seemed to click. He played basketball professionally for six years and grew up in New Jersey. Our conversation led to some personal exchanges that allowed me to bring some words of encouragement to this man. He grew up in a home where the family were devoted Catholics. He expressed hurts and rejection that impacted he and his siblings... feelings of rejection and disappointment. This was 25 years ago... and it still hurts.

I met another who once was a youth pastor and music director on staff in a church located not too far from ours a little over 10 years ago. He saw some things that caused him to really question church and was accused of something he did not do. Now he lives in California and has nothing to do with church at all. What got me was that he had journaled his experience (hundres of pages), the things that caused great hurt and pain. As he was sharing he had to stop himself because that hurt was still impacting him today.

Luke 22:32 - But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthenyour brothers.

You never know who God is going to bring into our intersections of life. Today I referenced the apostle Peter and the account of his denying of Jesus. Peter was told that satan was wanting to sift him as wheat and that Jesus was praying for Peter, :that his faith may not fail..." not that he wouldn't follow through with the denials, but that his faith wouldn't fail. Jesus continued to tell him "...when you turn back, strengthen your brothers."

Our scars in life have a story, and our scars connect with others who are experiencing the same things. The beauty of our scars is that people can identify with the pain, and find hope because we were able to get up from those failures. People want to get up from the hurts and failures, but sometimes don't know how to do it. We become of greater value because of our scars. They makes us human and real, and they make God and His love more real to them too.

Many times what we think are set backs in our lives literally become platforms of favor to minister the reality of God to others. You never know who God is bringing your way, nor what God is able to do with our failures... they can even become beautiful!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

TGIS - Thank God It's Sunday

This week has been a blur! So many things happened that seemed so diverse. Our youngest daughter started kindergarten, our oldest turned 9 years old (last year in the single digits), girls sleep over, building project details, a funneral, a wedding, date with my wife, two opportunities of sharing Christ with strangers, a hospital visit, going through my mom's stuff at home, watching the memorial service, wrestling with God in prayer for so many different things...

Instead of looking forward to a scheduled vacation, I truly am looking forward to church tomorrow! Although some may consider it a (or the only) 'work day' for pastors, as a person I still consider it my Sabbath. A day I get to come together with others to worship God, not just do or go to church. I get to find rest and be strengthened in my heart, not just do my Christian duty. I get to be encouraged by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, not just be told what to do if I want to make God happy. I truly love Sundays and can honestly say it's one of the highlights of my week!

I can't imagine what it would be like to not have a church that I loved to be apart of. Even more so, a church that I just worked at and not find desireable. Each week I feel refreshed by God's Spirit, and inspired as people experience the reality of God in ways that impact their everyday lives. Seeing people connect with other people and forming life-long relationship that want God's best for each other.

Angie and I feel blessed to have a church like this we call home. Even more blessed to pastor such an amazing group of people who are discovering Christ, growing in Him and excited to tell others of all that Jesus has and is doing in their life!

See Sunday...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Living My Potential

John 10:10 The theif does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it [life] more abundantly.

One of my greatest desires and prayers is: "God, help me live my life fulfilling my potential, living my destiny." Satan doesn't want me to live my life to the fullest, because if I did; it would give evidence to the fact that there is a God, and that there is a purpose for life bigger than myself. So he (satan), will do anything and everything to keep you from an abundant life.

Let's classify these stumbling blocks as problems; financial difficulties, marriage issues, addictions, stressful situations, opposition to a process, etc. These problems will want to lead us to discouragement, fear, isolation, hopelessness, etc. We can run from these problems or try to navigate our lives down the road of least resistance. It's easier, less complicated and far more comforting to take this position, but our full potential in life is lived out as we face these problems. God is able to take the intended stumbling blocks and use them as stepping stones to grow and enable us to reach our potential.

Consider these thoughts:
1. Problems are everywhere and everybody has some.  It's easy to find problems... most people just complain or tolerate them, and few give themselves to try to solve them.

2. Our perspective of the problem, not the problem itself, usually determines our success or failure. There were two men who sold shoes for different companies who were being sent to the same remote island. The first man got off the plane and called his company and said; "there is a problem, nobody here even where shoes, I'm coming home." The second man got off the plane and phoned his company and said; "Triple the order, everybody here needs shoes!"

3. The size of the person is more important than the size of the problem. A person will rise to the challenge or run from it based upon the heart within them. Big people overcome big obstacles.

4. Problems can actually advance us forward. Whether it's a personal problem, a business issue or a challenge that society faces; when we give ourselves to overcome the problems it can add value to us and others.

What problems have caused you to shrink back? What seems to be a problem that limits you can actually be the catalyst that launches you to another level of life!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What If I Fall?

The life of Peter, one of Jesus' disciples, is a great encouragement to me. He literally became a pioneer to today's church in spite of his enormous flaws and failures. Even when Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him three times by days end, Peter still messed up. He even declared to Jesus that he would go to prison and even die for Jesus instead of denying Him.

This weekend at Faith Family Church we introduced new series entitled GET UP! All of us fail or 'fall short' in life. At times it sounds like a cop-out or a statement that's used as a larger than life eraser... attempting to make excuses for the choices we make.

When I read about the dialogue between Peter and Jesus, I have to ask myself..."How would I handle this?"
How would I handle Jesus telling me that I'm going to fail?
Isn't He suppose to keep me from failing?
How would I react?
Would I discredit His words?
Could I accept it?
What would it say of my faith or commitment to Jesus if I accepted this word and tried not to fail?
Probably the most difficult one...
If I accepted the fact that I'm going to fail in life, why do I try so hard not to fail?

I'm not one who handles failures well. I have expectation of myself, and feel that others are depending on me to not fail. My wife doesn't want to see me fail, neither do my friends, my church, etc... How do I process this? One things stands out to me is amazing truth... Jesus knows that I will fall and He still gives Himself fully to me!
He loves me the same, (others may not)
His plans for my life are still good, (others might)
heaven isn't off limits, (relationship with others may)
He doesn't treat me any differently... (other would)
He doens't change! But I do :)