Unity in the Church

In John chapter 17, Jesus knows that the time is coming for Him to go to the cross. And we see Him praying to the Father in this section of scripture. He prays for Himself as He seeks to glorify God in what is about to happen, He prays for His disciples because He knows how important this time is going to be for each of them, and He prays for believers: those who were and also all those that ever will be.

This section of scripture is powerful when you read and listen to the words that Jesus Himself prayed to the Father. If you aren’t familiar with it, I would encourage you to read the entire chapter. But it’s His prayer for ALL believers that I want to highlight in this blog. 

In John 17:21, Jesus says: “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.”

God’s desire for His people is that we would be ONE. That we would love and care for one another with grace and mercy. That we would be able to live together in unity regardless of our theological differences. The truth is, the Bible is complex and no one can interpret it perfectly. We’re going to disagree on certain things, but we can’t let those things keep us from being ONE.

There’s an old saying: “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.” What it basically means is that there are some things that we, as followers of Christ, have to be unified in. The fact that Jesus is the Son of God who came and died for our sins and rose from the grave so that we might have life—that’s one of those essentials. But there are many things that aren’t essentials, that we as believers get hung up on and it causes unnecessary division.

I love that I live in a community where all of the churches and pastors I know don’t get caught up on our theological differences. We put aside those non-essentials, because we realize that we are better together. We know that we are more effective when we walk in unity as ONE. 

I’m excited that many of the churches and pastors in our community are closing the doors of our specific churches this week to gather as ONE Church at the High School football stadium. This is what Jesus prayed would be happening among believers: that instead of promoting our individual agendas, we would come together as ONE to lift Jesus up and see His will be done. Lord, let this simply be the beginning of what You’re doing to create ONE Church in our community!

The Great Shepherd

I had my first experience with death when I was 11 years old. My great grandma passed away after a short bout with cancer. At her graveside service, my grandma asked if I would recite Psalm 23. It was a chapter of scripture I had memorized in school and my grandma said she knew it would have meant so much to great grandma for me to share it at her service.

This week, Stacy and I received the devastating news that her father had passed away unexpectedly. It hit us all hard, but we’ve found comfort in knowing that he loved the Lord and is in His presence. One of the blessings of knowing Jesus is knowing that we will get to see him again.

As I was praying and processing this loss, the Lord reminded me of reading Psalm 23 at my great grandma’s service. It’s such a powerful Psalm that reminds us of the goodness of the Great Shepherd. And for my blog this week, I felt led to simply share this Psalm:

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

These verses remind us that God provides, He gives us rest, He helps us experience peace, He restores our wearied souls, He is with us in the dark valleys, He comforts, He blesses and He is waiting to welcome us into His presence forever.

We have a Great Shepherd who loves us and cares for us. He is with us here on this earth as we navigate the challenges of living in a falling world. And He continues to prepare a place for those who love Him to dwell forever and ever.

Turn Things Around

I’m not sure about you, but I know I go through seasons where I feel like I’m just spinning in circles—where I feel like I just keep hitting a brick wall. The reality is, we’re all human and we’re all susceptible to failure. And over the years I’ve discovered a few practices to help turn things around.

First, we have to admit that what we’re doing isn’t working. As a father, I’ve watched numerous animated movies over the years when my kids were young. And I remember a scene from the “Bee Movie” where the main character, a bee, tries to get out of a house by flying right through a closed window. He obviously didn’t know what glass was and kept smacking into it again and again. And each time he would say, “Maybe, this time!” Only to smack into the glass once again. 

I think this is a great analogy of all of us at times, when we keep trying the same thing over and over again to no avail. We have to stop doing the same thing and expecting different results. I believe that’s what Albert Einstein referred to as insanity. If we want to turn things around, we have to admit that what we’re doing isn’t working. 

Then the second step is to relinquish control. I’m sure most of us have heard the old Carrie Underwood song “Jesus Take the Wheel”. I know I often joke about that song and sing it loud and off key trying to be funny, but that’s what all of us really need to do. We need to admit that what we’re doing isn’t working and let Jesus take the wheel. Because Jesus is the one that actually turns things around.

And then the final step as we give God control is OBEDIENCE. God created us, He knows us better than we know ourselves. David tells us in Psalm 139:13 – For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. God knew us before we were ever born and He has a plan for each of our lives. And if we want to turn things around we have to be willing to obey His commands.

God wants to see us succeed. He wants to help us navigate the ups and downs and challenges this life brings. And when we find ourselves smacking into the glass, we must give God control and walk in obedience because that’s how we’re able to turn things around.

Lets Keep Moving

As a pastor, I have people who come to me hoping I can tell them what God wants them to do with their life. And I can tell you in all honesty, I have never had an answer for them. My normal response is that they really need to seek and hear God for themselves. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if God would give us a detailed map or step by step instructions of where we need to go and what we need to do? Unfortunately, this isn’t how God works. Instead, what He gives us is more like a compass with a general heading and, as we begin to step out in faith, He gently guides us and makes corrections along the way. 

The key, though, is that we’re moving. We serve a God of movement. The question is: Are we moving with Him? I’ve heard it said that you can’t steer a parked car. You can turn the steering wheel all you want, but it isn’t going anywhere if the wheels aren’t rolling. So sometimes we just have to get our tires rolling so God can guide us to where He wants us to go. 

We see a great example of this in Acts 14:6-10. Take a look at these verses: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

Here we see Paul and his team try to go several different places and the Lord redirects them. The key is that they were moving. They were going until God said stop but when He stopped them from going one direction, they didn’t stop moving. They just changed the direction of their movement until they received clear direction from the Lord. 

Some might look at these scriptures and say they were heading in the wrong direction. But I actually think if they hadn’t been on the move to begin with, they might not have ever made it to Macedonia.

I have had situations in my life where I have stepped out thinking God was calling me in one direction, only to find out it was just a catalyst to get me to where He actually wanted me in the first place. And the funny, or maybe even sad, thing is…I probably wouldn’t have ever gone that direction had I known where I was going to end up. 

Sometimes things seem too challenging or scary at the start, but God uses the journey along the way to prepare us for the destination. This is one of the amazing things I’ve discovered when it comes to following Jesus: the journey is as important as the destination. So, let’s keep moving!

Letting Jesus Into Our Boat

One of my favorite stories in the Bible when I was young was the story of the great catch. I had a children’s Bible that had pictures of some of the stories and I remember the picture of Peter and some of the disciples struggling to pull these nets full of fish into their boats.

If you know the story, you know that this isn’t the way the story had started for the disciples. In Luke 5, we read that they had fished all night and hadn’t caught a thing. But then later that morning, at a time that wasn’t really optimal for fishing, they pull in the catch of their lives. What was different? What changed the outcome?

As you read this encounter in Luke 5, I think you’ll discover a couple things that led to this amazing catch. The first is the fact that Peter let Jesus into his boat. In Luke 5:3 it says: “He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon.” I believe if we want to experience miracles in our lives, it starts with letting Jesus into our boat.

After they let Jesus into their boat, they did what He told them to do. They let down their nets. The fact is Peter and these other disciples were fisherman: this wasn’t their first time out on a boat. They knew that this time when Jesus was telling them to cast their nets wasn’t an optimal time for fishing. 

I’d guess that many of the disciples, if not all of them, thought He was crazy. After all, they had fished in these same waters all night and caught nothing. But they did what Jesus told them to do: they let down their nets and ended up experiencing the catch of their lives.

I wonder how often we feel like the fishermen that morning, when they had fished all night and caught nothing? I wonder how many of us feel like that more often than we want to admit: trying and trying, again and again, and continuing to come up short.

As I mentioned, I believe that experiencing miracles in our lives starts with letting Jesus into our boat. And after we let Him into our boat, we then need to do what He tells us to do. This is the key to experiencing His will and way for our lives. It’s how we too will experience the miracles.

Lord, help us to make sure we’re allowing You into our boat and that we’re listening to Your voice and doing whatever it is You’re asking us to do. Help us experience the miracles You have for us!

The Freedom to Surrender

This Monday is the 4th of July: a day we celebrate our independence as a country; a day we reflect on the freedoms that we have in this country. I served in the United States Marine Corps years ago and made a commitment to fight for those freedoms. 

I am thankful for the freedoms that we are able to experience in this nation: freedoms that many people all over the world don’t get to experience. But it’s good to remember that our freedoms can also create a challenge for us as followers of Christ. And the challenge is to not allow the freedoms we have to keep us from surrendering our lives to the Lord.

As a Recon Marine, we had a little motto: “Never surrender, never give up.” To surrender meant giving up and that’s something Marines see as weakness. But as followers of Jesus, we’re called to surrender our lives to God. We actually give up our rights to follow Him and His will for our lives.

One of the things that I’ve seen our freedom do is cause us to believe that the world revolves around us. We often believe that our freedoms give us the right to do whatever WE want. And the truth is, that might not seem wrong from the view of a non-believer. But as followers of Jesus, we’re called to put others first.

In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul tells us: “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” As I look at all that’s going on in our nation today, I’m not seeing a lot of humility. And most people only seem to care about their own interests.

Freedom is an amazing thing, but we can’t let the freedoms our nation affords us keep us from living the life that God calls us to live. God calls us to a life of love and grace: a life where we put Him and others first; a life that isn’t focused on ourselves, but rather focused on loving and caring for others.

As we celebrate this 4th of July, my prayer is that we remember the freedoms that God has given all of us: freedoms that allow us to love one another; freedoms that allow us to even love our enemies. May we remember His freedoms and surrender to His will and way for our lives.

God’s Plan For Our Lives

If you’ve spent any amount of time in church, you’ve probably heard the words, “God has a plan for your life.” And I think the big question for all of us is: Do we believe this? It sounds good and many of us may want to believe it, but do we?

Then, if we don’t really believe it, I guess the follow up question would be: Why not? If we’re honest with ourselves, many of us struggle with shame and insecurities. We don’t think we’re good enough to be used by God and we lack the confidence to step out in faith.

If I’m honest, this is the real reason I didn’t think I’d ever be a senior pastor. I struggled with the fact that I hadn’t gone to Bible college…that I hadn’t gone to any college for that matter. I didn’t think I had what it took to be a senior or lead pastor. I didn’t think it was in my DNA, so to speak.

But I’ve learned that “God doesn’t call the qualified—He qualifies the called.” In other words, He gave me direction and provision and even the skills required each time I took a step forward in obedience to do the things He placed in my heart. He knows me better than I know myself and He knew that His plan was for me to be a senior pastor. 

Now, not all of us are called to be pastors vocationally, but God does have a plan for our lives. He created each of us uniquely for specific purposes.  In Psalm 139:13-14, David says, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” (NLT)

God created each of us in such a wonderful and complex way. He knows us better than we know ourselves and we will never be all that God desires us to be until we embrace that truth. 

None of us are perfect: all of us have flaws and weaknesses. God knows that and He isn’t bothered by any of them. As a matter of fact, He tells us that His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. And when we step forward in obedience, even when we feel unqualified or unskilled or weak, He takes what we’re able to give and multiplies it for His Glory as He shines through us in ways we never imagined.

Lord, help us to embrace the calling You have on our lives. Help us to realize that we were fearfully and wonderfully made: that You made us the way we are so that we can fulfill Your plan for our lives and for the world around us. 

The Perfect Father

This Sunday is Father’s Day. A day that brings different emotions for each of us. As a son who has an amazing father who has helped me become the man and father I am today—I have wonderful and positive feelings about Father’s Day. But I know others who didn’t have positive experiences with their father or who grew up without a father. For them, Father’s Day can be painful and discouraging.

Romans 8:14-15 tells us: “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

I’m not sure how each of us feels about Father’s Day and I’m not sure if this idea of God as our heavenly Father is encouraging or challenging. But as we approach this weekend, I hope that we all come to an understanding of God the Father’s love for all of us.

I believe we were created with this desire to experience God’s love. He is a perfect Father Who wants to love us and care for us in all the ways our earthly fathers fall short. He wants us to know and to understand the unconditional love that He has for us.

So, my prayer for all of us this weekend is that we can acknowledge our Heavenly Father and give thanks to Him for being the perfect, loving, kind, and just Father.

Understanding Our Value

I was recently talking to someone about the current housing market. It totally blows my mind what houses are selling for these days. I don’t understand the varied prices people are willing to pay for houses, vehicles, and different types of collectibles. Something might be worth one amount to one person, but to another person it could be worth a lot more. The value really is dependent on what someone is willing to pay.
 
It’s crazy to think about the true value of something. I’ve heard it said that the value of something is really based off two things: First, what someone is willing to pay for it; and secondly, who owned it in the past.
 
I have an old family friend who used to restore old Chevelles. He would fix them up and sell them at this big auction down in Arizona. I remember one time, when I was in high school, Reggie Jackson bought one of his cars. (For those of you who don’t know, Reggie Jackson is a Hall of Fame baseball player who played for the Yankees in the 70’s and 80’s.) 
 
I thought it was so cool that Reggie Jackson bought his car. The crazy thing is, Reggie turned around and sold that same car in the auction the next day for almost double what he paid for it. What made this car so much more valuable in a single day? It was the fact that it had now been “owned” by Reggie Jackson.
 
So, as we think about this idea of what makes something valuable, how does that affect our value? Think about it: How much was someone willing to pay for us and who’s name is stamped on our life? 1 Corinthians 7:23 tells us: “You have been bought and paid for by Christ, so you belong to him…” (TLB)
 
We have been bought and paid for by Christ! And that price was huge. He paid the highest price anyone could ever pay: He paid with His life. And He did this so that we could once again be His—we belong to Him. We belong to the King. This makes us more valuable than anything else in this world. I know at times we can look at our lives and fail to see our own value, but Jesus sees our value. And His unconditional love for each of us is what gives us that value.
 
Lord, help us to understand our value and seek to live our lives in a way that brings glory to You.

What’s My Motivation?

In Acts 8, we see the story of Simon the sorcerer. In this passage, Simon apparently believed the gospel and had been baptized, but it’s obvious he didn’t get it. He wanted what the disciples had, he wanted to be able to lay hands on people and see them receive the Holy Spirit. But why? 

We see Peter call him out in this chapter and realize he desired these things for all the wrong reasons. He wanted the power for himself, to make himself look good. His motives were all wrong. The question is: Am I any different? Why do I seek the things I seek? Why do I do the things I do? Is it for me? Is it to make me look good? 

The Bible tells us that all things were created by God, for God. I think many of us believe that first part, but often forget or leave out the second part. We like things to be for us. It’s hard for us to face the fact that this world doesn’t revolve around us. So, the question is: Am I living my life with this truth in mind? Am I living my life for God or am I living it for myself? What’s my motivation? 

The more I look at our world, the more I see the desire for self. It’s all about our wants and desires and our motives are all out of whack. I want my motivation to be pure. I want to be someone who truly seeks the power of the Holy Spirit to bring glory to God as opposed to bringing glory to myself. I want to come to a point where I can honestly say everything I’m about and all that I do is motivated by my love for Christ and nothing else.

Lord, search my heart, know my ways. Show me any of my motives that are wrong and help me to make them right. May I always seek to glorify You over self.