Risky Business

Whether we realize it or not, living our lives for Jesus is a risky business. Yes, God is good and yes, we can experience His many blessings. But the fact that we’re called to “take up our cross daily” reminds us that living our lives fully for Him involves risk.

Those that know me, know that I love to quote Pastor Ron Mehl. And one of my favorite quotes of his is this: “If what we’re doing isn’t bigger than us, then we’re outside the will of God.” When I first heard this quote, it really made me think. But the truth is why would God (who created us for relationship with Him) call us to something that we could do on our own?

God calls us to step out and to take risks because He wants us to learn how to trust in Him. He has promised to never leave us and reminds us over and over in His Word that He is a firm foundation for us. The problem is that we often times allow fear to keep us from stepping out, as if every result is on our shoulders.

This week in my message I actually reference the Israelites as they were being called to leave Egypt. Many of them were afraid to leave Egypt. This fear of the unknown and the risks of what they might face paralyzed them and caused them to want to choose a life of slavery over the Promised Land that God had for them.

Do we trust that God is good and that He is calling us to something bigger than ourselves? And are we willing to step out and take hold of it? We aren’t called to be people who play it safe. We’re called to be people who live our lives for Jesus: people who live beyond ourselves and embrace the seemingly risky business of following Him! Because, in the end, we know that all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

Lord, help us not to be controlled by fear. Help us not rely upon our own control, strength, and understanding, but to remember instead that You are a firm foundation. And help us to trust in You and Your good and pleasing will for our lives.

New Every Morning

This week, I’ve watched the parking lot at our church transform from an old lot full of pot holes and cracks with faint lines that you could barely see to a brand-new lot with fresh pavement and crisp, beautiful lines.

It’s amazing the difference between how it was before and how it is now. And as I looked out the window admiring the new look, I was reminded of how God desires to make us new.

Often times our sin and failures cause us to feel a lot like my churches old lot—run down and in need of some help. But God is willing and able to come alongside us and make us new.

Lamentations 3 tells us that His mercies are new every morning. It doesn’t matter what sins or failures we struggled with the day before, if we confess them and give them to Him, He will take them away and make us new.

As I look at the new parking lot, I can’t help but smile at how nice and new it looks. But the fact is…it can’t even compare to the feeling of a new day in and through Christ.

Lord, we thank You for Your mercies, we thank You for the grace that You so freely give. May we grab hold of the new day You have for each of us!

Stop and Listen

A question I’m asked often as a pastor is: “How do you hear the voice of God?” It’s a great question and actually an easy one to answer—“Take time to stop and listen.”

We live in a world that never stops. We are continually bombarded with one thing after another. There is so much chaos and noise all around us that it seems impossible to hear any voice, especially that still, small voice.

Which is why we must be intentional about taking time to stop and listen. 

I think most of us want to hear God’s voice. We want to do what He’s calling us to do. But the reason many of us fail to hear God’s voice is because we don’t slow down enough to listen.

This reality forces us to ask the question: “What’s most important to us?” We want to hear God’s voice, but we don’t make time for it. Everything else in our lives seems to take precedence. What does this say about the importance of God in our life?

I know most of us have a hero or person in this world that we would love to meet someday. Whether it’s a sports star, a movie star, a famous singer, a favorite evangelist, or someone else. Who is that person that comes to your mind?

If we got a phone call today telling us that this person was going to be in town and wanted to meet us for breakfast tomorrow at 6am, I’m pretty sure we would cancel any other plans we had and be there. We would get up as early as possible to look our best and probably even arrive 30 minutes early. Why? Because it’s something that would be important to us.

The crazy thing is, the Creator of the universe desires to meet with us daily. Are we willing to make time for Him? Are we willing to slow down a little and take time to stop and listen to what He wants to say?

I know that my days are filled with important responsibilities, commitments, and activities. But my time with God should be the most important thing on my calendar, because everything else is meant to flow out of this. If I want to hear His voice, I need to make sure I’m taking time to stop and listen to what He has to say.

Looking Out for One Another

Philippians 2:3-4 tells us: “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

The sad thing is, this is so opposite of the world we live in today. The culture of our day says, “It’s all about me!” It’s about my wants, my needs, and my interests. But I’m so thankful this is not true when it comes to the people in our church.

Because of the unexpected passing of my wife’s dad, she ended up being gone for over a month and I was gone for two weeks myself. During that time, numerous people stepped up to help and take care of things while we were gone.

We had people drop off meals when my wife first left. We received numerous calls, texts and emails from others willing to help in whatever way possible. For Sunday services, many others stepped up and filled holes that were left by me and my family being gone.

It was such a blessing to see the church be the church: To see people do what Paul talks about there in Philippians 2 and put the interest of others above their own. 

I’m so thankful for all who helped and offered to help over this past month. We are so encouraged by their love and generosity. And we are so blessed to have a church that lives and loves so selflessly!

The Goodness of God

If you’ve known me for any time at all, you know that I’m a huge TobyMac fan. Now if you don’t know who TobyMac is, you’re missing out. He’s a Christian music artist that I’ve been listening to for 34 years: first when he was with DCTalk in the late 80’s and then as a solo artist since 2002.

This past month, Toby released a new album and one of the songs on his album is simply titled: THE GOODNESS. Now when you listen to the song, you realize right away that he’s referring to God. One of the main lines in the song says: “Lord, You make me wanna shout it, oh—You’re the goodness in my life.”

At church, we say God is good, all the time…And I hear some of you replying back, and all the time God is good. But the question is: Do we actually believe that? To hear this song written by TobyMac says a lot if you know his story.

In October of 2019, he and his wife lost their firstborn son at the age of 21. I can’t imagine what that must have been like. Toby talks about the pain and grief that his family has gone through and how hard it’s been for them at times to deal with this reality. But through it all, he believes in the goodness of God.

This song has resonated with me and my family as we mourn and grieve the passing of Stacy’s father. It hurts and some mornings it’s hard to get out of bed, but I realize it hasn’t changed the truth that I’ve come to understand—That God is good.

We live in a fallen, broken world and Jesus told us that we would face heartaches and trials, but He reminds us that He will never leave us or forsake us. As we go through the difficulties, He is right there with us, embracing us and comforting us as we need it.

I’m so thankful for His goodness in my life. It’s because of that goodness, that I know He’s with me. It’s because of that goodness that I can rejoice and be glad that this earth is not the end. Toby’s son and Stacy’s dad are experiencing the GOODNESS of God like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. Lord, thank you so much for Your goodness!

Turning Towards the Son

I was out of town this past week and our Children’s Pastor shared a devotional with our church. It was a good reminder that we need to keep our eyes on Jesus. I decided to share it with you here on my blog. I hope it encourages you:

One of my favorite things about summer in Oregon are the sunflowers. Since I enjoyed them so much, I bought some seeds and planted them along my fence a few years ago. Every year these giant beauties will grow taller than my fence, getting the attention of my neighbors. I love watching them grow and seeing bees reap the benefits of these amazing flowers. Last year, my neighbor mentioned that bees, when they are far from the hive in the evening, will actually sleep in the blossom of a sunflower. This made me love and appreciate sunflowers even more! 

One of the ways that I connect deeply with God is through nature and the sunflower is no exception. I love watching the growing flower heads turn so that they will receive the most possible sun. This made me think about us as human beings. We are created for relationship with God, and with others. In order for us to grow to our fullest potential, to be of utmost benefit, we need to be facing Him. And to do that, we need to be following Him. This is an active process for a sunflower that happens every day, starting by facing the east at sunrise, following the sun to the west for sunset, and then returning to face the east before the next morning. 

This is a great image for us of what our relationship with God should look like: starting and finishing the day by facing Him through prayer and scripture, and following Him throughout the day in rhythms of grace and thanksgiving. In this intimate following and growing process, God uses each of us for a very specific purpose in His plan. 

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” -Ephesians 2:10

We have work to do, but we can’t do it unless we following the One who created us. Our growing and giving process will continue until we meet Jesus face to face. This is seen in the life of the sunflower as well. Sunflowers only stop following the sun when they reach maturity, this is also the time when they cease being maximally beneficial, culminating in the final act of sacrifice by dispersing seeds to continue their work. Until that day, though, we, much like the sunflower, will continue to grow and bless others by following and keeping our eyes on Jesus.

Remaining Humble and Teachable

This past week I talked about humility in my sermon. It’s a word that continues to come up in conversation a lot these days. And it just “happened” to be the topic of a weekly email devotion I received this week from a pastor’s website I subscribe to. 

The devotional started off with a phrase I’ve heard before—Be humble or you’ll stumble. It comes from Proverbs 16:18 which says: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Often times the more we grow in knowledge and understanding of something the more prideful we become. We think we know more and thus become more powerful or prestigious, I guess.

But the reality is, the more we grow in wisdom and knowledge, the more humble we should become. Truly wise people are people that remain humble. And that’s because they realize that humility and teachability go hand in hand.

As we grow in our knowledge and understanding of the Lord, it shouldn’t make us think we’re better than those who don’t have our knowledge and understanding. Instead, it should help us to realize how much more we have to learn and grow as we look to our perfect Savior and see the example He set for us.

Humility begins by realizing that we’re not God and we never will be. It’s realizing that we are NOTHING without Him. If we don’t realize this truth, then we will never be able to be the leaders God has called us to be. Our maturity isn’t based on WHAT we know, it’s based on WHO we know (and how well we know Him).

James 4:6 tells us, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” God wants to show us grace, He wants to bless us and use us for His glory. And it’s our humility that allows Him to do this.

As we grow in and through Him, we must remain humble and teachable. Because whether we realize it or not, we still have so much to learn. Lord, help us to be humble, teachable, life-long learners!

The Staying Power of Love

For my blog this week, I want to share a devotional my wife Stacy did this week for our Church:

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.  -1 Corinthians 13:13

My dad passed away unexpectedly at the end of July. Our family is so grateful for the outpouring of love and care that we’ve received from our church family in recent weeks as I’ve been helping my mom in California. The texts sharing love and hope and prayers for us have ministered God’s embrace. Thank you!

Today, I want to share briefly with you something I’ll be talking about at my dad’s memorial service. 

My dad loved the Bible. He read it daily and treasured God’s Word in his heart. The verse above ministered so deeply to me these past weeks as I’m learning to mourn a loss I wasn’t expecting.  It talks about the staying power of faith, hope, and love…and says that the greatest of these is love.

It made me think: the beautiful thing about love is that it is outside of time and space. I don’t cease to feel my dad’s love for me simply because he is not present with me—my whole life was shaped by the fact that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that my father loved me, and that there was nothing I could do that would cause him to stop loving me.

The way I view myself…my faith in and love for God…the type of life partner I chose…the way we raised our kids…the filter through which I see the world—all of these things were directly impacted by my dad’s love for me. I will feel his love for me today and always because love remains.

In the same way, I do not stop loving my dad just because he’s no longer physically here with me. In fact, I would venture to guess that my love for him will continue to grow as I think of precious memories with him. 

My dad’s love often came in the form of the gruff and straight-shooting person he was, but the staying power gives it away: he took me to work with him just to spend extra time with me; he led me to Jesus; he gave me my first study Bible (Thompson Chain NIV), he planned adventures and travels for our family so that we could experience more of the world together. 

I didn’t get to say goodbye to him—which he probably considers a blessing because he always seemed uncomfortable with goodbyes. But I hold onto his love for me and my love for him as both a marker of the lasting power love has and a reminder of how great God’s love is for me.

Heavenly Father, thank You that You are love and that the love You give lasts forever. The staying power of love gives us hope and faith, without end. And we are grateful.

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.