United in Christ

This morning, I read 1 Corinthians 3. If you’re not familiar with this scripture, Paul is talking about how childish the Christians of Corinth were being as they quarreled amongst each other. They would say things like, “I follow Paul.” While others would say, “I follow Apollos.” Paul had some pretty strong words as he tells them he can’t even address them spiritually because they are still so worldly. Ouch! As I read through these verses, it seemed like a ridiculous thing to be arguing about. In reality, who they are in Christ has nothing to do with Paul or Apollos.
 
The question is: Are we any different? We still see these same quarrels happening among Christians today. Instead of it being Paul or Apollos, though, it’s Foursquare, Baptists, Presbyterian, or maybe it’s even Republican or Democrat. We act as if a denomination or political affiliation makes a difference when it comes to who we are in Christ—as if one is better than another.
 
There’s one thing that’s true about every denomination, movement, or political affiliation in this world: they are each wrong in one way or another. Now, I can’t tell you how or where they each fall short, but none of them have it completely right. No one denomination, movement, or political affiliation has perfect ideas or beliefs. I know there are those who may disagree with this. But if no person is perfect, then no denomination or affiliation is perfect.
 
So why do we put our trust in denominations and political affiliations? Why do we claim these titles in the same way the people of Corinth did? I’m guessing if Paul were addressing the Church today, he would probably be saying these same things to many of us.
 
God is the only One Who’s perfect and He is the only One in Whom we should place our trust. I’m not saying it’s bad to align with any denomination or affiliation. In fact, I believe there are great things about the many denominations we see in our communities today. And I believe that both Republicans and Democrats have good causes worth backing. But we aren’t called to follow denominations or political affiliations: we’re called to follow Jesus. And we are Christ followers first.
 
If we’re letting denominational or political lines keep us from linking arms and uniting together to see His Kingdom extended, then we aren’t being the Church that God has called us to be. Jesus said in John 13:35: “…everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” God’s desire for us is that we love one another. Unity in the body of Christ can change our world, not to mention the fact that Jesus said it is how others will know we belong to Him.
 
Listen to what the final verses from Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 might sound like in today’s language: So then, no more boasting about denominations or political affiliations! All things are yours, whether Foursquare, Baptist, or another denomination, whether Democrat or Republican, whether the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. As followers of Jesus we are all of Christ. So, let’s come together as THE CHURCH and truly be the united force that God has called us to be in this world!

It Requires A Response

I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to a pastor share a message or read something from a book and thought, “Wow, that was a good word.” We’ve probably all had these kinds of moments in our lives. But the question is: What do we do with what we just heard or read? Do we take those words and figure out how to apply them to our own lives? Or do we quickly forget about them and go back to doing whatever we were doing before?

That question can be applied to both reading the Bible and going to church. What is our reason for reading the Bible and going to church? Are we just checking off the box so that we can say we’ve done our “duty” as a Christian? I know that has been true for me at different times in my life. And I can tell you that those times in my life were the least fruitful. And by least, I really mean that there was no fruit.

This morning my devotions led me to James 1:23-24 which says: “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

These scriptures remind me how important it is that I don’t just read the Bible to simply check off a box. Instead I should be reading His Word to discover how He desires me to live and then do my best to actually live it out.

As Christians, I think it’s important for us to understand the difference between knowing and learning. We can read the Bible from front to back and know what God desires of our lives, but if we aren’t living it out then we haven’t really learned anything. God wants us to be doers of the Word, which requires a response. Are we responding to Him and His Word or are we just reading it?

Loving God and Loving…SQUIRREL!

My family and I are huge Pixar fans. Some of my kids’ first movies were Pixar films and one of our favorites is the movie “UP”. If you haven’t watched it, you need to put it on your “must watch” list. The main character in the movie is a man named Carl. The movie begins with a montage of his life. How as a young boy he met this adventurous little girl named Ellie and how they eventually married and navigated through life.

The main part of the movie, however, takes place late in Carl’s life, after his wife died. As an old man he seeks to live out a dream the two of them never got to experience. Along the way, he encounters some amazing characters that help him on this journey. A boy scout named Russell and a dog named Dug.

The dog, Dug, is a favorite character of many. And because of a special mechanism on his collar that translates for him, he is actually able to talk to humans. One of the things that have endeared people to Dug is his short attention span. In the movie, he will be telling Carl and Russell something and then all the sudden shout, “squirrel” and look in a different direction. It’s one of those lines my family quotes often when any of us get distracted—“Squirrel!”

Maybe you can relate. We all get distracted at times. We all have those moments like Dug where a “squirrel” can distract us or throw off our thoughts. But the question is: Do we then follow the “squirrel” or do we bring ourselves back to what our focus should be?

I was recently at a meeting with other pastors and this was part of our conversation. It feels like these past two years we’ve done a good job of following the “squirrels” and a not so good job of getting our focus back to what’s important. We’ve allowed the distractions to become our focus instead of focusing on what’s most important.

Most of us are familiar with the story of Mary and Martha in the Bible. Jesus had come to visit and Martha was focused on getting the meal ready and doing the stuff that she felt needed to be done, while Mary simply sat at the feet of Jesus. This upset Martha so she complained to Jesus about Mary, asking Him to tell Mary to help her.

She didn’t get the answer she wanted though. Listen to Jesus’ response found in Luke 10:41-42: “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Something we need to understand is that the things Martha was doing weren’t bad. They just weren’t as important at the time. We all struggle with the distractions that keep us from doing what’s most important. And these last two years have kept a lot of us from doing what’s most important—loving God and loving people to see His Kingdom extended. We can’t let those “squirrels” take our focus off what’s most important!

What Kind of Example are We Setting?

In the late 80’s, there were these commercials on TV that sought to fight against drugs. They were part of a campaign launched in the U.S. by Partnership for a Drug-Free America. And one that I remember, and still quote to this day, is a commercial where this dad walks into his son’s room with some drug paraphernalia and confronts him, saying that the boy’s mom had found it in his closet. And after the son tries to lie about it, the dad asks this question: “Who taught you how to do this stuff?” After a short pause, the son responds by saying,  “You, alright, I learned it from watching you!”

It’s crazy how much kids learn from parents and other older influences in their life. I’m haunted by that commercial every time I see my kids taking on one of my own bad habits. It’s in those moments where I see myself so clearly and realize they learned those behaviors from watching me.

The reality is, we are continuously being watched. Whether it’s by our kids, our siblings, our co-workers, or the neighbor across the street. We are always being watched, especially as Christians. People want to see how we’re going to respond or react to different situations. And it begs the question: What kind of example are we setting for them?

My family’s life verse is Matthew 5:16, which tells us to: “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” In other words, we’re supposed to live our life in such a way that our actions point others to Jesus. We’re called to be positive examples for those around us.

I know that I fail at this as much as anyone. However, one thing that has helped me improve is realizing that the light I’m called to shine doesn’t come from me. I’m currently in the middle of a little remodel project at home and part of that project involves installing some new light fixtures. I can’t just put a light fixture in the ceiling and expect it to shine. It needs to be connected to a power source.

The same is true for us. If we want to be people who shine the way Jesus calls us to in Matthew 5:16, we have to be connected to the source of that light. Jesus is the light. And we’re only able to shine in a way that actually draws people to the Him as we allow His Spirit to shine in and through our lives.

Again, what kind of example are we setting? My encouragement for us today is to plug into Jesus. Whether that’s through prayer or reading the Bible or spending some time singing and worshipping Him, tap into the source and LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE!

The Decisions We Make

I’m curious: How do you make decisions? Now, I’m not talking about what to wear before you head out of the house in the morning or what to have for lunch each day. I’m talking about those life-changing kind of decisions.

Do we take time to really think through our decisions or do we throw darts at a dartboard and go with whatever choice the dart lands on? The thing is, a wrong decision is a wrong decision regardless of how we come about it.

I’m sure many of us have used the dartboard method at some point in our lives and maybe it ended up being the right choice. But do we really want to take that chance when it comes to making important decisions? And do we really want to walk in that kind of uncertainty?

As a pastor, I’m frequently asked, “How do you know what God wants you to do?” The easy answer to that question is pray—simply ask God what He wants you to do. James 1:5 tells us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” God wants to guide us and lead us. He wants to help us make the right decisions.

The other question I hear then is, “When I pray, how do I know that it’s God’s voice I’m sensing?” (Which is often the real question being asked when people ask me, “How do you know what God wants you to do?”) And that answer is a little more challenging. But I believe the key is trusting that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. God has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us and direct us and the Holy Spirit will speak to us if we take time to listen.

One of the ways I encourage people when it comes to decision-making is to operate on the premise of peace (see Philippians 4:6-7). In other words, do I have a peace about the decision I’m making or does there seem to be a check in my spirit? Oftentimes, a lack of peace is the Holy Spirit guiding us and leading us in another direction. Again, the key is trusting that the Holy Spirit is at work in our life because I know it’s easy to second-guess ourselves and our ability to actually discern God’s voice.

We have to put our trust in God and like it says in James 1:6: “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

The decisions we make in life are important—even some that are seemingly small can shape our lives and our future. My encouragement to all of us is that we continue to seek the Lord in our decisions and allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct our path!

Who’s the Underdog?

This week I read one of my all-time favorite Bible stories from when I was a young boy. It’s the story of David and Goliath. I think most of us are familiar with this section of scripture. If not, you can read it in 1 Samuel 17.

It’s a story that has become a popular analogy in life. In sports they often talk about the David’s versus the Goliath’s: where a weaker “underdog” team is playing against a more superior and dominant team. I know many of us love to root for the underdog because we love to see the “Giants” come crashing down.

As I read through these scriptures once again, however, there was a thought that kept stirring in my mind: “Was David really the underdog?” When we use the analogy David versus Goliath, we are referring to David as the underdog. But was he actually the underdog?

Now if David was going out to fight Goliath in his own strength, then yes I guess we would have to say that David was obviously the underdog. But David was going out to fight in the strength and power of the Lord, so I don’t think we can actually call him an underdog.

As I was processing these thoughts, numerous scriptures started coming to my mind. “I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.” –Philippians 4:13 “Greater is He who is in me, than he that is in the world.” –1 John 4:4 “If God is for us, who can be against us?” –Romans 8:31

All these verses point to the fact that David wasn’t the underdog here: Goliath was.  David knew the victory was the Lord’s. There was no doubt in his mind. Listen to what he says to Goliath before he takes him down, “For the battle is the LORD’s, and HE will give all of you into our hands.” And David wasn’t just talking about Goliath here; he was talking about all the Philistines.

David didn’t see himself as an underdog, because he knew God was on his side. How often do we see ourselves as the underdog when, in reality, we’re not? Yeah, we may see giants out in front of us and they may even be taunting us like Goliath was. But if God is for us, who can stand against us?

The key is that we’re facing these “giants” in the strength and power of the Lord. We face challenges and difficulties everyday. We continuously come up against these “giants” in life. But, like David, we can experience victory. Like David, we actually have the upper hand when we walk in the power of the Lord. Let’s stop approaching life as underdogs and start moving forward in God’s strength and power!

There is a Time and a Way for Everything

In Ecclesiastes 8:6, we’re told, “For there is a time and a way for everything, even when a person is in trouble.” The problem is that often times we want things to be in our time and in our way. But one thing I’ve learned as a follower of Jesus is that God’s timing is always right.

Thanks to free plane tickets and someone letting us use their timeshare, we were blessed this summer to go to Hawaii for vacation. And since it was Hawaii, we had many opportunities to play in the ocean. One of those days we spent some time boogie boarding at a popular beach.

The water was warm and the waves were amazing, but I discovered that boogie boarding wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I stood on the beach and watched surfers and boogie boarders catch waves and ride them in so easily. So naturally, I expected to do the same. Instead, I found myself either going nowhere or catching a mouthful of salt water as the waves had their way with me.

I discovered that catching a wave and riding it in was all about timing. I discovered that the good surfers and boogie boarders spend a lot of time waiting: waiting for the right wave and waiting for just the right time to start paddling and kicking. I discovered that boogie boarding actually takes patience.

It’s a lot like life. We’re always in such a hurry to catch the things that we want—and to experience the joy and excitement they bring—that we get impatient and mess up the timing. And instead of catching a wave, we go nowhere or end up swallowing salt water.

Like surfing or boogie boarding, life is often about waiting for the right timing. It’s all about being patient and trusting in the Lord. There is a time and way for everything and it’s God’s timing not ours. If we can be patient and trust in Him, I believe we will experience the wave of a lifetime. Again and again and again!

Are We Turning To Him?

I’ve had an old DCTalk song stuck in my head this week. For those of you who don’t know of DCTalk, they were a Christian pop/rap group in the 80’s and 90’s. One of their members is my all-time favorite artist, Tobymac. The song that was stuck in my head is one of their later songs titled, “Since I Met You.” And the part of this song that I find myself singing is the bridge, which says:

Was at the end of my rope, I had no where to go
Was at the end of my rope, I had nothing to show
Until the day that I turned to You, Was at the end of my rope…

I think the reason this song has been in my head is because I’ve talked to so many people who say they are just done with this pandemic stuff. They seem to be at the end of their rope. And I know, in one way or another, this is true for all of us. I think we would all like to have things back to where they were or at least be able to move forward to a new normal.

And I know many of us are wondering if or when we’re going to see light at the end of the tunnel. As I was processing these thoughts, I was reminded of the Israelites, when they were fleeing Egypt and found themselves in an impossible situation.

On one side of them was the massive Red Sea and the other side of them was Pharaoh and his army. There was nowhere for them to go—they were at the end of their rope. But Moses turned to the Lord. And God made possible the impossible and He delivered them.

God is our deliverer and He wants us to turn to Him, so that He can be our deliverer. (It’s important that we remember God has delivered us, He will deliver us, and He will continue to deliver us.) In a devotion I read by Rick Warren, he talked about three kinds of deliverance we experience in our lives:

1. Circumstantial Deliverance – Sometimes God performs miracles in our lives that change the circumstances around us, like He did when He split the Red Sea for the Israelites. Are we praying and trusting in God for miracles?

2. Personal Deliverance – Sometimes, instead of changing the circumstances around us, God actually changes our hearts. He gives us the hope of a new vision, a new attitude, and a new perspective. Are we allowing God access to our heart? Are we allowing Him to change us from the inside out?

3. Eternal Deliverance – God has not promised to remove all of our pain in this world or to solve all of our momentary problems. We live in a fallen, broken world where we will experience pain, sorrow, and suffering. But His ultimate deliverance awaits us in Heaven, where there will be no more pain, sorrow, or suffering. Do we trust in the Lord and the eternal hope that He brings to our lives?

I love how the lyrics of this song say, “Was at the end of my rope, I had nothing to show. UNTIL the day that I turned to you.” If we are at the end of our rope, we need to make sure we are turning to the Lord and allowing Him to be our deliverer.

We Are Never Alone

This week my wife shared a devotional with our church for Christmas Eve. So, instead of writing my own blog today, I decided to share hers.

Matthew 28:18-20 (TLB) He (Jesus) told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and earth. Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you; and be sure of this—that I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”

Have you ever felt completely alone?

Whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually, it is highly likely that, immediately upon reading that question, you were able think of a time of profound loneliness. I cannot think of a more depleting and unsettling feeling than being completely alone.

I think that’s why my favorite name for Jesus is Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Don’t get me wrong, I love that He is all that He is: Prince of Peace; King of Kings; Good Shepherd; Great Physician; our Healer; our Savior; and so many more.

But to know that God is with us is a comfort beyond simply knowing in our minds all the wonderful things that He is: it is a “with-ness” that can only be truly known in the experiencing of it. You know when you’re alone. And you know when you are no longer alone.

The deep healing that happened when Jesus came—when he limited Himself to be born fully human, live a perfect life, and die in our place and for our sins—is that our relationship with God can be restored. We need never be alone. And in fact, we are never alone.

This time of year, we spend a lot of time thinking about Jesus as a baby and I think there’s a lot to ponder and appreciate there. But as we celebrate our Savior’s birth in the quiet and the stillness of this Christmas Eve, maybe we can open our hearts and minds to treasure and contemplate the gift that is not only a baby in a manger on that first Christmas, but extends to us here and now and forevermore: WE ARE NEVER ALONE.

Mary, Did You Know?

Today I heard the Christmas song “Mary Did You Know?” This is a question that I have often thought about. Did Mary have any idea what she was saying when she told the Angel, “May it be done to me according to your word.”

I’m sure she couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to actually raise the Son of God. And I’m sure whatever she did imagine didn’t involve giving birth in a stable or having to flee to Egypt to save Jesus from the wrath of Herod.

It’s likely that she never imagined she would some day experience the pain and agony of watching her Son, “The Messiah,” being crucified on a cross. It makes me wonder: If she had known what saying “yes” would entail, would she still have said yes?

The more I read God’s word, the more I realize that God’s ways are not our ways. The way God fulfilled the early-day prophesies looked nothing like what His people expected.

Are we living life with these kinds of expectations? Are we looking for God to show up in ways that are contrary to what we’ve seen in His Word? Again, God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. And, whether we realize it or not, that’s a good thing. He is the creator of all things and He knows better than any of us ever will. And as we experience God’s call for our lives, whatever that call may be, our answer should be the same as Mary, “May it be done to me according to your word.”