Thanksgiving; Giving Thanks

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This morning, I whip into Starbucks before staff meeting to get me my usual Venti Dark Roast Coffee. Interestingly, instead of Starbucks brewing the “Thanksgiving” blend, they were brewing the “Christmas” blend. I thought that was unusual seeing-as-all it was Thanksgiving week; but, hey, what do I know. As I ordered my Venti Dark Roast Christmas blend coffee, the barista comes back and hands me the coffee to which I respond and say, “Thanks.”

After this exchange, it got me thinking about this whole idea of thanks, thanksgiving, or giving thanks. My “thanks” was a cultural mannerism that I and others use to be polite. But I got to thinking, was I really giving her thanks for my coffee? How could I be thankful for someone doing what I was entitled for them to do? That coffee was mine! I paid for it. Therefore, I felt I was owed the barista to give me my coffee.

Here’s the principle I believe God whispered in my ear:

You cannot truly give thanks if you believe you are entitled to what you give thanks for.

In other words, if you believe you are entitled to something or have earned something, then it is difficult—quite near impossible—for you to be truly thankful for it.

I believe we live in an entitlement culture. [To be clear: the entitlement culture is not just reserved for millennials. This type of culture spans generations.] People think they are entitled and owed certain things. Take my kids for instance. They believe they are entitled to play the gaming system as long as they want. They think dinner at the house should be menu-style as opposed to what momma is cooking. They consider bedtimes to be optional. Thus, when we allow them to play their video games for two hours, when we cook them a nice homecooked meal, or when we send them to bed with a mattress, covers, and pillows they aren’t grateful nor thankful because they feel owed or entitled to these things.

This brings me to the meaning of thanksgiving or giving thanks—something that this week’s holiday is all about. But to truly understand what thanksgiving or giving thanks means, we have to understand its two sides—particularly from the biblical viewpoint. And if we fail to understand the two sides, then our thanksgiving will either be missing, misdirected, or misunderstood.

The two sides to thanksgiving (or giving thanks) is confession and praise. In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are two words that are translated into English as “thanks.” First, the word “Towdah” is mostly connected with offerings (sacrifices) of thanksgiving; and, second, the word “Yadah” )not to be confused with Yoda) is mostly associated with praise.

It may be helpful to think of “confession” as that idea tied to who we are and what we deserve, while the idea of “praise” is tied to what we got and how we should respond. Both “confession” and “praise” is inextricably linked to both the concepts of mercy and grace. I’ve heard mercy described as God withholding what we dodeserve, and grace being described as “Gods. Riches. At. Christ’s. Expense”—or God giving us what we do notdeserve.

Therefore, if we are going to practice true thanksgiving (or giving thanks) we must realize who we are and what we deserve.

As believers, the Bible teaches that we are rebels who committed treason against the King of Glory. We attempted to rob God of His glory and of His throne. As a result, we shattered His image on our life. In addition, we damaged His created order. What God created good, we ruined and turned to bad. As such, we deserve to be judged, sentenced, and executed. We deserve no good thing! That should be our confession!

However, God did not give man what he deserved. He did not order a judgement, a sentence, or an execution—punishments and consequences yes; but not a condemning sentence or execution—He lavished them with a Father’s love! He pursued them, promised them redemption, and properly clothed them. What God gave man and continues to give man—both through general and specific revelation—is grace!

Every good thing we have in life has been generously dispensed from the gracious hand of the Father. And the ultimate good that has been lavished on us is the sacrificial, atoning, and substitutional death of His Son, Jesus Christ.

In short, as depraved, rebellious, and sinful human beings, we deserve, we are entitled to, we are owed no good thing. That’s our confession. However, our praise is that in God’s mercy and grace—which is ultimately realized in Jesus Christ—we have something to praise, worship, and supremely thank God for. My prayer for this Thanksgiving is that I will (and hopefully you will too) truly give thanks to the Lord for every good thing that I have for I deserve no good thing! As the psalmist says:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving (towdah); go into his courts with praise. Give thanks (yadah) to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation (Ps 100:4–5).

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Preaching is an A.R.T.

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I don’t know what comes to your mind when you hear the word “art,” but I tend to think of paintings like the Mona Lisa. But art is much broader than paintings. Of course, the always trustworthy Wikipedia defines art as “a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts, expressing the author’s imaginative, conceptual idea, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.” Thus, art includes activities such as designing, acting, writing, and speaking.

Church leader, have you ever stopped to consider that preaching (or teaching) is an art.

Preaching the Word is a similar activity to that of Shakespeare writing Hamlet, Van Gogh painting The Starry Night, Gaudi constructing the Sagrada Familia, Mozart composing Symphony No. 40, or Andrea Bocelli singing Con Te Partiro.

In this brief post, I want to share with you how I approach the A.R.T. of Preaching.

A–stands for AIM. When I am crafting a message I always have gospel-transformation as my aim. I’m praying that Jesus transforms the hearts of the people who sit under the teaching of His Word. To arrive at gospel-transformation, I think of the information/truth of the text, the audience I’ll be communicating to, and how to apply that truth to the heart of the listener. If you are a formula or math person, think of it this way:

Truth + Relationship + Application = Transformation

R–stands for RHYTHYM. I have initiated a preaching rhythm (or calendar) over the years. At the beginning of each year I start with a mini-series to set the tone and direction for the church. This past year, I began with the series, “A New Thing” given that we were about to launch our one–three-year strategic plan called Project New Thing. For the spring I go through a book of the Bible—verse by verse/chapter by chapter. However, I take a small break for Easter where I begin a series on Easter Sunday in hopes of creating an on-ramp to entice the “Chreasters” to finish out the series. I then go back to the book series until the summer.

In the summer—particularly June and July—we have our cultural engagement series. In June, we have our T.E.D. (Theological. Educational. Discussions) series, which is designed to help Christians think biblically about topics relevant to our culture. In July, we have our A&E (Arts and Entertainment) series. Here’s the synopsis of this series:

Did you know the movies and songs our culture creates serve as a cultural anthropology and theology? In other words, they depict what we believe about man and God. Thus, they speak to our hopes, fears, dreams, aspirations, longings, desires, hurts, heartaches, pain, and suffering as human beings. As Christ followers who live in the world but are not to be of the world—and who are called to reach those far from Jesus—it is important that we know (or exegete) the culture and context that God has planted us so that we can better communicate the truth of God’s word in the heart language of the culture.

When school is back in session and we have entered into the fall, the preaching rhythm includes topical series that would apply to families or individuals. I’ve done series like, “How to Lose Your Family in 10 Easy Ways,” “Sticks and Stones: The Power of Words,” and “Scared to Death: Moving from Fear to Faith.” These fall series are designed to teach people what the Bible says systematically about topics relevant to our lives. Finally, I conclude December with a Christmas series.

For me, this rhythm is helpful for a few reasons. First, it keeps the preaching fresh. I don’t feel like I get in a rut. Second, it creates on-ramps for new people. By having a few breaks throughout the year in beginning new series, it gives our people an opportunity to invite people to something “new.” Third, it tries—to a degree–to be all things to all people. In other words, it seeks to be diverse, as some people like preaching that goes through a book of the Bible; some people like short 3–5-week series; and some people are really interested in knowing what the Bible says about a certain topic. This rhythm seeks to give a little something for everyone.

For those who don’t like a certain series, I tell them to wait for the next—for not every series will be a home run in everybody’s eyes.

T–stands for TECHNIQUE(S). The word technique is defined as “a way of carrying out a particular task—especially applied to the realm of artistic work or scientific procedures.” Applied to the art of preaching what kind of technique or techniques are appropriate? Now while my rhythm consists of topical series and book studies, I almost always use the technique of expository preaching.* Here are some definitions of expository preaching:

  • EP “is the contemporization of the central proposition of a biblical text that is derived from proper methods of interpretation [proper exegesis] and declared through effective means of communication to inform minds, instruct hearts, and influence behavior towards godliness” (Ramesh Richard, Preparing Expository Sermons, 19).
  • EP is a more or less extended portion of Scripture being interpreted in relation to one theme or subject where the bulk of the material for the sermon is drawn directly from the passage and the outline consists of a series of progressive ideas centered around that one main idea (James Braga, How to Prepare Bible Messages, 53).
  • EP “begins with a substantial passage of Scripture and allows the principal thoughts of that passage to become the outline for development and the basis for application.” (Edwin V. Hayden, “What is Expository Preaching?”, Preach the Word, 1–2).
  • EP “is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality of the preacher, then through him to hearers” (Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching, 20).

To put in my own words:

Expository preaching is doing exegetical and Christocentric (gospel-centered) work to lift out the main idea of a text and to craft it in such a way as to teach the truth of God’s word in a faithful and culturally relevant way in order that the hearers might know how to apply the transforming truth of God to their lives.

While this is predominantly the technique I apply to crafting my messages, I do implement a variety of other techniques in my delivery. I’ll use props, word pictures, humor, personal stories, images, pictures, clips from movies or sitcom scenes, etc. I’ve gleaned a lot from books such as The Power of Multi-Sensory Preaching and Teachingby Rick Blackwood and Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Mindsby Carmine Gallo.

In addition, depending on how the Spirit crafts the message in my heart and mind will shape the way in which I deliver the points. In other words, while I always have a main point that I aim to flesh out from the passage, I develop my subpoints differently. For instance, I might develop my subpoints in the form of questions like, “1. What is God’s mission for marriage? 2. How do couples faithfully execute the mission? 3. Why does it matter?” Other times, my subpoints might try and be catchy phrases like, “Wounding words should come from faithful friends; You are what you speak; Cloaking daggers in playful words can be hurtful to others; etc.”

When it comes to delivery, I’m always seeking the most effective way to communicate the truth in a meaningful and retentive way. I believe that we can (and should) use a variety of techniques to communicate God’s divinely inspired word. In fact, that is the way God had His Word written. There are various genres (narrative, apocalyptic, prose, etc.) and languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) that God used across the millennia to communicate His Word to the original context.

In conclusion, the history of the world has been mesmerized and influenced by some of the most brilliant artists in their field. And it is time that church leaders, pastors, and teachers realize that we are artists too—for preaching is an A.R.T. In fact…

I believe preaching is one of the most important art forms out there, for in what we craft on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis has the potential to bring life, community, and even world transformation!

 

*I do believe there are times where it is appropriate to do topical sermons that serve as more of a systematic study on a topic.

U.N.I.T.Y

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I don’t follow the NBA like I did when I was in high school. In those days the players and teams to watch were the LA Lakers with Magic Johnson, Boston Celtics with Larry Bird, and the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan. Today it is LeBron James (now) with the LA Lakers, Anthony Davis with the New Orleans Pelicans, and Stephen Curry with the Golden State Warriors. With regard to the Golden State Warriors and Stephen Curry, what has been impressive to watch is how they’ve been to the last three NBA finals—winning two of them. And it seems by the start of this season it could be trip number four.

How do teams like the Golden State Warriors and others make it to the top? It’s not just on talent. That’s clear with the struggling LA Lakers who acquired LeBron James in the off season. Just because there are five talented players on the court doesn’t necessarily equal victory. In sports, people talk about team chemistry.

It takes the right chemistry to concoct a team victory.  

In other organizational realms like businesses, nonprofits, and churches, the word that it used most often—rather than chemistry—is unity. Without unity, teams are weak. Without unity, teams do not maximize results. In fact, according to Jesus—in the context of praying for His followers and future followers—unity was quintessential to what He and the Father were aiming to accomplish. Jesus prays, “Father, protect them by your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11). Jesus prays something very similar later, but in regard to future followers (John 17:20–23).

Why did Jesus pray for oneness, or unity? So that the world may know Jesus! In other words, missional effectiveness is tied to corporate oneness. This truth applies across the board to any organization or team.

Without corporate oneness, churches will not experience missional effectiveness.

So, what does unity look like? I created an acrostic to help us think through unity and the various elements of unity that come together to create corporate oneness.

U—      Understand your Purpose

If a team is going to embody unity, they need to unite around a common purpose. Without a common purpose, goal, or mission the team is left with the potential of moving in various directions. When a team moves in various directions no movement or traction is made.

N—      Note that it’s not about me, but we

If a team is going to embody unity, they need to check their egos at the door. Team isn’t about me, it’s about we! In Christian circles, church isn’t about me or necessarily we, it’s about HE! Thus, we don’t waltz into a locker room, conference room, or church belting out commands about what we want to see, what we want to do.

I—       Identify roles and responsibility to fulfill purpose

If a team is going to embody unity, they need to identify the various roles and responsibilities of the players and team members that will come together and fulfill the mission of the team or organization. This is more vital than it may come across. Scripture teaches about how the church is one body with many members. Thus, if the feet, hands, and eyes don’t understand their role and responsibilities you have one jacked up body that’s dysfunctional. With sports teams the identification of roles and responsibilities are called the playbook; in business circles it’s called the by-laws and policy manuals, along with organizational charts; in church circles it’s called the Bible along with documentation (by-laws and org charts) that describes how the church is organized around the truth of Scripture to fulfill the mandate of making disciples of all nations. If you don’t identify roles and responsibilities to fulfill your purpose, you’re winging it. Those who wing it, [typically] don’t win!

T—      Trust the process

If a team is going to embody unity and corporate oneness, they will need to trust the process. Everything up until this point—uniting around a purpose or mission; noting that it’s not about me, but we; and identifying the roles and responsibilities to fulfill the purpose—is part of creating clarity and alignment for your team or organization. Once you’ve secured those, then you institute a process of moving towards the desired goal. Sure, you will have to make tweaks here and there, but overall you must trust the process. This is especially true for churches. Churches are notorious for trying something for only a few months and then changing because they didn’t see the desired results. The truth of the matter is that clarity and consistency over time lead to celebratory or cultural change.

Y—      Yield to the movement of the Spirit

If a team is going to embody unity, they will need to yield to the movement of the Spirit. In sports and business environments we call it riding the waves of success. This is where teams and businesses hit their stride and they do all they can to stay in their prime at the top. This requires great commitment and effort. Slacking and goofing off is prohibited—especially if they want to stay in the zone and on top. In the church world, riding the waves of success is really the movement of the Spirit in the vein of multiplying and making disciples. It is in this zone where churches can either choose to move at the speed of committee or move at the speed of the Spirit. In other words, they can choose to stifle the movement and momentum of the Spirit of God and where He wants to take a church, or they can choose to fan the movement and momentum of the Spirit. But this will require commitment, effort, a release of control, and a lot of faith.

In closing, Acts 2 gives us a glimpse of what churches can experience when they embody U.N.I.T.Y. As the believers devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to one another; as they lived a life centered around He and we—not me; as they moved and operated within the confines of their roles and responsibilities in the body of Christ, serving the needs of one another; and as they trusted the process and movement of God’s Spirit among them; “Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b). Dear church leaders, we too can experience a sort of NBA final-like environment with regard to missional effectiveness, but it will require corporate oneness, aka—U.N.I.T.Y.!

Loophole for Lying Lips?

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This past Sunday I was speaking on Ephesians 4:25-32 where Paul exhorts the Ephesian believers to put away lying and rather speak the truth. When I got home my wife and eldest son, Caleb, had been talking about the message, and Joannie tells me that Caleb had a question about the message. What was his question you asked?

My twelve-year old son wanted to know, “Is there ever a time where lying is acceptable?”

His question reveals what almost everyone on planet earth would like to know when it comes to lying lips. Is there a time or place where lying lips may be acceptable?

I think we have all been in that place where someone we love or like has asked us, “How does this make me look?” Or, husbands, has your wife asked you, “How did my casserole or pie turn out?” Or our boss asked us, “What did you think about the presentation?” In such instances and others, we are faced with whether or not we tell the truth, a version of the truth, or lie.

So, what do we do? Tell the truth. Not only do we read in Ephesians 4:25 that God would have us speak the truth and not lies. We also read in places like Proverbs 6:16–19 as well as Proverbs 12:22, that God hates a lying tongue. I think it is pretty clear from these passages and others that God would have us tell the truth—even if we think the other person(s) can’t handle the truth. Now, I’m not saying that you don’t cloak the truth, if it may hurt, in softness, grace, and (if need be) constructive feedback. I’m saying that God would have us be truthful people.

If those moments—where it would be easier to lie, stretch the truth, or be dishonest—are off limits, is there any other time where it may be acceptable to tell a lie? Biblical ethicists and scholars point to at least two examples in Scripture where people of faith chose to lie when faced with a life or death decision.

The first example is the midwives in Exodus 1. Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives, if the woman gave birth to a boy, to kill the baby boy. But, rather than obeying Pharaoh’s command, they let the boys live. When asked about why they did this, they responded, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them” (Exodus 1:19). And then Moses pens the following, “So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied and became very numerous.”

The second example is Rahab in Joshua 2. Rahab had been enlightened that there was no stopping the Jews from taking over what we know as the Promised Land because the God of the Jews fought for them. Thus, dread came upon the inhabitants. But as Rahab gave aid to the spies sent by Joshua, the king of Jericho sent some men to Rahab’s house to inquire about the men and asked her to hand them over. Rahab responded, “Yes, the men did come to me, but I didn’t know where they were from. At nightfall, when the city gate was about to close, the men went out, and I don’t know where they were going” (Joshua 2:4–5). If you know the story, you know that God was gracious and showed favor to Rahab and all her household, as they were the only inhabitants saved from Jericho—not to mention that Rahab found herself in the lineage of Jesus.

These are two instances where people chose to lie rather than tell the truth.

It seems, from both accounts, that God did not condemn their false lips but blessed their faith-filled lives.

Why is that? Keep in mind that my answer to this question is just my projection.

To answer the question, let me first set up two particular things that summarize all that God hates. God hates idolatry and injustice. Both idolatry and injustice are the opposite of the two greatest commandments. You know the first, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” What was the second? “To love your neighbor as yourself.” Therefore, when God does not hold primacy in one’s life—He is angry. When an image-bearer of His is not treated with love, dignity, respect, etc., God is also angry. In sum, He hates when His glory is robbed and His reflected glory of within an (or a group of) image-bearer(s) is threatened or damaged.

With that said—in both accounts mentioned—people’s lives hung in the balance. In Exodus, the lives of innocent baby boys were being threatened. In Joshua, the lives of the spies were being threatened. Given that lives were on the line, both the midwives and Rahab chose to lie. They lied to protect life. And in both instances, it seems that God worked through those lying lips to not only protect lives but also bless the lives the lying lips sought to protect.

In conclusion, we know Scripture teaches that God hates lying lips—lying lips that seek to cover up, hide, divide, demean, deconstruct, destroy, damage, etc. We also know that believers, according to Scripture, should be people of truth. But, on the other hand, people of truth might be faced with a situation where lying—to protect the glory (and mission) of God or an image-bearer of God—may be acceptably used by God to accomplish His purposes in the world. Thus, if there was a loophole to lying lips, that would be it. Would love to hear what you think!

Bringing O.R.D.E.R. To Chaos

My wife has a phrase she uses to describe what she does as a mother (and as my wife). The phrase she shares with others is, “All I do is manage chaos.” With our three children’s educational, recreational, and relational schedules, along with her vocation, in addition to my duties and obligations as a lead pastor, our church commitments, and our pursuits to connect with other individuals and couples—we are constantly running. Thus, you could understand how my wife could utter the phrase, “All I do is manage chaos.” But, truth be known, she doesn’t just manage our familial chaos, she’s incredibly gifted in that God uses her to order our chaos.

I think many pastors and church leaders feel a lot like my wife when it comes to church matters—they are simply managing chaos. A simple definition of chaos is, “A lack of order; or, a state of extreme confusion and disorder.” Living in, or even feeling like you are managing, chaos is not fun. Chaos can be overwhelming and exhausting. Chaos can leave us frustrated and discouraged. Chaos can lead us spiraling further into a dark hole of hopelessness and despair.

What if I told you that not all chaos is bad? In fact, when we begin reading the very first chapter of the Bible, we learn that God started with chaos. In verse 2, after God created the heavens and the earth, we read “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths….” And we know what happened from there—God brought order to that which was in chaos. Therefore, not all chaos is bad chaos.

In fact, if God started with chaos to bring about order, then chaos is part of the process of any life, organization, or church on their journey to order, functionality, and flourishing. What does it look like to image God in bringing order to chaos? Think O.R.D.E.R.

  • Objective

To bring order to chaos you’ll need to know the overall objective. In other words, you need to know and be able to see the big picture. God was able to bring order to chaos because He knew what the finished product was supposed to look like. If churches are going to bring that which is chaotic into order, functionality, and flourishing, then they are going to have to understand what the complete picture is supposed to look like. If you don’t aim at anything you will hit nothing every time.

  • Reason

To bring order to chaos you’ll need reason. In other words, you will need discernment and judgment to know the kind of framework and environments you need for the objective—for the mission, life, and discipleship—to flourish. God brought order to chaos because He had thought through the kind of environments He needed to place the sun, moon, and stars; the kind of environments He needed to place birds and sea creatures; and the kind of environment He needed to place animals, bugs, and people. In short, God knew what He wanted to create and thus had analyzed the kind of environments that were needed in order for life to function and flourish.

  • Decisions

To bring order to chaos you’ll need to be able to make decisive decisions. Because God knew what the big picture looked like and had reasoned what He needed to do to accomplish the big picture, He was able to make decisions with clarity and decisiveness. One of the things I have seen, over the years, that holds back churches from bringing order, functionality, and flourishing is the ability to make decisive decisions and to stick with them. Keep in mind that the decisions you make today should be sustainable for tomorrow. In other words, decisions that bring order to chaos are ones that are based upon the overall objective and what is needed to accomplish it.

  • Empower

To bring order to chaos you’ll need to empower others. God enlisted humanity and empowered them to fulfill His objective. In verses 26–28 we see God’s overall objective being extended to mankind. He had created mankind in His image and tasked them with being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth as well as subduing the ground and exercising dominion. As man fulfilled what God had empowered them to do, they would have been used to fulfill God’s main objective—to create a people for Himself that reflected His glory throughout planet earth. To truly establish order, functionality, and flourishing, you’ll need to empower!

  • Rest

To bring order to chaos you’ll need to rest. On the seventh day God rested. And He was able to rest because He had brought order to that which—at one point–was in chaos. The clearest sign that you have brought order to chaos is the ability to rest, enjoy, and celebrate what has transpired.

Maybe you’re a church planter, a church leader, or a pastor, and things in your opinion are out of control and chaotic. And you feel as though the church is stalled and spinning its wheels. Let me encourage you—don’t fret! Take a deep breath and go to work just like God did and bring O.R.D.E.R. to chaos. And in the power of both the Logos and Spirit of God, you too can look back on God’s work and see that what He can do through you is very good! So, don’t manage chaos…O.R.D.E.R. it!

A Community of Spotters

I’m a disciplined person when it comes to working out. I joke around with my wife that I am a #ringcloser. While the bulk of my workouts mainly consist of cardio, I often lift weights to keep my muscles toned.

In the past, when I wanted to build muscle, I put more weights (and resistance) on the bar. But, when it came to chest presses and similar lifting, I dared not attempt to lift such weights without a spotter. I can’t tell you how many times I laid down on the bench, lifted up to grab the weights, taken a couple of deep breaths, and begun the bench set thinking to myself, “This is easy!” I’ve thought that until I reached the seventh or eighth rep where the weights feel heavier, my arms have lost their feeling, and I’m left straining to lift the bar. That’s where my spotter came to my aid. As I strained to lift the bar, my spotter would gently grab under the bar helping me lift it back to its station. There have been many times where the bar would have crushed my chest if it were not for my spotter.

In Exodus 17:8–6, we come across two spotters that helped Moses lift the staff of God so that the people of God would be victorious over the enemy of God. Having been delivered from bondage in Egypt, the freed Israelites—on their way to the Promised Land—are attacked by the Amalekites, lifelong foes of Israel. At this point in Israel’s life, they have never had to fight a battle. Thus, they aren’t battle-ready—nor can they watch a YouTube video on war tactics.

Moses, however, knew the key to victory; it was the staff of God. Remember the history of the staff? It was used to confirm Moses’ call; to bring the plagues on Egypt; to part the Red Sea; to return the Red Sea to its normal state, crushing the Egyptian army; and it was used to strike the rock to bring water to the grumbling Israelites. Now, it would be used to fight and win a battle. Thus, if Moses could hold up the staff of God—representing the presence, power, provision, promises, and judgements of God—he knew Israel would win, for the staff (as we learn at the end of the passage) connected the people of God to the very throne of God.

Church leader, we are caught up in a cosmic war where our battles are “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens” (Eph 6:12–13). These forces come against us to rob us of God’s blessings as well as attempt to thwart God’s mission and promises in our life. Thus, we must never forget, the key to victory is touching the throne of God—being connected to the very rule and reign of God where He showers us with His presence, power, provision, promises, and judgements. And the only way to connect to God’s throne today, is not by a staff, but by confessing, speaking, claiming, praying, obeying, and lifting high the name of Jesus.

As you lead your churches, I’m a huge proponent for vision, systems, structures, and strategies for how to wage battle on the enemy. But, a disconnect from God’s throne leaves one to fend off the enemy all alone.

While connecting to the throne of God was the means of Israel’s victory, a community of spotters was the mode of victory. Moses couldn’t keep the staff lifted for the amount of time needed, thus he needed Aaron and Hur to help raise his hands to keep the connection to the throne intact. It is my belief, having served churches for almost two decades, one of the biggest reasons why most churches are losing ground to the enemy is because of a lack of spotters to rally around God-sent, God-ordained, God-called leaders to raise the banner of Christ for the glory and mission of God. In fact, rather than rallying together to lift the banner, there’s typically disagreement and discouragement on how the banner is being raised. Thus, churches spend more time internally fighting one another over tertiary issues and not much time fighting the enemy.

In closing, churches that fail to have a community of spotters working alongside planters, pastors, and other church leaders to hold high the name of Jesus, will typically find themselves being crushed by the weights of pride and self-centeredness. But, churches that have a community of spotters helping planters, pastors, and other church leaders hold high the name of Jesus—thus being willing to do whatever it takes to engage in the mission of God—will find themselves victorious by savoring the blessings of Christ, soul-winning in the name of Christ, and pushing back darkness for the glory of Christ.

He Who Began a Good Work…

One of the coolest, yet annoying, machines on the face of planet earth is the souvenir penny machine. If you’ve been to a zoo, park, or museum you’ve probably seen one of them. You’re probably wondering why I believe it’s one of the most annoying machines. The annoyance comes when my children ask me for .51cents. For crying out loud, who carries change in their pocket anymore! But, the coolest feature is how the machine can smoosh Abraham Lincoln— transforming him—into (let’s say) Mickey Mouse.

The penny souvenir machine serves as a great example of what Paul tells the church at Philippi when he pens these words, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in your will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).

Think about the process of the penny souvenir machine. To see your penny transformed into a souvenir with the image of that place, person, or character, it would cost you .50cents (really .51). As you insert your coins, the penny is then yielded to the work of the machine that has been activated by the sacrifice of the two quarters. The penny does nothing. It only subjects itself to the machine and its transforming power.

Paul clearly states that the work started in the life of the believers at Philippi was done by God, not them. Believing in the truth of this verse isn’t difficult when you have the wind at your back, everything clicking on all cylinders, and life and ministry are going according to plan. However, it’s another thing when your life and ministry are met with struggle, heartache, loss, affliction, disappointment, difficulty, opposition, and suffering. Those moments make it harder to believe and trust that any good work is taking place. In these moments, we must look at the track record of God and see how he has delivered on this promise. We don’t have to go any further than Genesis 1 to see how God completes what He begins.

God, as Moses pens in Genesis 1, brought creation into existence out of nothingness, emptiness, darkness, and chaos. Could you imagine being alongside God during the creation project without knowing the specificity of His plan? I’m sure that we would have been like the classic five-year old constantly asking questions: “God what is that for?” “Are you going to do anything else?” “What are you going to put in that big body of water?” “Are you done yet?” “How does that work?” “Why did you create that?” “What’s up with this molded piece of dirt?”But, as God methodically and intentionally works, day-by-day, through His Word, He brings and shapes something very good into existence—including His prized creation, man.

Pastor, church planter, ministry leader, I know where you may be. Ministry and all the pressures is tough, difficult, and weighty. Things don’t go according to plan. What you thought was…isn’t. You thought you would be further along than you are. Some of the people that were with you in the beginning, aren’t with you anymore. People you thought had your back, stabbed you. People are nitpicking your leadership, your messages, your style. Money has dried up. Maybe you’re seeking a new season of ministry and you feel as though no one is looking at you and giving you a second look. And you are left wondering if it (ministry), if you (the minister), are even good. And if I could encourage you, “He who began a good work in you will carry it out until the day of completion.”

Ministry, similar to salvation, is a good work that God begun in you—when He called you—and will carry it out through you. So, when we read Philippians 1:6, Paul is touching on something that God has historically done since the beginning of creation, which is clearly seen in Jesus movement from redemption to consummation. And now, through His body (the church) and in the cranking power of the Holy Spirit, God is continuing His work in the life of believers until one day He will fully and gloriously complete what He began (Rev 21).

In closing, if you are in a season of struggle, dryness, brokenness, sadness, despair, hopelessness, or anxiousness, rest assure that God is certainly there with you working to complete the good work He started in you when He saved you and called you! So, see yourself as the penny. Surrender yourself to the rigorous and crushing work of God as He conforms and transforms you more into the image of Jesus.

 

Movemental Christianity

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After attending our church’s Men’s Retreat this past November, a group of men and I stayed to play paintball. This happened to be the first time I had ever played paintball. I thought that paintball would be similar to going outside with nerf guns. But, oh boy was I wrong. Nerf bullets don’t hurt; paintballs coming your way at over 150mph—HURT.

As I experienced my first-ever paintball match, I have to admit I didn’t move much. I didn’t want to get hit, and thus out. I wanted to stay clean (devoid of any paint of my clothes) and in the game. The problem with such a strategy, it’s hard to advance something when you’re not moving forward. In paintball, it seemed like the team that had a system and a strategy to move forward, to gain ground, to cut off the opposing team, went on to win.

In both my pastoral experience and my research, it seems that many churches today take the posture I did in my first-ever paintball match—they sit in one place. In other words, they play-it-safe and thereby experience very little movement. The only problem with such a posture is that Jesus didn’t call the church to a play-it-safe kind of posture. Quite the opposite. The missional call of Jesus positions the church in advance mode towards the gates of Hell as they aim to make disciples of all nations. Such a posture is what I, as well as others (like Ed Stetzer and Alan Hirsch), call Movemental Christianity.

There are many characteristics to Movemental Christianity, but in this short post, I want to share with you three.

  1. Movemental Christianity BEGINS with PRAYER. Through the New Testament, we know that such a missional call—to make disciples of all nations—involves the church praying for at least three things. First, it involves the church praying for the power. Thus, believers and churches should have part of their prayers directed towards asking the Spirit of God to fill them—empowering them for kingdom living and kingdom advancement. Second, it involves praying for laborers. As Jesus taught the disciples, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” Third, it involves praying for those far from God. Paul encourages Timothy to prayer for everyone—even those in authority—for God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1–4).
  2. Movemental Christianity POSTURES itself TO and FOR the WORLD. Those believers and churches that do not posture themselves TO and FOR the world, not only fail to become a movement, they end up becoming monuments. Monuments are erected to commemorate the past and what was, not advance anything in the future. The mission Jesus gave the church wasn’t to erect another religious institutional system (monument), but proclaim a relational transformational Savior (movement) who was on mission to create a people for Himself—where He would be their God/King and they would be His people. Such a posture will leave us feeling like Frodo (and Samwise Gamgee) on their way to Mordor to destroy the ring. It will be terrifying, risky, and adventurous.
  3. Movemental Christianity STRUCTURES itself with MULTIPLICATION in MIND. Many churches make decisions that help them manage and maintain what they have. Jesus wants the church to make decisions that gives them the ability to scale and multiple what they have. If Jesus called the church to make disciples, then we have to shift from a mindset of creating structures that maintain to creating ones that multiply. Therefore, churches have to think about how they are going to multiply the following: disciples, volunteers (aka at SCC as Towel-Holders), leaders, small groups (in every ministry area), campuses, and even churches. Such thinking and planning allows churches to create structures with multiplication in mind.

Movemental Christianity is meant to remind believers and churches of their God-given direction. Jesus has called the Church forward, not backward; to advancement, not retreat; to movement, not maintenance; to the future, not the past. For I truly believe, Jesus planted believers and local churches not to play-it-safe (as I did in paintball) but to risk it all for the sake of His glory and the world’s good.

The Tale of Three Seats in Light of Good Friday

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I debated whether to write this blog given the time-sensitivity of the story, but in light of Good Friday I feel at liberty to do so.

This past week, United Flight 3411 with service from Chicago to Louisville experienced a turbulent pre-flight exchange between a passenger and some police officers when he refused to give up his seat to a crew member. Many have seen the shocking video whether through the news or social media.

Before I go any further, let me first say that I was disheartened at how the situation went down and the force that was used to eject the patron (Dr. Dao) from the seat. It’s amazing that something like that happened for a routine flight. Second, I don’t know the whole story. Sure, I’ve seen media reports and news casts that have discussed it, but I wasn’t there, so I don’t know every detail.

Now that’s out of the way, I do believe there is a deeper story when we probe the scenario with the information we do have. And it is the tale of three seats.

The tale of three seats is one of inconvenience.

Seat #1:

The first seat is the patron (Dr. Dao) who was physically removed from his seat. He was already on the plane and was fully ready to get home because he had work to do the next day. The compensation vouchers United was offering him wasn’t enough to inconvenience him. Rather than getting out of his seat and talking to his lawyer, he chose to sit and let them physically remove him.

Seat #2:

The second seat is the patrons who witnessed the entire ordeal go down. Once again, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know exactly what happened and how things were communicated. But I have some experience with an overbooked flight. In my experience, the airline came on the intercom stating that they had an overbooked flight and that they were accepting volunteers to give up their seat in exchange for a monetary voucher to be used at a later time. I could be wrong, but I am sure something like that happened. And when there were no volunteers they started randomly selecting passengers.

For argument sake, let’s say they didn’t do that. Let’s say that they by-passed asking for volunteers and went straight to random selection. After the lengthy exchanged with the Dr.; after the threats from the officers; and during the physical altercation, it seems to me, that another passenger would have had enough and stood up and offered their seat. But from the information we have, that didn’t happen. Maybe it did, but I haven’t read or heard an account of that happening.

Once again, it seems the amount of compensation United was offering nor the awkward altercation with the Doctor was enough for any other passenger to be inconvenienced and give up their seat.

Seat #3:

The third seat is the airline industry and the employee that needed the seat in which the Doctor sat. Once again, I don’t know the entire story (and yes this is a theme for me in this blog) nor do I know why the four employees (or crew members) needed a seat. What I do know is that both United and the crew member weren’t willing to be inconvenienced.

There we have it. The tale of the three seats is one of inconvenience. This story exposes how our culture loathes being inconvenienced.

Our cultures’ disdain for inconvenience exposes the raw reality that as human beings we want to do what we want to do when we want to do it.

In short, we don’t want anyone else controlling us—because we might not like what they ask us to do. And if we do offer to inconvenience ourselves, it is usually for someone we know, love, respect, or work for. We might even be inconvenienced if our hearts are moved with compassion for someone in a tough predicament.

But by in large, we would rather anchor our souls to convenience even to the point of being uncomfortable rather than relinquish our rights to inconvenience and avoid a situation that might make everyone uncomfortable.

Enter Good Friday:

Today is Good Friday, the day Christians set aside to remember Jesus—their Savior who was nailed to a wooden, splinter-filled cross for the sin of the world. When you think about doing things that are convenient, going through horrific torment and being nailed to a wooden-cross almost naked for all of Jerusalem to see doesn’t make the cut. In fact, it is the exact opposite—it is super inconvenient.

In Philippians 2 Paul writes the following,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

The cross speaks of how Jesus inconvenienced Himself—how He gave up His comfort, His seat, and His life—so that humanity might be saved. We must remember, Jesus didn’t have to do what He did. Paul says, in the passage quoted above, that Jesus was God. Yet, for our sake He didn’t count equality with God a thing to be grasped. Rather, He chose to yield up His life, empty His life, in exchange for our salvation.

As believers who cast our minds to Calvary as we commemorate Good Friday as the day Jesus substituted His life for us by hanging on an old rugged cross, let us also not forget that three days later (as we will celebrate Sunday) He rose victoriously from the grave. Therefore, because He is risen, because He is alive, because He lives through us (through His Spirit), let us—as Paul encouraged believers—have the same mind as our King. Let us be willing to be inconvenienced for the glory of God and the good of others.

Being willing to be inconvenienced may mean we give up our airline seat to someone else. It may mean that we invite that friend to Easter service with us this coming Sunday. It may mean we give up an hour each week and serve our church in some way. It may mean that we commit ourselves to a small group. It may mean that we go out of our way to make things right with our spouse. It may mean that we give up some of the luxuries of life so that we can direct more finances to advancing the mission of God. It can also mean a host of other things.

In closing, I pray for all involved on Flight 3411 and especially Dr. Dao and his recovery. I also hope that we can learn from this tragic event. And one of those things I hope we learn is that the tale of three seats reminds us of how much our culture hates being inconvenienced. Yet, in light of our culture’s resistance to inconvenience, let us be also reminded of Good Friday.

Good Friday reminds us how our Savior and King—who knew no sin—over two-thousand years ago inconvenienced Himself by being nailed to a tree for us to be raised to life with thee.

May those who follow Jesus, be willing to follow in His footsteps by relinquishing our convenience and rights in order to live for the glory of God and the good of the world.

Investing in and Taking Inventory of our Sanctification

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We invest in what we love. Take a quick second to think about that statement. It’s true isn’t it? If you love your job, you invest your energy and effort into doing excellent work. If you love the thought of retirement, at some point, you invest in a financial portfolio. If you love being healthy, you invest your energy and effort into eating right and working out. If you love your wife and children, you find the time to invest in them.

Peter, in his second epistle, expresses that those who know Jesus—those who have been saved and redeemed by King Jesus; those that know Him and have been given everything they need to live a godly life—are to “make every effort” to invest (to supplement) in growing in their faith. In other words, Peter, after having explained that God has done all the heavy lifting to give us what we need for living a godly life, turns to explain how believers are to be active in their sanctification—the process by which God molds and conforms His people into the image of Jesus.

Without going into detail on the specific areas (which you can do by listening to a recent message of mine) Peter mentions, I want to spend just a few moments addressing four principles of investing in our sanctification.

First, our investment is PERSONAL. Investing in sanctification is something we “get” to do rather than something we “have” to do. Or, put another way: it is something we should “want” to do rather than “have” to do. Growing in our faith and relationship with Christ is personal. Because of His unwavering and unconditional love for us, and our growing love for Him, growth in that relationship should be seen as a privilege and honor, not some burden.

If you see following Jesus as more of a burden than blessing, it may be that your view of following Him is more mechanical, ritualistic, and religious rather than personal and relational.

Second, our investment is INTENTIONAL. Investment, regardless of what area of life it’s in, is intentional. Someone investing their time coaching a little league team is intentional. Someone investing their money in a money-market or 401K is intentional. A husband investing time in planning date nights with his wife is intentional. The same is true with regard to sanctification. We have to be intentional.

Being intentional requires planned and deliberate action to exert energy and effort into cultivating our relationship with Christ.

If someone wants to lose weight and they go out and buy a treadmill but never intentionally use it, they won’t lose weight. In a similar manner, if someone follows Christ but never spends any time with Him (reading, praying, and seeking Him) or His people (gathering corporately, meeting with other believers), then that person hasn’t been intentional and therefore is unlikely to grow.

Third, our investment is GRADUAL. Just as it takes time for a financial portfolio to increase and grow, it takes time for us to grow in Christlikeness. We don’t go from zero to hero overnight. That’s why we refer to sanctification as a process! As we personally and intentionally invest, we see gradual growth. Here’s a sobering truth that hopefully makes you and me take a deep breath: YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BE PERFECT! You are going to fail; you are going to drop the ball. You are going to miss the mark. But, in the process of sanctification, understand that you fail forward—knowing that every step (and misstep) along the way God is molding you and shaping you into the image of Jesus. In other words, He is working all things out together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Sure there will be days you echo the Apostle Paul, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).

In the gradual process of becoming like Christ, it’s important to remember that there is NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1), and that the same grace that saved you is the same grace that sustains and sanctifies you!

Fourth, our investment is SYNCHRONIC. Although Peter’s list seems sequential—add to virtue, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control, etc.—it’s more synchronic. It’s synchronic because the Christian life isn’t about a checklist. For instance, it’s not like I master virtue and then move on to knowledge. The characteristics and qualities that Peter lists are all areas in which we are to grow simultaneously and synchronically. They are all interconnected. However, the last characteristic that Peter lists is love. And, like I alluded to earlier, it is love that drives all the others. It is Christ’s love for us, and our [growing] love for Christ that compels us to grow in virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, and brotherly affection.

So, how’s your investment? Are you investing in your sanctification? Are you working out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12)? Don’t misunderstand, I didn’t ask you if you’re working FOR your salvation? But, are you working out, working in LIGHT of your salvation. Are you taking the life that has been imparted and imputed to you and cultivating it through the practice of spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible reading, silence and solitude, corporate worship, accountability, etc.?

In conclusion, to help take spiritual inventory on how your investment in sanctification is going, here’s a list of ten questions I borrowed and adapted from Donald Whitney’s, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. As you read through them, be honest with where you think you are.

1. Do you thirst for God?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

2. Do you strive to govern your life according to God’s word?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

3. Are you sensitive to what God may be doing in and around you? In other words, are you contemplative or reactive to what happens to you or around you? Do you immediately start complaining when things don’t go your way, or do you pause and ask God what are you doing? What do you want me to do? What are you teaching me?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

4. Are you a loving person?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

5. Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual, temporal, and physical needs of others?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

6. Do you delight in, and are you devoted to, the bride of Christ?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

7. When is the last time you exercised in the following spiritual disciplines?

  • Prayer
  • Bible Reading
  • Corporate Worship
  • Evangelism (Had a gospel conversation with someone)
  • Served others
  • Stewardship (giving)
  • Fasted (you went without food or device in order to seek God’s direction and will)                                                            
  • Do you express a godly sorrow over your sin

8. Do you express a godly sorrow over your sin?

                            Always                  Often                           Seldom                         Never

9. Are you a person who holds grudges or extends grace? 

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

10. Do you strive to live here on earth as if you were living there in heaven?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never