Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rumors Of God

In the opening chapter of Rumors Of God the authors quote from the C.S Lewis Classic Mere Christianity. "The world is a great sculptor's shop. We are the statues and there is a rumor going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life." In this excellent book John Tyson and Darren Whitehead remind us that the rumors about God are true. The faith and life God speaks of is for real. Through biblical exploration and their own authentic experiences the authors reveal a God worthy of our worship and our lives.

If you are longing for a deeper authentic relationship with God and the people around you this book is for you. If you have heard of God's fame and want more read and you will be challenged and encouraged.

I received this book through Thomas Nelson BookSneeze...I received this book for free in exchange for my review of it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lesson's from the Sneetches

Now, the Star-Bell Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.
Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small.
You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.

But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches
Would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.”
With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort
“We’ll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!”
And, whenever they met some, when they were out walking,
They’d hike right on past them without even talking.

If you have ever read the Sneetches by Dr Seuss you'll find that the Sneetches are not too different than people. One group of Sneetches looked down upon the other. That was until one day when the crafty Sylvester McMonkey McBean offered a solution to their problem. For a small fee he offered to put stars on the bellies of Sneetches without. When the original star bellied Sneetches saw this they were upset. They were the superior Sneetches, but now no one would know. McBean, being the kind soul that he was had another machine that could take stars off for another small fee. Sneetches shuffled in and out machines until they ran out of money and no one knew who was who.

In James 2:1-4 we are told, "My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,' have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?"

James' audience had the same problem as the Sneetches. They made superficial distinctions among themselves. McBean offered an external solution to an internal problem of the heart. People, governments, and organizations do the same thing today. The Sneetches were fortunate to learn a hard lesson when they came to the end of their resources. The story tells us, That the Sneetches got really quite smart on that day. The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches. And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.

How did the Sneetches get to the place where some were thought of as better than others? It certainly wasn't because stars were better than none. The thoughts of superiority were still there when the stars were gone. This probably started years and years ago. For centuries the stories have been passed down the reminded Sneetches who and what was best.

We have our stories too. They shape what we believe about each other, God, and ourselves. God has a better story. It is a story that tells of our common beginning and problem of all humanity. The story introduces a common Savior and a shared family identity and destination for those that follow this Savior. In this story we have been told there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.(Galatians 3:28) What story are you living from?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fullness of Joy

There are things that all of us long for. We were created to experience real and lasting pleasure and joy. Many times we seek this in destructive ways. I understand and have experienced the pain from those decisions. I suppose my real struggle is when I don't understand the difficulties that come into my life and those around me. Loved ones die too soon. The good things in our lives seem to give less than what we thought they would. People we love and respect fail us. Is there something more? Is there hope?

I have been contemplating this verse all week. Psalms 16:11 "You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever." The Psalmist, David tells us that in God's presence is fullness of joy and in His right hand there are pleasures forever. It is important to note that David isn't some guy that is out of touch with the difficulties of life. He is not some guy whose life is perfect and writes about some mystical joy we will never experience because we live in a real world of pain, disappointment, and suffering. No, David is for real. He knows death, suffering and loss. He knows his own depravity as well as the brokenness of those around him. He knows hunger, homelessness, and humiliation. But, David also knows the secret to real joy. Real joy is found in the presence of the living God.

To be honest, I can't quite wrap my mind around what pleasures forever would be like. I do know that if this is a promise from a holy and loving God, it has to be incredible. Can you imagine pure, holy, and unending pleasure? What an awesome loving God we serve. I can not think of a better deal anywhere. Today, in spite of my questions and struggles I chose to enter His Joy. I will seek to come into the presences of our loving God.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Praying Mantis

I left my house yesterday with a lot on my mind. While driving to work I thought of the world economy and the ongoing turbulent political situation in our country. As I got out of the car I started thinking about the things I needed to accomplish. The list is unending. What was I going to do first? As I reached for the door I noticed a praying mantis right at my eye level. I thought "this is funny." A praying mantis came to church to pray. In that moment, I could hear the voice of a good friend. If Bill were here he would say something like, "What do think God want us to do this morning?" Thanks Lord for sending a praying mantis and a good friend.

The Bible tells us in Jeremiah 29:11-12 "For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.'" The Lord has good plans. He wants us to call upon Him. He wants us to talk to Him about our worries, concerns, and agenda. He wants to hear from us and us to hear from Him.

What our your concerns today? Are you calling upon the Lord?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What Would I Do to Have the Kind of Faith That it Takes?

There is a popular Contemporary Christian song that depicts a scene in Peter’s life. It is the moment when Peter saw Jesus walking on water and he said Lord if it is you command me to come out to you and Peter gets out of the boat and begins to walk towards Jesus. The opening lines of the song the voice of truth say.
Oh, what I would do to have the kind of faith it takes to climb out of this boat I'm in onto the crashing waves. To step out of my comfort zone Into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is, And he's holding out his hand.

The song is pretty popular so I am guessing that a lot of people really want to have a faith that is deeper than what they are already experiencing. It seems as if there is something within the human heart that longs for something more than the mundane. We were created for something great and to be a part of a greater story than our own individual stories can provided. The song writer says, “oh, what would I do to have the kind of faith that it takes”? That brings up two questions in my mind. What does it take? And. What would we do? Seriously think about that. What does it take and what would you do to have the kind of faith it takes to step out to where God wants you?

What did it take for Peter to have the kind of faith and the courage that many of us say we long for. Before we do that, let me suggest that Acts chapter 4 is a much greater moment of courage and more like the lasting faith we seek.

Let me summarize the story. Peter and John, in the name of Jesus, healed a man who has been unable to walk since birth. They then preach about Jesus who has been resurrected and now offers salvation to all who believe in Him. Their reward for this is they are thrown in jail and have to stand before the Sanhedrin.

When we compare the two events we see a dramatic change in Peter. In the story about Peter getting out of the boat we find Peter as we have come to know him. It is not surprising that he got out of the boat. Peter has these moments of faith and courage that do not last very long. One minute he decides to step out in faith next minute he is pleading for help. It is the same Peter that impulsively cuts off a man's ear when Jesus is arrested and moments later denies he even knows Jesus to a slave girl.

Something is much different with Peter as we find him in Acts chapter 4. Here he is calm and poised. There is such a change that his accusers are baffled. William Barclay, writes the following concerning what Peter had to say in Acts: ". . . when we read the speech of Peter, we must remember to whom it was spoken, and when we do remember that it becomes one of the world's great demonstrations of courage. It was spoken to an audience of the wealthiest, the most intellectual and the most powerful in the land, and yet Peter, the Galilean fisherman, stands before them rather as their judge than as their victim. But further, this was the very court which had condemned Jesus to death. Peter knew it, and he knew that at this moment he was taking his life in his hands."

The faith that Peter showed before the Sanhedrin characterizes the rest of his life. So what happened and what does it take? There are at least 3 things that emerge from Acts chapter 4. Verse 2 tells us "they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead." The greatest change in Peter's thinking is that he has investigated the resurrection of Jesus Christ and now has an unshakable faith in the resurrection. I should add that this faith did not come easy. He, along with the other disciples, thought that Christ resurrection from the dead was nonsense until they saw Christ themselves (Luke 24:11). The threats and fear of death mean little to a man that has seen his Lord resurrected.

Now as great as it to believe that Jesus rose from the grave, that in and of itself is not enough to explain both the consistency and the power demonstrated in the early church. There is something more. Verse 8 tells us, "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them."
Noticed Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy is the 3rd person in the Trinity who comes into our lives when we place our faith in Christ. When the Bible says Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit we should think of the Spirit controlling or empowering Peter. Not only do we need a faith that is grounded in the belief that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. We need lives that are Empowered by the Holy Spirit.

There is one other essential element that helps us understand the change in Peter. Acts 4:23-24 "On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. "Sovereign Lord," they said, "you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.
They didn't march or protest. They didn't start a political action group. They didn't fret and complain. They joined together as God’s people and prayed.
Their faith was sustained through fellowship and prayer. This combination of seeking God and fellowshipping together should not be overlooked. If we look at Peter before Acts we find him saying things like: "Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away." (Matthew 26:33); "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." (Matthew 14:28) Notice the contrast in his words in Acts "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:20) "But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29) This is no longer the impulsive, "I can make on my own" Peter. This is a man that has a faith grounded in the belief that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead, Empowered by the Holy Spirit, and Sustained through fellowship and prayer.

What does it take to have the kind of faith it takes to step out to where God wants you?
We need a faith that is grounded in the belief that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead, Empowered by the Holy Spirit, and Sustained through fellowship and prayer.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Book Review: Every Man's Battle

"We aren't victims of some vast conspiracy to ensnare us sexually; we've simply chosen to mix in our own standards of sexual conduct with God's standard. Since we found God's standard too difficult, we created a mixture -- something new,something comfortable, something mediocre." The authors' quote from page 42 summarizes the heart of the problem. I was reminded of how easy it is for us in any area of our lives to settle for something less than God's standards -- something mediocre. God has something better for you and I.

Stoecker and Yorkey remind us in straight forward terms that not only does God expect us to live, think, and act differently than the world around us. They remind us that as Christians we have the ability to experience victory over the sins that destroy our lives and the lives of those around us. Sexual purity is possible for the man who gives his heart to God. This much needed book is a must read for the Christian man that truly wishes to follow God in obedience.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Book Review: A Conversation with God

A Conversation with God by Alton Gansky is a good read for someone wanting to have a basic overview of theology in easy to understand laymen terms. The book consist of questions in which the author speaks on behalf of God to answer. In general it was not as awkward as I had expected. It some ways I believe this did limit the author. The depth of discussion could have been deeper by allowing the reader to wrestle with varying theological positions within Christendom. The format of the book does not allow for that level of thought. I do recommend it to those that want a basic theological overview. For this reason, I plan to add this book to our church library.

I was disappointed that there was not a chapter on the church. I was hoping that "God" would have a higher view of the church. On page 50 the highest compliment given toward the church was, "Church is a resource that shouldn't be overlooked." Really? The living organism founded by Jesus is treated as an add-on. Unfortunately, this is true for the God most Americans worship. In spite of this I liked the book over-all

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Who Is This?

My sermon this week comes from Matthew 21:1-16. Here is the introduction. Feel free to comment. I have been imagining what it would have been like to have been in the crowd when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. It must have been a festive event. A great crowd had already gathered to celebrate Passover. People were shouting and cheering as they laid their coats and palm branches on the road before Him. Would I have wondered, “Could this be the promised Messiah, the Son of David? Is this the beginning of a new era, one without Roman occupation and oppression?” Maybe like others in the crowd I would have heard stories about the teaching and healing by this man called Jesus. In the midst of this great fanfare and excitement people began to ask, “Who is this?” This may be the most important question we can ever ask. Who is this man called Jesus? Our answer determines everything. I wonder what I would have thought as events unfolded. Would I have recognized God’s righteousness when He drove money changers and those selling doves out of the temple? Or would I have become angry because I profited from the lucrative business of exploiting those that came to draw close to God as they offered their sacrifices? Would there have been tears in my eyes as the lame and the blind were healed? Keep in mind this is more than a physical healing. Their healing meant that they would have been no longer barred to the court of the Gentiles. Would I have been moved in this great moment as God’s temple was being used properly as a place of prayer and display of God’s healing power? Would I continue to shout with the children, “Hosanna to the Son of David”? One last question: Would I have been one in the crowd that moved from shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David” to a few days later declaring, “Crucify Him” and, “We have no king but Caesar”? I guess it all depends on how I answer the first question. Who is this? Have you ever thought about that question? Maybe you make it a habit to regularly worship God both privately and corporately. Maybe you come to church on Christmas or Easter because you know it makes Mom or your spouse happy. It doesn’t matter where you are I think it is easy to get caught up in the moment of celebration. We may enjoy the singing or the energy from the crowd around us and never answer the question, “Who is this?” Some suggest He was a good man, teacher, leader, prophet, etc. Others consider Him to be the champion of the poor and oppressed. He has been called delusional, a rebel, a pacifist, a demon, and a fraud. The list goes on. Some use His name as if it is a magical incantation. Still others see intellectual assent to His existence as a ticket to the next world. Sometimes our assertions tell us more about each other than they do about Jesus Christ. So, who is He and does it matter?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Roof-Tile Syndrome

At our Wednesday night bible study we learned a new phrase: “Roof-tile Syndrome.” This is a phrase that author and pastor Mark Buchanan thought of when he looked at the way many churches operate. Roof-tile Syndrome is what happens when we and or our practices become barriers to people experiencing the love, hope, healing, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

In Mark chapter 2 we are told about some men that carried their paralytic friend to Jesus in hope that He would heal him. There was a problem. They could not get through the doorway because it was barricaded with people. These men were quite determined so they literally tore the roof off and lowered the man down to Jesus. This must have been quite a show. Jesus was impressed with the faith of these men and He healed and forgave their friend. The really sad part of this story is that in the midst of great faith and a miracle the religious people of the day aren’t found rejoicing afterwards. They engage in a full blown argument.

Truth is we are all a little prone to roof-tile syndrome. Many church-goers today would begin to ask questions. Couldn’t they just wait until the crowds left and go through the door like everyone else? That’s the way I did it, after all. Why should we change for others? That roof has been there for years. Why did we have to move it? Who’s going to pay to fix the roof?

There is nothing in the story to indicate that these men were anything but Godly men that wanted to get their friend to Jesus. I am sure they would repair the roof themselves. They were not concerned with the cost. They saw a way through the obstacles and brought their friend in contact with the living Lord.

My experience is that people get upset when the “roof-tiles” are moved around. We like things as they have been. Is it going to cost? If we are going to reach out to people in our community, the answer is yes. The questions we need to answer are: What are the “roof-tiles” in our church? Are we willing to “tear apart” the roof so others can come to Jesus?

Pastor Don

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book Review: The Next Christians

I highly recommend the book "The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America" to all church leaders and Christians who are looking for hope for the church and God's kingdom. As a pastor I am seeking to understand the next generation and world around us. Lyons' book gives great insight to both. He challenges the reader not follow the latest fad but to return living and telling the full Biblical story. He reminds us that the story is not just fall and redemption. The whole story is creation, fall, redemption, restoration, and consummation. He invites Christian to move beyond the idea that they have their "ticket punched" for heaven to joining with God and others in restoration. Some of his examples will make the average Christian uncomfortable. The reality is we have become too comfortable. If you are looking for greater encounter with God and His missional purposes in the world, you will want to read this book.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jay Cutler and Sports Fans

In the world of professional sports Jay Cutler committed the unforgivable sin. He left a game with an injury. Well not just any game. The winner goes to the Super bowl. Unfortunately for Jay he will be judged and vilified by many of us that sit in the comfort of our living rooms. As we snack our way in to greater obesity we complain about Cutler’s heart. “He doesn’t have a compound fracture. He is able to stand and walk without a limp.” As if being able to stand and walk means you can play quarterback in the NFL. Hopefully, for his sake, the MRI will show that he has a severely torn ACL. Anything short of that will be unacceptable. A man who has taken more sacks than anyone else in the NFL this year will be labeled a sissy. A man who has no problem throwing into triple coverage after an interception will be judged for his lack of confidence. A man that has the respect of his teammates and recklessly throws his own body around will be judged to have no heart.
Why would we judge Cutler so harshly? Is it our quest for entertainment at any cost? Is it so we can feel as though we have personally accomplished something great? Or because the team we root for beat another team? Maybe it is the fact that he gets paid millions of dollars. With the cost to have him on the team, we expect him to risk life and limb. We expect him to ignore any conventional wisdom, including the professional medical staff on the side line. No, with that kind of money, nothing short of being carried off on a stretcher is acceptable. As a Bears fan, I hope Jay is on our team next year. If Brian Urlacher and Olin Kreutz say Jay Cutler is a tough player and was too injured to play, I’ll go with them over the guy sitting on his couch eating his potato chips. I do not have enough information to judge his heart or integrity. Those with more in-depth knowledge and different expectations, judge away. It is still a free country.
I do have some thoughts and questions that remain for those of us who call ourselves Christians. One can easily argue that Mr. Cutler and every other professional athlete are ridiculously overpaid. I will agree on that. But I have to ask, did God pay a ridiculous amount to purchase us and our salvation? Revelation 5:9 tells us that it is with Jesus’ blood we have been purchased. If the price paid corresponds to the expectation for the payee, how are we doing?
Reality may show that Cutler could have played and we may question his heart because he should have known the importance of the game. But let’s be consistent. Jesus indicates that we will be judged in the same way we judge others (Matt 7:2). Our churches would radically change the world if we lived up to half the expectations we place on professional athletes. We are involved in something way more important than a football game. We are talking about the kingdom of God and eternity. Seriously, when was the last time you stayed up late studying the game plan (Bible) and preparing (praying) against the enemy’s attacks? Do you play hurt or do you abandon God and his people because some other Christian has offended you? Do you sacrifice for the team (church) or are you an individual player? (i.e. I am Christian but not part of a church)
Jesus Christ didn’t invite people to hang out in a stadium (church building). He didn’t invite them to put on a jersey (place membership in a church). There is nothing wrong with those things. But we have been invited to something greater. Jesus invited people to deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow Him. He said, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” He said, “Follow Me, I will give you treasures in Heaven. I will give you a place in the kingdom.” "He who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do” “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." In another place he said, “go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” I realize we need to contextualize that, but I am sure whatever it means it is a far cry from how most of us live. Most of us have bought so much we have nothing to give to the poor and, in fact, we are in debt. How are you doing? Are we living up to the standards we place on other people?
At a critical point in the life of Jesus one of his closest friends denies Him. Not once, but three times. Talk about losing heart. Talk about letting the team down. What did Jesus do? If he were a modern day fan he would have traded him off to some other team. After all Jesus paid a high price. He should expect more from this ungrateful person. No. Jesus doesn’t do that. He restores him. He invites him back to a life of purpose and ministry.
Where do you find yourself today? Are you living up to the same standards you place on others? Do you live with the passion you expect them to play with? Do you forget what is important? Are you on the sideline when you should be playing? Wherever we find ourselves, Jesus is there inviting us to get back into His game.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Resolution

I like this time of the year. We have just celebrated the birth of Christ. We are now preparing for the New Year. In some ways, the New Year is a fresh start. If the old year was hard, there is always the hope that the next year will be better and more promising. Unfortunately, we often allow the previous year to define what can be accomplished in the New Year. I wonder if history repeats itself. Or does human nature expect nothing different?

I was reminded of this during our Christmas play. There is something prophetic in the repeated line of “nothing ever happens here.” Where is the hope? Where is the expectation? The people seemed doomed to living a life of low expectation with nothing new or exciting. If we are not careful, we can miss what is really happening and what God wants to do.

As we look at the events leading up to the birth and early ministry of Jesus, we see a pattern. It starts with Zacharias. When an angel speaks to him about the birth of his son he asks, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” Keep in mind he is talking to an angel that just delivered exciting news. Maybe that alone should be enough evidence. After his son is born, no one wants him to be named John because, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” Talk about a “we have never done it this way before” attitude. Then when Jesus is born, the Magi do not show up in Bethlehem. This is a city of little importance. They showed up where the action should be - in Jerusalem. Years later, when Jesus comes out of Nazareth, Nathanael asks “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” It is as if the past dictates the future. We seem to struggle with the idea of God doing something different. What if God actually wants to accomplish great things through us in the next year? What if He wishes to do things greater than we believe possible or probable?

I am not suggesting that we should be unrealistic about the future, but we need to be open to God. Recognize, as we prepare for a New Year, our future is not determined by our past, location, or abilities. Our future is dependent on our openness to the working of God in our lives. Do we believe that God can do great things in our lives in the next year? Are you ready for whatever HE wants to do?