Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Ordinary

Our church just finished a sermon series entitled "Ordinary" and it was one of the BEST series I have ever heard!  Each week was loaded with encouragement and I walked away more and more amazed at God.  He just seems to enjoy making straight lines with crooked sticks. So, if you're reading this right now and you feel inadequate, unqualified, and like you don't have it all together, you're in good company.  The great news is that God does not need a better version of you in order to work in you and through you.  

If you take the time to watch any of these messages, I think you will see that God is more than willing and able to use our weakness and our neediness to demonstrate His power.  Be encouraged.

Week 1:  No Little People

Week 2:  An Ordinary Con Man

Week 3:  An Ordinary Joe

Week 4:  Beyond Hallmark Mothers

Week 5:  Esther

Week 6:  An Ordinary Outcast

Week 7:  When Our Weakness and God's Strength Collide

Week 8:  We Need More Johns

Week 9:  An Ordinary Dinner Guest

Week 10:  An Ordinary Father

Week 11:  An Ordinary Guy in the Stands

Week 12:  An Ordinary Quitter

Week 13:  An Unloved Sister

Week 14:  These Things Matter

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

God Was On the Penske Too

In June of 2014, everything my wife and I had accumulated over 12 years of marriage was squeezed into a 21-foot-long Penske truck.  The two of us were sitting on the floor of an empty home no longer our own ... and we were both in tears.  We were moving, but more than that, we were leaving everything we had ever known.  Our family was forged in that small Indiana town.  Our best memories were made in that now empty house.  I began the process of learning how to be a husband, a dad, and a pastor in that place.  Our closest friendships were staying but we were moving.  We were leaving our comfortable, mid-Western life and moving to an unfamiliar one that could not feel any more different.

If I can be honest, at that moment I was feeling very broken and weak.  In the silence of that empty home, every doubt that had whispered to me in the months prior was now screaming at my soul.  I was afraid, but I was trusting that this was where God was leading.  

With that in mind, we prayed, and then started up the Penske.  That difficult "good-bye" allowed us to experience the beautiful "hello" of God's goodness, God's faithfulness, God's mercy, and God's grace. I could not be more grateful. What we ultimately discovered was that God was on that Penske too.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

My Pace Didn't Shatter Any Records but It Did Shatter Something Else

Lessons are learned every day.  I learned one very early this morning and I hope to always remember it. 

I was on a bit of a tight schedule this morning and I wanted to try to squeeze a three-mile run in before the kids woke up.  I felt good about wanting to do that.  I was up early (showing some personal discipline) … I wanted to exercise (showing a desire to be healthy) … I wanted to run hard (showing some grit and determination).  I felt very good about myself and my agenda for the morning. 

But, then my 3-year-old woke up.  He saw that I was getting ready to go for a run and he really wanted to go with me.  I’m not sure if you’ve ever run with a 3-year-old.  Mine loves to go for runs and we’ve done so before. But he also loves to stop and look at anything that grabs his attention along the way.  It’s as “stop and go” as traffic on the beltway.  And, who doesn’t enjoy that?

My wife looked at me with tender eyes that said, “Awwww.  He wants to run with daddy.  How cute.”  My thoughts were not quite the same.  Honestly, I was not happy.  MY time was limited (showing my inflexibility) … I did not want to “waste” time stopping every 200 yards (showing my impatience) … and after a late night of talking with people and an early morning of having people over to the house, I honestly just wanted time by myself (showing my selfishness). 

I initially said, “No, buddy.  Daddy is just going to go by himself today.”  But, then my wife’s eyes that once said, “Awwww” were now saying, “I know you’re frustrated, but you’re not going to have many opportunities to run with your 3-year-old.  Don’t miss this one.” Who does she think she is anyway? :)

So, I begrudgingly laced up my running shoes and my wife put the most adorable running outfit on our son … and off we went.  My son had a smile on his face the entire way, and I soon did as well.  He sprinted.  He zig-zagged.  He laughed.  He stopped.  He examined whatever caught his attention.  We even passed some walkers who cheered for him along the way.  And, it didn’t take long for God to show me that spending this time with my son was the absolute best thing I could have been doing this morning.  I paused, told God I was sorry for being so selfish and was grateful that my agenda was interrupted by this beautiful moment.  Running on my terms may have strengthened my heart physically, but running on God’s terms softened my heart spiritually … and that will always make me a better man.

The whole thing just reminded me that I can get so caught up in my plans and my agenda and what I think I should be doing (or even what others say I should be doing) that I can easily miss an opportunity to do good to the person God places in front of me.  I can get so busy trying to “do” for God (and feel good and even prideful about what I’m doing) that I can easily miss what God simply calls me to do: love Him … love my neighbor … do good to all people … allow my faith to be expressed through love … to see the character of Jesus fully developed in my life … to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every area of my life.


Our running pace sure didn’t shatter any records, but it did shatter some of the hardness in my heart.  For that I am grateful.  I’m sure it will be a lesson I need to learn and re-learn throughout my life but for now I rest in the fact that God had a plan this morning … and it was a whole lot better than mine.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

I Need God When I'm Weak, but Even More When I'm Strong

I recently had the opportunity to speak on Gideon at Grace Community.  If you haven’t had the chance to watch, you can catch it right here.  The story of Gideon is a powerful reminder of how God loves to choose the least likely to accomplish His purposes. We all have plenty of problems and more than enough inadequacies, but the good news is that, as Christians, we are no longer defined by what we are not, but rather by the grace of God working in our lives through Jesus.  That’s the Good News.  Gideon’s story found in Judges chapters 6 and 7 is beautiful picture of how God’s grace can work in the midst of our weakness.  But, the remaining part of Gideon’s story found in Judges chapter 8 is just as important.  This part of the story reminds us that we need to remember God’s grace just as much, if not more so, when we feel strong.

In Judges 7:2 we read, “The LORD said to Gideon, ‘You have too many warriors with you.  If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.”  God goes to extraordinary lengths to reduce Gideon’s army from 32,000 men to only 300.  And, in the end, a tremendous victory is won without any of those 300 men even killing an enemy soldier.  (Judges 7:21 – 22).  This was so that “none of them could return home singing of what they had done, but only of what the LORD had done as they watched.”  (Keller) 

But, what we see happen is that it does not take long for the praise of men to begin to intoxicate Gideon and for the criticism of men to begin to anger him.  Even though the victory was clearly God’s, in chapter 8 we begin to see that Gideon feels that he should at least be honored and respected because of the victory.   When he feels disrespected and does not get what he wants from his very own people, he comes back at them with a vengeance. (Judges 8:4 – 17)

I recently read a book on being a pastor and there was a statement that has really impacted me:  “You and I must not become pastors who are all too aware of our positions.  We must not give way to protecting and polishing our power and prominence.  We must resist feeling privileged, special, or in a different category.  We must not think of ourselves as deserving or entitled.  We must not demand to be treated differently or put on some ministry pedestal.  We must not minister from above but from alongside.” (Tripp)  If human history has proven anything, it’s proven that mankind is not on a quest for smallness. This is a problem because any attempt to build up our name or our reputation or our status is always an attempt to push God from the center and steal some of His glory.  We either magnify God or magnify ourselves, but we will never do both.  This is so very important to remember in times of victory and strength because “success can easily cause us to forget God’s grace God-given victory can easily be used to confirm the belief that, in fact, we have earned blessing for ourselves, and should receive the praise and glory for that success.” (Keller)

There is actually a point in the story of Gideon where the people of Israel ask him to be their king.  “The Israelites said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us – you, your son and your grandson – because you have saved us out of the hand of Midian.’ But Gideon told them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you.  The Lord will rule over you.’”  (Judges 8:22 – 23) Why would Gideon turn down the opportunity to be king?  I mean, this seems like an amazing opportunity for him to do some good.  Well, around a hundred years earlier God specifically said this through Moses in Deuteronomy 17:14 “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you (the Israelites are already in this land in the book of Judges) and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,’ be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses.”

It was the people who were choosing Gideon to be king, not God.  And, Gideon rightly discerns their mistake.  But, even though he refuses their request to BE their king, he starts to live like he IS their king.  He collects money from the people (8:24) and prospers because of what the people give (8:26).  And, for some reason, under his rule, the people of Israel actually begin to worship something Gideon made from the gold he was given.  He created an “ephod” (a piece of linen material the high priest wore which contained two stones, the Urim and Thummim, which the high priest used to help discern God’s will.)  But, Gideon makes an ephod out of gold and the people of Israel actually begin worshipping the golden ephod itself.  We’re told the ephod became a trap for Gideon and his entire family (8:27).  Instead of continuing to help the people of Israel turn toward God, under the rule of Gideon it appears as if they actually turn away even more! 

Judges 8:30 tells us that Gideon had 70 sons by many wives (which begs the question “How did he have time for anything else?!)  Even though he refused to BE king, he very much lived like he was and even named a son born to him by a concubine “Abimelech” which means “My father is king!”  And, after Gideon’s death, we read that Abimelech committed horrendous atrocities in order to make himself king (Judges 9). 

Although Gideon’s story reminds us that God’s strength can be very present in the midst of our weakness, it’s also a sobering reminder of how easily pride can creep in to our lives. Or, as one person said, it’s very easy to “constantly confuse being an ambassador with being a king.” (Tripp)

And, this is what pride will do   it will always seek to make life more about me and less about God.  And, I think this is why God tells us in Proverbs 8:13 that He hates pride.   Pride drags us away from God.  It refuses to admit that we need a Savior.  It refuses to admit that we’re small.  It refuses to admit that we have a total and complete dependence upon God.  It refuses to admit that we’re broken.  It refuses to admit that I have issues that I may actually be part of the relational problems in my life it refuses to admit that I have habits I can’t break, and thoughts I don’t want, and emotions I don’t like, and insecurities and fears that I can’t hide regrets and resentments that I can’t let go of.  Pride keeps me in bondage to the worst this life has to offer and will always keep me from the best that God has to offer.

So, we can learn much from what Gideon did well and also from what he appears to have not done so well.  It’s wonderful to be successful at what God has called us to do.  But, never let that success begin to define you.  Instead, allow it to remind you of your daily need for God’s help, not just because of your weakness, but because of your strength as well.  In the words of Lecrae:  “I know I'm safest when I'm in Your will and trust Your word. And I know I'm dangerous when I trust myself, my vision blurred I can play the background and You can take the lead.” 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

I Was One of Them

I found out today that Bessie, the lady who led me to Jesus, passed away.  She was very old and very ready to meet her Savior.  I’m not sure of the exact number of people she led to the Lord, but there were many and I was one. 

For me, it happened during “Happy Hour.”  This Happy Hour was not at a bar, though.  It was at a church and was the name of our Wednesday night children’s ministry.  I’m not sure of my exact age 5 or 6 probably.  But, I do distinctly remember Bessie talking about going to heaven and that Jesus was the only way to go to heaven.  Well, of course, as a 5/6-year-old boy, I wanted to know for sure that I would go to heaven.  When she asked if anyone would like to ask Jesus to be their “Forever Friend,” I raised my hand.  On that night I was the only one who did so.  We went in to another room in the basement of our church and it was there, with Bessie by my side, that I asked Jesus to be my Forever Friend. 

As a young boy, I didn’t know all of the implications of that.  But, I can say that, since that time, I have grown to love Jesus.  I am not ashamed to say that He has won me over.  His love has captured my heart.  In a sense, Bessie was a spiritual cupid.  She introduced me to the One who is more than a great teacher, more than a good man, more than a self-help specialist  she introduced me to Jesus a Savior of sinners.  And, since that moment in a dusty, old church basement, I have come to be in awe of Jesus.  His name has no equal in my vocabulary.  I’ve quietly sung His name to my children as I’ve put them to bed at night “Jesus loves me, this I know.”  His name is the one to which I have lifted up every single prayer of my entire life. His name is the one that has rescued me from hell and rescued me from myself.  He knows my history.  He knows my issues.  He knows weaknesses and insecurities.  Yet, in a life that has been so up and down for 40 plus years, His name has been the single most consistent word that has ever fallen from my lips.  Bessie opened the door to this relationship with Jesus and it has been the best thing that has ever happened to me.  I’m eternally grateful.  She loved Jesus and she never kept His grace to herself.  She was always willing to share it with others.  I was one of them. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Easter Thoughts ... Two Words from Jesus that Changed 1500 Years of History



We know the picture above as the Last Supper.  Jesus and the disciples knew this meal as Passover.  And, one of the most revolutionary things Jesus ever said was said on this night.  For centuries the Jewish people celebrated Passover as a way for them to remember God’s deliverance from Egypt.  They were told to celebrate this and remember their release from slavery.  (Exodus 12:1 – 14) The meal was very symbolic and everything that was said pointed back to God delivering them from Egypt.  But, on this particular Passover night, Jesus said “I know that for centuries we have celebrated Passover to remember being delivered from Egypt, but from this point on, everything changes.  Now I want you to remember Me.”  (1 Cor. 11:24) “Remember Me.”  With two simple words Jesus was in essence changing 1500 years worth of history.  This would be like me saying, “OK.  I know for the past couple hundred years we’ve celebrated our nation’s birthday on July 4th.  Not any more.  From this point on, we celebrate my birthday.  The fireworks, the cookouts, the red, white, and blue it all points to me now.” 

If there was ever anything that Jesus said that completely baffled the disciples it had to have been this!  As good Jewish men, they would have celebrated the Passover every year of their life as a way to remember how God delivered them from bondage in Egypt.  But, on this night Jesus is saying, “I am the Lamb to which every Passover has pointed. I’m freely offering myself for you for your sin.  So, from this point on when you do this I want you to ‘remember Me’ the Lamb of God.” 

During the time of Jesus, there were a lot of people claiming to be the Messiah the anointed one chosen to deliver the Jewish people. There were a lot of people claiming to be the one chosen of God to bring the Jewish nation back to greatness.  But, no one no one desired to claim the title of lamb.  Why?  A lamb was sacrificed.  A lamb was slaughtered.  A lamb was the substitute a lamb took the full wrath of God so we wouldn’t have too.  You wouldn’t have to search long for someone wanting to be known for greatness, but no one wanted to be known as a sacrifice enter Jesus. 

In John 1, you can read about when Jesus first started his public ministry on earth.  And, the very first description of Jesus given was by a man named John the Baptist.  And, of all the things he could have called Jesus, the very first thing he said about Him in John 1:29 was “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Countless people would have been willing to hear John say of them, “Behold, the Messiah the chosen one who will bring Israel back to greatness.” Only Jesus was willing to hear John say “Behold, the Lamb of God the one who will be slaughtered the one who will be our substitute the one who will stand between us and the judgment of God behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” American sin African sin Asian sin Arab sin your sin my sin literally He picks it up and carries it away.  (Stanley)

Every religious system offers a way of deliverance from judgment that typically revolves around doing something to earn God’s favor.  It takes different forms, but the solution is typically do less wrong and do more right and God will be happier with you.  And one day you can stand before Him and hope that you did more to make Him happy than unhappy.  Every religious system offers a solution do this, don’t do that one-two-three strikes your out.  Oh, sorry.  You’ll just have to try harder.  Every religious system offers a solution, but there has only been one Person who offered Himself as the solution.  Every religious system will say “Yes we have a spiritual need.  We have a spiritual emptiness.  We have something inside that causes us to feel guilt or shame.  So do this to work your way out of it.” Only Jesus says, “Trust Me to get you out of it. I don’t just have a solution I am the solution.” (Stanley)

So, on this night I remember Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away my sin.  Thank you, Jesus.

Who, oh Lord, could save themselves,
Their own soul could heal?
Our shame was deeper than the sea
Your grace is deeper still

You alone can rescue, You alone can save
You alone can lift us from the grave
You came down to find us, led us out of death
To You alone belongs the highest praise

You, oh Lord, have made a way
The great divide You heal
For when our hearts were far away
Your love went further still
Yes, your love goes further still

You alone can rescue, You alone can save
You alone can lift us from the grave
You came down to find us, led us out of death
To You alone belongs the highest praise

You Alone Can Rescue by Matt Redman

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Weeklong Sermon: At Home and at Work

I was thankful for the opportunity to share on Ephesians 6:1 – 9 this past weekend at Grace.  Throughout our series in Ephesians, I have been reminded over and over of all God has done and how what He has done impacts my life.    Once we begin to see all that God has done and once we begin to understand who we are because of what Christ has done, we will be able to live out of those truths.  This will impact every area of our life.  Ephesians 6:1 – 9 focuses on how Jesus works in us and through us at home and at work.  If you’re interested, you can watch the sermon right here.

It quickly became evident to me that time would not allow me to share as much as I would like to share. So, I thought I would follow Pastor Mitchel’s lead and take some of what ended up on the “cutting room floor” and share it on the blog. 

Ephesians 6:1 – 4 reads: 1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (ESV)

The hope is that as my wife and I parent our children in a grace-filled way that it will return to us as honor.  The progression of what happens with kids is they simply start out obeying, and as we grow them, pour into them, and nurture their hearts, it ends in honor.  As a parent, for it to end in honor, it needs to begin with a few other things.  The book of Proverbs teaches that humility comes before honor (Proverbs 15:33), so I need to be a humble parent.  Proverbs also teaches that grace comes before honor (Proverbs 11:16), so I need to be a parent full of grace.  And, Proverbs teaches that pursuing righteousness and kindness will lead to honor (Proverbs 21:21), so I need to pursue those qualities as a parent. The more I parent with these qualities, the more likely honor will follow. 

For our children, honor will be found in the heart before it is found in the act.  So, our desire as parents is to do what we can do and then trust God to do what only He can do: awaken in their hearts a love for Jesus and a desire to embrace His way of life. One way to embrace Jesus’ way of life is to honor our parents (Mark 7:9 – 13) To honor means to “prize or fix a value upon.”  The hope is that as we age, and as our children age, that they will begin to place a high value upon us as parents.  And, we desire this not because they “owe” us or because we are demanding anything from them but rather because doing so is for their good. The command comes with a promise and as they follow it, things will go well for them and they will have a long life on earth. (Ephesians 6:3)

If you read Exodus 20, you’ll discover that this is the fifth of the 10 Commandments.  “Honor your father and mother,” were among the first words God spoke to His people (Exodus 20:12).  It’s important to remember that God gave His people the 10 Commandments not as a CONDITION for His love and approval but rather BECAUSE of His love and approval.  As all of God’s word, He gave the 10 Commandments to His people for their own good and to keep them free.  His people had been slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years.  God had just miraculously freed them from bondage and now He was giving them boundaries that would protect them from becoming slaves again slaves to themselves and their own selfish desires.  If human history has proven anything, it’s proven that mankind is not on a quest for smallness.  Human history is always a reminder that we are out to make a name for ourselves, even at the expense of others.  The 10 Commandments stand in opposition to these natural desires by placing God and others at the center.  And, Jesus summed up the entire law by saying “Love God and express that through loving others.”  (Matthew 22:36 – 40)  It’s natural for our wants and our desires to take center stage. This leads to slavery.  Accepting what Jesus did on the cross will set us free and following God’s commands will allow us to walk in that freedom.  Obeying God’s commands will always be for our good and the good of those around us.  This command in particular was given so that His people would enjoy a long, full life in the land He was giving to them. 

“God regarded honoring parents as the key to a peaceful, orderly, stable society saying, in effect, ‘Your nation will never be stronger than your families.  How you treat your father and mother will influence how you treat your fellow citizens, which will directly impact the future welfare of your country.’  If you grow up honoring your parents, more than likely you will lean toward honoring the people around you as well.  And the remaining commandments that follow center on extending honor to others.”  (Stanley: The Grace of God)  While this promise originally applied to the Jewish people, the Apostle Paul applied its truths to followers of Jesus today. (The Bible Exposition Commentary)  A strong family helps make everything stronger.

Again, the progression is that children start out obeying and then move to honoring as they become adults.  This weekend, we briefly discussed what it could look like for adults to honor dishonorable parents.  That is an unfortunate reality in our broken world.  For many, though, the question of honoring parents as an adult is not an issue of a lack of desire or of insurmountable wounds, but rather an honest bewilderment as to how to do it.  Author Bronwyn Lea provided some insight in to this.  In a series of interviews posing questions to the parents of adult children, she was amazed to see a constant and significant trend in the answers. “More than anything, they just wanted to be acknowledged. Parents with adult children didn’t need their children to take their advice, but just to know they had listened and considered it. They didn’t need their children to be constantly available to them, or to be their ‘best friends,’ but they did want to know they were accepted. ‘The worst thing is when your kids treat you as if you have nothing of value to offer.’ wrote one parent.”

She went on to say, “The most often cited source of hurt from parents was feeling disregarded. However, small acts and words of acknowledgement were mentioned by almost all as being the most significant way they felt honored. One mother of three grown sons laughed as she told me: ‘My son used to set his phone to remind him to call me once a week. He only had five minutes, on his way home from his last class. But he was faithful to call every week, and given that we only had five minutes, we never talked about any hard stuff. But those minutes were precious: they kept the human connection. I felt remembered.’

Finally, she noted that “while relationships between adult parents and children are among the most complex and catalytic of relationships, the question of how to honor our parents as adults ends up reducing to something surprisingly simple: not speaking badly about them, and remembering to speak regularly to them. As it happens, those small acts of honor to our parents are significant acts of honor to God.

“Honoring our parents is part of our allegiance to Christ and will be rewarded by God in the coming kingdom of heaven, and to some degree in the fullness of life now even in our broken world.  Christians who honor their parents will tend to know the joys of a close family in which children ordinarily respect their parents.”  (Coekin: Ephesians for You) 

When our children demonstrate obedience, as parents, we’re not the only one happy about that.  God is as well.  (Colossians 3:20)  Their obedience pleases Him.  Their obedience to us as parents is a reflection of their obedience to Him as God and this pleases Him because before obedience is just found in the act, it’s found in the heart.  When, as adults, we honor our parents, again our parents are not the only ones happy about that.  God is as well.  Honoring them is a way to express our honor to God.  “For adults this means respecting our parents’ wisdom by seeking and heeding their advice; it will mean caring for them by visiting, providing practical care and financial help, and possibly accommodating them as they become frailer, and more unwell and afraid.  Just as we will not allow our kids to disrespect our spouse, we must not disrespect our own parents or parents-in-law in the way we talk about them.”  (Coekin:  Ephesians for You) 

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