I'm wondering why I follow Jesus...

I'm wondering why I follow Jesus...

What is the chief end of man? To glorify God AND enjoy Him forever. John Piper says, "To glorify God BY enjoying Him forever". So the question that comes to my mind is, "How do I enjoy God in this life, since it's the beginning point of my forever?".

 
 

Without the gift of life, I am not here. You are not here. Psalm 139 is clear about how God knits us, forms us and knows us. Jeremiah talks of God knowing us and ordaining our days. Ephesians 1 speaks of being chosen and known before creation ever began. Then, does it mean that to enjoy God forever is to wait until I am done with this life so we can get to the real stuff? If one believes that, then what is this life about? What is the chief end of man as a mortal human being with a life span limited by years, time, mortality and death? I propose, it is to still glorify God BY enjoying Him; AND enjoy Him for ever... And that begins now.

The beauty of this life is that we have an opportunity to experience the glory of God in the midst of our sufferings, trials and losses. Those dimensions of our human experience will not exist in our eternal life with God. Heaven will have no darkness. Heaven will have no tears. There will be no sorrow. Therefore, a resolve begins to emerge in the human spirit to LIVE radically for the glory of God; enjoying Him in this moment, within this fleshly and emotional experience despite the fears, losses and rejections.

The gospel of the Kingdom, taught and demonstrated by Jesus is not a foretaste of the ever-after, but it is a "heavenly selfie" of what life should be like for every person. Would we follow Jesus if heaven and hell are not involved in our decision making? Do we follow Jesus only for "eternal insurance?" If so, then where is the glorification of God and how are we enjoying Him NOW, when our true and honest motive for choosing Jesus is not actually choosing Jesus, but instead choosing His free gift? Do we believe that the teachings of Jesus is the way to enjoy God forever? Is Buddhism the way to glorify God and enjoy Him forever? Is Islam the way to glorify God and enjoy Him forever? Is humanism the way to glorify God and enjoy Him forever?

Have you considered, if hell is not an option, why would you follow Jesus? This question challenges our motives for following Christ. It challenges us to study the teachings of Jesus as "formational" for how we live, and that our life's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Is that what Jesus did? If so, how? And if He is our model, are we imitating and innovating the Kingdom way of living? Is life a gift or a long and arduous road of rejection, fear, loss and pain with a light at the end of the tunnel called heaven? I'm not making light of our eternal home and reality, but trying to suggest that life is a gift; a grand and magnificent gift; a truly one and done gift; a gift which affords us the beautiful opportunity to glorify God within the human narrative and enjoy Him forever since we are the Imago Dei - the image bearers of God.

Is Slow the New Fast?

Is Slow the New Fast?

Why are we in such a hurry? The more honest question is - "Why am I in such a hurry?"

Do I believe that my life lived at a slower pace, can be as rich and as full as if lived at a break neck pace? 

Do I believe that I will regret not living harder and faster?

Do I believe that God needs me to live at a break neck speed in order to build His kingdom?

Is it possible that living at a break neck pace is actually a symptom of unbelief?

Is it possible that I will go through life so quickly, that when I arrive at the illusory destination, I will arrive deplete of what I need to enjoy my destination?

But Lance, the world is moving faster because of technology, real time news, global communication and connection.  Ok.  I can't deny that.  

If Jesus' kingdom is counter-intuitive to the systems of the world, then do I want the "world and it's systems" determining the pace of my life? 

If the Kingdom of God is an upside down Kingdom (maybe it's actually a right side up Kingdom and we live in an upside down world -- to say it's an upside down Kingdom is to imply the world is right side up and I don't think the teachings of Jesus will support that idea 😉 ) then shouldn't slow be the new fast?

Overcoming the "Comparison Killer" Part Two

Overcoming the "Comparison Killer" Part Two

"For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us...."  2 Corinthians 10:12-13, [1]

A few days ago I wrote about COMPARISON and how it's a killer that is taking out too many of us. I appreciate the comments, both within the blog and on social media. If you'd like, you can read it here

The overall message is that we compare ourselves against what we think we should be or what we should be when we look at others. This can lead to heightened insecurity, often found in the language of two extremes - "I'm not ____________ enough" or "I'm better than that person. At least _________________".

Let's talk about how we can overcome COMPARISON and have a healthier relationship with ourselves and with others, and position ourselves with the best opportunity to fulfill our calling and purpose with joy!

My awareness of my own propensity to compare myself began while I was on social media. I posted on my Facebook page - "The other day I noticed a friend's success. I didn't celebrate, I compared. Comparison is a killer." The key to getting out of the COMPARISON game is to CELEBRATE. When we can CELEBRATE the success of others, it highlights the honor within our own heart, affirms our growing maturity in Christ and increases our security and significance in our own calling. We don't have to CELEBRATE ourselves or others at the expense of anyone else. We can detox, live healthier and fuller lives. Here are some ways to CELEBRATE:

1. CELEBRATE the work of Grace (No striving.) - The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15; the chapter most known for Paul's argument for the resurrection of Jesus the Christ; he states - "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them -- yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." We can celebrate the accomplishments of others because it's the work of grace. Grace has an effect on the lives of people and grace is not partial; nor plays favorites. Grace empowers us to work hard, to partner with God and in the end, whoever we have become in Christ or whatever we have accomplished with Christ, it is the work of grace. CELEBRATE the work of grace and flow with it's work within your own life. You don't have to do more; grace will do more. Yield to its influence and watch it work within your heart and life.

2. CELEBRATE the paths we take. (No loss of focus.) - I recently got eyeglasses. I needed progressive lenses to help me see things far off and up close. With progressive lenses, I am learning to look at things differently. As I was taking my eye exam (my first one ever), I thought I could see, until the doctor changed the lenses and then I could REALLY see. WOW! I felt like I was in a modern day parable. Not only am I getting glasses, but I'm learning something. In life, when we think we can see, we don't see as well as what is possible. CELEBRATION of others in the realm of relationships and spiritual matters, clarifies our focus and vision. We are able to CELEBRATE the journey of another without losing sight of our own glorious journey with Christ. May God give us the ability to see clearly. We don't need to curse our path or process. It's ours and we can engage in it joyfully and become who Jesus says we are.

3. CELEBRATE your dreams. (No illusionary dreams.) - There is no "little ol' me" in the Kingdom of God. It does not do anyone a service if we play small. We are not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to; but with humility, we must embrace our position and roles as children of God. As such, we have dreams, callings, aspirations and desires. Whatever dreams we have and whatever resources we have are just gifts that we want to use to glorify Jesus by being faithful, taking risks and giving back to others. CELEBRATE YOUR DREAMS.

4. CELEBRATE your promises. (No victimization.) - With varying degrees, I believe most of the people I know can legitimately play the "victim" card in one way or another. As Kingdom citizens, we are not called to play the victim, but to CELEBRATE the promises that Jesus has given us. We are more than conquerors. We are overcomers. We are loved unconditionally. We are more than enough. We are given the Spirit of Adoption and not the spirit of fear. We are perfectly loved. We have peace that surpasses all understanding. Anxiety has no power over us. Comparing our lives with the lives of others, blinds us to our process and our dreams, and we are robbed of our promises. CELEBRATE Christ's love expressed in His promises to you. 

5. CELEBRATE your position. (No self criticism.) - When I suggest CELEBRATING your position, I'm talking about your position in Christ. How can we be downcast when we are in Eternal Joy? How can we be in despair when we are in Eternal Triumph and positioned to become brilliant, merciful, humble, etc.? John 15 identifies our position as that of being "in Jesus". He is the vine and we are the branches. That is worth CELEBRATING!!! As followers of Jesus, we have been reconciled back to God through Jesus Christ and our sins are not being held against us.  

6. CELEBRATE your prosperity. (No jealousy or envy.) - We are taught that each man is given a talent and what we do with that talent demonstrates our faith and our desire for increase, and for the glory of Jesus. In the creation narrative, we find that God put "seed" into His creation, so there would be a "built in" sustainable method for reproduction; i.e. increase. Humanity's original assignment was to "be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it". You have been given what you need, to prosper where you are. Don't let comparison steal you of over looking the promises in front of you. Like Nehemiah, we are rebuilding the walls of our broken lives. How do we do that? Where do we start? Start with what you have and where you are at. I often struggle, wishing I was in a bigger city, a wealthier city, etc... But, I remind myself - "Jesus loves my city and He died for these people. Someone needs to be here to love them, preach the gospel and lead and establish a Kingdom culture. Why not me? Why not us? Why not here? Why not now? That's the mantra of someone who can CELEBRATE their prosperity and not be jealous or envious of someone else's provision or success.

This is the great hope beloved! 

 

[1] Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Overcoming the "Comparison Killer" - Part One

Overcoming the "Comparison Killer" - Part One

A few days ago I was browsing social media and I came upon a picture of some old friends. Most of them are in church leadership. Some were older.  Some were younger. I'm not altogether sure why, but I thought about the pastors nearest my age and I felt "less than", "not successful" and "incapable". I was asking myself, "Why do I feel this way?  This is not normal.". I realized that the culprit causing such internal chaos and wreaking havoc was COMPARISON and it's a killer. The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:12-13, "For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us...." [1]

I found myself within the crosshairs of comparison. I was comparing myself, my calling, my church and my family against another person's calling, church, family, etc. We do that, don't we? We compare ourselves against other moms and dads. We compare ourselves against the successful partner at work. We compare our spiritual journeys against those we admire and look up to. We compare ourselves against a "better version of ourselves". What I've learned is this - it's foolish to engage the comparison game and COMPARISON IS A KILLER BECAUSE IT ISOLATES. It pits you against everything and everyone else. It becomes ME against the WORLD or I AM BETTER THAN EVERYONE ELSE. Pity and Pride hanging out together. Neither one cares as to who gets the recognition. They are both after the same thing; our paralysis by analysis, i.e. COMPARISON. 

Here are some of COMPARISON'S toxic poisons:

  1. Striving - "I have to do more" is the language of this toxic poison. We think that if we put in longer hours, drive our team harder and sacrifice our lives on the altar of elusive success, then we won't have to compare ourselves because we will be declared the winner of the immeasurable game of life.
  2. Loss of Focus - "Did you see what they did? Do you see what they have? Did you hear how everyone was talking about their presentation?" - These are the kind of questions that we ask ourselves when we lose sight of our journey and growth, and begin to focus more on the perceived success of others. We have lost sight of our journey and our path of following Christ. I can't see my Rabbi because I am too busy looking at someone else and how they are following their Rabbi. Before long, you look up and you don't recognize where you are or how you got there. Rabbi Jesus is no where to be seen. Loss of focus causes us to arrive at the places we swore we would never go.
  3. Illusionary Dreams - This is related to loss of focus. The difference is that we begin to bury our talents in the ground, because after all, the "return" will never be as much as the other guy's. Or the opposite is true. My dreams are illusions, because in my pride and arrogance I am showing off what I have acquired for God. This is what makes COMPARISON such a killer. Be less than what you are. Be more than what you are. It does not matter. COMPARISON just doesn't want us to BE WHO WE ARE!
  4. Victimization - Does Job sound familiar? - Friends that can't help; family is taken away. How about the injustices Joseph faced? - Sold into human slavery; accused of rape; incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit; rejected by family. How about Daniel? - A casualty of war; taken captive and indoctrinated by the godless Babylonians; educated in heathenish art, literature, science, etc. When we compare ourselves against others and come up short (in our own mind), we play the victim card. "Life is stacked against me. It's my spouse's fault. I don't have the right team. I need more resources. Everyone's against me." This is the powerless language of the victim. They will find someone or something to blame; resigning from responsibility. 
  5. Self Criticism - If the killer isn't coming from someone or something, then it will come from within. And maybe that's more deadly. The co-worker will go home at the end of the day. The person who is so successful will eventually leave. But, you are with one person more than any other and this will be true for the rest of your life. Who is this person?  YOURSELF.  You are always with you and that's why self-criticism is so dangerous. You can't escape you. However, you can get healthy. You can become more loving to yourself. Your inner critic can become your inner champion. You can have compassion for yourself. You can be confident, creative, connected and courageous. This toxic poison will carry a measuring rod to see if you are enough. It's plays a subtle game. So tempting. So deceptive. We find ourselves in the middle of it before we know it. 
  6. Jealous/Envy - Jealousy says, "I want what you have". Envy says, "I don't want you to have what you have". When jealousy and envy are present, you can bet entitlement will come too; this disastrous trio is quick to arrive. It's as if they come together in a set. COMPARISON says, "Here, drink this. It's jealousy. It won't satisfy your thirst, so follow it with envy. Maybe the two of them will satisfy your thirst. No? Here, try the 3rd part - entitlement! Those don't satisfy? Sorry..". At this point, the damage is done. The heart has grown cold and hard and we start striving saying, "Let's work harder, do more"... and the cycle continues.

There is hope beloved. In part two, we'll discover what to do when we are in the crosshairs of COMPARISON. 

 

[1] Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Change The Station.

Change The Station.

When I was a kid, I was the remote control and the antenna adjuster. If my parents didn't like what was on, they told me to get up and change the station. If they found a show they wanted to watch but the TV reception was fuzzy, I was also the antenna adjuster. I had to go outside and spin the tall (very tall to a 8 year old skinny kid) antenna. I always remember my dad hollering, "Back the other direction. Wait. Too far. Back the other way. You're close. Ok. Right there. Wait... No... That's good. You can come back inside."  I wondered, "If the antenna is good today, why am I going to adjust it tomorrow night? Who's moving the antenna around while we are at work and school?". My childhood imagination created a number of scenarios for why it was always happening.  

In the days of cable and dish TV, wireless this and wireless that, remote controls, etc., I'm not asking my kids to change the station or go adjust the antenna. Somehow I think my kids have missed out on significant life lessons. But, as an adult I have discovered that I still need to change the station. I need better reception. It's not a TV station, a satellite music station or a Spotify station. It's the station in my head. I need to change the station in my thinking.

Authenticity is a collection of choices that we make everyday. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.
— Brene Brown, "The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You are Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Because of our fears, our insecurities, our anxieties, our embarrassments and our shame, we are all too often tuned into the signal of "this is what's wrong with me".  The noise - and that's all it is. Noise fosters a negativity within my own heart and mind that is debilitating, disempowering, disappointing and discouraging (The Killer D's).  You and I don't have to listen to that station. Change the station. 

It's time we listen to another song, another sound, another voice... We are always tuned into something and my desire is that you and I tune into the things that God is saying. Let our attitudes, beliefs, hopes and aspirations be influenced by the station of God's love, God's word and God's voice. Here's how I change the station:

1. BE HONEST. Admit that I am listening to something/someone.  

2. BE BRAVE. Assess how what/who I am listening to is affecting my attitude, beliefs, hopes and dreams.

3. BE PROACTIVE. Change the station by remembering and rehearsing the most recent thing God said to me, God stories (testimonies) and God's word.

4. BE BOLD.  Declare the most recent thing God said to me and the God stories, in prayer and worship.  My words will be a weapon.

5. BE EXPECTANT. Assess how the new what/who I am listening to and what I'm declaring is improving the quality of my attitude, beliefs, hopes and dreams.

6. BE VULNERABLE. Share with a spouse, family member and/or close friend what you have done and how it has added life and health to your soul and life. 

I hope these simple tips can help you change the station and find something healthier to watch and listen.

Now what?

Now what?

I lead a wonderful team that leads Gateway Christian Fellowship. It’s a church with an amazing 40+ years history. She has been known for many things, but primarily for winning people to Christ, discipleship, outreach, miracles, worship and revival. In the last three and a half years, it has been our journey to grow as a family because I believe it’s the only way to create healthy legacy and to have a multi-generational, multi-ethnic, empowering and sustainable revival that brings reformation to cities; restoring the lost and desolate places.

With that in mind, we recently invited a guest speaker to come and share with us biblical wisdom and release an impartation of God’s grace, by God’s Spirit that would strengthen us, empower us and provide for us what is necessary for building God’s Kingdom as described above. Click here to know more about impartation.

The opportunity of a lifetime must be stewarded during the lifetime of the opportunity.

It was an amazing weekend. We had over 90+ testimonies of healing. Hundreds from across the New England region came and were encouraged. They encountered God and left with a greater expectation and excitement about God and about what He is doing in our lives and region. Many received miracles. I believe it was a watershed moment for Gateway and for those who participated in the weekend.  However, when the weekend was over and our guest speaker was on a flight home, I laid on my couch, fatigued, excited and curious and I kept thinking to myself, “Now what? What do we do now?  How do we leverage this opportunity of a lifetime during the lifetime of the opportunity?”. I’ve learned that there is no breakthrough without follow through, which is why I’m writing. I want to provide a framework for what happened and offer some suggestions for what we can do to leverage this opportunity, this moment.  

What does this mean? What do we do?

As I said earlier, I believe this was a watershed moment; the opportunity of a lifetime that must be stewarded during the lifetime of the opportunity. This reminds me of the time in Acts 2 when Holy Spirit fell upon the believers in the Upper Room. Those who were not experiencing Holy Spirit, asked two very important questions. They asked, “What does this mean?” and “What do I do?”. I am asking these very same questions today, as I ponder our important weekend. What is the Father saying to us?  What is He inviting us into?  What does the place of obedience look like in this new moment? Without these questions, our weekend becomes nothing more than a “blip on the radar of encounters”. Its lasting impact fades as quickly as our memory. I don’t believe that’s God’s heart, His purpose nor His wisdom. A moment like this can best be summed up as - “A REVELATION(encounter) is an INVITATION for an IMPARTATION, that with INTEGRATION, we experience TRANSFORMATION so we are a MANIFESTATION of the original REVELATION. The two questions are our attempt to receiving an impartation and an engaging integration. Transformed people are those who transform cities. We believe what the bible describes as “the priesthood of the believer.”  Simply put, we believe that every follower of Jesus has been called to heal the sick, disciple others, operate in supernatural power, etc… When “everyday” citizens live that kind of lifestyle, I believe that a city will start to experience the transforming and reformational wisdom and kindness of God.

I experienced and saw during our weekend, the power of simple and childlike faith, people having powerful encounters with God, an increase in expectation and faith for God to great things, people being healed as their friends prayed for them and followers of Jesus increase in confidence as they prayed for people and saw results. I believe what I saw, and what I experienced is just another way to describe the impartation that God gave us.

This impartation has be to be lived out in the everyday life of a Christian. Followers of Jesus need to be interdependent upon each other, the church, and the corporate gathering on Sundays. But, followers of Jesus can’t expect the church to do everything. Logically, there are 168 hours in a week. The above average church attender will spend 7 hours a week in “church related things” - 3 hours at church on Sunday, 2 hours at church during the middle of the week and 2 hours at a bible study/small group. So what does this mean? This means that the average follower of Jesus is going to have to make some adjustments in the other 161 hours of the week that they have left.

Here are some suggestions that I have for “integrating the impartation” without depending solely upon the corporate church gathering:

  • Get training. The local church is called to equip you. If they are not doing that, let them know how you can help. Don’t criticize. Be a part of the solution. If we really believe in the “priesthood of the believer”, then we need to train God’s people to live naturally supernatural in their everyday rhythms of life.
  • As you grow, invite others into your journey and disciple each other.
  • Make some lifestyle changes.
  • Watch your words. Displace negative talk, complaining or criticism with words that are more hopeful, joyful and expectant. Words have the power to create life or death. Make sure you are speaking words of life. If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything.
  • Be prepared for counter attacks. Graham Cooke says, “It’s one fight to get free. It’s another fight to stay free.”. You can overcome counter attacks by using your words, but use them to rehearse the testimony of what God did in your life. Declare the promises of God’s word over your life. Stand together with all the saints, rooted in God’s love and leverage the power of community and covenant relationships.
  • Make decrees. Prayer is awesome and powerful. Make sure your part of your time is not simply requesting, being thankful or asking, but make decrees. As an ambassador, you have been given authority to make decrees. Again, this is using your words, your spiritual identity and position to govern the Kingdom of God here on the earth.
  • Spend time in worship and soaking. When I was growing up, my mom would always play country and western music when she wanted to clean the house. I guess, there was something about that “honky tonk - two step” music that helped my mom get her work done. Music is powerful. I encourage you to find some great Christian worship album primarily with slower or softer music, play it and just lay down and rest. Ask God to visit you, to refresh your spirit, soul and body. During that time, just welcome Holy Spirit and His presence and activity in your life. Be alert about the things you think about, the things you are feeling, etc…  It’s ok if you think of “tasks” during this time.  Just write them down and immediately return to worship and soaking. Worship is not always about singing, but it’s about communing with God. John 15 describes a “oneness” lifestyle with Jesus. John 17 is Jesus’ prayer for us to live as one with the Son and Father. During this time, it is also helpful to read the Psalms, pray the Psalms or meditate upon certain bible promises. Engage a new rhythm. Do this before bed time and give God the night season. When you normally watch TV, turn it off and do this with your children. Give them crayons or markers and have them draw pictures that they are imagining or pictures they believe Jesus is giving them. This is a great family thing to do.
  • Step out and take risks. There are so many things we can do to cultivate greater intimacy with God, but at some point we are going to have to step out and take risks.  John Wimber used to spell F-A-I-T-H as R-I-S-K. For Jesus followers we are called to live by faith. That means a life where we take risks. That means that when we feel the nudges of God and the promptings of Holy Spirit to pray for others, we should pray and expect results. If you are praying for physical healing and if it is appropriate, ask them to test the injury and see if they are experiencing healing. If it’s emotional healing, ask them to be mindful of their emotions. Are they experiencing less of the negative emotion and more of a positive emotions? The fullness of Christ being formed in us is for our joy, but also that we may be sent as servants of God, serving the crown of His creation - PEOPLE!  If someone is experiencing the grace of God and His power, ask them if they want to give their lives to Jesus who is so kind and loving. He will forgive them and establish them in God’s family. If you get this far in their journey, be prepared to disciple them because that’s our responsibility as followers of Jesus.
  • Engage in community and covenant relationships. We need each other. Not everyone’s situation will go to our benefit or the benefit of others. We need each other for spiritual support, encouragement, healing and to accomplish what Jesus is asking us to do. We do not want to only align ourselves with God, but we need to be aligned with others as well. Do away with “convenient” relationships only, and establish “covenant” relationships. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a part of a body, a family and a house. It’s for your benefit.  
  • Ask this question - “How does this impartation/encounter further clarify my identity and who the Father says that I am?”. I believe that each encounter with God is about God bringing clarity to our understanding of who He is and who we are in Him.  Attached to my encounters with God are upgrades to my identity, my understanding of my identity and my expression of Jesus to the world. I don’t want to simply encounter Jesus as if it’s a “roller coaster” ride; once I get off, it is over. My encounters with Jesus are to form Christ in me so that Christ can be demonstrated through me. I know people who have had supernatural experiences with God and who have seen the miraculous power of God at work in their lives, but when you ask them, “Who does the Father say you are?”, they have no answer.  

God is doing amazing things in this hour. He is pouring out His Spirit and He wants your life to be impacted and shaped by what He is doing in this hour. You are called to shine like a city on a hill. What now? Make some adjustments in your lifestyle and you will experience transformation, and therefore become a manifestation of God’s goodness and grace.

 

Click here to download a pdf copy of this post.

Thoughts on Good Friday

Thoughts on Good Friday

I received some encouraging words after my remarks on Good Friday at Gateway Christian Fellowship.  So, I decided to share my notes.  I hope they encourage you.

NOTES:

Am I experiencing the power of resurrection?  Are we experiencing the extraordinary reality of life overcoming death?

I don’t believe, I am to the measure that is possible. Here’s where I am curious. Am I / we not experiencing the power of resurrection, its magnificence and majesty, because we do not experience deeply the power of the cross?

Some may say, "I don’t have to experience the cross. Jesus did that for me. He did that as me." 

I love what my friend Arun Joseph posted on social media today, "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'”Matt 16:24 NIV.   It's not only substitution, but participation.

Paul prayed that we would experience the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. Paul would also write that we have been given the Spirit of Adoption, where we are no longer slaves to fear, but we can, with confidence and joy, cry out “Daddy God.”  But it doesn’t end there, he goes on to say, “if indeed we share in his sufferings we will also share in his glory.”

Sufferings is Good Friday.  Glory is Resurrection Sunday.

Good Friday is bloody.

Good Friday is messy.

Good Friday is insanity. Scattered followers. Grieving mother. Gambling murderers.  Bewildered onlookers. Joyful religious zealots. Indifferent Roman government.

Good Friday shakes the earth.

Good Friday is wildly unreasonable.  Loss. Rejection. Pain.

Good Friday is the precursor to Resurrection Sunday.

Good Friday is a spectacle. It’s visually striking. Many think the spectacle is the death of an innocent man; one who claimed to be one with God. The real spectacle was against the powers and forces that rage their hatred against mankind; the image bearers of the glory of God. Our presence taunts the enemy. Our presence reminds him of what he lost when he rebelled against God. Our presence is salt in his eye; alcohol in his wounds. We torment and torture the enemy by our presence because we are the image bearers of God. Yet, he works tirelessly to destroy and to distort makind so that we do not reveal the glory of God any longer. We are unrecognizable because of sin’s torture.  We are scarred. Named. Without recognition.  But the act of Good Friday is the act of God, washing the earth of her sins and providing redemption for anyone who wants it. It’s an act of love so scandalous that we can’t believe it and if we want to believe it, we sanitize it to make it more paletable. When I look at my life and look at the brutality and inhumanness of the cross, it confronts my casual living. It confronts how I manage my stuff. It confronts my attitude, my beliefs, my convictions. I am held to account for my life when I look at the cross. I can’t get rid of the cross. It’s an historical reality. Cable news shows are talking about it. Churches are talking about it. We sell chocolate bunnies because of it. 

We have commercialized it. Sanitized it. Ignored it. Shrunken it. Devalued it.  Explained it. Disregarded it. Marketed it.  But have we embraced it? Have you embraced a love so radical - that Christ was brutalized and died so bloody, so swollen, so puffed by His physical body responding to torture? Have you said yes in such a way, that your heart is ripped open by this Divine act of love?  Are we waking to America’s sanitized version of Christianity that fits neatly in our Christian book stores and book shelves, but does not fit neatly in our hearts, because it confronts and makes us uncomfortable?

Good Friday irritates. It irritates the lazy soul and arouses it to wake up. Wake up from this mindless living - work, home, dinner, tv, bed, work, home, dinner, tv, bed… vacation… work, home, dinner, tv, bed, work, home, dinner, tv, bed...

Isaiah 52:14, “But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man.” NLT

How can this be good?

“‘Take and eat; this is my body. Taking the cup and giving thanks, he offered it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured our for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ (Matthew 26:26-28)  And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup saying, ’This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’ (Luke 22:19-20)

Hebrews 8:13, “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.”

What does “it is finished mean?”

Death of Jesus was the death of death.

Death of sin is what we call our behavior when we fill our disconnection from God with idolatry. Sin is the bowing down to things that we adore or need, more than God.

Death of separation.

What is the new and better covenant? 

Darkness covered the earth.

Earthquakes shook as the glorious and majestic Christ entered the earth.

Romans 8 - all of creation waiting for the emergence of son’s and daughters. I‘ve often thought of creation as that outside of mankind. But mankind is part of creation.  Mankind is waiting for the emergence of sons and daughters. That is to say, what happens to me when sons and daughters arise? Not just what happens to the environment, but what happens sociologically, environmentally, socially, judicially, economically, politically?

I was driving the other day, near the big box stores and I was sitting at a red light. And walking across the street was a dad, with his backpack, and his little boy with a backpack on, sitting on the father’s shoulders. Not unusual to see that, but uncommon to see it there. I thought - that’s what Jesus did. He carried the cross, nailed to the cross, unable to get down by His own power, hanging there by the power of His own will and the power of the nails, the hammer and the wood. Jesus carried the cross so He could carry you. Life is dangerous; like the road to a little boy.  Maybe the little boy could cross on his own, but it would be by the courtesy of the drivers. Life is not so kind. It strikes its mighty blows of death, addiction, pain, rejection and loss. Yet, Christ strikes a greater blow.

Colossians 2:13-15, “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15In this way, he disarmedd the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.”

As we sit on this Good Friday, I invite you to meditate upon how the cross -

  • Unveils the ugliness of human violence.
  • Reveals the beauty of God’s forgiving love.
  • Reminds us of how God in Christ shares our pain.
  • Shows us the beauty of Christ that saves the world.

 

*some thoughts were gleaned from Brian Zahnd's website.

Relational Messes: How to Clean Them Up

Relational Messes: How to Clean Them Up

Honest leadership matters. Honest leadership that takes responsibility matters more. Honest leadership that takes responsibility and invites others into the vision of what God is doing matters the most.

Relationships. They are beautiful. They are powerful. We can all recall a family member, friend, teacher or mentor who has had a positive impact on our lives. Many of us can also recall people in our lives who are destructive to our journey and growth. Even as I'm typing, I see the faces of people in my life that have harmed me. I also see the faces of people that have contributed life and helped me become the man I am today.  

I was having a particularly difficult day, not too long ago. I was trying hard to be intentional in my relationships and it was hard work. It was mentally exhausting to listen, ask clarifying questions, fight for connection and understanding, and encourage others. I mentioned to my wife that I was done with the effort. In her succinct wisdom, she says, "You can have healthy relationships or you can have easy ones." I told her I chose easy for the rest of the day (It was about 8pm) and that I would think about the healthy ones the next day.  But it's true, isn't it.  Healthy relationships are not always easy. They require heart, head and hand investment. They demand follow through, respect, care and love. Healthy relationships are worth it, and as we invest and grow together, we often make relational messes. For example, sometimes I don't listen well and it devalues my family or friends. Sometimes I jump to conclusions about others.  Sometimes I hold onto resentment and self-protect. Sometimes I take my "inner self critic" and project my problems onto others. We don't want to make messes, but we do. Hopefully we don't do it intentionally. That's would be called abuse.  

So what do we do when we create messes?  How do we clean them up?  Here a few questions that might help you.

1. What is the problem?   

2. Who has been affected by this problem?

3. What are you going to do about it? To help answer this one, I have a subset of questions to help you sketch a plan on what you can do.  

a.  Describe what you were feeling, believing or perceiving when you made the mess.

b. Explain how what you were feeling, believing or perceiving affected you and your behavior. 

c. Tell others how you felt about the negative, painful impact you made.

d. Apologize and ask for forgiveness. 

e. Share what God is teaching you and how others can help you. 

4. Do you need someone's help to clean up the mess?

5. When will you have this mess cleaned up?

In reality, its as simple as 1-2 sentences for each bullet point and you're good. Honest leadership matters. Honest leadership that takes responsibility matters more. Honest leadership that takes responsibility and invites others into the vision of what God is doing matters the most.

Sometimes the most painful lessons are the ones we learn when we hurt people. We don't want to intentionally hurt others. That's abuse. But, we often do so out of the fear, lies or pain that is affecting our life. We clean up relational messes because we love, care and want to restore connection and trust.

The Unexpected Moment

The Unexpected Moment

We had an unexpected moment yesterday while we were gathered as a church family. It was beautiful. Peaceful. Holy. Quiet. Appropriate. Divinely orchestrated.

What happened?

We have a number of people leaving this week on mission trips to different parts of the world; to share the gospel, to encourage and to serve. I EXPECTED our time of prayer for these people to be strong, powerful and deeply meaningful. I least ANTICIPATED how the presence of God would linger after our time of prayer. That was the unexpected moment. My gratitude and admiration for Gateway is hard to express. The way the church lingered in God's presence was incredible. We did not feel pressured to do anything, but JUST TO BE. I am humbled by the privilege of leading such a loving and hungry family. However, as the leader of the meeting, in that moment I immediately found myself at a crossroad. Either stick to the pre-planned schedule or adjust and linger with Holy Spirit and see what happens.

If I may for a moment, just clarify something about unexpected moments from where I sit - When pastors/church leaders make adjustments to partner and follow God in the unexpected moment, they are usually applauded for being courageous and "allowing" Holy Spirit to move. Can I be honest? We are courageous when we linger in the unexpected moment and we are courageous when we stick to the schedule as planned. The entirety of our time together as a church family is by faith. We put a plan in place on what we think God wants to do in a service and we move forward by faith. Sometimes, in the middle of our faith-filled plan, God does something that we do not expect. So, we are confronted with a moment to adjust or "stick to the plan." You know the last time someone came up to me and told me I was courageous for sticking to the plan(created by faith and with expectation)? I CAN'T REMEMBER! Don't get me wrong, pastors love affirmation and encouragement. We need it. It inspires us to be joyful laborers. But, I can promise you; it takes as much courage to follow God when you are on the plan, as you do when you get off the plan and lean into the unexpected moment. It takes as much courage because the entire meeting is by faith. If we think our plan is going to change lives we are fooling ourselves. If we think we can force an unexpected moment because that changes lives, we are fooling ourselves.

I can't speak for all pastors, but I can speak for the ones whom I serve alongside at Gateway. We believe that our unexpected moments AND our plans are from God. We love God. Hosting Him, welcoming Him, beholding Him and following His lead in a gathering is the most important thing we do; because it originates out of our most important position - Worshiping Children of God.

If I may be so bold, the next time you see your pastor or church leader, celebrate them for being courageous and wise. It doesn't matter if the service had unexpected moments or the pastor followed the script. Both require faith and in the end, faith expressing itself through love is what counts and pleases God.

 

Photo Credit: Indigo Skies Photography - morning glory via photopin (license)

Horsepower

Horsepower

It's a Wednesday night and I'm sitting in my office; just 15-20 feet from our worship center. One of the things I love about working on Wednesday evenings is that I get to listen to the sound of passionate worship and faith-filled praying. The "boom" of the drums and bass resonate as if a herd of elephants were running through. I hope that "booming" sound causes hell to tremble and heaven to celebrate. Maybe angels are dancing in rhythm. The vocals are piercing the airwaves and ringing out with a love so rich and thick, as if you have been slimed by God's goodness. And that's the point - a life covered with Christ's goodness. 

I looked up the word horsepower. It's an interesting word. It's defined as, "work done over time. The exact definition of one horsepower is 33,000 lb.ft./minute. Put another way, if you were to lift 33,000 pounds one foot over a period of one minute, you would have been working at the rate of one horsepower."[1]

When I think of Wednesday night service, I think of the thousands of faithful people, who have attended week after week; praying, worshiping and believing for great things. Darlene and I stand on your prayers. Thank you for not quitting and not giving up! I believe that Wednesday night worship and prayer is where much of our "horsepower" is generated as a church. It's a 90-minute worship and prayer fest, with a group of passionate and hungry people. In our obedient and loving effort to build Christ's kingdom in each life, each marriage, each person, we are so in need of the "raw horsepower" of unadulterated worship and prayer. Our supreme value as a family is hosting the presence of God. It is to behold Him and gaze upon His beauty. After all, one of those two will be the eternal position of every saint. Prayer is the gift on this side of heaven; to commune with God, to be formed by Him and to legislate the affairs of heaven on earth. Worship is the never-ending gift that derives from the majestic beauty of a loving Father. 

God glorify Gateway so that Gateway may glorify you. Be glorified in us, through us, by us - FOREVER!

I know that all of my Gateway family can't come on Wednesdays because of family commitments, distance, etc. You are missed!  But, know that we are praying for you, for this great house, for our bright future and for New England to experience the satisfying glory of God.

 

[1] What is Horsepower? - WebCars!

A Long Goodbye

A Long Goodbye

It's a long goodbye.
Because it's been a few years in process.
Because I'm 1800 miles away.

About what?

I was a part of a church in the Central Texas area for 11 1/2 years. While there, I buried my mother, father and 3 grandparents; I saw my two oldest children graduate high school; my oldest met his wife while in high school during those years. I deepened my relationship with my brother, sister and one of my uncles. To speak of my spiritual growth, the breakthroughs, the honor to meet some of the greatest men and women, would take too much time. I made some lifelong friends. I laughed. I cried. I hurt. I bought a home. I matured into fatherhood and leadership.

In the next few weeks, that church will no longer exist as it has for the last 20+ years. The reasons are not relevant to write about.  

However, 

THANK YOU to Charles & Marquita for taking a risk on this couple from Florida, who arrogantly said that he would not be your next "church plant boy." Your willingness to look past my stupidity and offer me an opportunity to be a part of your team was a life changing moment. I didn't see it then. I couldn't see it. My ignorance blinded me. But day after day, meeting after meeting, my eyes slowly opened. You have loved me, challenged me, corrected me, taught me and more than anything, believed in me, when I gave you many reasons to the contrary. Whatever success I am having in leading the wonderful Gateway family in Connecticut, is directly connected to the training and equipping you gave me. Was it perfect? Ofcourse not. No family is. I hope that our success in Connecticut inspires you to keep investing into the lives of other men, women and local churches. While I have not planted a church, essentially I'm doing what was in the DNA of your church, to expand the culture of the Kingdom and strengthen the local church.

THANK YOU to Lawrence and Danielle Babin. Your love, leadership, support, bravery, courage and endurance inspired me. What you have role modeled to me about covenantal love, endurance, brave communication, joy, passion and friendship is top rate. I've learned to love people better because you have invested into our lives. You have wept with us. You have built with us. You have sacrificed for us. You are some of the clearest examples of Jesus that I have known. I hope we will keep running this race together until we are old men and women, celebrating the accomplishments of our natural children, grandchildren and spiritual children.

THANK YOU to the many pastors that I had the privilege of serving alongside. Your friendship and acceptance of us onto your team, provided a wonderful environment for me to grow and learn. 

THANK YOU to Bonnie, Frances, Renee and Heather; the four admins who helped me along. We have had some great times together, creating and building a ministry that served our student culture and helped young men and women discover their identity. Remember the retreats? Remember the boxing ring in the middle of the church? Can you say, Camp Tejas? Remember the t-shirts?  Remember all the times I had a last minute idea? Remember prophetic presbyteries? I owe you so much for your friendship and partnership.

THANK YOU to the youth leaders, who sweat and bled with me. We had a great run. I hope you have taken some time to celebrate your investment into the many students, who are now engaged in the Kingdom and serving our King.

THANK YOU to the students, teenage community and the friends at the church. I can't remember all the names, but I am grateful for each of you and how you helped me learn to love, live and lead like Jesus.  

THANK YOU to the many support staff, with whom I had the honor of serving.

Mostly, THANK YOU Jesus for being eternally good and expressing that goodness in my life and my family, during those 11 1/2 years. The overwhelming pride I feel for the indescribable moments I had with my mother and father before their deaths, the humbling and awesome pleasure to preach at some of my grandparent's funerals, to seeing my kids graduate, the birth of Luke, etc... is overwhelming. I simply don't know what to say except THANK YOU!

Thank you Church of the Hills!

Believing for a greater future,

Lance
2002-2013

Jesus wept and so did I

Jesus wept and so did I

Maybe you know this; maybe you don't. Jesus wept and so did I.

This moment into the emotional life of Jesus is found in the gospel of John when Jesus comes to see his friends - Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Lazarus had died (although Jesus would raise him from the dead - which is not the point of these thoughts). Jesus was moved by the emotions of His friends and He wept with them. The sacred texts also tell us to "weep with those who weep." 

I wrote in a recent blog about the generosity of God and the reality that He has given us what we need to live a godly life, participate in His divine nature and escape the world's corruption and our evil desires. But, what I am struck by is, not simply a godliness that produces moral behavior and a lifestyle like the "powerful" Jesus, but also the ability to weep. Jesus wept and that's godly.

I bring up Jesus' weeping because, recently I was talking with my therapist about my dad's death in December 2013 and how my recent emotions and memories highlighted hidden pain and grief in my heart. I was shocked by the tears and sorrow that ensued as he and I talked. I'm convinced Jesus wept, as I wept, and that's godly. I wonder how much my tears express a more authentic prayer, which could never be captured in words.

I struggle sometimes to know the role of weeping and lamenting in a faith that stands upon the bedrock of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When St. Paul writes about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he punctuates his point with triumphant language. YES! We are triumphant, but not because we don't hurt or weep, but because we can hurt and weep, knowing that Christ meets us in our pain. He meets us in our pain, not to judge us, but to say "I understand." He meets us in our pain to say, "I've been here. I hurt with you. I'll weep with you." Once the tears stop, Jesus grabs us by the hand and leads us forward into hope, joy, peace and healing.  

I wept and so did Jesus. He is such a comfort to me and His eternal mercy and kindness are indescribable. I can't believe He saved me and called me into His family. I don't want to avoid the tears. The promises of Jesus enable me to share in His divine nature; namely weeping, and He weeps with me. Tears matter to God.

I leave you with the words from the classic Hymn, "Jesus Wept."

Draw near, ye weary, bowed and broken hearted;
Ye onward travelers to a peaceful bourne;
Ye, from whose path the light has all departed;
Ye, who are left in solitude to mourn:
Tho’ o’er your spirit has the storm cloud swept,
Sacred are sorrow’s tears since Jesus wept.

The bright and spotless Heir of endless glory,
Wept o’er the woes of those He came to save;
And angels wondered when they heard the story,
That He who conquered death, wept o’er the grave.
For ’twas not when His lonely watch He kept
In dark Gethsemane, that Jesus wept.

But with the friends He loved, whose hopes had perished,
The Savior stood, while thro’ His bosom rushed
A tide of sympathy for those He cherished,
And from His eyes the burning dewdrops gushed:
And bending o’er the tomb where Lazarus slept,
In agony of soul, then Jesus wept.

Lo! Jesus’ pow’r the sleep of death has broken,
And wiped the tear from sorrow’s drooping eye:
Look up, ye mourners, hear what He has spoken,
He that believes on Me shall never die.
Thro’ faith and love your spirit shall be kept;
Hope brighter grew on earth when Jesus wept.

A Generous Father or a Curmudgeon God

A Generous Father or a Curmudgeon God

It's a reality that some view God as a curmudgeon. It's also a reality that some view God as a generous Father. I choose the latter. Why? Because, I believe it's simply a better way to live. So, what is the impact upon our lives when we believe God is a generous Father and not a curmudgeon?

There are many verses in the bible we could go to and make a case for the generosity of God. The classic is John 3:16 - “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son...." [1]

But, I'm going to reference a different verse from the bible; one written by a man who experienced deep failure and a long fall from the loft place of pride - Peter, one of Jesus' faithful disciples.

In 2 Peter 1:3-4, this restored and powerful leader in Jesus' movement says, "By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. 4 And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires." [1]

Notice a couple of things:

1. God gives. He gives everything we need for a godly life and He gives us precious promises that enable us to share in the divine nature of God. Think about that! There's no excuse for us living high above the watermark of morality and actually living a godly life, which is the personification of our internal sharing of the Divine.

““We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable.” Bernard of Clairvaux”

2. God provides. What does He provide? He provides an alternative way of living, than simply being led by our own evil desires, which produce global corruption. That's amazing!!! We have been given a way of escape. We are no longer locked in our rooms of absolute darkness; described as shame, pain, bitterness, despair, lostness, etc... The door out of corruption has been opened and it leads us to the brilliant and glorious light of freedom, described as a godly life of sharing in the Divine Nature.

Let's receive what He gives and walk in what He provides. It's too beautiful to ignore.

 

[1] Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Victory before the War is Over

Victory before the War is Over

Do you believe that victory is possible even before the war is over?

In Numbers 13, particularly verses 17-21 and 23-27, we find the story of the Israelites seeking out the fulfillment of God's promises. They were spying out the promises and checking to see if all that God said was reality. In doing so, the entire Israelite community, a million+ people, were influenced by how the 12 spies reported what they saw. 10 gave a report about how small they were and how overwhelming their defeat would be. 2, Joshua & Caleb, looked more at the fruit and knew that God had given them the land. In today's world, in our culture the fruit of our journey with God are MIRACLES & TESTIMONIES. Reports are not always bad reports, they are just reports. They are an articulation of what seems factual. Report = current reality.  

You and I will see fruit and hear reports at the same time. We get them at the same time because it's a test to know which ones will draw our affection. Which ones will capture our attention, our meditation and our thought life? Fruit is an invitation to own a land from which it comes. The fruit of provision means we can inherit a place of security and confidence that God is always a provider. It goes from a casual miracle, to a deep conviction in our heart. We are convinced that God will always provide for us. Fruit is evidence that there is more for us.  

What fruit can you recall in your life? What fruit have you seen and experienced? [quiet your life, spend some time in solitude and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your fruit to you]

Faith does not ignore reality. It defies reality. Changes reality. Faith trusts regardless of reality.  Whatever your report is, who do you trust?

Here are some tips on how to navigate the tension between fruit and report:

a. Watch what you say:

  • Words model the world you live in.  
  • Under the pressure of a bad report and feeling hopeless, watch what you say because you will see what you say.

b. How we see ourselves, gives others the right to see us that way.

  • You are a child of God.
  • You are a conqueror.
  • You are a lover.
  • You are a person of purity.
  • You are free from shame, guilt and condemnation.
  • You are compassionate.
  • You are strong.
  • Be confident. Confidence is about what you can give away. Arrogance is about what you are trying to take. Be confident and give away your life for others.

c. Follow great leaders and serve them.

  • A leader will take you where you want to go. A great leader will take you where you do not think you can go.

d. Under pressure, discover and live out truth.

  • Under pressure, exaggeration looks true.
  • Pressure exposes what you believe to be true. All of the spies looked at the same thing. The pressure they faced, exposed what they believed to be true. If you are believing a lie - repent, confess it to God, break agreements and then make agreements with what God says about you or your situation.

I hope these words will help you navigate the paradox of fruit and reports.

The Unexpected Answer

The Unexpected Answer

"Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends." [1]

I have a confession. There are people I need to forgive. How I got here is a surprise to me.

The other day I felt an overwhelming desire to love people better. I would say to myself and to God, "I just want to love people well.  I want to love people deeply." Working in church ministry, there are many things I want. Such as, a growing church, more miracles, lives changed, etc.  But all of that distilled down to one central theme, Love. What I did not expect, when I was whispering these quiet desires to God, was His loud response, which sounded like, "Lance, you need to forgive some people." And to be honest, even as I write, I don't want to forgive them.

Feeling angry feels powerful. Feeling angry feels justified. Feeling angry feels honest.

But if I want to grow in love, as the proverb says above, love prospers WHEN a fault is forgiven, I need to forgive. I was asking God to help me love people, but He decided to show me that love grows and prospers WHEN I forgive. I was asking for WHAT (more love) and God answered with a WHEN.

My WHEN did not involve forgiveness. It involved dwelling. I've been dwelling on the sin, the injustice, the violation. The result? Separation. Dwelling on the fault separates me from the ability to see my friend's true identity. Dwelling on the fault separates me from the Christlike capacity to love and forgive. Dwelling on the fault separates me from an opportunity to grow. Christ has the power to separate. Matthew 3:12, John the Baptist describes Jesus as the one ready to separate the chaff from the wheat. Christ has the power to separate, not from his love (Romans 8), but from the destructive and unhealthy chaff that is in my life. Dwelling on faults has the power to separate. Christ separates us unto health and prosperity. Dwelling on faults separates us unto isolation, death, loneliness, etc.

So today, I'm choosing to change my WHEN from "dwelling on faults" to "forgiving a fault" so that my love can prosper. God is answering my prayer. Not the way I expected or even wanted, but in His kindness, He knows what's best. The love I want can't prosper in the soil of unforgiveness.

So, what are you doing with your WHEN moment? What's prospering? Separation or Love?

May Christ lead you to the beautiful place of forgiving and cause your love to prosper beloved.

 

[1] Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188.  All right reserved.

The Light of Hope in the Fog of Uncertainty

The Light of Hope in the Fog of Uncertainty

So yesterday, in the span of an hour, I had 3 people, independent of each other, ask me the same questions. "Lance, what do you do when God doesn't heal everyone? How do you pray with strong faith? What do you do when things are working against you?" As if that was not strange enough, 2 of the 3 quoted a famous verse as their foundation for why everything should work out the way they want - "no weapon formed against me shall prosper."

These situations got me thinking. And to clarify - no, I'm not making a case for why God doesn't heal everyone the way I want. Yes, every time I pray for someone to be healed, I swing for the fences. Meaning, I don't say, "Lord, if it's your will...". I'm convinced healing is His will.

So what do I do?

First, I realize I may not see the situation the same way as Jesus sees it. This fact comes to the surface when you think of the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 men (not including women and children). Do you remember the story? The disciples suggest that Jesus send the folks away because it's late in the day and they are hungry. Jesus said He was not going to do that, and as a matter of fact (and faith) He instructed the disciples to get them something to eat. They could not fathom such an idea and made a compelling case as to why that was not possible. Without arguing, He asked for what they had. It was a few loaves and fishes. With that little meal, He fed the 5,000 (plus women and children). There is one particular point that fascinates me about this story. In the 6th chapter of John's gospel, John tells us that Jesus already had in mind what He was going to do. Before the situation was a situation, Jesus knew what He was going to do about the situation. He saw what the disciples did not see. For that reason alone, it's impossible to create a case against Jesus for why He did, or did not do something that I thought should have been done, no matter how grievous or unjust.  He sees what we don't see. 

Am I saying God allows human trafficking, genocide, infant death, disease or natural disasters because He is so much smarter than we are? No!!!! The church has been put here on the earth to eradicate evil and establish what N.T. Wright calls, "The New Exodus." We are to build God's kingdom here in the human heart, through the power of the gospel. But the long game of our adversary is to wait us out, to leverage disappointment and to sow seeds of despair into the soil of "unanswered prayer."

Many times we don't see the situation the way Jesus sees it. That's why He responded differently than the disciples to the masses. So, how does this relate to the original 3 questions asked of me by my friends?  

I pray for a miracle, but if it does not happen according to what I am praying or the way I think it should, I pause and consider, "Maybe Jesus sees the circumstance or situation in front of me differently than I do."

Do I trust His wisdom?
Is He still good?
Will I let disappointment take root in my heart?
Will I keep swinging for the fences?

Second, how do I find the Light of Hope in the Fog of Uncertainty?

1. Go to the secret place of prayer.
2. Worship.
3. Have a better belief.

"Papa, I'm not getting the breakthroughs, the miracles that you promised in the scriptures. What does this mean? What do you want me to believe? How do you want me to think about this?"
4. Do something based upon a new belief.
After the Father reveals to me His thoughts and His perspective, I do what He says to do. Remember the feeding of the 5,000? When Jesus told them what He was going to do, He had the disciples divide the people into groups, distribute the food and then gather the leftovers. Them doing ministry was rooted in a new belief and in a new perspective. I want to know what God wants me to believe and then how to live this "new belief".

When I practice those 4 tips, I find myself standing strong against despair and disappointment, and at the same time, I stay focused on the goodness of God, which shows up in a miracle working power of love and compassion.

Stay hopeful friends....

Addendum to "Prayer: Sharing in the Life of Jesus - The Proper Approach"

Addendum to "Prayer: Sharing in the Life of Jesus - The Proper Approach"

I am writing a follow up to a message I shared with my church family on January 8, 2017.  You can view or listen to it by clicking here. I am writing to offer hope to the “hypocrite” & “pagan” praying style, done needlessly by many Christians, me included.

In Matthew 6:5-13 Jesus talks about three different people, how they pray and why they pray.

  1. Hypocrites: Pray in public because they want to be seen and praised by men.
  2. Pagans: Pray using many words and babble because they believe that’s the only way they’ll be heard.
  3. Christ Followers: Pray in private, to a Father who is unseen, who sees what is done in secret and will reward them.

Hence, Jesus instructs his followers to pray the Lord’s prayer, which begins, “Our Father.” This is the proper approach, the father heart of God and our adoption as His children.

As I’ve thought about this message I felt it important to follow up with a few thoughts.

1. If our approach to prayer is like the hypocrite or the pagan, then we are not without hope.

2. Hypocrite simply means pretender or actor. Jesus was calling those folks who love to pray in public for the praise of men, as actors or pretenders. Another way to say it is - they are not genuine followers of Christ. They are followers of themselves and to some degree, followers of others, as long as the others heap their praise upon them and their public praying. Hypocrites, inauthentic as they may be, they are not outside the grace of God. Jesus most referred to the Pharisees and religious leaders as hypocrites. They were pretenders and actors when it came to true righteousness and genuine relationship with God.

For example, in John 5:39, Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” And in Matthew 23:27, Jesus says, "What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs - beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity.”

These are only two of many scathing statements Jesus made to the Pharisees and religious teachers. Perhaps, the most famous Pharisee is the Apostle Paul. This Pharisee became a devout follower of Jesus Christ. Listen to his own words in Acts 23:6, “Paul realized that some members of the high council were Sadducees and some were Pharisees, so he shouted, "Brothers, I am a Pharisee, as were my ancestors!” All, in Philippians 3:5, “I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin--a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law.”

Like most of the Pharisees, if we are convicted of being hypocrites, we can become a genuine Christ follower and pray the way Jesus instructed. The need for the spotlight will be replaced with a hunger for encountering God in the secret place.

3. Pagan simply means, “Gentile” or someone who is outside the covenant of God. They are those who think they will be heard by God because they babble and use many words. When looked at more deeply, they use empty and anxious words. Neither you nor I, need to be pagans when it comes to prayer. Why? Because in Acts 10 we find an amazing encounter. To make the story short, a Gentile man named Cornelius has an encounter with an Angel and he tells him to send for Simon, called Peter, who is in Joppa. Cornelius sends a few men. While they were nearing the home of Simon the Tanner(where Peter was), Peter had a vision of a white sheet being lowered from Heaven, filled with unclean animals and he was told to rise and eat. He said no because they were unclean animals. The voice from Heaven says, “Do not call things unclean, that I call clean.” Peter comes out of the vision and at the same time the men sent by Cornelius arrive at his house. Peter talks with them and goes with them to the home of Cornelius. Upon arrival, Peter enters the home and Cornelius asks him to share what’s on his heart. Peter shares the gospel and while doing so, the Holy Spirit falls upon Cornelius and his household and they were saved (Acts 10:44, 11:14). After this encounter with Cornelius, Peter goes to Jerusalem where he is criticized by the circumcised believers. After sharing the story they said in Acts 11:18, “When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.”

The reason I tell the story of Peter and Cornelius is because it was at that moment when the early church saw the grace of God fall upon those outside the covenant - Gentiles, aka pagans, as Jesus calls them in Matthew 6.

4. To Jewish Pharisees, aka “hypocrites” or to the non-Jewish Gentiles, aka “pagans”, a way has been made for us to be genuine Christ followers, who no longer need the spotlight of public prayer or the use of many, babbling words. We can all, because of Christ, enter the “closet of prayer” and commune with God, being formed into the image of Christ and experience the graciousness of Christ demonstrated through our lives, for the glory of Christ and the advancement of the gospel.

Enter the secret place. Know Papa God hears you because He is a good Father and you are a much-loved child of God. Receive the reward he will give you.

 

*All scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Christ sees you

Christ sees you.

I hope that does not make you afraid or want to hide. My desire is that it inspires and invites you to draw close to Jesus.

I've been undone by this passage from the bible, the book of Matthew, 4:18, "As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers...." [1]

Jesus saw you before you ever saw him.
Jesus knew you before you ever knew him.

Think about this for a moment.  No, really...read the next sentence and then stop and think about it.  Take 5 minutes, 10 minutes or the rest of the day, but think about it and then finish reading this blog.

Jesus sees you before you see him.

Are you done thinking about it?  It's a staggering reality isn't it beloved?

John 6:44, "No one can come (commit one's self to the instruction of Jesus and enter into fellowship with him) to me (Jesus) unless the Father who sent me (for the purpose of revealing the Father and calling his children home) draws (by an inward power) him." [2]

C.H. Spurgeon once noted, speaking of John 6:44, [A person says with a sneer], “Then do you think that Christ drags men to Himself, seeing that they are unwilling?” I remember meeting once with a man who said to me, “Sir, you preach that Christ takes people by the hair of their heads and drags them to Himself.” I asked him whether he could refer to the date of the sermon wherein I preached that extra-ordinary doctrine, for if he could, I should be very much obliged. However, he could not. But said I, while Christ does not drag people to Himself by the hair of their heads, I believe that He draws them by the heart quite as powerfully as your caricature would suggest." [3]

I BELIEVE HE DRAWS THEM BY THE HEART QUITE AS POWERFULLY AS YOUR CARICATURE WOULD SUGGEST!

Yes, he draws us, because He sees us.

He sees us in our dreadful condition as "slaves to sin." [4]
He sees what we can become as children of God.
James 1:18, "And it was a happy day for Him when he gave us our new lives through the truth of His word, and we became, as it were, the first children in His new family." [5]

The Father sees you.
Jesus sees you.
Holy Spirit sees you.

Whatever your condition may be, he bids you come. 
Come out of the shadows.
Come into the light.
He will heal.
He will encourage.
He will create.
He will form.
He will empower.
He will touch.
He will listen.
He will comfort.
He will do good because HE IS GOOD!

For further study read:
Psalm 139
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Luke 15:11-31
Galatians 4:4-7
Ephesians 1:3-14
Colossians 1:21-22, 2:9-10
1 Peter 1:13-23


[1] THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.                                               
[2] My parenthetical insertions are greek word definitions.
[3] https://www.monergism.com/how-men-come-christ-john-644
[4] Romans 6:16 - THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
[5] The Living Bible copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Power of the Seed

"The power of the seed" - that's a phrase I usually hear associated with "increase, prosperity, abundance, etc." I don't disagree with that. However, the danger is, the seed becomes a means to greed.  When is "more" enough?  I believe in "the more" because we need resources to implement answers, solutions, justice, healing, ideas, etc.  Is there another reason why the seed is valuable?

In this parable, Jesus tells us "the Kingdom of God is like...".  He says that a lot.  He says it because He is bringing another way of being, thinking and living.  He illustrates the Kingdom of God as a man sowing seed everywhere. 

In Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8, Jesus tells a parable, central to understanding all parables (Mark 4:13) and it's about seeds, soil, and increase. The seed represents the message of the Kingdom.  The soil represents the human heart.  I want to grab this parable, like a jewel, and turn it and see if we can find something else that is equally valuable, beyond the "more" that is promised. I want us to experience the power of the seed from a different angle.

SOIL SUMMARY:

Some seeds fell on a path, birds ate the seeds and this represents the heart that cannot receive God's word. This the hard heart.

Some seeds fell on shallow soil. It was shallow and dry, and so when the seeds started to grow they withered because of the heat of persecution, trouble, and trials. This is the shallow heart.

Some seeds fell on soil which was "thorny" and while the seeds grew, they did not mature. They were choked out by the thorns, representing the deceitfulness of wealth, the desire for more things and the worries of this life. This is the distracted heart.

Some seeds fell on good soil and produced 30, 60 and 100 times more.  This represents the heart that understands, receives and retains the seed, persevering through all things.  This the good heart.

I would ask us to consider the power of the seed because the seed reveals the quality of the soil. Do we know the quality of the soil by the natural eye? Usually, yes, if we are talking literal soil, but Jesus is using a natural and common experience to illustrate a powerful spiritual truth. I can't see your heart. You can't see mine. This is reinforced by the Old Testament verse that says, "Man looks on the outside, but God looks at the heart." What we can see is the net result of God's word, the seed, being sown into hearts. If there is no increase, maturity and a spiritually and relationally reproductive life (called discipleship) then our heart is not the good heart. It's either the hard heart, the shallow heart, the distracted heart or some combination.

The power of the seed is this - it diagnosis the quality of our heart.  The seed, God's word, is a wonderful and merciful gift from Jesus.  As the gardener, He wants to improve the quality of our hearts by revealing our heart to us.  Then, we can joyfully embrace repentance and confession.  Not only will the seed diagnose, but it will reproduce.  Genesis 1 tells us that God created vegetation to carry seeds so that it can reproduce after it's own kind.  God wants a good heart because, a good heart with good seed produces and reproduces.  We call this "making disciple-making disciples."  This is how the Kingdom of God advances, one human heart at a time.

Take some time this week and read Matthew 13, Mark 4 and/or Luke 8. Ask Holy Spirit to search your heart. Repent, if necessary. Celebrate, when appropriate. The "abundant life" we want is found in the quality of our heart and the receptivity of the seed.

"Modern Day Nehemiahs", Empathy, and Presence

So what do we do?

"About what?" you may be asking.

About everything.

Everything? Ok. That's too broad. Let's narrow down and focus. You find in Nehemiah, chapter 3, this phrase, "building or built in front of his own house." So the question is "what are we going to do about what's in front of us?" Nehemiah's heart had been stirred by God to restore the glory and the safety of the City of Peace and restore it's desolation into a habitation of God.

I can get overwhelmed by the clashing of today's cultural tectonic plates and the instability that ensues. So what do I do? Build what's in front of me. So that leads to the second question. What's in front of me?

A lot, but most importantly....People. That's who's in front of you and me.

We rebuild people. Look at these passages from the bible.

Nehemiah 4:3, "'What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!'"

1 Peter 2:5, "...you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house...."

Song of Songs 2:15, "'Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.'"

We are the stones that God is rebuilding into a wall that makes up the house of God. However, Satan wants us to believe that if even a fox, a fox that destroys the vineyard of God, could destroy it. Foxes try to destroy the word of God. But they can't destroy the word of God or the work of God. The wall was rebuilt in 52 days and in Nehemiah, chapter 7, we find this beautiful language, "These are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles..." (v. 6). The exiles returned.

When we build what's in front of us people come home. They find again a family, a safe place.
They find the place where they have always belonged...the City of God.

So what do we about what's in front of us? Build people.

How? How do we do that?

Let's start at the beginning of Nehemiah. Look at chapter 1. I'll highlight a few thoughts.

1. (v. 2) Ask questions of those in front of you. Be curious about their journey. Be curious to know them. Ask questions to make a connection. Take an interest in people and communities. Gain knowledge and be empowered about what is happening in front of you.

2. (v. 3) Dialogue. Be ready to hear what people have to say.

3. (v. 4) Listen. Don't listen to figure out your next answer. Don't listen to the thoughts in your head, so much that you have a deaf ear to the person in front of you. Listen. Reflect it back to them. Listen for emotion and values.

4. (v.4) Have a seat. Taking a seat is a symbol of permanence. It communicates, "I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. I'm not in a hurry. You are important."

5. (v.4) Be empathetic. Nehemiah wept. He's 1000 miles from Jerusalem and he wept for his city and his people. Regardless of how distant you may be from the one in front of you (emotionally distant, financially distant, culturally distant, historically distant) you can still weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. Keep your heart tender.

6. (v. 5) Pray. Make prayer your default position when rebuilding. Pray with passion. Pray with faith. Pray with your cheeks wet with tears. Tears water your faith and help create growth. Nehemiah, in his prayer identified with the sins and the condition of Israel. There was no finger pointing or blaming, just honest, humble intercession. He put himself in the shoes of another. That reminds me of another man. Read Philippians 2 and you'll know more about him.

7. (Ch. 2 v.11) Go. Nehemiah left the comfort and the protection of the King's palace. He left his vocation to engage his calling. A man of government responded and partnered with the church (Israel) for the restoration of the city. Church and politics should not be enemies, but allies seeking heaven's wise and powerful solutions for today's broken walls.

Ask Questions.
Dialogue.
Listen.
Sit. Be present.
Be empathetic.
Pray.
Go.

In front of you are broken people whose walls have been torn down. Help rebuild.